Transcript:

Speaker I'd like to start with Armstrong, everything.

Speaker He was my idol, and I had my doubts about playing trumpet when I first started to play. And after I had heard him play, I had no doubt that I wanted to try to play trumpet, which I'm still trying. But Louis Armstrong was just absolutely. He was high on my idea of my life. And I think just about every other players life that he was the master. He was a innovator. He was to come from where he had been. You know, he was an orphan. And to reach the acclaim that he reached, he I said he did. He was just absolutely phenomenal. I have no words can express what he meant to me. He was just my whole life. And he still hears I listened to his records intently. Course, I can never know what could have a play like Louis Armstrong. But he gave you many ideas what to do with the trumpet and. When you say Louis Armstrong, it's like saying a word out of the Bible because he meant everything to. Well, I think that the world loved Louis Armstrong.

Speaker Everybody I've been I've traveled extensively in my life and I have never been anyplace, some places that I have been, especially in the Middle East, like in Tehran, Jordan, Damascus, Egypt. I never thought that I would hear his name, but his name popped up over there constantly. Satchmo. You want to play something that Satchmo played? I said, well, I'll play something that he has played, but I won't sell my house trombone. So he meant everything.

Speaker He was my idol. The. Decided to come here. Yes. Hear that? Yes.

Speaker And I recorded extensively with another singer that tried to emulate Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday. She was a Loyce Armstrong disciple. She created a style of our own. So did Ella. But I think he influenced, well, like, scatting. He's the first one to start doing that. And I remember hearing a record of Louis Armstrong that he started, that he forgot the words on a record date. And then, in fact, he said on the record, I forgot the words. And he started out his own style scatting, which he was a master of.

Speaker And so I was.

Speaker She was a master at scamming. In fact, to me, she was the best female best of the females. When itched, when she started skep, it was just absolutely she could go on and on and on and on. Never stopped. So consequently, he started a lot of things. A lot of.

Speaker A lot of.

Speaker Well, it started just about just about everything that you can remember about Nat King Cole.

Speaker There was a strong disciple, too.

Speaker So I thank Louis Armstrong.

Speaker His name will go down in history as one of the innovators of jazz, which I am very happy to do this show, because jazz is one of the oldest forms of art and culture that we have in American spirituals, blues and jazz. So these new people are doing your best to keep jazz alive. And don't think people that are playing jazz don't appreciate that because they do. I have the utmost respect for PBS and I sincerely hope that this will have an effect on the future of jazz.

Speaker It's also mentioned this is a. I also mentioned that as well. A major issue here.

Speaker So, you know, I didn't hear that same because she was definitely a later. I've never heard of anybody else on Ella's voice but herself.

Speaker And the era that I came up here in New York, I lived in New York many years. We all try to be originators, not imitators.

Speaker We all tried to create a sound that you could be recognized records and person especially on. And I'm quite sure you have no doubt that. Ella Fitzgerald. But I never heard anyone else from my salary saying that she tried to emulate.

Speaker All I've never heard. I know her kind of crazy, but that sound like a room.

Speaker My first roommate, when I first joined Count Basie band in 1938, Lester Young says he had a saxophone player that was his idol.

Speaker But I liked him, but that was his medal.

Speaker And I had that style that he liked. He created a style of his own. He created the sound of his own. So we all have somebody that we like to listen to and not the exact replica of who you're listening to, but use your own feeling in your own mind, your own soul. How about that comes? A different style than the one that you try to emulate, you know. So we all tried to be originators. Not imitators, and I think out of that era. Many, many artists are recognized today and will be recognized forever for their sound and for the way that they presented a melody. And Halo was one of the masters.

Speaker If you happen to come to New York.

Speaker Well, it would take a whole hour to two to reiterate this story. But I was in St. Louis at the time with a band and I was a band leader. His name was down. Redman sent for a trumpet player named Shorty Baker. And but and a tenor player that was supposed to go to New York to join Lucky Melander had two tickets. So he said, why not? He used how Baker's show a baker's ticket.

Speaker I said, well, I can't do that. This man knows me. You know, Qahtan baker for me. He said he won't care.

Speaker So I took the ticket to New York and I had a girlfriend at the time and silo's who had left. I'm going to New York. And she was a showgirl in that old cotton club. So that was just enough to get me here to New York to be with my girlfriend, who I later married. It was my first wife. But it's a long story. I enjoyed every minute of it.

