- Dave Segal
- Julian Priester played with Sun Ra at 17 and Sunn O))) at 72.
The original plan: interview legendary jazz trombonist Julian Priester about his classic fusion album—Love, Love—to celebrate its 40th anniversary, which occurred in 2014. However, the former Cornish College professor is not the easiest person to track down, but we finally scheduled a meeting in July at his old teaching grounds, Kerry Hall (Priester taught trombone and jazz history from 1979-2011). There we chatted for about 90 minutes, and while the discussion often veered off topic, Priester proved to be thoroughly enlightening and charming throughout.
At age 79, Priester is a sleek, avuncular savant who speaks in a hushed, humble tone. His is a very soothing, intimate voice, but it subtly suggests a staunch pride despite years of under-recognition for his remarkable accomplishments. This man has played and/or recorded with a hall of fame's worth of artists, including Duke Ellington, Sun Ra, John Coltrane, Max Roach, Lionel Hampton, Dinah Washington, Art Blakey, Herbie Hancock, Joe and Eddie Henderson, and Sunn O))). When Priester veered off on tangents, I let him ramble, because who am I to stop a world-historical figure in fascinating-raconteur mode? You can read the long exchange in its entirety below. But first a few words about Love, Love itself.
Released by the prestigious ECM Records in 1974, Love, Love reflects Priester at his most adventurous as a group leader. This LP arrived on the heels of a three-album stint with Hancock's Mwandishi band, where Priester (aka Pepo Mtoto, aka “Spirit Child”; all Mwandishi members adopted Swahili names for these recordings) contributed crucial aerated coloration and compositional rigor to the full-lengths Mwandishi, Crossings, and Sextant from 1970-1973.
Love, Love's title track exemplifies Priester's expansive sonic vision, featuring a foundation of lithe, ultra-funky bass (courtesy of Ron McClure, following Julian's orders like a Holger Czukay disciple) and a rhythm that suggests graceful elevation and propulsion, with a fetching hitch in its glide (thanks to drummer Eric Gravatt). Over this sturdy groove, Bill Connors adds chattering guitar punctuation, Hadley Caliman sax and bass clarinet filigree, and co-producer Dr. Patrick Gleeson vaporous synthesizer streamers. The 19-minute epic ranks with Miles Davis's “Black Satin,” Joe Henderson's “Earth,” and Hancock's “Rain Dance” in the elite realm of cosmic-groove science.
On Love, Love's second side, “Images” whorls in a more abstract domain, generating an elegantly chaotic vortex of brass, bass, cymbal spray, and kick-drum panic. Whereas “Love, Love” is all outward-bound cruising, “Images” is intense and insular. “Eternal Worlds” bustles briskly and majestically, powered by Ndugu Leon Chancler's mercurial drumming, Bayete Umbra Zindiko's frenetic, complex piano runs, and a panoply of horns and reeds describing a beautiful urgency. The band generates turbulence, but it's very poised and impeccably arranged. The whole piece sounds like it's roiling in a pressure cooker. In his DJ-Kicks mix from 2006, Four Tet included an excerpt from “Love, Love,” placing it between Madvillain's “Figaro” and his own track, “Pockets,” where it sounded in synch with the electronic and hiphop avant-garde. Priester's futuristic sound has aged as well as he has. To the interview...
What we're talking about happened 40 years ago. I hope your memory's up to the task.
Priester: I just came back from Halifax. They were also interested in Love, Love. In fact, the main feature of the festival was the Love, Love album, its resurgence 40 years later.
Apparently, there's a new-found interest in that album due to advanced technology in terms of the use of the computer and electronically assisted devices to alter the tones of the instruments involved: traditional instruments like mine, the trombone, keyboards, even the sound of the drums and cymbals. Most of the instruments were digitally amplified... those terms do not fit what was actually done. But they were digitally treated to change the timbre of the tone of those instruments. The things that were done to the guitar in rock and roll in that period—and still to this day—have become useful in the production of jazz. I don't know if Herbie Hancock initiated, but he certainly took advantage of it and did very well, popularized that sound. Weather Report were also instrumental in popularizing that sound.
