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Booker Little: His Life and Music
Written by Dan Miller

Five Spot NYC July 16, 1961 In understanding the evolution of jazz trumpet, one must be familiar with the historical lineage of it's finest players. The influence of each generation upon the next is present in almost all art-forms, and it's definitely evident in jazz (Louis Armstrong to Roy Eldridge, Roy to Dizzy Gillespie, Dizzy to Fats Navarro and Miles Davis--and so on).

After the untimely death of Clifford Brown on June 26, 1956 at the age of 25--a handful of trumpeters, touched by his genius, were poised to attain their own maturity. This group included Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard and Booker Little (all born in 1938).

Booker Little was born in Memphis on April 2, 1938. After experimenting with other instruments, Booker decided on trumpet at age 14. In addition to Booker, many fine young musicians were developing in Memphis in the 1950's under the influence of the great pianist Phineas Newborn Jr. including George Coleman, Frank Strozier and Booker's cousin Louis Smith (a fine trumpeter in his own right).

In 1954, Booker went on to Chicago and in four years, he earned a Bachelor of Music degree in trumpet. He also studied theory, composition and orchestration. In those four years he gigged around Chicago and played with Johnny Griffin and the MJT + 3.

During his sophomore year at Chicago Conservatory, Booker roomed for some nine months with Sonny Rollins at the YMCA. "Sonny was a big help," Booker emphasizes. "For one thing, he cautioned me about allowing myself to become overly influenced by other players. He told me not to listen to too many records, because he felt I was listening to them mainly to emulate what the soloists were playing. 'You've got to be you,' he told me, 'whether that's bad or good.' "Sonny at the time was spending his time practicing; it was before he joined Max Roach and Clifford Brown."

"Sonny," Booker continued, "introduced me to Max and Clifford around 1955 and I met Max again after Clifford died. Kenny Dorham was with Max then. Max asked me to make a record with him, and I did my first record. Around June of 1958, when I'd just gotten out of school, Max called me from St. Louis and asked me to join him, I flew out there, and worked with Max until February 1959."

Kenny Dorham's stay as Max Roach's trumpeter ended with Max Roach Four Plays Charlie Parker (April 11, 1958--Emarcy). This album was Max's first experiment with the piano-less format, which would become the platform for the Little/Coleman groups. This date also marked the beginning of George Coleman's recording relationship with Max. During his nine month tenure with Max, Booker recorded six albums.

First, Max Roach + 4 on the Chicago Scene (June 3, 1958--Emarcy) which featured George Coleman on the front line with Booker. Booker's tone is so pure and gorgeous, showcased beautifully on his treatment of My Old Flame. Even though he was only 20 years of age at the time of his first recording session, his maturity is undeniable. His ideas soar and his enthusiasm is boundless on George Coleman's Shirley and Eddie Baker's Memo To Maurice.

Next, Max Roach + 4 at Newport (July 6, 1958--Emarcy) which established Max's working group of this time. Coleman was back on tenor with Ray Draper on tuba and Art Davis on bass. The excitement of the Newport Jazz Festival combined with the electricity of Roach's new group led to a splendid album. Highlights from this album include Booker's solo and cadenza on A Night in Tunisia and the first recording of a Booker Little composition Minor Mode. In the tradition af the Max Roach groups of the era, the tempos are simply blistering.

The first studio recording of Roach's new group was Deeds, Not Words (September 4, 1958--Riverside). This album featured lush arrangements, especially You Stepped Out of a Dream which had the horns playing the melody as a through-composed ballad. Art Davis and Max establish a brisk tempo for blowing and the tune takes off, only to return to the ballad melody at the end. This record also sees Max perform an amazing unaccompanied solo on Conversation. Little also contributes Larry-Larue, on which he plays a phenomenal solo, as well as arranging Deeds Not Words.

