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excerpt from interview with Mary Lou Williams
between sets at Keystone Korner, S.F., 1978
I play all styles, everybody should. It's all great. And what has happened during this era, some of the avant-garde guys think they're so far out until they're greater than the other cats but they're not. All the music is great. It's music that should be on earth, should be played all the time because it has a healing in it. And it's a conversation, if you can get to it while you're playing. It's really needed. There's a need for people to hear because the commercial music that's being played on radio and TV, it makes people frantic and puts people up in the air so far and you need something to quell them, you know what I mean. Because I see great havoc on earth if jazz doesn't come back on radio and TV soon because the other music is making people too nervous.
Say for instance with the electronic, my ear has gone out--and I thought because I was older--and the doctor tells me that's happening to young kids. It seems to be an evil to me: to play so much of one kind of music and not even the classics. You see the priests of the church they know it's religious music. It came out of the spirituals. Even Cardinal Cook opened up and let me do something that was like a miracle: to do a jazz mass in Saint Patrick's Church in New York--on Fifth Avenue? Where millionaires and things. They told me the people came to protest and said they loved it so they went away ravin'. They asked me when was I going to do another one? And that's a miracle. See because they know the music is valuable and you should be playing.
Because there's a lot of money tied up in rock. Rock is good some of it. But the slop that you hear on TV and radio is terrible. It destroys a natural talent. Little kid two or three years old that would play the new era of music, it destroys him. He listens to what's being played and it's nothing. And writing music: I may hear something now while I'm talking to you. The music that I'm representing is completely different than what you would learn in the school. Now if I went to school and studied, I'd be able to write for NBC and the movies. And I don't like that, I create too much. See it blocks you.
In writing compositions or playin' jazz, you gotta be free enough to play it as it comes in the mind. As fast as lightning, it comes from the mind, the heart--fingertips, faster than lightning. And if the mind stops, you just do patterns until you can get back. But in writing the same thing happens. Like I was talking to someone and I finished an arrangement all the time I was talking to him and yet I could carry on a conversation. It's according to how open you are for the feeling that comes forth, see? And it's wonderful that way. You never get stuck. Often I'm driving the car and hear a horn go Toot! and start a tune. I was on my way downtown on the subway and just from the noise of the wheels I arranged something.
You never know when the inspiration is gonna come. I'm all music. They used to call me a dummy in the band. You see I was not allowed to talk until I was about twenty-five or thirty years old--the band I was with they'd tell me, `Shut-up, think music, stop talking.' And that's what they did more or less. And there was a mental telepathy kind of a thing going forth when they were with the band and when you played with 'em. A guy would play something and you could answer him immediately then. And the minds were kept flowing like that. Fast minds and what not.
Much different than what's happening now. Each individual is for himself. He saves himself and he could care less and I don't understand it because if I don't accompany you well then I won't even feel like playing a solo myself because you will not be able to play anything if I don't accompany you right, see? And it's just an individual and technical world now, electronic.
I have a lot of young kids, they come to me Saturdays if I'm working in New York. I take them back to Fats Waller and bring them up to date. They've got to know about the older music in order to play avant-garde. See the guys that they're patterned after like Coltrane and all that, they would never be a Coltrane because they don't know anything about the Basie. It's just like you going to school starting in kindergarten, first, second grade. So what I do, I take them back to the older musicians. I trained Hilton Ruiz who was with Rahsaan. I took him back to Fats Waller. I had him swinging the left hand. He can play anything. And that is the only advice I could give them.