By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Then I met Eric Dolphy. He was still in high school, he was a little younger. We studied with Lloyd Reese together. With Lloyd, we had a five-piece sax session on Saturday, and Eric was in it. Lloyd taught us how to play harmony, and how to play arrangements and different ways of doing things. I used to put Eric up; he lived with his mother, and I had a car.He was living down near Watts, right?
Yeah, most of the black population lived out that way. So I lived down in Echo Park at Sunset, and I’d go by and pick him up and take him to Lloyd’s on Saturday.What was he like? Quiet and sensitive?
No, but he was when it came to music. He used to practice for 15 hours a day. This is when he was maybe 16 years old. If you wanna play the horn, you gotta put time into it. If you don’t do it, you can’t play it, and Eric was the epitome of it. Then we’d go to these jam sessions at different black churches, and we’d listen to guys like Sonny Criss, Teddy Edwards, and they would all be playing at these outdoor church socials. We’d go down on Sundays to the Downbeat Club on Central Avenue, to the Last Word, Jack’s Basket . . .What year are we talking?
1951, ’50, ’49. And there I am down there, and Charlie Parker came to town, so I got to meet Charlie Parker. You know Ernie Andrews, the singer? He was there. Cab Calloway, too. They came here to work at these different clubs, and hung out on Central, or at the Watkins Hotel on Western and Adams, where Johnny Hodges stayed. It was a very famous black hotel — the hotels were segregated then. There were very few white people around there.So Central Avenue was happening, but what about Hollywood?
There were just a few clubs in Hollywood. Around ’47, ’48, ’49, there were places you could work in the outlying areas, one or two clubs out in South Gate, one or two in Glendale, a couple in Hollywood. So you had to be a helluva entertainer or musician to get a gig. I worked at a bowling alley called the Emerald Cove out in Studio City, one of the first bowling alleys to have entertainment in the L.A. area. I had Marty Paich on piano; Marty was Mel Tormé’s musical conductor, did all those octet things.At the time, did you have the opportunity to play recording sessions?
Yeah, I did that starting in 1949. I worked with a guy named Steve Riggio at Western and Hollywood Boulevard. We had a house that we rented. We wanted to record, and there weren’t many studios around — everything was just in its infancy, there was just Capitol Records and a few big companies. But for the little guys, there weren’t these little studios. So we bought a Magnacorder and stuck it in the room — monaural, one track, a quarter-inch. And what we did, we were gonna do "Record Your Song." So we had this place on Hollywood Boulevard, and we started recording. And lo and behold, you know who comes and rents from us? Gerry Mulligan, and he was the first to stay. He lived upstairs — we rented the whole building, and then we subleased the rooms to musicians.Can you describe a typical day back then? Would you do sessions during the day, gig at night?
Here’s a typical day: I’d get up in the morning, and the first thing I’d do, I’d shove the saxophone into my mouth and practice.Where were you working?
I was working some black clubs — they had white owners but they had a black clientele — like with Mabel Scott at a place out there on Slauson, the Melody Room; now it’s called Memory Lane. Benny Carter was a good friend of Lloyd Reese’s, and they used to come in to hear my band. So around ’50, I said, I want to do some record dates. I’d already been doing some — I did one with Randy Idris, he wrote the "Woody Woodpecker" song, remember that? [Laughs.] Yeah, he recorded that tune in his basement, with an echo chamber.
So this was 1950, I was still in college, and I had a gig in Pasadena at Walsh’s Grill, and I had a half-hour radio show on KWKW. Everything was hectic; I was working seven days a week, 20 hours a day. And I was hanging out at Benny Carter’s house. I said, Benny, I wanna do a record deal, I got some ideas for songs. So he put me in touch with the guy that he wrote songs with, Paul Vandervoort, and then we did a couple of dates. We did a thing called "Boogie Boo," this was about ’50-’51. I used Harry "Sweets" Edison, Red Callender on bass, "Bumps" Myers on tenor saxophone . . .Meanwhile, you’re a young, ambitious player, and you’re practicing, practicing.
Every day I’m doing six to eight hours a day, and learning new material.In 1953 you opened your first club. Where’d you get the dough?