Brad is great story teller. As fun as these stories are to read, they are even more fun to hear Brad tell. So, I'm including that audio in case you'd like to listen along. You should listen along...
Red Rodney, the Scam Artist
BG: I had a very close relationship with Chris Potter; he was like my little brother.
The relationship I had with Red Rodney was unusual because I looked like him and people were joking and saying that I was his illegitimate son. He heard about this, he heard about me - came to hear me play and invited me to sit in with him. After a time, after a couple of years, Ira Sullivan left his band. Red was left with some commitments to fulfill iand the rest of his tour to do and so I went out and finished this tour with him.
I didn’t play with him for long, it was a few months. It was really fun and I think he was even telling some people that I was his illegitimate son because people still think that. (Laughing) I still think there still are a lot of people who think that’s true, but there was something there that was maybe … I don’t know, I mean I don’t want to sound like a jerk when I say this but I think I was playing a little too much trumpet for his comfort level - to stay in that situation. He wasn’t really comfortable with it and he ended up getting Dick Oatts to replace Ira permanently.
After a couple of years, I had told him about Chris Potter and Chris went to sit in with him and he let Dick Oatts go and he hired Chris. (Laughs).
Chris was just 18 when he got the gig and when they would come to Chicago twice a year, for a week, I would join them. I would play the week with them. It’s like a little family thing.
Red Rodney had had this history of drug problems and … like with the stories you hear about Charlie Parker when somebody is in that desperate a situation and needs that much money, they will do anything, including turning to crime, to get the money.
Red … the stories about Red are famous, there are even books published with these stories printed in Gene Lee’s book, he had so many of them that he had a whole chapter on all of the con jobs that Red ran (laughing) - including impersonating a General, impersonating the son of a dying millionaire – the long lost son.
All of these things he did; being on the lam and having the FBI looking for him - robbing the armory on a military base. These are verified famous stories and he spent a lot of time in jail over the years. The last time he came out of jail … he was in jail in Lexington, Kentucky where I went to college. He got out of jail just before I got there and that’s when he started a band with Ira.
It was five years later that I met him … four years later maybe. He was having this huge … right around the time Chris joined his band. He was having this huge surge in popularity in this … boosting his career due to the fact the Clint Eastwood had made this “Bird” movie and he had used Red as an advisor, and a lot of the movie was about the relationship between Red Rodney and Bird.
This was during that time … Red was starting to get big fees to play, he was becoming a star. He went to the white house and played for Bill Clinton. He did all these stuff – right?
With me, Red always had this air like he was my father and he was giving me the sage advice from a wise old man. He never shared these stories about his criminal history but I knew about them and other people would tell me about them. Even his ex-girlfriends would tell me these incredibly, like, ridiculous stories about his criminal behavior and everything.
He takes … we play a night at the Jazz Showcase and he takes Chris Potter and I out to a restaurant that’s open 24 hours. It’s about two o’clock in the morning and he orders all this food and start saying “You know I love Chicago, I’ve always loved Chicago. I used to come here with Charlie Parker and everybody in Chicago has always been great, I always feel at home here and bla bla bla”, then he goes into the story about how he and Thelonious Monk and Art Blakey were walking around the south side of Chicago on a set break with Charlie Parker when they were arrested for bank robbery and taken to jail.
Art Blakey had a cousin who was an attorney in Chicago, who not only got the charges dropped but sued the city of Chicago and the Chicago Police Department for false arrest and won thousands and thousands of dollars for Blakey and Monk and Red. He was so happy when he was telling the story, he was smiling, he was so proud of himself that he had sued the city and won and got all this money. But the way he told the story, it wasn’t clear; and it sounded to Chris and I like - we didn’t understand. I said to him “Well, did you do it?” and he said “Did I do what?” and I said “Did you rob the bank?” knowing that he had robbed banks, right? (That wasn’t out of the question). He got furious and he stood up and started screaming at me in this restaurant to the point where the whole restaurant got quiet and he was screaming “How dare you! Did I rob a bank?! How dare you! Who do you think you are?” just going crazy on me and he got really incensed, stood up and walked out and didn’t come back. He was taking us out to dinner (laughing) so he stuck us with the check, he left without paying the check which was another scam.
