Monday, May 12, 2008

Roy Campbell Conversation.

Roy Campbell Jr.
This is a conversation transcript from the 1980s.
Roy Campbell Jr. is a true journeyman musician, a distinction he shares with Warren Smith, the Dixon Sisters, Benny Golson and many others who have brought their voices to film scoring, Symphony Orchestra's, Broadway Musicals with equal grace, skill and aplomb.
Roy has worked with and will continue to work with Meringue, Salsa, Soca, Ska, Funk and Mariachi bands. In addition to that he participates in every possible ensemble situation contributing his bold trumpet tone and melodic imagination with consistent skill and passion whether he's in the Charlie Persip Big Band or the Cecil Taylor Orchestra.
He also lends his skills to a full range of mixed media collaborations including dance, poetry, theater and visual arts.
Roy is part of the Native New Yorker community that dates back to James Reese Europe. It Includes Bud and Richie Powell, Max Roach, Cecil Payne, Cecil Taylor, William Parker and Jackie McLean. His family lived in LA long enough for Roy to age a few years and have Ornette Coleman push his baby carriage. He is also one of the few people who has any memory of the mysterious trumpet genius, Dupree Bolton, who made a meteoric pass across the grooves of Harold Land's the Fox and vanished.
Roy Campbell Jr.: "I was born in Los Angeles, California, September 29, 1952. My family moved back to New York when I was about 2 or 3 years old."
Me: "Was your family musical?"
R. C.: "Yeah, my family was musical. My grandfather played banjo and my father played trumpet and saxophone. He used to play with Ornette Coleman, out in California, before he was well known."
Me: "I remember when he was there, yeah."
R. C.: "It was like in the early fifties."
Me: "Yeah, around the days of Roy Porter and Wardell Gray."
R. C.: "Right, mmh hmm."
Me: "Describe the music of your childhood, what you heard, and what was around and what you liked, in particular."
R. C.: "Well I heard all kinds of music. My mother had a big collection of 78's. I heard a lot of jazz, rhythm and blues, gospel, standards, you know, rock and roll. And I seemed to just like music in general, period, you know."
Me: "Give a account brief account of your school, where you went, and in particular, important teachers or people that helped you in the beginning, for getting started."
R.C.: "Well actually I don't consider none of the teachers I had in elementary school nor junior high school as instrumental in helping me too much in music at all. I think when I was in third grade; I started playin' flute and recorder. We started on recorders and those little song flutes and stuff. (Me: "Flutaphones.") Right and I had a friend that was playin' regular flute. So I studied with him. He taught me what he knew. And I learned to play recorder and flute. And then by fifth grade they gave me a musical aptitude test. And they wanted me to play violin, thats the only instrument that I think they had in school at that time. I wasn't interested in violin. And so I went to junior high school. They gave me the test again and they found out I had perfect pitch. I didn't know it at the time. I didn't know what perfect pitch meant or what it was but they told me I had scored on the music test that they gave me. But when I got to junior high school, I was in string class anyway and I didn't want to be in the string class. I wanted to play saxophone or trumpet. They had trumpet classes and saxophone. But this teacher insisted since I did so well on the test, I should be a violinist. I wanted to play bass but he wouldn't give me a bass when they was givin' out the instruments. I wound up playin' violin. So I played violin for three years. And the guy told my mother I had the potential to be an excellent violinist, but I wasn't really into it. That wasn't an instrument that I wanted to play, actually".
Me: "Yeah, that's part of their desperate search for someone to replace Oistrakh in America".
R. C.: "Right, right. So I don't consider any of the earlier teachers I had of any consequence or influence at all".
Me: "How about later on, post public school or college"?
R. C.: "Oh. In college, that was a different story. I had some good teachers in college. Let's see a good teacher I had was Dick Vance. He used to play with Fletcher Henderson's band a long time ago. And I learned a lot of things about classical music from him. He also ran a jazz workshop that was in Manhattan Community College. I also studied with Yusef Lateef, which was a great experience. I mean, talking with Yusef sometimes, he could tell you some things in five minutes, which could take you a few weeks to just elaborate on and just to get total comprehension on, too. And I always liked Yusef''s music too because, from the time I was a boy I liked Egyptian music and music from a lot of different Arabian countries. And he played flute and shenai and different instruments like that. And we also had a class called 'Music and World Culture' where we studied a lot of music and folk music from different countries around the world, which I had already developed in interest in anyway. I used to go to Lincoln Center Library and borrow a whole lot of records on folk music from different countries".
