FB: We're continuing a series for the Berklee College library a sort of video history of a lot of the people in the Boston jazz and Berklee communities. We’re happy to have Mr. Andy McGee who was a staunch member of the Berklee faculty from 1966-1997. And had a long very career, playing his saxophone with several very prominent big bands including Lionel Hampton, Woody Herman, and uh well very recently with Jimmy Heath
AMG: Yeah I just did some of Jimmy Heath's music.
FB: And we were talking a little earlier and Andy was filling us in on some of his world travels and talking about his students and colleagues over the years. I don't know if we want to try to get a little bit of a chronological history here. Maybe you could just launch off by telling us a little bit about growing up in Wilmington, North Carolina with Jimmy Heath and Percy Heath as classmates.
AMG: Actually I'm from Wilmington,North Carolina. And uh Jimmy Heath and I... Jimmy's older than I, of course Percy is the oldest of the Heath brothers. Jimmy and I started saxophone in high school band together, but Jimmy was 2 years older. So I knew Jimmy better than Percy. Percy was drafted was volunteered in the service. I don't know if you know it or not, but he was one of the first black pilots from Tuscegee. (FB:Wow.) Percy (mumbling) was a pilot so when he came to my hometown he was a big hero. Percy was born in Wilmington and Jimmy was born in Philidelphia with the rest of the family. But Jimmy and I are very tight. The interesting thing about it as long as we’ve been playing. Last year we got a chance to play together in Switzerland and we did his music.
FB: He had a... The Heath Brothers band was one of my favorite bands in the 70s when he and Percy and kid brother Tootie (AMG: Tootie yeah.) on drums, they had a group with sometimes Tony Purrone on guitar. They made some wonderful albums of Jimmy's music, mostly Jimmy's music on Columbia. (AMG: Yeah. Right.) It was a high profile label and some really really good recordings.
AMG: He's a Hell of a writer and we did this conservatory ???Free bird in Switzerland. They bought all of his arrangements. They rehearsed them a couple of months. They flew Jimmy over and they flew me over. And he conducted a band and I did some of the solos. Then the last day we did a dual two tenors. It was really very interesting and I enjoyed it.
FB: Perhaps you could fill the people in on your first recollections in Boston. Did you first come to Boston as a student? At the Conservatory?
AMG: Yeah I came to the conservatory as a student in 1945.
FB: Had you done any wartime activity? You didn't do any service.
AMG: Yes. I did.
AMG: What happened was I was at the conservatory and I was deferred until I graduated. In ‘49 I graduated. ‘50 in the army.
FB: Off to Korea?
AMG: Well yeah I ended up in Korea, but I first went to ??? woods, and they transferred me to ??? in New Jersey. ??? background and I became instructor at the band training union in New Jersey until it became complicated and they found out that some guys were there longer than they should and so they sent everybody out that had been there over a year and I had been there so they sent me to Korea.
FB: You want to tell us a little bit about your student years studying with Sam Marcus in the big band at the conservatory at the time?
AMG: Yeah well Sam Marcus was my first saxophone teacher. And they had… most of the academics were classical oriented only we did have an arranging program. But the rest was solfege, composition, and I mean conducting that was it. And then at the end of the year they would give a concert doing popular music a lot of Glen Miller stuff and what not. That was it, but Sam was my first teacher.
FB: Did you make any connections on the side around town? Did you do any gigging with the local people?
AMG: Well no, not really, here and there. Basically I was working hard to just get out of there you know. But we played the same old thing that's happening now. We had sessions at Wally’s ???. (FB: Oh man.) Jam sessions.
FB: Oh wow. That's started back up in the 40s.
AMG: Oh yeah yeah yeah yeah jam sessions on Sundays.
FB: Whoa was Wally himself was down there in those days.
AMG: Oh yeah sure, he was definitely down there. When he got tired of hearing us he'd throw us out and then we'd come back.
FB: Who were some of the guys around town do you remember any of the guys you played with there?
AMG: Well we didn't play, there was a lot of heavy guys around town. Gigi Gryce, Sam Rivers, Jackie Byard Allen Dawson, Charlie Mariano
FB: Jimmy Tyler?
AMG: No not Jimmy, what was his name? I'm trying to think of some of the drummers. Of course, Nat Pierce was around. Piano player, the trumpet player ... I'm trying to think I can't remember.
FB: You mentioned some people with some pretty long Berklee connections there.
AMG: Yeah well, basically Berklee had just started in '45.
FB: That's right. They were here on Newbury Street with Schillinger House that was just starting. (AMG: Right right.) Herb Pomeroy and John Laporta were there pretty near the beginning right?
AMG: I think so, I didn't really know ‘em.
FB: That wasn't your scene yet.
AMG: No, I hadn't... but I heard about Joe Viola as a saxophonist a teacher, from my buddy Pearson? that was a fine alto clarinet player who studied with Joe. And of course his brother I heard about him, Tony. Tony Viola, because he's a tenor player. But actually I didn't really have any connections then.
FB: Ok. After Fort Dicks and Korea were you back in town? Did you come back to Boston?
AMG: Yeah after I was discharged and came back. Well I was married and I had a… I was married. I came back to Boston yeah.
FB: Is that...you see fat man Robinson here, was that in Boston?
AMG: Yeah yeah. What happened was I came back I got out of the army and then my first gig was ... well I was just freelancing more or less freelancing. And I was teaching a little bit. I had a few students.
And I went with Jimmy Tyler. He had a house band in Atlantic City. So I worked with Jimmy Tyler from June until of course Labor Day, September. And it was a ???steal spot affair. Great show. Great show. Lot of work, we had to work 7 days a week. I was really… It was work, so I quit at the end. But I was… I heard from Fat Man Robinson of course I was taking Sam Rivers place. I took Sam Rivers…Sam Rivers was the tenor for Fat Man and so I joined Fat Man Robinson.
FB: How big of an ensemble was that?
AMG: Just two, just a rhythm section and two saxophones. But he was into the Louie Jordan bag. And he, he , he… Sandy Louis was big. So, Sandy Louis was big and Fat Man. So I was with Fat Man.
FB: So, he did the singing too?
AMG: Yeah, he did good showman. He knew all of Louie Jordan's stuff.
FB: That was a great bag, highly entertaining and really popular.
AMG: Yeah yeah. And the funny thing about me. The guys talkin about rap. They should hear Louie Jordan talk about rap. That's really rap, good rap.
FB: And extremely intelligent and very musical all at once.
AMG: Very musical and clever. It's about the signified monkey and all that stuff. Really very clean musically (mumbling) talking about rap they should listen to Louie Jordan rap.
FB: Those guys should listen to that you're quite right. We were talking about that before we started rolling here. Kind of deplorable situation with the state of a lot of popular music these days. IF they did a little bit of homework they'd hear some mighty good stuff and might get inspired.
AMG: Fat Man… he was very good at it. He was talking about, Don't get married don't taste their cookin and all that it was real funny and very very clever. Plus the music was swingin. Billy Jordan was a..
FB: Some really good stuff. Saturday Night Fish Fry. All that…
AMG: Yeah so Fat Man he was in that bag and very popular.
FB: So you were on the Boston scene then and you know you met a lot of people around town. Did you otherwise involve yourself in the scene in the 50s in Boston?
AMG: Well yeah but , I was involved, the fact that I was with Fat Man and see the thing in Boston at that time you had to work 7 nights a week plus a matinee. That's everybody. The big guys from New York didn't mind it either because they didn't have to work 4 o'clock in the morning and all that. But in Boston they had a blue law on Saturday that they had to closed at 12, 12 o'clock. No club was over 1 o'clock. So I guess they extended so we had to work 7 days. So I was basically, I was basically working with Fat Man Robinson because he worked all the time. I mean I was with him for 4 or 5 years with no time off at all that's why I left.
FB: How wide of a circuit did you play with that band?
AMG: Well he had Boston, well naturally everybody knew this was St Louis territory (FB: Definitely.) but he had an 8 piece band. But fat man had Lawrence, Lowell, all those places that were great places for jazz. Lawrence, Lowell, Salisbury Beach, until they went dry and then they killed that. Salisbury Beach, and Fall River and then a couple of times we went to Florida. Miami. So, he had that sewed up good. And he had ??? it was another club, I didn't play there. There was another club, but I took Sam Rivers place and that's ... Fat Man had a club called the Stage Bar. If he had any time, space he could always go there like Savvy? going with Savoy you know.
FB: Like a home base.
AMG: Yeah you could always go to Stage bar.
FB: I remember seeing Sam Rivers playing with Jackie Byard and some other people in the early 60s when I first came to school here as a student at Boston College. Did you um…What was your association with Sam and Jackie?
AMG: Oh well we were all students together we were great, we were great friends. We were great friends. In the 60s I was gone. I left Fat Man and I joined Lionel Hampton ‘57. So, I was on the road.
