Ten years ago, Horacee Arnold seemed poised for a take-off. His Tales Of The Exonerated Flea LP—released in the heyday of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report, and Return To Forever—got the kind of reviews that many of the other fusionists only dreamt about (five stars in down beat, for example, with reviewer Marv Hohman calling it “certainly one of the year’s major accomplishments”). With sensitive writing and a cast of characters that included Jan Hammer, Rick Laird, Ralph Towner, John Abercrombie, Sonny Fortune, and Dom Um Romao, Tales Of The Exonerated Flea was certain to push Arnold to the same level of popularity as his Columbia label mates, the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Weather Report, but nothing happened.
Horacee Arnold (the second “e” is silent) was born in Wayland, Kentucky, on September 25, 1937. Before Flea, he had been a journeyman drummer with a wide range of activities—ranging from working with Rahsaan Roland Kirk to Miriam Makeba to Bud Powell to Odetta to Chick Corea to Tal Far low to Alvin Ailey—in addition to sometimes being a leader. He was also active as a teacher and a clinician, and he spent a good deal of time studying music—composition with Heiner Stadler, classical guitar with Hy Gubernik and Ralph Towner.
After Flea failed to catch fire, Horacee did a bit of free-lancing, but became more heavily involved with teaching. The last time Modern Drummer checked in with him (in the winter of 1980), he was part of Colloquium III, along with Freddie Waits and Billy Hart. On a muggy New York afternoon, in vibraphonist David Friedman’s studio, Horacee Arnold, dressed in T-shirt and gym shorts, picked things up from there.
LJ: What happened to Colloquium III?
HA: Basically, the idea of Colloquium was somewhere along the same lines as M’Boom—to develop over a long period of time and to avoid doing concert after concert after concert. We wanted to take maybe three or four years, and do spot things here and there. And we’ve done a few things over the last few years. Billy Hart’s schedule is such that we sort of have to program things around him. So we decided to put it on hold for a while, because everybody got busy in different directions. Now we’re coming back together; we’re going to do something in the fall.
LJ: Let’s talk about what else you’ve been doing in the past few years. You haven’t been that visible, have you?
HA: No, I’ve been very invisible. Part of it has been reorganizing in my head what I really want to do and what direction I want to go in. I’ve been doing a lot of writing—an awful lot of writing. I’ve been examining electronic music a little bit more, and, to a large degree, I’ve been doing a lot of teaching. I always felt very strongly about teaching, and it seems that that’s a very natural thrust for me. I love playing and I miss it a lot. I’d love to be doing a lot more playing.
I did work with Kenny Burrell during that period of time—a few short tours— and I’ve been doing some free-lance work around the City. Occasionally, I’d put together a band. I had a band called Road, with Alex Foster, Calvin Hill, and Bill O’Connell. We did a few things—something in Washington and a few concerts around the City. I also worked with Billy Harper in Europe, and I did a Japanese tour with Archie Shepp—me, Archie Shepp, Buster Williams and Mickey Tucker. We did about three or four albums in Tokyo while we were there. But basically, I’ve been keeping a very low profile and just writing a lot.
LJ: Did you become disillusioned? For a while, you had a Columbia contract and Tales Of The Exonerated Flea was getting a lot of attention. Did something turn sour?
HA: Yeah, there were a few things that turned sour—partially Columbia and partially bad management. It seems that my album was a very potent alternative to Mahavishnu, Weather Report, and Return To Forever. It seemed like the new prominent thing. But Columbia was very reluctant, because there was a lot of in-house fighting at that time; it was during the Clive Davis years.
LJ: How did your album come about in the first place?
HA: I had known John Hammond over the years, through social gatherings, and he had heard me play in different situations. I think John just basically liked me as a person. He had heard some tapes I did in Montreal, with David Friedman, Juney Booth and Bennie Maupin, and he said, “I like the tapes very much. Let’s talk a deal.” And it just started like that. John said, “You know, in a lot of ways, I like you a lot more than some of the drummers who are on the label already.” I decided on the band that I was using at the time, with David Friedman and George Mraz. Also, Ralph Towner, who’s a very good friend of mine, said he would be around and he’d be happy to do it. We just went into the studio. I wrote about three or four pieces for it. John came to all the rehearsals and said, “I think it’s ready; let’s do it.” So we did that, and that was the first album, Tribe. After that album was out, Bruce Lundvall came to me, introduced himself and said, “Horacee, you know, I really like that album. I think you’ve got a good future ahead of you.”
