Riding On The Granzwagon
by Dennis Munday

Norman Granz is not only the greatest producer of jazz music; he was an honest man, something rare in the record business. He not only respected the musicians who worked for him, he paid them fairly and, never knowingly ripped an artist off during his long career. Norman was also one of the few executives in the music business, who was as good as his word. When he said something was going to happen, Norman made sure it happened

He aspired to three goals, the first to ‘fight against racism’, the second ‘to give listeners a good product,’ the third’ to earn money from good music’, and with a single-minded tenacity, he achieved all three. There was hardly a jazz artiste that he didn’t work with, and Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Oscar Peterson, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Lester Young, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holliday, Roy Eldridge, Art Tatum, Lionel Hampton, Coleman Hawkins, Joe Pass, Milt Jackson, and Ben Webster, are a few of the great artistes who recorded for Norman. With Verve Records, he created one of the most important jazz labels, which chronicled the history of modern jazz.

In 1973, I was promoted to become Polydor’s Jazz A & R manager, I was in my early twenties, and had just commenced my career in the recording business.  Norman called to set up a meeting and I was excited. However, I knew from his reputation that he didn’t suffer fools gladly and, I wasn’t sure how he would take to having a young label manager. I was a little apprehensive, and although looking forward to meeting the man, I realised if we didn’t get on, my career would be over before it had started.

Norman fought a relentless battle for the equality of black musicians and fans, at a time when racism and segregation were rife in America. Producers like John Hammond, Alfred Lion, Francis Wolff, Richard Bock, Teo Macero, Creed Taylor, and Lester Koenig, all made an impact on jazz. However, only Norman stood fast in the battle to end segregation, which sets him apart from all the other jazz producers.

The cops arrested Norman, Ella, Dizzy, Illinois Jacquet, and Ella’s assistant, and when the press found out, they besieged the station house. A reporter asked Dizzy for his name and he nonchalantly replied, “Louis Armstrong, which appeared in some journals. Norman facilitated a compromise, paid the $50 bail and they returned to the auditorium, but not before one of the detectives asked Ella for her autograph. Norman hired the best lawyers, had the charges dismissed, and the bail money returned. However, this victory came at a price, as the cost of the legal fees and phone bills, came to over $2000.

Norman also financed non-jazz concerts featuring Leonard Cohen, the Mothers Of Inventions, Yves Montand, and Richie Havens. This might seem strange to some, however, in the early seventies, when discussing the possibility of touring Ornette Coleman in Europe, Norman stated; “My reaction to his music is zero – whether it’s some lack on my part or not, I really don’t know. On the other hand I don’t care for what the Mother Of Inventions are doing either, but I feel strongly that certain artistes at least deserve to be heard.”

Norman suffered from glaucoma, a condition treatable with laser technology and during one conversation; I asked why he didn’t get the complaint treated? He replied sombrely; “If I have the treatment I will have to take a year off.” To which I riposted; “What’s a year out of your life to going blind?”  He looked wistfully down at his loafers and simply stated; “Dennis, everybody has to pay their dues sometime during their life.”

Strangely, his achievements went unrecognised until he was in the winter of his career. In 1994, at the age of 76, The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences gave Norman their ‘Lifetime Achievement’ award. He declined the award, simply saying; “I think you guys are a little late,” and late they were. I suspect that these kinds of ‘gongs’ didn’t concern Norman, and even if they had offered him something earlier, he wouldn’t have felt any different. He attained all of the goals that he set out to achieve, and above all; he did it his way.

In the music business, you can count the people I respect on a hand with three fingers, and Norman was one of them. Even now, I still have to pinch myself to make sure it was me working with Norman and all those great jazz musicians.

