FRANK LOWE INSIGHTS...
Tim: What are some inspirations you had on tenor?
Frank: As a kid, these juke boxes had these quarter selections. The old Blue Note Records stuff. I was 13, and I used to listen to this Benny Green record “Soul Stirring”. It was Benny Green, Billy Root, Gene Ammons, Elvin Jones, and Sonny Clark. It was Gene Ammons sound that got me; that was it. In Memphis, Tennessee there was a woman D.J. called Willa Monroe, one of the first women D.J.s. She had a jazz radio show. My mother and aunt would have parties, and Willa Monroe would be there.
Later, when my father died, I looked up in a closet and pulled down some records, and there was some Ben Webster records with Walter Foots Thomas and stuff, 78’s and stuff they played in the house when I was 2 years old – so that stuff was in my head.
My first influence was like I used to really lean on John Coltrane a lot, and Sonny Rollins.
Though the Sonny Rollins I got easiest, the stuff with Don Cherry and Billy Higgins - I could get licks from it! But…the stuff I’m really studying now is, “The Stopper,” “No Mo”, “Slow Boat to China”, “I Know”, the record where Miles Davis plays piano on one track. The early period Sonny. But dig this, Tim, as much as I like Lester Young - I really love Lester; he’s my favorite -- I can’t really perfect the horizontal way of playing as I can the vertical way like Colman Hawkins. It comes easier for me.
They’re both hard to really master, but one comes easier than the other to me.
Tim: Do you think your appreciation of Sonny Rollins came out of your love of Hawkins, ’cause there is some Hawkins in Sonny? He came out of Hawk.
Frank: That’s true, but I really don’t know what comes easiest, that Lester thing is just harder to do.
Another thing is when you play with a modern day drummer it’s harder to play that way, ’cause drummers play so aggressive. It has a laid back function, like Prez said, “that titty-boom thing.” So a drummer has to let it flow for that style. That’s one thing I’d like to get together; I’m really working on it.
I like Don Byas and Lucky Thompson, too.
Tim: You said one time on the phone about Warne Marsh. Where do you think he came from?
Frank: That’s an extension of the Lester style. Now, Warne – he had the lighter side of the tone. On the darker side you had Dexter Gordon and Gene Ammons. See, that’s why I like Warne so much. He’s at the top of that stuff. Even without trying to be free, Warne sounds really free. That’s such an extreme of the Lester Young school, so I’m attracted to it. It just sounds interesting, especially with Tristano on piano. I just love it, I love that sound. I’m inspired by it, I just love it. You know Wardell Grey had that interesting type style too, also cats like Ted Brown. I got into the Lester Young–Coleman Hawkins thing as I was trying to come up with an alternative to the Coltrane sound. That’s what really got me there. You see, by the time Alice Coltrane hired me, I had to realize my name was not John Coltrane. I was there with Alice and that rhythm section, and I had to find some other way to get my message across. That took me back to Colman Hawkins and Lester Young. I’m into that for 15 years. I might die there, you know, ’cause I like it.
Plus I got a lot of respect for Von Freeman who came out with this original sound. It’s so fully formed, you realize other sounds can exist.
Dig, you got Coltrane, Rollins, Stan Getz, Lester, Hawkins and that way of thought, but Von’s sound and playing is just as strong as Trane and Sonny Rollins. Von is inspiring.
Tim: Did you hear that ballad on Von’s Atlantic record, the tune “Lost in a Fog.”? That was really an inspiration to me too. I think Von Freeman is a genius!
Frank: Me too! I also respect James Clay a lot. James is a very important player. And the cats that hang out between the Gene Ammons school and the James Moody type school, guys like David “Fathead” Newman and Hank Crawford. Big part of saxophone history.
Tim: I also wanted to talk to you about Packy Axton, the tenor saxist with the group “the Mar-keys”.
Frank: My first job where I got a check was working for Stax Records in Memphis. Stax stands for Jim Stewart and Estell Axton. Estell Axton is Packy’s mother. Packy Axton was the saxophone player for the “Bar-keys” and the “Mar-keys”.
