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ghost of miles

Learning To Listen (Gary Burton autobiography)

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I'm interviewing Gary Burton tomorrow by telephone for my weekday afternoon show and am about 70 pages into his autobiography Learning To Listen, with plans to stay up late tonight and get up early tomorrow to finish it.  It's an amusing and gracefully-told read so far, with lots of interesting side stories about Burton's interactions with artists such as Herb Pomeroy, Steve Marcus, and Hank Garland, and I'm only up to the early 1960s--can't wait to hear what he has to say about working with Stan Getz, Chick Corea, etc.  Anyway, highly recommended on the basis of the opening chapters, for those interested in post-1960 jazz as well as Burton.

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I received it as a gift from someone at Berklee. I thought it was pretty good.

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It has a special place in my library as a signed copy.
I took lessons from him in the early 70s and he's
the last of my teachers still around. Looking forward
to hearing the interview on your show. A wonderful man.

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I thought it was a great read, because Gary laid it on the line about every musician he worked with. Hell, he even put down Jim Hall(!) for sending Joe Puma on the recording sessions for "The Groovy Sound of Music" without calling GB about it! He also criticizes Gary McFarland's poor arrangements on the LP.

His time with Getz was described in lurid detail, I was surprised to find out that GB considered Getz a poor sight reader, despite all his years with big bands.. He also said that "Focus" was not the spontaneous affair it seemed to be. The story about Coltrane ceremoniously walking out on Getz at Birdland after listening to only one tune, revealed another side to the 'holy one'.

GB even got down on musicians he didn't play with. He criticized Gabor Szabo for being too high to play well with Lena Horne, when GB caught them in Vegas.

He said that Milt Jackson was also a bad sight reader, and told about how he had to replace him at a Gunther Schuller rehearsal, because the whole MJQ couldn't read their parts..

On a bad tour with Joe Henderson, he described how JH fought with Jimmy Owens  about being taped at a gig, and walked off the stand.

He provides more evidence for Q. being a jive ass when it came to film composition, and said that he arrived at one of Q's film scoring sessions, and there was no music(!), just suggestions for grooves.

Even 'holier than thou' Pat Metheny isn't spared. GB fired him for playing too loud, taking too long with his solos, and constantly arguing with GB's suggestions on how to to handle the songs they were playing. PM was very angry about having to leave GB's group before he wanted to leave. GB also said that when they recorded the 'Like Minds' album, PM would go back into the studio after the group finished playing, and make 'small fixes' on most of his solos...

GB was witness to the disastrous first Getz/Bill Evans recording session, and said Evans was so messed up, he could barely get through a song without getting lost halfway through the song, playing wrong chord changes, or going to the wrong sections of the tune.

Years later, GB talked about making a record with Evans, but when they jammed at the Newport at NY Festival with Marty Morrell and Eddie Gomez in 1979, GB couldn't settle into their time feel and play freely. They forgot about making the record together.

Six months later, they played together at Carnegie Hall and nothing felt comfortable to GB; he couldn't lock in to BE's time. GB asked EG about it, and EG  said that anyone who sat in with the BE trio had trouble playing with them. GB speculated that 'it must have been something about how they played together".

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1 hour ago, sgcim said:

I thought it was a great read, because Gary laid it on the line about every musician he worked with. Hell, he even put down Jim Hall(!) for sending Joe Puma on the recording sessions for "The Groovy Sound of Music" without calling GB about it! He also criticizes Gary McFarland's poor arrangements on the LP.

His time with Getz was described in lurid detail, I was surprised to find out that GB considered Getz a poor sight reader, despite all his years with big bands.. He also said that "Focus" was not the spontaneous affair it seemed to be. The story about Coltrane ceremoniously walking out on Getz at Birdland after listening to only one tune, revealed another side to the 'holy one'.

GB even got down on musicians he didn't play with. He criticized Gabor Szabo for being too high to play well with Lena Horne, when GB caught them in Vegas.

He said that Milt Jackson was also a bad sight reader, and told about how he had to replace him at a Gunther Schuller rehearsal, because the whole MJQ couldn't read their parts..

On a bad tour with Joe Henderson, he described how JH fought with Jimmy Owens  about being taped at a gig, and walked off the stand.

He provides more evidence for Q. being a jive ass when it came to film composition, and said that he arrived at one of Q's film scoring sessions, and there was no music(!), just suggestions for grooves.

