"Jazz Radio in New York City in the Sixties" was the theme suggested to Donald and Walter in 1988 for a radio show in which the duo could take over the airwaves of the liberal New York City independent radio station WBAI for an hour or so. As they have never been slow to respond when asked about their jazz influences ('Trane, Bird and Warne Marsh readily spring to mind, as well as "jazzz jocks" such as Mort Fega and Symphony Sid), Don and Walt agreed to come into the WBAI studios and spin some of their favorite records from that turbulent era of their adolescence.
Unfortunately, this transcription is taken from an incomplete
recording of that show, but we are reliably informed that only the first fifteen
minutes is missing. It would be nice to know what their earlier picks were,
but wit-wise they were just getting warmed up towards the end of the broadcast.
Walter Becker: Wow, that was nice. That was Johnny Hartman singing "Lush Life," beautiful song ... Duke Ellington or Billy Strayhorn wrote that one?
Donald Fagen: I think that was Duke Strayhorn.
WB: Duke Strayhorn, right. And that was John Coltrane of course, unmistakably, and his quartet of the time. John Coltrane on tenor, McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison, Elvin Jones on drums. A very different kind of music than what that quartet might he heard to be doing in a club at that time. Probably a lot of our listeners are familiar with the Love Supreme style of jazz that they were kind of notorious for at the time.
DF: Yeah, a lot of people to this day, they don't realize John Coltrane's roots in bop and bebop and hard bop...
WB: And the lyrical quality to his solos, to his ballad playing.
DF: That's true, he was great. Before that, we played Oscar Brown, Jr. doing "Dat Dere" which is a kind of a poignant song, a father talking about his kid and the questions he asks and so on.
WB: A couple of vocalists that you might have heard on Mort Fega's show on WEVD or Dee Harlan's show on WNCN.
DF: 'Cause that's what we're doin', we're playin' records from the sixties, early sixties that we used to hear on the radio in the metropolitan area. There were other singers at that time, but we don't have time to play them: Sarah Vaughan of course, who is still active now, Sheila Jordan, she was most famous for that cut she was on with Georg Russell, no?
WB: "You Are My Sunshine," yeah.
DF: Well, at least it was the one I remember.
WB: Maybe we'll get to play a little of that later on, I doubt it. DF- It's quite long.
WB: It's long.
DF: It's a short show. Ellen Ross, of course, King Pleasure, Bob Dorough, Bob Dorough's still active in New York.
WB: That's right.
DF: Now we're gonna play a record by Oliver Nelson. He, I guess at least after a while, was known as a west coast musician, Hollywood musician, he did scores for films and TV shows -- he may have even written "Mission Impossible" or one of those...
WB: Yeah, he did a few of 'em, particular ones don't come to mind.
DF: "Name Of The Game". Whenever I think of Oliver Nelson I think of Susan Saint James (Becker laughs) at the same time. I don't know what it is. At any rate, he was also a great arranger along with some other jazzmen who went to Hollywood, Quincy Jones, who of course you know is the conductor of the "We Are The World" video, and Albert Ayler. Lalo Schifrin another good player and arranger and this one was a record he made with some great musicians of the time including the great forward-looking Eric Dolphy, who you'll hear on flute on this cut, and it also has Bill Evans on it who was rarely featured in a group situation other than his own trio, so that's interesting, too. And we'll tell you the other players after it's over.
WB: Yeah, Modern Jazz Quartet playing a tune called "Django" and 'course, we all know that the members of the Modern Jazz Quartet include John Lewis, Milt Jackson, Connie Kay and Percy Heath who I believe was the bass player?
DF: Connie Kay was impeccable, wasn't he?
WB: Gosh, lie was ... in those days he was. Well, I think Don and I -- and probably a large portion of the jazz audience -- used to read "Downbeat" magazine and for some reason once a musician picked up an epithet in "Downbeat" such as the one that Connie Kay picked up, he was forever after the 'impeccable' Connie Kay.
DF: It's like Miles Davis and 'middle register brooding.'
WB- 'Middle register brooding' and so on. It was like in "The Odyssey" when some part of day or some characteristic became a sign to the character.
DF: You mean like 'wine dark sea' and that kind of thing.
WB: The 'rosy-fingered dog.'
DF: Those were the days. But not the days we're talking about...
WB: Not at all.
DF: ...the early sixties when we were growing up...
WB: And we're talking about "Stolen Moments," too, aren't we?
