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Eddie Jefferson: "where The Music Started"

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One of the bigger jukebox hits in the year 1954 was a som cal led I er 's Mood, " done by an adventurous new vocalist named King Pleasure. The tune amazed jazz fans and hipsters everywhere, because it was put to I I the exact notes of a popular instrumental masterpiece recorded in 1948 by I I saxophonist Charlie Parker. The solos of the man who invented be-bop I I suddenly told their own melancholy story, and a new singing style called vocal ese was bom. I I jazz singing has nèver been the same since-vocalists like Lamben, I I Hendricks, and Ros made careers out of vocalese, and contemporary I artists like the Pointer Sisters and Leon Thomas depend on it heavily to this day. But the person who first developed the concept of i ese was Eddie Jefferson. Unlike many stars of the fertile fifties jazz scène, Jefferson is I , still with us. Charlie Parker, the inventive musical genius, died when he was only 34; King Pleasure Ie ft us three years ago; but Eddie Jefferson is still performing, writing, and carrying on in the spirit of creative music that made the be-bop era so exciting. Jefferson was m town recently to perform as featured vocalist with Roy Brooks ' A rtistic Truth at the ' ing of the MUSIC Station jazz spot (see inset). While in the Motor City he was kind enough to visit with Sun editors John Sinclair and Frank Bach for y several very informative hours. Excerpts s'y f rom that extensive interview follow sS here; .X SUN: - - - - ■ When did you ' - start writing lyrics? 5" JEFFERSON: Actually, l've been writing since I was very young. Me and my brother were on the radio, we had a show on for two hours every Saturday- The Jefferson Brothers. I did lyrics that were.take-offs on popular songs of the time- "Chinatown," "Nobody's Sweetheart Now . . ." This is back in Pittsburgh where I carne up. SUN: Pittsburgh! J EFFERSON: Sure, a lot of good cats were based in Pittsburgh. I came up with Art Blakey (the famous drummer and leader of the Jazz Messengers). He played piano behind me in a band called the Mystics of Rhythm - that's right, piano. But one day our drummer split, and Blakey filied in for him. We ended up getting another piano player, and Blakey never got off the drums . . . We also had the guitar player, Ray Crawford. He played trumpet then. He was a good trumpet player, but he caught a lung disease and went to a TV sanitarium. He couldn't play no trumpet, so he picked up the guitar while he was in, and when he carne out of the sanitarium he was good! . . . Later we had Kenny Clarke in that band, "Klook" Clarké", the drummer. He used to be called Kenny Spearman, but he had a real good friend who was a fairly well-known bass player named Frank Clarke. Kenny looked just like Frank Clarke, people thought they were brothers but they weren't. One day Frank got offed in a car accident and Kenny ended up taking his name. They say they named be-bop music after Kenny Clarke, because folks would describe his attack and say, "There he goes, always bein' and boppin' on thê drums." We also hired Billy Eckstine to sing with us, when we could afford him. Yeah, the Mystics of Rhythm- I made up hip words to popular songs and danced. I had a baton, and I made like I was directing the band. I would jump up and do splits. We did material by Cab Calloway, and Louis Prima and other popular artists like Benny Goodman- I did Goodman's "Sing, Sing, Sing" and "Pinetop Boogie." By the way, I just cut "Pinetop Boogie," and the record is supposed to be released around the first of August. SUN: How did you start the new vocal style? JEFFERSON: Leo Watson talked me into t. Leo, he was a scat singer. He got his thing from Cab Calloway, who started singing scat because he would forget the words. Leo was into scat but he told me, "You should use lyrics if you want to get over. l'm too oíd, but if I could that's how I would do it, using words so people can understand t." Then Lester Young came along with "The Nasty Stomp," and I wrote lyrics to that and to songs like "Taxi Boy Dance" and "Out the Window"all them Basie things, because Herschei Evans and Lester Young sounded so good I could hear lyrics to their solos. Like "Blue and Sentimental," those kinds of tunes. Jimmy Lunceford, and Earl Hines' big band, like if Budd Johnson took a solo with Hines l'd write lyrics on that - solo. This was like in '37, '38, '39. Then the Bird came along-Charlie "Yardbird" Parker-and I said, "Well, this is it, this is what we've been searching for . . ." SUN: Where were you singing this stuff? EFFERSON: Oh, this was strictly for my own enjoyment. I was working as a tap dancer- I danced-for 25 years- and l'd just fooi around singing these things in the hotel room after the show. SUN: Most of your recorded work was done with James Moody. How did you hook up? JEFFERSON: Well, actually I was dancing on the same show that Moody was on-the Jefferson-Taylor dance team with Erv Taylor. After he heard my singing he asked me to