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An Interview with Jane Getz (Transcription)
Nathan:This is a good friend of mine, her name is Jane Getz. Now Jane has quite the biography that I want to tell you about. Jane is a producer— she is a music producer, songwriter, pianist, who has a rather incredible history, and a very neat place in music history in general. Jane is a celebrity's celebrity in both the worlds of Rock and Country. She recorded some Country-Rock music in the early seventies on two RCA albums as "Mother Hen", not sure if you can still find those but those are out there. She has recorded as a duo with Bluegrass fiddler Richard Green; she's played on Country albums by Sneaky Pete, he is the steel guitarist from The Flying Burrito Brothers, and on some Country-flavored albums by Bobby Womack, Jeff Muldaur and Don Henley.
But most notably, and most directly applicable to what we're going to be talking about today: Jane is a piano prodigy, she was a prodigy at age six, and at the tender age of nine, Jane switched over from Classical music to Jazz. And she played with a few names around L.A. where she was living at the time: Billy Higgins, Pony Poindexter, and then she moved to New York City, in 1964 at the age of 16, to play with names like Charles Mingus, Stan Getz (no relation), Herbie Mann, Thad Jones, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Charles Lloyd, Freddie Hubbard, Grant Green, Joe Williams, and Pharaoh Sanders.
And Jane is here because she has a new book out titled Running With the Big Dogs, it is her memoir talking about these days in New York City, running with these big dogs of Jazz.
Jane, welcome to the New Renaissance.
Jane:Thank you, Nathan!
N:How you doing today?
J:Uh, I am feeling pretty good, I just went to the hairdresser, I had my hair done…
N:Just especially for an audio-only recording, right?
J:Oh absolutely, that's why I did it! I had to feel good!
N:Sure, it's that old joke, and you know it totally applies to me: he has a face made for radio.
N:So, to, uh — And, and thank you so much for coming on the program. I actually read your book just recently, and I read it almost non-stop, it was a very quick read, it was—and by that, I don't mean that there's not a lot there, but just, it pulled me along, it was a lot of fun to read. And you did a magnificent job of bringing the reader into this world of New York City Jazz.
So because the Listener has not yet, in all likelihood, read your book, why don't we start off: tell my listener about your book, what it's about, and all that.
J:Well, it's about when I came to New York, I came to New York on a Greyhound bus… and I stayed in a hotel that someone had recommended that was full of junkies and musicians, and I didn't know what I was gonna do, but I did know a few people; I had met Pony Poindexter in Los Angeles, and a few people I had known from Los Angeles that I had played in jam sessions with. So I decided to go to New York because, if you're a politician, you go to Washington; if you're a musician, at that time, you went to New York. So I thought, "Well, you know." High school was kind of irrelevant for me at that point in my life, because I spent every night out playing anyway, so I thought, "Well, I'll just go." And I talked my parents into it, and they said, "Nnnn okay."
So I stayed at this hotel, uh, this infamous hotel called the Alban Hotel, and the first morning, I went down, uh, to the lobby, and I saw Pony Poindexter, who I knew, in a phone booth, and I went up to the phone booth, and I heard him dialing some numbers, talking to some people about a gig he had on the road. And I knocked on the phone booth, and I said, "Whoa!" I said, "I'll do the gig with you." And, uh, so that's how I met the first 'big dog.' Running With the Big Dogs was all my adventures with all the famous people I worked with, and Pony was, uh, kind of semi-famous…
N:Well I've heard of him.
J:Yeah! And I started out with him, and I got an apartment… I immediately, like two days after I came to New York, the gods were smiling on me, and [laughs] I got a gig traveling around with Pony Poindexter, and then I had all the money I needed to get an apartment, and, uh, it just went on from there…
J:…and I worked with various people, like you mentioned.
N:Yeah. So what inspired you to sit down and write this book? How did that come about?
J:Well a lot of people knew me as a songwriter, cuz in the 70s, that's what I did; I was, uh, I was playing, but I was playing on a lot of rock records… I played with Ringo Starr, I made a lot of records with, uh, Harry Nilsson, and I had an album out called "Mother Hen," which I was singing, and writing, uh, all the lyrics, and doing all the music. And I met a friend in the '90s who knew me from the '70s and knew my work and knew my albums on RCA, so he said, "Why don't you try your hand at writing a story?"
So, he was a writer. He was the editor of the LA Weekly, and he was kind of an infamous writer, as a matter of fact. So I thought, "Well, okay, I love writing songs, I'll try and write a story." So I wrote some little stories, uh, from the first book I wrote, it was called The Little Mozart of Alvarado Street, I wrote a series of stories about a child prodigy that was, uh, roughly about me, but of course I fictionalized it.
