Brad Goode: Stories From Chicago
Part 5) Mentors
DM: You wrote recently that "mentoring beats teaching, hands down, every time." Can you talk about that?
BG: Yeah, I think there’s a difference between mentoring and teaching. Teaching is when you know some stuff and you try to express it to people, have them learn what you know, or require them to learn what you know, or ask them to learn what you know. I think for music that doesn’t really work.
BG: I’m paid to do it, obviously, and I have to teach classes and I happily teach in front of classes and things like this. I have to make a syllabus, I have to have lesson plans, I have to have assignments, I have to have grading criteria. I talk at people, tell them what I think about stuff and ask them to meet certain requirements and do certain things. Maybe some of the things I say in that situation are received well and help people, but I usually find that a more effective way for me to help those same people become musicians is just to know the people; to spend time with them, to have them spend time with me, so that they can see how I think about things, how I approach things, how I deal with being a musician or maybe even with being a professor, or whatever it is they’re trying to learn.
To develop a relationship with them and with their musicianship, to be able to be a sounding-board for them and to be able to give them advice. I’m doing what it is they would like to do. Based on the fact that I have some experience, that’s more of a mentoring model.
I can do that with them a little bit in class if the class is small. If it’s a small class then I can just mentor everybody rather than teach them, but if it’s a big class then I almost have to … if that person is going to benefit from my experience, then I’m going to have to have a relationship with him aside from the relationship I have with him in class.
For me, not having ever studied jazz; I never had (or I never sat with somebody and took) jazz lessons. I never took a class in jazz or jazz theory or improvisation or anything like this.
Everything that I learned about it, I learned through observation. The people that I really learned from were the people who were willing to let me spend a lot of time with them, using them as models for certain ways of thinking or certain ways of being a musician and certain ways of behaving.
I approached a lot of people with the desire to have this kind of relationship with them and some of them were willing to have it with me. It happened more naturally – I didn’t formally go to them.
- Although, there’s one person I formally went to and asked for lessons, and that’s Von Freeman. He was the person who told me “Jazz cannot be taught”, that was his response,and he was right. But of course, I had a chance to observe him; to see him play his gigs, to listen to him as he played his gigs, to watch him repeatedly and see how he dealt with all kinds of situations, both musical and personal, in terms of being jazz artist and businessman.
To see somebody do what they do on a repeated basis, to have exposure to somebody who is a master (as he was) and then to be able to play with him, to be able to talk with him about playing, to be able to ask questions and get advice behind issues having to do with being a musician; I learned a tremendous amount in this experience. Much more than if I had sat with him and said “Okay, show me what you think about when you play a C7 chord.” That wouldn’t have helped me become what I was trying to become. That would have just been more information than I needed to know. I think that that’s an old- school way – like a tradesman’s way of achieving understanding and achieving experience, to start as an apprentice.
Then, to move into that place where you leave your apprenticeship and have experiences on your own and gather more knowledge through trial and error. They used to call that, in the trades, a journeyman. Then, at some point when you’ve got enough experience where people are asking YOU for advice, that’s where you become that person on the other side of the equation. (the mentor)
Since that was done for me, and that worked for me, I feel like that’s what I can do and what would be effective for me to do for other people who want my help.
One thing I never do in teaching jazz is to say to somebody “play this”, or “transcribe that” or “use this approach, this theoretical approach”, “learn this lick” or …I really try to avoid doing that. I don’t want to teach. I want to be around and to be engaged with what they’re doing. To be an advisor for them but to also be a model, which is actually harder.
The kind of aesthetics and philosophies I developed about the music came because the people I was exposed to ,and then the mentors I had, had this cultural way of thinking about values in the music that became really important ideas in the way I think about music today. What was maybe different: it wasn’t just that I learned jazz outside the school, but it was that I learned jazz in the black community; in black neighborhoods, black clubs and from black musicians and at a time when this wasn’t that normal.
DM: Um-hmm, for a white person to be...
BG: Yeah. Although, certainly it was a great experience for me and I didn’t have any real difficulties. I would have some discussions with people who maybe have a little bit of difficulty with me being there at that moment, but it was never any … I never had any … felt myself to be unwanted in the situation.
I think that this system of apprenticeship has, built into it, a certain set of expectations or cultural standards. The question is, “Are you acknowledging that, and trying to learn the way that is being espoused, or are you subscribing to the whole way of being?” You can’t come into a strong tradition with your own idea about what you want to do without regard to the expectations of that tradition.
