Greg Hopkins Talking with Fred Bouchard, 1.26.2007
A Part of the Berklee Oral History Project
Fred Bouchard is a journalist, educator and world traveler, most of whose journalism is writing about jazz. Printed articles include interviews, features, concert reviews, recordings reviews for print and/or on-line media. He has contributed reviews of recordings and concerts, as well as interviews, to DownBeat magazine for decades. He retired from Berklee College of Music, Boston, where he taught Music Journalism. His 2007 interview with trumpeter/educator Greg Hopkins was part of Berklee’s ongoing Oral History Project. What follows is an edited version of the interview. The full, lengthier interview can be accessed via this link.
Fred Bouchard: And today on the hot seat we have none other than Mr. Greg Hopkins: trumpeter extraordinaire, bandleader, composer and a member of the Boston and Berklee scene for many, many years.
Greg Hopkins: Actually, 33 years now; in 1974 I moved to Boston.
FB: Nice to have you here, Greg.
GH: Nice to be here.
FB: You're one of the few people who actually wrote some notes for himself.
GH: Well, when you ask me to recall some of this history — oh boy! my mind is so much in the present and in the future. I don't think in the past too much. But there’s so much great history that I've been involved in here. So, it's fun to think about and actually review, so this could be interesting.
FB: Yeah, well I certainly expect it will be. Maybe we can get kicked off with a little personal background back in Detroit.
GH: Yeah, my hometown. Yes. I'm not a Boston native. I grew up in Detroit, born in Detroit. Motown, motor city. That was a heck of an experience. The midwest is a real hot-bed for music education and for music. Detroit was a real breeding ground for great jazz players and the great jazz scene. So I grew up, yeah, in a musical household. My father played violin, I played trumpet, my brother played clarinet and saxophone, my sister played piano. So we were kind of a family band. Yeah, actually my father taught me to play trumpet but he played violin. He taught me to play tunes. He'd play the tune. If I made a mistake he'd whap me with a bow. Play the different note. OK. So, we played a lot as kids 6, 7 years old, 8 years old. We played at school. Yeah, I remember going out to a lot of clubs to hear music in Detroit. It was just a real vibrant scene. Great clubs like The Drome Lounge, Baker's Keyboard Lounge. Then they had this series of barbeque places called Checker Barbeque. They were open ‘til 4 or 5. After everybody played at Baker's Keyboard they'd go to Checker Barbeque and play again from 2-5. So I got to see people like Les McCann, Ramsey Lewis, Oscar Peterson, Lee Morgan. I saw Freddie Hubbard play. These sessions — all night long.
GH: Yeah, it was really... There was another club, Clarence's Bluebird Lounge. Yeah, I saw Miles Davis play there. Yeah, Herbie Hancock... and I think George Coleman was in the band there. There were sessions there, people would come and play. I remember going to a club and watching Joe Henderson and his brother play “Satin Doll” for over an hour. Just the one tune. Two tenors and a drummer — back and forth, back and forth. Yeah, so then, I was young and impressionable and in high school. I thought everybody did this after high school, went and played jazz because there was so much of it around Detroit. Great scene.
FB: Even then that was a little unusual. Nationally speaking, except for New York and LA and a few other places.
GH: Detroit was a big tough industrial city. And when I was there, in the late ’50s early ’60s, it was happening. I mean it was poppin’ because the auto industry was really doing well then because the big three were there, actually the big four: Ford, General Motors, Chrysler, and AMC was a different company. The American Motors. Remember the Rambler?
FB: Yeah, my Aunt Mary drove a convertible.
FB: So presumably some guy gets taken off the night shift, 3 am they want to go hang out they'd hit one of the clubs.
GH: They'd play. They'd go out and play then. Yeah. I used to play this one session at the Viscount Lounge down in ? Michigan. I 'm not sure about the city. There would be a line of players starting at noon on Saturday, sitting in, just playing and there would be a bunch of organ players and drummers. And the session would end Monday morning at 8 o'clock. It would go from noon Saturday to Monday morning. And then you would go back to the factories and start working.
FB: We have haven't seen marathons in Boston like that for a long time.
GH: Well, you got Wally's, that rivals that. And I'm sure back then in that era it was very similar. So yeah, I met some really great musicians in Detroit. Heard some great players. I got to play with, you know, a lot of young people. And I learned from them. You learn from your peers. I got to play with one great drummer named J.C. Heard. He was (FB: Indeed. Yeah, I remember that name.) ...with Count Basie. (FB: He recorded with Randy Weston, a bunch of people.) He put together an organ trio. Organ, drums and trumpet. OK? And we used to play Count Basie charts. Arrangements. The organ player would play and I would play lead over the organ. And he would play all the drum fills just off the record. So it was like a mini mini big band. Organ and trumpet and drums. But people loved it and he was a real showman and such a nice guy.
FB: Was there some riveting moment in your teenage years where you all of a sudden said: “Damn! I'm gonna be a trumpet player!” or was there never any doubt from the time you were 6 or 7?
GH: A boy with a trumpet — what a curse that is! To put this metal thing against your face and blow, but it just worked. For some reason I put the thing up there and sound came out. I moved the valves. I could do it at an early age. Actually, my father gave me the trumpet because my teeth stuck out a little bit I kinda had buck teeth. He said, "Well." This is before orthodontics was invented I think. Anyways it was in the early ’50s. He gave me the trumpet. "Well, maybe this will push your teeth back in."
FB: Did it?
GH: A little bit. I was supposed to play clarinet, at one point I broke my hand when I was real young. I fell on a bottle which was glass. I cut my finger. I can't bend this little finger. So he said, "What am I gonna do with the clarinet? I'll give it to your brother." My brother plays clarinet and saxophone to this day. And I got the trumpet because it worked for the hook on the trumpet. Anyway, the teeth thing. So, I just played it. And then I got a really, really nice teacher. This old Italian teacher. Amo Goach? was his name. And he would teach me tunes by ear and we'd sing things and we'd play all these. He used to play with the Russ Morgan big band and he would teach me dance band lines and it was kinda fun. And then I just started playing all over town. By the time I was in high school I was giggin’. Dad's bands were big bands. They needed a lot of horn players to play. And that kind of spilled over into Motown. I got to play with a lot of Motown acts. This is like 1965-66-67, and I didn't know it was gonna be such a big year, a big famous era, or I would have taken notes. Who are you, what's your name? Blah-blah-blah. I was just in the horn section. Story of my life I'm one of the world's greatest sidemen because I love to play all styles of music. I really appreciate the musicality and deeper meaning of all music. I don't like to pigeonhole it and say I just play swing or I just play bebop.
FB: Too limiting.
GH: But I love those too. Those really stole my heart.
FB: Any Motown gigs or sessions that stick in your mind as being memorable?
