JEROME RICHARDSON
By Tim Price

     The building Jerome Richardson lives in in New York City is tall and large and as I rode up the elevator to our appointment in June of 1990, I thought of the first time I saw and heard him play live. It was the late '60s and he was part of a world class big band called Thad Jones and Mel Lewis! I could still hear his sound in that organization as I approached his door.

     As I entered, Jerome greeted me heartily and promptly told me to take my mouthpiece out and try a silver-plated Mark 6 Selmer tenor that was on its stand in the corner.

     After I got done trying it, I looked about. There were his alto and soprano by the sofa; his flute by the T.V. set, a couple of boxes of Lavoz tenor reeds were opened and in evidence! In addition to that, there was a new Freddy Gregory tenor sax mouthpiece and a new metal Otto Link tenor mouthpiece lying side-by-side on the table by the music stand. On the music stand was a book of imported flute studies. Somehow the scene was enormously reassuring. If a saxist of Jerome's stature and attainments was still thoroughly involved in the tools of the trade, it had to be a condition of enterprise and not just aberrant behavior.

     It seemed to me at the moment that nothing was more reflective of our art than the legend of Sisyphus who, doomed to eternally rolling an enormous boulder up a steep hill, no sooner approaches the top with his burden than the boulder rolls downhill, whereupon he must start all over again.

     It's a crime to say Jerome has not recorded as a leader in years since the Verve record, "The Grove Merchant".

     Jerome's own records (since way out of print and worth every penny on an auction) are "Roamin' with Richardson" and "Midnight Oil" on Prestige; "Going to the Movies with Jerome Richardson" on United Artists and one of the very first jazz-rock records ever made on Verve called "The Groove Merchant".

     Jerome can be heard on a myriad of other albums by people like Cannonball Adderly, Kenny Burrell, John Coltrane, Duke Ellington, Herbie Hancock, Gary McFarland, Billy Holiday, Quincy Jones, Charlie Mingus, Sergio Mendez, Gerry Mulligan, Oscar Pettiford, Sarah Vaughn, Dinah Washington, Nancy Wilson and Phil Woods, to name just a few. He has been featured on many movie soundtracks, including "Can't Stop the Music", "The Jerk", "Movie Movie", " New York, New York", " The Wiz", "Silent Movie", "Zorro, the Gay Blade", "Color Purple" and "Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life is Calling".

     On T.V. you can hear him on "Lou Grant" and "Police Woman" plus the Broadway musicals of "Ain't Misbehavin'" or "Dream Girls" and "The Tap Dance Kid".

     As an orchestra member, Jerome has come through the ranks of many of the internationally known jazz orchestras including:
Gil Evans
Lionel Hampton
Earl Hines
Quincy Jones
Thad Jones and Mel Lewis
Jimmy Lunceford
Lucky Millander
Chas. Mingus
Oscar Petitford
Cootie Williams
Gerald Wilson

     He has also had the good fortune to accompany some of the world's greatest singers:
Sammy Davis, Jr., Billy Eckstein, Ella Fitzgerald, Bill Henderson, Billy Holiday, Peggy Lee, Julie London, Sarah Vaughn, Dinah Washington, Joe Williams, Nancy Wilson.

     Plus, in addition to that, Jerome is ready to jam at the drop of a hat. In informal settings he has played with Cannonball and Nat Adderley, Lockjaw Davis, Sweets Edison, Dizzy Gillespie, Gerry Mulligan, Joe Newman, Charlie Parker, Billy Taylor, and Phil Woods to name a few. Jerome was a charter member and friend of the late Thad Jones. He has spent much of his time since then organizing and performing many tribute concerts. The first of these took place in New York City in 1986. In October a concert in L.A. was able to raise some funds to assist members of Jones' family. Richardson has spent much of his time since then organizing and performing many "tribute" concerts.

     Jerome, who believes that the contributions of Thad Jones must not be lost, has collected many of Jones' arrangements and uses them in clinics and concerts.

     This is without a doubt a man with a mission in music!! The fact that he hasn't been recorded as a leader is a slap in the recording industry's face for not seeking him out and taking care of their biz!

     Jerome Richardson is a sequoia among saxists, he is such a gentleman. There is a plethora of genius in this world, but character is a rare thing. And … when you put character and genius together you have Jerome Richardson!!

     I hope you all gain as much as possible from this article, as this man is a legend saxophonistically.

Tim: What's your choice Jerome? If you had just a quartet gig, what would you play?