Fortunately, the jazz tradition is one where being unique is highly valued but being unique within the expectations of the tradition and through the masters in that tradition.
My way of learning was to try to observe what people were doing, how they were playing, what types of things were important in what they were doing and then to try to meet those expectations myself; to the point where the established people would want me to be involved with their music. Maybe they would invite me or start hiring me. To be hanging around and absorbing and trying until you could be participating, because THAT’S the tradition.
DM: Four of your mentors passed away this year.BG: Yeah. Thomas Palmer was the bass player in that band I was just talking about. Jodie Christian was the piano player in that band. They both died this year. Von Freeman passed away. And Dave Schappert.
I don’t know if you know Dave Shappert. Dave Shappert was a piano player from Chicago, grew up with Lin and Ira, moved to Aspen in the ‘60s to be the music director of the Playboy Club. A very close friend of Paul Warburton’s.
Those years when Chris Potter and I were playing in the (Aspen) bars every night. [That was] with Dave Shappert. Over the years of going up to Colorado, I always played with him. He and I started playing a lot of duo gigs in Aspen over the years. Another older musician who was very encouraging to me and taught me a lot of music. I learned a lot of music playing with him, a lot of tunes, a lot of … great guy, good friend.
Thomas Palmer and why not to “vibe” people.
homas Palmer was a … this is an interesting case, because I’ve had a couple of musicians, when I was a bandleader, that were like this. No question, he was one of the most talented bass player in the world. The problem was; he knew that, and he couldn’t tolerate other people not playing up to his level. (at least in his perception) There was always a problem which was: (he thought) he was playing better than everybody else and he was going to vibe the people that he doesn’t feel are hanging.
He did this to such an extent … Let me give you a brief biography for him: He grew up in Von’s jam sessions. Started playing with The Ramsey Lewis Trio. Amhad Jamal heard him. Had to have him in his trio. He went to New York with Ahmad Jamal. Sonny Rollins stole him from Ahmad Jamal. Betty Carter wanted him. He did all these gigs … all the top gigs in jazz. Years later, he comes back to Chicago at the same time I was starting there. Jodie Christian was the guy who said, “Thomas Palmer is here, that’s the best bass player. We need to get Thomas Palmer”. I heard him play and I thought, “Holy crap, that’s the best bass player”. Over three or four years it got to the point where nobody in Chicago would hire him.
BG: Eventually, including me.
BG: Obviously, that’s what had happened to him in New York. You could see it was this personality … I’m not a psychologist … a personality disorder. He didn’t do drugs and he didn’t drink. He was a person who was very influential and very helpful and inspirational in helping me quit drugs. He was a great example to me. A big reason I quit drugs was because of the talks I had with him. He even told me I would never really get my act together unless I did, (quit) and I believe that’s true.
Although, I never really have gotten my act together! [Laughs] … because of this (vibing people) he couldn’t work in Chicago anymore. He stopped playing. He got depressed. He lived with his mother for a long time. His mother died and now I’m living in Cincinnati. He shows up there saying - with all his belongings in his car - saying I was his only friend. “Would I help him get gigs in Cincinnati?” I tried to do this, but he immediately started vibing everybody in Cincinnati.
He ended up as a street person. He was a street person in Los Angeles maybe the last fifteen years.
DM: One of the greatest bassist you ever played with?
BG: I’ll play you some recordings of that band.
DM: Yeah, I wouldn’t do anything like that. That’s crazy.
BG: Yeah, but because he couldn’t manage his … is it his ego? I don’t know. He was a nice guy. He was a great guy, good cheery guy … great guy to get along with. For me a fantastic music teacher and I learned so much music from being with that guy, rehearsing and listening to him play and talking about music. Talk about mentorship; he really taught me a lot of music. I think of him of course when I play the bass.
DM: You think of him?
BG: Oh, of course. That’s my man, that’s my influence. But he couldn’t manage his … this thing.
He couldn’t NOT vibe people. It was almost comical. He’d turn his back to the drummer and play the rest of the gig with his back turned. Stuff like this.
Jodie Christian was a very, very deep musician.
I had this special band of older guys, and me. I’m the guy leading the band and of course I’m the guy who knows the least music, is the least qualified to lead the band, and who plays the worst, but I had the opportunity to have a band. I thought, “I’m going to have a band full of people who can play great, so that I can try to play up to their level.”
