In the early ’50s, Tony Scott hired a young drummer from Philadelphia named Joe Jones. To avoid confusion with Count Basie’s famous drummer (Jo Jones), Scott would introduce his drummer by saying, “This is the Joe Jones from Philly.” Eventually, the younger Jones requested that Scott refer to him as “Philly Joe,” and he subsequently had his name legally changed to Philly Joe Jones.
After working with a variety of bands and musicians, Philly Joe gained notoriety by joining the Miles Davis quintet in 1954. It was no secret that he was Miles’ favorite drummer, and stories are told of Miles telling his later drummers, “Try to play like Philly Joe.”
For the last several years, Joe has been leading his own groups, and he has also authored an innovative book on brush technique. He recently took lime to sit down for Modern Drummer and talk about his life and some of his philosophies.
PJJ: Drums have always been my choice of an instrument. I had an opportunity to pick several instruments because my maternal grandmother made all of her daughters take music, and really get into it deeply. From the beginning they were playing classics. One played the violin, another played tenor saxophone, and they all played piano, because my grandmother played piano. So my grandmother made my mother and all of my aunts take piano, and likewise, they made all their children take piano. All of my cousins play piano. I looked at all the instruments and said, “The drums are what I want.” I didn’t want to play the piano, although I used to have to take lessons. But I shied away from them because I wanted to play drums.
My drum thing was interrupted because I went into the service after I got out of high-school, and I didn’t get a chance to play the drums on the military base all of the time. But I used to go over to where the band would play on the post, and I’d sit-in and have a good time. When I got out of the service, I drove a streetcar in this city (Philadelphia), and while I was doing that, I bought my first drums. I took them down in the cellar where I lived, and just went to it, until I thought I was ready to come out of that cellar. When I finally decided I was ready, I went out and got a job. I still worked on the streetcar, and played drums at night. Finally, the club owner I was working for decided to give us the job for the whole year. After I was there about 6 months, I quit my streetcar job and figured I would launch my career professionally and stay in the music business. I was making decent money then. I kept doing that until I got tired of being in Philadelphia. I felt I was ready for New York, so I packed up and moved there. That was about 1947 or ’48.
When I got to New York I joined a rhythm-and-blues band right away, with Joe Morris, Johnny Griffin, Elmo Hope, and Percy Heath. It was an 8-piece group. We barnstormed all over the country, from Key West, to Maine, to California. I stayed with them for 3 or 4 years, I guess. Joe Morris had a lot of hits at that time. Today, you speak about a band having a number-one hit on the charts. In those days, Joe Morris had 3 or 4 hits going at once. He was making good money because he worked all the time.
After I left his band, I was in the Highlanders with Tiny Grimes. We had kilts and all that. I was not in that band too long. Then I went to Bull Moose Jackson’s band, which was another rhythm-and-blues band. Most of the bands in those days played rhythm-andblues and I did a lot of playing with groups like that. I was on the road with Jackson’s band for a good while, and then I was in Arnett Cobb’s band for a little while after that.
Finally, I decided that I was going to stay in New York and freelance. I didn’t want to travel anymore. I just got tired of the road. This was in the early ’50s. I did an album with Lou Donaldson, Clifford Brown, Percy, and Elmo. That really launched my career in the recording business. I started getting a lot of record dates thrown my way. They were really coming fast, and I was the most-recorded drummer in New York for about a 10 or 12 year period. My discography is very long. I started making records with everybody. I did so many cats’ first album. I did Freddie Hubbard’s first, Lee Morgan’s first, ‘Trane’s second. All the young stars would ask me to play drums with them when they were coming up. Sometimes I’d be doing 2 or 3 dates a day! I had drums in one studio, and another set in another studio, because I didn’t have time to set them up. I’d just grab the cymbals and run. I’d maybe finish one date at 3:00 in the afternoon, and be on another one at 4:30, at a different studio.