GH: Not really. I got to play with Marvin Gaye when he was doing “What's Going On?” (FB: Wow.) ...some of those people. I met Jean Vanderpit who was the writer for some of those bands. The head honcho in Detroit was Johnny ??? who was the big trumpet player, he hired all the horn players and... So I was like the third call on the sub list so I got a few things. But then in Detroit, after college, I went to Michigan State. That was a real hands-on school.
FB: You mentioned going to some of the Newton, uh Notre Dame festivals.
GH: Yeah for Michigan State we had a jazz band which was kind of a contra-band actually. The music department didn't allow that. You weren't allowed to practice jazz in the practice room. So they gave the big band this old Quonset hut which was an old ROTC building. We had our own little hideaway. It was great. We were rebels on campus. So we had this big band and we'd win all these awards at these jazz festivals. Two really fine players that came through Michigan State that changed my life. One was Andy Goodrich, an alto sax player from Nashville and Memphis area. He was a tremendous player very influenced by Charlie Parker and Cannonball Adderley. And Andy Goodrich was a master educator. In his high school band, I think Nashville, was Booker Little, George Coleman, Harold Mabern, and Charles Lloyd.
GH: These are some of his students. He's a very inspired individual. Yeah, I remember him fondly. Another big influence in Michigan State was Louis Smith. Trumpet player, wonderful man. He used to play with Horace Silver in the late ’50s. I think he took Kenny Dorham's place maybe, somebody's place with Horace though. But he didn't want to stay on the road. He wanted to have a family, a normal life, didn't want to do drugs, didn't want to play that scene. So he quit the road, settled down and became a junior high band director for 40 years. But he could play. Louis Smith is a master bebopper. And those two together they had a wonderful quintet when they were in college. They were getting like their master's degrees when I was...
FB: This is at...
GH: Michigan State. I think Louis Smith went to Michigan. Well anyway they got together and played. So, that was a nice... Then we went to Notre Dame jazz festival that was kind of nice one of my first inklings that Boston was a jazz Mecca which it certainly is. It goes very deep.
FB: Berklee bands would show up and play and compete there.
GH: Yeah actually, Herb Pomeroy showed up leading a band from MIT.
FB: Oh, those guys!
GH: I was like: who's this mad professor who's conducting and leading all this wild music? And all the music was written by Berklee students or Berklee people. So, the music was very different; it grabbed you in a certain way. It was like advanced Duke Ellington or Mingus and a lot of nice improvisational moments. And then of course when I was in high school and early college. You know I heard about Berklee through the records. The Jazz in the Classroom series. You could buy the LPs.
FB: Right. Herb and Joe Viola and all that set.
GH: In fact they're collector's items today. I have a lot of the old albums. You can buy the scores so you can... I started writing at an early age also. I just had no idea what I was doing. I'm not sure I still do. You just sit at the piano and you write what you hear.
FB: Small band stuff big band stuff? a little of everything?
GH: When I started it was everything. Small band. I wrote for my high school dance band. We had a dance band I wrote for my high school concert band. The director, yeah, I'd bring stuff in. “Oh, that's — “ He didn't know what to say about it. But he let me play it and I got to conduct it. So I just started writing when I was in high school.
FB: You finished the chart yourself or did you get someone to help you orchestrate it?
GH: I did it all myself.
FB: Oh, my gosh.
GH: Yeah, no fear. When you don't know the rules you can't break them.
FB: OK. Is that what you tell them now?
GH: I do. That's my first rule in writing music is that there is no rules. As long as you hear it. If you hear it, learn how to write it. Then if you're really hearing it, then that means you like it or you want it to come out of your head. So then you make up your own rules. That's what all great composers do. Bach didn't write by any rules. But people make rules out of what he wrote. They're not really rules, they're like guidelines or parameters. Yeah I like the music of Samuel Barber lately. I've been studying his music.
GH: It's very melodic.
FB: Very much so.
GH: Yeah, and very poignant and moving. Anyway, I digress. What were we talking about? Oh, yeah.
FB: No, that's good. I like Samuel Barber and I like Henry Cowell and Roy Harris. Big time.
GH: Oh yeah. Charles Ives was a big influence.
GH: I got to play some of his stuff and he was such a free spirit.
GH: And his father taught him how to play. And he would make him play intentionally a half step away from the melody. He'd make him sing. He'd do all this really fancy advance ear training things to train his ear. And he certainly took it a different direction when he wrote. Very individual.
FB: All that intense counterpoint coming in from different directions.
GH: Yeah. So Detroit was really a vibrant music scene in those days. I used to played in two or three different concert bands, a couple of symphony orchestras. Then I'd do... I'd play in dance bands on Friday and Saturday night. Then we'd sneak out of high school to go down to Detroit to go down to jazz clubs and we'd hear all these groups.
FB: Was there a 21-year limit?
GH: Oh yeah, yeah. They'd just say, “sit in the back.” Sit in the dark, 'cause we stuck out. 'Cause a lot of times we'd go to all black clubs and here's two or three white kids. 18, 19, 14 years old — “sit in the dark.” Okay, we'll sit over there. We didn't drink... too much. And it was a great scene. And yeah the nucleus, I mean the whole thing about Motown was that it was rhythm and blues, great rhythm and blues, kind of gospel music out of the church. And then they added 10-12 horns so it was a real big band experience. And the charts weren't very complicated. It was really...
FB: Right. Riffs and little blues lines.
GH: Yeah. Some nice harmonies but it gave an impact. All these horns. And then three or four people dancing and singing in front three or five rhythm players, always a B3 organ. And actually it wasn't as loud as you'd think because it was acoustic sounds. They didn't like the horns. And they played acoustic guitar. That was before all the technology took over in the amplification. And the B3s had a great sound. The Leslie Speaker. Detroit had a million bars. And you know you could find probably 25 places to go to and sit in with organs any night. There were a ton of organs. I heard all the great organ players Jack McDuff, I sat in with him a bunch of times, Jimmy Smith was always playing there. I even got to play and record with Dr. Lonnie Smith.
FB: I remember reading that.
GH: That was actually when I came to Boston. So, we'll get to that. In Detroit I got the call to work with this really nice jazz band. Billy Maxted and his Manhattan jazz band it was called. It was two trumpets, trombone and clarinet. two trumpets in the middle, trombone in the bottom, and clarinet on top. So the same instrumentation as King Oliver's band.
GH: So, that's where I met and worked with some Berklee people. 'Cause the first trumpet was Keith Green. Keith Green played trumpet, he played trombone. The bass player was Jeff Steinberg who is a tremendous writer. And when I met him he was just out of Berklee and he was just drenched in the writing techniques taught by Herb Pomeroy and Ray Santisi and everybody else. So, I would... I learned a lot from Jeff Steinberg about writing. So we got to write for this four-horn band with two trumpets, as I said, trombone and clarinet. But then on the weekends we played dances and it was three trombones, and bass clarinet. So I had to get a valve trombone and play trombone, because Keith played trombone, then I got a valve trombone and Rick Culver was the real trombone player in the band. Joe Barifaldi played this really good clarinet, jazz clarinet, kinda traditional style. And then he played good bass clarinet. So, Billy Maxted wrote all these dance charts.
