This is the 3rd in my series of jazz quotations drawn from the Downbeat archive. My choices are commentaries and also reflect my own life and concerns.
Please do not misunderstand me. I do not claim any of the creation of the blues, although I have written many of them even before Mr. Handy had any blues published. I had heard them when I was knee-high to a duck. For instance, when I first started going to school, at different times I would visit some of my relatives per permission, in the Garden district. I used to hear a few of the following blues players, who could play nothing else-Buddie Canter, Josky Adams, Game Kid, Frank Richards, Sam Henry, and many more too numerous to mention-they were what we call “ragmen” in New Orleans. They can take a 10¢ Xmas horn, take the wooden mouthpiece off, having only the metal for mouthpiece, and play more blues with that instrument than any trumpeter I had ever met through the country imitating the New Orleans trumpeters.
I took a job playing in a tonk for Dago Tony on Perdido and Franklin street and Louis used to slip in there and get on the music stand behind the piano. He would fool around with my cornet every chance he got. I showed him just how to hold it and place it to his mouth, and he did so, and it wasn’t long before he began getting a good tone out of my horn. Then I began showing him just how to start the blues, and little by little he began to understand.
Now here is the year Louis started. It was in the latter part of 1911 as close as I can think. Louis was about 11 years old. Now I’ve said a lot about my boy Louis and just how he started playing cornet. He started playing it by head.
A hundred people would crowd into one seven-room flat until the walls bulged. Plenty of food with hot maws (pickled pig bladders) and chitt’lins with vinegar, beer, and gin, and when we played the shouts everybody danced.
What attracted Bird to Gil was Gil’s musical attitude. How would I describe that attitude? ‘Proving’ is the most accurate word I can think of.
When Bird did hear my music, he liked it very much. Unfortunately, by the time he was ready to use me, I wasn’t ready to write for him. I was going through another period of learning by then. As it turned out, Miles, who was playing with Bird then, was attracted to me and my music. He did what Charlie might have done if at that time Charlie had been ready to use himself as a voice, as part of an overall picture, instead of a straight soloist.
I remember that original Miles band during the two weeks we played at the Royal Roost. There was a sign outside-‘Arrangements by Gerry Mulligan, Gil Evans, and John Lewis.’ Miles had it put in front; no one before had ever done that, given credit that way to arrangers.