Then I started getting some big-band dates. My reading ability was fairly good at that time, but it wasn’t up to par like it should have been. I knew I was going to get a lot of dates with some heavy music involved, so I went to Cozy (Cole) and started studying. Cozy had a magnificent school. Even Max (Roach) and old-man (Jo) Jones were taking some advanced things with Cozy. So I started studying with Cozy, and then I really didn’t want to leave New York because I was getting so much from him. He really opened my eyes to my faults, and showed me how to get strength with my hands. He was very rough on me. He’d give you a lesson for the week, and when you came back the next week, you would have to play that lesson for him all the way through without a mistake before you’d go to the next one. I had a few that I had to take over to the next week, but not too many. Mainly, he straightened out my reading, and I’ve never had any problem with it since.
I was doing all those record dates and getting a lot of experience. When Louis Bellson left Duke Ellington’s band, I went over and made the audition. They were at the Band Box, next-door to Birdland, where I was working. At that time. Duke had Johnny Hodges, Ben Webster, Oscar Pettiford, Tony Scott, Clark Terry, Ray Nance—all the old mainstays. I made the audition and Duke said, “All right, you’ve got the job.” So I had to go up to the Apollo theater and stand behind the bandstand and listen to Louie play the arrangements, because there was no drum book. Louie Bellson threw the book away because he didn’t need it. There were no parts for me to read, so while they played, I listened. When Louie left, I knew the arrangements. I didn’t stay with Duke too long because that meant the road again. At that time, sidemen on the road were not making much money. I could make more staying in town. Playing with Duke was an honor, and I would have enjoyed it I know, but I thought it would be better for me to stay in New York and play and make records with all the different giants.
Miles Davis was the only group I gave up New York to go out with. That was in ’54, and it was my greatest experience in the music business. I don’t think I’ll ever be associated with four people like Miles, ‘Trane, Red (Garland), and Paul (Chambers) again. That was like a factory. We were all learning from each other. Miles was really the teacher. Everything he would say to you was valuable. Now, when I look back, I realize how much I learned from him about rhythm and time, and how to play around with the time and still have it right. That was a total experience.
I must have left Miles 2 or 3 times, but then I’d think about it, and he would call up and say, “Come on back to work,” and I’d go back. Then I would get restless again. I didn’t like the road too much. I’m doing it now, but it doesn’t seem so bad. Maybe it’s because it is my band now. Travelling with someone else was getting on my nerves. You don’t make much money. If it is your band you will get a little more out of it. Even though you have the responsibility of taking care of the other musicians, it compensates a little better, so I prefer it that way.
I say I don’t like to travel, but I do a lot of travelling anyway. I’m getting ready to go to Paris for 2 weeks. Then I’m coming back home, then I’m going back for a tour. I enjoy playing in Europe more than I do playing the States. The people over there are better recipients of the music—they love it and they come out. If you open in a club there, that club will be crowded every night. And the people are very appreciative. They don’t make a lot of noise and they listen to what you play. You do a lot of autograph signing and whatnot, but that’s part of the game. It’s the same way in Japan. I’ve played over there many times. I was over there one year with Max Roach, Roy Haynes, and Shelly Manne, doing a 4-drummer thing for about a month. Then I did another tour with Buddy Rich, Louie Bellson, and Charli Persip.
After making those trips for George Wein, I went out with Bill Evans for a while. Bill and I were friends for a long time, so when he asked me to come and work with him, I said, “Okay.” I travelled with Bill and Eddie Gomez a little while, and then I got restless again, so I decided I would put my own group together. My group worked around New York, and we went to Europe, and we recorded. Then I wound up going back to work with Bill again in the ’70s. I travelled with Bill all over. He worked everywhere!
When we got back from a trip to Japan, I was feeling restless again from being on the road and not having any time at home. I decided to see if I could just work for myself, and have a little more time with my wife. So I put together my own group again so I could pick my shots and do it the way I want to do it. I’m happier here in Philadelphia than I was in New York because I was born and raised here. The pace is a little slower. We’re only an hour and a half away from New York, so if I want all that, I can just jump on the train or drive, and enjoy it, and then get out of it. New York is a jungle. This city is a jungle too in some respects, but not like New York. Here, I can leave my door open for a few minutes and not worry about it. You can’t do that in New York. I know because I lived there for 24 years. So now I’m staying home more and enjoying myself.
