Listening Session: Valery Ponomarev

In the fall of 2009, I arranged a listening session with trumpeter Valery Ponomarev when he came to D.C. to play Twins Jazz. We did the piece in English and it was translated by my friend Cyril Moshkow for his Russian language magazine Jazz.ru. This is the first time this piece has appeared anywhere in English.

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1. Freddie Hubbard & Woody Shaw

“Boperation” (from The Freddie Hubbard-Woody Shaw Sessions, Blue Note). Hubbard, Shaw, trumpets; Mulgrew Miller, trumpet; Cecil McBee, bass; Carl Allen, drums. Recorded in 1985.

The original recording of this was with Fats Navarro and Howard McGee, but this sounds like a recreation. I can hear it in the execution of notes. Of course this is the beautiful Freddie Hubbard. What can you say, man? The other one is Woody Shaw. You can hear it in the articulation. It’s incredible. These are the best trumpet players that ever played trumpet, at least in jazz music. To hear Freddie play? Wooo! These two guys make me feel glad I’m a trumpet player. I’m happy I belong to the same clan and I enjoy hearing them play and the way they express themselves.

How would you describe their personalities?

In a way, they’re the same, in a way, different. Freddie was incredible. He was very well educated and he could speak with confidence about a lot of things, when he was not affected by substances. As soon as that kicks in, Jesus, it’s a monster. It was too much. I would speak with him for a minute and he’s a great guy, and you can learn from him and enjoy his company, and all of sudden he turns into a monster and you just have to walk away.  I met him sometime in 1974 in a club. I told him I had transcribed nearly every thing by Clifford Brown and he said, “me too.” Next time we hung out I was already with the Messengers. Freddie came to the gig and his presence was felt. I bumped into him many times and we talked on the phone many times.  He left me a phone message one time where he said: Hi Valery, this is Freddie. I just heard you play Theme For Ernie. You sounded beautiful. Thank you.” I saved it! Woody Shaw is similar in a way o Freddie; A great friend, always very respectful. And then all of a sudden–boom–turns into a monster. Not the same way as Freddie. Woody was a smart person but more streetwise than Freddie.  When Woody was free of tension, free of responsibilities he was an incredible player. I heard him playing in Boomers and the spirit there was really free. Boomer’s was a place on Bleeker St in the Village. It was the hang for everybody: Freddie Hubbard was there, Slide Hampton, Junior Cook. That’s where Blakey told me I was in the band. And at Boomer’s, Woody was flying. Then you hear him on records and the responsibility affected him. But I was there when nothing would come between him and his soul and expressing his personality. He was amazing. He has a live recording that really captured his articulation, execution, sound technique, emotion. Jeez, it’s all the highest possible level.  On that tape I hear the same Woody Shaw I used to hear at Boomers.

[eats his ginger scone]

2. Duke Ellington

“Stardust” (from All-Star Road Show Vol. II, Collectibles). Duke Ellington Orchestra, Harold “Shorty” Baker, trumpet soloist.  Recorded in 1957.

Before: You know it’s not an imitation. I just want to hear this. It’s beautiful.  To be honest, I haven’t been listening to Harry James or Bunny Berigan for a long time. But it’s definitely an original sound. Beauty doesn’t have to be contemporary. It doesn’t have to be just Clifford Brown, you know.  At one time it was all Clifford Brown and Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard for me.  But beauty manifests itself in many ways. This shows beautiful command of the horn, beautiful sound, free-flowing emotion. And his sound is not altered by sound engineers, which today’s trumpet players have to suffer with. With a clear tone, he’s free to deal with his emotions rather than acoustics. It’s a nice arrangement of Stardust.

After: Are you kidding? I’ve never heard that. I never saw Shorty Baker. He plays his heart out. It was gorgeous. I enjoyed it.

