The Trombone's Connected To The Lip Bone: Bruce Fowler Interview
By Evil Prince
T'Mershi Duween, #55-57, November 1996 – March 1997
The third of our monster interviews with various ex-FZ muzos, this time a huge long two hour affair conducted apparently, by the Evil Prince, while Bruce was driving to a gig in LA. No, I didn't believe it either, but that's what it says on the cassette case. Ah well, let's see. If this is any good, then there will be more of it next time and probably even in TD57.
Q: Let's start by talking about your influences.
BF: JJ Jackson, he's one of the founders of modern jazz trombone. He had probably the best sound, the best tone quality of any of the guys. He also created a standard of cleanliness of playing, accuracy of playing. He stays within himself; he knows what he's going to do. He's kinda careful but at the same time he pushes himself to a great degree in terms of technique. He's not as wild as some trombone players, but he's great. He's a good person too. I know him a little bit. He's a perfectionist, a good writer. He used to live here in Hollywood. He used to write for TV shows and I think he wrote at least one movie. I learnt his solo from 'Yesterday'; I could play that exactly. I also learnt some of his other stuff from records with Stan Getz. He's a strong influence.
There are many others that had an influence: Carl Fontana, Herbie Green. Carl Fontana is a bit like JJ but he doesn't play as loudly. He's got tremendous technique; he's a traditional jazz be-bop player, not avant garde. Herbie Green from New York is a lead trombonist, a soloist. He influenced Bill [Watrous] a lot. Curtis [Fuller] is a kind of extension of JJ. Albert Mangelsdorf and other Europeans are strong influences. A guy called Phil Wilson from Boston who used to play with Woody Herman ... Dick Nash, a lead trombone player from LA who played with Henry Mancini in the classic ballad style.
If you go back a little further, there's Jack Teagarden, who was an unbelievable trombone player, one of the all-time classic guys because he played with Louis Armstrong; 'Tricky' Sam [Nanton] and Britt Woodman who were both with Duke Ellington's band; Al Grey who played with Count Basic; Laurence Brown who played lead with the Duke for years and years. Those are some of the highlights.
Then there's Frank Rosselino who's from here that you may have heard of, a very unequalled style. Somebody try to copy him, but it doesn't work. His brother was a violinist so he used to play violin music all the time. I think I had more influence from sax players like Johnny Griffin and Eddie 'Lockjaw' Davis when they had their group; Coltrane of course ... I liked some of the be-bop guys too.
Q: Did some one like Albert Ayler have an influence?
BF: I have an influence from that avant garde jazz which is from the smaller groups with more improvisation. Believe it or not, we do some of that in LA. I liked Ayler and Pharaoh Sanders and the World Saxophone Quartet; Ornette Coleman – I was really influenced by 'The Shape of Jazz to Come'.
We had a small group when I was going to college – alto sax, trombone, bass and drums. No string instruments because we felt that the chord instruments would hold us back from doing the harmonic things we could do without them. If you play with a piano or a guitar, then I think you're stuck within their jail-bars as Beefheart might say. You're kinda put in jail and you have to play somewhere round those notes that they lay down. It's a rare piano player that has enough ears to go with a soloist. Usually the piano player tries to push you in a certain direction. If we're playing music that's really structured harmonically in a certain style, then we obviously can't do that. Then when freeform jazz would come in, it was in the form of that music. In our group, we would play some sort of waltz then go into a rock and roll piece; that still could be free jazz if it's within a certain context of a broad view of music as a whole.
That's sort of a John Zorn approach, but maybe not as formalised as him. That's sort of what he does. He goes from one extreme to another. Music as you know needs humour in it, and that's what we try to do, to inject humour into it at least some of the time.
Q: It's nice to know that there is an avant garde in Hollywood and LA. Everyone talks about it being in New York.