FB: Billy was the pianist?
GH: Billy, was the pianist, yeah. He was a stride pianist, really high caliber. And he played hot. He could play "Little Rock Getaway". Burning. That was kind of a hot traditional band. I really got started writing professionally a lot for that band. It was fun. We played in Detroit at the top of the Pontchartrain Hotel six nights a week. There were a couple of jazz matinees there. Then we went to New York and played at the Rainbow Room. Then we went to Vegas. We played the Sahara Hotel, the old hotels. So that was a fun, a really fun group. As I say, that was one of my first connections with people who went to Berklee. I was just shocked. I mean I had always wanted to go there in high school but we couldn't afford it. It was just expensive. So the state schools, I mean I got a full scholarship to Michigan State.
FB: No contest.
GH: Yeah and it was only like $100 a semester tuition and they paid my room and board too, so I went there on a free ticket.
GH: Yeah Bill Maxted had a really good band. And that was actually the conduit. A lot of guys who played with Billy went on to play with the big bands. Woody Herman's band, Buddy Rich's band. It was kind of the progression. Then I got the call to go with Buddy Rich's band from Billy Maxted.
FB: How did that come about?
GH: They heard a lot of tapes of Maxted’s band and I got to play a lot of jazz solos. So it was a jazz band a real jazz band. I mean Maxted’s was. And then I went to Buddy Rich's band and I met even more people that went to Berklee. 'Cause in Buddy Rich's band was Pat LaBarbara, Joe Calo, Don ???, who else, Keith O'Quinn trombone player and Rick Culver came back on. And then the trumpet section was people that I still see around Boston. Lin Biviano played lead trumpet. And Wayne Naus played trumpet. And then I joined those guys. “Who's this guy from Detroit?” You know they're a little cold until you play, and then they say "Oh, fine!"
FB: What was it like being on the road with Buddy Rich?
GH: It was great. I really liked it. He was a little frightening at times.
FB: His reputation was worse than his bite.
GH: Oh yeah. He was always testing it to see if we could stand up to his needling. But if you played well he respected you. And then if you didn't take any guff from him he respected you more. So, once I figured that out and that was a really great band. I mean real high caliber. We traveled all over the world with that band, we went to Australia a couple times... England, we went to Europe. It was great because in the winter we'd always travel across the bottom of the country, warm weather. And then the top of the country during the summer. And then I started writing for that band. Yeah, I came in with a chart and Buddy looked at me and said, "You're crazy." And then he played the chart. He loved it.
FB: This was on Roar of ’74?
GH: Yeah. That one before the album called Stick It. I wrote a couple on that. I wrote a good dozen or so charts for the band. I was with him two years 2 1/2 years, that's a long time. Then the second year, a different trumpet section came on. All these guys from Indiana came and joined the band. Charlie Davis and Larry Hall and some other people from Eastman and then some more people from Berklee came. Yeah, Joe Lovano played. And one of my big influences playin’ that band when I joined and he would come back to the band with Jimmy Mosher. Jimmy Mosher was a legend in my mind before I ever met him. Because I heard his recordings and he... what an improviser!
FB: Oh yeah.
GH: I mean just the sound and the ideas and the flow and especially the time. This guy could play jazz. It just came out. So, and it was really nice to finally meet him in Buddy Rich's band. Hear somebody that creative play every night, never repeated himself always searching for new ideas. And Buddy loved him. Buddy respected him. He'd help him out if he needed to go to take care of himself. He’d... Buddy was actually a kind person, Buddy was. Misunderstood.
GH: Yeah. He was needlessly feared by a lot of people, so they shunned him and he was hurt.
GH: It's tough for a guy like that to work with kids. Basically we were a bunch of kids. He was 55 and we were 20. Buddy played with the greats.
FB: Oh, did he ever.
GH: The trio was with Nat King Cole and Lester Young. Was that it?
FB: Art Tatum?
GH: Art Tatum... and then he played with Nat King Cole. ’Course he did Bird and Diz.
FB: Yeah, he was on Verve, maybe with Oscar Peterson?
GH: Yeah. Yeah we... that's funny. The famous story: we asked Buddy what it was like to play with Charlie Parker. He said, "Listen. Charlie Parker played with me." He was funny. Buddy was really funny. He could have been a standup, and he was a standup comedian sometimes. I mean that was a different era where there were really great players but they also knew the value of entertainment.
FB: Absolutely. Yeah.
GH: You know, it was kind of in the Sammy Davis/Sinatra crowd, but he could really play. Buddy played at such a high level every night and he expected everyone else to do that. It was just tough to measure up to that. Especially on a brass instrument. I mean you got to really be on and warm and on and strong every night. He did it. 50 years, so yeah, Buddy's band was a really nice experience. And then I moved to Boston. 1974. I talked to Jimmy Mosher and I talked to Pat LaBarbara and said, “What do you think it would be like to teach at Berklee for a year? I want to get off the road.” 'Cause I had been actually travelling for about six years. And it was tiring. A lot of it was driving, and then on the bus, and you got to schlep all your stuff around. And it was tough to practice. Although you keep your chops up by playing every night. So, don't get me wrong I appreciate...
FB: And you would play far more nights than you traveled. Five out of seven, and weeks at a stretch.
GH: Oh yeah, two or three days off a month, if that. One night we did 65 gigs in a row. Without a day off.
GH: Yeah, yeah. I think Buddy was trying to get people to quit so he just kept taking gigs. But we got stronger and so he said, "I give up, I'm cool. You can have two days off." So yeah, I moved to Boston. I interviewed for a teaching gig at Berklee.
FB: Who'd you talk to?
GH: I talked to three really great people. Because in Buddy's band I met Alex Ulanowsky, and he played piano and he subbed. And he said “come on I'll get you a gig.” I said, “Okay, I can rest!” I call it the Berklee writing Mafia. So it was Ted Pease, Larry Monroe, and Alex Ulanowsky, and Alex brought me over introduced me to Ted Pease. He was a great writer and another one of my mentors. Showed him some scores. And his eyebrows went up because it was stuff I'd written for Buddy and it was tapes of Buddy playing. OK. “Well, we could probably use you for a semester or two.” So, originally I was just gonna stay a year or two to rest. And then — the rest is history. I've been here ever since the fall of ’74.
FB: They made you feel welcome.
GH: Oh yeah. I mean it was open arms and I really I fell right into a lot of comfortable situations. I started playing that summer I had met Joe Lovano, Billy Drewes, Steve Slagle, Dave Saltman, Scott Lee, and some other people and we started playing gigs. We played down in Newport. There was this club called Mr. Bojangles. I remember going down there and they said you get a room. I didn't know they meant a room for the whole band. There was five of us in one little room. It was unbelievable. So, I started working with really good players.
FB: Weren’t guys like Joe Lovano and Steve Slagle ex-students here?