During a trip to the west coast, the group appeared on ABC-TV's 'Stars of Jazz' program (October 13, 1958). With razor-sharp precision and fiery intensity, the group treats Booker's Minor Mode Blues, Tadd Dameron's The Scene Is Clean and a blistering version of Love For Sale. Everyone is familiar with the Brown/Roach version of The Scene is Clean, but this one is clearly representative of the new band. Penned by Little, this arrangement features an intro and interlude which are pure Booker. The beautiful melodicism of Dameron meets the avant-garde harmonic modernism of Little. Like the recently unearthed Clifford Brown film, this rare footage allows us to see Booker Little in action. In our modern era of television and video, where nearly every single event is recorded, this film allows us to get a glimpse of what until now was only imagined. Booker's technique was flawless.

Booker's first album as a leader Booker Little Four: The Defiant Ones (October 1958--United Artists) had a combination of standards and three original tunes (Rounder's Mood, Dungeon Waltz and Jewel's Tempo). Roach, Coleman and Davis were joined by pianist Tommy Flanagan. Booker's solo on Miles Davis' original 1947 Milestones is the highlight from this session.

Roach's next quintet album Award Winning Drummer (November 25, 1958--Time) has the group doing a wonderful reading of Old Folks as well as Little's Gandolfo's Bounce.

The Many Sides of Max Roach (February 1959--Mercury) would be Booker's last record as a member of Max's group until August 1960. This date found George Coleman on tenor, Julian Priester on trombone, Ray Bryant on piano and Bob Boswell on bass. Booker stakes his claim to Bemsha Swing, Connie's Bounce and A Little Sweet His arrangement of There's No You exemplifies the signature "Booker Little sound".

After leaving Max Roach's group, Booker free-lanced around New York and recorded four albums. The first, Down Home Reunion: Young Men From Memphis (April 15, 1959--United Artists) was very interesting for many reasons. It was a reunion of Booker's cohorts from Memphis, including George Coleman on tenor, Frank Strozier on alto, Booker and Louis Smith on trumpet, Phineas Newborn on piano, Calvin Newborn on guitar, George Joyner on bass and Charles Crosby on drums. It was a wide-open blowing session with the musicians locking horns on every tune. The highlight for me is the interplay between Booker and Louis Smith throughout the session. It is their only recorded meeting, but we definitely get a taste of what they must of sounded like on numerous New York and Memphis jam sessions. The slow, groovy tempo on Things Ain't What They Used To Be is the perfect platform for a nasty Booker Little blues solo.

Louis Smith made two excellent records for Blue Note as a leader, Here Comes Louis Smith (February 1958) featuring Cannonball Adderley, and Smithville (March 1958) featuring Charlie Rouse. Smith was member of Horace Silver's group and also recorded with Kenny Burrell. Although Smith was only seven years older than Booker, their styles are markedly different. While both men were indebted to Clifford Brown, Smith decidedly more so than Little, Booker was definitely aligned with Coltrane and the new school. Smith, who grew weary of the New York City lifestyle, moved to Michigan in the early sixties to teach at the university. He has released a series of beautiful records for Steeplechase over last 15 years featuring Junior Cook and George Coleman.

Next, is a recording by the Slide Hampton Octet entitled Slide! (October 1959--Strand). This session spotlights Booker and Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, George Coleman on tenor, Jay Cameron on baritone, Bernard McKinney on baritone horn, George Tucker on bass, Slide Hampton on trombone and Pete La Roca, Charli Persip and Kenny Dennis on drums. This project combined Slide's ambitious arrangements with some of modern jazz's finest young players, and the results are outstanding. Booker is featured on Newport, originally penned for Maynard Ferguson. Freddie Hubbard contributes an excellent solo on Woody 'n You.

Third, is a album with the wonderfully swinging vocalist Bill Henderson entitled simply Bill Henderson Sings (October 27, 1959--Vee Jay). This was the first of two meetings between Booker, and the then-current Miles Davis rhythm section of Wynton Kelly on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and Jimmy Cobb on drums. Rounding out the front-line were Yusef Lateef on tenor and Bernard McKinney on euphonium. Henderson led the group through wonderful renditions of Moanin', The Song Is You and You Make Me Feel So Young.

