Leroy Jenkins: Does Race Matter?

Connecting to the Music of the Past

Leroy Jenkins: Jazz is America’s music, so where America goes, that’s where jazz is going. Even where it is now, even when we break away—because we’re in flux in America, so we’re in flux in the music right now—the establishment vs. the people who are trying to change things. Regardless of where I go classically or whatever it is, I always try to maintain that Chicago blues thing. When I came up as a kid, I didn’t hear Mozart. I was hearing Louis Jordan and Billy Eckstine and B.B. King and Duke Ellington, jazz guys like that. That was what I was listening to. So I was fortunate in that way, being in a big city, seeing these people all the time, going to the Regal Theatre in Chicago. I saw ‘em all, plus a movie! I used to marvel when I’d see these guys come out in front of the band and take their solos and quit on time. That’s what I’d look at all the time, the way they quit on time. I didn’t know anything about resolutions, even though I was a musician. I could hear it, but I didn’t know what it was. I thought that was magic. Guys like Illinois Jacquet, he’d take you into a frenzy. After a while, I discovered how these guys stopped and started, 12 bars, 16, and 32 bars. Most of the jazz tunes—I hate to say jazz but I have to separate it—I was playing B-flat, F, D-flat, G… Usually, when you’re playing D-flat, A-flat, that’s pretty rough for a violin. B-flat’s not too bad, but even B-flat’s a little rough. F’s cool. But it’s just so confining. Even though, at the time, I wasn’t up to where guys like ‘Trane or Sonny Rollins were. They’d do their substitutions, so they don’t have to worry about that kind of stuff. All these guys come out of the Dizzy Gillespie school. They call it “changes” but he was really a harmony guy. He could invent and convert, you know, with his chords, and ‘Trane was a part of that.

“Blue” Gene Tyranny: On the solo album on Lovely, you play Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” and Gillespie’s “Wouldn’t You.”

Leroy Jenkins: When I did that, I wanted to show my connection to these guys. These guys were masters, man. Why should I try to superimpose on that stuff? That’s a losing game right there! You can’t be messin’ with guys like that, tryin’ to do what they do. You better get out of there and do your own thing. Disguise your ignorance, go somewhere else. I try to relate to that. I think ‘Trane related to us guys, to Ornette. Some of the older guys though couldn’t, even a guy like Dizzy. It was hard for a guy like Dizzy to accept this kind of music because he was so perfect in that bebop harmony he was doing. I guess I can understand that. But I respect all those guys and I figured that whatever I do has to be on their level, in whatever I’m doing, playing or writing, and their level was high.

“Blue” Gene Tyranny: I hear that in everything you do because you approach everything very earnestly and seriously.

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