BF: Well, the problem with LA that we have is that as soon as the East Coast people know we're from LA, they don't think we can play jazz at all. They're very prejudiced against LA. But actually we have this guy called Vinny Golia and I've just toured with him. His music is very avant garde. He played saxophone and bassoon, flutes, clarinets. The tour we did with his Large Ensemble had about 25 musicians, a sort of improvising big band you might say. But it also had strings, a couple of violins and cellos and two basses. He's one of the mainstays of free-form improvisation in LA.
There is a long history of it here because Ornette was from here originally. The thing is that Hollywood is the centre of the movie industry and TV, and so most of the music is commercial and the way you make money is by playing commercial music. It's just about impossible to make money and be around here; you have to tour. That's true of any avant garde music. You have to really believe in it. I do a lot of things besides playing what I want.
Q: Do you feel comfortable with that situation, because I know you've done TV and film soundtracks?
BF: I really enjoy that. It's a different thing completely. The great thing about what I do is that I get to write music for a full orchestra, say, or different groups and I get to hear real soon. The kind of buzz is that I'm just finishing up on 'Twister', and that's the kind of money Frank could never spend. He had a chance to play with the LSO but basically it's just too expensive for one person to pay for it, but a movie can. It's a trade-off. You can't write just what you want; it has to fit the picture and the director has to like it. That's something Frank could never have done.
But once you get past that, there are a lot of great things you can do, a lot of adventurous things especially now with all the new technology. You've got all these great musicians round here so you can get to hear your music played really well. It's all done very fast. Most movie music isn't too great but there are some exceptions. It's good to be able to do it. The film is the centre of the whole thing, so you have to balance things out with all the technical aspects. This was very interesting too for Frank. He never got to do it, but he would talk about it a lot. He wanted to do it as an improvisation and Vinny's made films that way. But generally nowadays, you really have to have it organised carefully beforehand so the cues fit the timing exactly. There's a lot of care that goes into it before we record and when we record, we have to do it fast. We don't write music that's as difficult as Frank because you don't have time to learn it, but we can do pretty hard music.
Q: Does it pay well so you can fund other things?
BF: I do do that. I take money from working as an orchestrator or an arranger in the movies and then I can buy my equipment and put out CDs and I can pay for it. I don't have to worry that they don't make any money really. I can't survive on the money I make from something like 'Ants Can Count' obviously, but it's still important to do that kind of music as well. I don't think it hurts to learn how to do the other sort of music really. It's just orchestration or even if it's composing, then you learn all these other forms of music that you don't see in rock n roll, or jazz either. One thing we get to do is get to use unusual instruments in the movies because you're always looking for that new sound. Also now that we have synthesisers and computers, we can so all sorts of rhythmic things that we couldn't do with percussionists.
Q: What are your famous films?
BF: We did 'The Lion King' and 'Speed'. In 'The Lion King', I did a lot of orchestrations and I arranged some of the vocal stuff on the choir in the songs.
Q: How would you define your influences on 'Ants Can Count'?
BF: I think the European chamber jazz has a lot of classical influence. It's not swing particularly, like Ellington. As soon as you get more intellectual about it and start thinking about things more mathematically than emotionally – I like that a lot, but it's definitely different – and it might be harder for the average audience to understand. But modern classical music and modern jazz sort of come together at a certain point and they get closer to one another. Especially after I'd been playing with Frank because he kind of led you to a classical way of improvising. Ruth wasn't really an improviser, but every so often if you pointed at her, she'd play something. It wouldn't be jazz; it would come from all her training and be more of a classical kind of improvisation.
That's not really to say that I don't think European jazz swings. It has just as much variety as say world jazz. I like the concept of having really small intimate group of say three guys so that everyone can really listen. This is something that Vinny Golia was saying in a lecture he gave on that tour. He said the optimum number of guys for free improvisation is three.
Q: What about Miles Davis?