The final record Booker made before he returned to Max Roach's group was entitled The Fantastic Frank Strozier (February 2, 1960--Vee Jay). This date saw the return of the Miles Davis rhythm section of Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb. Coupled with one of the most swinging trios ever assembled, Little and Strozier burn their way through a collection of standards, blues and originals in a straight up blowing session (the Japanese 2-cd re-issue and the The Complete Vee Jay Paul Chambers/Wynton Kelly Sessions 1959-1961 yields an additional 56 minutes of music). I feel this record shows Booker Little at his most relaxed in a joyous free-blowing outing, especially on A Starling's Theme, Tibbit and Just In Time.

After a year away Booker decided to rejoin Max Roach's quintet in February of 1960. Max's group had featured Tommy Turrentine on trumpet and Stanley Turrentine on tenor during Booker's absence. The group with the Turrentine's had recorded (January 1960) and traveled to Europe for an extended tour. Nat Hentoff wrote in his liner notes to Booker's Quartet album: "Being with Max," says Booker, "has been an enormous help to me. I learned, for one thing, that it's so important to be authoritative on your instrument. And from Max, even more than from horn soloists, I got the idea of how to tell a story. In general, what I basically learned from Max was the necessity of clean musicianship. Also, while with him, I learned a lot about the business--the true people and the not so true. Finally, from both Sonny Rollins and Max, I learned how much work is involved in perfecting yourself. They're both extraordinarily conscientious."

From April 1960 to September 1961, Booker was very active, recording fourteen albums. He continued his relationship with Max Roach and began to work with Eric Dolphy, as well as focusing on his own music. Booker's second album as a leader was simply titled Quartet (April 13 and 15, 1960--Time). This recording only contained one standard, as Booker's writing began to come to the fore. The originals on this are Opening Statement, Minor Sweet, Bee Tee's Minor Plea, Life's a Little Blue and The Grand Valse. Booker's fiery confidence is in full force during this session. Being his only quartet work, he really gets an opportunity to shine. His opening cadenza on Minor Sweet is like a clarion call signaling the arrival of pure modernism.

Next up is The Soul of Jazz Percussion (Summer 1960--Warwick), an album produced by vibist Teddy Charles and led by conga master Armando Peraza. The personnel on this record include Booker, Donald Byrd, Marcus Belgrave and Don Ellis on trumpet, Curtis Fuller on trombone, Pepper Adams on baritone, Paul Chambers on bass, Bill Evans and Mal Waldron on piano, Philly Joe Jones on drums and many other percussionists. The groups vary in size and personnel. Booker shines on his own Witchfire as well as Charlie Parker's Chasin' the Bird. The trumpeters get to play together in various groupings.

Sounds of the Inner City (August 25, 1960--Warwick) finds Booker in another live setting, this time at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC with the Teddy Charles group. The personnel on this date are Booker Ervin on tenor, Teddy Charles on vibes, Mal Waldron on piano, Addison Farmer on bass and Ed Shaughnessy on drums. Ervin's huge, brawny tone and searing intensity provide a perfect foil for Little.

Next is Max Roach's We Insist--Freedom Now Suite (August 31 and September 6, 1960--Candid), a work with serious political and sociological overtones. The personnel from this session include Abbey Lincoln on vocals, Coleman Hawkins and Walter Benton on tenor, Booker on trumpet, Julian Priester on trombone, Max Roach and Olitunji on drums with many other percussionists. Oscar Brown Jr. and Max wrote Driva' Man, Freedom Day and All Africa as part of a long work to commemorate the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation (1863-1963). Triptych: Prayer, Protest, Peace was written by Max for a ballet. Booker contributes a tremendous solo on Freedom Day

Newport Rebels (November 1, 1960--Candid) has an interesting story attached to it. In protest of the commercialization of the Newport Jazz Festival, Charles Mingus and Max Roach held their own alternative festival at nearby Cliff Walk. Those who participated included Coleman Hawkins, Roy Eldridge, Jo Jones and Kenny Dorham. This album tries to capture the flavor of that festival by reuniting the participants. Booker plays on one tune with both Max and Jo Jones drumming.

Eric Dolphy's Far Cry (December 21, 1960--New Jazz) is Booker's first recorded association with the saxophonist. This record is Dolphy's musical tribute to Charlie Parker and the rhythm section includes Jaki Byard on piano, Ron Carter on bass and Roy Haynes on drums. Far Cry and Miss Ann (in particular) give Booker a marvelous springboard toward his unique ideas. The ensemble on Miss Ann is a thing of joy. Booker was truly a master of the blues and his solo on Mrs.Parker of K.C. is the proof.