FB: What made you decide to leave town? You were sick of the 7 night a week thing and.. I mean it was a great offer.
AMG: No no. In the first place being a musician… I had a super wife. Super super super lady.
FB: Understanding, tolerant.
AMG: Yeah understanding tolerant. What direction I wanted to go was ok. I had been with Fat Man for a while and we were doing well and then Fat…something... well he had a young lady a girlfriend and she started interjecting her opinions about the money and what not. And more than that she'd say, "Why are you payin Andy this and why are you payin him that" and what not. So, it got a little funny. And I just told my wife, and she said ,"Look, do whatever you want to do" you know. So I quit. Best move I ever made.
FB: How did you hook up with Hamp?
AMG: Well that's just it, I quit Fat Man. Two weeks and I was wandering around you know. Well Fat Man was a nice guy good business man too. I think he was one of the first guys looked out for the musician. To the point where he made sure you applied for unemployment. Nobody did that. (FB:Wow.) So he was a good guy. The problem with that band started with tax, the guy who was supposed to be paying the taxes and didn't pay any taxes. That was a beginning of the downfall. I was rehearsing with a drummer on Commonwealth Avenue and I said this is not going any place. I had my horn and said, I think I'll go by storyville and catch Hamp's band. So, I went by storyville and ??? brother introduced me to Hamp. And he said "Hamp have you ever heard this guy play?" And Hamp said “well no” and he had a tenor sax player who was a girl in providence and she got sick and she had to go back to New York. So he was basically looking for a tenor player. So, he said do you have your horn with you and I said well yeah. "Well next set when we go up I'll play a tune and then I'll call you up and ask you to play."
FB: So you were reading the book and then took a solo.
AMG: No I didn't read the book. (FB: Oh you didn’t. Oh ok.) They had a saxophone player. Doug Leo was there, but he wasn't interested. They had somebody fillin in.
FB: I see.
AMG: No. So he said "come up and play" and so I got up and played.
FB: What tune did he call?
AMG: Blues in Eb. They played the blues in Eb. The thing about it though that he just started playing the blues he didn't tell you he didn't say Blues in Eb, he just said come and play. So the blues in Eb. So then he said "Ok well tomorrow night " because Doug wasn't interested "you'll start tomorrow night." So I came in and started, and of course he had an alto player, one of the greatest, the most underrated alto player Robert Playder. (FB:Yeah.) He wrote Jersey Bounce but they...(mumbling)
FB: He didn't get the credit for it.
AMG: He didn't get the money, but they gave him some of the credit. But he wrote the tune. (FB: Great tune.) Great tune he wrote it for a dancer from New Jersey. (sings) Tony Bradshaw band ??? when he heard it.
FB: He made a hit with it?
AMG: Well sure... Jersey Bounce... Harry James...It was a hit by two or three bands years ago. Anyway make a long story short. Bobby Playder was listenin and my readin ability… 'cause Bobby was the ??? boss so he kinda put the okay on it. Hamp probably asked him and said,"What is he doing with the music?" and Bobby said "Fine. " And that's the way it was. So Hamp said " Go up and see my wife we're leaving for Europe in 2 weeks and you have to have a passport." And that's how I got the gig.
FB: Wow. So what was his wife's name Lorraine? No. What was his wife's name?
FB: So she set you up with the passport people.
AMG: No no no she didn't do that. She just said... she just told me how much money I was going to get. And she said to get paid x many dollars we leave in 2 weeks. You have to get a passport and that's it.
FB: And you went home and told your wife and she said?
AMG: Oh man she was she was flabbergasted. Yeah. I was too man.
FB: A huge opportunity.
AMG: She was really really happy for me.
AMG:Yeah yeah. So that was…
FB: So you were with Hamp for a few years?
AMG: Oh yeah six.
AMG: About six years..
FB: You're on some of those recordings from that period.
AMG: I did an original called McGee. I wrote that. Of course nationally some of the albums? called Flying Home. I'm trying to think of some other ones. Hamp was a great player and he was funny. I might play a tune we had a called written by Bobby Playder. And I played the solo it was a tenor thing. But when we got in the studio he cut the tenor out and he played the solo. So, I was kinda limited on how many solo things I did.
FB: Hamp was a pretty versatile guy and he liked the limelight.
AMG: Oh he was a great player.
FB: Vibes, drums, even a little piano.
AMG: Well yeah, the piano, he did the 2 fingers, that’s just set up like the vibes. His ears were out of sight. He'd hear a tune and he like it. Then 2 or 3 minutes he'd play it. He didn't care what it was. He played anything hip or whatever. And he would play it.
FB: What are your most memorable gigs with Hamp? I mean all the places that you visited.
AMG: Well naturally when I first joined the band in ’57 when we went to Europe. It was a whole different...Well, I did 2 weeks in the States then we went to Europe. The people were so hospitable and they were 2- 3000 people at a concert and that blew my mind. Not having to run around worrying about gettin accommodations, hotel or whether we gonna sleep on the bus or not and everything. All the people everybody all the promoters. That was great. And the great thing is we stayed 18 weeks so we covered all of Europe plus we went to Africa and Algier.
FB: It really gives you an appreciation for the global music community when you can travel like that from country to country and see how appreciative people can be and how well you get treated and their real enthusiasm for the music. It's quite a joy.
AMG: The thing about it…I hadn't really been out there, but they knew. "You were with Fat Man Robinson weren't you?" Something like that. I didn't have any kind of a resume other than that, but they knew about you. They asked questions. It was amazing just to see how many people showed up. I was…Matter of fact I was really so impressed I was thinking about moving to Europe. (FB: A lot of people did those days.)Yeah, but I didn’t. I thought about it. I had a young daughter and I said, "No I think that’d be asking a little too much. "
FB: You’d have to uproot the family to do that, but guys who were solo. Guys who weren't attached a lot of ‘em left the States in the ‘50s and ‘60s and set up themselves with good careers in Europe.
AMG: The thing, the thing that was lucky for me Hamp only had 1 tenor player. He only had 1…When I went over there they only had 4 saxophones. So I did a lot of playing. I did a lot of playing. And so, just one tenor player Hamp... You know he's a tenor so he loves tenor players you know. So, that 18 weeks I got a lot of exposure you know whatever it meant you know, because I played a lot in the band. So naturally that was a thrill for me.
FB: Sure thing. So we were talking across the street at Starbucks and you told me that when you were back in Boston you were friendly with people like Charlie Mariano and Nat Pierce. And Nat Pierce was instrumental in hooking you up with Woody.
AMG: Right, I knew Charlie early because Charlie hung with us all the time when I was student. When you said what musicians I knew, I said Gigi Gryce, Jackie Byard Charlie Mariano. He was you know one of the regulars. And I knew Nat Pierce ... because Nat…well Nat was the kinda guy he knew who played and who didn't... he had a big band (FB: Yes he did.), he had a good big band and we were pretty good friends.
FB: So how did it come about that… Had he already gone with Woody himself?
AMG: You know I'm very lucky. When you're on the road with bands you're always crossin everybody at every festival you see.
FB: Right you catch another band when your set is done.
AMG: Yeah when you're in New York everybody hangin out, there used to be a place called…it was a cheesecake place, The Turf. Everybody hung out downtown at The Turf. They called it the Office, because music is so much business action. You know they had places with musicians at the Turf. And they had the place where the big time musicians would hang out with the other guys drinking beer and stuff. You meet people and that's how you…that’s how Nat and I became. And I'd always say to Nat, "When you gonna get me into the band." What happened…And when Hamp took the band to Japan he cut the band down to 8 pieces. And the band… when we got there we were supposed to do a certain amount of work. Six days a week something. Anyway, we were cuttin it short. We worked like crazy. We do like 3 gigs in one day and we would basically go to the theatre then we go to NCO club then we play the Officer's club in one day. And so, I had been with the band a long time. I thought that was a little too much so when I came back, I quit.
FB: What you just said there, were you playing for American audiences in Japan?
AMG: Both. We were playing for both. Japanese… Well, naturally if Hamp's coming to Japan and we play in the city for the Japanese people if it's the army base there. You know the army's gonna (FB: They'll want to get you too.) That's how the promoters did it. He'd book it that way.
FB: I was just wondering how early on the Japanese public was really getting hooked on jazz. It must have been after the war. They started getting more and more American influences in there.
AMG: Well not after the war. What happened is during the occupation, they would listen to boogie woogie, listenin to Bud Powell that's who what's her name the Japanese...Toshiko, Charlie Mariano married her. (FB:Toshiko Akyoshi) She was getting the records. She was picking up the Bud Powell, listenin to…They became more or less Americanized musically because of the occupation.
FB: Yeah they like baseball. They like Scotch Whiskey. You know they really dug a lot of things from Western culture.