BF: Oh yeah. In the sixties, I thought it was the apex of his career when he had George Coleman in the band, before 'Bitches Brew'. He had a super strong influence on me. Then I started liking Jimi Hendrix a lot, but before that, it was Miles. It's a swinging jazz but it's very open-sounding, with Tony Williams and all those guys. Perfect music. Then when he moved towards 'fusion music', that was strong too, but I thought it was better done by McLaughlin and others. I really liked 'We're Only In It for the Money', as well as Hendrix. I must have listened to that a million times. I started playing electric trombone and the jazz guys thought I was nuts.
Q: Both your solo albums refer to mathematics, which is sort of a beautiful aesthetic. What does this have to do with you from the standpoint of music or art?
BF: OK, that's a great question. I studied math in college although I was never an accomplished mathematician. But I still like to read about math, and I like the concepts of especially modern math. It really has grown incredibly much in the last fifty or a hundred years. The fact that you can have these mathematical concepts in your mind that do not actually exist in nature – this is something we could debate. To me, if they can exist in your mind, then they must exist in nature. I think the beautiful concepts of spaces and algebra are really incredible. They're really inspirational to me more than I sit around thinking of mathematical phrases in music. It's not a direct thing, but sometimes I might write a tone row or some other kind of form composition. I'm familiar with serialism to a degree. I don't follow it as a religion. I've written pieces that are kind of like that, but they've involved a tone row or part of a tone row or more than a tone row. I've written a lot of exercises for the trombone, a lot of etudes that are based purely on math. I've thought a lot about math as different representations of music.
For example, if you could say how big would the space be that would have every possible one second musical experience as a point? That brings up some interesting questions of dimensionality. There might be more than one way of representing it.
I'm also interested in geology a lot; that's represented on those records too. I go out and hunt for rocks and fossils. The evolution of life is super-interesting, as well as the evolution of before-life, all the planets that don't even have life on them. Studying all kinds of different things and being interested in other things, and other forms of art as well as just music can certainly help your music as part of the whole experience. I just feel a wide open view of the whole world and all the different kinds of people and music, just let all that coagulate and come out as the events will.
I made a little plan with myself just the other day to puzzle out, at least a little bit, what Einstein meant by his general theory. I used to read about his Special Theory before, but I could never get anywhere with the General Theory, but now I'm beginning to see a little bit. Learning about that kind of thing and relativity is a great thing for musicians, because isn't that what we do? We put ourselves in the place of someone else and play the feelings of what certain experiences feel like in a musical way, and/or the objective and hyper-rational intellectual side of people's feelings which is almost an emotional thing in some ways.
So yeah, I'd like to study science. I think it's really important and it's good for opening your vistas and giving you a bigger view of your own life.
Q: How would you explain your approach to the solo albums, as 'Ants' is more abstract than 'Entropy' which is more traditional a jazz album?
BF: I wanted to do one record that was 'inside'. I just did that intensely to do a more traditional jazz record one time. I do like to play that stuff and I had quite a few pieces that I'd written. I still have enough for another record like that plus other things. 'Ants' had a lot of different variety, but those pieces came as a collection from a lot of different sources. Some of them were from a session I did at this church when I was just trying to do a solo album of abstract stuff. Some of the other stuff was written for dancers. That music can be very abstract as the dance is very abstract, not like in the movies.
I don't think the next one will be like 'Entropy'. I have a lot of pieces that are sort of like Frank tunes, sort of Frank meets Mahavishnu. I've been doing a poetry album too. I did something on the 1988 tour in Cleveland about the fossil fish from Cleveland. They're these armoured fish from the Devonian period. I knew we were going there and I called up the museum and spoke to the expert in the fish who told me something about them. Then we had to start talking politics. Generally I agreed with Frank about politics. I thought he was a brilliant spokesman about freedom of speech. I could really get behind what he was talking about. I'm sure if we hadn't had the demise of the band, I'm sure that could have happened even more.
More of the Evil Prince's interview with his excellence Mr Bruce Fowler, still on the way to that gig in LA. This time, Bruce manages to meet Frank Zappa, whoever he is.