My first experience with electronics was way back before it became popular: Sun Ra, back in the mid 1950s. He was the first person in my experience to use electronics. He used an electronic piano. He brought in a bass player that was playing a bass guitar with amplification. Between the mid 1950s and the early 1970s, when Herbie Hancock put electronic instruments to use in his ensemble, that was my second encounter with them. When Herbie broke up his band in 1973, Patrick Gleeson introduced the synthesizer as an instrument that could be used in the jazz ensemble to perform live.
Gleeson joined Herbie Hancock's group in 1972 or '71. He traveled with us on the road, which was unusual because at that time the synthesizer was not an instrument that you could improvise on... You could improvise, but there was no precedent for a synthesist to be traveling on the road in a jazz group, live. He was using an ARP 2600 that didn't really have a keyboard. Instead, he plugged in two cables to implement the variety of sounds he was able to produce. He became quite good at it. He was an innovator.
After Herbie broke up his group, Patrick was deeply involved in producing music using the synthesizer. He and I collaborated on an idea that we both had, to do a recording using electronic devices to enhance the sounds our instruments were capable of producing. The trombone in particular was able to imitate the guitar. If you listen to [Love, Love] and have a sophisticated ear, you can actually recognize the similarity of the sound the trombone is making, due to the electronic enhancements. Even the cymbals and the drums were manipulated. The bass was also modified, as were the other instruments. The album was introducing a whole new concept as far as the sound of jazz music was concerned. Well, it was actually an extension of the work Herbie Hancock had been doing.
I'm assuming that your three-album stint with the Mwandishi band had an impact on Love, Love.
Yes. Very true. I'm glad you mentioned those three Mwandishi band albums, because they mirror the curve of the advancement of the acoustic sound to the electronic sound. That first Mwandishi was, for all intents and purposes, acoustic. The second album was Crossings; it had some electronic elements on it. I don't remember the specifics of it. Sextant was the one that really exemplified what could be done electronically. Herbie and Fred Catero, the engineer, and [producer] David Rubinson I'm sure had ideas about manipulating … When we went to record in the studio, we weren't actually using the electronics. All that was added in post-production. That was the seed that was planted, that Patrick Gleeson and I used. It materialized in the music that we produced on the Love, Love album.
What was your goal with Love, Love? Did you have an overarching concept that was guiding you to create this album? It's a landmark fusion record, and it's always been fascinating to me.
There was an overarching concept there, but it manifested itself as the product was being created. It wasn't preconceived. Once we got into the studio and started recording, ideas materialized and were implemented pretty much as jazz is created. A lot of it was improvised on the spot. The melodies were created on the spot. The arrangements were created in the studio. It was a result of both Gleeson's and my musical idea, musical dream. The synthesizer itself played a role. We had to incorporate the synthesizer within the jazz concept. It's not really a melodic or harmonic instrument. Patrick was the manipulator of the instrument. He's the one who actually got the sounds out of the instrument. It was his creative spirit. Patrick was not really a jazz player. He was more an improvisor. Not having a traditional melodic or rhythmic role in the jazz ensemble, he had to create a role he could assume—which created the newness of Love, Love's sound. It still sounds fresh today. Forty years later, it's still contemporary.
Did you know that Four Tet included an excerpt from "Love, Love" in his DJ-Kicks mix CD? [I hand Priester the CD.]
I did not. Wow.
A lot of the music on that mix is contemporary, but it's a tribute to "Love, Love" that it still fits in there. Did you get paid for this?
[laughs] No. This is my first time seeing it.
It's my understanding that Love, Love was recorded in two days.
As far as I recall, that's correct. But there was a lot of post-production stuff that took longer, of course.
Can you discuss the reasons you chose the musicians you did for the band?
