Clinton St. Quarterly, Vol. 5 No. 3 | Fall 1983 (Seattle) /// Issue 5 of 24 /// Master# 53 of 73

gigging on weekends with Chicago bluesmen like Muddy Waters and Bo Diddley. “We’d get together at each others’ houses every day and listen to records, play and write. During that time people like Max Roach, Clifford Brown, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins would just come walking in the door of clubs with their horns. They’d be invited up on stage and they’d play. There was music happening every night. “I would leave home on Thursday evening and not return until Monday afternoon. Thursday and Friday evenings we would go to a jam session until four a.m., Saturday afternoons there’d be a jam session, and Saturday night the clubs’d be open until five a.m. Then Sunday afternoon—actually it would start late Sunday morning, about 11 o’clock when the churches let out—the jam session would start and would go til about five or six in the afternoon. Then we’d go someplace and have some food, come back Sunday night and jam until four o’clock in the morning. Then we used to go sit in a restaurant until-seven a.m., when the Blue Monday Morning Breakfast Party started. “Financially, it was difficult. We’d move into an apartment and pay one month’s rent, then get by for two months, then we’d move out to another apartment. There were different ways of getting around eating. They used to have these Hardcastle Hamburgers, where for one dollar you could go and buy 12 hamburgers. But it was a wonderful period for music, and I really regret, not for myself, but for the young students of jazz coming up, that they don’t have that same opportunity.” In 1956,21 years old, Priester left the idyll of his Chicago youth and toured Europe and the U.S. with the Lionel Hampton Orchestra and with Dinah Washington. Two years later, a little wiser to the ways of the world —Dinah swiped his tunes and tried to steal his heart too, offering Julian her husband/ bandleader’s job; Hamp paid $21 a night and stranded Priester in New York—the young jazz player found himself in Gotham, flat broke. Orrin Keepnews, of Riverside Records, “sort of rescued me,” says Priester, giving him a job in the shipping department (along with Kenny Drew, Philly Joe Jones, Chet Baker, Wilbur Ware and Kenny Dorham) and recording his first album as a leader, Keep Swinging, still available as a Japanese reissue. The debuting trombonist was praised for his virile, bluesy approach and speedy chops on an instrument that had been dominated for 15 years by the fleet but sweet symmetries of J.J. Johnson. His star on the rise, Priester got a call from Max Roach. The pioneering bebop drummer had a great group, that included the trumpet prodigy Booker Little, but Roach’s racial anger (honed by beatings as a child) and a chemically-induced mental illness (his body could not absorb alcohol) made him difficult to work for. “It came to a climax at Pep’s Showbar in Philadelphia,” remembers Priester. “Max had called Ted Curson to sub for Booker, who was six, and the music wasn’t up to where it had been. Max got up at the microphone at this club and started telling the audience how ‘sad’ the band was. I made the mistake of taking a casual attitude, and went to the piano and lit up a cigarette. Max took offense and came up and hit me in the jaw. “I went back to the dressing room and packed up my horn. Then Max came back and he said, through his teeth, ‘I apologize. Furthermore, the club owner’s gonna fire us if you don’t come back.’ So I did. Then while I was playing a solo I noticed the drums were no longer playing. So I opened my eyes and looked over my shoulder and here’s Max Roach climbing over the drums with this wild look in his eyes, cornin’ after me again! “I met him, this time. We had what you call a barroom brawl, rolling across the bandstand, knocked the drums over, fell onto the floor, knocked over whiskey bottles, it was a real live brawl. People were cheering, the place was packed. I guess I needn’t say we got fired.” Mental illness, racial friction, low pay, unscrupulous club owners, drug addiction, alcoholism—the jazz life The debuting trombonist waspraised for his virile, bluesy approach and speedy chops on an instrument that had been dominatedfor 15 years by the fleet but sweet symmetries of J.J. Johnson. y Paul de Barros i Photographs by Thomas Lea had become too much for Priester. He did commercial work with the Lloyd (“Personality”) Price band (“there were always breakdowns on the bus”), arranged and played for the great 1962-3 Ray Charles band (“With Ray, we flew”), which still plays Priester’s arrangement of “Swing It With Taste,” and began a long campaign to break into the New York studio scene. But when Max Roach called again (they had since made peace) Priester couldn’t resist. Besides, there was a strange new bird in the band, Eric Dolphy (listen to Strife and Sorrow), on reeds. “In the very beginning,” says Priester, “ I thought Dolphy was making fun of jazz. I found him bizarre. I couldn’t believe he was serious. If he was sincere, maybe somebody had given him some misinformation. He had a beautiful tone, he was a masterful technician, but his choice of notes! What made me a believer was when I heard him play standard songs. He still maintained his unique identify, but played the right notes — unusual, but correct. “That was a turning point in my career, because it brought me back in contact with the experimental nature that I came up around with Sun Ra in the early 1950s. Back then I had done a lot of things because I was told to do them, not because they were emanating from myself. Now I felt I could use those things in a creative manner.” Priester went home to Chicago and formed a group with schoolmate Richard Abrams, who was cooking up the most influential force in jazz in the 1970s, the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. Abrams and Priester worked with a poet, two horns, rhythm section and three backup singers in an open-ended, improvisational scheme that was, alas, never recorded. Back in New York, he got a call from Art Blakey (hear Blakey Live on Trip records), and paid the bills freelancing with Woody Herman, Robert