Q: How did you happen to meet Frank for the first time?
BF: A friend of mine, Sal Marquez, was playing in the band and I called him when I came to town. He said 'Hey I'm playing with Zappa. Why don't you come down and play for him?' So I went down and I don't know if he was actually holding auditions per se, but he was looking for some guys to do that Big Wazoo (sic) orchestra, twenty piece. I'm not sure if it's the first piece we did, but he pulled out 'Approximate' and we played that.
Now the thing was that my father taught us before; he taught us about those rhythms, so we knew. By the time I was out of high school, I already knew about seven over three and all that stuff. I practised it in history class, tapping it out. I could just do it and since I was interested in math, those rhythms were really intriguing. Suddenly here was Frank writing music like that. I'd never played it before, but on the other hand, I could look at it and figure it out. It made sense, so it was fortunate that our dad taught us that. The same was true for Tom and Walt.
I'd liked Zappa very much when I was a hippie, so it was an easy transition to playing in his group. I played a few tunes with him and then I went back home. I went back to college and he called me a couple of weeks later and said 'Well, do you want to play in this group? I've got some concerts coming up' and I said 'Yeah, that'd be great'. So I came down and I stayed with Sal, played in that big group and I really practised hard. He wrote me a special part. It was different to all the other trombone parts and it was really hard. I still have some of it but it actually got lost. It was probably the hardest stuff ever written for trombone and actually played. It was only done on tour and not recorded except at those concerts.
Q: I think Frank liked the sound of the trombone as well as the bass. Am I right?
BF: Yeah, he certainly kept me longer than I thought he would. I figured I'd be fired a couple of times before he actually did it. We had a pretty good thing. I was just listening to 'The Lost Episodes' and that's pretty funny. We just worked very hard. Tom and I worked really hard and set up games for ourselves. We had to get the parts right or we couldn't smoke or something ... We would just play it over and over again until we were exhausted but we had it down. Then we'd walk in and Jean-Luc (Ponty, natch) couldn't play it and then George and Jean-Luc would say 'Wow, how come you guys can play it?' but we practised, you know. That was a great and fun band in 1973 for the most part. I thought the band, when we went to Australia, was about the best it ever was. We became really good in Australia.
Q: So why did you leave the band later?
BF: There wasn't really room for me any more. All those guys left: George had gone, and it became more of a vocal thing. I just sat around and it was hard for me, sitting in a cold arena not doing anything and then to play a really difficult part. I'd make mistakes and Frank would get mad. It was just not right for me. Napoleon wasn't really an instrumentalist; he couldn't play that stuff in the right way. It needed Ruth, and when it was Ruth and George and me and it was more of a jazz group, then it made sense to have me there. But when it went back to more of a rock group, unless you're going to get trumpet and sax, then it doesn't make sense to have me in the band. Plus this is when synthesisers were first coming out strong and of course Frank was one of the first to use synths and try them because he was always into technology. It was just time for me to be out of the band.
But I did come back eventually. I almost joined the band in I think 1980, but it didn't quite happen. I went down and jammed with the band, but it never quite came about. Then we did 1988 and that was when he could justify having a full horn section, because just one trombone is strange orchestration-wise, you know? You really need to have at least three horns, maybe four even. And then in 1988 he went all the way and had five, which is the best. Five is really big-sounding and you can do those big chords he writes. It was ridiculous with just one or two in the brass section.
Back in 1973, he had Ruth and George who could play that super-fast stuff faster than me. The trombone is just too hard; it's impossible to play as fast as a marimba or a piano. We did things like 'The Be-Bop Tango' and 'Echidna's Arf' pretty well, but then they got so fast that I could only just play them. As you can tell from that version of 'Inca Roads' on 'The Lost Episodes', it's a lot slower but it's really accurate. But at full pelt on the trombone, it's just about impossible. 'Kung Fu' was awfully hard. It just took a lot of practise. You have to really dedicate yourself to that one thing and your body has to learn how to do that one thing. It's a lot harder than on violin or something like that.