Even 'holier than thou' Pat Metheny isn't spared. GB fired him for playing too loud, taking too long with his solos, and constantly arguing with GB's suggestions on how to to handle the songs they were playing. PM was very angry about having to leave GB's group before he wanted to leave. GB also said that when they recorded the 'Like Minds' album, PM would go back into the studio after the group finished playing, and make 'small fixes' on most of his solos...

GB was witness to the disastrous first Getz/Bill Evans recording session, and said Evans was so messed up, he could barely get through a song without getting lost halfway through the song, playing wrong chord changes, or going to the wrong sections of the tune.

Years later, GB talked about making a record with Evans, but when they jammed at the Newport at NY Festival with Marty Morrell and Eddie Gomez in 1979, GB couldn't settle into their time feel and play freely. They forgot about making the record together.

Six months later, they played together at Carnegie Hall and nothing felt comfortable to GB; he couldn't lock in to BE's time. GB asked EG about it, and EG  said that anyone who sat in with the BE trio had trouble playing with them. GB speculated that 'it must have been something about how they played together".

Is he that much of a pissy little bitch for the entire book, or are you just giving us the highlights?

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I thought it was a thoughtful book. It did not strike me as being particularly pissy. Burton also praised many musicians and discussed positive experiences.

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So, he has a baseline for what he complains about then, right? That's good to know!

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sounds like a lot of fun. I tend to enjoy gossipy jazz books. Nice antidote to publicist press releases.

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1 hour ago, JSngry said:

So, he has a baseline for what he complains about then, right? That's good to know!

I did not find the book to be that way. He talks about a lot of things in what seems to be a candid, thoughtful way. I did not come away from it thinking that he had complained about much of anything, more that he had given us a glimpse into the way he thinks as he considered a wide variety of subjects.

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Now I'm confused. The one guy makes it sounds like it's all complaints, but maybe not?

Either way, I'm still kind of put off by him from when he came to NT and did a clinic where he very matter-of-factly told the assembled audience that we should, should, pay attention to him because he was the only - only - new thing that happened to vibes since Milt Jackson.

I didn't go home and burn my copy of Crystal Silence or anything crazy like that, I mean, the guy can play and is no bullshit in that way, just filed him away as one of those guys who when I want to hear what he has to say - when - I'll play a record and let it go - go - at that.

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4 hours ago, JSngry said:

Is he that much of a pissy little bitch for the entire book, or are you just giving us the highlights?

Yeah, it's pretty much the highlights. Like Allen, I love that stuff. It's the opposite of an autobio like Benny Golson's, where he refuses to talk about jazz musicians using drugs.

Right... That's why he'll discuss Bill Evans' drug addiction, and not Trane's, Bird's etc... That speech at NT cracks me up! I could picture him saying that.

He reams Coryell, too, but I can't remember the specifics. He talks about a recording session, where Sam Brown brought a combo of uppers and downers, and wouldn't (or couldn't) play until he found the perfect balance!

His tenure with Getz was one long nightmare, but it could also be adapted by Hollywood as a sit-com: the mean old veteran and the young country boy, touring the world together...

He has nothing but good words to say about Chick, and that kid he discovered on guitar.

But the one thing I really wanted to find out about isn't mentioned at all in the book; What's the deal with the pedal, Gary...?

 

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Sounds like a book I might enjoy. Thanks for the snapshots, sgcim!

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I just had a different impression of the book when I read it. I think that one could take many longer books and find the Top 10 best ________ within them, whatever you want to list, complaints, favorite cities, whatever.

But I did not find the Burton autobiography to be a litany of complaints with narrative linking them.

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I agree; I was just saying that I admired Burton's honesty when talking about the musicians he worked with, and listed a series of comments he made concerning them. It wasn't intended to be a description of the entire book.

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Reading it now, am on p.195 of 356 pages. It's often enlightening and entertaining but also a bit creepy at times -- it's like there's a piece or two missing in Burton's emotional makeup. This comes through, for example, in the number of times Burton says something -- a la the remarks about Milt Jackson at NT State that Sangrey remembers -- that angers/alienates particular musicians and/or their admirers. In each of these instances, at least by Burton's accounts of what happened, he put something a bit awkwardly/was misunderstood, etc. and yet as these instances accumulate, one begins to wonder. A particular gem is what he said to Leonard Feather that led Miles to say to a clubowner who both he and Burton knew, "Tell [Burton] if he ever mentions my name again, I'll kill him!" -- a remark that Burton says he found "frightening." (Well, yes, but also, almost certainly, no -- speaking as someone who once was on the receiving end of some hostility from Miles. He did a lot of game playing.)