GH: They had just graduated in ’74 or ’73. And they were still playin’ around a lot. Yeah I think that's when I went with Joe and he asked me to go down with Lonnie Smith so I did that. And we played some gigs. I met a whole bunch of tremendous musicians. And it really opened up my ears and it opened up my musical thinking to a degree you know. I hadn't imagined. And I started playing a lot more small-group stuff. And then I started teaching, which I had no idea how to teach in 1974 at Berklee here.
FB: Well how did you get your pedagogical act together?
GH: Oh it took a while.
FB: I mean did you go in and check out other people's classes? Like who?
GH: Oh yeah. I 'd sneak into their classes to see what they were talkin’ about. I'd do a lot of research and listening.
FB: Who were your mentors in that area?
GH: I mean this is the place for jazz education. Let's face it, this and maybe one other place put it on the map. And I had met John LaPorta and he was one of my idols. I used to play his charts in high school. I used to see John at different jazz camps. And then I got to meet John I would hang out in his office a lot. I talked to John. I just listened to him talk actually because when you talked to John, you'd say one sentence and then it's 10 minutes later he takes a breath, but it's like listening to God talk, so why not? It just goes and goes — endless ideas, creativity, warmth, and depth. He's influenced a lot of people. A lot of people a lot of players. Yeah John was a major influence. And then I met Herb Pomeroy, another one of my distant idols who I'd seen but I didn't know. I'd never met him. I met Herb maybe ’75-76-77. Herb had a big band going.
FB: Sure. The Shiah record there, with John playing tenor and you were in the trumpet section.
GH: Yeah. Well originally, it was Lou Mucci. Who was another one of idols that I met. I could do an hour on Lou Mucci.
FB: One of LaPorta's companeros, one of his old buddies.
GH: He brought him from New York. They played in New York together. Lou Mucci is the ultimate trumpet player. Sound, first of all. Great time. Blends and listens. And always there. He was Gil Evans’s first-call trumpet player. He called Lou first and then if he needed a real high note player he'd call somebody else, Ernie Royal.
FB: And if he needed Miles solos, he'd call Johnny Coles.
GH: Yeah. But Lou did that also. But he was so shy he didn't want to improvise too much. But Lou, yeah, I would hang out with Lou and I met Wes Hensel who was from the West Coast — that was a whole other slant on things. But Herb had this big band and all my idols were in it. Paul Fontaine, another mentor and idol. Wes Hensel, Everett Longstreth, years of big band experience. Who else was in that band? Phil Wilson of course, and a real great trombonist named Gene DiStasio who was just a natural.
FB: Yup. The dentist.
GH: Yup, an orthodontist and Vahit Takvorian, bass trombonist who played with Claude Thornhill’s band. He played with Gil Evans’ band on the road.
FB: And Jimmy Derba.
GH: You're right, Jimmy Derba was the baritone player. He was a genius on the instrument. He was a natural improviser. I think he played by ear mostly and it was just mind-boggling. The great talent that was around. Mike Monaghan another great talent that was around. (FB: Terrific!) Jimmy Mosher played in the band. Dick Johnson played in the band. And then a real a real genius and character and one of the most unique people I've ever met — on bass, John Neves. He didn't read the charts that well, but what he played was better than what the people wrote. He was so intuitive and so creative.
FB: Yeah, and so mellow and so affable.
GH: Yeah, and talking to John Neves, you just had to go to a different place, it was a different universe.
GH: You'd be discussing things and you had no idea what you were talking about but you got a great feeling from the conversation. And John was also very abstract, and also a by-ear player. What a joy just to be in the middle of that. I'm still a kid, basically. I got the experience of being on the road but I'm still learning. I'm still learning.
FB: That's good. That's what Paquito [d’Rivera] said the other day in the [BTOT, annual Berklee Teachers Meeting]. Always be ready to change your thoughts and your opinions. Always listen to the students and take in what they're telling you.
GH: Well, that's one of the joys and real benefits of teaching at Berklee because you're working with real creative talented people that are natural and you can just kinda steer them in the right direction. You don't have to teach some people that much. (FB: That's right.) Basically you just don't want to... I just don't want get in their way. I don't want to stop them.
FB: The proper exposure, then stand back.
GH: Yeah. So that's very inspiring and I see them improve and I'm improving too. As far as all that goes. Where were we? Oh yeah, Herb's band.
FB: We were with Herb's band with all your mentors, the late ’70s you made the Shiah album.
GH: Yeah, yeah. And I did keep my writing going. I wrote a lot with Buddy's band. And yeah I kept my writing going and then I joined the band with Wayne Naus. He had this big band going and he asked me to join it and then he asked me, "Why don't you bring your music in?" And so I brought a lot of music in and we started playing it and he said "Well, why don't you direct it?" You know Wayne's a wonderful person wonderful trumpet player, loved to play. Just lived to play the trumpet in those days.
FB: You guys had a lot of high profile gigs around town.
GH: We did. We played the Globe Jazz Festival many times. We played the opening for the Berklee Performance Center. We played... they used to have a series at Copley Square. Where the different big bands around town would play a week. All whole week in a row. We did those every summer. And then we played at Debbie's Jazz Club, that was like 1976.
FB: Yeah, wow, and those Jazz Coalition all night concerts, you did those.
GH: 1975. Right. Well they used to, Mark Harvey and Claudio Roditi had a big band that worked there. They disbanded and so we went in and played at Debbie's. We used to do once a month there sometimes once a week. Yeah I just kept my writing going. 'Cause I don't know I'm just driven. I was driven at that time to write for big bands. So I kept writing these big band charts. Yeah, I sent a few charts out to Buddy, and Woody [Herman]'s band played some of the charts, but basically I wrote for myself. And I wrote for my friends. And there were such great people in Boston. So, then I kinda... Wayne wanted to go a different direction and play repertoire... play Buddy Rich repertoire, and I didn't want to do that so, I kind of started my own band and took over that band. And Wayne did the Buddy Rich thing. Although I did some concerts with Buddy Rich music with Wayne which was interesting to relive it, but I didn't want to play it again.
GH: I'd been through that I didn't want to go back to it. Because my writing (as anyone's writing should) it just keeps developing. It just keeps going to different levels.
FB: And you need a living environment for it.
GH: Oh, and I have one. I have the best environment. It's just Nirvana. It's heaven. I've had the greatest players. The greatest players in the big band and then the quintet the greatest players in that and then the trio we talked about.
FB: Did it take a while to grow a good big band here? Phil Wilson had his Rainbow Band, Herb had his concert orchestra, eventually you had your own big band, or right away?
GH: Yeah. Well, this was a professional band. It was all people that I'd met and worked with. So who was in the initial band? People like, well, Wayne was in it of course, we shared the leadership for several years.
GH: People like Billy Pierce and Ed Fiorenza. Tony Lada, Jeff Stout was a great mentor and a really great friend. He got me a lot of gigs right away. See, I took his place in Buddy Rich's band and then when I came to Boston he's still here.
FB: Jeff is still connected.
GH: He is.