Q: Do you think it was appropriate for Frank to ask you to play those difficult parts in unison with other instruments?
BF: I think that's what had to happen. Either we do that or we don't do anything. The sound of the trombone works well with marimba, bass and synth; it's a really unique sound. The thing is he has to write what he wants to write, and a lot of his music, as complicated as it is rhythmically and melodically, is very simple harmonically. He's not there doing a huge harmonic work, though some of them are, like 'Peaches'. He's mainly based his music on open harmonies and then complicated rhythms and melodies that have great big interval jumps. And if you can't play those, then you can't be in the band. That's it. He's not going to simplify it for the band member; he's just going to hire another guy.
Those things are also hard on saxophone and guitar. They're only simple on marimba and piano. A piece like 'Echidna's Arf' when it comes to the cascading tunes towards the end (sings), you can't really play that on trombone although I almost did a few times. That was just really impossible. And the same with the end of 'Be-Bop Tango' (sings again); it's completely impossible on trombone. He just pushed us as far as he could then he'd say 'That's good enough.' But he'd push us as far as he could. Always.
Q: What about the 1975 tour with Captain Beefheart?
BF: That was fun. I got to meet Don and we became good friends. We were out on the road and he and I hung out a lot. I could talk to him and he could talk to me, whereas it seemed that George and Napoleon, we weren't really on their wavelength. We were more out yippo than them, more abstract thinking. We had a lot of humour going on all the time. Both of us stood around a lot and then we'd do our little things. Don only did about two or three tunes a night and he just drew the rest of the time. When it came to a guitar solo, I would chase him off stage or he'd chase me. We'd go out and smoke a cigarette or drink a beer and Frank would be playing his solo. We'd crawl onto the stage over to his guitar lead and start chewing on it; stuff like that. Sometimes we'd crawl clear across the stage and he never knew it, because his eyes were closed and he was playing this solo. I'm sure he heard about it.
Then Don asked me to be in his band and then he asked me to play bass in the band. His manager heard me and said 'Well, don't call us, we'll call you'. So I said 'Fine, I won't go to the rehearsals. If those guys really want me in the band, they can come and get me.' So they did and told Herbie I was going to be in the band. I used an electronic trombone set up. Even as bad as it was, it was sort of OK. It didn't have the punch of a real bass, but it was kind of interesting. I could certainly go awfully low. But that was a great experience, trying to play the Captain's music on the bass.
We did a tour of England like that, playing at Knebworth. The main album I did was 'Shiny Beast' in San Francisco. 'Doc at the Radar Station' was tricky as I was playing in a big band and the tour for that conflicted with the Captain's rehearsals. Don had this rehearsal method that was very different. You go to the rehearsal at 12 o'clock and Don would show up at six. He had to drive all the way from Lancaster and he was on his own schedule. I understood all that. I loved working for him or with him; it was kind of more creative than playing with Frank in some ways. If we played, then sometimes we would just play together, the two of us, completely free. His sax playing is from the other side of music. He didn't learn how to play sax; he just painted with it.
Q: What was the thing with Beefheart musically-speaking? He's weird ...
BF: What he did was he would sing you the parts and I would take the tape home and try to figure out from the singing what would actually work on the trombone, translate it. Then I'd come back and play it for him. Meanwhile, he'd be writing the other parts. In rehearsals, we put the music together piece by piece. Frank would do that a lot too, laboriously.
Q: Isn't Beefheart very sick?
BF: I don't know how sick he is, but I spoke to him a couple of weeks ago.
Q: I saw you play with Zappa in 1973 in Stockholm. I thought Frank allowed you to play quite a few solos.
BF: That's right. You have to remember one thing: Frank played different concerts for different parts of the world. When it came to playing in Scandinavia, he played much more jazz than he did anywhere else. He knew the Scandinavians really liked jazz and didn't understand his lyrics too well. We played a lot more freely in Sweden and everywhere over there.
