Saturday, February 25, 2017

Tony Inzalaco Interview

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

In the 1960s, New Jersey born and bred Tony Inzalaco was an in-demand drummer on the New York City jazz scene. In 1968, he left for Europe, where he stayed for ten years. While overseas, he played with Don Byas, Dexter Gordon, Johnny Griffin, Ben Webster, Art Farmer and many other great American exiles. "It was a family over there," he told me. Later in his career, Buddy Rich chose Inzalaco to play drums in his place, when Rich decided for a time to front his band as a singer. My fascinating two-hour conversation with Tony Inzalaco last week covered a lot of ground, though the core focus was about Pepper Adams. What follows are some of Tony's profound observations about Pepper and the music scene. For those who want to know more about Inzalaco, see and

Pepper Adams:
"A lot of people don't know a lot of the really great musicians because they were not band leaders. They were always sidemen. Pepper was one of those people; a master musician, with a history of recording with so many different people and being able to make music at a very high level throughout his career."

"Pepper was a gentleman, and he was very intelligent. He had a lot of integrity. If you or anyone tried to push him past a certain point, he was also internally very strong, He didn't take anything from anybody. If somebody tried to push him off his thought or whatever, he would stop them and straighten them out immediately. I was present in one of those situations but I don't recall who the person was. My recollection was that he was a jerk, and was way over the line with whatever comments he was making, and Pepper straightened him out right away. And that was the first time I had seen that part of his personality."

"I think if he played a different instrument, people would have had a better understanding of him. It just seems like the baritone does not excite people. I don't know why. But if you know anything about music, and you understand what Pepper plays and how he plays it, it's brilliant! It doesn't matter what instrument he's playing. It's the content of the creation that's important. . . When you look at the other baritone players, like Harry Carney--who was a great baritone player but his thing was mostly sound and knowing how to make Duke's music live. Pepper is a bebop guy. Rhythmically, he's a bebop guy. For me, that music is in a different strata."

About Pepper not getting his due: 
"He always seemed to be above that. I never sensed that he was bitter in any way. I always found him to be a quality human being, dealing with whatever came his way without classifying himself as a victim. There's so many people that make excuses for things that you can't control. . . It just struck me that a man of his enormous talent never seemed to be negative, how everything came to him and how real fame seemed to elude him. There's other instances on other instruments where guys were really great and were just in the wrong period of time because of scenes--got lost in the shuffle. [Pepper] didn't get lost. Again, he was the bebop representative. . . That's part of the sadness about this because a lot of the people that are very famous are questionable in terms of their spirit. In other words, if you were going to have a party, you probably wouldn't invite them."

Duke Pearson:
"Duke and Donald Byrd had a big band that was working at the Half Note on Monday nights. They were the counter band to Thad and Mel. Bobby Cranshaw, for whatever reason, took a liking to me. We played together on certain things. We hit it off well. At the time, he was working with Ella, along with Mickey Roker, and so when they went out of town, they would have to get subs. Cranshaw recommended me. That's how I got to do some of those Monday nights with that band. I don't know if it was [conceived by] one of the [Cantarino] brothers at the club there, to give the other club some competition. They didn't have as many seats. I think it was a good idea, just to have another big band with a different kind of approach. Duke Pearson was one of my favorite people. He was a romantic composer. He was like Puccini to me. The 'Jazz Puccini.' He was a joyful human being. He's another one of the gems that people never really got to know that well because he was behind the scenes a lot as an A&R man. The first time I played with them, there were two great tenor players. I don't know if it was Joe Henderson but it was definitely George Coleman."

Joe Henderson and Chuck Israels rehearsal bands in the 1960s:
"Joe Henderson had a band that used to rehearse. Also, the bass player, Chuck Israels, had a rehearsal band, and I did both of those. It was open to people who were in the inner circle. Whoever was available they would call, and if they couldn't do it, call the next guy. It is a rehearsal band and there's no money involved. With Joe's band, there was a guy by the name of Tom, an Italian guy. He had a studio in the Village. That was one of the places I remember Joe's band rehearsing. I think he gave guys a really good price to use the studio."