I thought about the album and I said, “Okay, that was a good statement. Now I’ve really got to figure out where I want to go.” I listened to everybody around at that time. Weather Report was just happening and I had already been involved with Chick Corea. I said, “Okay, this is what I want to do.” I took a summer off, sat home and wrote my butt off to come up with all this stuff. I called Jan Hammer and he said he’d be happy to do it with me. We got together, and I had written all this odd- metered stuff. He said the reason why he liked it was because, even though it was odd, it gave the feeling of a straight four. That sort of appealed to him. So he worked with me a lot on the album. Jan was are alas set to me; I have a lot of respect for his musicianship.
John Hammond came to a lot of the rehearsals, and he said he liked it a lot. He said, “I think it’ll be a strong product.” But there were a lot of in-house problems. Also, unfortunately, John suffered a heart attack at the time and wasn’t available to me. Bruce Lundvall was the man who really came to my rescue. He said, “Horacee, you need more studio time.” He got it authorized and all that. I finished the album. Bruce said it was a great product, he liked it, and he wanted Columbia to get behind it. He told me to get good management. So I went to the same guy who did Weather Report. That was one mistake, because he put all his eggs with Weather Report. It just never got off the ground. I trusted management more than I probably should have. So, with the encouragement and advice of Bruce Lundvall, I did secure management that I felt would be representative of me because of its past track record, but things just did not work out in that department at all. Management’s attitude was that, “Well, why not put together a new band and exclude some of the people, since Jan is already working with Mahavishnu.” But I had a commitment from Jan that he would be interested in doing individual things.
So I just had some misgivings about things and I just sort of backed away from that. At the same time, I had fortunately received a couple of very good grants awarded at that time—one from CAPS and one from the Endowment—just to do some writing. I decided to do that, start shopping around and see what management was available. It just wasn’t forthcoming, so I got more into teaching and more into other things.
LJ: But I remember WRVR playing the hell out of the album.
HA: I know it. We did a few things around the City, but there just wasn’t the kind of commitment in terms of a voice up there at Columbia to represent Horacee Arnold. It didn’t exist for me. John Hammond was recuperating from his heart attack and there were just a number of things. I think, if I had it to do all over again, I would have made a lot of decisions differently from the way I made them, regarding management.
LJ: So once the album was out, Columbia didn’t really help you.
HA: Right, they had nothing to do with it. There was no promotion—no ads. It’s interesting; George Butler heard the album years later and he raved about it. I said, “George, look, I’m not concerned with going into the studio and recording a new album. I’d love to do that, but I’d like to get a deal where you simply reservice the album. It’s still viable.” And he agreed with it, but that’s as far as it went.
LJ: Did you ever think of, say, getting in touch with Bruce Lundvall, who is now at Capitol, to see if there would be any interest in buying the album and reissuing it on another label?
HA: I wonder if he’d be interested. I mean, I’d like to recut that whole album, because I just felt like the album was not given a fair shake. Here it is, ten years later or more, and it was never given a fair shake.
LJ: Did that experience start to get you more into teaching or more into yourself?
HA: I think so; I think that had a lot to do with it. I think, basically, what I wanted to do was just take time out and re-examine myself—my values. And when I did, I found that they were the same; they hadn’t changed. Nothing had really changed.
LJ: Let’s go back a little bit. First, I want to know where the extra “e” on your first name comes from.
HA: [Laughs] I was born Horace: H-o-r-a- c-e. And my middle initial is E., for Emmanuel. I was living in Los Angeles and studying drums out there; I went out there with the Coast Guard. When I got back to Kentucky, I found myself working around with people like David Baker. So I said, “I might as well join the union.” I went to the union and they said, “Okay, what’s your stage name? That’s one of the things about being in the union here.” Right away I thought, “This guy has got to be kidding.” So I said, “Look, my name is Horace Arnold. I don’t intend to change it, and that’s it. What’s this big deal about a stage name?” He said, “Well, look, go home and think about it. When you get a stage name, come back and we’ll sign you up. You’ll pay your fee and that’s it.” So I went home and thought about it. I decided I wasn’t going to change my name, but I figured I’d just simply put another “e” on my name. That would change it. But I made a mistake, because it changed the pronunciation of it for a lot of people.
LJ: Tell me about Kentucky. Was there a scene there when you were coming up?
HA: I don’t know if there was a scene there. When I was growing up in Kentucky, the only jazz I heard was Jazz at the Philharmonic, which Norman Granz would bring through town. Bud Powell, Max Roach, Charlie Parker, and all those people came and played in one theater there, and then moved on. I was just a little kid, but my oldest brother, who’s really into music, established a jazz collection. He had albums by Vido Musso, Earl Bostic, Charlie Parker, right on down the line. When he left, he entrusted it to the next oldest son, and it came right down to me. In a sense, he was nurturing me and my desire for this music. So I grew up knowing that one day I wanted to play an instrument.