Q: You said the band was at its peak in Australia.
BF: Yeah, but I could be wrong of course. I just thought we were so tight, that we really knew the music. We'd just finished in Europe (oh no they hadn't!-Ed) so we already had a lot of concerts under our belts and we really knew the stuff. The band was pretty big.
Q: Did Frank ever give you instructions about solos?
BF: It was pretty free, mostly free. He would try to set up some backgrounds to play with. He'd say 'Do you want this kind of chords or some other chords?' We would try things out, but it was really like a jazz band. Listening to that 1973 stuff, it's really jazzy. I was interested to find that Frank was interested in jazz. Even in the earliest days. (Sings the opening theme to 'Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance') I never realised how much of a jazz tune it was.
Q: How do you see Frank's jazz influences? How much do they have in common with the tradition of modern jazz and classical music?
BF: It was kind of a combination. We did 'Stolen Moments' in 1988 which Frank thought was a masterpiece. I agree with him. That shows that he's like Duke Ellington, saying 'There's two kinds of music: good music and bad music'. That's it. I think Frank was like that. He would do country and western. It was more the utilitarian use of them in what he was trying to say. I know he thought jazz musicians became more and more tuxedo-like which made him pretty sick. It makes me feel the same way too. He liked Dolphy obviously; that's part of his stuff. He liked Hendrix and he liked all different kinds of music. He was a very versatile and eclectic kind of a guy but we all know that anyway. Beefheart is a broad talent. I think his influence on Frank was really strong too. I don't know if people recognise that but that rawness that Don had definitely had an influence.
Q: Did you do transcriptions for Zappa, like 'Revised Music for Guitar and LBO'?
BF: No that was already done by the time I got there. What I would like to do some time is record the original version of 'Greggary Peccary'. I have the score for that; it got changed a lot for the record. When we played it with the Grand Wazoo, that was a great version. I asked him if he was going to record the instrumental version some time and he said 'I'll tell you what. I'll give you the score and you can do it' (laughs) so one day, maybe ...
It's one of his greatest pieces. The whole part where Greggary invents the calendar has completely gone; it's not there. And then when it goes into the fast threes, with 'The New Brown Clouds'; I think it was great as an instrumental piece. It still had a little bit of vocal stuff. I haven't figured out how to do it, but maybe if I heard the old tapes from the concerts, then maybe we could figure out what he did because I can't remember it exactly. 'Greggary Peccary' was one of the first things I ever did with Frank and I thought it was one of the best. We really learned it; it was incredibly hard. (Sings a bit) There's a bar of twenty-three ...
Q: What did you think of Frank's guitar playing?
BF: He was amazing in the early seventies, but I couldn't hear him in 1988. It wasn't the PA but mentally. I remember Thunes coming up and saying 'That solo was incredible' but I was thinking 'Jeez, I don't even remember it'. It's possibly my fault.
Q: So in general you liked Frank's playing?
BF: Oh yeah, he played fabulous. He had times, especially on the American tour in 1973, when he had a string of nights and every night he played better. He was really creative, not just fast stuff, but all real fresh. As an improviser, that's always hard, no matter who you are. You get into these patterns and you tend to play the same solo on the same tune.
That band did a lot of interesting stuff on stage because it was pretty free-form. We didn't have all those big segues; it was more like we'd be playing a tune, then go into a free thing, and then he'd call another tune and we'd play that one. We had some groups of songs like 'Yellow Snow'. There were some things that we did on the spot. I think he was really into that creative music thing. It changed a lot when he brought in synths, more rock n roll. I think he felt like he needed to make money.
Q: Zappa even used to use the synths like horn sections.
BF: Right. He had Tommy Mars who was sort of like a horn section. It didn't really sound like one, but it fulfilled the same musical function.