And then he said to me, he said "I love your writing! Why don't you write something about what you did in New York, kind of a story about one of the gigs you had or one of the people you worked with, and we'll see if we can get it published in a magazine." So I wrote a story about how I got to New York, and about how I met Charles Mingus, who was the biggest dog I had ever worked with, after Pony Poindexter.
So, uh, that's how I started writing. I wrote the story; I sent it to Sue Mingus, and she liked it!
N:That's fantastic. Well, I can see why too, because it really is a fascinating read. Now, even before that, I mean you were sixteen years old, right? 1964, you were 16 years old when you made this movie to New York City, right?
J:Yes, I was almost seventeen, I mean I should have been—
N:[laughs] No, you should have left it at sixteen that's more impressive! But so—
N:But, I mean, even still, sixteen going on seventeen, just almost seventeen, whatever… that's a huge move! Not many people at that age are ready to make a move like that, and if they are, they're not typically primed in to be a success in whatever it is they're trying to do. What was it that pushed you to make such a dramatic decision at such a young age?
J:Well, I was already working a lot of gigs around LA, and people, everyone said, "Oh, you should go to New York!" And then they'd tell me the drawbacks, "Oh, you'd never get accepted!" And then some of them said, "You should do this because…" You know, it was a lot of different opinions about whether I should go or not. And, uh, as I was working, I was working since I was thirteen—gigs, I was doing gigs—and as I was working and living with my parents, I was saving money! I had a bank account! I was a little capitalist… [laughs] I was already planning my move.
So I decided, "Well, what the heck? I mean, I'm not going to starve, I have parents."
And they said, "Well, if you need some help, call us." They really didn't offer any money or anything, but at that point, I was used to making my own money, so…
J:So that's how I did it. Ha!
N:And how did you even get in—I mean, at nine, you got into Jazz! I didn't start getting into Jazz until just the very end of high school; you were already living in New York and gigging with Charles Mingus by the time I even realized Jazz was there. How does a girl of nine get into Jazz?
J:Well I turned on the radio one day, and I heard it. And the back story is, I was a child prodigy, I started playing when I was four, and by the time I was six I was doing Mozart concertos, I had memorized the Mozart concerto.
So, uh, I was playing all along, and as I played these classical pieces, I would improvise on 'em. I would, uh, kind of get the style that Mozart wrote in, and I would just improvise my own little things on it, like what I thought Mozart would have put in a cadenza.
So when I heard Jazz, I guess I heard George Shearing the first time I heard Jazz, and I heard it on the radio and I thought, "Wow! Here's improvisation with rhythm attached to it, that sounds like fun, and I'm sure I can do it!" So that's what started me on that, and then I got some records, and since I had perfect pitch, I could copy the solos, like the piano solos, down on manuscript paper, and then I'd practice 'em and I'd play them in all keys. And I kind of analyzed them, I took them apart, and I said, "Why is this guy playing this phrase here?" You know, I did the whole thing, I never really had any formal schooling in it, so that's how I did it.
N:That's amazing, that's just amazing… now, at this point, the listener is going to have realized that you are giving just a huge amount of detail. And I'm here to say, when—in the book, too, every single story, every single anecdote that you tell comes packed full of these details: this is what you happened to be wearing on this particular day, in 1964, fifty years ago, you're recalling these incredible details. Now, be honest: Was that a little bit of embellishment for creative purposes, fill in the gaps, make it a more interesting story, or are those details that you actually really remembered?
J:I can say that I remembered a lot of the details, because I do have an ability, if I'm interested in something, which I'm very interested in clothing, I'm shopping every day of my life, so…
J:…so I was interested in clothing, and what people wore, and how they looked, and I had the ability to go back in time and remember what people said, or what their names were, uh… I mean I even remember songs from when I was three or four, three or four years old, the words to those songs, the complete songs… I mean, and I'm not saying I remember every subject, but I'm saying I remember it in things I'm interested in, like music, clothes…[laughs] And things like that.
N:All right, fair enough… well that's, that's phenomenal. And it's that level of detail, I think, that's part of what makes Running With the Big Dogs such an interesting read. And I'm going to recommend to my listeners, PLEASE: if you're listening to this, go look on Amazon.com, you can get it there, you can get it for Kindle, I downloaded it to my Kindle, but get Running With the Big Dogs, it's a wonderful read, it's a fascinating story!
N:So, one of the first musicians that you played with when you got to New York City was a bassist… and let me throw in a little bit of detail here: this is one of my heroes; in fact, in college, I took a Jazz History class, it was probably my favorite class that I took, and at the end of the class, we all had to write a paper on some particular Jazz musician. I wrote mine on Charles Mingus. Got an A with a citation for excellence, actually, so… and in the course of researching that I bought a whole bunch of Mingus recordings, read a biography— couple of biographies of Mingus. Fascinating dude!
