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:
He has also had the good fortune to accompany
some of the world's greatest singers:
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.
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
Tim: What kind of playing were you doing in your teen years?
First place, I was the youngest guy in the union. At 14!
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.
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.
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”
Tim: When were you with Earl Hines? Was Budd Johnson there?
Jerome: No, Budd wasn’t there with
Earl then, but Dickey Wells was.
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.”
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!!
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!!!
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?
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).
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.
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.
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.