Jerome: Alto, soprano saxes and flute. Ya know, Tim, I know a lot of people like me to play tenor. They like it. Others like me on baritone. This and that. I guess it depends on whatever is going on with their ear, I guess.
     But for – I don't know what I was trying to get out of a tenor – but it never really satisfied me until one day I picked up my alto and I said, "Where have you been?" and I said right here for now on!
     So I probably will play tenor now and then once in a while. I got this arrange-ment I did on "Lush Life" for tenor and piano. But it goes to a funny key on alto and it feels better on tenor. I like the alto sound. I feel more at home with the alto. AND, I always liked soprano! But again, it's really funny. Each instrument has something to say to you. It's got its own character.
     Each horn has its own character and will say to you certain things. If you violate that, it's almost a sacrilege!
     You got to play the flute as a flute, like that. You can't play like a tenor concept on soprano; it sounds wrong. But some guys do it, and they think it's O.K., but not so!

     At this point Jerome lets me try his Selmer soprano with a Lavoz medium hard reed and the conversation shifts to reeds.

Tim: Yeah, I don't think a soft reed makes it on the soprano. Your set up feels great.

Jerome: I don't like soft reeds on any horn! The mouthpiece has been worked on by some guy who was in Hollywood when I was there. Now he's in Florida. I can't even remember his name. A young guy.

Tim: It wasn't John Phillips or one of those guys was it?

Jerome: No, not John. I can't remember his name! John Phillips - the one thing that's interesting that he got together is he's developed and learned to play 2 octaves higher on his sax and could play well up there. He in fact gave me a chart but I learned 5 or 6 notes above (the norm), which I hardly play anyway. But I asked him one day why he did it and he told me he used to play the trumpet, but he never could play the high notes on it. So when he started to play saxophone, it was in his mind and he learned to do it. The alto mouthpiece this guy did he said is like Marshal Royal's alto mouthpiece, but I had mine opened up a little further. Just a touch more, same thing with soprano.

Tim: What were your beginnings musically like?

Jerome: Rudy Weidoff was the person I heard and I said "that's it!" and bugged my parents till they gave me private lessons. By the time I was 11 or 12 I was playing saxophone solos in churches, classical solos, in fact, on the radio in the East Bay area.
     I was born and raised in Oakland, went to school in Berkley and college in San Francisco. That was San Francisco State College.

Tim: What kind of playing were you doing in your teen years?

Jerome: First place, I was the youngest guy in the union. At 14!
     A pianist around there who became my mentor for a little while, gave me my first night club job. I was 17 or so. My father asked the club owner to watch me so I didn't get into any wrong things, ladies and drink and this and that.
     When I became 21, I became 21 in that place; that night they put scotch and sodas around my chair. Needless to say, they carried me out of there.
     A lot of the guys in that band were older, and they taught me what I should and shouldn't do as a musician. Taught me to be proud of being a musician.
     They didn't stop me from seeing the bad things, but they taught me to come to work with a tie on, shoes shined and to know the chords and such of the songs. If you played a wrong note, the drummer would hit a gong right in the middle of your solo! I thank those guys for that because they made me so aware of what it was to learn to play jazz or music or any kind of music, to respect music, other people in the club, etc. Of course my mother and father taught me to respect people too, 'cause if I didn’t I'd get the shit kicked out of me if I didn't! And today – I look at young people today and I don't understand where they're coming from.
     I came up in the Bay area playing in many different small and big bands, so finally I got in the Navy, World War II happened, I got married, had 2 kids, and Lionel Hampton showed up and I went out playing alto with
Hamp playing alto aside of Bobby Plater. He taught me a lot. He didn't know it, but he taught me a lot.

Tim: Talk about the rub of sitting next to a great player like Bobby Plater. That's an education unto itself!

Jerome: Sitting there with him certainly was a learning process. You learned a lot about how to phrase in a big band. I was playing second alto; Bobby was a quiet kind of guy. He didn't say much, but he did a lot. He played a lot of things; he said things with his horn. You learned how to sit in that second alto seat and accompany the first player.
     I never had any trouble with Bobby because I was there to listen and learn.
     He and I became good friends. He went on to the Basie band later. I got a tape of it, and he sure sounds wonderful.

Tim: That was one of the reasons I'd go out of my way to hear the Basie band 'cause Bobby played so fine.

Jerome: Ya know, Marshall Royal played a certain way. He was a bitch lead player. But Bobby was too.

Tim: I think there is a loss or a minus of guys that can play alto like Marshall or Bobby. It's a void that needs to be filled!

Jerome: Yes there is a minus! Now, everybody wants to play the way they want to play. They don’t seem to care much about what went on before. I fault the jazz schools for this. They don’t seem to try to tell them how they got where they are! They don’t know where it came from.
     Everything that’s being played today is not new.
     There are the Coltranes and the Dizzys and the Birds. They had things within them even though they came up with some new stuff, they had things that were played way back in the beginnings.
     You hear Louie Armstrong or Jabbo Smith, its there! Or, on sax players, you got to go all the way back and check it out, it's passed on. The schools are at fault. I did a clinic at Mobile Alabama-so I said "who knows anything about Charlie Parker? Raise your hands." No hands. Louie Armstrong." No hands. So I proceeded to tell them, "These are your fathers. These people are the reason you play. They were there to teach you." And these kids looked at me like I talked to them about something strange.
     So now what do you got? You got people who think Stan Kenton had the first big band. Or they’re teaching jazz by not saying anything about who did what!