I used to work there, and Packy would show me stuff on the saxophone, licks and stuff. He took time with me. He wasn’t just a lick R & B player, he knew a lot about the saxophone. He had a lot of knowledge. He died in L.A. a while back. He was really into Gene Ammons.
Even further back with “the Drifters” and “Coasters”, those solos that Boots Randolph played were grooving too. So was that guy Bill Black.
Really, I also love Jr. Walker with all my heart!
Tim: Hey, me too! Jr. is an uncrowned king! What about your days in San Francisco? You were around two great players, Bert Wilson and Donald Rafael Garrett.
Frank: Donald was on all those Coltrane records, “Kula Se Mama”, and “Om”, “Selfishness”, “Live in Seattle”, lot of those records. Same time I’m studying with Bert Wilson I’m studying with Donald Garrett. I use to play both of them.
Donald Garrett is also on these early Roland Kirk records, the one with Ira Sullivan on it. It’s on Argo records. He played bass on those records with Roland, but on the Coltrane stuff he played bass clarinet, so you know he knew what he was doing. He taught me a lot about breathing, he taught me to relax my stomach. It will keep your tone focused on the saxophone so it won’t be going everywhere.
Bert Wilson is a master saxophonist. He taught me and Lenny Pickett and Marty Krystall.
Tim: There’s another bad tenor player, Marty Krystall. He’s got a sound like a lion, just roars.
Frank: Bert taught us, and me and Lenny were some of his every week students, Bert Wilson is close to a genius. He kept you inspired too. It gave me a chance to dig Sonny Simmons, Warren Gale and Jimmy Zitro, too. Benny Harris and Smiley Winters at Bert’s house.
Tim: At this point in your life, in New York City, what do you practice?
Frank: I try to keep my chops up, like I’m working. So I got to find things to make me inspired. So I’ll find projects to inspire me. Sometimes it’s Stan Getz, or even a tune, or a transcribed solo. I try to practice things that are the hardest for me, so I got to practice on them to get better. I try the blues in about 6 keys – that’s a job. To show some results on a record, you should dig this Billy Bang record on Soul Note records. It’s called “Valve #10”. Every tune on that date I played in a Coleman Hawkins style or Paul Gonsalvas type thing. Billy requested me to play that way, so you can see I’ve been working on it. It’s the fruits of my labor!
I did go that direction once before with Don Cherry on a tune called “You Dig” which is based on “Hackensack” – the Monk tune. It’s on Soul Note label too. The title is “Decision in Paradise”. Music is a personal thing, you study and the results you get is like a report card. I just like music.
If you’re gonna call yourself a professional musician there are certain things you should master on the tenor saxophone. And that’s what these styles and tunes are about. The real test still is “Body and Soul”. You can’t get around it. And you still have to study all the styles and players from Lester Young to everyone in between, up to cats like Arthur Doyle, or David Ware.
Tim: Have you dug David on Stritch, or the beautiful way he plays tenor on his last D.I.W. CD, “The Flight of I”? He’s a major voice, a must to hear.
Frank: He got a big sound! Arthur Doyle’s got something major too, Tim. He’s really special. But you have to listen to these players, study the music, and study Lester Young solos. I study Lester to get the feel of it. Its about feeling and listening and trying to develop it all. Another thing people should check out is Pharaoh Sanders. I’m very inspired by him, especially that E.S.P. record “Pharaoh’s First”. That tune “Seven by Seven”, that sound he’s got there is like a Coltrane sound but with R&B elements in it, like down home things, like Coltrane Meets Jr. Walker! Its got that earthiness of Jr. Walker and the sophistication of Coltrane.
To hear Coltrane’s thing and where it came from there is a 1947 Dexter Gordon on Dial called “Bikini Blues”. You can hear on that record that Coltrane is coming, you can hear it. The concept that Coltrane started you just couldn’t escape. You can hear Dexter play and it’s the start of that sound. Pre-Coltrane! I just picked up on this 1951 Dizzy Gillespie record with Dizzy and Coltrane, and on there you can hear Dexter’s influence on Coltrane. Time and tone!
You have to make it your business to know these things.
Tim: Frank, that’s very true, music is the master, and the music must come first. People can hear it in the horn. Plus it’s very obvious in your playing how serious you are. Thanks for sharing your insights.