This is Red Rodney.
Chris Potter, 13 years old
"There were lot of similarities in the way he was learning and the way I was learning, it’s just that he is smarter than me."
BG: Chris Potter … there was … At the Aspen Music Festival, they started a big band and the music festival is associated with the Juilliard Summer School – and there’s a music school. This was the first year they started the big band and they put the whole band on fellowship. Most of the guys in the band were from New York; they were either graduate students or had just finished college – guys in their twenties, some guys as old as early thirties. John Riley was the drummer, lot of fine … lot of really fine musicians; Claire Church was in this band.
The two youngest guys in the band were Chris and myself. Chris was thirteen and I was twenty. We had ten weeks to be there, with four concerts to give over ten weeks, really not much to do.
I was able to go around town and find gigs, to the point where I had Chris and I playing six nights a week with the rhythm section. We’d have these guest artists come out to be the artist on the concerts with the big band and they would sit in with us while they were out there. We got to jam with Jimmy Heath and George Shearing and Buddy Rich and all those people who came as guest artists.
The next summer, Chris and I had kept in contact and I … we both decided to go back and do the band again. Now, Chris was fourteen and I was already telling people, whomever would listen to me, “I’ve heard the greatest saxophone player in the world and he’s thirteen years old and he’s just a little kid – Chris Potter from Columbia, South Carolina.”
We agreed to go back together and I called all these restaurants and bars and got the same gigs back and lined up six nights a week of playing again.
When we got out there, the festival told David – who’s Chris’ dad; “We’ve changed the rules about kids who are under sixteen for the festival. Chris will have to live at Mother Goose Lodge with an 8 o’clock curfew every night.” David said “Chris only came out here to get the experience of playing and Brad’s got all his gigs lined up and if he can’t do this we’re just going to turn around and just go home. He’s not going to stay. “
The festival people said to him “Well, the only way we’re going to allow him NOT to live in Mother Goose Lodge and the only way we’re going to allow him to be in bars after hours is if he is accompanied. If he’s living with a parent or legal guardian off campus and if he’s got a parent or legal guardian with him at these gigs”. Then David look at me and said “How old are you?” and I had just turned 21, I said “21”. He says Okay and we went to the courthouse and he signed over guardianship of his fourteen year old son to me.
He rented out a little apartment, unfurnished, in Aspen, which is so expensive. He rented us an unfurnished studio apartment and we went to live there and I was responsible for watching Chris which is why I had to take responsibility, and I was not a very responsible person at the time. “Okay we’d like to stay” and Chris stayed and we were living in sleeping bags on the floor of this unfurnished apartment at the Airport Business Center.
DM: (Laughing) Oh my God.
BG: All we had were our clothes.I had just graduated from college. I had all my LPs with me and I had a Zenith record player. Chris was going through these LPs every … every - I had maybe three hundred,not as many as I have now, but maybe three hundred records lined up on the floor in this living room and this little Zenith record player. He was going through them all and listening to them and studying my record collection.
He found this record … “Ballads” by the John Coltrane Quartet and he really liked this record. One day, I was going jogging and he was sitting, picking up the needle on the record player and repeating a bridge that Coltrane played on the tune “Say it.” He’s just playing the last eight-bar bridge Coltrane plays in that tune over and over again. To do that with a record player you have to drop a needle right in the exact spot that it played, pick it up, eyeball the spot, drop it back. He was doing this for about ten minutes while I was putting on my exercise clothes. I looked at him and I said, “I’m going to go jogging, I’ll be back in about an hour.” I went jogging, I came back in an hour and he was still sitting on the floor and he was still playing the same eight-bars over and over again.
He didn’t have a saxophone, he was just looking at the record, playing these eight-bars. I said to him, “What the hell are you doing?” when I came back in. His answer was, “I decided that these are the perfect eight-bars and I want to understand why.”
BG: He was fourteen.
DM: That’s so nice.
BG: There were lot of similarities in the way he was learning and the way I was learning, it’s just that he iss smarter than me.