New York in the 1960s:
"In those years, if you were on the scene, you were allowed to go to the clubs free of charge. Those who played the clubs had free access to those playing the other clubs. It was a family."

Regarding the lack of musicians hanging out in New York the 1980s and beyond
"A lot of that has to do with changing of laws. We used to work from 10 o'clock until 4 o'clock. All the clubs were that way, and then, when they started to change the liquor laws . . . I remember one time I ran into Freddie Hubbard. He said, 'You know, it's all different now. We do two shows. That's it. If the people want to stay for the second show, they gotta pay again.' In Birdland, you could go and stay all night, if you wanted. Nobody harassed you in the gallery. The whole atmosphere changed, and all of sudden a lot of people were playing festivals, these big venues, where they could draw huge crowds and get a lot of money. The whole system of finance completely changed. When I say the law changed, before, people would be drunk, disorderly, and they would go on their way. But, when they started to prosecute bartenders if they kept serving people that were inebriated, that's what I mean. You didn't get the hanger-on people. The last set at Birdland, there was still a lot of people. Not the people with the furs and all of that crap, who would come in early and sit at the tables and get some food and stuff. It's a different kind of people, a different kind of atmosphere. . . A lot of the clubs, because of different behaviors that were criminal--people getting shot, people getting stabbed--it didn't help. Even Oscar Goodstein at Birdland. Somebody stabbed him. Just bad stuff! . . . Then the English people came over here with that other garbage. The rock 'n roll business took over. . . You gotta understand: Pepper was a bebop guy. . . It's probably the most intelligent form of music that was ever available, so it put a lot of people off. In the meantime, the English people came over and started [imitating] the rhythm and blues people."

Elvin Jones and Mel Lewis:
"These are two different dynamics. Elvin is really one of the great, great drummers. He is not just a great drummer but he was an innovator. He was like what Kenny Clarke was before--and this line of drummers that produced the bebop thing. Elvin could do that, but he synthesized all of that stuff and also got to this other plateau of what he does, which involved a lot of triplets and over-the-bar kind of long phrases. Mel is more of a predictable kind of player. A lot of people like his time feel. Somehow, he simplifies what he does. But in terms of playing the instrument, Elvin is a drummer. Mel plays the drums and is a good musician. There is a difference between a guy who's a great drummer and a great musician. Elvin has great intuition. I think that's what sets him apart."

Jazz in exile due to the black backlash:
"We were like a family over there. Just a lot of Americans that saw what was happening in the States and were very lucky that things opened up for them in Europe. That's why I left. Some time in 67, there was some kind of a revolution in terms of black people, black musicians. I was one of the people that worked with Billy Taylor. I guess every drummer in New York worked with Billy Taylor at a certain point in time. When I was with him, Henry Grimes was the bass player, who was magnificent! One day, Billy called me and said, 'Tony, don't be offended but I was instructed that I can't hire any white people any longer, and so I just want you to know that this is not my thing but it's a movement.' The only guy who didn't adhere to the movement in any way, shape or form was Bob Cranshaw, because he could do anything, he was totally non-prejudiced, just a great spirit."

"Anybody who really loved this art has to have known the history of the art. And so, you study everyone that preceded your arrival. If you want to become something, you have to understand the styles--the sound that they got, how they did what they did. And, of course, whatever in their playing is attractive to you, you assimilate that and use it with your own viewpoint. That's the only way that people can be part of the history. Nobody comes along and plays anything that's really new. It's a synthesis of all the [players] before . . . and what [you've] come to because of that. So I think that's part of the challenge of this art: to come up with what history has provided for you and come out of that with your own voice. It takes time, and it takes a lot of love, and it takes a lot of courage, and it takes a lot of hard work."

                      (Tony Inzalaco)

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