Excerpts from Perry Robinson: The Traveler

Perry Robinson, born in New York in 1938, is one of the most broadly experienced clarinetists of the present day, whose musical journey began in his own home, where he was urged to pursue music by his father, Earl Robinson, composer of political songs and reviver of American folk traditions. Robinson's autobiography, Perry Robinson: The Traveler written with JJA member Florence Wetzel, was published March 2002 by iUniverse, ISBN: 0-595-21538-6.

Perry Robinson joins No Respect, the trio of Mark Whitecage (alto and soprano saxophone, clarinet and electronics), Dominic Duval (bass and electronics) and Jay Rosen on drums, in performance at 8 p.m. in the Knitting Factory's Old Office on April 22, www.ejn.it/mus/whitecage.htm for further information.

Excerpts from Perry Robinson: The Traveler

copyright © 2002 Perry Robinson

[O]nce when I was about seven we were at the Hollywood Bowl for one of my dad's [Earl Robinson's] performances; I was sitting in a box seat with my mother, and there was this beautiful woman sitting next to me. I wouldn't stop staring at her, so finally the guy she was with leaned over to my mom and said,"Watch out, when he grows up he's going to be a wolf!" And it was Artie Shaw and Ava Gardner.

* * *

That night [graduation from the School of Jazz in Lenox, Massachusetts in 1959] John Lewis gave us each a little diploma, which I still have. After the concert they had a big faculty party in the main room, and everybody was drinking a bit and feeling good. I remember sitting on a couch in the main room talking to Bill Evans, and he was kind of loose. I was always asking him philosophical questions, probing into him with my probing mind, and I remember that night he said, "I have a goal, and my goal is so high that I don't think I'll ever get there." Bill had a vision of perfection; he saw what he wanted to do and what he wanted his music to sound like, and it was frustrating for him. And that night Milt Jackson gave me a great compliment; he said, "I love clarinet, and very few clarinet players play the funky solos that you play. You and Jimmy Giuffre are the future for clarinet."

* * *

Spain is also where I first met Albert Ayler [in 1961]. Our group [a quintet with pianist Tete Montoliu] had a steady gig in Barcelona at the Jamboree Club; it was in the basement of a hotel in the Plaza Real, and it was the first jazz club in Spain. We were the house band, and one night during the break this guy came over. He had a beard that was part white and he wore a green leather suit. In those days in Spain it was very cheap to get leather clothes made; I did it too, I was really stylish there. The guy said he was on leave from the U.S. Army band in France, and he asked if he could sit in. We didn't know who he was because he wasn't known at the time, but he was very beautiful and gracious. I remember I said to Tete, "He wants to sit in," and Tete said, "Okay." Vicho lent Albert his sax; we started playing All the Things You Are," and this big sound came out. Some people in the audience got up and left because they couldn't take it. What a sound! We said, "Whoa," and we freaked. We liked Albert and his music, so he kind of hung out with us the next few days; we got to know him, and I got friendly with him.

Albert made interesting statements. He knew about Ornette because Ornette was the big thing at the moment, but he said, "I have something original to say as well, I have my own thing and I'm going to do something special." He wasn't putting down Ornette; he didn't say it in an ego way, but he was sure of himself. He went back to the base and finished out his duty, then he stayed in Europe and went to Denmark where he made his first record. When I got out of the army in 1965 I ran into him a lot in New York. That's when I had the Uni Trio [with Bill Folwell and Tom Price] and we were all living together. Albert came to our pad a few times and I introduced him to bassist Bill Folwell, who later played with him. Albert was the most beautiful cat, just a wonderful soul.

* * *

Then in late July I arrived at the [World] Youth Festival [in 1962]. I'll never forget the opening day ceremony and parade: we met in a stadium in Helsinki and all the countries came in national costumes with flags, it was so high. I joined a group with Archie [Shepp], Bill Dixon, bassist Don Moore, and drummer Howard McRae. Our group had a special concert, and we also played good-will gigs on open-air trucks in different towns in Helsinki. We played standards and free, and the people loved us; everyone treated us well, they even threw flowers on stage. And it was terrific because we met many great artists at the festival; we got to meet the famous Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, and I remember him reading poetry with a bottle of vodka on stage. We also met the great Danish saxophonist John Tchicai there, and soon after he came to New York and became part of the free music scene.

The only problem with the festival was that Finland had big alcoholic problems, so at that time the government regulated alcohol. They didn't have bars because they only served alcohol with food; they had state-run liquor stores, but you could only buy a limited amount. I remember Archie and I were going crazy with the restrictions. In between gigs we'd want to get a drink, and we'd run all around town trying to find something. In Ben Young's book Dixonia Bill Dixon mentions that Archie and I were late for a gig, and I'm sure that's why.