go ' on the road with him. I didn't want to, because I had a steady gig, but I had a week off and agreed to go to Philly for one week. That week turned into 9 years of working with )ames Moody. SUN: Teil us about King Pleasure. JEFFERSON: Well, f it wasn't for King Pleasure I probably never would have been heard. But, you know, he was really just a cat- he didn't-work much as a singer- he had a job at a hotel in Cincinnati, and he was like the reefer man who had the bag when the musicians hit town. Every time I carne through he would come up to the hotel room just to hang around and listen to me sing, because he liked my stuff. So one day he's standing in a bar, and Charlie Parker comes on the jukebox. King Pleasure starts singing along with the record and a friend of Bob Weinstock (Prestige Records head) overheard him. He said, "Hey, I can get you a record date." They'd have to hunt for Pleasure every time they wanted to record something, though, and sometimes they couldn't find him- so somebody told Weinstock about me, thathe had gotten his style from me, and they called me. SUN: You started on Prestige? JEFFERSON: I did my first thing with Hi-Lo back in 1950. I started with Prestige in 1951 with "Body and Soul," "Blue and Moody" (which I called "The Birdland Story") . . . SUN: When did you come in contact with the Bird? JEFFERSON: Actually, I first heard the Bird on record . . . "Lady Be Good," from the jazz at the Philharmonic thing. I wrote lyrics to that right away, and I wrote for "Donna Lee" and "Bop-" SUN: How is t that King Pleasure got "Parker's Mood" out before your version was released? JEFFERSON: Well, he actually wrote his version of that himself. My words are different. I think I wrote mine first, but he told me he was going to record the song and I said "Go ahead or." He did it and it was a hit, of course. SUN: Teil us about the early be-bop scène. They say it got started at an after-hours joint in Harlem called Minton's? IEFFERSON: Well, actually be-bop started at the Paradise, on Í10th and 8th. The jam sessions there were being run by "Big Nick" Nicholas, a good alto player. Everybody moved over to Minton's to avoid the "undesirables" thát started coming around the Paradise, though. á That's where the music got started. Bill ie y day was there, Leo Watson and his wife Ann Robertson, who was a dangerous vocalist. SUN: Who did you work with n those days? Did you ever do anything with Miles Davis? JEFFERSON: In 1958 I worked the Cafe Bohemia n New York with Miles for 3 months. Moody was in Overbrook, where he was being treated for alcoholism, and I came into the club one night and jammed with Miles. Hesaid,"l don't like no singers but you kill me, man." And he went to the club owner and told him, "As of tonight I want you to add another man to the payroll. He's working with me starting right now." I worked withDave Brubeck n 1 954 when we were here in Detroit at the Madison , Ballroom- we worked the son and the Greystone Ball rooms. I worked with Wil I bur Ware, the bass player, ƒ during the Chicago World 's Fair, and back in the 40's I danced in front of the Coleman Hawkins Big I Band. SUN: You've done management, too? JEFFERSON: I managed Moody's band after t went with Prestige. Also, my wife, Tiny Brown, was a singer, and I got her on Capitol Records. She did a song named after me, "Eddie They Cali Him the Be-Bop Boy." They called one day for her to do an album, but she was sick and I recommended Dakota Staton in her place. That's how she got with that label. Staton did "The Late Late Show" and hit real big. Dave Dexter was working for Capitol then, and he had Nat King Cole over there. SUN: Whatever happened to King Pleasure? JEFFERSON: He left the planet several yearsago. He was out in Berkeley, and he went with one of those groups that gives up all worldly goods and follows outer space creatures to other planets. He hasn't been heard from since. "V--" - Vocalese - master Eddie Jefferson returns to the Detroit r área this month, and once again r. - it s percussionist and MUSIC organs zer Roy Brqoks who s responsible for bringing him here from New York. Jefferson will grace the Motor City for two weeks, with his first appearances Sept. 2-6 at Dummy George's Lounge at 1 0320 W. McNichols. The next weekend Eddie )efferson and the Artistic Truth will move to the MUSIC Station, after-hours. Until W recently the MUSIC (Musicians United to Save Indigenous y Culture) night spot was located inside Trappers' Alley at GreekV town, but arrangements with the building's management feil through, and MUSIC found that they were more than welcome at the Midtown Theater (Canfield & Third, near Wayne State) just reopened by Detroit playwright Ron Milner (Kulchur, Vol. 2, No. 3). Eddie Jefferson, Brooks' Artistic Truth, and the Aboriginal f f sion Choir will perform at the gala opening of the new MUSIC Station i SST WfcwoB ■ ' and end "at dawn." __ mmm 0 As before, informative, . ■- i M 0 r - y- -yi musically-oriented films 5 f Jm.- ' will be shown between I I " „I_- - ijl shows, and other jazz ■ W 0 -S - rp MUÏICIWIOHMOVEI