Me: "Describe your early musical associations, your first jobs and journeys, the places for your jobs and performances, early compositions and arrangements".
R.C.: "Well, how early do you want to go back?"
Me: "At any point that you want to begin with. Whenever you begin to feel that it was important".
R.C.: "Let's see, I started playin' trumpet in my last year of high school. About a year and a half after I was playin' trumpet, I started composin' my own tunes. But the first couple of years, I played with a lot of Top 40 and rhythm and blues bands cause I always liked rhythm and blues music anyway".
"About 1973, I could say I that was when I was really beginning to formulate a concept of my own music and what I wanted to do. I had a band called Jazz Spectrum. And when we first started we were doin' standard tunes, standard bebop stuff and we was also doin' our own arrangements of certain popular rhythm and blues tunes such as "Ain't No Sunshine When Your Gone" and stuff like that".
"But we took it in another direction. In fact, we used to play the tunes but we would really heat the tunes up and play with a lot of energy. And then, a little while after that I had another band where we were sorta doin' material around the same time Miles Davis came out with Jack Johnson. I had a band doin' some improvised funk. We would just make it up spontaneously. We'd hit on riffs stuff like that and doin' stuff like that too".
"And I began writin' music extensively around 1973 too. I started gettin' into my own concept of arranging and puttin' music together, which is sorta like a thing where I don't write any one particular style. So I incorporate whatever I'm feeling or whatever I hear from wherever the music's coming through from and just put something together".
"I had one tune, which I wrote in 74, which is sorta African sounding. It has a 6/8 rhythm. But parts of it sound like Spanish bolero music and then it also has some classical overtones in it. And then I have other pieces some times which might have an Egyptian rhythm happening but it's funky on top. And it just varies; I like to write different types of things. And I like to incorporate music from different cultures too, into what I'm doing to get a universal sound, which will appeal to lots of different people. So that way you can have somethin' where it just doesn't come from any one particular place. Somebody might be able to identify with something you're doin that they wouldn't ordinarily do if you were just playin somethin' like a funk tune or a straight or a straight-ahead bebop piece or something like that nature".
Me: "Yeah, name other ensembles that you've worked with since 1973 and places you've been able to tour, in both America and abroad".
R.C.: "Well, I've worked with lots of different people. I currently have done some work with David Murray, his octet. And we've been to Europe once and we just did a tour of the states. I've been with Jemeel Moondoc's band for about six years now. We've done several tours of Europe. And I play with a funk band that did some tours of the states back in, what was that, 72 or 73 at one time too. And I've also worked with Henry Threadgill and I've done some tours of the Islands with Rashied Ali. I played with Roy Haynes. I can't even remember everybody, Hannibal Marvin Peterson. I played with Woody Shaw, Sunny Murray, William Parker's big band, Cecil Taylor's big band; I played with Frank Wright. I've had a very, I could say rounded opportunity of playin' with lots of different people".
Me: "Describe the performance situation in New York, mainly in terms of frequency of work, the quality of the spaces that you work in, acoustically, and stuff like that, the degree and type of press coverage and anything like that".
R.C.: "Okay, well, here's what I would like to say. In New York, I feel there's room for a lot more people who haven't been gettin' an opportunity to be exposed on a wider level, to get exposure. And I also feel that there's only a few clubs that are in town that really have any notoriety. There's, like, Sweet Basils, the Vanguard, and Lush Life and, what's that other one, the Blue Note. And a few other little spots here and there. The rest of the places, they're sorta small and obscure. And so these are the main spots and how many people can be employed in a situation like that when there's only a few spots where people normally know that's where they have live music? Those places get the most coverage and the most advertisement and you have to find alternative routes".
"Over the years I've performed in lofts and churches and various little arts centers and basement type of situations. And these are like alternative schools that you have to perform into if you don't get a chance to perform in the main network of things. Sometimes it makes you feel s if you were knockin' on a closed door unless you get through with certain bands and certain opportunities that come up".
"Sweet Basil's had a series had a series called "Music is an Open Sky". It's like you're out here and you're not out here at the same time. There's people all over town who may know who you are but yet when you play certain places, because of media coverage and the way they cover things in town, they may not even know you're playin' at".