Tell us, Jane, about Mingus.
J:Well… [laughs] it's, like, a lot of information there, but… he was..first thing I can say about him is, he had a booming presence. Like, a lot of stars you meet have a natural magnetism about them, and he had a booming presence. When he walked in a room, it was like loudspeakers were going off.
N:Now are you saying that he was loud vocally, or just that was is overall…
J:Yeah, everything! Everything, everything! He was, uh, he was just very magnetic, he was powerful… he was a powerful person, you could just feel his power.
N:Now that, that sounds fairly intimidating.
J:It was a little intimidating. The first time I met him, I was going to go on a gig with him to California the next day, and, uh, my neighbor upstairs, Jerome Richardson, had recommended me as a sub for his pianist, who couldn't make it. Jaki… oh, I forgot his pianist's name, but, anyway…
N:Jaki Byard, is that it?
J:Jaki Byard! See?
N:I told you, I researched Mingus, I… I, at one point I knew a lot more about him than I do now!
J:[laughing] Yes, well, I was, uh, the sub for Jaki Byard, and he ordered me to come over to his apartment. We had like a three minute conversation, and he said, "Yeah, Jerome Richardson told me about you, so I live at blah blah blah blah blah, come on over, I'll show you the tunes."
So, I took the subway, I ran down to his house, I was there very quickly. I walked up the stairs, and when I saw him, it was almost shocking how magnetic, how powerful he looked. And maybe it, it was just 'cuz I was a little bit intimidated too, because that was the first time I had ever seen someone, like, as famous as he.
N:Maybe a little bit of hero worship?
J:Perhaps, yes! [laughs] And of course I wanted him to like me too.
J:So anyway, he, uh, showed me all the music, and he went over the music with me, and, uh… there was some actual, actually some very difficult parts, which he played for me! He would say, "Let me play these for you," so he actually didn't let me play them, he played them for me. But anyway, I learned most of the tunes, and when we were finished, he left the room! He didn't say, "Okay, thanks Jane"… I think he said, uh, he said something about the gig when I first came there, but he didn't say "See you tomorrow," or anything, he just left the room. He had absolutely no social amenities, or he didn't feel he had to, uh, use any of them on me. So anyway, I saw myself out, and his wife called me and told me where to show up to the airport the next day, and that's how I started playing with him.
N:Now that's, that's fun! And your story about him showing you the parts, and actually insisting on playing them, that wasn't just in his apartment, that also happened at a gig right?
J:It happened at the gig. I, ah, the first tune was fine, I remember the first tune at the Jazz Workshop, and everything was going along fine, and then all of a sudden we got to a tune called "Meditations." And it had very strange time signatures going on, and he put his bass down, and without a word, he just nudged me off the piano bench, he wordlessly nudged me off the piano bench, and played the parts for me, and then after that he went back, picked up his bass, and I continued to play what I was playing.
N:[laughs] Yeah, there's… let me interject, it's… with a quick story, something I came across in my research for that paper. There's a very famous concert that Mingus put together, either at Carnegie Hall or Avery Fisher Hall in New York, I can't remember which one. And from everything that I read, it was an incredibly disorganized affair. Even while the concert was going on, you had Mingus up on stage, writing out charts for the musicians, doing last-minute prep that should have been done, you know, at least the day before if not weeks before the gig. Was that—
N:And would— was that kind of thing fairly typical for Mingus?
J:Well yeah, because he asked me the day before the gig to learn 24 songs.
J:Okay? I mean— there's only so much your brain can do.
N:Right. And no rehearsal time either, right? I mean it's just—
J:No, I didn’t rehearse with the guys. In fact, he didn't even have his bass out when he showed me the music—
J:—he didn't play with me, he just said "Here's the music! Play it." I was ordered to play it.
N:And then, of course, when you're playing, nothing was good—when you were actually at the gig, nothing was good enough, right?
J:No, no… I wasn't doing the right chord voicings, he wanted me to do more Duke Ellington-type chord voicings.
J:So I went to the record store the next day with my mother who was up there with me, and we listened to those chord voicings, and then I came back and I played that. But then there were other things wrong, until it culminated with the "pedal incident."
N:Right. So let me read this quote from your book, along with another one from you, because this leads into another interesting question. First quote, from Mingus, saying "Chicks use too much damn pedal", or "too damn much pedal." And then I caught a bit where you said that "I wanted the cats to forget I was a chick." Now, that led me to wonder, because Jazz in the 1960s in New York City, that was really very much of, of a man's world, wasn't it?