Let's start with Eric Gravatt, the drummer [ex-Weather Report]. He was living in San Francisco, where I was living at the time. We came together musically for the first time post-Herbie Hancock. I was putting together my own group. I had reasons to do that that go back to the days when I was with Duke Ellington's orchestra. Ellington pointed out to me that I could only expect so much from the industry, as far as my own contribution to it. He asked me, "What do I want—after all, I'm just a trombone player." That struck me—"just a trombone player." It didn't sit well with me at all. No, no, no. So at that moment I came to the conclusion that I had to be more than just a trombone player. So that led perfectly from Duke Ellington to the work I was doing with Herbie Hancock. Herbie's group fell in line with the same direction I wanted to go in. I wasn't working in the Herbie Hancock group as a sideman; we all collectively contributed music and ideas to the group. Herbie was very open to it. He never gave us any specific instructions; he just let us create in the manner that we felt comfortable doing. I carried that same spirit with me after Herbie broke up his band. One of the results of that is Love, Love.
Patrick Gleeson also had similar goals in mind in terms of his career. We were both on the path to function as a leader and innovator, a person to open the ears and minds of jazz fans and hopefully reach to the general public to elevate their minds—not just expecting what's popular on the radio and becoming infatuated with that sound. We thought we could introduce people to new sounds, new ways of listening. And apparently it worked.
It's always surprised me that those records you did with Herbie appeared on major labels, despite being incredibly far out. How did the executives there deal with it? Did they ever say, “How can we market this? How can we get it on the radio?”
I'm sure that was a concern. In fact, I believe the recording company—in collaboration with Dave Rubinson, who was Herbie's manager at the time—convinced Herbie that he would be better off if he scaled down the size of the sextet. Certainly he would be able to realize more income if he didn't have to pay five other individuals. He took the advice. He disbanded the sextet and formed the Headhunters, which was a quartet: piano, bass, drums, and saxophone. It turned out to be a wise move on Herbie's part, because he was able to make some money. The Headhunters became a popular group. Then Herbie disbanded Headhunters and went out on his own, except he would gather friends and other innovators and popular stars like his dear friend Wayne Shorter. He and Wayne were very close personally and musically. They made some wonderful music together. The album he made with the singers—can't think of the name of it, but he had four singers on it, each giants in their own right. It elevated Herbie's stature in the public's mind and also in the music world. It turned out to be a great move on his part, businesswise. Who can knock that?
Back to Love, Love, though. Ron McClure on bass; Patrick Gleeson recommended him. Ron was uncomfortable at first because he didn't really have the creative freedom that he's used to having. I insisted that he play that bass line. Don't vary the bass line. [laughs]
You made the right choice. That bass line is so memorable.
He held in there and was able to get through playing that same part over and over for 21 minutes. [laughs] Hadley Calliman is an Oklahoma native [who was living in San Francisco at the time]. Hadley and I were very close musically. We're both sort of children of the bebop era. In the mid '70s, bebop players were losing out in the addition of hard bop, which was a desperate attempt to regain the favor of the recording companies because of the scarcity of bebop recordings during the 1940s as a result of the rationing of vinyl during the Second World War. After the war was over, a new music was introduced, titled cool jazz. The record companies put their attention on the music that was coming from the West Coast. It was inspired by Miles Davis and his Birth of the Cool album. I'm not sure that that's the beginning, but you could also credit Gil Evans, the saxophonist Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker, and that whole crew became the darlings of the recording industry. You'd turn on your radio and that was all you could hear, cool jazz from the West Coast. Unfortunately for the East Coast guys, they responded by mixing more gospel and blues into [their music]—groups like the Jazz Messengers with Horace Silver and Art Blakey. Even Lee Morgan and Dollar Brand came on the scene with this more accessible style of jazz. It wasn't as complex as bebop melodically and rhythmically. The tempos were brought down so people could tap their feet or dance if they wanted to.
Herbie Hancock was also influenced by that popular style of jazz. He would include funky elements. "Funky" was a term used by recording companies to describe music by Horace Silver and that particular school. Herbie Hancock continued that tradition and became very popular as a result. "Watermelon Man" is an example. With Love, Love, I was also looking in that direction, with the electronics and changing the tonality of the trombone into the character of the guitar. I was trying to popularize that sound.
When you went into the studio to record Love, Love, did you give the players strict guidelines or did you allow them to have creative input?
[indecipherable A couple of soloists?] had creative input. Outside of that, they didn't really have anything to do with the structure or the arrangement.