In any case, Burton's account of what happened was that in 1968 he was being interviewed by Leonard Feather for the LA Times, and Leonard asked a number of questions about Burton's popular new quartet and the attendant "jazz-rock phenomenon." Burton: "I told him that as young musicians we were seeking out our own identity and went on to say that every trumpet player can't play like Miles and every tenor player like Coltrane -- an answer I considered pretty reasonable.

"The next day the headline for the article read, 'Burton Claims Miles and Trane are Old Hat.' Mortally embarrassed, I called Leonard immediately to complain. He insisted that this was how he understood my meaning, and he refused to correct it." In any case, Miles was in LA at the time, saw the headline and Ka-Boom.

Now Leonard's obtuse or worse journalistic behavior here, if Burton is to be believed about the details, comes as no great surprise to me. And yet, again, as such episodes accumulate in Burton's life -- I dunno. Gary literally has perfect pitch but in some respect he's kind of tone deaf.

Another thing that struck me along somewhat related lines -- Burton's three-year tenure with Getz was in good measure a horror show, and every story Burton tells about Getz's typically outrageous conduct toward Burton, the other members of the group, and just about every human being he ran across, not to mention his frequent bouts of paranoia and exploitive and/or self-destructive behavior rings true. But why then -- and maybe I'm the one who's being obtuse here -- does Burton emphasize that he became so close to Getz and his family during this time that he thought of himself as another family member, evem more or less Stan's son? Yes, Stan was a vortex, but if Burton himself was, as he paints himself to be, so much the rational, take-care-of-business, take-care-of-bad boy Stan guy in the midst of this ongoing shit storm -- well, how rational could Burton in fact have been, even though he was in fact doing everything he said he did in attempt to lessen the damage/make things work? There's a piece or two missing here, I think.

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I remember either reading or reading about GB asking why were people so big on Milt Jackson when all he could play well were ballads and blues.  I was taken aback just as I was when I read Larry Coryell saying something like "I'm young, I don't care what older musicians think, they're going to die soon."  Even though I was young at the time I thought it was a bit much to say , even if you thought it.  

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 Joe Henderson -- encountered on a George Wein-assembled  European concert tour, with Jimmy Owens, Cedar Walton, Larry Ridley, and Roy Haynes -- is described by Burton as a bizzarely uncooperative all-around jerk with a nasty cocaine habit.

"Things got weird at our first rehearsal. The schedule had us rehearsing the afternoon of the performance, so we could work out what songs we would play and who would solo on the various pieces. I expected we would each suggest a tune or two, maybe even have some lead sheets to pass out to the others. From the drop, Joe acted strangely. Most of us knew several of his compositions -- he'd written some great ones -- but Joe said he didn't want to play any of those. However, he didn't have any new music with him either. Whatever anyone suggested, Joe vetoed it. This went on for a long while, until about an hour before the gig, when it became obvious we were running out of time, and he grudgingly agreed to some of he choices. His behavior put everyone in a sour mood, and that didn't change much for the rest of the tour....

"Each night was a struggle with Joe. A couple of nights he didn't even show up; it turned out he had gone to some other city to line up a cocaine buy. For part of the tour he even had his drug dealer traveling with us...." Then there's the too long to quote tale of Joe and Jimmy Owens almost coming to blows during a concert when Joe saw that Jimmy was taping it with a cassette recorder, and another about the time Joe was subletting his New York apartment to a bassist Burton knew and demanded, as the bassist was in act of moving in, that he buy Joe's furniture for $10,000.

"Before the tour," Burton continues, "I had considered Joe one of the greatest musicians of my generation, and I relished the opportunity to [play with him, maybe even get to know him. I knew that Joe had a reputation as something of a bad guy ... but I had looked forward to working with him. But not only did he act like a total prick during the tour; he didn't play that well either. I know that this kind of behavior, toward friends and fellow musicians, is commonplace among druggies. It all comes down to scrounging every dollar you need to feed the habit, and it brings out the worst behavior. But to this day, I can never listen to Joe's music without experiencing so many negative connotations that I have to turn it off." 

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Posted (edited)

14 hours ago, Larry Kart said:

 Joe Henderson -- encountered on a George Wein-assembled  European concert tour, with Jimmy Owens, Cedar Walton, Larry Ridley, and Roy Haynes -- is described by Burton as a bizzarely uncooperative all-around jerk with a nasty cocaine habit.