*   *   *   *   *

Oscar Peterson was a jazz pianist of leviathan stature; he stood well over 6ft tall and weighed around 300 lbs, with an ego to match. When it came to meeting the great man, for some reason I wasn’t nervous. I found him to be extremely friendly, courteous, and coincidentally, we shared the same birthday. Whenever I was in his company, he would make a point of introducing me to everyone, whether famous or unknown. He was always immaculately attired, and like Norman, acquired his suits from Savile Row. Oscar was also a very generous person and whenever we went out to dine, he insisted on picking up the tab, even though I could have charged it to my expense account. 

He also possessed a wicked sense of humour, which I was on the end of many times.  On one occasion, we met up at the Dorchester and Oscar invited me to lunch. It was mid-summer, very hot, and I was dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. The hotel’s maître d’, looked down his nose and sneered; “To dine in the Dorchester’s restaurants one has to be attired in a jacket.” I turned to Oscar and said; “Go ahead, I’ll return to the office and get a sandwich.”

However, the big fella was having none of this and disappeared to his suite, returning with a maroon double-breasted blazer. I was shorter, and four sizes smaller than Oscar and it was like wearing an overcoat. The sleeves extended well beyond my fingertips and I had to roll them up. All I needed was a big red nose and I could have got a job in the circus.

All this amused Oscar and his wife no end and the maître d’ had a smirk on his face. Fortunately, we were escorted to a table near the door, which meant very few diners would see me, but I hadn’t bargained with Oscar. He shook his head and told the maître d’; “No, not that table, could we have another one” and pointed to the end of the dining room, thus making me walk the entire length of the room. As I made my way, the other diner’s eyes were burning into my back, and it took an eternity to get to the table. As for the great man, he had a beaming smile on his face throughout lunch.

Oscar was often on the end of racism and when he employed Herb Ellis, he received racist hate mail, this time for having the temerity to hire a ‘white’ musician. Oscar dealt with this by saying; “Talent comes in a variety of packages — black, white, brown, yellow, tall, short, fat, thin, monster-like, or gentle,” and more succinctly. “The music field was the first to break down racial barriers, because in order to play together, you have to love the people you are playing with, and if you have any racial inhibitions, you wouldn’t be able to do that.”

This kind of overt racism never got the better of Oscar, although he wasn’t one to turn a blind eye when it was thrown in his face. I recall an incident when Oscar invited me to lunch at Wilton’s, with his Swiss-born wife, Charlotte ‘Charly’ Huber. As we returned to his limo parked in Jermyn Street, we passed some navies excavating a hole and one muttered: “What’s a white woman like that doing with a nigger.” When I heard this, a chill ran down my spine, it’s the one word that no black person likes to hear, let alone be called. After escorting Charly to the car, Oscar walked back to the site and I followed behind, wondering what was going to happen. When we reached the excavation, Oscar stood towering over the workers and said menacingly; “I didn’t quite hear what you said when I was passing buy, would one of you like get out and repeat it to my face?”

At the time, Oscar would have been 50, and in his prime. The navvies took one look at his immense frame and declined the invitation, muttering that he’d misheard, and grovelling apologised. Satisfied with this act of contrition, Oscar returned to the limo, and I was more than happy that no blood was spilled.

There was a dark side to Oscar’s personality, and when he played, he took no prisoners and would often bully lesser musicians. This monster of a piano player gave no quarter, and I recall when Joe Pass played at Ronnie’s with a British rhythm section, Oscar wasn’t happy with Ron Mathewson, Joe’s bass player. Between the sets, he took Mathewson to task, much to the bass players’ discomfort. Behind his back, many of the musicians referred to Oscar as the ‘Bear’, and it wasn’t because he was cuddly. On a personal level, I never had a problem, or saw this side of his character, but several of the lesser musicians who recorded for Norman, were less than endearing towards Oscar.

After a long fight with illness, Oscar died of kidney failure on 23 December 2007, and the last of the great jazz pianists.

*   *   *   *   *

Although I enjoyed dining out with Oscar and Norman, where supper cost more than double my monthly mortgage payments, I couldn’t relax in their company. My working class background hadn’t educated me to mix with the (extremely) rich and famous, unless they were crooks and, I was more at home with musicians who came from a similar background. Two of my favourites were, Joe Pass and Zoot Sims.