J:It was ALL a man's world! [laughs] It was a man's world! Uh—
N:How difficult was that for you?
J:—I was kind of an interloper… what?
N:How difficult was that for you?
J:Well, since I was kind of sure of my musical ability, I thought, "Well, music will trump everything," which I found out, it didn't!
J:But it helped a lot! Music did trump things, my, my musicianship and my ability would trump everything else. So that's the attitude I went in with, like, "Yeah! I'm gonna go do this, and they're gonna like me.. .hopefully." You know, I wasn't 100 percent sure because I was young and I was a little bit intimidated, but if I'm intimidated by anything, I just keep doing it til I'm not intimidated anymore, so…
N:That's impressive as hell, yeah.
J:That's my nature.
N:So, not only a man's world—and you're, you're a woman, and you're young at the time—but also a black man's world, I mean Jazz was almost entirely dominated by blacks, right?
N:And so here you are, this sixteen year old—okay, sixteen going on seventeen—white girl—
J:Yeah… or white CHICK!
N:—white CHICK, right, I mean we gotta get the language right. We're going to come back to the whole question of language, but so, I mean, all kinds of challenges, and… so, you bulled your way through, through sheer talent, but there had to be people there looking at you saying, "Ah, she's a chick, she doesn't know anything," right?
J:Well yes! There were plenty of people there but I kind of knew the ability I had. And plus, going into the, the whole Jazz thing, as a teenager I said to myself, "Okay, we have to make some rules here." First of all, I never dressed provocatively. I wanted people to know me as a musician. And I never flirted with the guys, I was kind of all business, I was friendly but it was very business-like. And that took me a long way, because after a while, people did forget—or maybe they forgot I was a chick, I don't know —because the biggest compliment I used to get from these guys was, "You play like you have balls."
N:[laughs] Nice. But even, even with all that though, you didn't entirely escape any mishaps on that account, right?
J:No I did not.
N:Tell us about, um, tell us about Freddie Hubbard.
J:Oh, well Freddie Hubbard, yes. Freddie Hubbard was a trumpet player that I admired greatly. And I had been to hear him many times, and… He finally called me one night as a sub. And I was "Ahh!" You know… a little intimidated, because he was actually a great trumpet player. And so uh, I worked for a couple nights as a sub, and he liked me, he kept me on for the next night… And the next night he mentioned that he needed some tunes for his next album. And I had just written, like, a bunch of songs! So I said to him, "Well, why don't you come over to my apartment after the gig, and I'll play some for you!" And he said, "Okay, sure."
So, he came over to my apartment, and that was in the East Village. And these were teeny little apartments, very small, like a grand piano occupied the space of one room, and the next room was a bed, with a kitchen and a sink…
J:…it was just a teeny apartment. So I, I was playing a couple of tunes for him, and all of a sudden he says, "Come here!" And I was puzzled, and he grabbed my arm, and I— I just didn't know what to think. But it was actually a sexual assault.
And I did get out of it! I figured out a way to , uh, get around it, and he actually went from my apartment screaming.
N:Wow, that's… that had to—
J:You'll have to read how I got out of it, because it's kind of interesting
N:Oh yeah, it's a riveting story. That had to impact, rather profoundly, your perception of this world, didn’t it? And, and your place in it?
J:Yes! It really did, because, before that everything was friendly, and the cats, yeah…
"Hey man!"— "Hey Jane, what's up, baby!" Blah blah blah. And all of a sudden, I thought, "Wow! This actually happened to me!" I mean, I was—it took me by surprise, because most of the guys were just my friends, and we hung out together, and did this and that…
So yes, it impacted me, and it started me thinking, "Do I really want to be a part of this world all my life?"
N:And what year was that, by the way?
J:You know, I don't remember, it was… [counts]… maybe about '67 or something like that.
N:So you still had a few more years in the Jazz world, that didn't run you right out right there, did it?
J:Oh no, they couldn't run me out that easily!
N:[laughs] Oh that's awesome! And… the strength, I think, is one of the things that is most impressive.
N:Jane, I want to give you a chance to read a little bit out of the book. And you'll understand why I'm having Jane read this, because one of the, one of the really neat things about the book is the language that Jane uses. It's unique. And let me not say too much, Jane go ahead and start reading if you would.
J:Okay, uh, this is when my friend Pony Poindexter gave me a phone call, and it starts:
'It was Pony Poindexter. Yep, I was gigging with the alto player, my short little friend with eyes like indigo marbles.'