Speaker What was it like in New York?

Speaker Oh, my goodness. That was the only place on Earth that anybody. This was the only place that musician or anybody in the world would want to come to New York, because at that time, everything was in Harlem. I think there were only two jazz clubs downtown in a village that was a Vanguard Cafe Society. Everything else was in Harlem from the hurricane. The song dropped me off at Harlem. That was apropos because everybody came to Harlem, especially after four o'clock, because in those days we worked from nine to four. And I lived on one hundred and thirty first and Seventh Avenue.

Speaker It was sort of a couple of blocks.

Speaker I had nothing but clubs. Art Tatum was working on a hundred and thirty second and 7th Avenue, a place called the Bird Cage, cause the street was called Esan. How didn't 30 each street was out and as Small's paradise had in thirty Fifth Street was part smile's paradise and a hundred and thirty eight streets. They had a place call a yeah man yeah man called Billie Holiday was saying and Savoy was on Hot and forty Second Street and Lenox Avenue. Oh you could just go up and down 7th Avenue and spend the night and half the day because after four o'clock we all would go Jammey someplace and we'd stay in one of these joints and still until 1:00 or 2:00 o'clock in the afternoon. And that is one of the things that musicians, the younger musicians, they are they I know they miss because going after four o'clock and just playing the way you want to play, that's like a laboratory to a scientist trying to find an antidote for a medicine. You find your way and the way that you want to play when you jam, you know. And we used to stay in these places, Daisy myself, Charlie Shavers, Roy Orridge, stay in these places. So till three o'clock in the afternoon, just playing. And then you find a direction that you're looking for the more you play.

Speaker And this was. Fun.

Speaker It was you could see all your peers in these places, you know, they had a place for Champix, they had a place for saxophones. Tenor, alto. They had a place for piano players.

Speaker And, oh, they had a they had a place for everybody, every instrument in the band. They had a place for you to go and to take your horn out and play as long as you wanted to play, as long as the drummers and the piano players could hold out because we used to wear a drummer out, you know, and a piano player, too.

Speaker But incidentally, there was a great there's a great song and it just passed away not long ago. Carmen, my ray, she used to be our jam piano player, these giants. So that's before she started singing. She was a pianist, used to jam with all of us, you know. So Harlem.

Speaker Absolutely almost get sick. One count Basey would give his itinerary to go on the road. We get to the Holland Tunnel and almost cry.

Speaker Leaving New York. Leaving Harlem. So Harlem was the place. It was the place to go. It was a place to live. I live right in the middle of Harlem.

Speaker In fact, if I went beyond our intense street, I'd get lost.

Speaker So Harlem was. Just absolutely. It's such a memorable part of my life to have lived in that era.

Speaker I'm grateful. I'm happy that I did live in that era because I got to hear and meet all the greats that you could stand on. A hundred, twenty Fifth Street. You could see lawyer Armstrong walking down the street. Duke Ellington. Chick Webb. Jimmy Lunsford. Even Tommy Dorsey. And all the bands from downtown had worked in the hotels. They would come to Harlem and say that seven, eight, nine, ten o'clock in the morning at a place called Munros. Uptown House says it was just beautiful. Just words can't describe what a wonderful time that was in my life and all the musicians that lived in that era. I'm quite sure they feel they felt the same way, which suggests there's not many left, you know.

Speaker Oh, yes. Yes. Well, I think we stayed on the road so much, we got along with each other better. Then we got along with our wives because we were together like basis band. We used to do like three hundred one nighters a year. So that means that you are constantly on the road. The only week stands that we would have engagements that we would have would be in the theaters. We'd play the Apollo for a week, go to Philadelphia and play the Pearl Theatre there for a week or two, Baltimore, play the Royal Theater. Then we would go to Washington, D.C. and play the Howard Theatre. Then one night started after that and we'd go on the road probably a couple of months. Three months. How did you bus. Oh. What's it like here? Miserable. It was a lot of that time. They didn't have the great hours and I didn't like that they had buses that the motor was in front, you know, small. We would have to take turns sitting on the aisle because you could stretch your legs. And it was you could always tell when someone would punch the other one and say, what is your time? You know, get over here and let me stretch. So it was but it was fun. It was so much fun. You could get to Rome at that time for 35 cents. I remember one time we got someplace and Lester Young was always the first one out of the bus. And before we could get out of the bus, he had checked out of his room and everybody said, well, what's the matter? He said, well, the woman went up fifteen cents an hour, almost 50. So we all checked out. You know, I don't want this or there's this hotel.