AMG: IT was the influence…Yeah I guess, the influence of America. But the thing about it that amazed me most of all was when I was in the army when I was in Japan R&R. I sat in with the Japanese group just because I wanted to play. And how quick...boy I'll never forget the guy who said do you know ??? I said yeah and I started singin it and he just started writing it down like he was writin a letter. I was very impressed with that.
FB: Did you know Sadao Watanabe?
FB: He was a tenor player who came from Japan here to Berklee.
AMG: I didn't know Watanabe then. He was with Joe Viola wasn't he? (FB: I bet he was. Yes he was.) but I didn't get a chance to really meet him, but I met him 'cause he was one of the guys when he came from the library and came over and looked through the book. He recommended that one of my books should be put in Japanese.
FB: You just gave a good example of what a quick study the Japanese people are and things that they like. I heard a Harvard radio did a show on historical Japanese jazz performances on the radio a few weeks ago and I was amazed. The high quality of the Japanese jazz bands in the ‘50s. I was flippin out. I never heard anything like it. It really surprised me.
AMG: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. When we were in Japan we played at Hanah Basha it was a club and they had at this club they had three bands. They had Lionel Hampton, then a Glen Miller type of band all Japanese and then they had a Latin band, doing the Latin thing in one club. And they had it down. 'Course Hamp was, Mrs. Hampton was very clever she broke the band down to 8 pieces and when we got to Japan she'd augment the band with Japanese players. So there was, the emperor and all were very impressed that he did this. When we got to Japan it was like a standing ovation for us. The way they integrated the band. (FB: Beautiful.) Hamp was smart you know.
FB: It's good business and good relations.
AMG: The piano player was, I don't know his Japanese name, Pusan? but he is very famous. But we all him Pusan which sounds Korean. He was a pianist and he came here and played. He's famous.
FB: But you know, in succeeding generations you don't hear too many Japanese horn players. I mean ??? Akoshi is an exception. But you don’t…Did you have a lot of hip Japanese students when you were teaching here?
AMG: Yeah yeah. Just last year, I had one student alto player I forgot his name. He could play.
FB: So there are some?
AMG: Oh yeah.
FB: It seems to me they mostly go to guitar and piano.
AMG: No, I'm very I’m not embarrassed, but I just can't remember the alto player he was excellent. He was an excellent player.
FB: That's ok.
FB: Anyway, I didn't want to get ahead of ourselves here. So you had a great time with Hamp for 6 years and then you eased yourself into Woody's band. How did that transition take place?
AMG: (laughing) Like I said I was lucky. I was lucky. Let me say one thing, one thing I learned in Hamp's band is to always try to play your best. Hamp was this type of player: if he had 3 people in his audience he would play like there were 3000. If there were 3000 he'd play the same way. I used to watch and I was amazed especially at the Metropol it’s a band strip? at how he would play. And that kinda rubbed off on me. I acquired that. I tried to play the best I could. I think one night Woody came in on the side and just slipped in and heard the band. There was nobody in there got a few people... Anyway, I left, when I quit Hamp's band I went around to catch Woody's band. And I said, I think I’ll my wife tomorrow, I won't tell her tonight that I'm leavin Hamp. I went around and Nat Pierce was playing and he said, “You know” turned around, “ I'm just fittin to call your house" He said, “Well wait to til the set is over and I want to talk with you. And I said “ok.” So I stayed there and Nat said, "Sal's leaving the band you want to come in the band?"
FB: Sal Nistico?
AMG: Yeah. He said Sal is leavin. Sal is leavin. Fontaine is leavin.
FB: Paul Fontaine.
AMG: Kenny Winsor
FB: Oh yeah...
AMG: Anyway, he said 'cause I mentioned them and Woody said he had heard you. And I said “well yeah.” Being a good businessman I said well, “I'm still with Hamp’s band” you know. I said, “Well I've been with Hamp's band for 6 years”. And he said, "well I know that." "Well we'll meet tomorrow you and I will just have coffee with Woody and we’ll talk." So, the next day I met woody and talked it over and 2 weeks later I was in the band.
FB: There was no down time. No down time. You switched transitions.
AMG: That's how lucky I was.
FB: That wasn't luck that was that lesson you learned with Hamp. Run out with ground balls.
AMG: Well yeah, whatever it was. But I call it luck because I was sayin to myself I wasn't going back to Boston there wasn't nothing happenin there you know. But I wasn't worried about it because my wife was such a great lady. I just thought that Mrs. Hampton didn't do us right, so I just quit. And I just walked around and got in Woody's band. Just like that. (FB: Real smooth.) That was luck. And the funniest thing about it.. my last day with Hamp I ended up in New England up in Birch… up in Tanglewood. So, I just came right home from Massachusetts. You have to pay your own way home.So, I had a cousin in Springfield so he picked me up and I just rode home. (FB: Wow.) I was lucky. I was a very lucky guy. I got with Woody's band. But Nat Pierce was the man, I always have a lot of respect for him. A lot of guys forget about you, you know. You're tight, but when it comes to the gigs and all that they play politics. (FB: Right right.) They play politics you know. They get their boys.
FB: I remember you just sayin that some band leaders hire your students instead of hiring you.
AMG: Some of my friends who...playing gigs you know, we talk and we hang together but when it's gig time, when gig time come, they hire maybe a student of mine. I won't even go into that, but that's ...
FB: Who else in Woody's big band was from Boston like Nat was? Were there some other Boston cats in the band?
AMG: Oh the band was loaded. Oh oh oh. Tom ??? remember him (FB:Yeah yeah.) Baritone player, he died very young that was unfortunate. Phil Wilson was there.
FB: Another local boy who was... put a lot of years in at Berklee.
AMG: Yeah Phil was there, Bill Chase was there...
FB: Jake Hannah.
AMG: Jake Hannah was there. And the bass player was from Springfield.
FB: Who’s he? Who was that?
AMG: I've forgotten his name.
FB: It’s ok. Not Chubby Jackson.
AMG: No not Chubby.
FB: But I mean... I think Woody had already come down here and raided Berklee to get some of these guys.
AMG: I don't know about you know... it's not like that. Nat pierce was the man. He would write down names of guys that would fit certain places. You know what I mean? (FB: Yup.) He would go into town and would say so and so and so and so... So, when ... 'cause everybody can't take everybody's place. You know who he brought in for Fonatine he brought in Dusko Gerkovich. (FB: Oh yeah.) So we all came in the same, Dusko Gerkovich came in the same time I came in. So Dusko Gerkovich took his place. He knew about Dusko Gerkovich. He knew about me because I was taking Sal's place. By him being that smart if Bill Chase which is Boston lead trumpet player well he wouldn't have called Dusko Gerkovich to play lead he would have somebody else play lead.
FB: Right like Lin Biviano or somebody who can play the top notes.
AMG: But Nat Pierce was aware of what was happening for it… the musical concerns. So, Dusko came in the band same time it was Dusko Gerkovich and Bob Stru I think...that's probably not the right. He took Kenny Winsor's place. Of course Phil was playing lead. Phil can tell you who he was. He took uh...That was it. Those were the two replacements in the band.
FB: So, how was Woody's band different from Hamp's band?
AMG: No difference. Basically. It's a hard swingin band. That's why I got there. Well naturally it's different in sound because he uses three tenors and a baritone. (FB: Right.) What I'm saying, I'm not saying they both sound the same, I'm saying they're both swingin. (FB: Ok.) I mean, that's it you know.
FB: What about... did they hit the same circuit of places? Did they go to the same cities or the same...
AMG: Well Hamp, I think Hamp was a more Europe... Hamp was in Europe most… Hamp went to Europe every year. I was in Woody's band 3 years we only went once.
FB: May have had to do with the economics at the time as well. A little bit later in the evolution of the big band career. In the ‘50s I think there was probably more business more international business.
AMG: Well yeah, Hamp... I think Hamp was the first big band that went over. (FB: Oh ok.) Hamp was really pretty established in Europe you know.
FB: Dizzy did a big state department tour, but that was a political thing.
AMG: Well he must have done it after Hamp. Because Hamp's band was the first. In fact, You know Hamp, you know who was in that band? When Hamp first went to Europe, Cliff Brown, Allen Dawson, I'm not sure, Gigi Gryce and maybe and some other guys.
FB: Was Quincy Jones in the band?
AMG: Quincy Jones. That's the band... because that was Hamp that he just made that band up.
FB: That was some bad cats.
AMG: He took that band. And the funny thing about that story is Allen Dawson came by to see us in Atlantic City 'cause he was still in the Army. He and I were tight because we were in the army band together in Fort Dicks and we... Clarence Johnson told Allen that Hamp was organizing the band to go to Europe.
FB: You know you're right. That was '52. That they went...
AMG: That was '54. '54. '54.
FB: I think that was before a Dizzy. I think Dizzy went a year later.
AMG: Yeah that was '54. So, Hamp... So they told Allen. And Allen went over there and took that gig. And that band went to Europe. That was '54.
FB: That's right. I think Dizzy came a year or two later. And the State department underwrote it.