"So therefor, as an artist you not only have to be a performer but you have to be a businessman and a press agent at the same time too. In other words you might have to send out a press release, go on the radio station and play a record or play some tapes and do an interview, print up flyers, maybe even paste em up at the same time too, make phone calls and mail out flyers. You have a whole thing where you're doin' more than just performin'. I mean, all you should have to do is just perform the music, write the music, have your rehearsals and do presentation too. But you wind up doin' four or five other jobs on top of the normal job which you have to do in just bein' a musician. And that makes the situation even that much more difficult".
Me: "Do you have any particular feelings about the relationship between how much press comes out and covers stuff and how much work you get? That can probably effect an awful lot".
R.C.: "Yeah it does have an effect. In other words, for instance, in terms of the Village Voice, it's very influential in terms of gigs. People, when they do a gig, they want a Voice Choice 'cause they know if you get a Voice Choice, that means more people will show up to the gig. Now if you don't get a Voice Choice or the ad that you put in the paper is not in a certain section or it's not big enough, you may not get that many people".
"Then, a whole lot of critics, some times, I think, are very biased too in terms of who they check out. It's sorta like a popularity contest. It's also a thing if you're not written about enough or constantly. That also has an effect on how much you work or don't work. It's also a situation that's like, once a certain group of people say ' oh this is the guy' or this is the cat or whatever. People that don't even know who you are will begin to come check you out just on the fact that Mickey Mouse says Donald Duck is the one to check out at this point in time. So it becomes a situation like that. And that happens irregardless of whether he is a fantastic musician, artist or whatever the situation is or he's not".
"You know, so and so says 'oh this is the guy, he's the one that's in'. Then everybody gravitates towards you. But if you're not gettin' that kind of coverage, you could be out here scratchin' walls form now 'til the twelfth of never. And unless you make a sincere effort to do certain things yourself, nobody'll never know who you are or even recognize you".
Me: "Yeah, it's more important to be into PR than music".
R.C.: "Right. I've realized over the years, to me, I think playin' the music is only ten percent of the job of bein' a musician nowadays".
Me: "Yeah. Describe anything about tours in Europe, the difference in audience sizes, if any, the type of gigs available and the general turnout. What's press coverage like over there and the difference to here".
R.C.: "Oh the difference here is really vast. There's a saying that this is music developed in and grew in America, yet it's treated like a stepchild. I was in Germany a few years ago. I was just stayin' there a few months and I wrote a poem which is called 'What Is Jazz' and it describes just how I feel how jazz is treated. It describes how in America, where the music developed and grew. You have to go to Europe to get more recognition and this is the pillaging ground".
"I mean, in Europe, first of all, the audiences are tremendous, the money's better, the people love the music. Enthusiasm is great. And usually, when you perform, the next day there's at least several local papers that have pictures of the band. There's a review and an article. And usually, here, even if the article comes out about your band, it might be in the New York Times or the Village Voice but it's like maybe three days or a week or several months later".
Me: "You played in April and some time in the following January"...
R.C.: .."the article comes out. Whereas in Europe an article may be out the next day and maybe a month or two later the magazines will cover it. A lot of times there's an event here, you don't see that in Downbeat. Cadence seems to be pretty good at covering events even if they make a mention. Even Coda covers things that Downbeat does not cover. There's a lot of things that go on here in the city and Coda Magazine, which is published in Canada will have it listed down cause they have Kazunori Sugiyama, who tapes a lot of concerts. He does reviews for Coda and then, when I was in Europe, I met a guy who did reviews for Coda in Europe. These magazines, to me, seem to cover the music in America better than the so-called main magazine, which has been established for what, about thirty-five or forty years, fifty years or whatever it is.
And they're really only catering to a certain clientele and once again it's like that popularity contest. Oh, this is the boy of the month, this is the guy, check him out".
"And the scale of pay in Europe is on a much higher level and the people treat you well. They make sure everything is taken care of and accommodation is good. A lot of times, in clubs here, you don't even have a dressing room. There is a dressing room, in which I wrote my poem. It's like a makeshift dressing room with dirt and garbage and stuff".
Me: "A cellar or something".
R.C.: "Yeah, a cellar or something like that. What is that? I really don't understand it. I just did a tour with David Murray in America and it's the first time in a long time that I've done a tour playin' jazz anywhere outside of the Eastern Seaboard. And there was certain sections of the country where you see that the music really hasn't that much exposure yet because the record distributors don't even distribute the records in a lot of places around America. And so that's a problem right there when people have problems even getting access to records to listen to the music".
"So if that's a problem, then when you come to their town, there's no way that the people really know who you are unless there's a jazz radio station where they are actually playing the music. And there are not too many jazz radio stations in certain sections of the country. So when you do a concert, there's a likelihood that you will not get a good draw or a large turnout of people".