Speaker But those were such beautiful, memorable days.

Speaker Where are you? Get these. Well, at that time, you know, the South was still it was the south. Mean. It was very segregated. And we used to take pictures of signs for colored only whites, only even drinking fountains. Magical ladies. Wrong. All of it was segregated. And many times we couldn't get anything to eat because they didn't allow you in the grocery stores. So it was very difficult. But when we got on the bandstand, all that all that misery just wiped out out of your mind. Because Dan was so great, we couldn't wait to get up and play. You know, it was a great band. I, in fact, count basis should have paid me because I had so much fun. I was the youngest guy in a band. And Lester Young named me Sweets. He's the first one to start calling me Sweets. I don't know why I never asked him because I thought it was such an honor to be named. But I'm a great man like Lester Young, and the name has stuck with me all these years, Sweets and I kind of like it.

Speaker Did you ever travel did Van ever travel with a girl singer?

Speaker Yes. Helen Hill. Well, Billie Holiday actually was the first girl vocalist in the band. And just before I joined the band in 1938, you after band and one hardy shell. Then Helen Humes took her place. She was with the band a long time. Helen Hughes and Jim Jimmy Rushing. And we had an hour to play. Not a very good voice. He used to do a lot of singing or a Wawn.

Speaker But the girl singers, we just treated her like another man. She was she was just like one of the boys. He would gamble in the bus. Most of the time. And she learned how to gamble with us. In fact, she used to want all the money sometimes. Helen Humes. So. Dressing and undressing was a big problem because we have to put on our uniforms and the bus first, and then she would put on her whatever she was going to wear that night.

Speaker But it was very difficult to travel through the South in those days. But. We loved every minute of it. What was most about trying to find a place to sleep or try to find a place to eat in all that was very difficult. When you're hungry, you get they don't allow you in a restaurant. It's it's very annoying because your stomach is nine to 10 now.

Speaker We had the saxophone player in the band, our award, who was very light light complected. Lot of times we had sent him in to bring us out. Sandwiches are some of the.

Speaker Restaurant owners would be at a dance because we'd have to play when we played for four blacks. It was a day it's downstairs and the white people, they would be around the balcony.

Speaker And then when we would play for the white dancers, they would be down on the dance floor and the balcony would be full of black patrons, you know, just loud cheers. But the most difficult part of it was.

Speaker Traveling to the south.

Speaker A lot of incidents. That happened there that I would rather forget about. But it was very difficult in those days.

Speaker To travel, but now the way people came to hear. Oh, yes.

Speaker They enjoyed the dances more than the black people.

Speaker And they made it so difficult.

Speaker Yes. After the dance, we'd have to. We couldn't go to a restaurant we had. Sometimes we'd run into somebody that was very. Very thoughtful. Our Varya.

Speaker Most of the time, they would feel sorry that we wouldn't be able to go to a restaurant and eat, so they would go volunteer and go into a restaurant and get us plenty of food, you know, like that.

Speaker But it was very difficult at the time.

Speaker Do you think that it would have difficult.

Speaker Just the same. You know, she was she was one of us. So it was difficult for her, too. In fact, that's why Billie Holiday left the Artie Shaw Band, because they were checking the big white hotel and she would have to go to doctor's home or somebody's house to stay for the night, which they a lot of rooming houses through the south. Because they didn't. They knew that the bands were coming through and they would have rooming house, that you could get your own and meals three meals a day and traveling on the road, that was difficult because you couldn't stop and get something to eat. You know, the bus driver sometimes would stop and get gas at a place and we'd get some canned food or something, you know, way to quench our thirst. But it was very difficult, but very enjoyable to play.

Speaker Did you make.

Speaker Well, we traveled all through the south, all through the south, through the Mid East, Midwest. I mean, and we would take the bus all the way to California.

Speaker I mean, you did one nighters. What was from one night to the next day would be like, well, have to we would play from nine till 2:00.