FB: Right on the edge.
GH: He was in the band and Paul Fontaine joined it. People like Dave Kennedy really fine lead player and oh the litany of drummers that went through that band is just amazing. Starting with Steve Smith. Tony Tedesco who now plays with John Pizzarelli. Gene Roma played for a while and then Joe Hunt joined and I used Joe and then he left town and then I started using Artie Cabral. So it's just, it's such a deep well of seasoned players in this town. I'm like a kid in a candy store. It seems like there's no end to it. And Butch Elin, Alex Elin.
FB: Oh yeah. Yup.
GH: Great jazz piano player. Plays wonderful jazz tenor, Joe Calo played baritone for years. People like Doug Norwine went on to have a big career in LA playing on The Simpsons shows like that. Oh boy, the names, there's so many.
FB: And the band evolved as your writing changed you did different things. You had Mick Goodrick on guitar in there after a while.
GH: Oh yeah. Another mentor. Real honored to have him play. Like the first class at Berklee I had John Lockwood and Ted Lowe.
GH: That's what I said: “Whoa! This is a cool place. These guys can play.”
FB: This is ’75?
GH: ’74 yeah, or spring of ’75 I had these guys. We used to work gigs in the summer. I still work with John Lockwood.
FB: Sure, he's numero uno.
GH: In town, number one. And a real joy to work with. So flexible and so free.
FB: The ultimate sideman.
FB: Singers, horn players, any book throw him in the middle of it. He's got it.
GH: That's right — and read? Of course I torment everybody with my music. Maybe that's why they do it.
FB: You mean 'cause it's such a bitch, the chops are difficult.
GH: Some of the reading is challenging and to put it together the counterpoint is very challenging and then I don't want it to be like a real big band. I want it to be like a big small group where it's very free. I've reached that point where everybody knows the music pretty much and then we can do different things with it. I'll bring different sections in and out and some free moments and then back into the music. It's very demanding, and I'm just so grateful to have people that want to stretch out and are able to do that.
FB: Well, you got to grow ‘em and keep ‘em to do that. And then you can take all kinds of liberties, like Ellington.
GH: Yup. Well, of course another mentor and somebody who Herb Pomeroy really idolized and helped turn us onto the world of Duke Ellington. Yeah so, I had the big jazz orchestra and I played with Herb's band. During all that time and then I just so much from my two years in Boston I was gonna go back on the road. I started working all these gigs with these people and then I started working in the theatre making more money. The theatre work was good because I enjoyed the diversity of the music because I had all this jazz music and now I had some really meaningful orchestrations to play.
FB: You could see from the inside out how Leroy Anderson would put a chart together, or something like that.
GH: We played a lot of stuff with Ralph Burns.
FB: Ralph Burns!
GH: I remember doing that in 1978: the original version of Dancin’ and we rehearsed for four weeks. And then the snowstorm, we got an extra week of rehearsal. We were on call 12 hours a day to rehearse. So that was ... Ralph Burns was there doing different orchestrations every day. Every day. And Lou Soloff played lead trumpet and they brought in Art Barron on trombone. And they brought in this guy Peter Philips to play piano okay? 'cause they're doing "Sing Sing Sing" the original orchestration. They're doing the original solos. Lou played the Harry James solo. Peter Philips is a great pianist he played the Jess Stacy solo. And then Art Barron got to play, improvise. Because I don't think there was a trombone in the original and they danced to this. So they choreographed it and Bob Fosse was there.
FB: Oh geez.
GH: Yeah so I got to... I'd go and sit behind Bob Fosse and watch him work just because we didn't have anything to do. Sometimes we didn't have to play for hours. So I'd sit behind Bob Fosse and watch him talk to Ralph Burns. Bob Fosse was truly one of these guys. He had a cigarette in his mouth and a cigarette in his hand. Anyways, I met Lou Soloff, he was a trip to work with. Boy, what a great player.
FB: Oh yeah.
GH: But what was my point? Oh yeah. I got to work with Ralph Burns, I remember playing maybe 10 years later a revival of Porgy and Bess. You know we get done with the overture and my jaw's on the floor.
FB: When that thing was on, when Lou was in town, he'd bring his horn and he'd go sit in with Dave McKenna down at the Copley Plaza.
GH: Oh yeah, I saw him. I know. I saw him do that.
FB: I hung out with him a couple of nights down there and probably you, too.
GH: Oh yeah many times. He did some clinics here, we brought him into school. Remember he played with Joe Hunt.
GH: They did a nice session. Introduced him to Ray Katwika, the trumpet professor that was here. And Ray was a real theatre player so I got to work with Ray in the theatres. A lot of the horn players that were on the road they come back to town and work in the theatres. So I got to play with some really good players. Yeah, Herb would play, Phil would play, played trumpet. Nat Paiella great lead trumpet player and came in and played. There's not that many shows as there used to be because there's too many keyboards out there.
GH: Technology is crushing humanity. If I could be quoted on that.
GH: But playing Porgy and Bess was a real mindblower because the orchestration is so profound. I went out on the first break, went around to Boston Music and bought the score. 55 bucks.
FB: Just to have it.
GH: 609 pages. I bought the vocal score.
FB: It had the orchestra parts figured in or not?
GH: No, no. It was just the piano reduction. It was a great study and we had a great orchestra. Really good. It was a 45-piece orchestra. Just blew my mind.
FB: Who was singing?
GH: It was the Houston Opera Company, and they mounted it in its full regalia. Because originally, when Gershwin was alive they refused to do it as an opera. They said, oh you can't do that. You can't sing all these recitatives. People can't take it. And he was so busy working on other projects, actually that was the near the end of his life. I think he was really disappointed. So the Houston Opera Company was the first one to mount it in the ’70s as an opera. And it's over three hours long. And it's all singing. It's all recitative. It's all music. It's very demanding. I mean it's really hard to play. Really hard. I mean the string parts are like 200 pages long and they just keep playing and playing. Yeah it's a full orchestra. I think there's a three or four horns, a bunch of clarinets, a bunch of flutes, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, four or five percussion. It has one of the hardest xylophone parts in the repertoire in the opening. It's on all the auditions for classical people. Anyway, I'm in Boston working the theatre and I get called to go on the road. I'm teaching here, I'm making great jazz music and it was just... you couldn't take that big of a cut in pay. Woody wanted to pay I think $125 a week. And I was making like $600 a week or more back then. I wasn't in it for the money here because it was so much music.
FB: Yup, yup.
GH: But I think the people the people are the really important element that you meet and you get to work with these people. You hear them and as a writer I'm just so thrilled. All the people who have dedicated their time in the big band. And then I started working small combos with Jimmy Mosher, Charlie Mariano, Joe Hunt and Mick Goodrick.
FB: Yeah I remember some of those.
GH: Yeah, me and Billy Pierce would work with Boots Maleson. We'd work with the great James Williams on piano. That was a real, real time. James joined the big band. He was one of the pianists in the big band.