"Whereas, in Europe, people know who the musicians are. There are people over there, who have large collections and archives of records all over their houses and stuff. They have books and the music is treated on a very high artistic level and musicians are respected".
Me: "Yeah, you have people like Axel Stumpf, who has a 200 page tape catalog or something, every performance that everyone ever did within miles of him".
RC: "Right, Right, you have a lot of people like that".
Me: "Describe any experiences that you've had as a teacher and methods you've evolved for teaching or the role of teaching in your work".
RC: "Well I've had various private students. And I also did workshops for adults and young people. And I've also worked with children, too. I find that working with children is interesting because they always come up with new ideas. And their concepts are sorta free. I used to work with them playin' with bells and percussion instruments in day care centers and day camps, which I found very interesting. And we used to improvise a lot of things and it was very refreshing and also very inspiring in a way too".
RC: "And then the young adults and adults, I've taught theory and harmony, very basic things, and musicianship. We had a workshop at this Lower East Side community workshop which Jemeel was affiliated with. We had a workshop in the school, PS 9. I did a summer workshop there and I had students that I taught theory and musicianship to. Then, I just basically use standard formulas and standard concepts, in terms of teaching. And with private students, it's pretty much that way too because I feel you really have to have a good background and know basic things before you can even begin to digress into any different directions or come up with different concepts".
RC: "And I also was involved in a program where I was a sub for Craig Harris in Manor House where I taught groups of brass players and groups of private students. Basically my stint is just going through standard rudimentary material. Then I have students, which I've taught improvisation to and that's where I employ various methods of my own. If one really wants to learn improvising, then you should practice certain things like scales and concepts and I also feel that playin' along with records is a very good aid in terms of teaching improvisation to them. I also feel that people have to really learn to develop their ear and spend a lot of time just listening to music to get a concept of improvisation cause that's how I got it. You just listen and you listen to a lot of different things, not just by one person but many people and many different things. And then you can see what you're hearing and get an idea of what you're after and where you fit in".
Me: "Describe any musicological research that you've done. You were talking about learning about world music also with jazz traditions in America or elsewhere and any musical history research you may have done for background for your own work and interests".
RC: "Oh Yeah, I've done lots of reading, listened to lots of different music from lots of different places around the world. I even have a lot of basic instruments from different places like wooden flutes and I have Egyptian bells and Arab shepherds pipes. To me it goes a little bit deeper than knowin' music. There's a part of me that's very close to Egypt and I believe in reincarnation and I feel that at some point before I was in Egypt, cause I remember the very first music that I really loved when I was a kid was Egyptian music. I remember they used to have a lot of movies on when I was small where they would have Arabian Nights and stuff like that. And that music really used to knock me out, especially snake charmer type of stuff and things like that. I've also studied a lot of music from Africa. I have tapes of a lot of music from around the world like Japanese Koto music too".
"And I try to incorporate all these different things into what I'm writing. I had one tune which starts off with flutes, it has an African sort of feel and then, when the melody comes in, it's flutes and trumpet. And that has a Japanese Oriental sound and then, after that it goes into a funk type of Egyptian rhythmic type of thing".
"Now, just by studying music, all these different influences have a way of coming together in a certain way, and in terms of my writing and composition, people who've heard my music know my music because it has a certain kind of style and feelin" which they know is mine as soon as they hear it. They can tell my tunes just by how they are able to identify my playin' or my sound as well".
"And I'm tryin' to get a concept of universal music. I think that's another step that music has to take and I've talked to a lot of different musicians who also embarked on this path and I've met musicians from various countries to which I've sat down and talked with. We have a similar thing that they have. They want to learn certain things about American music and they will teach me certain things about their music and it will be sort of like a cultural exchange and an even exchange in terms of what we come up with".
Me: "Describe relations with recording companies, how helpful they are and attempts at independent record production you might have been in on".
RC: "Well, I really haven't had much to do with recording companies, per se, at this stage of the game for myself yet. I've recorded over at Cadence Records a couple of times. I sent him a tape once and he thought the music sounded okay but he wasn't very impressed with it. He thought it didn't have it's own identity and made a very off the wall comment. He said it will get stronger with strength through time, (laughs). But it already, in my opinion and lots of other people, is sounding pretty strong".
"And at this point, right now, I'm trying to get a good tape done of my band and I want to try and do that within the next few months. And I want to send that around to various companies and see what they think of the music, what they think of the band and I would like to get a recording contract. But if I don't, more than likely I'm going to put a record out myself".