DF: Oh, yeah, that's right. Before that we played "Stolen Moments," which is Oliver Nelson on tenor, Bill Evans, Roy Haynes, Paul Chambers, Eric Dolphy on flute and Freddie Hubbard on trumpet. That's really all we have time for, that's too bad. My name's Donald Fagen and my partner Walter Becker and I have been playing jazz as we remember it as it was played in the early sixties. We used to listen to the radio then, we were little kids and all that kind of stuff and this is the music we heard.
WB: We're trying to recapture our disaffected adolescence.
DF: Dither, I call it. The thither, you know it's like...
WB: Of course, we are grateful to Will K. Wilkins for playing the records.
DF: We're grateful to Will K. Wilkins, we're grateful to John Scagliotti, the station manager who invited us down here, and grateful to all these great musicians who played on these records. Some are still with us and very active, others I'm afraid are not, but they...
WB: Those who are not with us will be picking up this broadcast in the next world from the WBAI satellite, I believe.
DF: You mean the one that's shaped like a pair of bongos?
WB: That's right, that's in the tumbling orbit through the hyperspace.
DF: That's incredible if they have it up there because NASA has such a tough time. Those BAI guys seem to send 'em right up there with no trouble whatsoever.
WB: Well, just using the talents of the people that they have working for them here at the station naturally lends themselves to this type of exploration.
DF: Well, these people know how to organize.
WB: They sure do and they're sitting here brooding right now about the rally tomorrow. Scheming on how to get more people out there and I know that they're gonna be doin' a great job on that.
DF: After this period in the early sixties, jazz really changed a lot; it was a political upheaval at the time and you had a lot of changes in the music. I think the music we played tonight had a certain innocence which the music afterwards didn't have.
WB: That's right. There was a powerful, radical, political... kind of influenced the music to move in more radical directions...
DF: Like Albert Ayler was one of the tenors of the time.
WB: Albert Ayler was definitely one of the tenors of the time.
DF: And that was a whole different kind of music.
WB: You know, it was definitely a different kind of music. I remember Mort Fega putting on an Albert Ayler record, one night he was outraged and he played a few bars of the record, then he picked the needle up and put it down ten minutes later into the same record and picked it up and put it down later and it all sounded the same, I have to admit.
DF: It's hard to really talk about these things ... I mean it's hard to be objective really about those times, it was a strange time and that music it was really ... there were different motives for playing it, it had different purposes and this has always been a problem of politics and art, you know, it's very complicated and...
WB: Some people say they don't mix.
DF: I'll be darned if I'm gonna get into it, 'cause we're almost through with the show. And this is for the other people at BAI to ponder over in the next few days after we've gone, 'cause that's what they're really good at here and we're not, we're just musicians so...
WB: This is WBAI still. Ninety-nine-five.
DF: BAI. Some time after ten-thirty, I think, and we're gonna close now, it was great being here -- oh, by the way, we had thousands and thousands of phone calls asking what we're doing now. Walter's in town, we're writing these songs and if we write any good ones, we'll record them and hopefully that record will be coming out sometime next year.
WB: We've also been to some swell restaurants.
DF: We've been to some great restaurants here -- they have this kind of' art deco lighting, 'cause you know we have a few bucks. We go down to these places. They're nice, you know, they have these red lampshades and these kind of ... what do you call it, the Memphis look or something?
WB: The Memphis look and -- speaking of bucks -- I hope you keep buying those CDs because we need those royalties to continue so our lifestyles are not disrupted.
DF: We're not that prolific, what can I say?
WB: There's nothing wrong with those old tunes that we did.
DF: I've been thinking about this for a long time, I dunno, it takes us a long time to come up with this stuff. I'm sorry. These records we've been playing tonight, they used to go in and do them in half an hour. What can I say? I don't know why it's not like that any more. At any rate we had a great time, goodbye. Here's Sonny Rollins, we're gonna close with this, which actually came out towards the end of the period we're talking about, '65 or '66, and it was the theme music for the picture "Alfie." Remember that one with Michael Caine? Most people know the song "Alfie" that Dionne Warwick recorded that was by Burt Bacharach, and indeed that was in the movies, but this was some of the incidental music, I think.
WB: Yeah, conducted by Oliver Nelson.
DF: Who was playing on that?
WB: Ooo-hoo. I'm glad you asked me. We got Sonny Rollins, J.J. Johnson, Phil Woods...
DF: Wow. Phil's in town next week.
WB: Yeah, I can't wait...
DF: He's playing over at Sweet Basil...
WB: ...we're gonna be down there to see him ... Frankie Dunlop, Walter Booker, Roger Kelieway, Kenny Burrell ... these are the big guys, the big guns.
DF: I'm so excited I just can't hide it.
WB: January 26, 1966.
DF: I think I like it. Here we go, this is Sonny Rollins and "Alfie". Goodbye and good luck.
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