Joe Pass was a different person all together, and of all the jazz musicians I met and worked with, Joe became my best buddy. We came from similar working class backgrounds and were both of Italian extraction. Although Joe was over twenty years older, this made no difference, a friendship developed, and whenever he was playing in Europe, we spent a lot of time together.

After leaving school around the age of 16, Joe went on the road touring with bands, before heading to New York; a move that turned out to be a catalyst for disaster. This move not only brought him into contact with great jazz musicians, it also introduced him to hard drugs. He soon became addicted to heroin, a fate that befell many jazz musicians.

In the mid-seventies, I discussed this period with Joe, and although reluctant to talk about this experience, he told me; “The police caught me in the act of scoring from some heavily ‘connected’ drug dealers,” which accounted for the sentence and he went on to explain. “At first it was bad, but after a while I became a trusty and ran the prison big band. We did gigs for the inmates [laughing] and you would pay a fortune to put a band together, featuring so many great jazz players.” Because of his drug problems, there are hardly any recordings of note by Joe, although he did appear on the record, ‘Dick Contino At The Fabulous Flamingo’.

Between sets at Ronnie Scott’s I asked the man; “Are you really cured of your addiction,” to which Joe replied. “Dennis, you’re never permanently cured. You just go from day to the day.” He then reflected; “Sometimes just the smell of marijuana gets my juices going.”

Outside of the West Coast jazz scene, Joe remained in obscurity, but that was about to change, and there were several stories doing the circuit about how Norman came to sign Joe to Pablo. I was told that on a night off, Oscar Peterson dropped by Donte’s in LA, and caught Joe’s performance. He was so impressed that he gave Norman a glowing reference, and perhaps saw in Joe, the opportunity to recreate his early trio of, piano, guitar, and bass.

When you worked with Joe, you never knew what was going to happen next. At the 1975 Montreux Festival, he walked on stage to a huge ovation from the packed concert hall. He sat down, plugged in his lead, and played a mixture of standards and blues. After about twenty minutes, and without warning, he surprised everyone by walking off stage. To give Joe his due, he was having technical problems with his Polytone amplifier and throughout his set, extraneous noises sporadically popped out of his amplifier.

Backstage, Norman was beside himself and sent Joe back out, thinking he would do another half a dozen numbers, and finish the set. However, for reasons only known to Joe, he played an extra encore and then calmly walked off, and back to the dressing room. Norman was angry, there was only half an album in the bag, and he couldn’t send Joe out for a third time. The next day Norman called, and explained that Claude Nobs had [kindly] agreed to squeeze Joe in that night, to finish the album. He then surprised me by saying; “Oh by the way, you can go with ‘your man’ and make sure that we get enough tunes in the can to complete the album.

I accompanied Joe to the Casino, and as we were waiting backstage, Joe suddenly asked; “How long should I play for? I replied; “Play six numbers and an encore and that should do it.”  What he said next made my heart sink. “Dennis, what tunes do you think I should play?” At this stage, I thought he’d already worked out his set list, and we went into a huddle. Joe quickly ran off a number of tunes, which sounded familiar. Suddenly I realised why; he’d reeled off the first side of his last album. I pointed this out and said; “Choose another six and take the list on stage.”

Claude Nobs was now hovering, waiting to introduce Joe and I thought everything was ok, when suddenly Joe declared; “I don’t want to fuck up tonight otherwise Norman will be mad, [a slight understatement], when I’ve played enough tunes, come out and tap me on the shoulder.” I pointed out that the concerts were broadcast live on TV and it would look stupid. He fired back; “Ok, why don’t you come out to the front of the stage with a sign saying the end, or something like that.” As it was seconds to go before he went on, I told him; “Just go out and play six numbers and an encore that will be fine.”

