To me the greatness in jazz lies in improvisation and from improvisation there developed the musical language that we recognize as jazz.
A few weeks ago I asked bassist Peter Ind my questions about his work, his music, his thoughts. He sent me a beautiful letter. I am proud to publish it at interjazzblog.
Who is Peter Ind? A short biography:
Peter (born 1928) was just 21 when he began travelling to New York playing jazz double bass on the Queen Mary. He settled in New York in 1951 and America became his home for the next 15 years. He studied with Lennie Tristano, played with many great names in Jazz – Lee Konitz, Buddy Rich, Coleman Hawkins, Billie Holiday. While there he set up a recording studio and launched the Wave jazz label. Revived in 1977, it still exists today.
Returning to the UK in 1966, he often performed in duos and trios – most notably with Martin Taylor. In the 1980s and 90s he ran the very successful Bass Clef and Tenor Clef Jazz Clubs in London. He now concentrates more on recordings and playing internationally.
He is a jazz musician and sound engineer, and also a skilful painter in the post modern idiom, and a collector and restorer of blue and white Chinese porcelain. (read further at http://www.peterind.com).
Firstly I feel I should point out that often people contact me, either asking me to fill them in on past jazz events, or to help them with their problems. I am not saying that you fall into that category, but if I seem somewhat hesitant, it is only a reflection on some past experiences. When my book Jazz Visions was released someone from the BBC contacted me asking to record for BBC radio. I recorded an hour’s worth of material, only to discover that when the “interview” was broadcast, about two minutes of my voice was included and the main part of the broadcast was of someone who had no direct knowledge of those times in New York (being far too young) but quoted from my book as though it was his own insight, with no reference to what I had actually written. Quite frequently, my words are used without acknowledgement and seldom get a mention as being the originator. Having said this, I am willing to answer you questions as fully as I can – and trust that you will not do like many others have done in the past.
Perhaps my views about the way jazz has evolved are tinged with regret, as I feel that many of the greatest and inspired musicians have failed to receive the recognition they deserved. I am leaving myself apart from that (it is for others to judge). However one of the unfortunate effects on the recent evolution of jazz, is often a lack of real awareness of who created – and this has had a “dumbing down” effect on younger players, who sometimes do not even know about players who by rights should be in the forefront of their studies.
You ask how has jazz evolved since I began? I started playing piano in London in 1942. In those days I did not distinguish between dance music and jazz. Firstly having left school at fourteen years of age, I found I could earn almost as much money in one night, playing the piano with a danced band that working in an office for five days a week. Of course playing the piano was just fun and to get paid for it was fantastic. Though I could read music, I learned the tunes by listening to the radio. (Of course there was no television in those days.) It was simply dance music and during those days of World War Two, there were dances every day of the week, and as most professional musicians were in the armed forces I was always on call. I didn’t really become aware of “jazz” until later in my teens, though I was aware of the concept of improvising through the experience of playing at dances. My parents encouraged me somewhat. I think they were surprised that I could earn money that way. I felt the need to get trained classically and for a while I studied part time at London’s Trinity College of Music, paying for the lessons myself. In Britain in those days it was customary to play a second instrument and the sound of the bass always fascinated me. In 1944 I bought a double bass and began to take gigs playing it. It was not until later around 1947 that I joined a professional band working at a “Palais de Dance” in London that I became a full time bass player. In 1944 I had heard the Glenn Miller band of the American Expeditionary Force, playing live on a BBC Broadcast. It was a revelation, so spirited and unlike the British dance bands of the time, who sounded so reserved and polite. It was the first time I understood the difference between US jazz and British jazz. It was not until five years later (in July 1949) that I visited New York as a musician on board the Queen Mary, and had the opportunity to experience that music at source. I stayed working on the Queen Mary until March 1951 I obtained a US Immigration visa and in April 1951 New York became my new home. It was while I was still working on the Queen Mary, that I met and got to know many American jazz musicians and began studying with Lennie Tristano. In December 1949, after taking a lesson with Lennie at his home n Flushing, Long Island Lennie asked me what I was doing that evening. I coming to hear you at Birdland I said. He then asked me if I would play the first set with his band. After that experience I knew that I would make New York my home. In fact playing with his band at Birdland signified the start of a great change in my life.
