In my early days at WPFW-FM, I worked as an engineer for our live broadcasts in and around Washington D.C. In the summer of 1984, we set up at the Carter Barron Amphitheater to broadcast Dizzy Gillespie’s concert, but at the last minute our host couldn’t make it so I stepped in to improvise the intermission interview with Dizzy.
Louis Armstrong used to credit Swiss Kriss for his longevity. How do you account for yours?
I use bran, natural bran, which is very necessary for your health.
How do you keep your chops together?
I play as less as I can (he-he). No, it is not the chops that is the trouble, it is your diaphragm. If you keep the insides of your body clean, you won’t have any trouble.
After all these years, do you still work to enlarge your musical vocabulary?
I listen to all types of music to see what kind of ideas I can get, to other ethnically derived music.
You’ve played with everyone from Thelonious Monk to the Muppets. What’s next?
Well, my dream is to unify the music of the Western Hemisphere, which comprises Brazil, Cuba, the West Indies and the United States. This music has the same mother and it goes together, so I’d like to be one of the ones who helped to unify this music.
As an artist, how do you measure success?
Measure success in terms of respect from your fellow musicians. That is the prime reason—to have men and women of your particular profession respect you and say that you had something to offer.
How was it writing your autobiography, To Be Or Not To Bop?
It was the hardest thing I could do, first to catch up to me because I travel so much. Al Frazier, who’s a graduate of Howard University, was my author and he had to catch up to me and all these other guys. I travel so fast.
Do you remember the first time you came to Washington to play?
I met my wife here in Washington at the Howard Theater in 1938. I came here with Teddy Hill’s band and she was dancing in the chorus at the Howard Theater. We made contact then we went back to New York and continued the relationship. We got married in 1940—now I’ve been married for 44 years. You know, there’s a magazine called Bride and this is their 50th anniversary or something like that. They put out this special issue where they named some of the so-called renowned figures in different phases of entertainment who’ve been married a long time, such as Bob Hope, Walter Cronkite…
And you and Lorraine?
Yes, we received a plaque and we sort of liked that because it is something for two people to be together a long time and stay together.
I understand you worked briefly with The Duke Ellington Orchestra.
Yes, for four weeks.
What did you learn from working with the Duke?
I learned a lot. Playing with Duke Ellington, you have to sort of forget what you already know and go along with what he’s doing. I played the Capitol Theater in New York for four weeks with Duke and Lena Horne and that was one of the most gratifying experiences I’ve had because Duke Ellington is the master.
People say the same about you, too.
I’m not that old yet [chuckles]. I’m striving for that age.
Do you think the world is coming together or falling apart?
I think there will a big catastrophe that drives the world for unification. I’m a member of the Baha’i faith and their main tenant is that the world will be unified. I believe that God had that in mind when he created the Earth. So I think it’s gonna be unified and that will eliminate war and famines because we will have one world, a commonwealth.
Any closing thoughts for your fans in Washington DC?
I love audiences. An audience sends me. It give me impetus to go beyond what I think I can do. I hope they enjoy themselves.
Since this is a radio broadcast, will you please tell people what station they’re listening to?
This is the Diz, Dizzy Gillespie that is, and I’d like to remind you if you care for good music and talk to turn your dial to WPFW, Washington in the nation’s capital. Just turn it on and you’ll know what I mean [plays last two measures of the Star Spangled Banner with mute and funky ending].
Photo by Larry Appelbaum.