"Things got weird at our first rehearsal. The schedule had us rehearsing the afternoon of the performance, so we could work out what songs we would play and who would solo on the various pieces. I expected we would each suggest a tune or two, maybe even have some lead sheets to pass out to the others. From the drop, Joe acted strangely. Most of us knew several of his compositions -- he'd written some great ones -- but Joe said he didn't want to play any of those. However, he didn't have any new music with him either. Whatever anyone suggested, Joe vetoed it. This went on for a long while, until about an hour before the gig, when it became obvious we were running out of time, and he grudgingly agreed to some of he choices. His behavior put everyone in a sour mood, and that didn't change much for the rest of the tour....

"Each night was a struggle with Joe. A couple of nights he didn't even show up; it turned out he had gone to some other city to line up a cocaine buy. For part of the tour he even had his drug dealer traveling with us...." Then there's the too long to quote tale of Joe and Jimmy Owens almost coming to blows during a concert when Joe saw that Jimmy was taping it with a cassette recorder, and another about the time Joe was subletting his New York apartment to a bassist Burton knew and demanded, as the bassist was in act of moving in, that he buy Joe's furniture for $10,000.

"Before the tour," Burton continues, "I had considered Joe one of the greatest musicians of my generation, and I relished the opportunity to [play with him, maybe even get to know him. I knew that Joe had a reputation as something of a bad guy ... but I had looked forward to working with him. But not only did he act like a total prick during the tour; he didn't play that well either. I know that this kind of behavior, toward friends and fellow musicians, is commonplace among druggies. It all comes down to scrounging every dollar you need to feed the habit, and it brings out the worst behavior. But to this day, I can never listen to Joe's music without experiencing so many negative connotations that I have to turn it off." 

Just a footnote to this story: Gary has the chronology wrong. This particular tour took place in 1973 -- there are videos and bootleg tapes -- but in the book Gary says that Roy Haynes had just turned 60 and that Burton himself was in his late '30s. Roy was born in 1925, so he turned 60 in 1985; Burton was born in '43, and was in his late 30s in the early 80s. I noticed all of this while doing research about Joe Henderson for my book.  I sent Gary an email pointing out the issue with the dates and he wrote back a nice note of thanks and said he would try and have that corrected in subsequent printings along with (if I recall correctly) other discrepancies-errors discovered after the book went to press. I should note I don't doubt the veracity of the main pillars of this story or Joe's drug use. 

Edited by Mark Stryker

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Thanks for the correction Mark.  IIRC I had only two in-person encounters with Henderson. One was at the Jazz Showcase circa 1971 when it was at the North Park Hotel in Chicago, with the group he led with Curtis Fuller, Pete Yellin, George Cables, Stanley Clarke, and Lenny White -- a group that unfortunately only made half a record I believe. What a performance that was! The whole band was on fire, it was the best Fuller I've ever heard, and a reminder of what a loss it was when Clarke would soon travel to another musical realm. Then about a decade or more later I caught JH at the Showcase at  the Blackstone, when he and Johnny Griffin were sharing  the stand with JG's rhythm section (including Michael Weiss). Used to Joe's sound from recordings and also from that Chicago performance from a decade or so earlier with his own group, I was somewhat taken aback by the fact that JH was only about half as audible as JG -- and as one might expect JG showed Joe no mercy when it came to actual or implicit musical combat. Perhaps JH's drug use was a factor at the time.

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I've interviewed Gary Burton a couple of times and think I reviewed the book when it came out. I don't remember all the negative stories but do recall the frequent discussion of his struggles with his sexual identity.

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Sounds like he might have struggles with his sobriety identity!

 

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Posted (edited)

This sounds like an interesting book at the very least.

Edited by Mary6170

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I'm intrigued now. I had NO idea Joe Henderson had a "difficult" reputation. I'm also interested in sgcim's comments about the Golson autobiography. Could anyone expand?  

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Sounds very interesting, I'd like to read it.  Very intriguing stuff about Milt Jackson and about Pat Metheny. Doesn't change the fact both are some of my very favorite musicians, and I love their music. Though to be fair, Pat's always been a self professed perfectionist so the solo "fixes" don't surprise me, there's probably countless examples on his own records of such. i.e........  a solo on "Have You Heard" on "The Road to You" flown in from a different night.  I did read a recent interview with Burton where he said that he is having many "senior" moments, one of the reasons for retirement.  But I think the playing on his own recent discs, the Eberhard Weber "Hommage" on ECM, and Mack Avenue Superband has been terrific.

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