from issue #2: ‘Dizzy, 1979’ by Paul Pax Andrews


I was studying jazz full-time and invited to play tenor at the Monterey Jazz Festival with the Northside Big Band from Manly. We were invited to Dizzy’s rehearsal; eleven AM, second day at the Festival… Saturday. Entering the room, I was so excited, buzzing, but where is everyone? The place should be packed, what happened to the other guys? Just twelve of us, including the band. Stan Getz sporting his Ray-Bans, standing next to me with arms folded waiting, listening and watching. Then, in one fantastic moment, Dizzy transformed his stark rehearsal space into a glowing cathedral, now with each of us transfixed. Every move, each sound and every whisper; we wanted to hear it. Each prayer. I was standing breathless on the moon in jazz heaven, feeling Dizzy Gillespie’s bliss on earth with Roy Haynes’ white smile and panama hat, it was unbelievable I could reach over and touch him. The sounds of a different drummer as his legendary brushes coaxed a robust solid platform for the rhythm section, swinging so hard. Rufus Reid was sensational with his fat tone and big smile. An Afro-groove goin’ on, he is rocking back and forth and leaning forward away out over the bass, dancing. Dizzy is jiving and joking with Roy, “No! Like this, man! I’m only showing you one more time!” Taking the drumstick and demonstrating on the cymbals (he was hilarious); Roy is laughing his gorgeous grin. Two old buddies happy to be together again, chuckling, giggling. Big Black on conga handed all of us a passport to Africa with John Lewis, modern-jazz piano history. Oh man, this was a beautiful rhythm section. ‘Summertime’ then ‘Manteca’ as if it was the first time they had played them. Dizzy is high on the horn, as high as. Yet what blew me away was his tone, somehow shy or delicate like Miles, but I hadn’t expected that from Dizzy with his big open song. The sweetest cup-mute, so gentle, I will never forget.

“It is the vulnerability in my sound that makes it irresistible,” Miles explained about his mutes.

“Let’s go Diz!” called his crazy skinny manager (wearing a bad loud orange-check jacket) hassling after every song. “You need to rest and eat Diz!” or… “Three hours till the gig, man. Dizzy!” Meanwhile, the legend wasn’t paying no mind but enjoying each moment, ignoring him totally whilst playing a game he had obviously played many times. In his greatness, he could still play life with a childlike freshness. Laughing aloud. Big smiles.

He started into ‘Con Alma’ and the mood returns to serious beauty; such energy, and lyrical beyond my imagination. Roy has picked up the sticks and is driving a freeway. I am so high. We all are. What a song!

Another ten minutes of joy and then, “Dizz!” again. He started to put his horn away and each of us is raving, so excited and alive. The room was in ecstasy now, tripping, high on our own tower, given to us by our all-time hero. Pumping, throbbing. I am speechless, holding my breath, not wanting these moments to end, disbelieving my incredible once in a lifetime luck. This has to be a dream. Then…

Suddenly the room became silent once more, as the familiar intro to Monk’s ‘Round Midnight’ lures us. She is blind and John Lewis had led her to the piano, golden retriever at her feet. South American, raven haired, so calm. She is Brazilian, maybe. Then our focus shifted to Him, all of us hoping, waiting to see if Dizzy would play some more. He didn’t disappoint us (but his minder has brow in hand). Trumpet muted, and soft with the assuredness that only a lifetime of playing can deliver. Sensational. She smiles sweetly throughout and delivers Him the most wonderful partner play. As the two sing away, tears well-up inside me and I am overwhelmed, choked in my emotions, just forgetting to breathe sometimes. Heaven for ten minutes more. Heaven on Earth. Where else can it be but in this moment, each new moment. My life changed, right there. Again, I felt a sense of great responsibility to my new life as a musician and wanted to thank Him. Once more Dizzy returned to his trumpet case and started to pack up.

I followed Him to the other end of the room and said something, shaking his welcoming hand. His voice was low and guttural, yet sweet “Ah, Sydney huh, I love Australia, they grow some nice weed there and everyone’s so friendly. Have you had a smoke?” He grinned. “Not in California, so far,” I replied, but not thinking what I am saying. “What? You haven’t had a smoke. We had better fix that.” He unpacked a film container and a little pipe, placed it in my mouth, then offered me a light whilst raving about Monterey. How happy he is to see Roy Haynes again; then he started rolling me a little joint, which he placed in my top pocket after his turn on the pipe. I will never forget his beautiful face. “You’re gonna have a great ol’ time.” I am so high and can’t recall much else (except his hovering manager who had arrived once more to remind Dizzy of his schedule, and who we commandeered to take a photo) but what blew me out, was that he had time for a kid from the other side of the globe. A beautiful caring man. I was soaring for a month after meeting Dizzy! Music has given me so many wonderful gifts; hearing and meeting those incredible sculptures of sounds.