3. Kenny Dorham

“Afrodisia” (from Afro-Cuban, Blue Note). Dorham, trumpet;  Hank Mobley, tenor saxophone; J.J. Johnson, trombone; Cecil Payne, baritone saxophone; Horace Silver, piano; Oscar Pettiford, bass; Art Blakey, drums; Carlos “Patato” Valdez, percussion. Recorded in 1955.

Before: Kenny Dorham, of course. Is it Hank Mobley on tenor? Is it Machito? I recognized Kenny’s sound, a very unique tone. It took me years to really like him.  His tone and choice of notes gives it away. His tone is more straight, more narrow, more concentrated and less enhanced. But it’s still beautiful. I like him a lot.

After: I should have recognized Blakey. Who’s band is that? Who arranged it?

4. Fats Navarro & Leo Parker

“Ice Freezes Red” (from The Savoy Story, Savoy Jazz). Navarro, trumpet; Leo Parker, baritone saxophone; Tadd Dameron, piano; Gene Ramey, bass; Denzil Best, drums. Recorded in 1947.

Before: Of course it’s Bud Powell on piano, it’s Fats Navarro on trumpet and it could be Charlie Parker on tenor. That’s Fats Navarro on trumpet, definitely. The baritone could be Cecil Payne. Beautiful, I love it. The title escapes me but it’s on Donna Lee changes. Fats is the predecessor of Clifford Brown.

What do you think Clifford got from Fats?

Musicality, and incredible command of the horn, choice notes. I transcribed very little of Fats Navarro because Clifford Brown touched me more.

After: I should have guessed Leo Parker on baritone. Beauty exists regardless of time. This claimed its place in music history. And whatever nonsense they play today might not survive another week.

5. Blue Mitchell

“I’ll Close My Eyes” (from Blue’s Moods, OJC). Mitchell, trumpet; Wynton Kelly, piano; Sam Jones, bass; Roy Brooks, drums. Recorded in 1960.

Are you kidding me? You’re asking me who this is? [laughs] That’s my favorite Blue Mitchell with Wynton Kelly. I love this recording, it has abundant beauty. That’s what art should be all about. You don’t need fast runs or super high notes. Art is first and foremost about emotion. If it doesn’t have emotion, it’s not art. It’s junk.  This whole record is gorgeous. I just love it. I transcribed these solos. The rhythm section is killing. I totally love it.

6. Dave Douglas & Han Bennink

“Cherokee” (from Serpentine, Songlines). Douglas, trumpet; Bennink, drums. Recorded in 1996.

Before: I knew it was “Cherokee” from the way he played the bridge. My first impression is that it is a homemade recording. I can’t identify the trumpet player. Sounds good, good player. There’s something familiar in his tone. Let me hear some more.  It’s a great trumpeter playing free. But if you’re going to play free, why stick to the Cherokee form? I’d like to hear him in a more solid context. Definitely a good player, he plays the language. I tell my students if you want to be free, you have to learn what you want to be free of.  And here is a very good demonstration.

After: Oh, all right. I’ve heard of Dave Douglas. The command of language is there. It’s not a 50’s trumpet player. Good playing, though.

7. Lee Morgan

“C.T.A.” (from Candy, Blue Note). Morgan, trumpet; Sonny Clark, piano; Doug Watkins, bass; Art Taylor, drums. Recorded in 1957.

[sings along with the head] It’s a young Lee Morgan. It could be Horace Silver on piano. Talent is there, you can hear it right away. I forgot the title of this. Probably Curly Russell on bass. Lee’s command of air into the horn is typical of him. But it’s young Lee Morgan.

If Lee were with us here today, what would you ask him?

I would just listen and wait for him to start talking. Or I might ask him how he met Clifford Brown and describe the lessons he took from him, working w/Blakey and the experience of recording w/Coltrane, and his incredible solo on Blakey’s Moanin’. That solo has everything in it: past, present and future.