Had you been thinking about this album for a while before you stepped into the studio and had a very clear idea of what you wanted?
I had an idea, but not a really clear one. A lot of what I do is spontaneous. Even composing, sometimes I'm in the studio, with the equipment turned on and ready to record, then I'll sit down at the piano and create something. Love, Love was sort of like that. I had an idea when we walked in, but it was a sketchy idea.
Did ECM Records like what you turned in right away? Did they allow you total freedom with this record?
Actually, ECM had nothing to do with the production of the record. Patrick submitted the finished recording to ECM and they liked it and decided they would adopt it.
That's unusual for ECM, isn't it?
Yes. Because [owner] Manfred Eicher tries to treat ECM as his own musical instrument. He insists on having lots of control. He even goes as far as to suggest personnel.
Did he do that with you?
Later on. I formed a group in San Francisco and did a European tour. We did a recording for ECM and in the studio he decided he didn't approve of our drummer. He wanted to cancel the recording date and call in another drummer. So he scheduled a date with another drummer. That was for Polarization. He didn't like Augusta Lee Collins. Collins had some different ideas about the tonal quality of drums. One of the things that Augusta did that really incensed Manfred was loosen the head of his drums, so when he'd strike the drums, it would sound papery. It didn't have the crisp drum sound Manfred wanted. Being a person who's interested in innovation, I went for the sound of Augusta's drums because they were different than any other drummer I could think of. I felt that would be a welcome change. Unfortunately, Manfred didn't agree. [ECM] didn't promote the album at all, so it sort of stagnated.
How are the sales for Love, Love?
They have been persistent. It's not broken any records or anything like that, but over the years I still get royalty statements—not for very much, but at least they're still coming in. As has been proven over the last 40 years, the album's going to be around for a while and will rack up some sales. I'm happy with the album, because it honestly mirrors my dream.
I made a decision after the experience with Duke Ellington that I was going to avoid being classified as a musician; I wanted to be classified as an artist instead. I felt that that term would enhance my life. There are millions of musicians out there, scuffling. They've been put down and not respected by the industry or the public. Whereas the artist gets the opposite treatment. They may not be getting a lot of money, but at least they're getting a lot of respect. That's one of the things I insist upon. Also, I request that the media doesn't use the term "local" in reference to me. If you want to place me somewhere, place me as an international artist who plays the trombone.
Given your history, you transcend “local” by a million miles.
I have to educate certain people, certain writers and club owners, people who have the ear of the public, who speak about jazz and me. If you're going to use my name, please put me in the proper context. It's happening.
Was there a desire to create a sense of alternate reality with Love, Love? There are moments that remind me of the three records you did with Mwandishi band that evoke a feeling of wanting to escape from reality and create an alternate universe through unprecedented sounds. Was that in your mind at all?
I have to say yes, although it was a decision I made prior to Love, Love and prior to my time in the Mwandishi band. Mwandishi is the first album that band made and it's my favorite of the three. It's acoustic for the most part, with the exception of Herbie's piano. And there wasn't a lot of post-production manipulation with Mwandishi. Yet it was still an effort on the part of each individual to stretch creatively and conceptually to alter the traditional sounds of the instruments and reach for new sounds and ideas, done in the spirit of elevating the ears of the public—give them something that will excite them and at the same time introduce them to new sounds, new rhythms, new melodies. Test their ability to digest these new ideas. You'll hear it especially in the saxophone, because it can really stretch out as far as timbres it can create. I've also investigated various sounds that can be reproduced on brass instruments—the trombone, in particular. Eddie Henderson adopted some of those same approaches that he employed on the trumpet. I even think that the drums, played by Billy Hart, also stretched conceptually what was expected. Of course, Buster Williams on bass is a madman—in a good way. I tease all of them: Each one of you, in order to do what you do, you have to be crazy. That's a requirement. [laughs]
You've worked with some of the greatest musicians in the history of music: Sun Ra, Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, and others. Out of all those experiences, did any one prove to be the most valuable? And if so, why?
