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|--- Mar 24 1999 Go to category|
|Subject:||Kansas City Musicians|
|From:||KC JAM (KC)|
Obviously a number of prominent Kansas City jazz musicians played important roles in your life as you were starting out here in the late 1960's and early 70's. This is your chance to name them all, and talk a little about what you learned from each.
I was so lucky, man. To me, rhythm and what you do with it is everything. And to get the opportunity to play with Tommy Ruskin regularly starting when I was 14 was probably the single most important, tangible musical education I could have had. Almost everything I still do when it comes to thinking about "time" has to do with things I picked up from listening to and watching Tommy play. In a way I see it more clearly now than ever. He also had a huge impact on the way I think about "touch." The way he plays very gently yet really firm and in the pocket is something that I still try to emulate.
Right after rhythm is melody. To get the chance to work with Gary Sivils for three great years was an unbelievable education in melody. Gary is one of those guys who, no matter what is happening around him, always "tells a story," and he does it with an almost narrative flow. In fact, this "storytelling" quality is something that I think all the great KC improvisers have had in common. Getting to sit next to Gary all those nights and to have to follow him as a soloist was something that really prepared me for when I eventually started playing with people like Gary Burton and Sonny Rollins 'cause he (Sivils) always played with a kind of inner urgency or intensity that is there in almost all the best players. Also, I'll never forget him for just giving me the chance -- on Paul Smith's recommendation -- when I was 16 years old, and with very little experience, to play with him. My first gig with Sivils was at the old Armor East at 35th and Main. I was really nervous, but Gary welcomed me into the situation and treated me like an adult as he did throughout the years I played with him. It gave me a lot of confidence in myself and that really helped me out later.
When it came to harmony, I got one of the greatest educations possible by playing a lot with both Paul Smith and Russ Long in different editions of the Sivils band. They are both obviously great players and most of the time I was on the bandstand I would sit to the left of them and never take my eyes off their fingers. I was trying to cop all their stuff, or at least figure out what key we were playing in! In the Russ Long edition of Sivils' group, Russ was playing organ. I have since played with many organ players and to me his conception of how to do the "organ trio" thing is absolutely singular and original. In terms of day to day playing, however, I probably played more with Paul Smith. He helped me so much. By watching him accompany Sivils so beautifully, I learned how to really "listen." Paul not only "listens," he "hears," and to me that's about the best quality a musician can have. I also studied with, and occasionally played with John Elliot, the "dean" of KC's jazz educators. I think everyone studied with John at one point or another. He was very important to me in terms of opening up my ears to a wider palette of harmony.
There were also many other KC musicians I had contact with who affected me in broader ways, even though I didn't get to play with them as much. Herman Bell was someone like that. We would play together with Sivils or Warren Durrett or Steve Miller and every time he played he made something happen. The band would take on this attitude... there would be a new kind of depth to the music. Herman was also an excellent guitar player who could literally take the great conception he had as a horn player and render it just as effectively on the guitar. I took a lot of notes from watching that!
I spent some inspiring evenings hanging out with Charles Kynard, the great organ player, who actually had left KC some years before but used to come back occasionally. He was one of the best organ players I ever got to play with.
I did a few gigs with Vince Bilardo who was extremely articulate about improvisation. I remember a long drive with him to a gig in Wichita and how he very gently encouraged me to work on developing a way of playing that was more melody-based and less pattern-oriented.
And there was John McKee, who was actually the guy who got me interested in the whole idea of being a player in the first place. There are so many more... Monte Muza, Ray Harris, Arch Martin, Jack Randle, Warren Durrett, Steve Miller, Julie Turner, Marilyn Maye, Carol Comer, Kaye Dennis, Leon Brady, Frank Smith, Milt Abel, Greg Meise, Ron Roberts, Bobby Watson, Dave Scott, Dave Glenn, Kevin Clements, Don Winsell, Rob Whitsett, Bill Drybread, George Salisbury, Jess Cole... I'm sure I'm forgetting people.