I want to get out and do some commercials or TV talk shows. It’s sad when you look at TV and see all the commercials and shows where they use music, and they only use rock groups. They never use groups that play our kind of music. That’s ridiculous, because a lot of people come out and hear us. There are some excellent musicians playing our music, and I don’t see why there’re not doing some of the commercials, or shows like Merv Griffin, John Davidson, Mike Douglas or Johnny Carson. Those shows never have jazz groups, and that helps keep the people ignorant of our music. They don’t hear it on TV. They might get one shot of somebody for a few minutes, but it’s not like rock, where you’ve got a program on almost every night. Maybe in the near future, some of the people who produce these things will open their eyes. I know that a lot of the music I hear on commercials doesn’t appeal to me at all.
I can listen to rock music if it’s good, and I enjoy it. Some of it, but not all of it. Some of it musically is noise. Very few rock players are really excellent musicians, especially some of the drummers. Instead of me just listening to a drummer to enjoy myself, I look from a teacher’s point of view, so I notice all of his faults. I think it’s ridiculous to see them making those moves on the drums, using taped drum heads, using their hands wrong, playing drums with a whole lot of body rhythm. The body isn’t in it; it’s your wrists and your hands and your feet. Some of those drummers are shaking so much that it looks like they’re playing, but they’re not. There are a lot of good rock drummers, like Bobby Columby and Ginger Baker, but I haven’t heard many real dynamic ones.
In the kind of music we play, you find some spectacular drummers; people like Max Roach, Roy Haynes, Art Blakey, even Buddy Rich, cats that can play, but they don’t make that kind of rock money. Rock musicians make thousands and thousands of dollars providing that noise. It makes me sick sometimes. You know, if you’ve been playing 30 years, and contributing to the business, and you’re one of the forerunners, and you don’t get any money out of it, it doesn’t make sense. I don’t see why it shouldn’t be turned around.
I learned from the fellows I just mentioned and I know other drummers are learning. Look at Elvin. He is a teacher. He’s out on the road all the time. People and drummers hear him and they learn things. When I’m in different towns, sometimes I’ll be in my hotel room and I’ll get a phone call from some of the drummers in the city who want to know if I have an hour or two that I can spend with them while I’m in town. A lot of times I’m working and I’m tired, but I seldom refuse them. I say, “Okay.” If they want to pay me, I’ll sit down and take some time with them, and genuinely work with them. It’s not a sham lesson. I really take an interest in what the drummer is after. If I can help him find it—I do that. I’m sure all the other fellows do that now and then. You can’t make a practice of it always because you’re busy on the road.
I don’t like to play the drums in the daytime if I’m working at night. I don’t like to touch them. I’m going to get to it at night when I get to the stand, so I let my hands rest. I very rarely practice anyway. It used to be, there wouldn’t be a day go by that I didn’t touch the drums some kind of way, but today, I seldom touch them unless I’m teaching. After 37 years, your hands get trained if you play as much as I played. My hands really never get out of shape because they’ve been in shape for so long. If I’ve been off for two weeks and then go back to work, the first tune loosens me right up. After the first tune, it’s like I had never been away from them. It’s that way with all the professionals that do this all the time. Saxophone players or trumpet players have to keep their horn in their mouth to keep their emboucher in shape, but drummers don’t have to worry about that.
I’ve had a good time in the business up to now, and I hope I have quite a few more years of it. I’m having a very good time now, travelling with my own group. I feel a little better with myself. I’m enjoying it much more.
RM: Who were the drummers that helped you in Philadelphia?
PJJ: The first guy that started me was James “Coatsville” Harris. We called him that because he came from Coatsville. He sat me down at the drum seat and said, “Here is what you have to do.” He told me, “You’re going to be a good drummer one day.” I had several drummers in town here to learn from, because Philadelphia has boasted some very good drummers. All of them didn’t become real big in the business, but many of them are still playing and they sound very, very good. Bobby Durham lives here. He’s a fine drummer. There are a lot of good young drummers coming up. I have a student named Greg Buford who has studied with me for about 2 years and he’s an excellent l i t t l e drummer. You’re going to hear more from him soon.