Goulet, the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Band, and with a long gig at the Schubert Theater, playing for Burt Bacharach’s “Promises Promises.” “I’d been working on getting into the studios for four or five years,” he says. “I had good steady work, and high pay seven nights a week, with my days open for studio work. Then Duke Ellington called and I just took it upon myself to up and split! I guess I found out where my heart was.” Though Priester found Ellington’s personal stamina “a source of inspiration,” as they toured the Far East and Europe (Priester plays on the New Orleans Suite album), playing in a swing trombone section cramped his bebop style and brought into focus his growing frustration at being asideman. Leaders often publish tunes written or improvised by their sidemen. Sidemen receive a fixed salary, regardless of the deal struck between leaders and promoters for each gig. Sidemen pay their own hotel and food, often out of meager pay. On recordings, they are paid once, for the date, and receive no royalties; their names are often left off records. If clubowners or concert promoters stiff the leader, sidemen have no recourse to a contract. Usually, leaders insist on playing, recording and promoting their own music. Dissident players are simply replaced by others, hungry for experience. “I’d be back there setting up these riffs [behind soloists] and on one occasion Cat Anderson [a famous high- note trumpet player] leaned over and tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘Man, you better watch that. Don’t be setting’ up riffs behind these cats. Next album come out and Duke will have his name on it.’ “As a sideman, you’re not respected as a contributor to the music. You’re just an employee. But the music, being improvised, realistically is a part of every individual in the band.” In the late 1960s and early 1970s, attitudes regarding this archaic system had begun to change in some quarters, in keeping with the cooperative, idealistic spirit of the era. Bands like Weather Report and Return to Forever, on the model of rock bands, went cooperative. Sowhen Priestergot a call in 1970 from Herbie Hancock (he’d left the Ellington band after misplacing his passport the night before a European tour), the veteran trombonist spelled out his new terms. “I told Herbie, ‘Let’s do this. Let’s form a cooperative. The band will still retain your name, you’ll still own the majority of the shares, or whatever, but let’s have a profit-sharing company, and form our own publishing company. Instead of putting one person's name on all these songs, let’s put everyone’s on. This is an investment for me,’ I said. ‘After I leave this band, I’d like to be receiving some income from it. I don’t want to go home empty-handed with nothing -but a bunch of pasteups. If I make an album, I want more than just being paid for the album. I want some points. I don’t care if it’s only half a cent.’ ” Hancock listened to Priester’s proposal, which the other members of the band endorsed, and Hancock agreed. His managers said he was “crazy”. The band broke up. Not, of course, before it recorded the milestone fusion album, Sextant. Ironically, on the first pressing of Mwandishi, Priester’s song, “Wandering Spirit Song,’’ was credited to Hancock. Pepo Mtoto was wandering again. The Hancock band led Priester to San Francisco. He spent the next five years there, first finishing up a project for ECM Records with synthesizer genius Patrick Gleeson {Love, Love), then teaching at Lone Mountain College and Paul De Barros is a Seattle writer whose work appears regularly in The Weekly. performing and recording with a new group under his own leadership, Marine Intrusion. That band’s album Polarization (ECM) fell into a beautiful, expanding-and-contracting crack between fusion and free improvisation. But by the end of the 1970s, a disagreement with ECM producer Manfred Eicher led to the dissolution of the band, Priester was without a record contract and creative opportunities around the Bay Area seemed to have ground to a halt. It was time to make a move. Fortuitiously, an offer came from classical vocalist John Duykers to join the faculty of the Cornish Institute, in Seattle. Since 1979, Priester has become a familiar figure on the scene, playing in a sextet with former Cornish faculty member Carter Jefferson, with the Composers and Improvisors Orchestra (and sextet), and, keeping in touch with his Chicago roots, on the blues scene with bands like Jr. Cadillac and Les Follies. “Groups like Jr. Cadillac are in a sense carrying on the tradition, and I respect that. They have done a lot of research and they do their songs in an authentic way, not just with the emphasis on entertainment.” After four years in Seattle, Priester’s career is taking off again. He has already toured Europe twice this year with a new band that includes English trumpet player Kenny Wheeler; they record this fall. He and experimental vocalist Jay Clayton, also on the Cornish faculty, stole the show at the Seattle Kool Festival picnic this summer, with a free improvisation set that highlighted Priester’s new life and verve. His straightahead blowing is again available in the record bins, under Red Garland’s name, on a swinging album, Strike Up the Band (Galaxy). This fall, Priester was appointed head of the Cornish jazz faculty. “Cornish is a good place to be around,” he says. “Everybody’s creative, everybody’s striving to put positive energy out. Plus, I’ve got my own office, my own studio with a piano, recording equipment, all kinds of means to document my works, and the space for keeping files and archives in some organized form. I became involved with the Composers and Improvisors Orchestra, too. There’s nothing like that in San Francisco.” After 30 years of wandering, it looks as if Spirit Child Pepo Mtoto may have finally found a home. He and his energetic wife, poet and alternative radiostaffer Nashira Priester, have bought a house and are raising two sons, one and six years old. “All my efforts from this point on have to be looking beyond the time when I want to stop living on the road,” says Pepo Mtoto. “I’ve got my work cut out for me.” ■ Clinton St. Quarterly 11