Charlie Gabriel Interview by Monk Rowe – 1/9/2020 – New Orleans, LA
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Charlie Gabriel Interview by Monk Rowe – 1/9/2020 – New Orleans, LA


MR: I’m very happy to have Charlie Gabriel
with me today. My name is Monk Rowe for the Fillius Jazz
Archive. Thanks for your time. CG: Oh thank you for having me. I really appreciate it. MR: We were just talking about, we’re all
on the same page now. And I saw on your list of accomplishments
that you played behind some of the 50s performers like Frankie Avalon and that. CG: Oh I played behind them early, later in
life I was playing behind them after I left New Orleans and went to Detroit. But I started playing music in New Orleans
in 1943 during the war. The war was going on and all the musicians
that were able to go to the war, were 20 or 25, they were all gone so there was no other
musicians around here but the older musicians like T-Boy Remy, Freddie Keppard or Kid Clayton,
Jim Robinson and George Lewis. So what had happened, I come from a musical
family. My family moved here to New Orleans in 1856. My grandfather was – great-grandfather was
a bass player. My grandfather was a trumpet player, and my
father and grandfather were born in New Orleans here, and my father was born in New Orleans,
but my great-grandfather was born in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic Island. And they all was musicians. So they moved to New Orleans in 1856. My dad had eleven kids, and I had five brothers. And they was all musicians. My father had, I’ll tell you their names in
a minute, my father had two brothers that I grew up knowing, it was my Uncle Percy and
my Uncle Clarence. My Uncle Percy was a bass player that worked
at that time with the Jay McShann band. He was with the Jay McShann band. And my Uncle Clarence, he was a piano player
and a guitar player – a banjo player. There wasn’t no guitar at that time. A banjo player. And my dad was a drummer and later on became
a saxophonist after he came down with arthritis, he became a saxophonist. My mother played saxophone, see? So I had a musical life from the time I came
into the world. MR: Can I ask you a question about the music
that you were hearing and that your father played and your uncles. Did you call it something? Did you call it jazz? Or was it just –
CG: I have never heard too much of the word jazz until later on after I got to be around
14 or 15, you heard the word jazz. But that word was, from what I can understand
Freddie Keppard was a member of my grandfather’s band which was the National Jazz Band here
in New Orleans in 1920, see? And he was offered a recording contract to
record the music. And Freddie Keppard decided he didn’t want
to record the music because he didn’t want them to steal his style of playing. So he put a handkerchief over his finger and
he played the trumpet. He didn’t want them to see what he was doing. That was Freddie Keppard. So I didn’t hear nothing about the word jazz. But when I heard the recorded jazz back in
1926, something like that, ’24, ’26 it was a white group that recorded the jazz, and
recorded the music, so I was told, what kind of music is this? And they said, “Dixieland.” But that wasn’t the right word to say. It was from the land of Dixie. It wasn’t Dixieland. It was from the land of Dixie see? But the media accepted the term Dixieland
because at the time I was playing with these old musicians, you know they wasn’t broadcasting
black people’s music. Black people would say, “Oh that was jassy,
J-A-S-S.” That was the word. And then they changed the word to J-A-Z-Z. Jazz. Now that was handed down to me. I can not vouch on what I’m saying but it
was handed down from the older musicians that I was playing with. Because every time they would call my father
to play, my father would be working and he’d say, “Oh no, I can’t take that job, but you
can take the kid” because I could read good at 12, and 11 or 12, I could read good because
I started learning at 7. So when I got to be 11 years old I was almost
like a professional musician because all the old musicians would call my father and he
couldn’t take the job. He’d say, “Well you can take the kid.” That gave me an opportunity to play with Jim
Robinson, play with George Lewis, play with T-Boy Remy, to play with Kid Sheik, to play
with all the older musicians. I was all their little boy. MR: What was it like interacting with those
older fellas? CG: Well my dad was very disciplined. He’d say, “Now whatever they tell you to do
you do.” So I didn’t rebel against none of them. In fact I remember one time I was with Eureka
band and George Lewis was playing right next to me. I’m playing right next to George Lewis. And I must have been making a mistake or something
or doing something, because I couldn’t play out of my head. I could read but when they played something
out of their head then I’d be stumbling, you know, trying to play with them. So George Lewis said, he looked down at me
and giving me something. My dad said, “No, don’t help him, don’t help
him, let him play, let him learn, let him play like a man. So they can pay him like a man. I was about 12, 13 years old. MR: You said you were a good reader, but not
all that music was written out, was it? CG: Well some of that music was written out
because you see they played a lot of dirges, a lot of the jobs I played was funerals. They played a lot, and the first job I had
was a funeral. That was the first job I had in my life was
a funeral. So they had the music on an itty bitty card
like this. A dirge, or I can’t think of the different
dirges I played, but I could read them and play them. But after they leave the body, took it to
the cemetery, and we walked away from the graveyard maybe about a block away from the
graveyard, they uplifted the music from playing the dirge into much more lively stuff to help
the people that lost their loved one to kind of get back into their normal self instead
of grieving. But as the band picked up these numbers and
people were walking on the street and picked up these numbers, just anybody in the street
would hear this music and they’d start coming to the band, coming to hear the band. And so they are playing uptempo stuff. They ain’t playing nothing slow, now uptempo
stuff. And that started what you call the “second
line.” The people joined and they didn’t even know