Before I left my hometown, Chicago, Sun Ra gave me an experience that I was not mature enough to handle while I was receiving it. I was 17. I left Sun Ra after a couple of years to go on the road with Lionel Hampton's orchestra. The benefits of my experience of working with Sun Ra I didn't recognize until later, when I was working for Max Roach. I found myself in situations where I had to be creative on the spot. I had a lot of information to draw from. That mirrored the experience I had with Sun Ra. As innovative as he was, he never really gave a lot of direction to the members of the group. He would set up a scenario and point to you and indicate that you should play. It's as if he gave you this side of the page and said "play." I was able to survive that experience not really having information about the mechanics—how did I do that? Of course I used my ears to guide me, but I was never sure about what that relationship between listening to sounds and finding ideas from the sounds I was hearing.
I was very fortunate when I was 9, 10, 11 years old, [because] one of my siblings [was] a jazz fan. He would listen to records and he also played the piano and a couple of his friends played saxophone, and they jammed. I began listening to the music they were listening to and playing. Only because I was excited by how excited they became listening to this music. We'd listen to a passage on the turntable over and over—so many times that I remembered this passage and would go to the piano and pick the sounds out on it, which developed my ear. Later on I was able to use that talent. The technical aspects of music came later, when I realized I just couldn't continue my musical education using my ear.
Later on with Max Roach I realized that the experience with Sun Ra came in handy because I was not only able to producer a lot of music, I was able to adapt to a lot of musical environments. Also, Max Roach helped me out of the dark ages in terms of as a young person, my association with music is out of love. Profound love for jazz music. I wasn't concerned with making money. All I wanted to do was play. Roach made me aware of the damage I was doing not only to myself, but to my fellow jazz musicians, by not demanding to be paid for what I did. That raised me above a certain level where I could no longer accept work just because I loved to play. Jazz became a business after that. I had to develop a whole new approach. My reasoning had to change in terms of why I accepted opportunities to perform. Which shaped my musical character.
Today I can call myself an artist, instead of just being a musician. If I were just going to be a musician, I'd still be in New York working at the Shubert Theatre, in the pit orchestra on Broadway. I would be on a multitude of recordings, but my name would not be mentioned. I'd just be a tool of that particular segment of the industry. Which a lot of musicians are doing, and making money. At one point in my career, I wanted to do that. I felt that I should be making money, and one way to do that was to sell myself as a commercial musician.
In my desire to be a success, I created a musical image that was appealing to contractors who staffed the orchestras on Broadway and I'd get calls to go to the studio when somebody didn't show up and they needed a trombone player. Often I'd get the call and have to appear at the studio within half an hour. I was prepared to do that. I got hired onto the pit orchestra at the Shubert Theatre, which gave me a weekly salary. On occasion I could even take a leave of absence for the live jazz circuit, which was okay, as long as I didn't go away for too long.
I wound up quitting that job at the Shubert Theatre and walking away from that whole commercial musician position, because I started receiving requests to go on the road with various groups, one of them was the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra in New York City. We went to Europe with that orchestra and had a great time. Thad Jones had a reputation for being a great arranger. He arranged music while he was with Count Basie Orchestra. He helped to popularize that group. To this day I enjoy listening to Thad Jones's arrangements because he had imagination. He helped perpetuate the popularity of jazz, because his work was so great. After that, I went back to work at the Shubert Theatre. A few months later I got another call because a trombone player for Duke Ellington's Orchestra didn't show up for a recording session. I went to the studio and made a recording with Duke Ellington.
Then I went back to Shubert and a month later I got another call from Ellington asking if I'd be interested in going on tour. Duke Ellington had a state department tour of the Far East—Japan, Laos, Thailand, Burma; we also went to Australia. It was a wonderful experience. But when I asked to take a leave of absence at the Shubert Theatre, the contractor didn't want me to go. He said, "You just went out with Thad Jones and Mel Lewis a couple of months ago; I'm not going to approve of you to go out." Wait a minute, this is Duke Ellington; this is not Joe Blow. [laughs] And he still didn't want me to go, so I quit. That set the stage for me changing my whole concept of who I wanted to be and what I wanted to do. After my experience with Duke Ellington, I was offered another path. Although it was down the road a piece, Love, Love was a result of that decision. I had no regrets.