The beginning of 1961 saw Booker in familiar company for Abbey Lincoln's Straight Ahead (February 22, 1961--Candid). Coleman Hawkins is back on tenor (he guested with Max's working group six months earlier for We Insist--Freedom Now), along with Eric Dolphy on alto, Julian Priester on trombone, Walter Benton on tenor, Mal Waldron on piano, Art Davis on bass, Max Roach on drums and Abbey Lincoln on vocals. This date features excellent arrangements and fantastic contributions from Hawk. Lincoln was forging a new conception of vocal interpretation. Alongside Max, Dolphy and Little--she contributed mightily to the evolution of her instrument, modern jazz singing. Booker plays beautiful obbligatos in harmon mute behind Abbey's vocal on Blue Monk.

Booker's third album as a leader Out Front (March 17 and April 4, 1961--Candid) has Eric Dolphy on alto, Julian Priester on trombone, Art Davis and Ron Carter on bass, Don Friedman on piano and Max Roach on drums. This album is the full realization of Booker Little the composer. The sheer beauty of his music is evident in every piece. His tone dark and burnished, his improvisations daring and inventive, and his lyricism poetic--Booker soars to new heights. On Strength and Sanity, he paints in broad sweeping stokes creating a tender portrait of himself. All the music on this album is unique to Booker Little--it's no wonder many consider it to be his finest work.

Booker joined Freddie Hubbard to form the trumpet section for John Coltrane's Africa/Brass (May 23-June 7, 1961--Impulse). Booker and Hub's role in this historic date was strictly section work.

The raw and exhilarating recordings that make up Eric Dolphy at the Five Spot Volumes 1, 2 and 3 (July 16, 1961--Prestige) grew out of a lengthy engagement during the summer of 1961. The quintet included Mal Waldron on piano, Richard Davis on bass and Ed Blackwell on drums. The club environment allowed the musicians to stretch out and experiment with the new music and it's ideas. Without the constraints of a recording studio and the restrictions that conventional settings normally inspire, Booker is able to create some of his most glorious solos, especially on his own compositions Bee Vamp and Aggression.

Booker's final recording with Max Roach was Percussion Bitter Sweet (August 1, 3, 8 and 9, 1961--Impulse). This date saw Booker joined by Eric Dolphy on alto (for the last time on record), Julian Preister on trombone, Clifford Jordan on tenor, Mal Waldron on piano, Art Davis on bass, Max Roach on drums, Potato Valdez on congas and many additional percussionists. Featuring multiple percussionists in various settings, Max achieves many individual colors to give each tune it's own special flavor. Booker's work on Garvey's Ghost is particularly outstanding.

Victory and Sorrow (August and September 1961--Bethlehem) is Booker Little's fourth record as a leader and his final recording. Beautifully through-composed like Out Front, this album has George Coleman on tenor, Julian Priester on trombone, Don Friedman on piano, Reggie Workman on bass and Pete LaRoca on drums. I find this album to be my personal favorite, alongside Out Front, for Booker's unadulterated genius. His maturity as a soloist and composer/arranger had reached fruition, combining his unique harmonic approach with his innate lyricism and a rhythmic intensity shared by few of his contemporaries.

Booker was able to express his views on music very succinctly, and did so in a Metronome magazine interview with Robert Levin in Spring 1961:

"My background has been conventional and maybe because of that I haven't really become a leftist, though my ideas and tastes now might run left to a certain degree. I think the emotional aspect of music is the most important. A lot of guys, and I've been guilty of this too, put too much stress on the technical, and that's not hard to do when you've learned to play in school. I think this goes along with why a lot of trumpet players have come up lately sounding one way--like Clifford Brown. They say everyone's imitating him now and that's true in a way and a way it isn't. Clifford was a flashy trumpet player who articulated very well. He started a kind of trumpet playing that's partly an outgrowth of Fats Navarro--insofar as having a big sound, articulating well all over the instrument and having an even sound from top to bottom. Most of the younger guys, like myself, who started playing in school, they'd have the instructor driving at them, 'Okay, you gotta have a big sound, you gotta have this and that.' Consequently if they came in sounding like Miles, which is beautiful for jazz, they flunked the lessons. They turned toward someone else then, like Clifford Brown. Donald Byrd is a schooled trumpet player, and though he's away from that now, he'll never really be able to throw it out of his mind."