Jodie was intense, challenging me musically, every song, all the time. Just throwing stuff at me, pushing me.
He was a Jehovah’s Witness and so … again a guy who didn’t drink, who didn’t smoke, didn’t do drugs and no pot or drinking…
DM: And (laughs) those guys, and Lin is in the band?
BG: Yeah (laughs). One day … I had this band for about five years, and one day he said, “I’m not going to play in the band anymore”, and I said well, “Why not, did I do something wrong?” …because I was always stepping on my … and saying the wrong thing, or acting like an idiot with the club, or something, so I thought maybe I’d done something. He said, “No, no, no it’s not you”, and I was like, “Is it the other guys? Is something wrong with the band?” “No, no, no it’s not the band, I like the band and the band is playing great. You’re fine man, you could do great. You go on; you guys do the band without me.” I couldn’t imagine doing that because I didn’t know how to do a band without Jodie Christian.
When we talk about having a band now, you think about … you look at what it is today:
You play once every two months at Dazzle. We were playing six nights a week. It was like a family; it was a full-time job having the band.
So, he said, “No, no I just need to take some time off and I’m just going to stop playing”, and I said, “Please don’t do this”, he said, “I’ve made up my mind and good luck to you,” and boom he disappeared.
It took years to figure what happened, but what actually happened was; when the first George Bush attacked Saddam Hussein – the Gulf War I, the leaders in his … what do you call it, his organization (he didn’t call it a religion) … told everybody, “This is it, these are the biblical predictions and prophecies coming true, prepare for the end times. Everybody quit what you’re doing and devote yourself to the organization and to the mission and to God and get ready. Prepare to meet your maker.”
BG: That’s why he quit the band.
DM: Whoa, and did he come back?
BG: So then the world didn’t end and…
BG: (Laughs) About three years later, I saw that he was playing somewhere with a trio. “Jodie’s playing? I thought he quit playing?”
BG: I went and saw him. He was really happy to see me. Well, by then the band had changed. I had a younger band with guys my age playing in it. It was a different thing. He sheepishly snuck back into gigging, but then, sadly, he was gradually overtaken by Parkinson’s Disease.
The last fifteen years that he was playing were a struggle for him, and that was after the end of the world. He had Parkinson’s and he would shake when he played. It was hard for me to watch him do that. I showed you a video of him with Von Freeman…
DM: Yeah, yeah. I remember.
[Here is that video. Oleo by Sonny Rollins. Von, Brad, Jodie, Rufus Reid on bass and Jack Dejohnette on drums. Listen to Jodie! Holy cow!]
BG: Jodie was a fantastic piano player. He was the guy on all of those Eddie Harris records in the ‘60s.
BG: He was one of the founding fathers of the AACM as well. The AACM was Jodie, Muhal Richard Abrams, Roscoe Mitchell, Steve McCall...Was that all of the founders of the AACM? Anyway, he’s one of them.
DM: And then … of course Von Freeman.
BG: Yes, I guess that’s my hero. Some people talk about Coltrane. Some people talk about Bird … these are the icons of jazz. But to me and to some other people in Chicago, THAT’s who Von Freeman was to US.
His way of playing was unique or, as I’m saying, it’s unique within the expectations and standards of the tradition. Red Rodney said that when he came to Chicago with Charlie Parker, Charlie Parker was obsessed with Von Freeman, fascinated with him. Von had been playing like that since the ‘40s. They used to do sax battles after hours when Bird was in town.
You can hear Von’s brothers on some Bird recordings live, but there’s no known recording of Von and Bird, which I would love to hear.
Years ago, we tried to make this case to Harvey Pekar. You know who Harvey was?
Remember American Splendor, the cartoon? The graphic novels? Paul Giamatti played Harvey in the movie. Harvey was also a jazz critic. Harvey wrote the liner notes to my album, Hypnotic Suggestion.
We were trying to make the case to him that Von was as influential and as unique and original early as John Coltrane was, because that case had not really been made. I think I successfully made that case and Harvey did a lot of research, found a lot of recordings.
The earliest things he could find were some mid ‘50s records with Andrew Hill, where Von is playing the way he played for the rest of his life. That’s the earliest example but certainly that predates Trane and Dolphy by quite a bit.
He was … Harvey wrote an article about it for this magazine called “Jazz Times”. I may still have that article somewhere.
[I found the article. You can read it here: Harvey Pekar on Von Freeman.]