I left Kentucky when I was around 13 and went to Detroit where I stayed with my sister. While I was in Detroit, I heard a lot of jazz musicians. I came back to Kentucky, went into the Coast Guard in Los Angeles, and when I went back home, I used to go to a club called the Top Hat. That’s where Cannonball Adderley would play when he was stationed in Fort Knox. And a lot of musicians would come down from Nap Town [Indianapolis], like Wes Montgomery, to play. When I got out of the service, that was still happening. Kirk Lightsey and Cecil McBee were stationed at Fort Knox; they came down to Louisville and we formed a trio. That was back in 1960.
I started to get a reputation. I played with David Baker, and when Roland Kirk came to town, he asked me to play with him. That was the first important gig I ever had. We went to Indianapolis and played there for about a year, and then I realized that I had to go to New York.
One time, in the summer, Max Roach brought his group down. When he came, he was startled at the physical resemblance; there was this real close resemblance between us at the time. He had a rehearsal one afternoon and asked me to play some. I mean, I was scared, because here’s Max—my king of the drums—asking me to sit in and play some so he could hear what I sounded like. I sat in and he knew it was a duplication. I was so influenced by this man. I think I played almost every one of Max’s licks that I knew. Booker Little turned around and gave me a little nod. Max said, “Next summer I want to have you come up to Lenox, and I’ll get you a scholarship to study with me.”
So, the next year—I had been writing to Max on and off—I came to New York. Max said, “Look, I’m not going to be teaching at Lenox. Stay in New York. It’s a better school for you anyway; you’ll learn more.” For me, Max was like my big brother. He looked after me, gave me advice, and tried to get me gigs. He turned me on to a gig with Mingus, a gig with a pianist named Hasaan Ibn Ali, and a gig with Alvin Ailey, which was a very important experience for me. I toured Asia with Alvin for about three months, and Alvin was the one person who taught me about presentation, staging, and just general impact. He and I used to do things and this is where I got into doing things in cycles of eight, 11 and 13. That was the most important musical experience, as well as theatrical experience, I’ve ever had. Then, after three months in Asia, I came back and things just started opening up. I got the gig with Bud Powell at Birdland.
LJ: How long did that last?
HA: We just did the one engagement. The guy who used to own Birdland said, “Horacee, I want you to play the job—you and John Ore, with Bud.” And I couldn’t believe that he would ask me to do that. The first night I played with Bud, I couldn’t believe what was in my own playing—that that level of performance was possible. To this day, the only experience I’ve had that comes even remotely close to Bud Powell, as a pianist, is Chick Corea. I only make the comparison because Chick has the ability to rise to that level of playing; I’ve experienced it with him. But my experience with Bud was like electricity in the air. And it was like I didn’t have to play.
LJ: Was there a lot of tension involved? Wasn’t there always a lot of tension around Bud?
HA: Yeah, the first night was tension filled—from the press, from the club, from Francis Paudras, who was helping Bud. There was a lot of tension in the air; John and I were looking at each other not knowing what to expect. Bud said very little. He didn’t talk much and he didn’t want to play very long. But he would play long, and it was really something. The first night was magic, the second night was sort of so-so, the third night was back up there, and so on. After the first week, a number of different things happened, and eventually, he decided to get Roy Haynes to record with him. I don’t know if it was the name thing or whatever, but I know that the gig was really good and I had fun. Before I had worked with Bud, I replaced Clifford Jarvis in Barry Harris’ group. I didn’t know it, but Barry was actually grooming me for the gig I got with Bud.
LJ: What came after that?
HA: After that I worked some things that were a bit more secure—Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba. There’s quite a diversion in the things I’ve done. I was with Hugh and Miriam for about a year and a half. When I came back to New York and took a good long look at the jazz scene, I found I had conflicts with the attitudes of the musicians, more than anything else, because I was very, very taken aback by the kind of perimeters musicians surrounded themselves with: They were very narrow. After having worked with Alvin, I felt that there was no musical experience that I couldn’t get something from and apply in an artistic way. I listened to the music of the people in Korea, I listened to the music of the people in Burma, and I thought, “This is some happening stuff.” And then I came back here and everybody said, “The only thing happening is bebop.” I’d say, “No, that’s not true.” And I saw there was a gradual departure. It wasn’t conscious on my part, but it was just that I think musicians started to know how I felt, so they sort of stayed away from calling me or being in touch with me. But that was good, because the ones who felt like I did—such as Chick, Andrew Hill, and Richard Davis—stayed in touch with me.