Tim: Yes, Jerome they are passing by people like Fletcher Henderson or Andy Kirk, Johnny Hodges and Buster Bailey; and Jay McShann.

Jerome: All those bands in those days, people forget, were playing for dancers. They played dance circuits all over the country.

Tim: Its roots, people have no idea! Everyone today wants to be an overnight star, without dues or hard work or respect for the music.

Jerome: Hey, look at this guy Kenny G. with his thing, walking up and down the aisles of the concert hall and running off the stage and playing the same time. It's old hat!

Tim: What about Big Jay McNeely?

Jerome: Yeah. What about Lionel Hampton? That’s where that thing started.

Tim: That’s entertainment-based stuff. Hamp’s thing is rooted in that as much as music.

Jerome: He’s an entertainer. I watched him for two years while I was in his band and he used his band to further that cause. I’ve seen him do things that were incredible. People were breaking up theaters and going crazy. The Fox theater in Chicago won’t let him back there. Maybe now, but back then he tore the place. And, Hamp will not allow any musician to best him. Case in point: There was a concert over at the Potomac River with Pops, Hamp and Jacquet. And Pops was there first and went on first. Then came Illinois, Jacquet and Illinois ended with “Flying Home”. Hamp comes in and did his thing up; plus he told the bass player “I’ll give you a ten dollar raise if you jump in the Potomac while we’re playing” etc.
     The bassist did it and Hamp tore the place up.

Tim: When were you with Earl Hines? Was Budd Johnson there?

Jerome: No, Budd wasn’t there with Earl then, but Dickey Wells was.
     Oh, one time with Hamp we played opposite Tito Puente!
     Tito was tearing it up with that Latin music. Everyone was dancing, so Hamp goes on and watches him. Comes to me and says, “Jerome can you do 'Begin the Beguine' on your flute?”
     I said sure so we hit it with “Begin the Beguine” and got to the people!
     And did the rest of Hamp’s book Latin Style to please those people. He’d do anything to please people if it killed him.
     Now Earl “Fatha” Hines is a very classy show biz type guy. He could put a show on with just him. A big band or anything - he always had a singer-but very show biz. And that man could play some piano. I loved Earl. Parts were good, some were pure show biz.
     I left Hamp’s band because of practices that were unfair that Madam Hampton would enforce on us.
     I left Earl’s band to come to New York.

Tim: When you first moved to New York, there’s a period you did at Mintons. Was that a quartet?

Jerome: Yes. I also played there with Kenny Burrell, also Oscar Pettiford.

Tim: You played tenor with Oscar?

Jerome: Yes, everyone thinks of me as a tenor player, but what had happened was Charlie Parker messed me up so bad on alto. Then I found way before there was more work for tenor players and you had to hoot and holler while you were at it. Alto players couldn’t get that work. Bird really wiped me out - boy did he play. So I was doing a lot of tenor. One time I was playing a joint and the manager comes up to me and says “This guy downstairs wants to come up and play with you; his name is Charlie Parker.”
     So he played with me. What an honor that was! It was all I could do to listen to him.
     So Bird says to me “Hey Jerome you sound good on tenor.” I said, “Oh, I just picked it up.”
     Bird says “Oh don’t worry about it. You’re gonna be alright!”
     We had something to eat afterwards and hung out. What a nice man.
     See, when I got to New York I was playing tenor all the time, mainly tenor and flute. I played the Apollo, the Savoy. Then I married again. About a month before my wife was to give birth, we all get fired from Mintons.
      I said; “Now what?”
     So a guy calls me to play rock and roll tenor and sing some rock and roll blues in one of the theaters in New York. So I took the job! From then on I started more session work.

Tim: That sounds like the period when you did the “Hit Parade”.

Jerome: I was the “HOT” tenor player in those days. King Curtis was hot too! When I first came to New York Sam “the Man” Taylor was the man!!
     I remember one time I came to a session and they wanted me to do that hot tenor. What I was doin’ was playing - Chicken Tenor.
     Ya know, rock and roll sax! And I admit I was jiving. It's not what I wanted to do. Then came King Curtis who was serious with what he did. Boy, could he do that thing. He was very serious. He had his own style and I liked what he did 'cause it was sincere and natural. So I did hot tenor on that show. I had to imitate the hot tenor players on the hit records.

Tim: What was expected of you on those sessions?

Jerome: They did call me for the chicken tenor a lot; though they knew I played all those horns like flute and alto and bass clarinet.

Tim: And you studied all those horns in college?