The good jobs here are very few. If I wanted to, I could work in this city every week, if I wanted to work for the little money they pay. I can’t afford to do that. I’d rather not work at all. I am working now, but it is a room where I’m comfortable. Here, I pick my shots. I work in the best places, but you can’t work in the best places all the time because they want to have different groups in there. I’m out of town a lot, but when I come home, if I feel like I want to work. I contact somebody.
Right now, I feel like playing because I’m getting ready to go to Europe and I want to be in top form. I have not been in Paris in 5 years now. I have a nice following over there. Every time I play there people come out. I know a lot of people there because I used to live there. So when I go over, they’re very happy to see me. They remember me and they like musicians. I like to go over and travel and stay awhile, but I don’t think I want to live in Europe again, as much as I love it. Even though you are having fun. There is something about this country that you miss.
RM: Did you know people like Max when you were still in Philadelphia?
PJJ: Oh yes indeed! I told you I used to drive a streetcar. Art Blakey used to come to town and get on the car when I was working. Max did the same thing. When Max was in town, I used to go out at night and hear him. then I’d go over during the day and see him. I was driving a delivery truck and he’d get in and talk to me while I was driving around the city. Sid Catlett used to show me a lot of things. I learned so many different ways of playing the brushes from studying with Sid. He was a fabulous brush-man. These people knew I was serious about the drums and so they would help me. They would come where I was working sometimes and encourage me. I’d come off the stand and they would talk to me and say things like, “You’re beginning to sound good Joe. You’re doing this and you’re doing that.” I’d say, “Yeah, but I’d like to do some of that brushwork that you do. Why don’t you show me that?” And they’d say, “You know where I live. Come on over. ” And that’s what I’d do. I used to go to Max’s house in Brooklyn and he would help me. Max has always been a fabulous musician. He drove down from Connecticut the other night on business and then came to the Syncopation to see me. That was an honor! He came all that way to spend an evening with me after finishing his business. I happened to look up and the club owner was waving at me and pointing, and I was thinking, “What’s he pointing at?” I looked over to the side and Max was sitting at a table. It was a surprise and an honor to have him come down because he is one of my favorites.
Kenny Clarke was my guru. That’s why I’m eager to go to Paris, because Kenny is like the elder statesman to all of us. He was the forerunner. He’s the one who started playing the way we play today. When I lived in Paris, I would hang out with him all the time. In fact, I was at the school where he was teaching. Kenny was the top teacher there and he used to have me come out two days a week and teach the drummers brushwork.
I’ve had a lot of drummers influence me. I was in Buddy Rich’s band in ’51, right after I left Duke Ellington. I played in Englewood, New Jersey with Buddy Rich. Buddy would play a big solo once a night, and the rest of the time, he would direct the band, and even sing! I would play the show. He didn’t want to play that music all night long. He would come up on the stand and play a spotlight and that would be it for him. I would play all the rest of the music.
To be a drummer and play in his band is hard, because Buddy will look at a drummer like, “What the hell are you playing?” I’ve heard him say that to other drummers. In fact, when I got the job, I went down to his rehearsal and he was throwing sticks at a drummer. He was saying, “Get off the bandstand. I don’t know what you’re playing.” Allan Enger recommended me for the job, so I went in and Buddy said, “You want a job?” I was taken aback. “Sure I want a job.” He said, “Go ahead—play this music.” So I sat in with the band and got the job.
He used to stop at the Alvin Hotel every night and pick me up on his way to work. Buddy Rich is beautiful. He is such a giant in the business that most drummers get a chill when they’re around him, but that’s because they don’t know him. I hear people talk, but I don’t pay any attention to what I hear, I go by what I know. Buddy is very warm. He loves drums and he loves drummers, when they play. He will say it. He’s made many statements about different drummers. He says what he likes and what he doesn’t like. He’s entitled to his opinion.