AMG: Hamp was the first. State department didn't bring Hamp over. Hamp was brought over by the hot jazz magazine who got it from Belgium ???. The hot jazz.
FB: And you got 16 18 weeks out of it? Oh no, that was a different tour that was the earlier tour.
AMG: Hamp was… I've never seen so many people in my life at a concert. It was amazing.
FB: So Woody didn't get the same kind of draw? He would play ballrooms but not big concerts?
AMG: Ballrooms where you getting that... he played all those places that political speeches were made by Adolf. We played big places I mean ... in Germany we played all those places where they had all those big rallies, political rallies. We're talkin 2, 3000 people. In Berlin, they let some of people from East Berlin come in of course they had the wall like that. I bet you there were 5000 people. It was just… It was amazing. I couldn't believe it. So, Hamp, he was really big in Europe. He played a great show. Plus ???(mumbling)
FB: So, how did your time go with Woody? I mean it was a good time?
AMG: Oh great. It was really really really nice. Woody was real real real nice, nice person and he was very cool. He said, "Andy, look I'm glad to have you in the band." Of course he made a statement that he didn't hire me because I was black or anything he just liked the way I play. So he wrote a whole article about that. He said, "Look if you ever have any problems as long as you're in the band. Come to me I'll straighten it out." I appreciate that. (mumblings) All the time I was there I only had a problem one time. That's it.
FB: That's good. It's nice to get that settled when you arrive.
AMG: Yeah, but not only.. when I joined the band. The next week Joe Carol joined the band too.
FB: Oh boy.
AMG: Joe C???
FB: How long was he with you?
AMG: Well he just did…We were on our way to Lake Tahoe. Phil will probably talk you about that. And they did the thing together wa wa blues Phil that. Yeah Phil did that arrangement.
FB: Joe was a gas. What a great singer wow.
AMG: After Lake Tahoe I think they didn't carry a singer anymore, but Joe Carol was there too.
AMG: I’m sure Phil will talk to you about that 'cause Phil did the thing together Wa wa Blues.
FB: Yeah you guys were in the band kind of about the same time. Phil was a little ahead of you by a year, year and a half.
AMG: Yeah Phil… They were probably… They were featuring Phil on the...
FB: Lonesome Old Town.
AMG: Yeah yeah. So, yeah. Of course Phil played great lead you know. So Phil had been there for a while. When we came in that kind of uprooted the band. The band was kind of together for a while 'cause Sal was a hell of a tenor player. He kind of put the band back on track.
FB: Yeah Woody had a bunch of herds from '48 on. They'd come and go and come and go. But that was a very strong band you were on.
AMG: Well yeah. With Sal, they call it the Swingin Herd instead of the number one herd. And Sal did “Sister Sadie” and a couple other tunes. I have to give him credit because that picked the band up and got them back on track. (FB: Yeah.) Herb worrying. Herb was worrying about that because when Sal left Herb ??? report out in California. He was so upset ‘cause Sal had gone. He flew all the way out to New York to see who was gonna take Sal's place.
FB: Yeah what did he have to say about you?
AMG: Well after he heard me. What could he say? He said, Well ok. But, he was really really um concerned. And then later, on "Dr. Wong's Bag" I played the solo on it. (FB: Oh I don't know that one.) Nat wrote a thing called "Dr. Wong's Bag" and he was very happy with that. But he was, he was very upset. He was upset. I just saw him when we did the tribute to Woody two or three years ago when we moved Woody's grave from one place to another. I Talked to Herb. He was there.
FB: Oh is that right?
AMG: Yeah and I asked him and we laughed about it. Phil, when we went out there, We took a trip out to Woody we had all the guys you know so I was in that. And I played in the ??? band with Phil and I did “Sister Sadie.”
FB: The whole ??? band went out?
AMG: Oh yeah. Phil was there. The singer, Miles she was there...
FB: Oh Elisa Miles?
AMG: Yeah. They had John Laporta there. They had Terry Gibbs. They had Joe Romana... No it was Joe Lovano.
FB: Joe Lovano.
AMG: Joe Lovano. Joe Lovano, they had Woody Herman's band with the leader Fred... they had him with his band…
FB: Frank Tiberi?
AMG: Frank Tiberi yeah they had the band and we did some, we did a thing together with 3 tenors battled a thing out there. (FB: Wow.) And they had Terry Gibbs. They had everybody that had been... 20-25 guys for Woody's band. And that was a tribute to him, and I played with the ??? band. I just played one tune.
FB: Great great. That's nice.
AMG: It was nice.
FB: Yeah I always dug Herb. He's quite a character. I see him at the conventions and we talk a little bit.
AMG: Oh yeah? He's mellowed down a bit. He was very boy he was upset. We laughed about that.
FB: So, you were with Woody for 2 and half 3 years and then there was another crossroads in your life. Where you were gonna settle down and teach here in Boston or were you gonna go on the road with another great band? Why don't you tell us about that?
AMG: Yeah. We were in San Francisco and I'll never forget it. We just left Chicago. And we were going West and San Francisco and Woody gave me a raise. Yeah he gave me a raise. When we got to San Francisco his agent said we were going to State Department tour. State Department. And I looked at the itinerary after the State Department we were going back to the West Coast. To make a long story... the way it was set up I wouldn't get to see my family for maybe about 4 or 5 months. The way the itinerary was set up. But the reason I was worrying about that was because I figured some of the places I could send for them or you know. But, I had an agreement with Woody about when I left the country the finances would change and what not. You know that was the agreement with him: when I go to Europe or something like that my money would increase a certain amount of money. When you go to the State Department they give you a residual. (FB: A what?) A residual. (FB: Oh ok.) (mumblings) I knew about it a lot of guys didn't know. Those musicians they’re nice guys, but some of ‘em business wise they don't know what's going on. But, I knew about that. I knew that the government was gonna give us more money. He'd say that's it. That's the residual that’s it. That's the more you get. I don't know I was kinda thinkin’ I had been thinkin’ anyway, I had just been down the street and heard Coltrane... and I was thinkin’ so I started to say to myself we were having this bus problem in Boston. The bus problem and all that stuff. And I just started thinking you know I said, I had been way out here for about 10 years are so. And my wife… I got 2 kids and she's still fightin’ you know. She's tellin’ me about the problems in schools and I said, I think I'll quit. I don’t want to…That's it. That's a long time. And since Abe he went to, he was clever about his answers you know with me you know. He said, “oh Nat get rid of him.” Anyway, so I just quit. I just put my notice in and left. That's it. And of course Woody was kinda withdrawn in a way. He was a nice man. But I let... I just told him... you know we were going to England and then C Santana joined the band and I told Woody not to worry about the two week notice ‘cause Sal was in Sweden and that he could get Sal to join around the band in England. And he said, “ok.” And I came home. And that's it. But the part that was difficult for me, it wasn't that difficult, but after I had been home for a week, two weeks I get a telegram from Willie Alexander from the Count Basie band asking me if I was interested in joinin’ the band in Florida. They left me a number if I was interested call this number and confirm it.
FB: Willie Alexander booked all the bands so they knew who was with who. They knew you left Woody.
AMG: Yeah. They know they know.
AMG: Funny thing with how those agents funny thing man, there was kind of a funny deal going. Me, Sal, and Frank Foster. Sal went with Basie and we were kinda bouncin’ around. Those guys know who does what you know. And of course I had Bobby Playder. Robert Playder was lead there and Lockjaw. They knew me. They’ve had ???. (FB:???) No Lockjaw, Eddie Davis. (FB: Oh Lockjaw Lockjaw sorry.) So Lockjaw was probably saying ??? "Andy, he can't play my stuff anyway." And so I got a telegram to join Basie's band. And I gave it a little thought. I said to my wife "I always wanted to play with this band, what do you think?" She said, "I'm not touching it." She said, "I'm not gonna sit here and you lookin’ at the television sayin’ I could have been there." She was clever. That did it. I didn't even reverse charges. I called Willie Alexander and thanked him and told him that I couldn't do it. But it was kind of a hard decision. By the way she responded, very negative, not negative very open. Sayin’, "No you do whatever." And that did it. I think if I’d thought about it longer I would have gone. Just the expression on her face when she said that, that's it. I said nah.
FB: So big decisions come down to phone call or no phone call you know what I mean?
FB: And you don't regret it.
AMG: Oh no. I started working with the organ group. No, I didn't regret it. Once I make a decision man I try not to look back on it. Even today I don’t try to second guess myself. The older you get the better you get at it.
FB: Yeah. Or you just can't bare to look back sometimes. I've been in those positions where you know I made a bad decision. I bite my lip and say, "I've got to move on." Don't even think about it, it's past.