It blows my mind that you joined Sun Ra's group when you were 17. How did this even happen? How did he even know about your skills?
He didn't. I was asked to go to one of the rehearsals by a high-school school classmate of mine, Richard Evans. He was also responsible for me leaving Sun Ra and going on the road with Lionel Hampton because at that time Richard was also playing bass with Hampton's group. Richard asked me to come to a Sun Ra rehearsal, and because of my love of playing, I asked [Ra] questions. I wasn't interested in getting money. I just wanted to play. So I went to rehearsals.
At the time, Sun Ra was rehearsing every day, up to eight hours a day. That was okay. I had the horn in my face and was enjoying the camaraderie, creating music that was evolving; every day it would be different. Although I didn't understand why if we were putting together music for a performance, why didn't we rehearse it, memorize it, and go on to the next? But Sun Ra's approach was different. The music would change every day. I had no clue as to why, what benefit would result in conducting rehearsals that way. I left Sun Ra because of financial reasons in 1956. I was 21.
I've read that Sun Ra could not pay his band very well due to its large membership.
[laughs] Yeah, yeah. When we toured Europe, my salary was $21 a night, pro-rated, only on the nights we worked. We weren't working every night. Out of that salary, I had to pay for my own hotel and feed myself. I also had to send money back to Chicago, where I had a wife and a couple of very young daughters. It was something I endured because I loved doing what I was doing... until Lionel Hampton left me stranded in New York. He had a tour of Australia and also on the same tour was Stan Kenton's orchestra. So the promoters decided for economic reasons to slice the orchestras in half. Take half of Kenton's orchestra and half of Hampton's and have the leaders take turns leading this made-up orchestra. It impacted me because I was one of the youngest members of Hampton's orchestra. So it was decided I would stay in the states. They wouldn't send me back to Chicago, where I was residing. I had to pay my hotel, feed myself, and also somehow send some money back home to Chicago. It was a dilemma, to put it mildly. Fortunately, positive things would happen that would solve whatever problems I was having.
I got a phone call from Eddie Chamblee, the former saxophone player from Hampton's band. He left Hampton's band to join Dinah Washington, whom he had just married. He called me and asked me if I'd like to come on the road with Dinah Washington, because she was forming a seven-piece group to travel with her to back her up. Of course I accepted. So Dinah Washington to the rescue!
What can you tell me about the cover of Love, Love (which was designed by Tadayuki Naito)?
Not very much. I wasn't really involved with the post-production of that. It was an ECM decision. I'm okay with it. I really like that cover.
What is the significance of the title Love, Love?
That's my mind working. As a result of being a jazz artist who's been victimized by capitalism, which has affected every citizen of this country, one way or another. As soon as you wake up in the morning, you're spending money.
So it's kind of like a manifesto—your music is pure love?
Yes. Love, love—not money. Of course I don't say all of that.
What about Patrick Gleeson's involvement in the production. You said there was a lot of work done after the recordings. Can you remember your exchanges and what your thoughts were when you were dealing with the raw materials?
Gleeson was a partner in the ownership of Different Fur recording studio, where Love, Love was recorded. Patrick had been spiritually and musically awakened by his Herbie Hancock experience. After the group disbanded, that desire and spirit were still alive in all of us. Although there's no evidence of it, I'm sure Herbie felt the loss, the pain of separation, of divorce. It really impacted all of us, even to this day. People still talk about seeing Mwandishi band 40 years [after the fact].
Patrick and I were grieving throughout the process of creating Love, Love. He was instrumental in the implementation of ideas and inserting the emotions we were feeling that were fed by losing the connection with the Herbie Hancock group. Patrick, in taking into consideration his own interest in developing his craft as a pianist and jazz artist, he was inspired by having the opportunity to create this album, as evidenced by what you hear on Love, Love. The contribution the synthesizer makes on the album really defines it, in addition to the other electronic effects. Gleeson's use of electronics, being an expert at it, he was very comfortable in the studio. It took two days in the studio to record the basics, which gave Patrick an opportunity to contribute some ideas using the synthesizer. Of course, the opportunities were still present days after the actual recordings. He contributed as a performer and a conceptualist.