the deceased but they joined in and followed the band and they would have a good time. And what they’d do is that wherever the person,
the deceased, where he used to go and drink at and hang out at, the band would go to those
places where they would hang out at and they would be giving beer out and everything and
everybody would have a good time, to celebrate his life. So because they could have free drinks, more
people would come, so it would be a big thing. And if he was a well known musician or well
known person, in whatever profession and they had some of this for ladies too from different
organizations, they had funerals for them the same way they had for jazz musicians. MR: Who was responsible for paying the musicians? CG: Who would be responsible for paying the
musicians? MR: Yes. CG: The band leader. MR: And who paid him? CG: Well he’d have a contract. For the funeral or something like that? MR: Yes. CG: Well I would state he had a contract,
but someone gives him X amount of dollars to take care of the person that you are using. But I never had a job myself as the band leader
to play a funeral. MR: I just was curious if the family of the
deceased – CG: It probably is the family of the deceased. Well they still pay for funerals and things. And they also not only pay for the funeral,
when they take them to the different churches they give the people in the church money too
sometimes you know. Because the only people that come to see the
loved one that has gone, they’re still sad but they’re so thankful you’ve been so nice
to them during that period of time through their mourning and everything else. It’s a beautiful thing. It’s a ritual that we’ve been – it kind of
opened my eyes up when they were doing this, so I imagine they were doing it for a long
time before I opened my eyes up, because those were older guys, older musicians, and it didn’t
happen just when I come into the world, it was already going on. I just followed the path. MR: You can have your coffee, go ahead. I’m always curious what musicians made during
different period. CG: It would vary you know. It wasn’t a whole lot of money because whatever
it was was according to the time, it was during that period of time. I guess they had a union because I couldn’t
be seen in the band when the union man came around. They just had me aside and covered me up with
two or three guys would probably stand in front me so the union man don’t see me but
he knew too, because he knew the musicians and it didn’t bother them too much but you
know how that goes. MR: How old were you supposed to be? CG: No age limit but I just wasn’t in the
union. MR: Oh you weren’t in the union, of course. CG: If I’d have joined the union they wouldn’t
bother me. I wasn’t in the union. But I had an uncle in the union and he was
on the Board. His name was August Lenoir. He was married to my father’s sister. So they didn’t bother me too much because
I had a little clout. MR: You had a little connection there. CG: Yeah. MR: And were you playing tenor or clarinet? CG: Clarinet. E flat clarinet. E flat clarinet. And George Lewis was playing an E flat clarinet. You knew Georgie Lewis? MR: Yeah, sure. I wonder why the E flat because it just rang
out? CG: E flat because that’s the instrument that
rang out. The pitch is so high. And it covers over the band, that E flat clarinet. The B flat clarinet would be lost in there. MR: What’s that famous clarinet solo? CG: “High Society?” MR: “High Society.” Yeah. CG: [scats] Yeah. That was “High Society.” Now that was written by Picou – he wrote that
for the flute. It wasn’t a clarinet thing. But it became a clarinet thing, it was a way
of measuring the musician’s ability. If you can play “High Society,” see, then
you had the ability to play in the band you know. It was a measuring stick, see? Just like John Coltrane, his measurement was,
what was that Coltrane – MR: “Giant Steps?” CG: “Giant Steps.” That was his measuring stick. And these other musicians, their measuring
stick was – MR: Who are
you talking about? CG: They all had measuring sticks. In other words, you had to come up to a certain
level in order to qualify to play. If you can’t come up to that level you couldn’t
be a part of this thing. Folks, we still were teaching the other musicians
how to play and what to use in order to develop their skill you know. “Cherokee” – that’s the one I was think –
MR: Oh right. With Charlie Parker. CG: Well Charlie Parker came in with a whole
thing and knocked all of that out, see? When Charlie Parker came in, him and Diz,
they changed the whole concept of jazz. So on Charlie Parker’s break on “Night in
Tunisia” they wrote seven books on it. See? “Night in Tunisia” just the break alone, they’re
not talking about his solos you know. But you’ll get a little piece of that here
and there. I was fortunate enough that when I went to
Detroit in 1948, I went to Detroit in ’48, I was lucky enough to be a world established
musician. I was only about 17 years old and I’d been
playing since I was 11 so I was pretty well advanced. I had an opportunity to do a thing with Lionel
Hampton for a little short thing. I didn’t stay with Hamp’s band at all. I did a couple of little things with him and
I was fortunate to move on with other top jazz musicians, you know. MR: Yeah. In 1948 Lionel Hampton was sort of headed
towards almost rhythm & blues, wasn’t he? CG: No, no. Lionel Hampton in 1948, I replaced Illinois
Jacquet you know? MR: Oh you replaced him. CG: I didn’t replace him, in other words I
played the solo after the Illinois Jacquet and so it gave me a little chance to try and
be with that band. But I didn’t stay with that band at all. I just did a couple of things with them while
they were in the City of Detroit. MR: I see. CG: At the Paradise Theater. But I was an old musician being young. Hampton liked me, because when he auditioned
me he auditioned me with two fingers, like that. Like he was playing the vibes. You know? MR: He was playing the piano with two fingers. CG: Two fingers. He made the chord changes with two fingers
and all that. But it was good. I’ve been very blessed musically speaking
because I’ve worked with some of the greatest musicians in the country. I did a thing with, I was fortunate to be
on a couple of things with Benny Carter on a couple of festivals. And I did things with Jay McShann, we did
a couple of things at the Tarrytown Concert House. In Ann Arbor, Michigan I recorded with him
but that was never released. I stayed with – J.C. Heard and Dizzy Gillespie