Just before the first Return To Forever, Chick formed a group that included Hubert Laws, Stanley Clarke, and myself. We played the Vanguard a few times and went out to Detroit. Then Airto and Flora Purim joined, and we were doing things with percussion. But I didn’t want to travel much because I was working around New York a lot. When Chick asked me to join Stan Getz—he was there with Stanley Clarke—I turned it down. At that time, I had my own band, the Here And Now Company, with Karl Berger, Mike Lawrence, and Reggie Workman, and we were doing a lot of things around the City and getting some recognition.
LJ: How long did that last?
HA: That band lasted at least four years. Initially, Robin Kenyatta and Bill Wood were in it. Later, Sam Rivers came in the band, as did David Friedman and later Dave Samuels. We were doing a lot of concerts in schools under the sponsorship of Young Audiences; we were doing from five to ten concerts a week. So I had that, plus some of the things I’d get on my own.
Finally, after Chick left the band, I did go with Stan Getz for a few months. And the next thing I knew, Chick had really started getting Return To Forever off the ground. Steve Gadd had left that band, so I joined Return To Forever for a short while. The next thing I knew, I was really thinking more about writing and recording, and that led to Tribe and the whole thing with Columbia.
LJ: Tell me about your teaching experiences. Have you done private teaching, or has it mostly been in schools?
HA: Both. I feel very strongly about private tutelage, just to develop concept and approach on your instrument. Presently, I’m teaching at William Patterson College in New Jersey. I started there last October. Rufus Reid, Dave Samuels, Harold Mabern and a few other people are on the staff. They have a very good program; the thing I like most about it is that it really emphasizes small groups—what they call “chamber ensembles”—and I think that’s important. I plan to do a lot more playing now, but I’m going to stay at William Patterson. I’m committed to teaching. I don’t see that as my main thrust; I really see more of my main thrust, at this stage of my life, as composition and performance.
I’d also like to mention the Drummers Collective and the strides that they’re making. I’ve been associated with them for a number of years and I’ve seen the kind of growth that’s taken place there. Now it seems that they’re in a good position to be one of the most viable schools on the Eastern Seaboard in terms of giving a wide range of studies—in ethnic, in studio, in jazz, rock, funk, and the whole thing.
They’re setting up a number of classes this fall that will be earmarked for all these different areas. And you get a lot of artists coming in and out of the school—Peter Erskine, Lennie White, Billy Hart, myself—and they’re doing a lot of amazing things there.
LJ: The attitude towards drummers and the drums has changed a lot, hasn’t it?
HA: I’ve been thinking a lot about the drums as a musical instrument and the development of it over the years to a position of being equal to other instruments. For one thing, I think drummers have become a lot more knowledgeable, musically, in that there are very good writers who are drummers. It’s an important feature, because there’s a built-in problem with the drums not being a melodic instrument. Writing music, and learning music in terms of orchestra writing and all that, is a different thing for drummers, because they’re dealing with, basically, a rhythm tonality instrument. It’s not a rhythm/ melodic tonality instrument, where you can deal with melodic structures and things like that. That’s a problem, because drummers have to get away from their instrument, a lot of times, to write in terms of band concept. Nevertheless, many drummers have become more and more involved in composition. I think it’s a good thing because it goes back to the drums, when you start approaching your instrument from that standpoint. It’s not the kind of instrument where you can compose for a band, per se, but the idea can be germinated in the drums. Like, I’ve written some things on the drums that I’ve then adapted for a band. After you take it from the drums, your knowledge and feeling for writing has to be powerful enough that you can give it to someone else.
LJ: Have you studied African drums and things like that?
HA: No. The only things I came in contact with were when I was in the East with Alvin Ailey; I was in Burma, Korea and a few other places. One of the things that impressed me was the approach to drumming and music in those countries. Of course, it was handed down from generation to generation; there’s very little notation that goes on. But my studies consist mainly of composition here, with a few teachers in New York. One of the things I’ve found out is that there’s a great deal of growth for a drummer who becomes involved in composition, in terms of writ- ing and understanding all the features that, as you write, you begin to see more clearly. You see how the pieces fit together. It helps you when you go back to your instrument, in terms of performance. You get things by osmosis from doing that, and without any conscious effort, it filters into your playing.
LJ: Name some people who are doing what you’re talking about.
HA: I am. I’ve been listening to Tony Williams for a period of time in terms of his writing, and listening also to how it’s affected his playing. I know from experience that there’s always a great deal of juggling that goes on between trying to balance out writing and playing, because unless you schedule yourself very carefully, the writing can take away from practice time—time needed with the instrument. But you can get it back later on. And Tony, I think, has come a long way in his writing, judging from the more recent things I’ve heard from him.