FB: That's right. Remember he played over here at the Back Bay Hilton.
GH: Club Nicole. Before that we used to play Debbie's, actually we did a couple gigs at Paul's Mall, Jazz Workshop. With James. Then we used to play the Rise Club in Cambridge.
FB: The Rise!
GH: The Rise Club it was up on the 5th floor. Oh man, it was hell to get to. That was an interesting club. Then we used to play the Nightstage which was called The Club. It was a rock club, but we'd set up, it was great. Tony Teixeira had an interesting band.
FB: Nine-piece band. I remember that band.
GH: Six horns, yeah with Alan Dawson. Another giant that we got to play with. I used to...
FB: Whoa. Did Alan play with your quintet sometimes?
GH: Once in a while, I would play with his quartet or quintet. Not as much as I wanted to because everyone was so busy. But Alan, I got to work with Alan at Lulu White's. Tony Teixeira had the gig at Lulu White’s for years. After he quit I got the gig with Jeff Stoughton. We played for six months at Lulu’s. I think it was four nights a week. And it was a really cool band, I worked with John LaPorta, Jeff Stoughton played trombone, John Neves played bass.
FB: Who was dancing?
GH: Alan Dawson and Dean Earle played piano. What they called traditional or dixieland. Traditional jazz. We just played the old jazz tunes with a lot of counterpoint. John would play clarinet, would play swing tunes and people danced. It was great.
FB: That was a great scene over there.
GH: So a lot of great bands over at Lulu White’s. I remember going to see Bill Evans trio. And who's standing in the back at the wall listening, Dave McKenna's right there. Zing! right on Bill Evans. Then, I go to hear Dave McKenna at the Copley [Plaza] Oak Bar, it used to be the Merry-Go-Round Room.
GH: And who's standing in the back, Bill Evans. Checking out Dave McKenna. This beautiful simpatico going back and forth.
FB: Mutual respect. They didn't sound much like each other, but they sure appreciated each other.
GH: A lot more similarities than you'd think, but yeah a lot of differences but they both played the piano. I mean they both really played the piano, that's why Miles was so impressed with Bill Evans. Miles would go in and hear Bill Evans play and just sit there for hours. And say that's the way you should play piano. He was moved by that. Bill brought a different element to the piano.
FB: Yeah, that impressionistic one...
GH: Anyways, we keep teaching at Berklee and doing a lot of gigs. I put together a quintet, the more contemporary quintet with me and Billy Pierce. I've been working with Bill Pierce, my goodness, for 30 years. So the quintet, It was originally with Joe Hunt he played a lot and then Gary Chaffee, great drummer and Lockwood played, great bass player. Jim Stinnett played. One of my all-time mentors Mick Goodrick who's such a unique voice in music. Such a warm tender sound and yet so unique.
FB: Very open, very receptive in certain ways.
GH: Yeah that’s what he is. What ability to blend and play with people. I mean that blew my mind. If I could write like that, if I could write so it was really going with the people. So yeah, I played with Mick all these years was... is still a joy... So yeah we still have that quintet with Bill, Mick, Joe Hunt's back in town now. He was another big influence, Joe Hunt.
FB: Again a master of subtlety. Kind of just a wizard of the brushes.
GH: Understatement. Not the obvious. Joe Hunt, like myself, I think John LaPorta was maybe one of the first to come to Berklee who didn't go there. Berklee was very incestuous. I found that out when I came here. Geez, all the students were teachers here! I really felt like and I was an outsider — as was John LaPorta. So John kind of opened it up. And then Joe Hunt came. And then they brought Lou Mucci. So in the early ’70s a lot of us came in who were not Berklee graduates, and I think it was really good for the school.
FB: No question.
GH: I think it kind of gave it a breath of fresh air.
FB: Enlarged the gene pool.
GH: Exactly! I think Herb would say the same thing. He was thrilled to have some new blood, some new people to work with. And Herb was always so generous. He gave everyone so much opportunity. So many chances to play music, to write music and I think I do the same thing. I try to do the same thing. As a teacher now, at Berklee with student bands and student writers you try to give opportunities where people can write their music and get it played and...
FB: What do you bring from the road to the classroom? What lessons what big picture things do you impart to students?
GH: Well, the road is a whole special thing.
FB: They can't get the road now.
GH: Well it's intensity. Intensity and it's repetition and it's creativity all in one. I do try to bring that to my performing groups here. I don't over rehearse them, I make them responsible for learning their own parts. And then I take ‘em out, I get ‘em out of the classroom. You can always play in the classroom, with your friends, you know. But you got to go out and play for people.
FB: So, what does that mean, not too much the way in local clubs necessarily but....
GH: Actually, taking my student band up to the Sahara Club in Methuen, then we're gonna do a little tour to Cleveland. Then I always get them a gig in Ryle’s. And then we do concerts here. So, it's a variety. And I've taken them of course to the jazz conventions, the festivals and all that.
FB: That's a biggie, IAJE in New York.
GH: Yeah we've done that three or four times.
FB: What are these summer festivals, or competitions?
GH: I don't do it in the summer. But we go out four or five times in the semester, it's good for them to get out of the classroom. Actually New England has some great jazz audiences. People that really know what it should sound like. They know the repertoire. You know, it's an aging crowd.
FB: Well, it seems to me that...
GH: They're an intelligent crowd
FB: Well, they've been brought up right because there are so many good high school directors. You know, spread out through the suburbs.
GH: I don't mean the kids. I mean the audiences. The audiences are really smart here.
FB: But I mean, a lot of them played in high schools and junior highs when they were kids coming up, so they got the ears.
GH: Yeah, but a lot of them were trained at The Stables, the old jazz clubs, the Hi Hat, the Merry-Go-Round room, Storyville, Mahogany Hall. Some of these people, they've heard Herb's band for years. So when I take my band out or my student band out they can see the --
FB: The progression.
GH: They can see the relevance and the growth. But I don't make students write in the old style. I want them to write their ideas.
FB: How do you do that? I mean how do you...?
GH: It's easy, they have so many great ideas. Just let ‘em go. We meet in the middle. If it's too ethnic or too rocky, it's not gonna work with a jazz orchestra. It's got to meet in the middle, it's got to be a true melding of disciplines.
GH: I mean, I love to play Ellington, but you know I'm never gonna play it like Duke did. I'm never gonna play Basie's music like Basie. I think it's a great thing to learn. I think new music is the lifeblood of musicians. You got to have new music to play. You've got to have new music to listen to. That's kinda my thing.
FB: No matter how good repertory orchestras are, it's like ‘been there, done that’ and you're not gonna beat the masters.
GH: Right. That's why everybody copied Charlie Parker. Beat your head against the wall. That's why Miles is so smart: ‘I figured a way out of this. I'm gonna leave more space, I'm gonna be cool. I'm gonna play like Lester Young.’
FB: Is there still too much emphasis on the John Coltrane style these days?