Out front, Claude announced that Joe’s second performance was by popular demand; well, he could hardly tell the audience that he was appearing because he’d screwed up the night before. Joe opened up the set with Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’, which wasn’t on the list, but we got the second side in the bag, although he played one blues both nights; and thank God, his amplifier didn’t play up.

Joe bounced off the stage; “Was that all right?” He asked. I replied; “Great, you did it,” to which he calmly stated; “Good lets go eat, I’m hungry.” Joe wasn’t fazed about pissing Norman off, or making Claude Nobs re-arrange the running order of The Montreux Jazz Festival. Later that evening, Norman was complimentary and thanked me for taking care of business, although he muttered a few oaths about Joe.

After I left the jazz scene, I kept in touch with Joe, and met up with him in the early nineties, for lunch at an Italian restaurant in James Street, London. He had a ‘night-club’ tan and wasn’t quite his old self. He mentioned that he had a touch hepatitis and would be seeing his Doctor when he returned to the States. This turned out to be our last meeting, as on the 23 May 1994, at the age of 65, he passed away in Los Angeles. The cause of death was put down to a heart attack and when I asked around, I was told that Joe had cirrhosis of the liver. As he was a heavy drinker, this information came as no surprise

*   *   *   *   *

After Joe, my next best buddy was John Hayley ‘Zoot’ Sims, who was so laid back, he turned it into an art form. Zoot had a relaxed, smooth way of playing the tenor and, whether it was in the studio or playing live, he seemed to have all the time in the world. He had the reputation of never playing an inappropriate phrase, and it’s almost impossible to find a moderate performance on his records, or sessions.

Like many jazz musicians, Zoot’s education came second to his music, and he turned professional at the age of 15, playing his first gig with Kenny Baker’s band. Baker was an actor come singer, who found fame on the very popular Jack Benny show. It was whilst playing with Baker’s band that he acquired his nickname. Baker had a habit of painting a word on his band member’s music stand to describe the musician. He emblazoned Zoot across Sims’s stand, which gave John Sims, the coolest nickname in history of jazz, with even one of the famous Muppet characters named after him.

Like many other jazz musicians, Zoot became hooked on heroin. During the forties, he was a member of the famous ‘four brothers’ saxophone section, in Woody Herman’s Second Thundering Herd. The quartet featured, Stan Getz, Serge Chaloff, and Herbie Steward. They also went under the sobriquet of ‘four drug addicts and a clean man’, the ‘clean’ man being alto saxophonist Sam Marowitz.

Zoot eventually kicked his habit, but like so many ex-addicts, his body still needed a stimulant, and he turned to alcohol. However, this rarely interfered with his playing, when asked how he managed to play with so much alcohol inside his system, he replied; “Easy, I practise drunk.”

In the mid-seventies, Norman Granz arranged a short JATP tour of Europe, which included a UK concert at the London Palladium. I arrived early, headed for the dressing rooms, and bumped into Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davies, who had a large grin on his face. “Your man is in the dressing room” he said, and walked off laughing. When I entered the dressing room, Zoot was lying on a couch with his tenor slung across his chest. He seemed to be in good shape, although he smelled like a brewery, and his face had a reddish hue.

I asked how he was doing, to which he replied; “I haven’t been to bed for two days, been having a drink or two.”  We were shooting the breeze, when the tour manager appeared, and informed Zoot that Oscar wanted to discuss the tunes that he was going to play with ‘Lockjaw’.  Dragging himself off the couch, he yawned, stretched his arms, and said; “I better go, don’t want to upset the ‘Bear’,” and trundled off to Oscar’s dressing room.

Zoot took the stage with ‘Jaws’ for their tenor battle, and during the set they played a ballad medley, where each musician chooses a song, which they play in a different key. All goes well until Zoot steps up to the mike, where he commences to play in the wrong key. Oscar and the trio seamlessly change key and everything passes off smoothly. However, Oscar is none too happy and during the interval, Zoot was ordered to report to the ‘Bear’s’, cave. He returned chastened, but even a roasting from Oscar had no effect, Zoot just shrugged his shoulders and nonchalantly said; “Come on Den, let’s go get a drink.”