AMG: That's right. Well of course I had a good reason to look ... My kids are growin’ up in school and I had to get my daughters in ??? and Brookline High. So I had to that to think about too. And I kinda put that moment over my career right then. Because 10 years out there, you know switchin’ from one place to another. So that was it. So I worked…What I did I donated an hour of my time in South End Music School. To start a little jazz band. So, they gave me a couple of hours of teaching. Very little money. But I started this little... you know one of the guys that came in one time and sat in and brought a trumpet player ???. (FB: Really? George?) George. I had a little band over there. And Mr. Berk heard about it and he gave me some music and I had these, South End Music School on Rutland…and Gazone came over and brought a trumpet player. I couldn't keep it up because I couldn't afford the family. But out of all that I got a job all new music school in Newton. I was doing alright. I was workin’ with the organ group. Good organ group. I was teachin’ at all new music school. Everything was doin’ alright.
FB: But now Larry Berk knew about you?
AMG: Well, I'm tryin to figure out how did he… they found out I needed some music. They told me to go in the library and pick anything I wanted. (FB: Nice!) Well, Larry's a genius he's a smart man you know. I can't remember unless I asked him for it, I can't remember if I did or not... Anyway, they gave me some music and of course when the summer broke up that kinda faded away.
FB: So you had like 3 horn charts right?
AMG: No no no I had 3 saxophone players. Then, Gazon came in just for a while. Then I had the one little trumpet player. No, I was just playin regular band stuff. Yeah you know. I was gonna try to write something, but it was just somethin’ to get it started. And I had a good rhythm section. Anyway, The guy name was Novak. He was head of the place. He introduced me to the lady at the….the Swiss lady Gamature I never could pronounce it correctly. She was head of Newton Music School and she hired me to teach out there. So I was teaching out there on Fridays and doing organ group and things…
FB: So you were there for what a couple years?
AMG: Up until… no no no…Until Charlie recommended me to Berklee. Charlie got ready to leave. Mr. Berk... John was well they were debating whether...John didn’t want Charlie to….because Charlie was leaving in the middle of a semester.
FB: Yeah you said he was getting antsy. Couldn't wait to get out on the road again.
AMG: Yeah Charlie couldn’t…That teaching was getting’ to Charlie. And Charlie... but he couldn't wait ‘til the end of the semester. Mr. Berk loved Charlie. Like he…Mr. Berk loved all the players. There's nothing I can say more greater than what a pleasure of meeting Larry Berk. He say, "Well Charlie you got to get somebody with some kind of experience, background that you have..." He said, "I got the man. Andy McGee."
FB: He had known you for 20 years.
AMG: Yeah. We'd known each other for 20 years.
FB: From the conservatory days.
AMG: Yeah. When I first came here. Of course, he was at the jam session at Wally's with us. Charlie said, “Andy.” So Mr. Berk said, “Ok.” After… then I talked to Bob Share.
FB: Bob Share?
AMG: Yeah I talked to Bob Share and then I talked to Mr. Berk later.
FB: Bob Share wow, he was a beautiful guy.
AMG: Yeah. I talked with him and then I talked with Charlie. That was nice. Charlie man…That was great for me to get a little settled because I was getting’ sick of the organ group too.
FB: So here you were you were settled in Boston, you had your family growing up. And you had a teaching gig at Berklee. You were set.
AMG: Yeah I was set. I was workin’ hourly. And then I got…What happened at Berklee. After I got there at Berklee, I met John Laporta. I took Charlie's place, and Charlie had all ensembles. So, I had hours of bands. I had at least 6 bands. (FB: Whoa.) (mumblings) (FB: Like ABCDE) No, I had the weird band, I had a small band, which was a 9 piece with music by Tony Teixeira ...
FB: Oh sure. I remember seeing that band.
AMG: I had that band. Tony wrote the music for that band. And then I had a jazz ensemble with Richard Cole, Tony Germaine, Grossman (FB: Steve Grossman?) not Steve his brother, Hal Grossman, a good drummer I can't think of his name right now. I had that group. And then another band.
FB: What was the weird band?
AMG: Who were they?
FB: Well yeah ok.
AMG: They were… it was a band. It was a weird band. And they were weird too. It was kind of avant-garde type of music and stuff. I can't remember all the guys’ names. But It wasn't the (snaps fingers) thing, it was different.
FB: And you jump right into this? You had this all set up Charlie left and you jumped in?
AMG: Well yeah I had to.
FB: Andy leaped in.
AMG: You can put it that way, 'cause the guys in the weird band they looked at me strange you know. Well Charlie's you know Charlie’s big name and Charlie's strange too. Charlie’s just the opposite of me. Charlie will say, “Man that sucked” and he ... I'd say "Well that's not so good. "
FB: You were a little more diplomatic.
AMG: Diplomatic yeah. Charlie was different. But they were kinda strange. I was ambitious, you know how I ‘ll tell you how I got over with those guys. You know what I did?
FB: No what?
AMG: They were the best players in Berklee. They were all over, they were in different bands, Herb’s band and they were mixed, they were good players. I went and got ... they had some difficult music. I went in the library and got a Count Basie chart "Cute." (FB: Yeah Neal Hefti.) But man they…they started gigglin’. That arrangement was like a high school arrangement, I mean it’s a Basie arrangement, but it’s very easy. (FB: It's got those little pauses in it. It is easy, but it’s nice.) I know them cats, they were like... they were like man you gotta be kiddin’. I guess they assumed some heavy chops and things.
FB: But you had a reason for that.
FB: Get their time right.
AMG: They had trouble playin’ it. I knew that.
FB: Yep, all those little pauses got to be right on the button.
AMG: The tempo... The tempo. And I put it slower than what it was. So they were having trouble… They were laughin and gigglin until I said, “No”…and that way I kinda bail out of...but that was kind of a tough band. You know that was kind of scary I didn't know what to do with that.
FB: I remember that. That was on the e=mc^2 album. Ernie Royal was playing lead I think on that.
AMG: I don't know really.
FB: Yeah, but that's a great great album.
AMG: It's like a type of arrangement that all high school bands play. Anyway,..
FB: But that was a reality lesson for those guys.
AMG: Yeah. And later… and they kinda started to give a little more respect. Later they wouldn't go to sleep as often. But after that there were so many... John Laporta called me and said, "Andy, man, I'd like for you to be in my department." (FB: Nice.) So that when I went into John Laporta's department I did all these courses… I did a bunch of his stuff and I cut down on the ensembles. Yeah yeah that was good. And I was able to get into another department, which was wonderful. You know Ted P's arranging department. I liked that. So I had a little more variety. Then Lennie Johnson… Then John Laporta brought Lennie Johnson in.
FB: He was playing with Herb's band at the time.
AMG: Yeah well he's been playing with Herb's band all the time. But, John’s the one that brought him in. (FB: Good.) He had been playing with Herb. Lennie’s been playin with Herb… Herb was… Lennie was doing some kind of a day job. But John Laporta's the one that brought him in. Then Jimmy Mosher came in.
FB: Oh Jimmy yeah.
AMG: But I was doing a lot of John's stuff. So that's the way that went.
AMG: After I did the John Laporta thing for a while I started gettin private students and I enjoyed that. And Joe Viola asked if I wanted to some in the woodwind department. And that's what I did.
FB: What are some of your prized students to come out of that.
AMG: Oh man. Oh I got uh Richard Cole, Greg Osby, Antonio H?, Jovan Jackson, there's another one named Oliver, (FB: Ralph Moore), Ralph that’s… Ralph Moore.
FB: And then your boss.
AMG: Oh my boss. That's right. My boss. My two bosses. Bill Pierce and Matt Mavulio. Yep that’s right. I also, he didn't say it, but Joe Viola was a little upset because Joe Lovano said that he was Joe was his first teacher, but that 's not right. I was his first teacher. One semester. Joe called me up about that because he was very upset about that. That's it. I think Joe Lovano was here one semester or something so it probably you know... Yeah I was his first teacher. There's a couple other guys. (FB: Donald...) Not Don, I had Don Harrison in my ensemble. Don Harris. But man there's some other young guys that ... Oh Neil Shaw... (FB: Jaleel) Jaleel Shaw. Oh man. And I also had Walter for one semester. (FB: Walter Smith?) Yeah Walter Smith. (FB: He's something else.) He's something else but I only had him for one semester. The rest of the guys I had for more. Ralph Moore I had for about 5 semesters. There's some other guys that are playin’, now that I catch their name, boy they're great players man. Oh Tim Price. (FB: Oh ok.) Can't forget him because he's the only one that I… I hear from every Christmas. He never fails to thank me for helpin’ him.
FB: What was the most important lesson that you had for all these guys? I mean what were one or two principles that you had that were really vital?