BG: What’s true about both of us is that neither of us has ever transcribed solo.
DM: Interesting, but you know some Charlie Parker solos - right?
BG: I could sing them to you but I never sat and attempted to take anything of it.
DM: Chris probably knew that.
DM: Interesting. Okay.
BG: Then what happened after that is; I didn’t go back to the ASPEN Music Festival the next summer because I was in Chicago gigging all the time (a year later). They asked Chris if he wanted to go back and he found out I wasn’t going back and he asked his parents, “Instead of going to music camp or to the Aspen festival this summer, can I just go stay with Brad in Chicago for a month?” That’s what he did instead of going to music camp the next summer.
DM: Oh my God, when he was fifteen?
BG: When he was fifteen, he came and stayed in my apartment for a month and again I had guardianship of him. I took him to places to play and he was freaking everybody out.
BG: I remember he played with Von Freeman and lots of people, but the thing that stands out in my mind was somebody … Jamey Aebersold knew about him and I think Jamey Aebersold had told Phil Woods about him in a way. When he and I went to go and see the Phil Woods Quartet, Phil knew who he was and asked him, “Do you want to sit in and play with me?” Remember Chris was an alto player.
BG: Yeah, it was … I’ve never seen or heard anything like it because he was only fifteen. He was literally an innocent person. He was a child, he had no intention of destroying Phil Woods but he was also a genius, so he got up there and Phil played stuff and Chris played it back to him with theme and variations and abstraction. Anything Phil played, Chris turned it on him and played it so much better and so much deeper and took it to other places that it freaked Phil out completely. He had to stop after one tune and end the set and say, “Ladies and gentlemen we’ll be back after break”, and he just vanished, he went somewhere and was freaking out.
I remember because I got to know Bill Goodwin years later – the drummer, and I was talking to him about it and he said “Oh, yeah I remember that and it really messed him up.”
DM: Wow, (Laughs) at fifteen?
DM: That’s incredible.
BG: That’s just … he’s a person like a Mozart or something. You could see that when he was thirteen.
Eddie Harris, Intimidating as Hell
BG: He’s another scary guy. He’s another guy with that type of intellect. Maybe those are the two most impressive minds I had an encountered among jazz musicians, at least out of people that I know personally.
I think that they can … Those are the only two people that I know that could just play anything in any key without practicing it. I know lots of people who can shed licks in twelve keys, and anyone can play licks in twelve keys or can learn a melody in twelve keys if they really work hard; maybe not lots, but I do know people like that.
These are guys, to whom you can just say “play Confirmation in F sharp” and they can just do it. I know another guy like that, maybe the third guy is a piano player named Jon Weber who just took over for Marian McPartland on her radio show.
He is the new host of “Piano Jazz”. He’s got a brain like that too. When you’re dealing with somebody that’s a super genius it’s another thing. I’m not insecure about what I do. I know that I have certain abilities and certain talents and a lot … some of my talent is a natural way of hearing things musically and some of my abilities came through really, really hard work, but I know when I’m with somebody like that , who’s thinking is just going a lot faster than mine, then I’m really out of my league. I guess that’s how I felt when I got hired to play with Eddie Harris for the first time. I didn’t really know a lot about him.
I guess I had listened to some of his records and I thought, “Well, okay he does funky stuff and he’s had some fusion experiments and he plays the blues and he’s got interesting way of playing lines.”
I hadn’t really realized the extent of his musicality and the depth of his experience and his musicianship. Again, this was a … the Jazz Showcase was a place … where Joe Segal had started jam sessions at Roosevelt University the 1940’s and kept running a club ever since. He’s still running it. It’s like sixty-five years, or something, that he’s had a club.
Joe … well, I had been called for a couple of really challenging things that I guess involved certain skills, especially reading and transposing stuff, that some of the older guys in town really wouldn’t do, and that made a good impression on Joe. For a while there, I started becoming the guy that he would call if a travelling single artist would want a trumpet player and that went on for several years.