GH: I'm not gonna say too much of an influence, but yeah. I mean a lot of people never get out of that, they're just stuck there. I mean if anything now, I think the past 10 or 15 years is so conservative. I grew up in the ’60s, it was wild. People were trying all kinds of different things. We were writing 12 tone rows, modal stuff, we were playing in and out of time. Of course they were doing that in the late ’40s and it didn't catch on. John LaPorta was part of the original Jazz Workshop with Charlie Mingus and Lenny Tristano, and those people, they were experimenting with a fusion of classical ideas and jazz ideas. I guess they called it Third Stream.
FB: Sure. Gunther Schuller coined that phrase.
GH: I think it was a little more jazzy, the way they did it in New York.
FB: It was then.
GH: And it was a very creative time end of the ’50s beginning of the ’60s with the modal thing and Miles's group. And of course you know through the ’70s and ’80s, it was great. But then I don't know what happened. Now you have to go back.
FB: Yup. Well sometimes politics will influence the arts in odd ways. And you get ultra-conservative governments and then the people rein way in.
FB: What's this, what's the way out, can you see, envision a way out? Is it hip-hop?
GH: Oh yeah, there's a lot of ways out. People are fusing jazz with a lot of different things and coming up with different approaches, different... there's different ways to solve the same problem.
FB: I'm hearing a lot of interesting things... and there's the steady trickle of feedback in the third world countries. From Africa, from Brazil, from places like that that are kind of spitting back James Brown and blues at us.
GH: And the Latin, Salsa influence, and then there's the tango influence.
GH: They're all wonderful ethnic musics. And they've embraced a lot of the jazz ethos. You're gonna get a different animal. Not Duke Ellington or Count Basie, it’s gonna be Piazzola or Jobim, or it's gonna be… Some of the new salsa things are getting looser and looser.
FB: Yeah and they're trying different applications. Is this kid Bernardo Monk, who went here 15 years ago he's now doing Astor Piazzola's stuff.
GH: I had him in my class, yup.
FB: He's doing it on tenor. He's got a piece on a new album. He's playing at the Somerville Theatre Saturday night.
FB: I'm sending two of my music journalism students out to cover it. He's playing bandoneon lines with bowed bass on the soprano saxophone. So it's a whole new spin on Piazzola.
GH: It is. Now I've been leading a band at Berklee for 12 or 13 years. You know, a large jazz orchestra.
GH: And the kids who come through that are truly amazing. For example, my rhythm section four years ago was Lionel Loueke, and Massimo Biolcati, and Ferris Nemis. Now they go on, they're in New York right now. That's Lionel’s trio. And they have so much to offer in the way of a rhythm section for a big band because they didn't play standards, old style. So our band would go places where these big bands have never been. And actually I don't even consider it a big band. I just consider it a jazz orchestra, which is to me a large small group.
FB: You mean new venues.
GH: No. I mean new musical places, musical grooves. And they would take it and it was just frightening, and yeah, I had the same kind of rhythm section this year. Last year I had a great rhythm section with ? Falk on drums, Josh Gallagher on piano and these kids are gonna go places. And Obi Wang, my bass player now.
FB: They'll be the stars of tomorrow.
GH: Exactly. So many people have come through that band. I think it's important not to force them into the round peg let ’em go with any peg they want to go with. That's really fun for me to let them go, but yet steer them down the middle of the river or close to the edge or down that river.
FB: Oops, let me help you out!
GH: And yeah I do keep in touch with a lot of my ex-students. I see them all over the world. I get to travel a lot. So, they're always coming up. “Hello Mr. Hopkins, I remember you.”
FB: You mean they're showing up on bandstands elsewhere or at the festivals?
GH: Yeah I see them at gigs. It's nice to see them appreciating their time here in Boston.
FB: Are you doing the international clinic routine?
GH: I do some of that, yeah. I direct a jazz program at a music festival in Alaska, I've been there 26 years. Fairbanks. So actually that's a Boston connection. I started going there with this trombone player writer named Eddie Madden. This started in 1980. A lot of the famous Boston musicians, Fred Buda, the drummer went. Mark Henry, Mike Monaghan, Bob Winter, myself.
GH: And then Eddie Madden played trombone. They'd say stop going, but I 'd keep going and directing the orchestra there. I do another festival in Seattle. I go to Iceland, I'm guest conductor of the Rekjavik Jazz Orchestra. You go up there and you think geez this is gonna be like an iceberg, it's just the opposite. It's warmer than Boston in the winter.
FB: Is that a fact?
GH: Yeah the average temperature in Rekjavik is 30 degrees.
FB: I'll be damned.
GH: And they get very little snow.
FB: Yeah, I knew that. So you bring your charts up.
GH: I bring my charts, we have a frenzy, a feeding frenzy of rehearsals. And then we do some recordings or whatever. We do concerts. Yeah, I direct the Prague Radio Big Band. Oh boy! I should have written all this stuff down. I tried, but…
FB: The Scandinavians have always had an extra edge on that on good listenership and intelligent audiences.
GH: Everybody has that attitude, which is good. You got to have an attitude or you're not gonna say anything. You can't just copy. So yeah, they have an attitude when they play and it's great to see. And there's so many good horn players up there. I mean the Northern Europe thing for brass and saxes and rhythm sections in general, the whole thing, is just really strong.
FB: Deep roots: oompa bands, alphorns, all that stuff.
GH: Yeah. A lot of stuff happening there. Eastern Europe is deep, very deep also. They have such deep musical roots and when they combine it with jazz — wow. It's a natural thing for them. And then going to South America was interesting. I got to go to Argentina a couple times with some Berklee trips. Played with Gary Burton down there, that was fun.
FB: Oh boy. And he was doing the Piazzola thing.
GH: Yeah. Yeah that's a different groove. We actually played at some tango clubs. And then the Berklee All-Stars. And we played at where else? that was Barcelona, what a city that is.
FB: I love it, I love it. How long were you guys there?
GH: This was a long time ago 1986. A long time ago.
FB: But from Europe, we're getting the Spanish, French, and Italians are assimilating their own folk and classical traditions and melding it with jazz.
GH: Oh, I know.
FB: I just heard a bunch of piano players like Stefano Bollani and Enrico Pierannunzi, guys like that who assimilated Bill Evans with all of their classical stuff and bringing new waves of creativity — it's brilliant.
GH: Yeah, I just did a week or 10 days in Valencia.
FB: With Larry Monroe?
GH: No, it was my own thing with somebody I met here, Jesus Santandreo, and they have their own school there. It was a jazz school. There was a phenomenon going on in Spain or in Valencia now with bands. There have all these bands, community bands. I'm not kidding, there's probably 50 or 60 big bands in this state of Valencia.
FB: Oh, my God.
GH: And they have these contests where all the bands play and they write music for them. What they need they need are good directors. They don't have that many good directors for all of these bands. There are so many players. They need good writers and good arrangers. So I went and did an arranging / band leading clinic and played some concerts there. And they had a really good band made up of professionals and some of the leaders. It's just it's freaky. All these big bands... there's big bands there's like 50 or 60 of them. It's like the 1930s in Valencia. So you never know.