"Those who have no idea how 'classical' music is constructed are definitely at a loss--it's a definite foundation. I don't think it should be carried to the point where you have to say this is this kind of phrase and this is that kind of development. Deep in your mind though, you should maintain these thoughts and not just throw a phrase in without it answering itself or leading to something else. Say I know the chord I want the piano player to play and I give it to him. But the other instruments won't necessarily be playing that chord. Most of the guys who are thinking completely conventionally--they'd say 'Well maybe you've got a wrong note in there.' But I can't think in terms of wrong notes--in fact, I don't hear any notes as being wrong. It's a matter of knowing how to integrate the notes and, if you must, how to resolve them. Because if you insist that this note or that note is wrong I think you're thinking conventionally--technically, and forgetting about emotion. And I don't think that anyone would deny that more emotion can be reached and expressed outside of the conventional diatonic way of playing which consists of whole-steps and half-steps. There's more emotion that can be expressed by the notes that are played flat. Say it's a B-flat, but you play it flat and it's not an A and it's not a B-flat, it's between them and in places you can employ that and I think it has great values. Or say the clash of a B-natural against a B-flat.

"I'm interested in putting sounds against sounds and I'm interested in freedom also. But I have respect for form. I think sections of a piece can sometimes be played, say on a basic undersound which doesn't limit the soloist. You wouldn't necessarily tell him how many choruses to take. You say 'You blow awhile. You try and build your story and resolve it.'

"There are alot of people who think the new direction should be to abolish form and others who feel that it should be to unite 'classical' forms with jazz. The relationship between 'classical' and jazz is close, but I don't think you have to employ a 'classical' technique as such to get something that jells. I think the main reason a lot of people are going into it is because jazz hasn't developed as far as composition is concerned. It's usually a twelve bar written segment and then everybody goes for themselves. Personally, I don't think it's necessary to do either of these things to accomplish something different and new. And I think sometimes a conscious effort to do something different and new isn't as good as natural effort.

"In my own work I'm particularly interested in the possibilities of dissonance. If it's a consonant sound it's going to sound smaller. The more dissonance, the bigger the sound. It sounds like more horns; in fact, you can't always tell how many there are. And your shadings can be more varied. Dissonance is a tool to achieve these things.

"Most people who don't listen often, say jazz is a continuous pounding and this is something I can feel too. I think there are so many emotions that can't be expressed with that going on. There are certain feelings that you might want to express that you could probably express better if you didn't have that beat. Up until now, if you wanted to express a sad or moody feeling, you would play the blues. But it can be done in other ways."

Through all of this, one word keeps coming up in describing Booker--beauty. Booker Little was everything we should strive to become as musicians. Dedicated to the creation of his music and always striving toward new horizons.

Booker Little died on October 5, 1961 of uraemic poisoning (a blood disorder) at the age of 23.

The genius of Booker Little will always be with us through his wondrous recordings and from talking to the people who knew him.

Discographical Notes

Discrepancies exist for the dates on two of the recordings. The Many Sides of Max Roach had listings for February 1959 as well as September 22, 1959. The same problem exists with Award Winning Drummer which had listings for November 25, 1958 and November 25, 1959. First, according to Little's own interviews, he left Max at the end of February 1959 and didn't rejoin until August 1960. Secondly, the working band of Spring 1959 until at least March 1960 featured Stanley Turrentine on tenor, Tommy Turrentine on trumpet, Julian Priester on trombone and Bob Boswell on bass. This group recorded four albums during this period--Buddy Rich vs Max Roach (April 1959--Mercury), Quiet As It's Kept (January 1, 1960--Mercury), As Long As You're Living (February 5, 1960--Enja) and Parisian Sketches (March 1, 1960--Mercury). This group also recorded an album with Abbey Lincoln and Ray Bryant entitled Moon Faced and Starry Eyed (October 1960--Mercury). To me, these points invalidate both of the Fall 1959 dates.

