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John Levy on Toni Harper

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Last week, singer Toni Harper reflected on the albums she recorded with Oscar Peterson in 1956 and Marty Paich in 1959 and 1960. In 1963 she traveled to Japan with the Cannonball Adderley Quintet. John Levy [pictured], Adderley's personal manager at the time, wrote me an email last week about that tour:

“Cannonball and his group were contracted to do their first tour of Japan's major cities in 1963. When the Japanese promoters called me to complete the details, they asked if we could include Toni Harper, whose Candy Store Blues from 1947 had been a hit in Japan and whose more recent albums had been released there. The promoters asked if Cannonball's rhythm section—Joe Zawinul, Louis Hayes and Sam Jones—could accompany her.

“Not being a jazz singer, per se, Toni was not known to the group at the time. I recall that some of the musicians weren't thrilled to be asked to back up a singer, since the quintet took enormous pride in themselves as celebrated jazz instrumentalists, which they were. [Pictured below, from left: Yusef Lateef, Toni Harper and Nat Adderley at a Tokyo airport press conference in 1963; photo by John Levy]

“At any rate, that was the offer, and we accepted. The deal included a taping with Toni for a television broadcast. I explained it all to Nat, who handled the group's internal business.

“When we arrived in Japan, everything went fine. But when it came time to do the television show, bassist Sam Jones grew unhappy. Even though the TV show was going to be shown only once, and only in Japan, Sam didn't want to play. He was huddled in a corner with Nat when the Japanese promoter came over to ask what was wrong. [Pictured, below, from left: Yusef Lateef, Toni Harper, Louis Hayes, Nat Adderley, Cannonball Adderley and a member of the Japanese press; photo by John Levy]

“When I went over to see what was going on, Sam was furious. He said, 'Man, you didn't tell us she was gonna be on our television show. We don't want to be playing for her.'

“I said to Sam, 'This was part of the deal.' Then, looking straight at Nat, I said, 'Before I even accepted this offer, I explained to you that Toni would be on the show with us.' Sam started to grumble some more, and his attitude was wrong. So I got mad. [Photo below, from left: Sam Jones, Joe Zawinul, Toni Harper, Louis Hayes, Nat Adderley and Cannonball Adderley; photo by John Levy]

“ 'I don't know what you want,' I said. 'All you're doing is stirring up a lot of trouble within the band. Everybody was willing to do this, and you come up with this stuff now. I will not let you make me look like a fool in front of these people.'

“We were about to square off when Cannonball got in the middle and cooled everything out. Cannon was always the peacemaker.

“They all went on and did the show, but I was really upset with Nat [pictured]. He could have and should have prevented it from becoming a problem situation. It was embarrassing.

“It also must have been hard on Toni, who was an innocent victim in all of this. As I recall, the balance of the tour went very well and Toni was very professional at a relatively young age. Louis Hayes, Cannonball's drummer, recalled her being very friendly to everyone in the group.

“Looking back, I wouldn't be at all surprised if Toni felt like an outsider at the time. The drama and hostility was unnecessary, but we made the best of a difficult situation."

JazzWax video: There appears to be a DVD of the Cannonball Adderley Quintet with Toni Harper, probably from the Japanese TV show. I have not seen it but you can find the DVD here.

JazzWax pages: John Levy's lifelong recollections can be found in his candid and insightful autobiography, Men, Women and Girl Singers, co-authored with his wife, Devra Hall Levy. The book covers John's years as manager for George Shearing, Nancy Wilson, Dakota Staton, Cannonball Adderley and many other jazz stars. His autobiography is here. John also published Strollin,' a book of his jazz photos. You can find it here.


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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved.
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