Just like my opinion. If I don’t like a drummer, I’ll say so. If I can’t learn anything from a drummer, I don’t like him that much. I see a lot of young drummers that are fantastic. They might have some shortcomings, but they’ll overcome them. It takes time. I’m still studying the instrument. I can handle it, but I learn something every time I play. With my control of the instrument, I’ll take chances. I’ll try anything. If I dream up something while I’m playing, I’ll attempt it, because if I mess up, I know how to get out of it. I’ll keep trying it until I do it. A lot of things I play are right off the top of my head. Many times, as soon as a thought comes into my mind, it goes right to my hands. If I fluff it somehow, you never know it, but I’ll know it. There are a few things I won’t attempt on the stand because if I miss it, I won’t be able to clean it up. So I work with it in the house untilI get it under control, and then I’ll start doing it on the stand. I’ll do it every night until I really get it down. Attempting things is dangerous if you don’t have some experience.
I had a lot of fun in Buddy’s band. Buddy is funny. He don’t show nobody nothin’. I’d ask him, “Come on, man. Where do you get all of that power?” He would give me little suggestions about things I could do to get power. Not too much, but he would give me just enough and I would take it home and work on it. So I’ve been close to a whole lot of great drummers. You take all the things you’ve learned from each of them, and put it all together, and it’s a lot of help.
I’ve never been too proud to ask. Even today, if I see a young drummer do something, I’ll say, “Man, do that again. Let me see that.” I learn by doing that. If you get such a big head that you think you’re the greatest, then something is wrong with you. There is always somebody for you to learn from. I know what I can play and what I can’t play, and when I hear a good drummer I stay a while. Whenever Max or Buddy or Elvin or Roy Haynes or any good drummer is in town, if I’m not working, I go where they’re at. I’ll drive to New York if somebody I want to see is working there. They always tell me, “If you’re in the vicinity, come on by.” Sure I’ll go by. I wouldn’t miss an opportunity like that.
RM: Do you enjoy playing at the big jazz festivals?
PJJ: I went to Nice with Bill Evans. While I was there I played with Dizzy and Mary Lou Williams, but mostly I played with Bill. Playing with Dizzy was an honor, but I don’t like to play like that too much because it’s a jam session. I like to play a session occasionally, but not every time I go to the stand it’s a jam. I like to play with a group where we’ve got some set music to play. I like to play a planned arrangement. When the solos start, you never know what’s going to happen there, but I know how we’re going to start, how we’re going to end, and I know how I’m going to color the arrangement.
RM: When I saw you with your 7-piece band, I noticed very serious expressions on the musicians’ faces. But you were sitting in the back smiling and looking as though you were having a ball.
PJJ: I was! For one thing, that music is very swift. You don’t have time to be messing around. You’ve got to keep your eye on that music until you really get it under your fingers, and then you can go ahead and play it. Those guys know that I’m listening and that I know everything that’s on that music and I know when they’re not playing it. They get very conscious of the music because they don’t want to make any mistakes. They want to impress me that they’re doing their job. That’s why you saw all those tense faces. And then, we’d only had two rehearsals.
I like to play with the 7-piece group. Big-band is really my first love. I like to play with my quartet naturally, because I can’t afford to carry 7 pieces around the country. I don’t make that kind of money. I’d like to carry 5, but I have to carry 4. Actually, I’m paying for 5 anyway because you have to pay for the bass to fly on the plane—it can’t go on the bottom in the baggage section. When I can get a club owner to pay me a little bit more money, then I augment the group and put a trumpet or trombone in there.
I went out with 6 pieces for a while, but I was driving. We had a car and a van. But that represented that thing I was talking about before—the road. I wanted to get away from travelling in cars. Highways are so dangerous today with the way people drive. If you are transporting a 6-piece band around the country in cars and vans, by the time you get to the job, you’re dead tired. If you’ve got two jobs back-to-back, and you’ve got a long drive to do. you’ve got to get off that bandstand and get in that van, and that’s dangerous. You may have been enjoying yourself in the club and having a few drinks, and you’ve got to get in that car and drive on the highway. That’s the worst thing in the world to do. I prefer going to the airport, flying there, renting a car at the airport, going to the job, getting back, catching a plane—it’s a lot easier that way. You’re well-rested and you don’t have that road to be bothered with.