Speaker Then we'd get on the bus to have to travel five or six hundred miles, sometimes 700 miles to the next dance.

Speaker And we'd get there just in time to jog to the dance hall and probably take a little nap in the bus if we got there early. And sometimes we'd get there just in time to change to the uniform and get right on the bandstand.

Speaker So it was quite.

Speaker I won't say it was difficult. I would say it was an experience that I'll never forget. And we're all we all had that experience, even Count Basey, you know. And he was right with us all the time. You know, he never he never would get a better room or he would never take a train. He would stay right on the bus with us. And that's what made him such a great bandleader. You know, I. Whatever. Misery with that we had. He had suffered the same way, you know.

Speaker But it was it was very difficult.

Speaker Black musicians at the time had a pretty narrow range of places to play. Yeah. Not going to be a studio. You're not play hotels. No.

Speaker What do you think?

Speaker Their style didn't affect you at all? Because it made you want to play better. You know, it made you want to be a master of your estimate.

Speaker A lot of times we were a little sad sometimes because we had we had a baseball team and the band, all of the bands had a parrot, James Time. Tommy Dorsey, all of them had baseball teams.

Speaker And we'd be passing each other out on the road and we'd stop the bus and have a bit of a ballgame get off.

Speaker But we'd be going to do a one liner and they would be going to play in a hotel for a couple of months. So, you know, they had they didn't have black musicians on the staff. No place you couldn't play in hotels.

Speaker So. We. We managed and we had a good time. It was quite an experience.

Speaker At one point. He was asked.

Speaker Yes. Yes. We came all the way from Chattanooga, Tennessee, to sign a contract. He did to be on a camel our. And that was going to be the first black band to do the camel our. And the next morning, a patient went to the meeting to sign a contract. And the gentleman that was our entertainment director asked who is Count Basic? He didn't even know campaigns and basically said, I'm telling ABC board meeting to sign a contract. So that was a.

Speaker Latinos were a one I was was agreeable, that was John Hammond, because he was the instigator of us playing, going to play on account of our and their excuse was they would lose too many sales to the south.

Speaker People would quit buying the camel cigarettes and all the products that Campbell made.

Speaker So we were off about a week back on the road again. Very disappointing.

Speaker What was the effect on DC?

Speaker Well, they say it was the sort of man that he took everything like in stride. He knew that. Well, Nat Cole suffered the same same way because he had a fantastic show. But he couldn't get any sponsors to the south yet. So not sure yet. Nat Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Bobby. He had everybody on his television show, but the South wouldn't pick up his car, his option, you know, so he had to disperse with a show and they say had a meeting and told us that, you know, just wanted all science done. We got to go back and do what we've been doing. Go back on the road. So we were already you know, we'll follow him wherever he went to because he was such a great band leader. We didn't care. You know, it would have been nice and a wonderful thing to be the first black band to cancel out. But since it didn't happen, there was no need to harp on it all just for that disappointment, because I knew and he knew that wasn't gonna be the only disappointment that we had in our lives. So it made us stronger, made us more determined. We just started all over again. Not all over again because the ban was intact. The only problem was they had canceled all of the engagements they Asian. Well, like I said, I had to go and start booking the band all over again. But he had no problems. In fact, there was another incident. We were on our way to California to play in a ballroom called the Palomar Ballroom, which is on Sunset Boulevard. And they heard that the Count Basie band was gonna open up and they burn the place down. That wasn't the. They just whoever didn't want to bang in there, they just said they they did a disfavour to them sales because we had a great band, they would have been more than entertained more than at the time. I think we had the best band in the world comp based band. So we have I have run into quite a few incidents, you know. In fact, Charlie Barnett's band was in there and we were supposed to follow him. And when they burned the Palomar Ballroom down, they burn a lot of his instruments and his music and everything, you know.

Speaker And it was a disappointment. But we took that to, you know, made us much better musicians. Made us stronger.

Speaker Excuse me. We wish should change.

Speaker He came in and tried to change. Circumstances of discrimination, yes. What did you think of him, what did you think of what he was doing?

Speaker He was he gave a jazz class, the first one to give. Well, the first one I know was John Hamman. He was a fighter against discrimination.

Speaker He was very wealthy.

Speaker So we were the first big band to play on 50 Second Street to Count Basie Band. And one of the first dance to play in Carnegie Hall. And he paid for it, you know, put jazz in Carnegie Hall and spirituals.