The next day, after our set with the Northside (partying in the green room) when a reporter approached me. Microphone in hand he asked, “You are one of the young musicians from Sydney, Australia. Tell me: it must be a thrill to be here. What was the highlight of the 1979 Monterey Jazz Festival for you?” (Right question, wrong guy!) “Getting high with Dizzy,” I replied, truthfully. “CUT! Cut.” He shouted, waving his arms at his assistant and scorning. We all broke up laughing; I was just a kid but I should have known better. By the time we got home, the story had grown into me making that faux pas on National Television. Monterey was amazing and after an hour with Dizzy I went to Woody Herman’s big band rehearsal where Stan Getz is like practising in the corner right behind Sonny Stitt and Clark Terry who are arm in arm and raving away together, chuckling, all smiles. Gerry Mulligan is reading his charts and Woody, eighty years old, alto in hand is chatting about the set list to Slide Hampton. John Lewis sits at the piano again, noodling and flipping pages. What a band, Sonny’s amazing sound is leading the section singin’ ‘Early Autumn’, with Dizzy blowing over the top. I took two rolls of film on my Praktica and somehow they have survived. (You-tube / paxrecords) My daughter found the negatives and I scanned them. It was wonderful to see some of them again, after thirty years. Dizzy was so happy on that weekend but I suspect he was mostly like that. Beyond that tremendous sound, I will never forget his humanity and grace.


from Without A Song © 2012 Paul Pax Andrews

Ebook available @ Smashwords

This excerpt appears in Contrappasso Magazine #2, December 2012
Photography © 2012 Paul Pax Andrews. Reprinted by permission.

from issue #2: ‘New York City, 1978’ by Paul Pax Andrews


In New York, the sax-quartet stayed in a fifteen dollar a night dive on Broadway (the Times Square Hotel-Motel) and Forty-First Street. Because of the recently changed U.S. mental health laws, most patients not considered dangerous had been sent back into society, duly medicated and left to their own devices. The top three floors of our Hotel were home to a hundred of these lunatics who constantly rode up and down the elevators or paced the lobby and corridors. Zombies, doped and weird yet mostly they were pleasant and chatty. Whispering. Muttering. Some were very polite and greeted us each time we returned. In the lounge, there would be several people just sitting for a moment then getting up, walking around the room then sitting again, chain-smoking. Beautiful leather Club Sofas and Chesterfields adorned the Art deco, mirrored lobby. The manager suggested that we lock anything valuable in his safe. His face became quizzical when we gave him the baritone saxophone. One afternoon a well-dressed woman took a piss in the elevator right there in front of us. Squatting, while she complained about the old, slow contraption (it was such a dawdling old relic with the cage doors). At first I thought these were just normal New Yorkers.

Australia was a billion miles away and I loved this city with its ‘larger than life’ attitude. Everyone had a hustle. Twenty-four seven, the car horns honking with blinking lights everywhere. I could go for a walk at dawn or midnight yet the same amount of people were on the street, it didn’t seem to matter. Maybe I look obvious, but this hustler taps me on the shoulder, “Hey buddy, tell me, sorry for asking but is that a Praktica thirty five mill, single lens reflex?” He is trying to get his hands on my camera, “I used to have one of those. Do you mind if I take a look? Wow! A great camera huh?” He is relentless. What do you say to someone like that? Some schmuck must have bought that line, occasionally. (His daily hustle). Another street-dealer tried to sell me some hash and I said I didn’t have any bread. “Money! I ain’t seen money for so long, it thinks I’m dead!” he announced, charging off along the footpath.

In Times Square our tenor player Rod, originally from Florida, is freaked out at being in New York, sure we would get mugged and bashed or something terrible would happen to us. He stayed in the hotel-room the whole time, smoking his head off, scared that we might not return safely. I explored as much as I could and had no bother. Well, except Bev the Chinese doctor, she bothered me! So beautiful and she knew all the best places to go. Jazz, love and Autumn in New York… How lucky am I? The sweetest moon-faced girl smile. Black ponytail and the wonderful music. ‘Second Avenue South’ to hear Nat Adderley, then on to the ‘Village’ and ‘Little Italy’, Chinatown, I was having a ball. Mostly people just wanted to talk and listen to my accent and tell me all they knew about Australia (nothing). “Oh Yeh, Australia, sure, near Switzerland? Mountains and shit! Central Europe right?” So confident, yet with no idea.