Jerome: No! The only one I studied in college was flute. The rest I just learned to play. Plus I listened to other people I liked on the other instruments; and evolved out of that!!!
     So that’s how I did it. I didn’t go to school to learn to play saxophone.
     The jingle people wanted me to do everything; ya know, rock sax on one tune, Guy Lombardo sax on another, or play some Latin flute, or something jazzy on bass clarinet, and I also could play soprano. Sorta jack of all trades and a master of none.

Tim: Oh Jerome, come on! That’s not true!

Jerome: Well I felt that way, 'cause I was constantly going to sessions loaded with horns. I always wondered if I had just one instrument that I put that much time in, where would I be?
     Would I be the great jazz person I thought I could have been? Or at least a real good jazz player, 'cause I was always doing commercial music.
     Even along came Thad Jones and Mel Lewis and that was one way of expressing my true musical feelings. Even then I was doing all kinds of dates on other horns.
     To me, one of the problems was I never made enough records under my own name. To be able to do that. See…I know I need to make some records that say who I am!
     See…playing with somebody does not let you do what you want to do, or show who you are!
     I loved Thad Jones, I loved what he wrote, I loved that band; and God knows I really miss him. But I was interpreting Thad’s music, but that has been my life. The real Jerome Richardson hasn’t been able to stand up yet! If ever!

Tim: When you played with Mingus on the “Black Saint and the Sinner Lady”…on baritone and soprano - I feel that’s really some of your best work. And it seems close to you. Heck; that’s a big influence on my baritone playing, just listening to how you played there. I never heard anything so hip.

Jerome: Thank you; ya know everyone likes that record!

Tim: Plus all those Gary McFarland records, “profiles”(on Impulse #A-9112) and that one “America the Beautiful” (On Skye Gryphon #G-909).
     And just the sound of your baritone in the sax section on the Quincy Jones record called “The Quintessence” with Phil Woods, Frank Wess, Eric Dixon and Oliver Nelson in the sax section! (On Impulse A-11).

Jerome: My favorite was “America the Beautiful”. I recorded and did jingles with Gary a lot.

Tim: How did that beautiful soprano lead sound come about in Thad’s band? That was the best use of a soprano in a sax section in a big band.

Jerome: It was a thing where it became a joke. I play a little clarinet, a few things. So Thad comes to me with clarinet all over it. And here’s Eddie Daniels who’s a graduate of clarinet, so I told Thad, “Hey I don’t want to play that. Plus it’s in the wrong register for a clarinet to project. So why don’t you let me play it on soprano sax?” So Thad said, “Yeah, go ahead.” And that’s where it started! So that’s where that came from. It was a fluky thing, but it worked. And Thad used it a lot. And boy that band was beautiful and I loved being in it and working with Thad Jones. He was amazing!

Tim: Let’s talk about your horns and mouthpieces. I know you use medium hard Lavoz alto reeds.

Jerome: I use a Haynes flute, a Cundy-Bettony piccolo, Selmer soprano, alto, and tenor, Buffet clarinet. I use Lavoz reeds on all my saxes and Vandoren V-12 on clarinet.
     I use a Selmer round chamber soprano mouthpiece that was refaced, a rubber Otto link on alto that was refaced, a metal 7 Star link on tenor and a James Kantor on clarinet.
     The most important thing I can add to soprano players is that look at how the alto or tenor or baritone or bass sax goes into your mouth. It cannot be played at the same angle that you play clarinet. Plus you should be into a reed that’s not soft. I use a Lavoz medium hard on soprano.
     But the mouthpiece comes directly at you on soprano - or should. Not like a clarinet, like an angle that saxophones go into your mouth at.

Tim: Are there any passing thoughts you’d like to pass on to the readers before we close out?

Jerome: Yes, the old sax guys had solid sounds on their horns and could blend in a section. Today everyone is trying to be an individual.
     The sound of the instrument is lost; today too many guys aren’t trying to get the sound of the instrument. They are trying to get the sound of the mouthpiece!
     And I don’t want guys to think that if you use my type of setups and reed combinations, it will be you. It’s me. I use Lavoz medium on tenor, but that’s just me!
     I hope guys all over the place don’t try to do their stuff like I am.

Tim: That’s you, what you hear and have been through, what you studied, all your experience. That’s experience, not a setup. That’s you.

Jerome: EXACTLY! Look at Joe Henderson. He uses a stock setup. But what is most important is he’s got a style of his own and don’t sound like nobody but him.
     That’s what I’m getting at. When I came up, sax players had styles of their own. That good firm full-bodied sounds. Today that don’t exist.
     What I’d like to get across is try your best to be yourself. I realize there are those who are much further along than you are; there are stars, but learn to be who you are and to play yourself. Be confident in that fact.


Interview done June 1991
New York City in Jerome’s 43rd Street Apartment