This is Pony:
'"Hey man, we got a gig in Rochester next week." Pony exhaled, taking a long drag on one of those humongous joints he likes to roll… he liked to roll. "Better git ja a long coat, 'cause you're gonna freeze your little ass off up there." Pony exhaled and coughed. "Hey baby, hold the phone, my old lady wants to talk to you."
There was a banging sound as Pony dropped the ph'one, and picked it up and handed it to his girlfriend Louise.'
That's one example.
N:Yeah, and that's… what's really neat about this book—and there's dozens of examples throughout the book, and once again, I want to encourage people, go ahead and download the book from Amazon, it's not very expensive, and you can get it right on your Kindle, it's a wonderful read—and one of the things that makes it such fun to read is the fact of the language, and the language that's used, and the buzzwords and the jargon and the slang of 1960s Jazz. It really brings a distinct flavor to the narrative, and that part's a lot of fun. And one of the things I really wanted to wonder, because as I was reading this.. Jane, y'know, you and I, we've known each other for a few years now. I had never, ever heard you talk this way—y'know, talking about your crib, and… this, the one story you've got about, uh, who was it that, uh, talked about those 'ofays'…
J:Oh, that was Pony Poindexter.
N:That was Pony. Yeah, now explain what the word 'ofay' means, because that's not a word one hears a lot lately.
J:Well, Pony was from New Orleans. And, uh… but "ofays" was a word used in the Jazz world that meant "white folk"… all the ofays.
N:But it's not a terribly flattering word, is it?
J:[laughs] I wouldn't say so, because, in conjunction with using the word "ofays," he always would say, "I'm going to kill them all." So, uh, that was part of his rap, part of his schtick.
N:Did that scare you at all, being an ofay?
J:Well I didn't know whether I was an ofay, or whether the band had an identity, or whether he was just going off on something because he was bored, because I heard that all the time from him, and he never seemed to really go off on anyone, and he never faulted me for that, so I just kind of ignored it after a while.
N:[laughs] That's…jeez. But going back to my question, though: As I said, that's not a way of speaking that I had ever heard you use. It's…the voice of the Author, as such, is very different from the voice of the Jane Getz I know, so that led me to wonder: was this an affectation for you, were you pretending to something here, or was that the way you actually spoke back in the day?
J:Actually I was completely inundated in that world. I lived it, I breathed it, I talked it! And it wasn't til years later, probably at the end of my Jazz sojourn in the late '60s when I heard a tape recording of myself, and I thought, "Oh my god! Am I really talking like that? Is that me speaking?" I couldn't believe it. So that's when I decided to talk like the Jane I had grown up talking like. But when I was in that world, no, I, I spoke with a definite accent.
N:And when your parents came and visited you in the city, did they say anything about this, uh, mode of speaking that you had adopted?
N:[laughs] Not sure?
J:I don't remember! I think my mother just looked at me strange. Actually, my father never heard me play, he was tone deaf—
J:—so he wasn't really interested in my music. But my mother came to hear me play up in San Francisco. And she was quite puzzled, and she kept asking me if I was on drugs.
N:[laughs] Well and were you? I mean, there had to have been a lot of drugs in the Jazz world at the time, yes?
J:Oh, there was a tremendous amount of drugs, there was drugs, drugs, and more drugs.
N:In fact, you used some interesting language—going back to language again—talking about one drummer that you played with, Danny Richmond, you talked about how Danny had a "heavy rep" as a junkie, and one of my favorite phrases from the book, you referred to Danny as a "conscientious junkie." Now, what on earth is a conscientious junkie?
J:A conscientious junkie is a junkie that doesn't appear to be a junkie; he's well dressed, he's well spoken, he knows all the social amenities, he's, uh... he's not falling, his head is not falling into his food like some junkies I've seen, they'll go to eat and their heads used to hit the plate.
N:Just go on the nod?
J:Yeah, they—nodding out, absolutely. See? You know more of the language! I've forgotten some of the language. [laughs] So yeah, he didn't nod out, and you hardly knew he was a junkie, you only knew he was a junkie by rep.
N:Yeah… so, there had to then be opportunities for you to experiment, try out some things that maybe, you know, a young white girl from California would, would not have otherwise had a chance to try.
J:Right, there was, there was a lot of opportunities. I took one—before even drugs, I took one drink, and I passed out, I had a shot of whiskey—
N:[laughs] Now, I should throw in, by the way, that you're a very tiny person, so I can actually see one drink having that effect on you. As compared to me, a very big guy.
J:Exactly! And I passed out. And that was the first and last drink I ever had in my life, so,uh, as far as drugs went, I smoked pot a few times, and it took all my social screens away, I felt like I wasn't in control. And one little story was, someone gave me a few hits of a joint on a gig once, and I got so paranoid, I hid under the grand piano.