Speaker Norman Grant's.

Speaker I think he made L.O. a household word because he took her out of the clubs and made a concert artists out of her. She did all the great big halls all over the world at all. And he limited her nightclub performances probably three or four years or something like that. But she ended up being one of the greatest and most sought after artists to play concerts all over the world because she packed a house every time she would play someplace. Not one grants. When I first met him was in 1939 in California. He was born to UCLA and he used to give well, all the bands used to play in Los Angeles at some time. We would all be there together, like the lots would ban the Harry James band. Buddy Rich Nat Cole was there with his trio, Jimmy Andy Kirk Band, Cab Calloway Band, Ellington Band. We would all be in all I was at one time. So no one would give Sunday afternoon sessions at all the clubs around there. And that's how you started giving concerts and at all those small clubs like Billy Burgs. Oh, I can't name all the clubs that we played on a Sunday afternoon, but even have Buddy Rich, Nat Cole, Lester Young. He would have all the great musicians, Coleman Hawkins. George Howell. He would have just about everybody, you know, on the afternoon session or one Sunday afternoon, you could hear all these guys play and jam. So that's how he got started. Then he got sponsored far. In fact, I played his first jazz at the Philharmonic in Los Angeles because they didn't love jazz and the Philharmonic holds it was strictly for the symphonic bands. But somehow or other, he got the Symphony Hall, Philharmonic Hall in Los Angeles. And that was his first jazz concert at the Philharmonic Auditorium in Los Angeles.

Speaker And from then on, he came a named J.

Speaker T.P Jazz at the Philharmonic, and he would book the world's finest jazz musicians all at one time.

Speaker All over, all over the world. And your childhood first class, you had five star rooms wherever you went. You had limousine to pick you up at the airport, pick your luggage, your ticket luggage to the hotel. All you had to do was get on the plane and take your horn, go to your room. Your luggage would be there and he would have a special limousine for Ella Fitzgerald.

Speaker He made you feel like that all the bad times that you have had in this business.

Speaker He made you feel like you have accomplished something in your life. You know, he was the greatest. He really did do a good job with jazz.

Speaker How did you go about bringing down discrimination?

Speaker He wouldn't play. He would have it in his contract if there was any discrimination at home. That wasn't a concert, and he would go out front and see if the crowd was mixed. It was mixed.

Speaker He would go to the box office and he would.

Speaker He would ask the promoter, are there any blacks in here? What's the matter? And if there was any kind of discrimination, you didn't have to worry about your money. You got paid anyway, but you would go home and go back and wait. Get up, catch a plane the next morning and get out of there.

Speaker You went first to Japan? Yes.

Speaker Yes. What did you think?

Speaker Well, it was sort of a surprise that Japanese people were such jazz enthusiasts. They were just lined up at the airport. They were the crowds was just tremendous, just packed every night.

Speaker And that was it was a pleasure to see Japanese people enjoy music. They had never been exposed to only buy records, you know.

Speaker But it was amazing.

Speaker It was amazing. Ella couldn't get out the stage. They almost tore clothes off. You know, she was trying to get off the stage, but it was absolutely. In fact, I played the last concert in Japan for Gnomon 30 years later. We went over there with almost the same the same musicians. Well, feel my passed away like Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins. But he made up for it with Zoot Sims and Joe Pass. Or instead of Bill Harris, he had Al Gray. He had some top musicians. He always had the finest musicians that could have was available to do his tours. And as I said before, I have nothing but I when I'm on grass, because when he called me to go on his tour, you knew that you were going to make some money.

Speaker You're going to be treated like an artist. Should be treated.

Speaker You are going to get exposed to many people because he always had the crowd to promote it, you know, and you knew that wherever that you played, that wasn't I wasn't going to be any kind of discrimination. Not much jazz fans.

Speaker So I have a lot of respect for nomine grants like jazz concerts recentre specialty and really competitive way. Did you like.

Speaker Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes, I did. In fact, all musicians liked it because that's what made New York so great in my day, because it was so competitive. You know, if you thought you could play trumpet and come to New York, they had some light over here, could make you go back home and study some more, you know, and everybody on the Jazz Philharmonic. We tried to outplay each other every night. Every night it was. We used to call it a cutting contests. We used to be at each other's throats every night. So it made it. It made it interesting. You know, like I've heard Roy hours. Tell me. So you think you can follow that. So I said what I want to do my damndest, you know, so competitive. It was it was just absolutely pleased to participate in those.

