John LaPorta Chapter 1-BOHP - Ralph
RR: ...Here and there, and just ask a question or something like that. It'll be more you than me, 'cause you know the story, you know. So it'll be pretty easy. JL: Or wherever you wanted to go. RR: Yeah, I might want you to do a little bit of detail on your experience with Woody and Tristano and Mingus, and as a teacher, some of your... you know, like I might ask you a question like, you know, you told me once, John, that when you improvise, and you're really having a good time, you feel like a little kid, and that when you teach your students, you want them to kind of feel that way, and you say "feel like a little kid as you're playing"... JL: Well, I didn't use that expression. "Feel like someone that's watching someone else play." RR: Oh, yeah... ah, yeah. JL: And my subconscious is really doing, and I'm just kind of watching it. RR: Other people like Kenny Werner... JL: Gary Burton's talked about that. Well, Kenny Werner, well he's saying the same thing. RR: Yeah, yeah. And it's a good thing to elaborate on, and you know, the business of trying to get that across to young students who are learning that stuff, because they're so involved with the formalized aspect of it. Learning their scales, learning how to play their instrument, and so forth. JL: Yeah. RR: And then there's this other thing that kicks in after you get some of that internalized, and that's something that you can, you know, talk about in terms of, you know... JL: Yeah they're two different things. One doesn't happen because the other one has been worked on. RR: Yeah. True. JL: They're kinda separate. RR: You're talking about the technical aspect - learning intellectually... JL: Yeah. Get into it a little. RR: Yeah, yeah. We'll... okay. Okay, well, you know what I'm gonna do is get a little glass of water. Would you like one? JL: Yeah. RR: Okay. (gets water) RR: Well, John LaPorta, I'd like to welcome you to the Friends' Lounge. It's really a thrill to do this first interview with you, as someone who grew up in the bebop era, and recorded and performed with some of the real key figures of it and then became a very committed educator to a... doing a lot of education even before you started working at Berklee, which I guess was 1962, is that when you started? JL: I started here at 1962. I started teaching fairly full-time in 1948. RR: Wow. Where was that? JL: In New York. Started in a place called Parkway Music Institute. In Brownsville. RR: Well, your whole take on what music means to you and what your experiences and how you communicate to that to students over the years is something I'd love to get into, and I'd also love to kind of take it from the top as far as how you got interested in music originally growing up in... Philly? JL: Yeah, Philadelphia. Um, I started playing clarinet when I was eight and a half years old. My father always wanted to take up an instrument and couldn't handle work, you know. Took up the guitar as a barber, and then figured he'd practice when there was no customers in there, and the boss soon put a stop to that. RR: Haha, he played a guitar, was it? What did he play? JL: He was trying to, but he never had a chance to. So he asked me if I was interested in it, and I said I'd take a crack at it. That was the start of it, you know. So I studied clarinet for a while, and then I started picking up the saxophone when I was 11 or 12. And I was playing in a German concert band, small concert band, and like summer picnics. In those days, it was like a German band, about 28-30 pieces. And we'd play a concert about an hour, especially summer at time, you know, parks and stuff like that. RR: Sure. JL: And after the concert, they would put the chairs away, and then the band would play dance music, which was German waltzes, you know, and polkas and stuff like that. RR: 30 guys. 30 musicians. It's like a double big band. JL: Yeah, well, you know, I'm talking about 1930-1931. RR: Wow. JL: So, they... RR: Charts? Were there things to read? JL: Oh yeah. Yeah, there was no... that group there was no faking, no improvising. RR: Yeah. JL: Except when a person got lost and had to find themselves. RR: (Laughs) JL: So I did a bunch of studying with different teachers and that kind of thing and wound up in a very good... I transferred from high school to a place called Mastbaum Vocational School, which turned out to be the best place in the public school system in Philadelphia for musicians. The two best music teachers in the whole system. RR: Hm. JL: So it seemed like everyone found out about it almost at the same time, like Buddy DeFranco went there, and Red Rodney, people like that. And some great classical players. Arnold Jacobs, I don't know whether you know that name, considered for many years the greatest tuba player in the world. RR: Wow, before Harvey Phillips came along. JL: Violinist and everything else. Harvey may have studied with him. He's a great teacher also. RR: That's the guy when I think of classical tuba I tend to... that's about as far as I go back. JL: He's the guy from Chicago Symphony. He was with the Chicago Symphony for years. RR: Arnold? JL: Yeah. RR: Yeah, really, okay. JL: And I wound up going on the road with small groups for about three years or so, and then I wound up with... well I play with Bob with Buddy Williams, which is a big band from Philadelphia that I had. Bill Harris was in it. Irv Kluger, I don't know if you know that name. RR: Drummer? Sure. JL: So and then from there, I went to Bob Chester's, and Woody Herman. RR: Now Bob Chester was in the early forties, right? JL: Yeah, I was with him late 1941. I was with him for a couple years. RR: How would that've compared to Woody's band that you got into a few years later? JL: Well, Bob Chester along with several other bands, Hal McIntyre and bands like that, were sort of like grade B bands, you know. And they were a feeder band for the real top bands. As a matter of fact, Benny Goodman came along and took the whole trombone section. Like Bill Harris and fellow by the name of Al Mastren, a wonderful trombone player. RR: Hm. JL: So the band would be very good at times, and then, you know, they'd raid the band and they would have to other young players. RR: Yeah. JL: But it was a very good training. Experience. RR: It was swing-type music. JL: Yeah, yeah. It was a good band. And we did two or three of the Coca-Cola shows with Bob... RR: Bob Chester Van Damme. JL: Yeah. RR: Oh, great. JL: Unfortunately, the band... I was playing with a band during an almost 2-year entering one. It was a record strike, so... no recordings of the band. RR: Oh, that's too bad.