RM: Being on the road so much, do you do much teaching at home?
PJJ: Sometimes I teach by the month, or every 2 or 3 weeks. I give them enough work to cover the time I’m going to be gone. I like teaching, but I want to play a lot more before I settle down and just teach. I’d get bored just staying home and teaching. I figure I’ve got 10 or 12 more years to play before I settle down like that. If I’m feeling good ten years from now, I’ll still be playing.
RM: Do you teach beginners or just advanced students?
PJJ: I teach beginners and advanced. I’ve had 6-year-old kids and then I’ve had older fellows. I like to see them progress. I had a young fellow come to me who was really disturbed about what he wanted to do. He wanted to play the drums’, but there was a lot he didn’t know. I’d give him his lesson and he’d come back the next week and do it, and I’d give him another one and he’d do that. After he got through one book, we’d go through another one, and I’d watch him all the time. I go out and hear him play now and it makes me feel very good. It makes me proud to hear him do something we worked on, and do it professionally. He has the highest respect for me and I have the highest respect for him. His name is Paul Lagos and he has been working with John Klemmer.
I’ve had a lot of students like that in different parts of the country. Mel Brown studied with me when I was living in California. Mel was a sharp drummer when he came to me, but he got what he came for. Every time I go up that way, somebody brings me a message from him. I worked with Mel’s piano player once, and afterwards he said to me, “Now I see why Mel plays the way he does.” Mel plays in my vein. He only studied with me about a year, but since he was already professional when he came to me, he was able to learn a lot in that year. He could see what I was doing and hear it and evaluate it. With a beginner, I have to break it down and show him what it is. But with a professional, you don’t have to do that.
Some guys are good teachers, and some guys are good players, but sometimes you can find a guy who can teach and play. Some guys can’t really do a hell of a job on the bandstand, but they can prepare you to do a hell of a job. You get so many teachers that don’t teach a student themselves. In other words, they don’t give the student what they have. They’re giving something they got from somebody else. I like a teacher that can really play the drums and give you himself. I can’t teach you Elvin Jones’ method or Max Roach’s method, but some of these teachers try that. They’ll say, “This is what Max does.” and half of the time it’s not correct. There is a book out where some guy did some things of mine, and it’s not correct. He only transcribed what he heard, but the sticking is wrong. That’s not how I’m doing that. I have three books getting ready to come out, and it’s me. In these books, you can play the records and you’ll see exactly what I’m playing and you will see the hand that I’m using. You’ll know how I’m doing it because you got it from me.
RM: Do you encourage your students to listen to the early drummers?
PJJ: I always tell the students I’m working with to listen to recordings of the great jazz drummers. If they can find anything by the greats, then they can hear how the drums have moved from Chick Webb’s time to today. You can go back there and hear something that is still played today. I do a lot of things that Chick Webb used to play years ago.
I used to go and listen to Baby Dodds and be late getting back to my job. His ride cymbal would be a 15″, and he’d control it, which is hard to do. He would ride on that little cymbal and play all those funny licks he used to play on an Indian tom. No sock cymbal. I think Baby had some sock cymbals towards the end, but I caught him without them. And he’d be swinging, man! Really swinging! I used to get so much from being around him. I’d go out and hang around all those drummers. I’d store up everything I could store up, then go home and work on it. I’d ask about it and go home and write it down. Today—the same thing. There’s so much to listen to. A lot of good drummers are coming up.
Our kind of music has never been dead. It has been pushed in the background a l i t t l e bit, but after the people get tired of hearing all that noise, they still come back for us. The hardest job we have today is teaching our youth about our music, because they come up hearing all this other music and they don’t ever know anything about our music. They don’t even know anything about the people that pioneered it. They can go to school and hear about Beethoven and Franz Liszt and Bach and Cho pin and all that, but they can’t hear anything about Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Art Tatum or any of those people. Then when they hear our music being played, they ignore it. Unless their parents have it around the house, they don’t hear i t . The only people they hear about are people like Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey.
RM: You are probably considered to be the authority on brushes.