Speaker Oh, yeah. Oh, sure. Was that like. I was like, you got to learn something. Because once she got through Scaddan, there was not much that you could play on your own because she her voice was like an instrument. And of course, when she she had a spot of her own. When she finished. You would. We would go on the first half and she would go on a nice half, just her.

Speaker And she would just tear the place up every night. Every night was Ella Fitzgerald night. Wonderful woman, wonderful lady.

Speaker You recorded with her many times. Many times. I don't think you did. You ever recorded with Ella Louis.

Speaker No. No, I never did do on those dates.

Speaker Are you familiar with this? Oh, yes, yes. What did you think of that comedy?

Speaker It was a rare combination. I think. It was just two people saying together that were masters of their craft and they had styles of their own. You couldn't wait for Lloyd to start saying when he finished, you couldn't wait for Ellen to begin. Hello. I think every album that they ever made was a classic, and it still is a classic at that time. They were recording. I was in California working on the staff at ABC. And a lot of the records were made in New York. I think Scialfa made a lot of the arrangements I did. I was fortunate enough to make an album with Louis Armstrong. I was in the studio band and I was so excited trying to listen to him play until I made many mistakes reading music here.

Speaker But it was such a thrill, such a thrill to to watch.

Speaker How he prepared himself for his performance on a record date. It was just just amazing. And all of it was just like a concert pianist getting ready for his concert. He would he would take the melody and he would play the melody. He always wanted to learn the melody first, learn a song like the composer wrote it, and then he would take the words. A lot of times he would harm the words to him. You know, at home, the melody to himself. He is very articulate on a record. You can always understand what he said. And on that one, the red light would come on. He was ready. He was ready to do his performance. And every record he ever made to me was a masterpiece. Was a masterpiece and have an over great combination. Great combination.

Speaker Were you at.

Speaker You know, I was in Europe at the time. No, I was in California because I was doing a show called The Hollywood Palace Show with Star. Well, I forget the bandleader's name, but he was a director at the time and he was in the hospital and Pearl Bailey. No one knew how he was feeling. What role he was. So Pearl said, I'll find out.

Speaker And she did. And she found out that he was very ill, very sick. I didn't get to come to the funeral. But she did. Pearl Bailey.

Speaker So but I understand.

Speaker That so many people were there until you would have a problem trying to even get him to church.

Speaker But.

Speaker I think. I would have much I will. I will have more fun memories of him, Bernet going to the funeral. Because I met him many, many times.

Speaker In fact, I wrote him a letter one time.

Speaker I never thought I'd be going to Europe and I wanted a Patek Phillipe watch in Geneva. And when he got back off his tour, his wife, Lucille, called me and said to meet her at the HIC her house. I have a present for you. So I thought your pops is going to be there. So I went and she was there and she gave me this Patek fully watch. And he told me the next time I saw him. Anytime a letter can catch up with me, you want it all forbad that watch because he stayed on the road all the time. He never did want to lay off. So she said, all you have to do is give me the duty that he paid. I said, Lucille, I don't know. You have. I had to borrow money to get on your own. So she said, well, just take the watch. Pops called up and said, just wear it in good health. So. We were we were pretty tight. He used to come to hear me play.

Speaker And.

Speaker He would tell me. You sound good. I boy, I said, well, thank you for that compliment coming from you. Well, I hard to do a little better. So I may say don't do a little better. Just do the same thing that you were doing before. So he was he was quite. And I've had Christmas dinner with him in California. S Classic. I knew him very well. And he was a good friend. And as I said before, being in his company was just like I didn't like because he was such an idol to me, you know.

Speaker But Billie Holiday. Oh, yes, yes, yes.

Speaker I made our last album with her. And you recorded.

Speaker Yes. Her last album. Did you compare them? No, because they were two different people. Two different styles.

Speaker They had Ella. I can never be.

