Arturo Sandoval, "Fuck you, trumpet."
BG: That’s also the jazz showcase where … Ira Sullivan every year during the Chicago Jazz Festival has the tradition of running a ja
BG: That’s also the jazz showcase where… Ira Sullivan, every year during the Chicago Jazz Festival, has the tradition of running a jam session after the fest at the Jazz Showcase. During those years, actually, the jazz showcase was located in another place, but it was right by the festival, right off the park. All the artists in the festival would stay at the hotel where the Jazz Showcase was – Blackstone Hotel.
I’m in there jamming with Ira when Arturo comes up of the stage with a trumpet and he’s making hand gestures like, “May I join in?”, and Ira waved him up. He didn’t speak any English at all. Nobody knew who he was, and apparently this was the first time Fidel Castro allowed him to leave the country. Of course, he had bodyguards. And remember, years … some years later he defected, which is what Castro was afraid of. But he didn’t speak English at all and he got up and started doing what he does.
I’d never heard anybody play a trumpet like that. I’m not sure Ira liked it. I know I did, initially, and so … I was just so impressed with him and later I find out … (now he speaks English) … later I find out that was his first experience, musical experience in America; coming from the airport, checking into his hotel, hearing us play, running in there and sitting in with us.
I actually took a trumpet lesson with him the next day and we needed an interpreter. The guy that was his bodyguard was his interpreter. I played for him and he didn’t think much of it, that’s Arturo. He said something in Spanish and my Spanish wasn’t good enough to understand. The interpreter said, “Senor Sandoval says, everyday you must open up your trumpet case. You must look at your trumpet. You must point at it. You must say, “Fuck you, trumpet. I will play you today, you will not play me”, and that’s what I remember from that trumpet lesson.
DM: Um-hmm, and do you stick to it? Does that help?
BG: It’s not helping me much at the moment.
DM: Okay. (Laughs)
BG: This is his attitude, YOU play the trumpet. You make it do what you want it to do. You don’t just go, “Oh the trumpet is hard, I don’t know what to do.” You just man-handle the thing, that’s his mindset, you just gotta play it. I guess sometimes that helps because the trumpet is a pretty hard taskmaster. If you don’t have a certain kind of attitude of “attacking” it, it will attack you. I think I understand that.
Barrett Deems, The Most Incorrect, Inappropriate Band Leader Ever.
BG: Barrett Deems was the drummer in Louis Armstrong’s All Stars, but before that he dropped out of high school in the 1920s to go on the road with Joe Venuti. He was the original drummer with the Dorsey Brothers before they recorded. He played on lots of bands - Woody Herman, Charlie Barnet. He was billed during the swing era as “The fastest drummer in the world” – that’s what the advertisers foresaw for Barrett Deems. He was right there in the group of drummers with Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa and Chick Webb. Barrett’s name was in that pantheon of “drummers’ drummers” during that era. For whatever reason, he didn’t become the superstar that Buddy Rich did. Although being the drummer of Louis Armstrong’s All Stars all through the ‘50’s, that’s pretty heavy. He’s on some pretty heavy stuff.
He was a great guy. He was completely insane. He was like a cartoon character. He was this lovable curmudgeon who would say outrageous things. Tell dirty jokes on the microphone at gigs and insult people without worrying about what they thought. He was just a character and all the drummers, especially the older drummers really respected him.
Barrett … I ended up playing … we played with him a lot but we ended up giving him a big band for his 70th birthday. His wife gave him the big band and then we played once a week until he died sixteen years later.
I was with him the whole time, and some of the time I was the bass player. Some of the time I was the lead trumpet player. Some of the time I was the fourth trumpet player. I kind of moved around. When he’d get a little sick or tired, I’d play drums for him. I was kind of the utility guy in that band.