* * *

I was also in Charlie Haden's first Liberation Orchestra in 1970. I met Charlie after the School of Jazz in Lenox; he's the great bass player that Ornette discovered in California. Charlie had drug problems at one point, and he went to Camarillo State Hospital, which is the same place where Charlie Parker went. Charlie got very political there, and when he came out he started searching for working songs from all over the world; at one point he even called my father to get information. So Charlie got the first Liberation Orchestra together and made the album Liberation Music Orchestra. It was Don Cherry, Paul Motian, Dewey Redman, Gato Barbieri, Mike Mantler, Howard Johnson, Roswell Rudd, Andrew Cyrille, Sam Brown, and Bob Northern. Carla Bley played piano and did the arrangements, and Bob Thiele produced it.

We rehearsed in Soho, I think at Ornette's loft on Prince Street, and as I remember we didn't have that many rehearsals, maybe one or two. When we came together to record we went through a bunch of songs, then there was one tune we wanted to rehearse a little more. Don Cherry took a few of us off into a corner to rehearse, then all the sudden Bob Thiele yelled from the sound booth, "Hey! Didn't you guys have rehearsal? This is costing money." He was just being a producer, doing a producer's job; I don't even know if he understood what was going on or saw that Don was with us. But Don got pissed; he said that he didn't have enough rehearsal, we were trying to do the people's music, what was this bullshit? Then he said, "I'm splitting," and he walked out of the studio. Carla and Charlie ran after him, and they finally got him back; you can imagine how Carla and Charlie felt after they had spent so much time putting this together. They got Don to do one more tune, but then he couldn't stand it anymore and he left. All the sudden it had become a real liberation orchestra, a real live confrontation of what it means when the workers confront the bosses. It was quite heavy and amazing. Don was supposed to be a featured soloist on another tune, Ornette's song "War Orphans," so Carla did the solo on piano. At one point during her solo she started coughing, and because she was so upset she coughed up blood. So there's more than meets the eye on that record. But it was a really good experience for me; I got to take a great solo, and hanging out with all those people was tremendous.

* * *

The times on the road with Desmond and Mulligan [with "Two Generations of Brubeck"] were funny. Mulligan played with us a lot, and Desmond did just a few gigs at the end of the group. I used to hang out backstage with them and talk, and I remember one time we were talking about free jazz. Mulligan had played with Albert Ayler on the Newport Festival Package Tour in the fall of 1966, and he said he couldn't believe it, how could people play that way? Both Desmond and Mulligan said, "We're musicians, we have to have a sound." And Mulligan's great line was, "I don't want to air my dirty laundry in public." They couldn't understand free music, the outness of it; they were pure musicians, and for them it was about tone and being perfectly in tune. They were purists and that was cool, I respected their view -- they were very brilliant people.

* * *

I loved working with Dave Brubeck; he's a very beautiful person. He dug me totally, although he thought I was a bit out near the end, which I was. Some of the out things I did you can't even imagine. One time a guy backstage had a jug of whiskey; I drank a lot of it, and I came on stage completely out there. But everyone was amazed because I somehow pulled it off. Another time I saw my Aunt Claire in the audience, and when I walked over to say hello I fell off the stage and broke my foot. And once in between sets I did a little coke someone gave me, then I came back for the second half and played very out. Afterwards Dave came over to me and said, "I don't know what you were doing, but whatever it is, keep it up!" Dave used to tell me I was great, that I could play anything. He even told me he wanted to help me, to promote me as his protege in a way. He said, "I know how to handle you," because he was also a guy who could play any kind of music, out or in.

C o m m e n t s

School of Jazz in Lenox 1 of 3
Adam Lozo March 26, 02

Great article! I was born and raised in Pittsfield MA, about 1/4 mile from the Lenox border. I was amazed to read this piece with the references to Lenox MA and the fact that there was a program that specialized in jazz music. I studied music as a hobby throughout my school years, and attended Tanglewoods summer program for young aspiring musicians. I wanted to learn more about jazz, but could never find an outlet that offered a program in jazz.

After reading this article, I ran a google search on the school of jazz in Lenox. This program ran from 1957-1960. Wow! I'm astounded by the calibar of musican and students. Here is the link:


I missed out on a great opportunity. Thank you for the education. How can I get a signed copy of your book?


Adam Lozo

[<<] [<]