At which point the interview wanders off to discuss other stuff, like the Fowler Brothers and solo projects, which will leave us nicely set up for part three in the next thrilling installment of Herge's Adventures of Brucebruce. We'll run this assuming it looks remotely interesting, but it may not be. Almost three tapes down; only another six to go ...
The story so far: our heroes are still on the way to that gig, though they're getting close now. Bruce has just managed to turn the wrong way down 10th St and is heading away from the venue while The Evil Prince continues to probe. Now read on ...
Q: What can you tell me about the Fowler enterprises, their origins and progress?
BF: You remember my dad from last issue? He's a great musician, a great educator and he really helped us all the way when we were growing up. He had us around really good musicians and he sponsored programmes in the school to get really really good teachers to come up from LA or New York and teach the kids, not just in Salt Lake City where we came from, but also in other towns. He was instrumental in forming the National Association of Jazz Educators and tried to get music in colleges and schools to represent some of the music you would do if you came somewhere like Hollywood. Frank took one masterclass at one of the colleges my dad taught at.
Just before he retired, he formed a company that published books that he wrote. He wrote a bunch of books about the guitar and piano, and he developed his own method of writing chord changes, a sort of mathematical approach. In the meantime, we were disillusioned by the business that we saw, like the problems Frank and then Beefheart had with their managers – same guy – and other people in the business. We've never been able to just hire a guy and give him power over us. Rather than do that, we formed our own company. The unfortunate part about it is that sometimes you do need direction, but business-wise, it's really hard to do. I think it's impossible to make it big for instance and do it on your own. You need to have someone to help you. Anyway, we managed to make the records that we wanted to make, more or less, but we also did it as a family thing. So each kid got to put a tune on there. That doesn't necessarily make it the most cohesive record in history. It's more a pot pourri, but I really like the first record we did which was 'Hunter'. Actually we did one before that called 'Fly On' which came out in Japan in 1975. Nobody knows about that one – it's very rare. That was when we were with Frank and Chester played with us. Stu Goldberg played piano and he later went to Europe and became a piano soloist there.
We have our record company, Fossil Records, and we're planning on doing more stuff. We have a few projects nearly in the can. We're working on the next Fowler Brothers record; in fact there's two of them. Then I'm going to do one or two things, and another one with Walt and Ed's music. He writes some interesting music. He's a computer programmer and paleontologist, so he goes out looking for fossils a lot. The name for the label came from our interest in fossils and in some ways the record is a fossil of the music. The music was in the air before and when it left the air, it went onto the record, never to be really heard again, but it's there on CD.
Then we found there were two other Fossil Record companies. We like the idea but we've never been much at running the company. We do music all the time and the company kind of languishes. Right now, we're working on getting better distribution in Europe. Frank was able to do things like this, but he had help at first. He went with big labels and he had serious distribution and advertising for his stuff. That's his main thing. With us, it's almost like a hobby.
Q: So are you a manager on this?
BF: I did some work on it, but Steve is really the main guy. The catalogue runs to about seven titles in about ten years, but there's more to come. This Summer, we have plans for at least one more title. We may even put the Banned from Utopia on there; I don't really know yet.
Q: Do you enjoy playing with the Banned from Utopia?
BF: Yeah, it's fun. It's a band where we have to really start playing more of our stuff. We had a good tour last Fall, but we need to start playing more original material. One good thing about it is that we get to choose which songs of Frank's we play, so we had the chance to play the songs we hadn't played for a long time, like 'The Be-Bop Tango' and 'Echidna's Arf'. We hadn't played those in twenty-somehing years. We never played those in 1988, so I think it was really good for us.
It was nice to see the fans and talk to the people. A lot of times when we did a big show with Frank, we didn't even meet the people. This time, you can meet them and hang out some. I really enjoyed that. So maybe we'll do that again ...
But we're definitely going to play a lot of Arthur Barrow's tunes as well as Frank's. We don't just want to be a cover band. We've already played with Frank, so why would we want to play just like the Muffin Men or something? It's crazy.
Q: What about your earliest history?
