Pages 18-19 of Crescendo, July 1962, Vol.1, No.1. Page 18 continues an interview with bandleader Jack Parnell and features an article on playing the bass. Page 19 is devoted to an interview with Laurie Johnson in which he puts forward his views on a range of musical subjects.
|Catalogue Reference Number|
|Creator||Tony Brown [ed], Johnny Hawksworth|
|Title or Caption||The Parnell Band. Bass Action. Attitudes.|
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ï»¿The Parnell Band
continued from page 17
âLennie,â says Parnell, âis a rock for time. Norman is so gifted. Particularly at composing and arranging mood and atmosphere musicâbackground stuff.
âDave is something of a paradox. He has so much music in him. Heâs a brilliant technician on guitar. Yet he has so much to express that he can be brought down after a few bars solo. His imagination strives to break through in impossible circumstances.
âMe ? I soil enjoy playing. All That Jazz is an easy gig so far as Iâm concerned. I can sit down, play and relax like any other musician. Do I sometimes wish I was ? No, not truthfully. I think it would be accurate to say that Iâm really only a mildly frustrated drummer.â If anyone still regards taking up the conductorâs baton as a presumption on the part of a mere drummer, Parnell will defend it. âInterpretation of any piece of music is largely a matter of time and timing. The difference between a dead performance and one full of vitality is essentially a rhythmic difference. Who has a better sense of time than a drummer ?â
The fair-minded listener, struck with the Parnell bandâs high standard, makes the inevitable comparison: it sounds like an American band.
Norman Stenfaltââgifted arranger and composer.â
That is the best kind of compliment. American TV bands are normally contracted to one show and concentrate their full abilities on it. The Parnell band has achieved high standards in far more difficult circumstances. There is only one explanation: sheer musicianship.
'T O play the bass you need either a
good ear or a thick neck. You need more than a good ear, in fact. You need two. If thereâs anything wrong in the band, you are the root of the troubleâor should be. And every bass should have its two-eared owner.
How long does it take to learn the bass ?
This I am asked constantly. Itâs a question that cries out for an evasive answer.
Letâs put it this way: if after six months you still canât play it, sell it.
There are two ways to learn. The impress - your - friends - learn - in - a - week way and the proper way.
Your moves are as follows.
1. Buy a cheap bass (Â£25).
2. Contact the bass player in your local pit (if thereâs no orchestra in your nearest mine, try the theatre).
3. Buy the Simandl tutor,
4. Listen to all radio bands and play with them.
5. Get stuck in.
I could playâreading easy stuff, of course, after a month. I practised every night when I got home from schoolâ and later when I got home from the office. Yes, I was a civil servant in the Admiralty. It drove me potty and made me more than ever determined to use the bass to get away from it all.
In all fairness to would-be bass players, let me say that I did play the piano and knew that I had a good ear. When your ear canât detea bad or wrong chords, start to panic. Sell the bass (Â£15).
By the way, when you buy the bass, buy a bow also (Â£4). Please. And practise playing the scale of C major until you can play it in tune. Youâll never do this until your strings are in tune. Bass strings go out of tune all the timeâ more so than those of other instruments. Thereâs more of them to be affeaed by sweaty hands or damp atmospheres, so watch it.
Those of you reading this who do playâand this magazine is mainly for musiciansâwill forgive me offering the following hints gleaned from the sweat, toil and tears of practical experience.
If you are working in a three-piece rhythm section (bass, piano, drums), make sure that your pianistic colleague
does not play anything other than well-chosen, valuable, âstabâ chords. I know the publisherâs arrangement gives his left hand your notes and an off-beat vamp.
Forget it. Destroy him if he follows the part. This is done by âworkingâ him out. If heâs the bandleader, leave the band yourself. Even if you starve it will be worth it.
Now to your other colleague, the drummer. He must not play four-in-the-bar with his bass drum. He must not fill in every gap to show off to his chick on the floor (the floor of the ballroom, I mean). And he must give you a good off-beat with his crisp hi-hat (foot-operated off-beats, by the way).
If heâs the bandleader and doesnât conform to this lotâthen, George, youâll have to leave.
But if your colleagues are swingers, all you need are thin strings, a good ear, a bridge thatâs not too high and, of course, a fairly regular job.
Iâm writing this on tour with Nelson Riddleâs orchestraâon a train approaching Scotland. As I didnât have time to get sandwiches, I am forced to pay the price of a British Railways lunchâ Brown Windsor and all.