was in the Cab Calloway band together. J.C. Heard told me, he told me that, so every
time Dizzy Gillespie would come through Detroit, he’d be at J.C.’s home, so I had a chance
to mingle with Dizzy Gillespie, which was very fortunate you know. Because I stayed with J.C. nine years. That’s the longest I stayed with one band. And before I went with J.C. I went with Aretha
Franklin. I worked with the Aretha Franklin band before
I got with J.C. Heard. MR: Well you and I have one thing in common. CG: What? MR: I got to play in the sax section with
Aretha Franklin one time. CG: Ah. Wonderful. That’s wonderful. MR: Unforgettable. CG: Yes, she had some beautiful charts. MR: She sure does. CG: But you know when I got to Aretha Franklin’s
band, Donald Towns was the band leader. MR: Who is that? CG: Donald Towns was the band leader. And he brought me in the band, and I went
in on alto. I went in on alto and I’m playing third alto. And the band was leaving to go to France,
yeah, they were leaving to go to France. And the baritone player at the last minute
told Aretha he wasn’t going. “You’re not going? We have everything all set.” Well we’ve got to go. When they got over to France they had a brand
new baritone sax there for me to play, so they put me on baritone. So I wound up playing baritone with Aretha
Franklin. Not tenor. It was a trip. What happened when I went to France, Chips
Outcalt, used to be with Billy Eckstine’s band, Billy Eckstine. But he was playing trombone in Billy Eckstine’s
band. He played trumpet and trombone but he was
playing trombone but he was a great arranger. Him and Quincy, Quincy Jones, from what I
understand it was told to me but I can’t vouch on that, but Quincy Jones was under J.C. – under
Chips, see? But he was also in Lionel Hampton’s band you
know. So he did a little studying under Chips with
his writing, see? It used to be speed writing. An act would come into the Apollo Theater
or something and play, and they have no music. There are about three or four arrangers, and
that’s how they hustled and made money, see? Because you need music for your act? Boom they’d start the writing. And when your act is finished they give you
the chart. MR: Oh, no computer either, right? CG: No, not there. Not there writing. So Chips became a very close friend of mine. He came to Detroit, lived in Detroit, so he
was also a member of Aretha Franklin’s band too. Chips was in Aretha Franklin’s band too, also
Marcus Belgrave. Me and Marcus stayed together for about seven
years, we had a little group together, me and Marcus. Cut a few records. They’ve got a few records out. And we just lost Marcus about a couple of
years ago. MR: Didn’t Billy Mitchell come from –
CG: Billy Mitchell, yeah, the tenor player from Detroit, too. I mean, you know, Detroit musicians that are
in New York are Detroiters. They first migrated to New York in the 40s,
see? That would be Thad Jones and Elvin Jones and
all of those guys, they migrated to New York in the 40s. I got out of the service in ’55 and the cats
was getting together to go to New York and they asked me, “Charlie, we’re going to New
York, you want to go with me, man?” “I ain’t going to New York and starve to death. No man.” ‘Cause my uncles had already warned me about
coming to New York. They had, my mother’s brother had the “Salad
Green Show” out of New Orleans that folded down in 1931. The “Salad Green Show.” You ever heard? Look it up. Ethel Waters was on the show and Bill Robinson
was on the show. So I had music from both sides in my family
that were dealing with this music. That’s all we ever did. That’s all I ever did. I have never worked a day in my life other
than play music, see? Other than play music I never did anything
else but play music. And my father taught me. I didn’t go to no college and no school like
that. My music was taught from my dad down. I had five brothers. My brother Martin, the older one, played trumpet;
August played trumpet too. And I wanted to play trumpet, my Daddy said,
“No, no, no, all you guys playing trumpet, we ain’t getting no money in this house.” So I’ve got to play something else. MR: Why is that? CG: Well if all of us played trumpet he’d
only hire one trumpet player. So he gave me no money. You had to play something to bring some money
into the house, to help to support the family. You know what I mean? So he told me and my cousin Clarence Ford,
you ever heard of Clarence Ford? Clarence Ford is my cousin. My dad caught Clarence Ford and me together. He caught us fooling with what you call a
potato whistle. We was in New York and we had a potato whistle. It was like a potato but it had three holes
on the top and three holes there and one on the bottom. See? They had one, and we played the whistle by
numbers. One – one, two, three, four, five, six, or
whatever it is. And we had a little song, number two, and
I’d play and Clarence played. And he says, “You boys want to learn how to
play music? My dad said, “Come on in here.” He took us in the house and he sat us down
and he started teaching us the clarinet. I think my cousin Ford – he got a C clarinet
for my cousin Ford – no he gave me the C clarinet. He gave me the C clarinet. So when he arrived he was writing all violin
parts for me to play. MR: Hmm. You got the hard stuff. CG: I’ll never forget – I’ll never forget
he wrote an arrangement on “How Deep is the Ocean” [sings] how deep is the ocean [scats]. So when the band was playing [scats] I played
the obbligato [scats] like a violin. So I learned a lot. Yeah. I learned a lot. MR: That’s a great story. How much of the music, the years you spent
in Detroit, obviously music, the styles changed over the years. CG: Why sure. When I went to Detroit I stopped playing clarinet
for about twenty years ’cause there wasn’t no jobs for clarinet. But only when I played with a band, a big
band, eight, nine, ten pieces, they had some parts for the clarinet which was always good. Because you’d get paid for each instrument
I play. I played the flute too. So I played the clarinet, tenor and flute,
see? So I tried to learn that instrument if they’re
going to pay me for it. Yeah. MR: Did you have to adapt to the rock & roll
that came on to the scene, because the tenor players always got the –
CG: That was a natural for me because when I played “Flying Home” with Lionel Hampton
that’s one of the things that got me into that band. Because Charlie Mingus was in the band at