Did you have to edit reams of tapes to compress the material to an album length?
No. Fortunately that situation didn't arise. We initially had the nucleus of what we were going to use. We added some things to in the post-production, overdubs and certain things. But we didn't have to do any cutting or editing of the initial recording.
Was it two years ago you had a health scare?
Actually, in 1995 I was diagnosed with liver disease, chronic hepatitis C virus. I had to get a transplant. In 2000 I got another transplant. I've been taking very serious medication to keep my body from rejecting the transplant. The steroids I was taking to keep my body under control impacted my kidneys. So it necessitated a kidney transplant. I went under the knife in October 2013. And so far so good. I've recovered from both of those operations. Periodically I go to the doctor to check on the health of those two transplants. Everything looks good now. They've just found a remedy to cure hepatitis C virus. This is very new. Last week I had a meeting with the head of surgery at the University of Washington transplant clinic. He was very excited because he felt I was a fine candidate for this new remedy, these pills they've come up with somewhere in New York. There's another series of stronger pills coming out later this year that the doctor thinks will give me an even better chance of getting rid of the hepatitis C virus, which I still carry around.
You look really good.
I'm feeling good.
I would never guess you're 79. That's amazing.
Yeah, it is. I wish my body agreed. [laughs] Physically, it's been a miracle; no one would actually believe that on sight. It's in my genes. My dad, he lasted till the ripe old age of 98.
I hope you can experience that same kind of longevity.
Well, the jazz life has taken a toll. [laughs]
Were you a heavy drinker?
In my young days, yeah. At the end of the evening, my favorite drink was Jack Daniels chased by a beer. Every evening. Sometimes multiple shots of that... and other niceties, ha ha.
I can imagine. Fringe benefits.
I put all of that under the header "jazz life." [When asked if he could elaborate about this, Priester declined.]
You contributed to the Sunn O))) album Monoliths & Dimensions ["Aghartha" and "Alice"]. That's a pretty unusual scenario. What can you say about that experience?
Not very much. It is unusual. How that came about, I got a call to participate in this recording project by this European group. I didn't know what the music was going to be like. They sent a tape over and I was supposed to take this tape to the studio and lay down trombone over an already-existing track, which I did, and then sent it back. When I heard the finished product, I was amazed. It wasn't what I was expecting. Didn't hear the trombone till the very end and when I did hear it, I thought, "That's nice." The trombone actually played a major role in bringing these sounds—I can't really put them in any kind of category—it's brand new as far as my ear is concerned. I enjoyed it. I went back and listened to the whole thing a couple of times, and it made sense. Whereas the first time I listened to it, it didn't make any sense to me—except when the trombone came in. [laughs] The person who engineered the track and owned the studio [London Bridge] was an ex-Cornish student.
Do you think Love, Love is your ultimate artistic statement?
I can't say ultimate. It certainly stands on its own as a tremendous statement in my career. It's certainly one of the highest points musically, but there are several others I also hold in high esteem. Summit Conference, a Reggie Workman recording with Sam Rivers, Pheeroan akLaff on drums, Andrew Hill on piano, Reggie's playing bass, and myself. And several things I've done with Max Roach and with the Turrentine brothers, Stanley and Tommy. Dave Holland's Seeds of Time.
I like that Eddie Henderson record, Heritage.
Oh, yeah. That's another godchild of the Herbie Hancock sextet. Yeah, I forgot about Eddie. He was also smitten [by Mwandishi band].
His solo albums definitely have an early-'70s Miles/Herbie feel to them.
Yeah, he was always a great fan of Miles Davis. One other album that's near the top of my all-time list is Jane Ira Bloom's The Nearness. It's a wonderful album. It features Kenny Wheeler on trumpet and myself on trombone, and Jane Ira Bloom on soprano saxophone.
I've been wanting to interview you for a long time. It's an incredible honor to finally be able to do so.
I appreciate you doing this.
Would you be opposed to me taking a photo of you?
No. I left my tux at home.
The casual approach is fine.
Just teasing. You see me in a tux, it would be at my funeral. [laughs]