While speaking with Kenny Washington, he told me about an extremely rare recording on the Strand label (the same label as the Slide Hampton Octet recording) by vocalist Pat Thomas entitled Jazz Patterns. The musicians are unaccredited, but Kenny says Booker's participation is unmistakable.

Kenny Washington assembled an excellent collection of Max Roach's work for Mercury and Emarcy entitled Alone Together (Verve). This two cd set features Clifford Brown on cd 1 and Kenny Dorham, Booker Little and Tommy Turrentine on cd 2. The second disc has A Night in Tunisia and La Villa from Max Roach plus 4 at Newport as well as selections from the above mentioned Tommy Turrentine featured groups.

Since this article was originally published in 1999, Mosaic Records has issued The Complete Mercury Max Roach Plus Four Sessions which has the entire recorded output of Max on Mercury. This wonderful set features all of Booker's work with Max on Mercury. Kenny Dorham, Sonny Rollins, George Coleman, Stanley Turrentine and Tommy Turrentine are also featured on these landmark recordings. Mosaic has also released The Complete Vee Jay Paul Chambers/Wynton Kelly Sessions 1959-1961 which includes the complete Frank Strozier/Booker Little sessions from December 9, 1959 and February 3, 1960.

Special thanks to Nat Hentoff, Kenny Washington and Dave Miller for input and assistance.

Photo courtesy of: Don Schlitten

Note: Below is the complete Robert Levin article from Metronome magazine

Introducing Booker Little

By Robert Levin

Booker Little, twenty-three year-old composer, arranger and trumpet player (the order is arbitrary, each role has equal importance to him), has lately come to demonstrate, in recordings and as the musical director of the Max Roach group, a talent that promises size.

As is true of many jazz players of his generation, Little is a product of the conservatory. He's found that experience to be "invaluable," but has discovered that it can tend to bind one to conventional concepts and result in an excessive emphasis on the technical aspects of making music--at the cost of the emotional aspects.

"My background has been conventional," he says, "and maybe because of that I haven't become a leftist, though my ideas and tastes now might run left to a certain degree. I think the emotional aspect of music is the most important. A lot of guys, and I've been guilty of this too, put too much stress on the technical, and that's not hard to do when you've learned how to play in school. I think this goes along with why a lot of trumpet players have come up lately sounding one way--like Clifford Brown. They say everyone's imitating him now and that's true in a way and in a way it isn't.

"Clifford was a flashy trumpet player who articulated very well. He started a kind of trumpet playing that's partly an outgrowth of Fats Navarro--insofar as having a big sound, articulating well all over the instrument and having an even sound from top to bottom. Most of the younger guys, like myself, who started playing in school, they'd have the instructor driving at them, 'Okay, you gotta have a big sound, you gotta have this and that.' Consequently if they came in sounding like Miles [Davis], which is beautiful for jazz, they flunked the lessons. They turned toward someone else then, like Clifford. Donald Byrd is a schooled trumpet player and though he's away from that now he'll never really be able to throw it out of his mind."

Little was born into a musical family in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 2, 1938. His father was a trombonist in a Baptist church band and his mother was a church organist; an older sister sang for a time with the London Opera Company. Little began playing trumpet in his high school classical and marching band. "At first I was interested in the clarinet, but the instructor felt trumpet would be best--because he needed trumpet players. Jazz records were very scarce in Memphis at that time, but there were a lot of guys who were interested in it. George Coleman was one. He was probably one of the most progressive people around town at the time, and there was also Louis Smith, who is my cousin. They were listening. I was rather close to George because he was in the same high school. He was sharp enough to take things off records. I was fourteen or fifteen then, and he sort of got me started. I played with some groups around town and then, when I graduated, I went to the Chicago Conservatory. Being in Chicago gave me greater exposure to things, because guys were always coming through."