that time. You know? So I’d play the horn and, you know, I mean
you’d go all out to entertain the public. I can’t stand there just blowing my horn you
know and look cute you know? You have to move, entertain people. It’s two types of ways of playing. Like I have to tell these guys at the club
here right now, when you’re playing jazz, like we like to play, the people come and
they sit and they have their drink and they listen. They’re not jumping up and down. They’re listening. It’s a listening music. Now when you go to a club where they’ve got
a bottle of beer in their hand and a drink over here, they want to be entertained. They don’t want you to just sit up there and
then blow all them notes. No. Show me something, baby. You know? Let me feel the beat. And the beat goes on, you know? So that’s important to know the difference
of the type of job that you’re playing. And if you’re doing things in hotels like
this, you’ve got a piano ensemble with a horn thing, you play music for people to listen
’cause they’re eating. You don’t want to play things that disturb. They’ve got to learn all that, that this is
a part of the business. Music is a business, see? And it’s a full time business you know? Because it’s all over the world because music
is the strongest force we have. It’s on top of everything. It soothes you down and brings all the best
of you out. See? Even with your girlfriend, if you talk right
and sing songs right, she’ll come back. Music is the strongest force we have. So I play a lot of attention to that and I
play a lot of attention to the audience that I’m performing in front of. You know? MR: Good advice. Did your father talk about those kinds of
things like beyond how good you play the saxophone or the clarinet, you have to behave like this. Did he give you advice? CG: My dad was so strict. You have to behave, just like you say, like
in this type of environment. This type of material we play, now we’re going
to play for so-and-so now all this is going to be from this age on up so you’ve got to
pay attention to the music that you’re playing. You have to live the music as you play it. You have to live it. The music is generally an extension of what
you are because you have to live it in order to deliver it. And if you live it you can deliver it you
know. But if you don’t live it you’re just playing
and then she’s not going to feel it. She’s not going to feel it unless you feel
it. If you feel it you’re going to deliver it
and she’s going to feel it too. MR: I’m feeling it. Okay so I’m thinking about your career and
I’m still thinking about in Detroit. Was there a period of years, because of the
way music changed, that was the hardest for you to make a living? CG: When I got to Detroit I never had no problem
’cause I always knew how to govern myself for the type of job that I have. When I got to Detroit I was fortunate enough
to meet Clair Rockamore, a little trumpet player. If you read Miles Davis’ autobiography you’ll
see his name in there. Clair Rockamore. Clair Rockamore was a little trumpet player
– when Miles came to Detroit he didn’t play. He tried to get out of it if you put it that
way. He was only about 13, 14 years old, ’cause
he also was with me at the time he made the audition to do this thing with Lionel Hampton,
man. I was there and he was there. Hamp let me play. But he would take fills from Fats Navarro. Fats Navarro was in the band and Fats Navarro
was taking fills with little Clair Rockamore – Clair Rockamore was only 13 years old at
that time. I was about 15, 15 or 16, or something like
around that time. I was associated with Barry Harris. I had to go to Barry Harris’ house, he had
all the jazz musicians that was there, we’d jam up there. Barry is very sick, too. I heard he just got back to the States. Anyway, Barry Harris, and Roland Hanna, Sir
Roland Hanna. He was a good friend of my brother. He used to come over the house and we’d jam
together. He played saxophone too. A lot of people didn’t know. Eugene Taylor, Kenny Burrell, all these – even
Yusef Lateef you know, was in that area you know? So being around those musicians, they all
gave me something because I would jam with them and I learned a lot from them and they
got a lot from me. Because I was from New Orleans, and they’d
always say boy, you’ve got that rhythm in you. Me and Marcus tried to create a New Orleans-Detroit
communication, whatever you want to call it. We tried to do New Orleans and Detroit. We did pretty good. My dad and my Uncle Percy, they started New
Orleans music in Detroit and they were called the Gabriel Brothers Band. I never had no problem, because Joe Hunter,
who was a band leader for Motown, we were playing together and he used to like to write
a lot. Joe Hunter. And Earl VanDyke who was the Funk Brothers,
so we played together even before Motown got to the level that they got at. MR: Was there a studio scene in Detroit that
you’d get called to play? CG: At that time they didn’t have no Motown. They had a place that they called the Specialty
Recording. It was on Dauphine Street. And they all said another record company in
Detroit was called Fortune Records. And all this was before Barry Gordon. And then they started migrating together and
started working out different things. But there was a lot that happened before Barry. I don’t want to tell you about all my downfalls
but I have to tell you anyway, because it’s true. I was directing for the Joe Simon Band. He was a singer, singing the blues. “Pretty Little Bitty One” you know, Joe sang
it. He was at the Apollo Theater and he had the
big headline and they had, under him, the Five Step Brothers and the Jackson 5. So I went – Five Step Brothers came on first
and I heard them little kids playing. I said, “Oh man, look at them kids playing
this music.” I went back and I told Joe, I says, “Joe,
you’ve got to come out here and see these kids play this music.” “Oh, man, don’t worry about that.” This was the Five Step Brothers. “I wouldn’t worry about that.” He’s the headlines. So after Five Step Brothers came out then
the Jackson 5 came out. Joe Jackson was playing the guitar. And his group, his brothers were all over
the thing – and I saw, I said, oh man they’ve got to come and see these kids. These kids is badder than these other kids. He goes, “Aww, don’t worry about it.” I said okay. Then he came out on that stage, and man, them
boys burnt that stage – that stage was so hot. I’m the director and I said, “Okay fellas,
