2009-03-12

Joe Turner - Pianists in my life (3/3)

And finally, as promised, here's the third and last installment of "Joe Turner - Pianists In My Life" as told to Johnny Simmen.


"(...) There was a place in Harlem called Robinson’s Restaurant on 131 Street. There, during a long period, every morning between 5 and 6 o’clock I had the damnedest piano contests that I ever cared to have with anyone, with none other than Duke Ellington. The number I used to wash him away with sometimes was his own composition “Jig Walk”. Count Basie and I are the greatest of friends but one trouble I find with him is that every time we meet he wants to have a piano contest to prove he can always cut me. But by the time we have finished searching for a piano in every bar in town (where there are absolutely no pianos) we’ve come to the conclusion that this contest for which we’ve waited for the last 20-odd years will never come about unless someone closes down all the bars and lets us reach a piano!

Roger Ram Ramirez has the same fault in his playing as I have, that is, not being able to record well, but if you hear him in person you must consider him one of the very greatest piano players of our time. I’d like to mention that he is also the composer of “Lover Man”, Billie Holiday’s greatest hit.

Herman Chittison has practically as fast a right hand as Tatum but not with the benefit of Tatum’s inspiration. A very good pianist and I recommend him highly.

Speaking about the years 1935-37, there was one of the most talented youngsters who ever sat down at a piano: Garnet Clark. He had -among many other things- a terrific arrangement of “Tiger Rag” and it is one of jazz music’s great losses that he died so soon (1928, in Paris, at the age of 20 or 21). His recordings of “Rosetta”, “Object Of My Affection” and “I Got Rhythm” (French HMV) show him in fine form.

I’d like to mention the name of a pianist who, in my estimation, knew more chords on the piano than even our genius Tatum: Clarence Profit. Unfortunately this exceptional artist had that fault known to many musicians, not being able to record well. He, too, died young.

Next we have Cliff Jackson, whose reputation as N.Y.’s greatest band pianist was unquestioned. It was not until I heard his record on the Black and White label in Johnny Simmen’s home, however, that I discovered that he was also a terrific soloist in shout style, the music we know best. Whenever I hear of Earl Hines I remember that he impressed me so much with his playing in such masterpieces as “Deep Forest” and “West End Blues”. I consider him an ideal of all ages. Inasmuch as his style was so different from our Harlem stride manner, the fact that he played (and even still does, to this day) in his own inimitable way makes him an honorary member of jazz in big bright lights!

Now we are coming to a jazz mystery. This mystery is Thelonious Monk. It has been said he created bop. I jammed with him for years and I have the records .Any resemblance between Monk’s playing and bop is to me purely a coincidence. He lays a very interesting piano that impresses any musician including the Tate (Art Tatum), but his style is so mysterious that I must admit I have no name for it. But it’s wonderful.

That day in 1930 I recorded with Louis Armstrong (Coconut Grove Orch.), Buck Washington was on the session. He played “Dear Old Southland” with Louis, but aside from that fact Buck would come to Harlem from his engagements downtown with Bubbles, his dancing partner and give all of us more trouble than we had the desire for. In other words, Buck Washington is a terrific pianist.

The first time in my life I heard a piano played completely beautifully was when I heard Ellis Larkins. I tried many times to imitate Ellis on sweet tunes and then I realized it is a special art.

When I was in the army I met a pianist of whom I had heard before but had never met. His name is Kenneth Kersey, one of the most unassuming persons you could ever meet and who plays a really dynamic swing piano. What surprised me as much about him was his equally terrific playing of the trumpet. When you hear “Little Jazz” Eldridge you have heard Kenneth Kersey on the trumpet and vice-versa! As for Kenny’s piano work, his “Sweet Lorraine” on Mercury gives you a good idea of his great talent.

Although I have had Marlowe Morris tell me to my face that I have never taught him anything, I can prove by musicians such as Art Tatum, Ram Ramirez, Chittison, etc. that I taught Marlowe Morris for three years how to use his left hand. He always had a terrific right, but his left hand is Joe Turner.

Of Nat Jaffe, who died prematurely, I can’t truthfully say that I can remember anyone who could interpret Art Tatum better. Furthermore, he was a true friend of mine and we would hang out together nightly, as well as another friend of his -also a very fine pianist-, Johnny Guarnieri. You only needed to mention the name of a good jazz pianist and Johnny would imitate him!

Now, I would like to make mention of something that happened to me in Utica,N.Y.: I walked into an all-night club and saw and heard at the piano an old and great friend of mine who is also one of the really important pianists: Gene Rodgers (who had played in England before the war), but this is not half the story. It ended with one of the darnest piano contests I ever had because Gene played his head off and I did my darnest but a third man, who happened to be none other than Erroll Garner, wrapped it up! There is no joke about it: Erroll Garner is just about as great as they come!"

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