8. Cannonball Adderley

“Sticks” (from Mercy, Mercy, Mercy: Live at the It Club, Capitol). Cannonball Adderley, alto saxophone; Nat Adderley, cornet; Joe Zawinul, piano; Victor Gaskin, bass; Roy McCurdy, drums. Recorded in 1966.

Wooo! That’s the Adderley brothers. [starts shouting, laughing]. I haven’t heard this but it’s so typical of Nat Adderley. Nat has so much spirit and happiness. But it’s a kind of bluesy happiness, an enjoyment of life. Everything is there. It’s so outgoing, you can’t help but start dancing and getting into it. It’s music created for the audience and with the audience. It all becomes one whole. I totally love it.

9. Alex Sipiagin

“Light Blue” (from Hindsight, Criss Cross). Sipiagin, flugelhorn; Adam Rogers, guitar. Recorded in 2001.

Before: It’s beautiful. I’ve never heard this recording but it’s Monk’s tune. It’s a flugelhorn, not a trumpet, but I don’t know who it is. It’s comes out of Art Farmer: Beautiful tone, beautiful choice of notes, beautifully developed language. I enjoy it very much. Who is it?

After: Ha! Let me hear more of it. Sound good, I like it. He’s a very talented guy. I met him in 1990 and he was a young kid with all these established stars of Moscow. I liked the way he sounded then. And then the next time we met he was already in New York. This is a beautiful recording, I have to give him credit for it. I’d like to hear him on trumpet.

Who do you think are the best of the younger Russian jazz musicians?

Younger jazz musicians? There are some in Russia you wouldn’t believe. Sergei Golovnya [tenor player] is fantastic. Out of all the younger generation, he stands head and shoulders above everybody.

Why doesn’t he go to New York?

Maybe it’s better for him not to at this point. Once he clears himself of the nonsense, when he can withstand it and be on his own, maybe then New York can be good for him. Otherwise, he could be destroyed. Now I know he is in the program and hopefully he will get out of it succesfully. When this guy shows up on New York scene, mark my words.  This guy is ridiculous. I used to call him for quintets when I was playing in Russia, but I realized he was not dependable and would always miss the gig, so I hired another tenor player, Dmitry Mospan, in case Sergei didn’t show up. So we’re on the gig, Sergei plays his solo and Dmitry and I looked at each other in amazement. He took it out in a way nobody else in Russia could. No one in New York could play like that either.  There’re a lot of very talented young Russians in New York. Boris Kozlov is beautiful, no question about it. Misha Tsiganov is great. I just played with Ivan Farmakovsky in Moscow, I just love the way that guy plays.  There’s a bass player Vitaly [?] we just played together at Bijou in Moscow. He could be doing very well here if he chooses to. There’s also Alex Mashin and Vladimir Nesterenko.  These guys might not make it as stars in New York, but they would be accepted into the musician community. Sipiagin was good on this. I was surprised to hear him play like that.

10. Clifford Brown Max Roach

“Daahoud” (from Clifford Brown and Max Roach). Brown, trumpet; Roach, drums; Harold Land, tenor saxophone; Richie Powell, piano; George Morrow, bass. Recorded in 1954.

Incredible. This is like Paganini playing trumpet. This is art at its best: Incredible technique, execution and writing. But most of all it’s what identifies art the most, emotion. It’s killer emotion. When I first heard Clifford, it was Blues Walk. But any of these records would make a musician out of me. If I had heard a lot of the music today when I was young, it wouldn’t have grabbed me. I would have ended up in an orchestra pit somewhere playing parts.  But this kind of thing did not leave me any other choice. I realized this is it. There is nothing else for me in the world of music. It’s either something like this or nothing at all.

Name 3 recordings that changed your life?

Clifford Brown “Blues Walk.” Art Blakey, “Moanin’” and Blakey with Clifford Brown doing “Quicksilver.”  When I heard these, I knew in my mind that nothing else mattered.

Interview conducted Nov. 29, 2009

(© Larry Appelbaum)

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