BOHP_2005-05-19_AVega Chapter 7
FB: This is just about the time that they recorded with Miles Davis in New York, that Birth of the Cool album, what -- '49? AV: Ted would get nice write ups from Downbeat-ers, an alto player, but he played great tenor. I think he could have been another Stan Getz, but the decision came to whether he should go with Woody Herman or Vaughn Monroe, Vaughn paid more so he went with Vaughn. If he had gone with Woody... FB: He would have been one of the first Herds. AV: He could play, I don't know what it was, well I know what I was. When he played with Thornhill he was having Gil Evans writing and Gerry writing and no matter what tune we played, he knew beautiful lines. He had all this, he was ahead of us hearing lines and playing great harmonies, being around those guys. Anyway, 1950 came... so that lasted for awhile then it was the end of that so I had to go start playing with the society bands in Boston which were Ruby Newman and Harry Marchand [?] and them guys. Society means you play boom-chick boom-chick, you know you play “Misty.” I'm trying to play all the good harmonies, but it's flying by, I can't, I mean you got to play simple. FB: And then one chorus and you're on to the next one and you do ten tunes in a row. AV: You haven't got time for music because the guy just goes two and the next thing you know he's playing “Just In Time” and the next thing he's playing “Why Do I Love You?” and Cole Porter and all that. You had to know 9,000 tunes which was great. I remember I played with Phil one night and I don't think he played any bridges, I played the bridges on everything. But anyway, so I did that for awhile. Then in 1950 I had a chance to go in the RKO Theatre which I said was like the Met, and I would have been playing theatre stuff for years, but I took the other job which I'm glad I did, at the High Hat as house pianist. Thelonious Monk was the house pianist, I took his place and that meant I was going to be working opposite Billie Holiday, Erroll Garner Trio, later on and Oscar Peterson Trio, Charlie Parker Quintet, Dizzy Gillespie's group. So I ended up sitting in with those guys for one reason or another, maybe the piano player got sick or he was getting high outside and then come back and they'd say come on over and play. Sometimes they gave me the band, like they'd say Georgie Auld is coming in and they tried a band they didn't like so they say get the band out like a Joe Gordon. So maybe another time I get Sam Rivers, they were all in “Gigi” [?], they were all in town. FB: So Monk was the house pianist at the High Hat for what, a couple of months maybe? AV: Yeah, I really don't know how long he was there, but I know I went there for his closing night. FB: Did he have a beard? AV: You know the owners of the High Hat were chicken men, they knew how to make chicken with a secret recipe and all that. No cover, no minimum in those days. Seven nights a week and like plenty of music from eight right up till one o'clock, nonstop. I do twenty [minutes as] solo pianist, then they do forty. I kept saying to the boss, “Give me a trio.” They say, “You don't need a trio.” Then finally he says, “Al, you got the trio. Charlie Parker's manager called and that Bird doesn't want to do more than a half hour.” So that means for me to do a half hour I could use a trio, so I said great! and they kept a trio after that. FB: Who was in the trio, the original trio? AV: Jimmy Zitano on drums, later went with Herb Pomeroy's band. Jack Lawlor on bass. Jack went with Chet Baker overseas. FB: Those are the guys who made your first album on Prestige. AV: They were on that cover you probably show. That was recorded for Prestige. That was quite a fellow because Prestige was recording Miles Davis, Sonny Stitt. FB: All the New York cats. AV: All the big names. The only local names were Charlie Mariano and myself. We'd get paid you know, it wasn't like now. I mean they didn't give you the right royalty count like everybody else would. They were so crude about it, they'd say you sold from one to two hundred and twenty. The next count would come in from 400, what happened to 300? The bookkeeper wasn't even very precise but they sent me boxes of records to ease their conscience. I'd get all these ten inch LP's they sent me. FB: You sell them off the bandstand? AV: No I kept them, they were great stuff, but not mine, different people. All these European groups they were recording. So I got a whole bunch of those which is good to listen to, educate myself. So anyway, came '52, they wanted me to go back to a single and I said, “If I do that, I'll never have the trio again.” So I went to work at the Buckminster Hotel, Storyville, the first Storyville for George Wein. I was playing alone there for awhile, but George had a trio which I ended up playing with most of the time. Roy Haynes on drums and Slam Stewart. Slam was living in a hotel, so sometimes he'd have a little too much to drink and he was "zoom zoom zoom!" and he'd do that for about five minutes then he'd start again. George would say, “Get him off!” Next time he goes "dadada" and I'd go "dada" and get him off. But it was a great trio. FB: Was Roy doing all these fancy licks? We just celebrated his 80th birthday at Scullers a couple of months ago. AV: Yeah, he still remembered my theme song which I use. He whistles it, I can't whistle it. I'll be celebrating my 84th birthday June 22. FB: And Slam was about the same age as you guys? AV: Yeah was he a little older maybe? Seemed like it. Like I say Roy is old, he's 80, so I had four years on him. I know he'd been working around Scullers, we all did that thing. FB: Oh, you mean for the theatres and the strip joints? AV: The joints were all around, yeah, there was little clubs. But later on of course I had Alan Dawson in my trio -- can't forget that! FB: Right. That was a couple of years later. AV: Yeah that was all by, which was Alan, Alex and Al. You know Alex, that's why it's “All by Al.” FB: Three Al's. AV: When you said Al, everyone looked up you know. Al, no not Alan, Alex or Al.