At the conservatory, Little majored in trumpet and minored in piano. He also studied theory, composition and orchestration. In his third year, when he was nineteen, he met Max Roach through Sonny Rollins, and not long afterwards Roach called him for a record date. About that time he decided to quit school. "I gave it up because I realized there wasn't much I could do as a far as being a classical musician was concerned." The record date eventually resulted in a regular working association with Roach's quintet, an association that continued through 1958 when Little took a leave of absence to freelance in New York. During the latter period he gigged and/or recorded with John Coltrane, Sonny Stitt, Slide Hampton, Ed Shaughnessy, Teddy Charles, Mal Waldron and Abbey Lincoln, among others. He also recorded an album for United Artists and another for Time. In early 1960 he rejoined Roach.

Of late, however, Little has been considering the possibility of forming his own group. Its repertoire would consist exclusively of his own compositions.

"I think I've found the way I want to play on my instrument and now I want to concentrate on the sound I'd like to build around it." Currently, Little has a working agreement with Candid Records, for whom he's already made an album (with Eric Dolphy) comprised entirely of his own writing. At the time we spoke, he was working on the orchestrations for an album that will feature Coleman Hawkins "in a modern setting."

"I don't think there's very much of my work prior to these Candid albums that expresses how I feel now about what I want to do."

What Little wants to accomplish as a composer involves drawing on his knowledge of what he terms "the legitimate aspects of writing" without being confined by them.

"Those who have no idea about how classical music is constructed are definitely at a loss--it's a definite foundation. I don't think it should be carried to the point where you have to say this is this kind of phrase and this is that kind of development. Deep in your mind though you should maintain these thoughts and not just throw a phrase in without it answering itself or leading to something else. Say I know the chord I want the pianist to play and I give it to him. But the other instruments won't necessarily be playing that chord. Most of the guys who are thinking completely conventionally, they'd say, 'Well maybe you've got a wrong note in there.' But I can't think in terms of wrong notes.

"In fact, I don't hear any notes as being wrong. It's a matter of knowing how to integrate the notes and, if you must, how to resolve them. Because if you insist that this note or that note is wrong, I think you're thinking completely conventionally--technically--and forgetting about emotion. And I don't think anyone would deny that more emotion can be reached and expressed outside of the conventional diatonic way of playing which consists of whole notes and half steps. There's more emotion that can be expressed by the notes that are played flat. Say it's a B flat, but you play it flat and it's not an A and it's not a B flat, it's between them. And in places you can employ that and I think it has great value. Or say the clash of a B natural against a B flat.

"I'm interested in putting sounds against sounds and I'm interested in freedom also. But I have respect for form. I think sections of a piece can sometimes be played, say, on a basic undersound, which doesn't limit the soloist. You wouldn't necessarily tell him how many choruses to take. You say 'You blow awhile. You try and build your story and resolve it.' One thing I wrote for [producer] Nat Hentoff on the Candid date is like that completely. The undervoices were playing a motif and I just improvised on the sound. It had a definite mood, and the mood didn't warrant my running all over the trumpet.

"There are a lot of people who think the new direction should be to abolish form and others who feel that it should be to unite the classical forms with jazz. The relationship between classical and jazz is close, but I don't think you have to employ a classical technique as such to get something that jells. I think the main reason a lot of people are going into it is because jazz hasn't developed as far as composition is concerned. It's usually a twelve-bar written segment and then everybody goes for themselves. Personally, I don't think it's necessary to do either of these things to really accomplish something different and new. And I think sometimes a conscious effort to do something different and new isn't as good as a natural effort.

"In my own work I'm particularly interested in the possibilities of dissonance. If it's a consonant sound it's going to sound smaller. The more dissonance, the bigger the sound. It sounds like more horns, in fact, you can't always tell how many more there are. And your shadings can be more varied. Dissonance is a tool to achieve these things."

Little has been impressed by the writing of Charles Mingus. "He's been thinking rhythmically, in terms of breaking up rhythms, and that interests me. He's definitely a giant as far as writing is concerned. He stems from another giant, Duke Ellington. Duke is one of my favorite writers. He's a man who's worked at a sound and never wavered, and his musical personality is always identifiable as his. Slide Hampton has impressed me when he's writing for no other reason than himself. He has a terrific mind. And I thought the Gunther Schuller Atlantic date with Ornette Coleman had some terrific writing."