But donât worry folks. Iâll be back with another fistful of merry notes ete long.
We sat Laurie Johnson in a chair and persuaded him -it might even be said that we provoked him - into stating his views on a diversity of musical subjects. They werenât necessarily connected and his answers were spontaneous, not diplomatcally considered. Laurie doesnât talk too readily about himself because, by nature, heâs a modest man. We have omitted our probings, feeling that Laurie Johnsonâs observations are far more interesting. This, then, is a statement of some of
JAZZ has been an influence, especially on modern, serious writing. Thematically and harmonically, itâs limited, of course. But in the hands of the top half dozen writers . . . Ellington and a handful of others . . . Theyâre working within limited bounds. Some have been very pretentious ... we wonât name names.
Itâs an American art. Anything good produced anywhere else is coincidental or accidental. You hear Viennese waltzes in some little cafe in Vienna. Marvellous. It comes natural to them. Gypsies play gypsy music like no-one else can. The environment does it.
It can rub off, though. If more Americans came here to play it would help. But you really have to live in that environment to feel it the way they do. Ours isnât very conducive to jazz.
I use a lot of jazz players in my orchestra. Phil Seamen is always there. He might stand around the whole afternoon just to hit a gong. Yet no one can do it quite like Phil. Heâs an exceptional musician. Much more than a drummer. If he played any other instrument, heâd be internationally famous. Heâs quite a person.
T VJEâVE only enough musicians over here to form two first-class big bands. It wouldnât be economic to run them, unfortunately. The kind of musicians I use . . . Kenny Baker, Stan Roderick . . . You canât cart people like that around.
Stan is with Lock Up Your Daughters. I composed the music for that and Lionel Bart wrote the lyrics. How talented is Lionel? Iâd say that heâs our best songwriter. Iâm a great admirer of his lyrics.
1DAD music irritates me. TV programmes are the present-day equivalent of B pictures. Anything worthwhile is purely accidental. The only way to
achieve a high standard is by filming. Thatâs uneconomic. In America, they work on far bigger budgets. The cost is recouped in the States alone and profits can be made abroad.
TV is an avid monster, anyway. The output and the budget govern standards.
Iâve written signature tunes for three major TV shows. No Hiding Place, Echo Four-Two and Top Secret. Just brief themes that you hope will put viewers in the right mood.
JDEFORE the war, I used to buy Ellington and Basie records. The choice was far more clear cut then. It was jazz or straight. They were the best. I suppose they still are.
I listened to Armstrong and Harry James. They were thought to be adventurous then. Had the technique to make me sit up. That gave me the idea of playing the trumpet. My father told me that if I did well in the school exams, heâd buy me one. I came top in arithmetic and got a Â£15 trumpet. He insisted that if I meant to do something, I should do it properly. I taught myself at first and then went to the Royal College of Music. I studied under Ernest Hall. Between studies, I did gigs. I took it so very seriously. I was always the youngest in the band. I loved to take a chorus. When we started reading, I realised that something was wrong with the band as a whole.
We always had other forms of music at home . . . Sibelius, Vaughan Williams. But it was a tremendous help getting close to things, hearing the two forms side by side.
T DONâT regard myself as a jazz x writer. Kenny Graham is the most talented we have. I hope to be doing something with him in films shortly. In the jazz field, there is so much that is
bad. Kenny could get closer than anyone else in this country.
Now I do composing mainly. Films and shows. This is what I want to do. I wrote a lot of jazz compositions . . . whatever you like to call them . . for Ted and others. Then I started doing ballet for films. Good Companions was the first I composed and scored. A film score sets a mechanical problemâ blending with another art form. I did the first jazz-cum-beat score for No Trees In The Street. Now thereâs been a glut. Itâs a worn-out gimmick, a fad. It should be reserved for suitable vehicles. If you get a really good jazz score ... The Man With 'The Golden Arm . . . But the others. Itâs like scoring Chinese-type music for every other film.
rT'HE average film score lasts about twenty minutes. In writing it, you live with the subject for four months. Itâs a major feat of concentration. You try to assimilate the whole flavour of the story. For Tiger Bay, I read the script, saw the rushes, met Hayley Mills. One gave me an immediate reaction. I hit on the theme going back home in the car. You try to get inside the bones of the thing.
Once the theme and development is finished, you get down to scoring. Thatâs laborious, tiring. But itâs essential. You couldnât pass it over to anyone else.
Itâs the scoring that provides the texture of the musical picture you are trying to create.
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