here” [scats] “Joe Simon” everybody – the curtain opened up and
he comes walking out there and the people just looked at him. He couldn’t do nothing. That stage was too hot. He started singing “Frankie and Johnny went
hunting” – or whatever that was. Them two boys – I met old man Joe, he talked
to me and he said man, I need some help with these kids, by me being in the band. I said, “Well may I say I’m trying to talk
to Joe, to get Joe to talk to you, ’cause they had a recording company in Nashville,
and maybe we can do something with them kids, you know? Nothing happened. I met Joe, I met Michael Jackson then, he
was only 11 years old, 11 or 12 years old and blew that thing – Diana Ross came out
right back behind me and took them down to Motown and the rest is history. I could have been a millionaire now. That’s not bad. But listen to this one. My little nephew came and said, “Uncle Charles,
you’ve got to hear the little blind boy play this piano.” He was living on the same block as my nephew,
on Humboldt Street, in the same block in Detroit as my brother with my sister. Oh they wore their hat on them – he said,
“Come and hear the blind boy play.” I said oh, go and get him. I told Michael – Stevie Wonder. Stevie Wonder come down to my sister’s house
and he must have been about 10 years old. He came and I said, “Go ahead and play.” Oh he was just playing. Well by me being such an old musician I see
other young musicians, young kids playing much more than was Stevie playing. To me. Now that means I was playing a lot but I wasn’t
paying attention that good. So I said, oh yeah, yeah, and he went on about
his business. Two years later Joe Hunter let Stevie Wonder
– took him down to Motown. The rest is history. I had some bad breaks. MR: That could have been another million,
your second million. CG: I had some bad breaks, man. Oh, so I know that would make you laugh. Two giants. I missed both of them. I had more opportunity than anybody. MR: Oh gee. Well I wanted to ask you about playing in
France. CG: Oh yeah, I’m going to tell you about that. MR: Yeah. Because I noticed a little story like someone
over in France heard you play and said, “You’re from New Orleans.” CG: Yeah. What happened. Chips Outcalt wrote an arrangement of “My
Way” I did it my way, I told you they told were going to feature me on baritone. They were going to feature me on “My Way” and so Chips wrote the arrangements so we
were rehearsing it in the place and there was a guy way in the back, and I got off the
bandstand and he walked up to me and okay, say, “You’re from New Orleans.” I said, “No, man, I’m with Aretha Franklin,
man, I’m from Detroit.” He said, no, he shook his head, he said, “No. You’re from New Orleans.” He said, “What your name is?” No first he said, “It’s in your music, you’re
from New Orleans.” He said, “What’s your name is?” I said, “I’m Charlie Gabriel.” He said, “You know Manny Gabriel?” I said, “Yeah, that’s my father.” He said, and he called, “Mabel Gabriel?” And Alice Gabriel, and just women’s names. I said, “I don’t know them” but I found out
he liked me anyway, he was a very fine man, he liked me and he – see he took me around
to see Sidney Bechet’s statue – to me a Sidney Bechet statue, and I’m looking at the statue. I found out that he knew my grandfather, because
he used to live here in New Orleans and he knew my grandfather. He was in music but I don’t know what he was
in. But he and my grandfather, and that’s how
he knew who I was musically speaking. So I went back to Detroit and I told, “Dad”
I said, “You know you’ve got it, you’re known all over in France.” I said, “This guy told me that I was from
New Orleans” and I told him what happened. And he said no they don’t know me, they call
me Little Man. That’s what they called my father, Little
Man, and called my grandfather Manny. That’s how that worked. And so after that happened I went around interviewing
all my aunts and uncles that was still living and still in music, so I did a lot of research
and found out a lot of stuff that I didn’t know nothing about. Because they have closed mouth. They don’t tell you nothing, your parents. See my mother speaks French fluently, and
anytime they get around her and they’ll be speaking to her and Miss Percy will be speaking
on the step and everything else, they say, “Oh get out of here, you’re too wet around
the ears, you want to know too much.” You know? Get out of here. So what’d they do? If you didn’t get out they’d start speaking
French in front of you so you won’t know what they’re talking about. So I’m sitting up there and my mother and
Miss Percy and they’re just speaking French because you don’t know what they’re saying. And they won’t teach you because they don’t
want you to know. Now on Daddy’s side, Daddy speaks Spanish. You know what I mean? So him and her, I don’t know how they do that
together when they don’t want you to know how they can communicate French and Spanish. I don’t know. MR: Because you said your grandfather was
from the Dominican – CG: The Dominican Republic Islands. My great grandfather. My grandfather was born in New Orleans, see? So that was the story on that. So you learn a little bit as you get a little
older you learn a little bit more and a little bit more. That’s how they got the chance to get to Detroit
because my older brother and them, my brother Martin, my brother August, they played trumpet
and then they played trombone. Joe, my brother Joe, he played bass. My brother Elliot plays piano, see? And I play the reeds. I couldn’t get them to play together to do
one record. Couldn’t get them, boy I begged them and everything
else. Come on you guys, oh they made a couple of
rehearsals at the house and the rehearsal went pretty good, and before you know it they’re
all dancing and rehearsal’s over with. I couldn’t get them to do it but I loved them. We played together quite a lot, but I couldn’t
get them to do a record with me. I couldn’t get them. That would be good if I had one. MR: I’m fascinated by the musical family tradition
in New Orleans and I’m wondering, was there other traditions where the children were expected
to follow the family business? Like being a barber or a plumber? Or is it pretty much just a musical thing? CG: It’s just music – they had no other intent
to do anything else. My sisters – I had five sisters. They were just getting off with their boyfriends