BF: My parents were great. They didn't push music down our throats, but they exposed us to it in what I think was the right way. They just played us Beethoven and other great music, so that when I was seven, I can remember hearing that stuff. After Beethoven, and I really like his Seventh Symphony for some reason, I began listening to Ellington, and my parents started playing us jazz.
I started on the trombone at about nine or ten, but I was serious by the time I was about twelve. I practised a lot – our parents made us practise an hour a day, but we just started playing together and it was a lot more than that. I studied with some classical trombone teachers and learned how to read. I played in some orchestras, and at high school. I never had any plans, never thought about the future, and then at the end of my teenage days, I just went to college – North Texas State which is a music school. Partly a jazz school. They had some killer jazz bands, big bands. They were ridiculous and there was also a reading band, sight-reading all kinds of music. A lot of the guys in those bands are still making big bucks. At least four of the musicians I played with went on to play with Frank: Tom Malone, Sal Marquez, Lou Marini and myself. Great band. Plus the school had a lot of serious jazz players and they were older. They'd been in the Army and got out and went to college. They didn't care about school that much; they just wanted to play. We had all kinds of sessions.
Then I went to the University of Utah which is a math and computer place which was really good. Utah was the cool spot, but I learnt something at North Texas too. This was 1969 and my friends were going to Vietnam and getting themselves killed. I wasn't too happy about that, especially when it all made no sense. But we all got swept up in the culture of the time. My father had battles with the conservative music teachers. That affected my school a lot because I was taking a lot of math classes at the time, so these disputes distracted me from the other stuff. Then Frank called. Before that I went to play with Woody Herman's band. I played some electric trombone. (End of tape)
BF: I had to play classical stuff. I think the thing is that you either play the trombone right or you play it wrong. It doesn't matter what kind of music; it's either right or wrong. Within 'right', there's an infinite number of ways of being 'right'. It depends on your own body. The main thing is to be comfortable. I think that's true of any instrument. I think the key thing on improvisation and everything is to listen to the notes coming out the instrument and listen to everyone's notes with your conscious mind. If your mind is on the notes, then that's when you play the best. You have to ignore the mistakes and when you can completely ignore them, then they don't exist any more and it's impossible to even make a mistake because your concentration is just on pure music. That's the ultimate feeling. When you're done, you can't remember anything, but you know it was great. You have an impression of it because it happened in your brain and your body, but your body is part of your brain – it's all the nerves ...
You hear the sound coming in your ear, then your sound comes out your horn. Inbetween you did this thing with your hands and your lips, all automatically and all perfectly, because your mind wasn't making any value judgements. That didn't happen with Frank very often. It did happen on things that we'd learned, because we knew the parts so well we could lose ourselves in the notes. But improvising, it was hard to play with him a lot of the time because the backgrounds were so controlled that you just had a vamp to play over. You just didn't get that intimate feeling that you can with a small group. It has to be a little freer than that. But there were times when it was really fun and we did play really well. In general, it was a different concept. This feeling I'm talking about is pretty rare.
Q: Did you ever talk to Frank about this sense of improvisation?
BF: I think I told him what I thought about this thing. But his thing was so different. The bands were so loud. Frank was the instigator of everything. If we were going to play some real improvisation, he would be out there conducting it, so in a sense, it never happened. It was a different thing, but it was also a good thing. That conducting thing is like he's improvising as a conductor which is fun for all of us, but it's not the same thing as what I'm talking about. You can't do that at a rock concert because everything has to happen now.
Q: Did it take long to learn the hand signals?
BF: Some of them took zero time because it was just intuitive, but others were distinct signals. Most of those were really easy to learn. There were a few that I never learnt (laughs) especially on the 1988 tour. I just couldn't remember them for some reason. We memorised a lot of music, over a hundred tunes. The horns were in rehearsal for two and a half months, eight hours a day, five days a week.
Read by OCR software. If you spot errors, let me know afka (at) afka.net