When he hired me to play with Eddie Harris and Eddie Harris came, Eddie was a very … he had really kind of evil grin and stare and was kind of an intimidating guy. When he got there and he found out he had a trumpet player; first of all, he wasn’t happy about that, and then he found out it was a kid, he wasn’t happy about that, and then we rehearsed and he found that I was going to be scuffling to basically keep up, he wasn’t happy about that.
He told me … the way those gigs worked, they went from Tuesday thru Sunday and usually we played a matinee on Sunday as well – six days every night plus a Sunday at noon. He told me between the rehearsal on Tuesday afternoon and the opening on Tuesday night; he’s like, “Well, let’s see how you do tonight. You need to know my songs better. If you don’t sound too bad, maybe I’ll let you play the rest of the week.” That’s what he said to me.
Then, I’m in my car outside of El Taco Loco, the place on the corner, shedding his music for the next four hours, just frantically.
I’m trying to memorize it. “Freedom Jazz Dance” and another thing he had that was the sequel, called “Fusion Jazz Dance” and all of these things, plus he wanted to play things like “Countdown”. He wanted to demonstrate something to me, which he did pretty effectively. Somehow, I got through that first night and he was nice enough to let me stay.
What really surprised me was that when he came back the next year, he asked Joe if he would hire me to play the gig. That was the point where the relationship really started, when he kind of began this mentorship thing. He said, “Okay, I can see that you are sincere, that you’re not just a jive artist, that you really want this and I’ll help you”, that’s basically what that relationship was about.
For the next five or six years I had lots of opportunities to play with him. I didn’t play with him full-time. A lot of places he went; they wouldn’t hire a band for him. Even after everything he had done, he had to go by himself, as a single, the only way he could afford to play. When he was able to bring a band, I would go. It was just … I guess the idea that I would have to play with him soon was so intimidating …
…that I just started practicing all day, every day. I felt like so out of my depth, so unqualified to be playing with him, especially because of all the shit he would play. He would play this stuff and then he would look at me with this funny look like, “Okay, I played that. Now; what are you going to play in your solo following me?” and that was terrifying for me. I was twenty three years old and just thinking about it, knowing that that was coming in a month or two months; I would get up every day and practice all day long and then go out at night. If I didn’t have a gig, I’d go out somewhere and practice, playing with other people somewhere else. Wherever I could go.
There was this idea that I was going to be thrown in the deep end and I didn’t know how to swim.
DM: Um-hmm and you did?
BG: Yeah, it was such a shock to my system. The way I explain it to a lot of my students, I guess it has just become like this little thing I tell them; you need to practice with records. When I say records, with the recordings of great guys, so that you can get a feel for what it’s really like to play with guys that play with THAT kind of feel.
Jamey Aebersold is not hiring those same guys for his records. You can play with these guys on the records and that’s better because you do really have a clue of how to fit in, but when you actually get on stage with those same people it’s completely different.
It’s one thing if you’re practicing with a record of Joe Henderson and he’s playing and you’re playing and you’re having fun. It’s another thing when he plays the first solo and you have to play the next solo. (Laughing) It’s a completely other thing. I guess I was young and I was being pushed into this incredible level of musicianship that I had no business being at and my reaction to that was panic. “What am I going to do? How am I going to get good enough to be there and not embarrass myself and contribute to the music?”
It’s a really different feeling then you get from saying, “Well, I just love to play and I just love to have fun and I just like to play with my friends” which is a maybe a discussion you (Danny) and I have had before.
That experience of being forced into a situation where you’re with people with a lot more knowledge and experience than you have is like being shot out of a gun. You’re either going to sink or swim. I’m mixing my metaphors here, but that’s when I really started thinking about developing my artistry.
DM: Because of Eddie Harris?
BG: Yeah, well he was the first guy. There were several of them but it was always … I always had that feeling with him. I was always completely terrified of him and at the same time I knew he was a great friend to me. I know he was in my corner, but he was intimidating as hell. I think a lot of people had that experience with him. You can ask Ken Walker - Ken knew him pretty well and I think Ken had the same experience with him. (Laughing). [Brad points to a picture of Eddie Harris on his wall]
DM: That’s great. Yeah, intimidated?
BG: All I do is look at that and I go, “Shit, I”ve got to practice.”