and getting married and having babies or whatever they wanted to do. I had a large, large, large family. You know what I mean? So the ladies wasn’t worrying about music. My mother just played the saxophone when dad
asked her to play with him. Dad and her would sit down and play something. But other than that and the other ladies didn’t
care about that. MR: Did your mother play gigs? CG: No. My mother didn’t play no gigs. My sister played – I had a sister that played
the saxophone. My older sister, she was playing with my dad
before I was born. Her name was Florence and she married a guy
named Simmons. So he used to tell her, say, “You can’t be
playing gigs with your dad anymore, you’ve got to make a family, we’ve got to do this”
whatever. So she stopped playing. But she used to play gigs with my dad, but
not my mother. MR: Okay. I want to go back for a question. CG: All right. MR: When you were a kid and you started playing
with the bands for the funerals and so forth –
CG: No my dad – go ahead – MR: Yeah. Were there any women allowed to be playing
in those groups or were their white and black musicians together? CG: There were white and black musicians. See, that’s what a lot of people don’t know. First the bands were all black. Then you had a lot of black guys playing in
the white band and passing. Paso blanc. You know? So and here in New Orleans you can do whatever
you want to do. Like even the dark skinned guys would cross
the color line, they would put a rag on their head just like they were in Africa or someplace,
and then go in all those restaurants just like anybody else, and they won’t know who
they are. See? That’s how that was. MR: The darker skinned –
CG: Dark skinned people – you know they don’t even think of the complexion, this idea that
you’re going to have something that represents another country, you can come in. But if you are passing, you know, paso blanco,
you can do something, you go over. MR: What’s that term you just used? CG: Paso blanc. RB: Pass for white. MR: Pass for white. CG: It means pass over. All my mother’s deal – they never did let
her be black. And every job she got they gave it to her
as a white lady. See? And we accepted her as a white lady. The money was white lady. MR: Do you have a family tree written out? CG: Oh man yeah, my sister got a family tree
and she lives in Wichita, Kansas. A lot of this stuff – they got another book
out written by my cousin Larry Gabriel. My father played old time music. And in that book you will see some of that
information. You got that? MR: I have some of it right here. Very fascinating. In fact I think he was talking about you. “We went playing straight to the bar. It was hot and everyone in the band started
drinking, 15 or 20 minutes the trumpet played the trumpet, called for the musicians to get
back in time.” CG: Yep. It’s a funny family, some things. Some of that stuff they might have to edit
it out, but I will leave it to you with some discretion how it hits the public. You know? Sometimes you say things one way and they’re
taking it another way. See? That do happen. It’s how you present it to them. But I just speak what I feel and what I know. MR: Yeah. Was there any down side to trying to make
a living as a musician, either with you or your friends? CG: Well there’s always a down side because
usually depending on people having parties and having weddings and having a birth, you
see? A lot of other things come into focus other
than just playing in the club or playing a festival you know. There’s a lot of other things come in focus. So you hit today, miss tomorrow, hit two or
three more days and miss the next day. I have spells that, all through my life, as
far as hitting the road, I don’t want to tell you some of the hardships but I’ve been exposed
to the other side of it where you miss what we call, you miss so many meals, see? You miss a meal because – I’ll give you one
idea. I had a group on the road, a trio. And we were working in Appleton, Wisconsin
and my drummer, a white boy because I had a mixed trio, he overplayed his hand with
this young lady, he overplayed his hand. And he was buying drinks and everything, and
playing big shot. When it was time for us to check out of the
hotel he took all our money – my wages and the trumpet, because he overpaid himself and
he had to pay his bill. Pay our bill and have to pay his bill. And we were leaving from Appleton, Wisconsin
going to Rapid City, South Dakota. Where the presidents are in the mountain,
wherever that is. We got there and we had, between the three
of us we had $10 between the three of us. You know? So man, what are we going to do? We’ve got to make it. Well the policy in the band, what I had made
up, that we don’t tab – we don’t draw down no money, we don’t tab no drinks. Because people don’t know what you have in
your pocket unless you put your hand in and bring out nothing, you know? And if you’re looking good, they didn’t know
what you have in your pocket. You have to look the part and act the part. We had no money. And so I said well I’m going to go to the
priest, I’m a Catholic, and let him know, and just spread that I need some money to
run us the week, and I’ll bring the money back to him over the weekend. I went to see the priest and I told Father
my condition. And Father went in his pocket and pulled out
some chunk change, about 5 or 6 dollars. Something like that. I said, oh I need more than that. He said well – that’s that. Now I only had 5 or 6 dollars so we went to
the store and we bought a box of Ritz, a box of Ritz and a big bottle of peanut butter. And we put the Ritz – the peanut butter inside
the Ritz and marked three in the morning for breakfast, three for lunch and three for dinner. And that’s hard. MR: That’s hard times. CG: So I don’t mean to laugh at that, but
that’s okay. MR: It makes for a great story now, doesn’t
it? CG: Yeah. But that’s one of them. We do have some other ones but that one there
stands out in my mind all the time. And what really made it really bad, you’re
playing at the Air Force base, Suffolk Air Field Base, that’s what it was. And everything was coming from the kitchen
to serve the soldiers and thing on the table, and you could smell that good food coming
and you’d smell it gone, and you’d smell the bones going back. I know you wanted some more, to hear that. I know you didn’t want to hear that but I
told it to you anyway. MR: That’s a good one. Enough to make you want to go find a uniform