Speaker The way that she presented a song, no one else could present a song like her. And the way Billie Holiday presented the song. Nobody could do it like Billie Holiday. So as I said before, when we were all in New York coming up, everybody wanted to have a sound that they could be identified by. And no one could ever take Billie Holiday's place and no one could ever take Alice place, because that was all not one of a kind. But I knew Billie Holiday once. She was about 19 years old and what a voluptuous woman she was. So fine looking girl. She used to sing at this place, as I was telling you about while ago in 38 Street called The Yellow Man and Hall.

Speaker She was beautiful girl and could say.

Speaker She had a style, as I was saying earlier in the interview, that Louis Armstrong was her idol. She always thought it would be great if a woman the same like Louis Armstrong, and she did the best she did. But she added that she developed the sound of her own. And when you hear better holiday records, you know, it's nobody else. But Billie Holiday, all instruments had sounds of their own, like Coleman Hawkins. No one sounds like him. No one sounded like Lester Young. They are all have they all have definite sounds that they can be that you can always say. That's Lester Young. That's Zoot Sam's Letteri Origin. That's Dizzie Miles. They all have sounds of their own that they can be recognized by. And that is quite an accomplishment to sound like nobody but you. And I think that is the accomplishment that you have strive for all your life is to be original, be original.

Speaker Somebody said this. That when.

Speaker Saying, my man's gone now.

Speaker You thought the package is Billy saying you could see him back? Yes.

Speaker Yes. Gone forever. Well, she. She did songs of her lifestyle cause her lifestyle was not a happy one. Billie Holiday.

Speaker I've heard people say that her songs had a lot of misery. Her life had a lot of misery.

Speaker She was. Such a wonderful person giving what she put our trust in our husband.

Speaker She trusted her husband and whatever he said do. That's what she would do. All she wanted to do was saying, get up on the bandstand. Put that gardenia in her hair.

Speaker And I'm saying. And.

Speaker She never I think I always say when I'm saying something on a microphone that if she had been loved, then like she's alive today, I think she would have lived longer because she never thought that people loved her, you know? Yeah. Oh, yeah. But she didn't know it. She got like Alice. You never see Ella used to play on packed houses all over the world. She would do a concert and one of the Philharmonic halls or something. Billy never got that. She never had that privilege to do that. All her life. She sang in clubs and dives.

Speaker She was so cute.

Speaker Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Yes. That's the songs that she sang all her life. Her lifestyle was like Carla Carlos, more reckless. She never was. She would never go out and hang out with us, like after the Jazz Philharmonic concerts. Billie Holiday would be out to set the bar hanging out. You know, Ella would be home in a bed, in a room. You know, she never she never did participate in and like, we'd have little somebody would say after the concert, let's go have a drink at Jumbo's in San Francisco. It was outrageous what a holiday would be ready to go. But Ella. She never did do anything like that. That's the reason why Billie was more of a musicians singer.

Speaker You know, because she was such a.

Speaker She was always right if he had any money. OK, if he didn't, she had some, she would buy the drinks. That was the kind of woman that she was.

Speaker And they were two different people, two different personalities, two different voices, so there's no comparison that you could compare Billie Holiday with Ella. And you couldn't compare Ella with that Billie, because both of them, Hannah, had a way of delivering a song. That one that's unforgettable. You know.

Speaker And there's another thing that came up often about Ella said that she couldn't sing the blues.

Speaker I don't know who said that, but I would definitely disagree. Beleaguered singing the blues. Oh, she could really. She could do the blues. Well, there's an art and singing the blues, you know, has an art and playing the blues on estimate. I know some musicians that can't play the blues, but they play it their way. Who am I to say that they're wrong? Because who's who's to say who's right and who's wrong? I might he might say that. I don't know how I play the blues. I don't. I just play the blues because it's another tune to play on the bandstand.

Speaker But there are.

Speaker It's definitely and heart. To play to and to sign the blues. That's that's a different ball game that's different than a Rodgers and Hart tune.

Speaker You have you have you have a melody to go by.

Speaker When you say Rodgers and Hart, Gershwin melody, but the blues, you just you just out there by yourself. So you just have to do what you do best. Yeah.

Speaker Oh I see. Got those glasses are sort of. Yeah. I was looking at, you know, the angle. You say, okay, look, maybe, maybe your glasses are like mine.

Speaker Dirty mine mindstate dirty.

Speaker Okay.

Speaker We're nearing that hour.

Speaker Oh yeah. Just getting to the end. Okay.