PJJ: I’ve made a study of it. I have another book coming out on brushes. The first book hasn’t been distributed properly because Premier is not shipping it like they should. It’s been out since ’69. They send me royalties on it. but not like they should.
I travel a lot and I go in drum stores and see what’s out, and I like to look through the books, and I notice if they’ve got mine. A lot of people in the stores recognize me, and they will have me autograph the Premier poster, and a lot of times they’ll say, “Why don’t you tell them to send your book to us?” I tell the guys in the store to call Premier and ask for it. I can’t get them myself. I tried to get some to use in my teaching, and I couldn’t. I had to Xerox some. So they do a bad job of distribution, and it makes me sick about it.
I have another book I want to put out on brushes. The first book was only 12 ways of playing brushes—I have 36 different ways that I use. There are 24 more that I could be giving to drummers. But I want the first book to run its full gamut before I publish the second. The others are a little more complicated, but they can be done. With the other books I’m going to put out, I’ve found another way of giving it to the drummer so it will be much easier to read. I have a lot of drummers catch me in a city, and they come by my hotel room with the book, and if something is bothering them, I ‘ l l sit them down and say, “Look here,” and it opens their eyes up. When I had a few drummers come to me like that, it made me say to myself, “In the next book, I’m going to show it to them different.” The way it’s written is simple if you follow the instructions.
RM: I take it that your next books will not be published by Premier.
PJJ: They certainly won’t! If I have to, I’ll publish them myself. A trumpet player named Don Sickler is helping with that.
I feel that first book should be in all the drum stores in all the major cities. I see other books that are in every store. Every store I go in that has it. The guys tell me it sells well. And owners know what sells. Here’s a book that sells well, but the company won’t send it out. That makes me sick also.
RM: You must like Premier drums, though.
PJJ: Oh yeah. I really like their drums. I wouldn’t be with them if I didn’t like their drums. I like the snare drum more than anything. Their snare drum is the perfect drum for me. They make a good drum and I don’t have any trouble getting them. The only problem I ever have is getting parts.
I see some of the ads for Premier. Some of those drummers have drums all around—more drums than Louie Bellson! What do they do with all of those drums? A lot of drummers like to have all that stuff just for looks, and sometimes during the night never even touch some of the drums. I use two tom-toms up here, and two on the floor. I might decide to use some more drums sometime, but I wouldn’t have all those drums if I wasn’t going to use them. I don’t even take the second floor-tom with me all of the time when I’m travelling, because it’s extra weight on the plane. I’m so used to that drum being there though that sometimes I’ll start to do something and forget that it isn’t there.
RM: Are you doing much recording these days’?
PJJ: The recording industry has really slumped down. I record now and then. Primarily I’ve been doing my own dates. I used to make all those recordings in New York in the ’50s and ’60s, but that industry is dead now. They’re not recording like they used to. They used to do everybody! They still do a lot of recording, but it’s not our level of music. The Japanese are making a lot of records, but they take them out of the country and produce them in Japan. I did an album at Storyville 5 years ago and it hasn’t been released in this country yet. You can get it in this country, but only by way of Japan. There’s a clause in the contract that says they can produce it in Japan for 5 years and then bring it over here, so it’s about due. In Los Angeles there’s a little bit of recording going on, but not as much as there used to be. I lived out there for quite a few years too, and I was doing a lot of records there. Today it is a little different. Fantasy is beginning to change their jazz policy. Galaxy was my last label, but I think they’re terminating everybody. After you run out your contract they don’t renew it because I think the label’s going out of business. So I’ve done my last one for them.
RM: One of my favorite albums is the one you and Elvin did together.
PJJ: That was my album and I had to select the drummer I wanted, and it was Art Blakey. So Art agreed to do the date with me, but the day before we had to do it, something happened with Art and he couldn’t make it. So my second choice was Elvin. It came out nice, but it was originally written up for Art, because at that time, I related to Art more so than to Elvin. Elvin and I have been friends for a long time, and played opposite each other at many Gretsch nights, but back at that time, I wanted to do the album with Art Blakey. Back then, Art’s name was bigger than Elvin’s, and when you’re doing an album, you want to get all the strength on it you can.