As a trumpet player, Little concedes that his major influence, much for the reasons stated earlier, has been Clifford Brown. "Yes, to a degree I'm afraid there was an influence, but I do think I've rid myself of it. I remember when I was living at the YMCA in Chicago. Sonny Rollins was living there too. You had to go down to the basement to practice, and once he heard me listening to a Clifford Brown record. I was playing it over and over again, and I guess I was driving him mad, because he was trying to practice himself. He asked me what I was doing and I told him I was trying to learn the melody. He told me that it was probably best that I go buy a sheet on it, because if I kept listening to the way he played it, it was going to rub off, and I was going to play it the same way. I never forgot what he said, though I did continue listening to Clifford Brown records. Brownie was the easiest guy for me to really get close to, as far as finding out what was going on was concerned. I like the way he played his lines."

Little is preoccupied with remaining within the mood of a piece when he solos.

"Jazz soloing, as a result of the methods Bird introduced, started a very involved technique, and Bird and some of the others reached a very high degree of emotion, higher than most of the soloists to follow. Sonny Rollins has reached the same height, probably because he was around to hear them. He not only heard them say this is an A-major or a D-seventh, he also heard, firsthand, what they did with it--the kind of emotion they got out of it. A guy learning as I learned--say, the first chord in the bridge is an A-minor seventh--well, the first thing he had to do was figure out every note in the A-minor seventh, and when it came to playing it, he had to make sure he hit all the right notes. I think this is important, but not half as important as concentrating on staying within the mood.

"Say you're playing 'Blue Monday.' I don't think it's saying very much if you start to play it and then just rip and run all over the instrument. But again, you can get so involved with the technical aspect of playing that you do that--it's not hard for that to happen. Miles Davis minimized how much trumpet playing you could do as much as anybody could minimize it, But many people have a misconception about him. They say he can't play trumpet. But he's a fantastic trumpet player with a fantastic mind. He was one of the first guys around who didn't have to play every note in an A-minor chord to give you the impression of an A-minor chord and to get the mood that the section needed.

"There's so many areas of trumpet playing that can be employed, and they don't have a lot to do with the 'legitimate' end of trumpet playing as such. There are a lot of notes between notes--they call them 'quarter-tones.' They're not really quarter-tones, but notes that are above and below the 440 notes. This is something Miles employs a lot, and I doubt that he even thinks about it."

As a result of the influence Clifford Brown has exerted on the younger trumpet players, Little said that he believes there is a serious need for everyone to break away and find his individuality.

"The problem isn't only with trumpet players, and that's why I think it's very good that Ornette Coleman and some other people have come on the scene. Ornette has his own ideas about what makes what and I don't think it's proper to put him down. I do think it's okay to talk about what his music has and what it doesn't have. I have more conventional ideas about what makes what than he does, but I think I understand clearly what he's doing, and it's good. It's an honest effort. It's like a guy who puts sponges on his feet, steps in paint and then smears it on the canvas. If he really feels it that way, that's it.

"At one end you have a guy who does it from a purely intellectual aspect and at the other a guy who does it from a purely emotional aspect. Sometimes both arrive at the same thing. I think Bird was more intellectual in his playing than Ornette is. I think Ornette puts down whatever he feels. But I think both ways have worth, though I don't believe Ornette himself has the worth of a Charlie Parker. Bird consumed everything, all that has been before and then advanced it all, and I don't think Ornette has consumed everything, though I'm sure he's heard it. I do think what Ornette's doing is part of what jazz will become.

"You know, there are so many things to get to. Most people who don't listen often say jazz is a continuous pounding and this is something I can feel too. I think there are so many emotions that can't be expressed with that going on. There are certain feelings that you might want to express that you could probably express better if you didn't have that beat. Up until now if you wanted to express a sad or moody feeling you would play the blues. But it can be done in other ways."

Little is concerning himself with exploring some of the "other" ways. If his aesthetic remains bound to the conventional precepts in which his education is rooted, he is trying to find out how to make his conservatory education nourish rather than taint or restrain his music. His most recent work both in person and on records is evidence of his certainly growing skill and courage as a composer and instrumentalist who is likely to achieve real stature.

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