J:Yeah. So, that's when I decided drugs are not for me, it's just not a match made in heaven. So I really never touched drugs anymore. So…I didn't use drugs.
N:And you didn't find that presented you with any, um, social difficulties in the world of professional music in the 1960s and '70s?
J:Well… if people said you wanna get high—"Hey man, you wanna get high?"—and I would say, "I'm already high!" Meaning, to myself, "I'm high on life!" which I heard one loopy flute player say once.
J:So I used to say, "Hey man, I'm already high." So, they would—yeah! So, that would be that.
N:But never really got you into trouble?
J:Well once I got fired from a recording session because I wouldn't do any blow.
J:And, uh… I won't name any names, but yeah! It was insane! I just wouldn't do it. I said, "No thanks," and they didn't like that, so that was it.
N:All right, fair enough. Now, going back to the language, so, you had this very different way of talking back then, and when you wrote the book, you made the decision to go back to that. Was that a conscious decision, as a way of bringing the reader into this world that you were inhabiting, or was it more unconscious, just, as you were reliving these events, it kinda flowed back into you naturally?
J:I think a little bit of both. I started to write it, and then I was in that time period, I was in the situation, I was in the mind of a seventeen, eighteen, twenty year-old girl, and I was thinking some of the thoughts I thought back then. And I just started writing in that language, it kind of, uh, that’s the way I used to speak, that's the way the people around me spoke. So yeah, it just kind of came naturally.
N:So that actually prompts me to wonder about something I didn't think to ask about before, but it seems like for you, music is something very meticulous, very detailed. You mentioned having perfect pitch, you mentioned being able to transcribe these solos note-for-note… as you were going back and reliving these events so that you could write about them, did any of the solos that you played re-occur to you, did you find your fingers moving in familiar patterns?
J:Uh… can you rephrase the question?
N:Sure! Yeah, I just, what I was wondering is, when you were writing this book, you were reliving the way you spoke, the way you lived. Did you relive any of the music, like, thinking back, "Oh yeah, when I played that gig with Herbie Mann, and I played this solo," and then just start to actually remember the solos that you played.
J:Oh yes. Actually, I didn't. I didn't remember the solos, I just remembered if I was bored, or not bored.
N:[laughs] Fair enough. Now, towards the end of the '60s, getting into the '70s, at this point you started to shift more, now, towards Rock & Roll, away from Jazz. Did your love of words and your love of language have anything to do with that change over?
J:It absolutely did. I love language… from the time I was five years old my father used to read me English literature. So I had memorized "The Highwayman" and a lot of Emily Dickinson's poems at five, so that's kind of the literary background I had, was the father who loved literature. So I had a love of words, too, which carried me over into my songwriting period. I decided I wanted to write songs, I heard some of Dylan's songs, and I thought, "Yep! I can do that too."
N:Very nice. Let's, uh… I want to wrap up this segment… towards the end of the book, you had a couple of very cool anecdotes to relate. You got a chance to sit down and play with one of the most famous rock musicians I think just about anybody—people listening to this podcast, they might not know the name Charles Mingus, they might not know Herbie Mann or Pony Poindexter, but I'm betting they're gonna know this name.
N:Wow. How did you come to play with Jimi Hendrix?
J:Well the word was out that Jimi Hendrix was looking for someone that could play more jazzy, and could play like R&B. And I had just gotten one of the first Wurlitzer pianos, which everyone was using at that time in the late '60s, they were using Fender Rhodes and Wurlitzers. So I had a Wurlitzer, and someone gave Jimi my name, and they said, "Well, call Jane Getz, she can make a recording with you." Because he had a bunch of new music, something he hadn't previously done. It was more R&B art-oriented, but it had hints of Jazz in it, it was jazz-y. So he called me—or no, he didn't call me, his manager called me, and asked if I could make a recording session. And I said, "Sure!" And, uh, I went over to the studio, and that's where I met Jimi.
N:Did you ever actually record anything with him?
J:I think we recorded a lot of stuff; they were recording as we were rehearsing and playing, yes.
N:Did anything—do you know what happened to those recordings? God, I'd love to hear them.
J:I have not the foggiest idea, though people said, "I think I heard one of the recordings!" But I never personally, I've never heard them. But I was there for two days, so I know we did something.
N:And then, what happened then? What happened after the two days?
J:After the two days, I think he went to England, this was just before he died.
N:Oh gosh, that's… that must have hit you hard.
J:It really did. It—because I actually admired him, and I really liked him. And he was just, he was wonderful, he was a wonderful musician, he was very nice, very soft spoken… he was just a nice person.