AMG: Well, my whole thing is to be very truthful. You know what hurts? I mean as a teacher I'm not too diplomatic. You know like I was talkin’ about Fitz Reynold. I mentioned him he needed to work on his time. He got bent out of shape. So, we never communicate. But I do that. I hear a student play write down all his good points and I write down the bad points and then I tell them this part we'll talk about the good part, but I'm gonna work on this. And if it deals with time or his ear, I tell him. I don't just say you know everything's cool. I just tell him that that's what we gotta work on. And if you gonna play jazz which most students don't want to hear is you got to have ears and you got to have time. Ears can be fixed. I mean you can teach a person to hear, I think. The one thing I haven't found out how to straighten out is if a guy doesn't know where one's at. I haven't found how to correct that yet. You know if he has a time problem I work different things. Some I solved some I haven't.
FB: Yeah that's a hand, eye, brain coordination and ear is a very very delicate neural synapses at work there. And it's not something you can... You either got it or you don't have it.
AMG: Well the ear thing I can train. ‘Cause a lot of kids can hear but they don't know what they're hearing. You can make them hear that. But time, I haven't found out anything…how to solve that, yet. I mean I've helped it. I know certain things will help time and stuff like that.
FB: It's good to give students that initial assessment. You hear them play, these are your good points these are your not so good points.
AMG: It worked, but it's a disadvantage when you get a star from Crossroads Junction and he's the best player and then you have to tell him that this area has a problem. You got to do some kind of way, I don't know.
FB: I've heard students say that. They come from being a big fish in a small pond to come into the big city and all of a sudden they're not number one anymore.
AMG: Especially here at Berklee. Because you see when you come to Berklee you were in high school and you come here and you the great player and then you might have a kid that's from Japan or from Europe who's already played professionally who's coming here to work on some more things and all of a sudden he realize he’s not the best... the child prodigy they say he was.
FB: Right. This is like a huge melting pot. Where everybody's checkin’ everybody else out. You're learning where you really fall in the big picture of things.
AMG: The thing I found out, a lot of experience of teaching, when I was younger I was very just definite. I've tried to do it verbally, easier, in a more diplomatic way. Diplomatic way not taken away from it but through my verbal approach is very different so it don't knock ‘em down.
FB: Yeah you don't want to bruise their egos too much.
AMG: No no I don’t want to especially dealin’ with someone else's kid. I think a teacher, "Oh I'm studyin’ with Andy McGee" and they... you know. I have a lot of…You have a lot of influence on people's children. (FB: That's true.) That took me a time, 'cause when I first started teaching, Right away I'd be say "Man look your time is out."
FB: So you learned how to gloss it over a bit and make it a little more encouraging.
AMG: Yeah I try to… a little softer
FB: It takes a while.
AMG: Yeah it takes a while. Tony would say, Tony's my man, but Tony Teixeira would say so and so can you drive front? You know he was always. He asked that a ton.
FB: Mr. Blunt.
AMG: Yeah he was funny. He's a funny cat.
FB: He wrote some great stuff.
AMG: Great great. Fantastic musician. Great loss. Great loss when he passed away.
FB: Much too young.
AMG: We did a lot of jingles and things together. Music was his life. That was one of the praises of being at Berklee.
FB: I caught that band with him and Allen and the rhythm section. And all you guys up front. That was a gas. Did they make any records?
AMG: No. They had Jimmy Durban on baritone...(mumblings)
FB: There must be some tapes around.
AMG: No it was a rehearsal band. Well Tony was a straight guy. He's got a rehearsal band, he's got Allen Dawson, and he's got me , he’s got Jimmy Durban stuff like that. He'd never record the band because guys like myself... When you start sayin’, "Look let's record ya." We're talkin’ about some money. People etiquette is not in the music business. "Let's do a recording, let's do this." You got to tell Allen well wait a minute, and me record for what?
FB: Is this a rehearsal tape or is this going out to the public kind of thing?
AMG: Yeah. Well even that...we don’t want t hat. It’s a rehearsal band. We rehearse and that's it. Unfortunate music business wise it got so, I don't know the word for it. Etiquette...guys take your music make some money and you get nothin’.
FB: What are some of the other high points of your career here at Berklee? Some of the most satisfying events or achievements that you've had here at Berklee?
AMG: Well one of the…When I first came here one of the high points was I met so many good musicians and good… when I first came and I was able to converse with anybody. We were very close. I could work with everybody. To meet John Laporta, Allen and all those guys, Herb. That's ... and then of course the high point of meeting being a friend of Mr. Berk and Joe Viola, those are the kind of high points. Of course naturally one of the highest points is the fact that, three or four years ago they gave me a tribute. I thought that was… Larry McCullen, he worked that out. That's one of the things... it was lot of musical, it was a lot of good musical things that I couldn't really pinpoint. I'm just talking about the feeling part. I didn't feel like I was going to a job you know. You could do something with everybody, you know I mean it was close. And then Mr. Berk.. If I had to talk to him about anything I didn't have to go through a whole you know system. I'd knock on the door or something.
FB: Personal one on one.
AMG: One on one.
FB: What was Larry like as a person? I only saw him at public events. I didn't get to know him close.
AMG: He was a very smart man. Very smart, very smart. Good businessman. Tough tough. You know business wise. He would make you feel good. They would say sometime that you'd go in for a raise and you'd leave smilin’ and you didn't get it.That wans’t in my case, he was always concerned. You could always talk to him if you had any personal problems. He was one of the guys. I mean you know. The main thing that impressed me about him too, he was interested in the art. That's the thing that bothers me today that he was interested in, and he recognized that jazz is the only art form of music that is all American. He knew about it. He played a little piano. He and I used to... He understood what he wanted to do. And that's why...Nobody else wanted to do this type of thing deal with jazz you know. When he started an all jazz school. New England Conservatory they laughin’. Well not laughin, but it's jazz school. (FB: Snobby.) Well they say you know, what all jazz? But this is what...but he understood that and he loved it. He loved it.
FB: He was one of the few people who as you say combined jazz and business in a creative fashion. Like George Ween was another guy.
AMG: Yeah well I wouldn't make that comparison. I know both them, I don't know George that well.
FB: But he was a player who was a businessman. And he made his life with the music. I mean different kind of personality.
AMG: Yeah George is different. Larry, well you know. I have to say George kept the art going through ??? ... he worked hard to keep quality music going. I got to give him credit for that. I didn't know him as well as Mr. Berk. Mr. Berk and I became good friends. And we talked...I could say talked about anything.
FB: But artistic level of excellence was a very important factor for him.
AMG: Yeah yeah. That's the same thing too with George. You know, with the Newport jazz festival. I did some things with George. But the personality was a little different. George you know he’s a businessman too, he lookin’ at himself a little bit. He kinda looked at himself in the mirror at himself.
FB: He wanted to play a little more not be in the background so much.
AMG: Yeah. It was nothin’ for him to sit in with Coltrane or anybody, which would be out of place. You know what I mean? I think he's carrying it a little too far.
FB: What kind of progressions have you seen in the evolution of jazz...
FB: Yeah in other words say when you came back from being with Woody and you said you went to hear Coltrane, you were kinda like reassessing things or seeing how music is developing. Since that time what other progressions have you seen in the evolution of music that either please you or disturb you? We were both disturbed about hip-hop. But what other phases of the jazz world that you've seen that you dig or don't dig?
AMG: Well I'll tell ya. What irritates me with young people when they say... they start talkin’ about Coltrane, and they start talkin’ Sam Rivers and they start talking about guy. I know both of those guys well. And those guys can play any style and they practice and they have 40 years of experience. And they start playin’ something a little different than from other people and they figure that they did it in 40 years that they can do it in 2 years. It doesn't work that way. It's a process. Now whether... I like some... I know some of them would say I'm crazy, but some of the things I heard Coltrane do that night I didn't like it. But I look... I know what he stands for and that's good. I didn't go there as a saxophone player. I went there as a person and my feelings inside sayin’ I didn't like it. Because when I left I was hurtin inside. Two drums and things. But I know that Coltrane... All the stuff he plays. How much he practices. They say if you passed Trane's house and he wasn't practicin then he wasn't at home. I know Trane personally. When we travelled with Woody's band he practiced all the time during the tour, I never see him outside on the sidewalk in Paris drinkin wine or anything. I had my wife and I was havin’ a ball. He was practicin’ and I know this. And then the young... the interpretations that young people get.
AMG: That disturb me because saxophone is an easy instrument to play badly. And there's a lot of bad players out there and they think they're playin’. And that bothers me as a teacher and it bothers my ears. I know. When you start sayin’ Free Bag stuff like that to me, that's a cop out. Learn to play and do all the stuff and everything. Then if you want to free yourself...They spend 2 years playin’ free bag. Free from what? They can't play. And that upsets me. It is ... to this day it's like I said I heard Trane and I know what Trane can do. The night that I heard Trane he had two drummers, he had Phil Sommers there...I was talkin’ about inside of me. I wasn't talkin’ about saxophone. Because I would never even compare myself to what Trane can do with saxophone. It wasn't that. I said my feelin’. I probably would want to slap my wife if I had seen her. That's the feelin’ I had and that's not the feelin’ that I want. That's not the feelin’ that I want when I ....