Billy Cobham is another, but Billy wrote in a certain sphere of music, having to do mostly with Mahavishnu. He and I talked quite a bit at one point about that, and I have a healthy respect for what he’s done as a composer.
LJ:A lot of this must come into play with the Colloquium.
HA: Yes quite a bit of it, because when I write for them, I always consider the other personalities, and I think the same is true for Freddie and Billy. Not so much the other drummer, but the other person—his thrust, his strong points, who would be most suited for this particular role as opposed to these other two roles. So a lot of that comes into play. And learning to write for an individual is another challenge, as opposed to just writing a piece of music. I think it’s an important feature and one that many drummers today are, fortunately, becoming aware of—that there’s really a need to get some compositional tools under their fingers. It pays off in a lot of ways, not just in terms of musicianship, but also when it comes to having something published, getting royalties and things like that.
LJ: I think the study of composition has got to help young drummers become better soloists.
HA: Absolutely. There’s a definite need to structure. When it comes to that, the outstanding person, in my mind, is Max, because he’s the perfect composer for that instrument. And Elvin has taken it another step further. Jack DeJohnette is another. I think the master drummers are basically composers at heart. And that’s an important feature, because that’s one of the things that holds the ear or touches somebody. The exhibitionism attached to technical skills doesn’t quite do the whole job.
LJ: That’s not just true for drummers; that’s true for everybody.
HA: Right. Absolutely.
LJ: Because most drummers want to solo now, but I don’t think a lot of drummers are equipped to solo.
HA: Yeah, I think that’s true, too, because there’s a point of thought in terms of rhythmic structure, ideas and phrases that says something to somebody else, that speaks out, and that has strong content. And if that’s not present, then, a lot of times, what one might get off on is the dis- play of muscles.
LJ: Which audiences seem to love.
HA: That’s the unfortunate part.
LJ: It’s like a guitarist wailing away on one note.
HA: But you know, the thing about that is, if you take a particular note and bend it a certain way, it touches you. There is something about melodic instruments that allows them to get away with that—the ability to take one note and reach somebody quickly.
LJ: But you have to be a very expressive musician to pull it off.
HA: That’s true. So one of the things I’d like to give to drummers is the encouragement to think very seriously about equipping themselves with some compositional skills that are going to come back to them later on down the line. If they invest the time and energy into it, it’ll come back.
LJ: You’ve always been a very active clinician. Are you still doing a lot of clinics?
HA: Yeah, I’m still involved in doing clinics and that’s one thing that’s been very important to me. I am now an endorsee of Yamaha drums. They’re a very fast-moving, progressive company and they’re really interested in the full spectrum of percussion, in terms of education, performance, and all of that.
I find clinics very satisfying. I enjoy people, I enjoy giving stuff out and I enjoy getting stuff back. I learn a lot from the questions they ask, so I thrive very much on doing clinics.
LJ: Tell me about your own equipment.
HA: I’m using three mounted toms and a 20″ and a 22″ on the right—and I’m using an 18″ K. Zildjian crash. The heads are all Yamaha heads. The heads that the factory ships sound good on the drums. I tried some different ones, but the basic heads that come with them are fine.
LJ: What’s in the future, Horacee?
HA: I think now is the right time for me to do things. I’ve put together a band that I like very much—this band with Alex Foster. The band was called Road, but the name is on hold. The band consists of myself, Alex Foster, and, possibly, Anthony Cox and Bill Frissel. Bill did a concert with me over at William Patterson, and I fell in love with his playing; he does wonders for my music. So I think I’ll try to get it off the ground.
LJ: The Horacee Arnold Quartet?
HA: No, it’s not going to be the Horacee Arnold Quartet—if anything, perhaps the Horacee Arnold Group, or something to that effect. But my name will be out front.
LJ: Any gigs lined up?
HA: I want to record first. Like everybody else, I’ve been looking at the record industry and trying to see what’s available. I’ve come to the conclusion that, as far as the record companies go, it doesn’t seem that they’re concerned about the quality of music. It’s very political. I’m trying to find out how I can maintain what I do and, at the same time, get something across. I feel very strongly that a record is the most important thing for me to do at this time.
The other thing I should tell you is that I’m also in the process of doing a duet tape with Anthony Cox. We’ve been working on the outline for a duet album. I’m going to program some synthesizers for the background, but otherwise it will just be acoustic drums and acoustic bass. And, of course, I’m also looking forward to work- ing with Colloquium III again.
LJ: Anything else you’d like to get across?
HA: Not really. Just let people know that I’m alive, I’m still here, and I have all of these things inside me that are soon going to come out.