and put it on so you could sit down and eat. CG: I was only booked there for one week so
that didn’t last too long. We recovered. MR: Well I guess you didn’t hold a grudge
against the Catholic church because didn’t later on you do some jazz masses? CG: I wrote a jazz mass. And who did I write this for – my niece, first
of all I have a niece who is a pianist and a music director in the church. And that story was kind of funny, because
I was in Indonesia, I was in Indonesia and something hit me that said to write a mass,
the music for the mass. And my niece, being the director, she was
in New Orleans and I was in Indonesia and I called her and I said, “Marjorie,” she said,
“Yeah.” I said, “What do you do when the priest doing
so and so and something.” Everything I wanted to know I asked her. I’m in Indonesia and she said, “When I do
so-and-so-and-so.” I said, “What do you play at that time.” See the name of God. I said in the name of God, okay. The “Our Father” and the different parts of
the mass. So I wound up writing the music for the mass
while I was in Indonesia. You know I’ve got a beautiful “Our Father.” Beautiful. So anyway to make a long story short, I wrote
the music for the mass and in the name of God I said, okay, I’ll say I wrote the name
of God on a napkin – whole tones [sings] name of God/will take away the sins of the world/Have
mercy on us – these whole tones [sings] Name of God/Who takes away – and a whole tone down
– the sins of the world. Have mercy/grant us peace. Okay. That worked out fine. [sings] Lord have mercy/Lord have mercy/Lord
have mercy/Have mercy on us. Christ have mercy/Christ have mercy/Christ
have mercy/Have mercy on us. And
that was doing in the name of God, and that was [scats] I can’t think of the words. Anyway, that was the Halleluiah. [sings] Halleluiah, Halleluiah, Halleluiah,
Halleluiah. That’s one part. That’s the part they sing. And the other part – [sings] Halle-halle-lu-halle-lu
[scats]Oh I loved that Halleluiah because me and Marcus, on the part they had twenty
voices. And one voice would be playing – one group
would be saying [sings] Halleluiah, Halleluiah, Halleluiah, Halleluiah. And the other part would be saying [sings]
Halleluiah, Halleluiah, Halleluiah, Halleluiah. And the other voice would be [sings Halle-halle-lu-iah,
Halle-halle-lu-iah, Halle-halle-lu-iah. Oh that was great. MR: Nice. CG: That’s the jazz mass at St. Francis DeSales. MR: Where was the first – oh DeSales. We have a DeSales in Utica, DeSales Center. CG: Yeah, I wrote that for St. Francis DeSales. MR: Was that the first time it was performed? At the DeSales. CG: Yeah. Francis. Yeah. And it was just – I’ve had a beautiful, I’ve
been having a – everything that I asked God for he has given to me. I just can’t – that might make no sense to
somebody, but when I was seven years old and started playing music I asked God I said I
want to be a musician. I want to play music and I want to play music
so I can play with any band around the world. If they want a saxophone player they’ll call
me all the time, they’ll call me to come and play with them. And believe me, as I sit in front of you,
I’ve had musicians that called me from France, from London, from Switzerland, from Indonesia,
I can go on and on and on. I’ve been exposed to them when I was with
other bands around the country and things, and they got to be friends of mine. And I have received everything I asked God
for. God has blessed me in abundance. Right now I’m about to receive another, what
is that, “Lifetime Achievement Award.” I’m going to receive that sometime this month. What do they call it? OffBeat Magazine. You seen one of them yet? You seen one? MR: No. CG: Well I’m on the front page of the OffBeat
Magazine. MR: All right, we’ll look for that. CG: And a lot of stuff I’m telling you is
in the story of the OffBeat Magazine. They are free. They are free. They put them around the country. MR: Okay. We’ll find one. CG: Yeah, they’re free. MR: Before we wrap up I wanted to talk about
your return to New Orleans. Was it Ben Jaffe who called you? CG: Ben Jaffe, what a wonderful man. Ben and I have a beautiful connection. When he brought me back down here he was fooling
with the banjo, playing something on the banjo. He’s a wonderful person, a fine musician. He finished from Oberlin, you know? And I’m listening to all these chord changes
he was playing on his banjo, and I said, “Ben, that is really nice but you need a melodic
line on top of those changes.” He said, “You want to put one?” I said yeah. So I came up with a line, “Yellow Moon.” [scats] Something like that. I can’t remember. We recorded it. It’s on one of these albums. And then, by him being a bass player we connected
really good because he had the bottom of the chords you know, I could hear the chords and
all I’d do is put a line on top of them. MR: Yeah. But you’ve got to have the bottom. CG: Yeah. The body that don’t have no bottom ain’t got
no top. Yeah Ben is one, he plays bass in the band,
Ben Jaffe. And sometimes he’ll play the banjo in certain
things. We did that “Yellow Moon” with a group of
ballet dancers and they danced on it. Yeah. We did this about two years with a ballet
team and they danced on the “Yellow Moon” you know? It was wonderful. I’m getting in all kinds of situations. MR: And so when you – I don’t think the camera
was rolling when we were talking about playing at Preservation Hall and sometimes subs come
in if they’re needed but you won’t just play with anybody. CG: I put it this way: I have never turned
no one down to play with. I always play with them. But after I play with them and everything
else and if I have a problem they have other musicians that replace them. We’ve got about 70 musicians associated at
the hall, so why take the worst one when they’ve got so many more. But you don’t turn nothing away. You still reach him the best way you can. And try to deliver what they need in order
to become a better person, a better musician. I ran into that sometime and me being as old
as I am I know how the older guys treated me so I try to treat them like I was treated. See? I don’t look back – the only way they’re going
to get it is if you hand it down to them, see? And show them the best way to get to what
they’re doing – I, a lot of times – a musician that played with me a lot of times I’d be
warming up and I’d be trying to warm up on things that would be enough to test their