N:We've kind of gotten to the part of the story where you got away from Jazz, I wanna dip back to Jazz for a minute.
N:Now, I've talked before—in fact, I wrote a blog post… To me—this is my perspective—Jazz is a unique vehicle for individual expression, as compared to other styles, especially popular styles of music, where things are very rigidly controlled by the composer, the songwriter, whomever. With Jazz, everybody in the group contributes their individual voice in a much more profound way, I think, than in a lot of other genres. Would you agree with that statement?
J:I absolutely would agree with it. I mean, that's the joy of playing Jazz.
N:And you had some great quotes in the book that I think related to this. First one, you were talking about a player named Booker Ervin. Now, before I read the quote, tell us a little bit about Booker.
J:Booker was from Texas, and he was a great saxophone player. He was the kind of guy that you'd play a set with him, and then he'd go outside, in the alley or something, and we'd all talk, and he'd pontificate about music and about the world, and about… I think he was from Texas. But anyway, he just had that in his music, it was just, like, this was what American music was about. Like, the ultimate expression of, like, fields, and mountains, and you heard all of that in his music.
N:Yeah, let me read that quote, since you're getting into that a little bit. Here's a quote from the book:
"Booker had that thing too. He could make you feel the wind whistling through the trees and across the plains. He was like a Wyeth painting. But, Booker caught the real, unabridged America in his music… a place of humble beginnings and rich spiritual resource."
Now that's gorgeous stuff.
N:Now, so… what I'm getting from that, then, is that Booker's playing really—and I wish I knew more of his music, he's one I've actually not encountered in my studies of Jazz, but… it sounds like he 's somebody who really transported a listener.
J:Correct. And he was that kind of person, too, he was a wonderful person.
N:Very philosophic, it sounds like.
J:Yes, he was very philosophical. And the thing that— about Booker was that he drank incessantly. And he wasn't a sloppy drunk, it just made him more erudite, which is very strange, because most drunks stop talking. But he would, as he drank, he would talk more and more about his childhood, and about what music was about, and the transcendental import of what he was doing musically, of improvisation. And he was a nice man, too, he had a lovely wife—whose name, by the way, was Jane—and two children . And unfortunately, he passed on very early.
N:Oh, that's, that's, uh, that's a sadness. Now, in your own playing, did you ever feel this kind of—I don't know—poetry emerging?
J:Uhhh… when I was playing?
N:Yeah, when you were, when you had a chance to solo, did you ever feel that coming through you? You know, I've heard some musicians talk about, when improvising, the music is not coming from them, the music is coming more through them. And it sounds like that's kind of the approach that Booker had. Would you say that was true of your playing as well?
J:I would say that. And there was, it's like The Art of Zen Archery, it was a book that was out many years ago, I guess, and it was like, how to get yourself out of the way. And of course, how to get yourself out of the way depends on what you know in the basics of what you're doing; you can't get yourself out of the way if you don't know what you're doing. Or, or… let's see, it's hard to put into words. But you have to be very founded in the basics of what you're doing to be able to transcend that.
N:So music theory, the technique of your particular instrument… you have to have those solidly under your belt before you're going to be able to get yourself—get out of your own way.
J:Absolutely. And that's, I think, is what every famous musician, what every musician that's worth his weight in gold does. They practice the technical aspects, so they don't have to be reminded it while they're executing it.
N:Now, it—there's almost a paradox, though, that I'm seeing, because we were just talking about how Jazz, especially Jazz improvisation, Jazz soloing, is this incredibly powerful tool for self-expression. And yet you're saying that the best Jazz soloists were working hard to take themselves out of the way of the music. Which makes it sound like they're not expressing their own selves at all. Can you square that circle for us?
J:Well, the thing about that is… you've heard writers say, "The story wrote itself?"
J:Okay, a lot of playing Jazz is pattern recognition, as is a lot of other artistic endeavor. So, pattern recognition, you have to be able to listen to the pattern you are creating, and instantly do another pattern connected to that pattern, as you're improvising. And if you're thinking of what pattern you're going to play, instead of listening to the pattern, and going on with that pattern—you have to be listening to yourself. That means you have to have the technical ability to not labor over the notes you're playing. You have to be beyond the fact of your technique.
N:Okay, so when you talk about getting out of your own way, it's not removing the Self, which is—that's kind of what I got from your invoking Zen, Zen is very much about self-abegnation—
N:Or abnegation, excuse me, mispronounced that word
N:And it's, it's not so much about self-abegnation—abnegation—God, that's a hard word to say!—as it is about making yourself as, I guess, fluid a conduit for your own creativity as you can.
