The National Jazz Museum in Harlem
104 East 126th Street
New York, NY 10035
Harlem Speaks Features Bassist Earl May
Earl May, Bass
August 23, 2007
This series is free and open to the public.
Earl May began his career in 1949 in New York City, and honed his craft in places like Minton's Playhouse with musicians such as Lester Young and Mercer Ellington. He was also a proteg of the legendary Charles Mingus. Come hear the tales of his life story and career in music on August 23rd at the offices of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, 104 E. 126th Street.
In 1951 Earl joined the Billy Taylor Trio, appearing regularly in such clubs as the Hickory House, Birdland and the Downbeat Club. During this period Earl also worked with Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and recorded the classic Lush Life with John Coltrane.
Earl left the Billy Taylor Trio in 1959 to form his own group and act as musical director and arranger for Gloria Lynne. During the mid- sixties Earl took up the electric bass and led a quartet at the New York Playboy Club.
The Earl May Quartet rapidly became the epitome of great music in the New York club scene. Over the years Earl has performed or recorded with Dizzy Gillespie, Frank Foster, Cab Calloway, Tommy Flanagan, Linda Hopkins, Doc Cheatham, Charles Brown, John Hendricks, Marlena Shaw, Ruth Brown, Winard Harper and Phyllis Hyman to name a few. He is currently featured with the Barry Harris Trio. Earl has many fans in the New York swing scene, having played at swing dances multiple times in Junior Mance's Trio, Benny Powell's The Gift of Love Quintet, and with his own quintet.
Philadelphia-born and bred Wilmer Wise shared his vast musical history at the Harlem Speaks interview series on August 9, 2007. The South Philly neighborhood he recalled so fondly was an integrated environment of Italians, Blacks and Jews. At the age of 8 he began playing trumpet, and practiced with the windows open, opening his early playing up to the neighborhood critics." He attended junior high school with musical luminaries such as Ted Curson, Bobby Timmons, and Albert Tootie" Heath. James Hen Gates" Forman, who played piano with Dizzy Gillespie, lived across the street from him.
He studied with Anthony del Campo during junior high, and played first trumpet in various all-city orchestras. His parents (father from Baltimore, mom from South Carolina) didn't have a record player, so Wise used to go to violinist Henry Grimes' apartment to listen to bebop recordings. Grimes was in attendance, as was previous Harlem Speaks guest, trumpeter Eddie Preston.
I met Eddie when he was in Lionel Hampton's band. He's been an inspiration to me."
Fortunately, in addition to hearing recordings at the homes of close friends, he heard classical music on the radio. Hearing the Philadelphia Orchestra with Eugene Ormandy conducting was magic."
He recalled the Philly scene: I remember churches and bars, all having a good time. Philly was a safe place, no drugs." He also recalled playing trumpet duets with Ted Curson, Don Cherry, and Lee Morgan, who was a cocky guy from the North Side. He was classically trained also. When he was 14 years old he cut up Chet Baker to pieces."
Of Philadelphia he also recalled the plethora of bassists on the scene at the time, including Nelson Boyd, Reggie Workman, Jimmy Garrison and Buster Williams. He also remembered sitting next to a young Shirley Scott in one of the all-city orchestras--she was playing trumpet at the time!
He told all present about a summer gig in Atlantic City during the '60s at Club Harlem, where he sat next to Johnny Coles and observed the mastery of trumpeters Johnny Lynch and Lemar Wright. I learned as much from the guys I sat next to as from my teachers." On one occasion, he remembered, Ellington Orchestra trumpet titan Cat Anderson came to Club Harlem, but requested a delay in his appearance because of the powerful performance of Lemar Wright, of whom Wise said: He was the most perfect trumpet player I had ever seen--his posture was impeccable." These elders, as well as those the caliber of Snooky Young and Clark Terry taught him ways to play in a relaxed manner, with a minimum of physical exertion, which allowed Wise to maintain his excellence for over 50 years, with no injury or blisters to his lip.
He also studied formally, at the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music and the Manhattan School of Music.
In 1965, he became the first Black trumpeter to join the Philadelphia Orchestra, who showcased him on the Haydn Trumpet Concerto in 1965, the same year he met fellow Philadelphia trumpet legend, Joe Wilder, also a former Harlem Speaks guest of honor. Wilder is respected in the music industry for his jazz and classical chops. He always encouraged the younger Wise.
He also performed with the Baltimore Symphony for many years, while also teaching at Morgan State College in Indianapolis.
During the customary mid-interview break, executive director and interviewer Loren Schoenberg played a DVD of a practice session of Leonard Bernstein's re-recording of West Side Story, which featured Wise on first trumpet. Schoenberg laughed while informing the audience that this recording session (in which Bernstein calls Wise a genius") became know as the Lennie and Wilmer show.
After the break he talked about his pleasure of playing the music of Philip Glass, times with his long-time friend trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, and his opinion of Louis Armstrong, whom I met a Club Harlem. Pops had a uniqueness that no other trumpet player had. The sound, the resonance, the presence, that spirit! He put the A, B, C's of jazz into place, and others came along and used his alphabet. All of my teachers respected him. And French composers latched on to his style."
He discussed playing with Music from Marlboro, which was conducted by Pablo Casals, and had young virtuosos Yo Yo Ma (cello) and Richard Stolzman (clarinet) among the talent. Of how jazz and classical musicians can best influence each other, Wise said: The classical players need to put away the music, and the jazz musicians need to put the music on the stand."
He also mentioned the first time he met Wynton Marsalis, at the age of 18, a skinny kid who weighed about 160 pounds, and 120 of those were one of the largest afros you could imagine. He came to me as the suggestion of a friend, who knew I needed a worthy substitute for my part in Sondheim's Sweeney Todd. When he played, I couldn't believe his maturity. He sounded like a much older, experienced musician."
His memories of Duke Ellington centered on his playing of 1st trumpet for Duke's Harlem with the Symphony of the New World and A New World's A-Comin' with the Baltimore Symphony.
The intimate audience was also treated to an impromptu performance of a well-known classical trumpet theme, the trumpet fanfare Abblasen", attributed to Gottfried Reiche, which is the theme music for the long-running CBS news magazine, Sunday Morning.
Save the Date!
September 6, 2007: Pianist Junior Mance
September 20, 2007:Composer/Arranger Johnny Mandel
The Harlem Speaks series, supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, is produced by the Jazz Museum in Harlem's Directors Loren Schoenberg and Christian McBride, in addition to Greg Thomas, host and co-producer of the web's only jazz news and entertainment television series, Jazz it Up! Time: 6:30pm-8:30pm.
This series is free and open to the public.