ear that they would ask me about it, then I would show it to them. See? I got them doing a lot of diminished chord
but then if you got three of them there you put each one on a different note and play
the same phrase [scats]. I say, “You’re starting on a G, you’re starting
on an E, you’re starting on a C sharp” [scats]. See? I do that on “Lime House” [scats]. “Lime House.” If you’d a came the other day you’d have heard
me doing it. MR: Is it okay if I borrow that lick from
you? CG: You can take that. And an easy way of taking it, it’s nothing
but a B diminished starting on a C sharp [scats] C sharp, E and G, B flat, C sharp E and G
on up. So you put each one of them on one part of
the diminished. You were on the C sharp, I was on the E, the
trumpet player is on the G, the other player is on the B flat. See? And you play that all the way up the line. And come down with [scats] See? You come on down with it. And also with the augmented. Flat 5 augmented – going up – flat 5 coming
down [scats]. Coming down A 7 flat 5. In other words it would be C, B flat, G flat. B flat, A flat, E natural coming down. Going up it’s C, E, G. So going up augmented, coming down flat five. MR: Nice. CG: I know you got it. You already see it in your head. I know. Isn’t that right? MR: I’m a saxophone player so I’m watching
your fingers. I’m okay. CG: I know you could see it too. MR: Exactly. CG: And you see how it works, it works out
good. MR: Way back in the interview you said something
about Dixieland, and you said, “No, the land of Dixie.” Now at Preservation Hall if someone came from
out of town and met you and they said, “What kind of jazz do you play at the Preservation
Hall?” –
CG: Traditional. Traditional. That’s the name of the music that we play. Because if you play a song in 1920, play the
song, and then it’s two thousand and something, we are just doing – it’s traditional. We’re playing the same song as another period
of time. What makes the song different is that in the
20s you lived this way and then in the two thousands our lifestyle changes. So we are the music. The music on the paper don’t tell you nothing. You are the music. And what you do and how you live and what
you’ve been exposed to comes out in the music. Now if you play saxophone, the saxophone is
an extension of your organs. If you blow, you can take the horn away and
all you’ve got is air. But you put it into your horn and start blowing
it, what makes – your organs make that note come out as an extension of who you are. That’s what I mean. So you’re playing traditional music and your
horn is an extension of who you are. It’s your organs. Otherwise the horn don’t do nothing by itself. See? So, and if the horn don’t do nothing by itself,
whatever you’re playing is the music. And if you are the music what kind of music
are you playing? You are the music. But they stay on the paper, that’s the problem. A lot of guys they play everything. They take it off the paper but they never
play it, they’re just still memorizing the notes and they’re playing – you have to make
that music become who you are. Whatever you are. I could play “Roseland” [scats lazily] she’s
not going to feel none of that. No. But if you [scats brightly] you’re going to
feel it because you are, and to be able to project the feeling that makes you feel good
it will help to make her feel good. But if you memorize, I have memorized a lot
of songs and don’t be playing it. Playing the notes but don’t be playing the
song because I never did learn it. I just took it off the paper and just memorized
it. You’ve got to learn the song and if you’re
really good you try to learn the words of it. See? Every song you play you should know what you’re
playing. Learn the words. The words will teach you the song too, they’ll
tell you what the thing is about. What the song is about. You have to learn it. You might not want to take time to learn the
words but look at them, find out what it is all about. No, no, no, no, a lot of people if you’re
going to take a person’s song and just start jamming on it, what are you jamming on? You don’t know what you’re jamming on. Come on man. Learn the song. Learn how to listen at the song. We listen different. If we learn how to listen – listen to the
song. Listen to the progression. Listen to the movement on. Where is it going? What is it talking about? If we don’t know the words we don’t know what
in the hell they’re talking about. You know? All this is important in playing music. Very important. We take it literally back here. I tell many musicians, there is seven of us,
six of us on the bandstand. Each one of them is a great musician, a very
good musician, and I’m good. But we’ve all got to play together, the six
of us got to play together. We can do “Lady Be Good” you know “Lady Be
Good,” he knows “Lady Be Good,” But we’ve got to do this together. We’ve got to do “Lady Be Good” in other words
just because you know “Lady Be Good” the playing, we’re all playing what we want to do ourselves
but you are the music, so if we don’t synchronize your parts and things to what the leader is
doing then you’re playing by yourself. The leader is leading you so you have to think,
especially when you’re reading, or when you aren’t reading, because you are the music. So you have to think melodically how he’s
playing so you make your notes work with what’s going on. So we’ve all got to think like one. So we can be one person. [sings] Oh sweet and lovely/Lady be good/Oh
lady be good/Be good to me. We all got to think that way. Not [sings] Oh sweet and lovely. No. You’re playing “Lady Be Good” but where are
you? Come on. You know what I’m talking about. MR: I do indeed. CG: It’s so important. MR: I’m going to memorize some of your words
today. Fascinating. And I’m so glad you came to meet with us today. CG: Oh I’m glad you had me. MR: You are the music man. CG: You are the music. You are the music. And you just have to realize that. They have to feel that they are the music. They have to really feel it to be speaking
with one voice. And when it’s time for your solo you can do
anything you want to do on your solo, I don’t care what you do. But when you come back, one voice. And that’s the way everybody can stay on track
because there ain’t no written music here. We are the music. MR: All right. Thank you for your time today. CG: Oh man, thank you for having me. CG: Thank you.

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