Looking back to those days of the late nineteen forties and early fifties, I recall them as being the most democratic years of jazz. That was when black musicians were beginning to get the recognition they deserved and often played alongside white musicians on an equal footing. Much later on, the relationship between black and white musicians became more difficult and racial issues surfaced once again. The social issues began to improve for blacks and by the late nineteen fifties, American apartheid began to give way to more on an equal society. Nevertheless there is still a long way to go before racial tension in the US gives way to a more just kind of society. Amongst the musicians I worked with in the US some became very good friends. Of course I include Lennie in this, but also one especially the Trumpet player Roy Eldridge, whom I miss very much. I can still hear the sound of his voice in my head, as though he’s still around. I became good friends also with Mingus and we used to meet socially as well as musically. Oscar Pettiford and I used to play at the Café Bohemia and play duos together, this was when Oscar was playing ‘cello. I used to play a lot with Paul Bley, mostly at a place in Long Island – a black venue – known as “The Pub Club”. They served great ribs and there was some irony in the fact that we were a white group (Al Levitt was the drummer) and they all loved our music. We really felt at home there. The blacks were so open and welcoming to us. This was around the time that Paul’s LP was recorded. Percy Heath was his choice of bass player. However after recording two sessions with Percy, Paul wanted to record more as he was not satisfied with some of the tracks, and I was invited to record another session. As it turned out the record company refused to pay for any more than one additional session, and two thirds of the album contained tracks that I had played on. I was disappointed not only in only getting paid for half of what I had contributed, but a further irony was that many the tracks I played on were given rave reviews, but attributed to Percy’s playing. I had no beef with Percy – we were good friends and in fact he studied with me for a while. I then began to realise that my skills as a jazz musician did not necessarily equate with getting the recognition I felt I deserved.
Though I remained faithful to my conviction about jazz, it began to be apparent that jazz criticism often lacked musical objectivity. I began to be aware of a kind of dumbing down as jazz became more commercially oriented. To me the greatness in jazz lies in improvisation and from improvisation there developed the musical language that we recognize as jazz. This is not in any way to dismiss or demean jazz composition¸ whether big band or small band, but true improvisation gave jazz it’s language and as this ability declined to become mere riffs or fill ins, so in my opinion has jazz declined both in quality and in popularity. One final point – in striving to become cleverer than the next player, many jazzy musicians have lost their following – simply by becoming too clever.
You ask about my activities as a recording engineer. Even while still living in New York I realised that a lot of jazz was played that deserved to be recorded. I was fortunate enough to be able to purchase state of the art equipment and setting my East Side loft as a recording studio I began to be hired by recording companies for their various artists. I also recorded a lot of jazz that I have not been able to release for various reasons. I live in hopes that one day some of this music can be released. I have always been concerned that much great improvisation passed us by. Recording a little of this I believed to be especially worthwhile.
Returning to the UK in 1966 after having spent three years in Big Sur California, I had to start again. I established a teaching practice, and then several years later bought some new recording equipment, and soon found my services in demand again. In 1981 I moved my recording activities to Hoxton Square. London and three years later began building the Bass Clef Club. This lasted for almost ten years and was very successful. I finally lost it – a bitter disappointment. However a few good recordings were made there – sometimes recorded live at the Bass Clef, and I have written a book about it which we are planning to release later this year.
You ask what is my secret? If I have one it is simply enthusiasm (from the Greek EN THEOS) and a belief in life energy – I am currently writing another book about the Cosmos and where I believe we are all headed.
Please stay in touch,
copyright Peter Ind and Robin Arends