Me: "Describe the role of Arts Organizations like the collective here or any things around here that are trying to work as alternatives. How effective have they been doing work and have you had much experience with them"?
RC: "Well I think some of the alternative art organizations have done some good because they make a situation that's creative where they let people know that there are musicians out here that the media and other people are ignoring and these people have a right to be presented and a right to perform or even given the media coverage that somebody like say, Wynton Marsalis and his brother gets, for instance or Grover Washington or Miles Davis. You know everybody has something to say but everybody does not get an opportunity to do or perform what they have to do as much as others. And I feel that a gap has to be bridged between that type of situation some way or another".
"You see, that's what I said with my poem. Everybody waits for the next death of the next late great jazz musician. That's what it concludes with, sayin' everybody is waitin'. Like all the record company pirates put out legendary performances of all types of stuff that wasn't around when you were alive. It's like everybody waits 'til you're dead, then you get all the recognition. But what good is it when you're dead, if you're alive right now and you're not gettin' recognition, you know what i mean"?
Me: " There's a parallel to that in bird watching. You can't confirm that you saw a bird until you get it's corpse stretched out on a board. If the only bird of it's kind is in your area, you gotta kill it to really verify that it was ever there. So it's the scientific method all over again, you need something in a bell jar".
"So describe any opportunities that you have had to get commissions for writing work or grants that you may have been able to get".
RC: "Well I just put in for a grant, just two days ago for the New York State Council of the Arts for a composition. So I'll see what happens there. I've applied for National Endowments a couple of times. I haven't received any grants from them. I've gotten grants a couple of times from Meet the Composer and composed some compositions and presented some concerts with a couple of various things. At least three or four times I've received some grants from Meet the Composer, so they're not too bad".
Me: "How about any lectureships or residencies at Universities here"?
RC: "No, I haven't had that experience".
Me: "What of any municipal affiliations or city programs"?
RC: "Well I did a couple of concerts this summer with J. R. Mitchell where we played for, what was it, a city corporation or a park corporation that had these concerts during the summertime where you do a couple of performances and it's hooked up with musicians. I've done those and then, about eight years ago, I co-led a band called 'Spirits Willing' and we got a series of concerts like that all summer long too, where you played in various community centers and various parks around town. And that was also with the same series with the summer parks program. Then I've done some concerts with Studio We with Rashied Ali and Sonelius Smith. They got grants every year to do concert series around the city in various parks. I've done some of them also".
Me: "Describe any experiences you may have had with radio and television, electronic media and how much attention they ever pay. Describe the electronic media in general and maybe cable performances".
RC: Well. I did a n on-the-air performance thing in Europe with David Murray and they had that on the news over there. I've done a number of radio interviews and live performances on radio. When I was playin' with Carlos Garnett, we did a live broadcast on WRVR. They used to broadcast from the Village Gate. And I've done several shows with WKCR. I've done interviews on WNYU. And that's basically it as far as mass media goes. I haven't been on any videos. I've done a couple of video tapings, but they haven't been broadcast and with various bands I've played with. I would like to get into doing videos and I also would like to be on Cable TV".
Me: "And then, finally, describe collaborations with other art mediums, any work you've done with dancers or with visual artists, film, video, drama, poetry or the new sound text stuff that seems to be so popular nowadays".
RC: "Yeah, I've done a number of concerts with dancers. I work with a Japanese dancer sometimes in which I do improvisations to her movements. I like working with dancers and I also write poetry myself. I've also played behind poets. In July, I did a play with Henry Threadgill in which we played some music. And I've also done a couple of plays before too, in which I played behind or wrote scores. In fact I'm working on an opera with a playwright where I'm doing the arranging and that's supposed to open next year. I also like working with actors, poets and dancers because there's an interaction there. It's not just you and what you're doin' but you have to interact with what they're doin, and give a reaction musically to whatever they're tryin' to get across with their performance".
But one of these days I would like to do a film score. I got some music which several people have heard that say that it sounds like music that should be in a film. I would love to get a crack or opportunity to do that. In fact, I did a film score with William Parker, I think in June. It was a film about Indians in Old New York. It was supposed to show in libraries and museums in the city. It was really interesting".
"I would like to score music with different contexts other than just performing in the music idiom because the fact that you have to match the music with something else that's goin' on becomes challenging. And it's always a challenge to see how well it can blend together or mix together and whether something creative will cross over".