I started playing the saxophone when I was thirteen years old. There were some other kids on my block who had taken it up, and I thought that it might be fun. I later learned that these guys’ parents had forced them into it.
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The saxophone sounds horrible. Like a scared pig. I never learned the names of most of the other instruments, but they all sound awful, too. Drums are O.K., because sometimes they’ll drown out the other stuff, but it’s all pretty bad.
Jazz might be the stupidest thing anyone ever came up with. The band starts a song, but then everything falls apart and the musicians just play whatever they want for as long they can stand it. People take turns noodling around, and once they run out of ideas and have to stop, the audience claps. I’m getting angry just thinking about it.
Sometimes we would run through the same song over and over again to see if anybody noticed. If someone did, I don’t care.
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There was this one time, in 1953 or 1954, when a few guys and I had just finished our last set at Club Carousel, and we were about to pack it in when in walked Bud Powell and Charlie Parker. We must have jammed together for five more hours, right through sunrise. That was the worst day of my life.
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We always dressed real sharp: pin-stripe suits, porkpie hats, silk ties. As if to conceal the fact that we were spending all our time playing jazz in some basement.
I remember Dexter Gordon was doing a gig at the 3 Deuces, and at one point he leaned into the microphone and said, “I could sell this suit and this saxophone and get far away from here.” The crowd laughed.
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I really don’t know why I keep doing this. Inertia, I guess. Once you get stuck in a rut, it’s difficult to pull yourself out, even if you hate every minute of it. Maybe I’m just a coward.
If I could do it all over again, I’d probably be an accountant or a process server. They make good money.
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Once I played the Montreux Jazz Festival, in Switzerland, with Miles Davis. I walked in on him smoking cigarettes and staring at his horn for what must have been fifteen minutes, like it was a poisonous snake and he wasn’t sure if it was dead. Finally Miles stood up, turned to his band, and said, “All right, let’s get through this, and then we’ll go to the airport.” He looked like he was about to cry.
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I released fifty-odd albums, wrote hundreds of songs, and played on God knows how many session dates. Some of my recordings are in the Library of Congress. That’s idiotic. They ought to burn that building to the ground. I hate music. I wasted my life.
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