FB: There's some kind of a hiccup in history that's just hittin’ them now.
GH: I think it's stemming from their brass band concert band. 'Cause that's a big thing in Spain. Every town would have its own concert band. And the band would have it's own restaurant and rehearsal room. They'd rehearse upstairs and they'd have a restaurant-bar downstairs to play. A lot of the same thing happens in England. There's a big brass band tradition in England. So there's a lot of really good horn players. Let's face it, that's what happened in New Orleans. The brass band tradition was very big after the Civil War. And that's the history of jazz. That's the history of big band. That's why they played trumpets, trombones, and saxophones. Because they were around. After the Civil War, instruments were cheap and it was a way out of the ghetto. It was a way to make money.
FB: All those military bands dispersed and the horns were free.
GH: Yup. And then the traditions in New Orleans became so strong that it spread through the country. And then there were a lot of marching bands, black marching bands, that played different styles and Sousa was the big superstar. And then there were these other bands that played more swinging. They'd embellish the arrangements they'd embellish the marches, but we digress.
FB: NOLA, that's history, that's part of what Berklee is all about.
GH: It certainly is. It's such a joy to be in Boston to work here and practice music. Lately I've been playing with a wonderful trio led by a genius piano player named Tim Ray.
FB: Oh, yes.
GH: And it's kind of the direction I'm going in, part of me is going in. Combining different orchestration with classical music, with jazz music. I don't like to pigeon-hole things and say oh you have to play blues in Db or you can't play. That's just wrong.
FB: That's really a very hip, very lean chamber sound.
GH: Yeah we've got trumpet, piano and cello. I'm the trumpet and I play trumpet, and piccolo trumpet and flugelhorn and cornet and pocket cornet and you know mutes and all different sounds. Ray is a genius on the piano and a great composer. And the cellist Eugene Freson who is a genius on the cello. We all compose so it's an ideal situation.
FB: Yeah it's a really pleasantly refreshing kind of combination.
GH: I've been writing music now not for classical people but for classical combinations of players in jazz.
FB: Like what?
GH: Like a brass quintet, or a woodwind quintet. I wrote a woodwind quintet with jazz trumpet.
GH: It's just a great direction to get to go in.
FB: Nice. That's really good.
GH: And I've been writing for symphony orchestra some things like that with a lot of improvisational moments. Some jazz players and some straight players.
FB: Ever tackle string quartet?
GH: Uh huh. Yup. String quartet with trumpet.
FB: Yup. I have to hear those.
GH: String quartet with trumpet and drums.
FB: I'd like to hear that.
GH: Yup. It's shades of Stan Getz’s Focus. I mean that was such a groundbreaking recording. And piece of music.
FB: You haven't been afraid to tackle history in the past either. You redid the Miles nonet.
GH: Oh right, well, that was, I got to learn about nonet. I was fortunate to have three or four of the original charts. So I studied those. And then we played those. And then I wrote an hour's worth of music with the same instrumentation, but yet a different sound. I patterned the nonet project after three nonets: the Miles Davis Birth of the Cool nonet, and then the McCoy Tyner nonet which is different — more modal, stronger, more Coltrane-ish, and then Herbie Hancock's nonet from The Prisoner which is very impressionistic and dark. A lot of woodwinds and flutes, clarinet, bass trombone, flugelhorn. So those three nonets I patterned my nonets after. Some people say it's cold, it's not cool. My nonet is so cold that it's hot. It's hot to the touch. So I actually call it the Cryogenic Renaissance Orchestra. You get it, cryogenic, birth of the frozen, not birth of the cool. Cryogenic Renaissance Orchestra.
GH: And we put that, we put a really good band together with some friends of mine in Alaska and they live in Arizona. Chuck Marhonis, great jazz piano player.
FB: Hot and cold.
GH: Yeah, that's right. Alaska and Arizona. And then great tuba player Sam Pilafian, who is actually a Boston icon, who moved to Arizona.
FB: He was a classical cat right?
GH: Well he's a jazz guy too. He walks a mean bass line and he can improvise so he's like me. I can play classical too. I can fool them. And I enjoy playing classical. If it's good music, it's good music. I love Duke Ellington. ‘There's two kinds of music. Good music and bad music.’ So, Duke appreciated good music; and he listened to a lot of classical music. He learned from a lot of classical music. Big fan of Delius.
FB: So was Mel Torme.
GH: Yup. I learned one of our teachers, Arthur Wellwood, gave a nice lecture on Frederick Delius and his influence on jazz composers, in particular Duke Ellington.
FB: And more obviously Ravel. But Delius was sneaky, he was beautiful.
GH: Delius had some nice chromatic harmonies. And Delius spent a lot of time in Florida in this country. He actually studied and heard a lot of black music, gospel music and incorporated that into his writing.
FB: Yes. A little more smoothly than Dvorak.
GH: Well, Dvorak, yeah he just took a couple melodies and harmonized them.
FB: Yeah that Florida Suite is a beauty.
FB: We covered a lot of ground, Greg.
GH: A lot of ground.
FB: We could probably go back and cover another tape.
GH: Well I'd like to talk about all the people I've met along the way.
FB: You want to just run through some drummers? How we doin’?
GH: Oh boy. The lineage of drummers — okay yeah. Well, as I say, when I first came to Boston, I played with Buddy Rich, I met JC Heard along the way. And I played with some great drummers from Detroit... Danny Spencer... and then when I came to Boston, Wayne had this big band with Steve Smith was the drummer. What a great drummer, a lot of energy. Steve was really into Buddy Rich at that time. He bugged me to bring more Buddy charts. Anyway, Tony Tedesco joined the band... Joe Hunt... I got to play with the great Alan Dawson many, many times.
FB: Alan was such a melodic thinker.
GH: Oh yeah. Very rudimental also. But yet so melodic and so swinging and so warm. I like the warmth of it. He didn't offend you when he played. And Fred Buda was really fun to work with. Freddie had a great swing beat.
FB: A lot of energy. Really popped.
GH: He made the Boston pops what it is. He took it out of the old semi-classics when they used to play it and gave it a swingin' feel. And Artie Cabral was a great drummer to work with. Just a flow of modern guys that come through: this guy Francisco Mela was really good to work with.
FB: Yeah, just heard him fairly recently with Joanne Brackeen at The Kitano.
GH: So, yeah we'll do that someday we'll go through the instruments. Wow. So many people.
FB: Greg, thanks a bunch.
GH: My pleasure.
FB: I knew we'd have a ball and I knew we wouldn't have to take a break. Heck, you didn't even have to look at your notes. We just hit a trajectory and kept going.
GH: That's ’cause I can't see them without my glasses.
FB: It was a gradual crescendo with no diminuendo. Yup, thanks again.
GH: Yeah it's a never-ending topic. Over and out.
FB: Right. Out to Sonsie’s for a wet lunch.