J:Exactly. You really have to listen to yourself, but at the same time, you're not in a vacuum; you're playing with other people. So you're throwing off ideas, and you're bouncing them off on other people; it's like a good conversation. You're not pontificating in a conversation, you're getting ideas from the other person. And then that inspires your ideas. And that's the way a good Jazz riff goes, a good solo. You hear the drummer going, Da-da-da, dah! And the bass player's doing his little thing, and that leads you off into another direction entirely too! So, it's a group effort.
N:Okay, fair enough. Now, one other quote that I found in the book that I found really interesting, because it points very much in the direction that you ended up going:
"To some folks, jazz was a religion. Turning my back on that sacred American art form was like breaking one of the Ten Commandments."
Now, what do you mean, "turning your back"? How were you turning your back on Jazz?
J:Well, there's an attitude that a lot of musicians, Jazz musicians have, and have to this day, that there is no other form of music, none whatsoever. Like everything else is played for, because you want to make money, which is not correct at all. But that's the way a lot of Jazz musicians think of it, because Jazz music is an art form that you're improvising, and all this and all that, so if you're doing anything else, you're selling out.
N:And what was it that you were doing to indicate that you were selling out?
J:I was writing songs, which I love doing. But they didn’t understand that. I was doing the pop music of the day, I was writing songs, and singing and giving concerts, actually… I had a Rock group called "Mother Hen," and I used some of my Jazz facility when I played it, but I played more like Bruce Hornsby-style Country piano.
N:Oh, you just named one of my favorite Rock pianists, he's just phenomenal. Ever since the eighties, knocked me out. So you had a foot in both worlds pretty solidly.
N:About how long did that last?
J:It lasted all through the '70s. I was in the Rock world all through the '70s, I was working with Harry Nilsson, Ringo Starr, I made an album with John Lennon, I was doing my own albums, I was writing songs for people, I had one hit out on Jimmie Spheeris's album, I wrote the title song to his album, called "The Original Tap-Dancing Kid," which was a hit.
N:So, but how long did you have a foot both in the Rock world and the Jazz world, how long were you playing both sides of the fence?
J:I would say two or three years.
N:And what finally brought that to a head for you, where you said, "You know, I can't do both of these anymore"?
J:I guess you would say, I was tending toward writing songs and playing in more of a Country-Rock group, because I was raised on Country music, I love that kind of music. My parents were from Texas, so, yeah, I loved that kind of music. And I was kind of tired of the Jazz schtick, you know, like everyone thinking, "Yes, this note is so precious." It's like someone talking, and every little word that comes out of their mouth is so precious, you know. That's kind of like the Jazz attitude, every little note is just… golden. So, I got tired of it, actually.
N:And was it any particular event or, or combination of events, or was it just the whole thing that wore you out?
J:It was, it was the whole thing, it was kind of like an, a Jazz attitude, like "Only we can be in this little group of people," was almost like a cabal, you know. No one else could get in here, because only we know this. [laughs] So I kind of got tired of that attitude, plus I had gotten a lot of money from RCA to do two records, so, you know…
N:How much money?
J:Well over six figures.
N:Wow, and that was record-breaking, was it not?
J:Yes, it was. I had the biggest deal for a new artist in history at that point.
N:Wow… yeah, I could see where that would make you want to, you know, focus your energies. Sp recently you've gone back to Jazz; what pulled you back?
J:Well there was a few people that were from New York that had heard of me, and uh, I thought, well, "It'll just be a hoot! I'll just go out"—I hadn't played in about ten years, but in the '90s, I went out and played, and I thought, "Yeah, this is fun!" Jazz is fun in the way that playing chess or checkers is fun, I mean you've got to be a few moves ahead of it. Jazz can be a very mental thing too, a mental challenge for you. Although, it is a thing of beauty and music and all that. But as a player, it's a fascinating mental path you have to traverse.
N:Right, wow…and of course, that also brought you back to revisiting all these events, and writing this book, Running With the Big Dogs.
J:Yes, it did! But at the present, I'm songwriting too, and I have a couple of really great young artists, and I'm producing them with my partner, Bob Tucker, a Grammy-winning engineer and guitar player. So yeah, I'm doing both things now, a kind of meld of everything together.
N:Just like 1970, huh?
N:[laughs] Jane, thank you so much for coming on my podcast, I really do appreciate it. And again, one last time, Jane's book is Running With the Big Dogs, can be found on Amazon.com. Her two albums out right now, both Jazz, although actually, one of them has got a little bit of both. You've got No Relation by Jane Getz, and A Dot On the Map by Jane Getz.
And thank you once again for listening to The New Renaissance; I am Nathan Shafer. And as always, I want to encourage you to go out there, and take life in big, messy bites! Have a good one!