Von never left home, literally. I think he got married for a number of years but then he and his wife lived in the house with Mama, with his Mama where he grew up and then they got divorced. His two sons left home and Von never left the house again and never got remarried.
The story they told at Von’s funeral, I think Chico told the story, or maybe - a number of people told the same story - was about Miles asking Von to join his band. It’s in Miles’ autobiography, but errantly Miles says he asked Bud Freeman from Chicago to be his sax player. We know it’s not Bud Freeman; he asked Von to play with him in his band.
DM: All right. I see.
BG: Right. Von should have been the guy to replace Trane , that’s who Miles wanted. The true story which was told and retold at the funeral was: Miles called and Von’s mother answered. Miles said, “Have Von call me, I want him to come join my band and meet me on the road.” Von’s mother said, ‘Von can’t go on the road. Von’s got a family to raise!,” and she hung up on him!
When she told Von that , Von said, “Yeah, you’re right ,I can’t go,” and he never went anywhere. Instead of going somewhere, what he did was stay in the same clubs his whole life for the same money, playing for the same people and developing this thing that was … this ever expanding way of playing solos that kept expanding and expanding and abstracting and abstracting.
What I always tell people is the time I was playing with Von in a pretty regular basis was … I was between the ages of twenty-four and thirty-four and he was between the ages of sixty-four and seventy-four. He was getting better faster than I was and remember, I already told you that I did nothing BUT practice. Later I heard from Chico, “Oh yeah, Von didn’t do anything but practice either.” Well, of course! I knew that! That was another thing I could think about when I was in my apartment, practicing.
DM: Um-hmm. Von is practicing?
BG: Yeah, and I have to play with HIM too. Very inspirational people … types of people to be around. I think several things about Von stand out. First, is that his playing was obviously … to use a cliché, ahead of its time. The Avant-garde movement took steam in the late ‘50s early ‘60s but you could make a case that a lot of these people including Sun Ra and Muhal Richard Abrams and Jodie and all these people who were fathers of the avant-garde movement got a lot of their aesthetic from Von, from being around Von. You could also see a lot of virtuoso sax players who came out of Chicago, who got their chops together by playing on Von’s jam sessions. Not in the least is Pat Patrick, John Gilmore, Johnny Griffin, Eddie Harris, Clifford Jordan, Steve Coleman, Ron Blake. These are people who were impacted by listening to Von, sitting-in with Von or learning at Von’s jam session.
BG:Well, yeah, but look at just the list of sax players, alone.
DM: There are ten or more...
BG: Look at the pianists who came out of his band. John Young, Ahmad Jamal, Chris Anderson, Jodie Christian, Jack DeJohnette was his piano player for a while, also Andrew Hill; but you see Von didn’t make records and didn’t leave Chicago. So Von lived in obscurity.
I remember that when he was around seventy-five somebody called him about appearing on some festival in Europe where they were putting together … I don’t know what it was called, but something (he found) demeaning like… “Grand Old Men of Jazz.” He was so upset that the reason he was getting this call to perform at a big festival was because he was old, not because he was good.
I remember that pretty well. I also remember another time when he referred to himself as a “trial horse”. You know what a trial horse is? That’s the horse they have at the racetrack that they only use in training, to run with the real horses they’re going to put in the races.
DM: He was a trial horse.
BG: He wasn’t a trial horse. That was in his mind; (He felt) that it was his lot to stay there (in Chicago) and everybody else was going to sharpen their shit up playing with and listening to him and then go on to New York, or go on to wherever and become famous. He was just going to stay there in his corner bar and do his thing.
DM: Um-hmm. That’s what he did?
BG: That’s how he was thinking, in a way, which made me sad. I believe that his concept was so extraordinary that you’d really have to be very musically astute to realize how much better he was than all these other guys who went on (to New York). How much deeper he went and how much more he was doing.
DM: That’s incredible.
It took me many times of going back to listening to hear what he was doing. There are many players that play interestingly or abstractly in the way that Von plays, but these are all people that came after Charlie Parker. So, even though they are playing abstractly, you often can hear an element of Charlie Parker’s playing.
BG: Then you must question this (popular academic) idea of Jazz as a language. Maybe a guy like Von or a guy like me, I hope, calls that idea into question. If it’s a language, then we’re all playing the same clichés and the same phrases. We’re not really in the club unless we all speak the language. But what if it’s not a language?
DM: Well, that’s what I think is interesting about jazz as a language.