We were really good friends, so we had a tradition of one night a week that we would go to the Jazz Showcase together. I would pick him up and take him to the Jazz Showcase and we’d go see whoever the band was in town that week. On the stage,( it was a big long stage, maybe about the depth of the stage at Dazzle and maybe it was another ten feet longer on one end) since they didn’t need that much room, Joe Segal would put card chairs right next to the drums. Imagine if you were sitting right at the edge of the stage next to Paul Romaine. That’s where your seat was: facing the drummer. Well, that’s where Barrett and I would always sit. We would sit on stage next to the drummer and he would talk to the drummer during the whole gig. All of the drummers put up with it because he was one of their idols, one of their heroes. We would sit there with Elvin Jones, and Tony Williams, and Max Roach. He would say stuff like, “Pretty good press roll - do another one” and Max would do another one and smile at him. This would be in the middle of their gigs and I did this with him every week. It was really that amazing, it was really something … he was a … Yeah; there are too many stories about him.
The only time in my life I’ve ever been asked to leave a business; the three times I was kicked out of restaurants with him. I remember one time (laughing) he was saying, “Look how fat that guy is, look at him, look at him!” And just that loud. The whole restaurant can hear it. The guy can hear it. Everybody in the restaurant was made uncomfortable by this and … they would ask him to leave eventually. (Laughing) “Sir could you … here’s your bill if you don’t mind we’d like to turn your table over” or whatever, or “Just get out!” One guy said at a Chinese restaurant, “Get out, that’s it. Get out!”
DM: Why did he do this, was he crazy or was it for you?
BG: Somebody said, (I think it was Paul Wertico) if it was today they would have diagnosed him with Tourette’s of some form, maybe it was some form of that.
Like with Red, he had a … Joe Henderson had the same thing too… a sudden renaissance at the end of their lives where they were rediscovered and they had a second career.
Barrett was becoming a star because he was old and he was still around and the people are going, “Holy crap, Barrett Deems is still alive and holy shit he’s great. Listen to him”, and he WAS. He played like he was twenty-five and he was playing with a big band when he was eighty-six. It was phenomenal to see.
At the end, we started doing some pretty nice gigs. We started going to some Jazz Festivals – the International Jazz Festivals, doing these things. We made a record. It was a great record. I remember … The story that sticks in my mind was, his wife was booking the band, and she played alto in the band. She got us a gig at the convention of The American Medical Association, which is all of the top doctors.
It was in the grand foyer of the Field Museum of Natural History where there are dinosaurs and mammoths. We’re in tuxedos, and there looks to be about 500 or 600 people at the tables, spread out all over the foyer, in tuxedos. A very elegant affair and we’re supposed to play. Barrett, he was on a star trip and he was a cranky guy who was getting crankier.
We started to play. We played Airmail Special. It was a Louie Bellson chart on Airmail Special we opened up with. It was like you were watching a movie, because all of a sudden everybody just went, “Oh my God, the band’s playing, let’s dance” and the people flooded the dance floor and started dancing like crazy. It was great.
Barrett got pissed off about it because he thought everywhere he played it should be a concert and he was a star. He shouldn’t have to play for people dancing.
He’s complaining to his wife, “Why are they dancing?” He wants to play something that they won’t dance to, so he called something faster, something really fast, and more people danced. Now, he’s really upset. He goes up to the front of the band and he gets on this microphone, which was turned up really loud, and it was echoing all over the hall foyer, and he says, “You know what? You maybe a bunch of great fucking doctors but as an audience, you suck!”
There was another time that we were playing in the Chicago Jazz Festival. It was being broadcast live on National Public Radio. It was sponsored by Yamaha, they were a corporate sponsor.
We got up there to play. He starts with his first drum solo and the legs of the drums are giving out and falling over. He says right into the microphone, “Cheap, fucking Japanese shit!”
DM: (Laughing) Oh no. Oh, brilliant.
BG: The most incorrect, inappropriate bandleader in history.
DM: Great guy.
BG: Wonderful Guy.