Speaker You you said you were out there.

Speaker Oh yes. Sure. I never saw her in a club. Not like that. But I used to see her mostly when we would do a record. I like someone like Sarah Vaughan. Whenever anybody interesting was in a nightclub like Catalina's Jazz Bakery, our club like that, you would see Sarah out listening to the guys. You would see Carla Macary out listening to the guys. But, you know, see Ella. She was, as I said before, she she was a sort of a recluse. She was a loner.

Speaker She used to write to me all the time.

Speaker And the Ellington band.

Speaker Did you know?

Speaker No, I never go to many of the parties out there because I a.

Speaker Most of the time I'd be on a tour myself in Europe, myself, and when the band was out there, you know, and she would give great parties for the Ellington band. But I have been in terror houses many times. When she lived in Lemert Park, I went to her house for dinner. When she moved to Beverly Hills, I was at a house three or four times. Yeah. And I went out there to rehearse for rehearsal one day with Keiter and Bobby Darin. And I think Tommy Flanagan. I was at her house. I knew very well. I knew she was a great person to know. But she wasn't like.

Speaker Some of the singers that I'm very familiar with and used to go on all the clubs here are the musicians, you know, hear what they do, what they were doing.

Speaker So. Never did. I don't think I ever saw her at a club this thing. Yes, she did. She heard one set and left before I could get there.

Speaker Did you ask him for your health really failed? I was. Did you see her during that time?

Speaker No, because it was a sort of. Hush hush thing. Oh, like no one knew that she was really that sick. I used to get it from Keiter cause he was like a member of the family. And I would hear from Norman that the Schiller was really taking a toll on her body. And I did know that she had quite a few operations on my hives because she had the cataracts. One removed a couple of times and they grew back. And that's why she used to give concerts and donate the money to this hospital in Boston, because I think she was partial to that hospital up there. They used to operate on hives. But so far I see really what she was really sick. I never went to see her. And I don't think too many people went to see her. You know? But then, too, when a person is ideal. I don't think they want too much company anyway. I don't think maybe some people like company when they see, but how they. But I really didn't know that she was. She was at AOL.

Speaker What were your thoughts when you heard that she had died?

Speaker I had to ponder for a minute because I couldn't believe it.

Speaker Then you say to yourself, well.

Speaker God was ready for, you know, and he's always on time. And it was.

Speaker Her time. So I just said to myself, she had a good life, a wonderful life.

Speaker She.

Speaker She's admired all over the world her record still sell. And Billie Holiday was just the opposite. When she passed away. He and I and it hurt me more when I heard that she passed away, because I know she never got her correct. Popularity to be as great as she was. And. She didn't have any money.

Speaker So it was sad. Really? Ella, I know that she's you know, she had a beautiful life. She had a beautiful home. She had. Excuse me. She had everything that one would would want except whatever that she liked in her life. I don't know whether her love life was what she expected it to be, private life or anything like that, but I know that she had a great life. You know, she was well loved and she wanted to go on a tour even when she had gotten sick and Norma wouldn't let it go. Because her voice was failing. And Norman said definitely no. Because you don't want to be remembered, you know, out on a stage and you can't hit the notes or something like that, you know, on. Like Billie Holiday. Her last album was Lady Uncertain. I could tell the feeling was there, but the voice wasn't there.

Speaker So they both were dear friends.

Speaker Both of them were lovable in their own way.

Speaker But I had more fun with Billie Holiday than I did with Ella Fitzgerald because Billie and how we used to hang out together in Harlem, you know, go to a bar that Ella never did do.

Speaker What do you think?

Harry Sweets Edison
Interview Date:
1998-12-17
Runtime:
1:05:16
Keywords:
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
cpb-aacip-504-th8bg2j443, cpb-aacip-504-xk84j0bt4h, cpb-aacip-504-639k35mw3p
MLA CITATIONS:
"Harry Sweets Edison, Ella Fitzgerald: Something to Live For." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 17 Dec. 1998, https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/496
APA CITATIONS:
(1998, December 17). Harry Sweets Edison, Ella Fitzgerald: Something to Live For. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/496
CHICAGO CITATIONS:
"Harry Sweets Edison, Ella Fitzgerald: Something to Live For." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). December 17, 1998. Accessed January 22, 2022 https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/496

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