That music is a language, but it’s an interesting language because it’s not rooted in practicality - It’s not a good language for expressing things like, “I’m hungry, I want a sandwich.” This idea that if it’s not rooted in practicality, then perhaps it is a language … I kind of think of it as a language of integrity.
We’re talking about Von and that his conception is so deep. It’s about the depth of the integrity of his language.
BG: Well, I think Von was looking for a similar thing in a different way than Trane was looking … which was in a different way than Dolphy was looking … a different way than Woody Shaw was looking, but they were all looking for the same type of thing. They were searching for a way to express themselves more dramatically. To say new things all the time, not to just keep refining and saying the same things and honing them, but to change the way you say things constantly to evolve a way of expressing yourself that is ever-growing and renewing and discarding and changing. A guy like Eric Dolphy forgot more music than you and I will ever know – on his way to trying to say what he was trying to say.
The thing about Charlie Parker and the hero worship around Charlie Parker … because he … he must have had this effect on people, even greater maybe than what I’m saying I experienced in hearing Eddie Harris or Von or Chris Potter –( people I thought were doing something greater than I would ever be capable of doing) -when people heard Charlie Parker, they thought, “Oh, that’s how you say that! The way to do it must be to play his phrases,” which brings in that language aspect.
Well, a person like Von or Dolphy or Trane, they have an understanding of what’s been done before them; they’re not ignorant of it. It’s been something they’ve interpolated, but they avoid doing it or imitating it, in favor of finding their own material and their own thing, which is less easily accepted by masses of people.
I started out by talking about traditions and standards. Aesthetics that I learned by trying to hang out in the black community with experienced musicians. What is considered to be important is that you really know the song, that you know lots of songs, that you swing, that you’re expressive, that you are unique. These are the important things. What are the highly valued things in jazz education today? Language, vocabulary, harmony, technique, time signatures, etc. Where are these values coming from?
DM: I think that there’s a way of dealing with learning jazz as vocabulary and I think that’s something with which we both get frustrated. When you deal with someone like Von Freeman, I think of Von as somebody that dealt with jazz as language.
BG: I understand what you’re saying. We’re using a different definition of that word but … Von is taking care of business. He can swing. He has his own style. He has personality in his playing. He feels the blues. He can really play a ballad. He can interpret a song. He’s in complete control of the time and the form and the changes to the point where he can mess with them to such a severe degree, with control, and not step outside of the boundaries of the standard.
Whereas; you can’t always say the same thing of the Free Form players, because if you avoid that tradition and you avoid those expectations, it might seem that greater freedom would be had with less structure. I feel that the greater freedom comes with more control and more discipline, more knowledge, so that you can say more, not less. It’s also that playing within structures requires and then produces more unity. How can you reach the other musicians? How can you reach the audience without the unifying factor of the structure?
Von never played free-form because he was looking for …
DM: The freedom in the structure?
BG: Yes. You heard the recording of Eric Dolphy and Clifford Brown?
Clifford Brown and Eric Dolphy - Deception
954, To me, early Eric Dolphy sounds more like Bird than Sonny Stitt does; cleaner, more accurate, more in tune, better technique, more fluent. He didn’t play the way he did later because he couldn’t play inside. He became abstract because that’s where he wanted to go. That’s also what Von did. If you said to Von, if you we’re putting him on the spot, “play like Lester Young” or “play like Coleman Hawkins” or the other people who came before him, he could do that. He was perfectly capable of it.
I remember going to Von’s house. He only had about ten albums. He had a very small record collection.
DM: Wow, now that’s very interesting.
BG: I mean obviously when he was a kid he must have had some 78 rpm records, but who knows what happened to them; he didn’t need them anymore, because he had already learned from them, right? Later in his career, he wasn’t sitting at home listening to other people play on recordings. No, he was sitting at home figuring out what HE wanted to play.
We were talking about mentoring. I’ve come to realize that none of my mentors ever told me what to play. I didn’t have somebody telling me, “Oh, just play patterns in twelve-keys and when you get to a two-five-one…” I didn’t even know what that meant. I first heard about that stuff when I started teaching at colleges.
“Aren’t you breaking it up this way? It’s ii-V-I’s.” Well, that IS teaching, but it may not be as instructive as understanding how an improviser conducts himself. How he practices. How he lives. How he plays. How he deals with a song. Observing that over time. Having a person allow you into that experience so that you can gain insight from his process is very different than teaching.