The record companies have never given me my correct money for that album. I’ll have to have my lawyer take care of that. They tell me I still have a debit balance, but that album has been out a long time, and it’s still selling in Europe and Japan. So there have got to be royalties coming from it. I can’t still be in debt after all these years. So I’ll have to have an accountant check it out. I’m in the process of doing that with all of my albums. Every time I ask Fantasy about my foreign royalties, they tell me, “The girl is behind, Joe. She has to catch up.” How many years does it take to catch up? About six months ago, Orrin Keepnews told me they were going to get it together. They still haven’t. I hope they read this. I was in Japan recently, and after we played, people were bringing these albums backstage for autographs. I go in the stores in Japan, and all these albums are in the racks. They’re still selling all of my albums, so there’s a royalty due on them. I’m not asking for nothing that doesn’t belong to me. My royalties are probably in the bank, drawing interest for somebody else.
This industry can be rough unless you get an iron-clad contract. Everybody wants to make records—I certainly do—but you’ve got to get a fair shake. They won’t automatically send you your money. You’ve got to get on them.
But it’s still a good business and I can’t think of anything I would rather do. I’m still studying my instrument and getting more involved with piano. I wish I had studied it more when I was a child. The piano is the basis for writing, and I want to do a lot more writing. So I’ve got a lot of studying to do so I can really write something that is worthwhile listening to.
When I’m going to play someone else’s music, I try to sit down at the piano and play through it. Then it is easy for me to play it on the drums because I know what the music is about and I see exactly what it’s doing. If I’m playing a tune, I really like to know it. I don’t like to take a shot at playing a tune I don’t know. I never do that with my group. I tell everybody in the group, “Listen, if you don’t know the tune—don’t play.” You can’t play at it. If somebody asks you if you know a tune and you say, “I think I know it,” don’t play. Don’t play if you think you know it—play it if you know you know it. I think it’s a cardinal sin to play somebody’s music wrong. Somebody sat down and wrote it out, and worked with it and worked with it, and then you play it and mess it up! That’s a cardinal sin! Imagine how the writer must feel.
RM: You seem to be working in New York quite a bit.
PJJ: I have several clubs in New York that I work in. I’ve been working at the Syncopation a lot. We’ve had some good nights there. Once when I was there for three nights, Bill Cosby came in two of the nights. I took off one set because Bill wanted to go up and play drums. So I said, “Go ahead and play.” He’s in and out of that club a lot, and he plays drums well.
He should do some commercials with our music since he likes it so much. That would be one way of breaking through. Our music is a good art form whether they want to recognize it or not. People get turned off because you have guys out there who are on the bandstand before they are ready for it. People hear them and think that’s what they’re going to hear when they hear us. In other words, they get it second-hand. I don’t like that. People don’t get a chance to hear the finer exponents of the music. They listen to some kids and draw their conclusions right there. They won’t come out and listen to the professionals that have been playing for 25 or 30 years. They’re turned off by the amateurs. Owners should not allow amateurs to go in a club and make noise. It only makes it bad for the business. If you’re qualified—good! If you’re not, find out how to do it before you go on the bandstand.
RM: Does the average club owner know the difference?
PJJ: You’ve got some club owners who don’t care about the music. But I’ve had some owners say, “Look, I have to be here for 8 hours, so I want some good music to make the night go easier.” Even the waiters and waitresses are tickled to death when a good group comes. But when the band is bad, everybody who works there is saying, “Man, I’ll be glad when this group gets out of here.” They hear it every night, so they know the difference. It’s a pleasure when you come into a club with your own group and hear people say, “We’ll have a good time this week!”
You’d be surprised at how good it makes you feel when you send an audience home happy. I feel good when I hear people go out saying, “Man, I really enjoyed myself tonight.” You might help somebody get through the next day, or even the next few days. Somebody might be at work thinking, “Boy, I had a good time Monday night!” I feel good when it’s like that. People come up and say, “I really enjoyed it Philly. I’m going to come and catch you again sometime.” I enjoy that. When you see the house is crowded, it really makes you want to play. It is profound fulfillment to know that you are contributing to someone’s happiness—even your own.