FB: No. I hear that kinda rage and disquiet and discomfort, unhappiness with a lot of the new music I hear nowadays. It makes me sick. I don't want to listen to it, It's too upsetting.
AMG: Too upsetting. If people want to hear that that’s great. If people want to be upset great. It has nothing to do with old school or new school. When I go to hear Joe, or Dexter Gordon any of the saxophone players. Joe Hendinson, Joe Lovano, anybody Bill Pierce. I go there not as a saxophone player. When I go there and pay the thing, I don't go there to be a jazz critic. You go you're a writer you go for two reasons for the feelin’ and and the other things too which is good. When I go there it's not as a saxophone player. And when I leave that place if inside of me I feel good, It doesn't have to be one of those guys it could be a guy I'd never heard. Then I like it. But when I leave there and I 'm upset and nervous and all that... That's not what jazz is all about as far as I'm concerned. And like I said saxophone is an easy instrument to play badly,
AMG: And close is also the piano. Those guys who are great as a kid. Great background good teachers and learn good classical music and everything. Then they find out I can't make it in classical well I'll play jazz. Boom. Next week they're a jazz player. That's where classical got the advantage, you can't do that. You can't play Bud Powell and then say, “I’m gonna play me some classical music.” You know and start playin’ classical. And then you get the opposite. Classical players all over the piano and then they say they can't make it and they say, “Well, shit I'll play some jazz” then and then they're a jazz player. But if they don't want that they say avant-garde and that’s . And that's happened in jazz. They can dislike me and everything. I heard some tenor player that played. It just disturbs me. My radio? cuts off. It disturbs me. I can tell in their playin’ in the first place, he doesn't have a good sound and that he's using tricks 'cause there's certain keys that you can do tricks in Bb you can do overtones. And that's what key they're playin’ in. If you ask him to play a ballad, he'd say “oh I'm traditional.” they've got names for music. "traditional or old fashioned." Even if it's an outside ballad. I don’t care. One of his ballads he couldn't even hold the whole notes. And I know that from experience. And these guys get big write ups now about how great they are.
FB: So as a teacher, you would teach the craft, but how do you teach, how can you instill in students a sense of a feel good emotion? Can you give them that?
AMG: Well no. What I deal with. Direction I don't... I teach fundamentals. I lose a lot of students that way. If a student doesn't have a good sound and I tell him to practice long tones he looks at me like I'm crazy. But long tones are boring. You play clarinet...
FB: Sixteen whole notes, work on your tone, Man that's boring.
AMG: That's boring. Especially if he comes to Berklee and he's playin’ long tones and the kid next to him is playin’ 15 years and burnin’ oh he just can't stand that. I mean long tones, fundamentals, the mechanics of the saxophone, that's my main thing is the fundamentals. My other thing is you must listen. I just tell them that. They must listen to music if they want to be in music. You'd be surprised how many kids want to play music and don't listen to music. (FB: no.) You have to listen, then by listenin’ I let them make their choice of the direction they want to go.
FB: So do you say listen to: Johnny Griffen, Dexter Gordon...you give em a list of people?
AMG: I name all the good listen to... Sam Rivers, John Coldrin, Joe Lovano, if you want to go back and hear some ballad playin’ I'll recommend Hawkins. Different…(FB: Willie Smith.) Yeah. I had Tony Hot, He could play everything good sound and he'd never heard of Earl Boston. And Earl Boston is one of the artisimo he's one of the greatest. I said to Tony Hot, "You ever heard Earl Boston, he said, “Nah I never heard of him.” I said go listen to Earl Boston, and he flipped. He couldn't believe it. So then he got that. But he don't play like Earl Boston..
FB: That's right. No, but he's got a nice sweet sound when he wants it.
AMG: That's what I try to do.
FB: Tony's become a damn good teacher himself. He was teachin’ in Newton after he was here.
AMG: Well he's had... he took Jimmy... job at queens...He's the professor at Queens now. I give credit to myself any time you hear any of my students the first thing you're gonna say is, " Man he's got a good sound." But that has it’s…Now it's a disadvantage in a way. When Tony Hot and all those guys came to school they came here to play the instrument. Kids now, come they're all in a category. If you want to play traditional you go see Andy. If you want to play out if you want to play this way you go see this guy, if you want to play another way you go see this guy.
FB: Oh so they put you in a box.
AMG: They got you boxed. They want to play some old stuff you go to Andy. If you want to play some outside you do this. And all the guys that they talkin’ about the faculty here... has all the fundamentals, good sound, know tunes, been playin’ a hundred years. Nobody in this faculty hasn't been playin...I been playin 50 years. All the cats have been playin’ 30-40 years.
FB: The kids think they got you figured out before they even go.
AMG: Oh yeah you go to Andy you get the old stuff. It's amazing. But the only thing about it is I guess they call that progress. Another thing I tell the students too which is I guess supposed to be progress is this... I've written a couple of books myself.
AMG: I said to a student, I said, “who's your favorite player.” They say “Dexter Gordon. “I say that's great. Or anybody. Next lesson he comes in he has a Dexter Gordon book, boom. With all the solos. I said, “Did you listen to Dexter play?” “No.” He hadn't even heard him play, but he's got all the solos there he's bought. When I was comin’ up we had to pick out all that stuff the bird did off the record. We had to sing it. We could sing it. The girls hung out with us could sing. They'd listen and we picked this stuff off the record. We happened to write it down or get somebody who had to solo he understood it. Now I got the students who like Dexter they want to play his music they've never even heard him play. It don't work that way.
FB: His sound he gets is not what you see on the page.
AMG: No you can't write it on the page. That's what they're doin’. As soon as they…There's nothin’ wrong with doin’ research. I buy some of the books sometimes too to see what the guys can do, but I've been playin’ 50 years. When they learn how to play and listen to these people. They should transcribe themselves. If not, but one chorus of a player that they like. When I got a student and I say, “Who's your favorite player?” And he starts wonderin’. Right away that gives me somethin’ that he doesn't really know what... Everybody's got to have a favorite player. “Oh I like ‘em all,” they say, well I do too, but Don Boss is my man, I couldn't play like Don. Because Don Boss had too much technique so I listen to “Prayer.” 'Cause prayers kinda fit what I was doin’ technically. But I didn't say I liked everybody.
FB: Anybody you named in the last few minutes. You listen to the first two bars and you know who that is because of the sound. The sound is absolutely like a thumbprint man. You can’t copy it.
AMG: And the one guy…Another thing that a lot of the students do...They would tell another student who played better than they. I don't want to copy Coltrane, this kid is copyin Coltrane you know. He can't play this one can't play, I want my own thing. Keep your own thing it's just nothin’. Coltrane…That kid who's copyin’ Coltrane, what he will develop is a concept in sound and everything. And the music change and he‘s gonna change. When I was comin’ up every alto player in the country played like Bird man, but I could tell Sonny Stiff, I could tell ??? and I could tell Charlie Mariano. I could tell all who is who. None of ‘em sounded like Bird.
FB: Nope. He was their model, but they didn't sound like him.
AMG: That’s right. They didn’t sound like him. Campbell’s sound. I like Campbell’s sound.
FB: It's beautiful. It's like a Cadillac.
AMG: That's right. You got to have a mid?? You can go to a basketball court and see kids playin’ basketball. And you can tell who the kids like as a player by sight. That Doesn't mean you're not gonna play necessarily you could grow 6 feet taller. I mean 2 or 3 inches taller and you'll be able to do something different than he can do. Same thing with the playin’ too because if you say at 18 or 19 I'm gonna do my thing. You don't have anything.
FB: Right. You got to have something to build on.
FB:Build on the fundamentals. Do some listening. Become a discriminating listener.
AMG: Your thing…You're too young to have your thing. Playing is like a fingerprint. Nobody's gonna play the same. That's the thing that bothers me. Usually I have some good players. They say you sound like Coltrane. You sound like Charlie Parker. You sound like Joe Lovano. Here's a kid who's 19 years old playin like that. Boy that's amazed me. I'd say, “Keep on.” Because after a while he’s gonna get away the music's gonna be different. The tunes are different. The way Wayne Shorter writes tunes now... I've been playin for 50 years. To get the right sound I have to go over it. I can't play the same sound that I play on one tune you know. I tell the students you take a tune, a modal tune. You can't play the G dorian the same way on every tune. You got the sound of the tune determine how you gonna play. And Wayne plays he's probably have an A7 something and the melody's goin this way. So I got to get used to the sound and I can't play it like I played “Sister Sadie.”
FB: Right. Junior Cook.
AMG: I can't play it the same way and that comes from listenin’. I'm 77 now I listen to all players. I go to Wally's and listen to my students. I go down there Friday nights, Saturday nights 'cause when Brown... when Walter was there, I’d go down a couple times a month listen to Walter play. Yeah I go hear them.
FB: You like what you hear.