We were eating outside on the footpath, lox and bagel, when a skinny dude raced from a doorway and picked up a garbage bin to defend himself against a crazy screaming Chinese cook who was wielding a meat cleaver. Right there in front of us, just ten feet away! New York was its own Jackie Chan movie, it was full on. Later that same afternoon and I’m in Washington Square taping the buskers, dealers and freaks on my walkman, when a crazy Mexican guy walks over and asks me to record the band for him on his cassette-tape (my walkman). “Don’t tape over ‘Side B’ man, that’s my guru you know, my main man, not the main man, but my maaaiiiin man! You know what I’m saying?” as he hands me a toke on a fat joint, right there in front of everyone; old women with curlers (also smoking joints), Latinos and Puerto Ricans, Afros everywhere. The ‘Square’ is just alive with artists, musicians and freaks. The odd copper on a horse, shiny white helmet and smiling and talking to the girls. The quintet was awesome. A tenor player sounds like Joe Henderson on ‘Recorda-Me’, a piano on a trolley, conga player swinging, hard. Beautiful drummer with Elvin’s energy, it was serious. Serious street-jazz. Twenty percussionists are having a jam over on the other side of the fountain, creating a plethora of sounds, throbbing. Alive.

It felt good to be amongst it. I relaxed as the people become less scary in their exuberance and open joy. Energy was everywhere. New York seemed alive with music.

After each song, one of the cohorts would come and hustle the audience for money with a hat, while the dealers each had their own rave goin’ on, “What d’y’all want? Boy? Girl? Acid? Guaranteed to get you high my man! What you want? (He looked at me from one eye over the shades, as he passed by) Reefer?” I’d sheepishly buy one joint for a dollar, walking away I could hear “Tight Ass Honky White Mother!” A number of the street corners around Times Square and the Village had a dealer or two. All this happened right next to the cops who were too busy minding their own goddamn business to interfere. Mostly, five dollars or ten would buy me a small bag of deadly red dust; ‘Acapulco Red’ something or other. Upon inspection, the Tally Ho contained only a sprinkling of pot…but fuck it got me high! One time I asked an associate what I was smoking and he replied, “Toledo window-box!”

Just being in New York was like living twice as fast, while constant sounds and endless thunderous, hustling droning energy kept me awake. Saturday night; it’s three a.m. and I am on a heavily graffitied subway train travelling back to the hotel, from way out in Queens… Bev lived out there somewhere, near Corona. “Y’all must be from out of town. Nobody rides this subway out here at night,” one of the only other travellers warned me. I had no fear so I just enjoyed myself. Out every night and had a ball. One time I got off ‘Uptown’ and climbed the stairs to the street, took one look around, then straight back down again to the train. I remember a few black dudes, wearing big hats. Too big, hats.

Next day on Broadway, I saw Sweeney Todd, with Angela Lansbury. That was something else. Now I was scared. Scared to death; during the opening scene, when the siren sounds a foggy blackout. I discovered Stephen Sondheim while in New York and he’s been another great love of mine ever since, one of my favourite songwriters; ‘Joanna’, ‘Pretty Women’, ‘Nothing’s Gonna Harm You’, ‘By the Sea’. Such great songs.

(In 1986, I played alto and bass clarinet in the pit orchestra for the Sydney Theatre Company’s productions of ‘Company’, ‘Sunday in the Park with George’, ‘Into the Woods’. Kevin Hunt and I still want to do a jazz-Sondheim album, one day.)

Each Monday night at the Village Vanguard, I heard the Thad Jones, Mel Lewis Orchestra, I was transfixed each time. What a band! I had heard Basie, Ellington, Buddy Rich’s big band and Woody Herman’s but this was so different, fresh, modern with unbelievable virtuosity. Such masterful arrangements; I was in big band heaven hearing the great Dick Oatts on alto, Ralph Lalama on tenor, Thad on cornet is so sweet with Mel Lewis on drums, playing ‘Consummation’ and those other great songs from their repertoire. Jim McNeely played piano. Jerry Dodgion on lead soprano (that’s what gave the sax-section its individual sound), musos everywhere, barely room for an audience with all of us crowded in together. Fifteen dollars cover charge, for each set. A one drink minimum. Jam-packed. New York heaven. (I had only dreamed.)

Tuesday night; Charlie Rouse sextet at ‘Sweet Basil’s’, with George Mraz on bass, Roswell Rudd on trombone (he has always been a favourite of mine). Once again, it was a twenty-dollar minimum for each set. Sensational to be hearing Monk’s tenor, live. Each time I came away with a new sense of unimaginable inspiration coupled with, ‘how can I ever be good enough to be an improviser?’ Feeling insecure yet possessed. Obsessed. Joyous. Nervous.

Each part of my being was committed to taking this energy back home. Three weeks in New York had changed my life, seriously. It was a great, no, the greatest honour to be an improvising musician and to take risks and to practice, right there with an audience, night after night. Giving freely, fresh ideas, expressing oneself to whoever might be listening; an ongoing, never ending search for something we only find when we find it. If we find it. In the moment. A great responsibility, from a wonderful history. I was impassioned, in love with the music but a new struggle had begun again. How could I possibly belong to any part of this wonderment? What could be my role?

from Without A Song © 2012 Paul Pax Andrews

Ebook available @ Smashwords

This excerpt appears in Contrappasso Magazine #2, December 2012
Photography (CC) by Derzsi Elekes Andor @ Wikimedia Commons