AMG: Yeah I like when I go down to Wally's at that joint stay there. If Joe Lovano is playin at this place over here I go catch him. If Bill Pierce is playin I go catch Bill Pierce. Greg Osby or any one else... I don't go over there and say Oh man he's squeakin and all that. I listen to what they're tryin’...You know what else I do if I'm with Bill Pierce next door and I hear Bill play somethin’ that's really nice, I steal it. (FB: Uh huh.) I try. I get it.
FB: You know what? You're just taking back what you give him in the first place. In a way in a sense. You're just taking back from yourself.
AMG: When Bill had the fundamental when he got with Art. He's been in this town playin good. He got in that enviornment with Art and all that. Now when Bill was studyin with me he was really on Joe Hendinson. Joe Hendinson really ol' Joe. The only reason I like Joe now... And Woody made a statement about that to, he said…when he had the band and Sal and I were in the band he knew who was playin without lookin around the other players he had he couldn't tell which one was playin, because all their sound was alike.
FB: Who said that? Woody?
FB: You mean in the 80s or later on?
AMG: There was one certain year that he couldn't tell who's playin. He had to look around to find out who was playin.
FB: Oh my gosh. Oh oh I see.
AMG: But that enviornment... a young guy who finished school...just like me I was the same way, when I finished New England Conservatory I said I'm ready. I wasn't ready for nothin’. I go to New York and get killed and this is a guy who has a day job. The only time I learned something was when I got into Hamp's band. And the alto player Zach he killed me every night. And then another.
AMG: Zach Zachary was the alto player. He played so much stuff man. And then the next week we look down there's another tenor player, Herman Green, never heard of him. Man he'd make you practice. Now it's beginnin’ to branch out because of these guys.
FB: So, you can give your students fundamentals and some good people to listen to. But when they hit the streets and hit the bands that's when things really open up.
AMG: New school... New school altogether. Even Willy Walter play , he went to New York, he found out it was a different bag. The only thing is the way he did, he has the facility to deal with it. (FB: Right right.) And of course, not only that, I think like Trane you never really stop learning. After you get to that level you want to go to another level. Those are the guys that really turn out to be good players. Once you start lookin in the mirror at yourself and you say, “I can play” you're done. You’re done.
FB: There’s always another thing to reach for. There's always another level you can bring yourself up to. It’s endless.
AMG: Always. Because that horn doesn't have any soul at all. I've been playing for 50 years, I haven't played my horn for 2 or 3 days, As soon as I pick up my horn, it tells me, "You know what you've been goofin."
FB: A tough mistress.
AMG: That's the thing with me at my age now is to try to maintain the level that I…. That's the problem. Not going above my level but to maintain the level. Because to do that, I have to do what I did before, I was playin every night and playin jam sessions. So I used to play 6 one nighters in a row. That's the thing that bothers me about it. The progress, and these mouthpieces, they got mouthpieces made so you can play loud. They figure the louder you play that's good. The louder it is the better it is. (FB: Bigger bore.) Or whatever it is.
AMG: I went to Rayburn about 3, about 6 weeks ago when I was playin somethin. And it was a Berklee student you know the first thing he asked me? "What kind of mouth piece have you got?" He asked me what kind of mouthpiece. When ??? fell out, he fell on the floor.
FB: I got the mouth not the mouthpiece.
AMG: I got the 50 years blowin’ that damn thing. He asked me what mouthpiece he figured …If I told him the mouth piece, that he's gonna say "??? give me that mouthpiece" and he thinks he's gonna sound the same.
FB: Yeah this is the two year wonders.
AMG: Yeah that's the thing that bothers me. And the free bag, that bothers me. That bothers me you know. But nothing I can do about it. Just like rap bothers me too. But you know that's big.
FB: Well you know you keep up with what you can keep up with and you have to ignore the rest. You know? I mean you can't be on top of it all the time. There’s just too much stuff happenin’ out there.
AMG: Well you know that’s true. The only thing that bothers me is the art itself. There was one time the jazz peak was really up there. I remember 4 or 5 years ago just me I had to cancel gigs, I was in France and I was going from France to Korea and I had to cancel gigs. Now nothin. Nothin's happenin at all. Because now when I turn on… Everytime I turn on the television guys who study guitar should keep on because every band I see now has got 8 guitars.
FB: That's the biggest major here by far.
AMG: Well it has been for years, but now I see so many groups whatever they playin. I just happen to pass on television it doesn't stay long. I don’t see too many, well you know big bands, the only time I see a big band now is when they come from Lincoln Center.
FB: Oh yeah. Winton Marsalis's bands. He keeps inventing new programs of really fascinating music to come up with. You know bringin’ new people and new little wrinkles. He's always reinventing things down there. Either historical or contemporary.
AMG: Well he's got people who's interested in keepin the art goin and they got money. And the thing is like I said, We don't have any young band leaders comin up, You remember when Duke was up, ??? had a band, then Diz had a band. Then other guys would take their place you know. Jimmy ??? when they left Duke and Count Basie and stuff. I would like to see a young 28 year old Berklee student with some little smokin 18 piece band not playin Count Basie, not playin Duke Ellington but playin their stuff, playin their ideas that's comin up that's functionin.
FB: You would like to see that. (AMG: I'd like to see that.) Greg Hopkins does his thing and brings in new stuff. And then you get kids like Kendrick Oliver who got a band together, but they‘re mostly Basie stuff from 40, 50 years ago.
AMG: I know, but I give them credit because they're still hangin’ in there. There's still some guys there that are still tryin to maintain,
AMG: And if they get the break, the right kind of break then they'll be able to go anywhere.
FB: That's really tough. It’s got to be like Monday nights, that's about you all you can...
AMG: I'm just hopin to just hang in there. I don't buy many records now. I don't know.
FB: I keep seein’ ‘em trickle in from around the country. God knows there's a lot of junior high and high school bands workin. You come down here for the festivals.
AMG: Oh yeah well that's a good sign. That's a credit to Berklee and a lot of schools conservatory, New England Conservatory. Berklee... Most of those bands are bringing Berklee alumni and they're tryin to learn the art and they're teachin the kids jazz. That's really rewarding to see those kids come in and play. But half of ??? One guy wanted to be a doctor and the other wanted to be an engineer and they’re doin becase of the education point of view. When I started at 12 I was definite goin to be a musician. That was my thing. I didn't have enough brain to be a doctor. I knew music was my thing, but these kids they have it a little different. I see these kids, all the kids in the saxophone section got ??? instruments... Man I had a rubber band and everything it's a little different thing, (FB: ???) a rubber band, my mother bought me a plaster reed so it would last me 4 years. So it last 4 years. Just the move of the thing, I guess they call it progress man. The thing where the guy plays the record and goes reka reka reka ...
AMG: Scratching. That's another thing, I won't touch that. Scratching.
FB: Better not go there, better not go there. The new Downbeat has a blindfold test with DJ Logic who's a scratch master. And they put together some scratch jazz things for him to talk about. The new issue. The new issue of Downbeat. I don't think they've ever had a scratch guy before.
AMG: I won't go there because... How long does it take you to study how to scratch? 6 months to learn how to scratch?
FB: I don't know. They got a couple new class in it here now with Steve Weber and those guys.
AMG: Well I know that's why I asked.
AMG: Maybe I should go and find out what the scratchers about.
FB: Maybe we could learn somethin Andy.
AMG: Yeah yeah yeah. Maybe I can learn somethin that's one on me. But that's you know, I can't understand some of it.
FB: We got a lot of material here. Let's go get some lunch.
AMG: Yeah let's get some lunch and ... Truthful, I tell you what I'm really afraid of man, this is a great art, even one for the foreign country. I heard a guy say, you know when I go to Spain I hear good Spanish music, when I go to Israel I hear good Israelian music when I go to Africa I hear.... you see but jazz is the only music you hear all over the world, everywhere jazz.
FB: But now you got Israeli guys playin’ Spanish jazz in Boston. A guy like Alan Nyavni. The cat who's uh. He's from Israel he learned to play some really really good samba and Latin music. And now he's workin’ with Pequito de Rivera who's a Cuban down in New York. I wrote Alan's first liner notes when he was down here in Boston. He was phenomenally talented. I mean the world is shrinking and things are mixing up a lot more.
AMG: But I was sayin’ that when the world was wide, was big, jazz was all over the world with Louie Armstrong, I might not even heard Spanish music many years ago. But jazz has been heard all over the world for years. That's one music that didn't just stay in one place. Everybody was playin’ it. They were playin’ it. Even in China they
FB: But jazz has influenced a lot of the music in Africa.
AMG: Oh sure.
FB: We learned from the Afro Cubans from New Orleans and up. And now the Americans like you went to Algiers. Randy Westin went to Morocco, (AMG: Morocco.) he influenced the people over there. They're pickin’ up the jazz stuff mutating it and feeding it back to us. So it's like, it's really a melting pot now.