After the gig, Norman treated the whole entourage to a late supper at an Armenian restaurant, which went on into the early hours of the morning. The next day the musicians had to fly to Europe and instead of going to the office, I decided to see them off at the airport. On the bus, I sat next to Zoot, who looked rough, he confided that he’d carried on drinking and hadn’t slept that night. During the short journey, he retrieved an orange from his coat pocket and began to peel the fruit. As we pulled into Heathrow, he still hadn’t managed to get the skin off, and as he passed through passport control, he was still picking away.

Although Zoot tried to cut down on his drinking, he was unable to remain dry, and in 1984, his Doctor diagnosed him with inoperable liver cancer. Even though he knew he was dying, his humour was to the fore, and during his last few days, he reportedly greeted his Doctor with; “You’re looking better today Doc.”

Zoot continued playing until six weeks before his death on 23 March 1985; seven months shy of his 60th birthday. He performed with Dizzy Gillespie and Benny Carter at an all-star event. Shortly before, he stated emphatically; “I want to go out that way – I want to go out playing jazz. I don’t want to do anything else.”

It’s been said of my generation that everyone recalls where they were the day that President John Kennedy was assassinated. I am one of the few who can’t, but I do recall the moment I heard of Zoot’s death. I was driving home from a mate’s gig, I turned on the radio and after the news, they announced that Zoot Sims had passed away. Although saddened by the news, it was inevitable given his predilection for heavy drinking. However, I have many fond memories of John Haley ‘Zoot’ Sims. I admired him as a person, as well as a jazz musician and to this day, nothing has changed.

I enjoyed my time with Joe and Zoot, although much relieved when they finished their tours, and caught their flights back to the USA. A little of these two, went a long way. Nonetheless, even with their peccadilloes they were great guys.

*   *   *   *   *

I have been fortunate to work with many gifted and famous artists, but the greatest has to be Ella Fitzgerald.

Ella suffered in her early life, particularly when her mother died in 1932, from injuries she received in a car accident. She took the loss hard and only stayed with her stepfather Joe for a short time, before moving in with her Aunt Virginia. Tragedy struck again when her stepfather died of a heart attack, and her little step sister Frances moved in with her.

With her school friends, Ella regularly attended Ralph Cooper’s Amateur Night, at the Apollo Theatre. The great depression in America was at its worse, and Cooper saw Amateur Night, as way of black Americans getting out of the slums and ghettos. Cooper asserted; “We can make people a unique offer. With nothing but talent and a lot of heart, you can make it.

Ella had eyes for the stage and she’d set her heart on becoming a ‘hoofer’. The dance craze at the time was the ‘Lindy-Hop’, and on 21 November 1934, the 17-year-old Ella made her debut on Amateur Night. Also appearing that night were The Edwards Sister’s, who were known as ‘the dancin’est sisters in town’. Their performance went down so well with the tough crowd that Ella froze. However, as the panic subsided, Ella nervously decided to sing, and opened up with the tune ‘Judy’. The audience’s jeers soon turned to cheers and she encored with ‘The Object of My Affection’. The audience went wild, and the shy tomboy won the $25 prize.

I first met Ella around 1974, when she invited me to take tea with her at the Churchill hotel. I was excited at the thought of meeting her, and on entering Ella’s suite, I sat close by. To my surprise, she turned out to be very shy, and I naively asked if she would like to go out for supper, or have a drink. She politely declined, saying; “I am quite happy to stay in and go to Ronnie’s later.” On entering the suite, I’d noticed that she had been watching the British soap opera Crossroads on her TV. Much later, I found out she was a big soap fan and watched them all over the world.

Ella’s tour manager Pete Cavello was a real character; an American Italian, who’d, spent the majority of his life on the road, as a band boy [roadie] with the big bands. He sported a ruddy complexion, a purple nose, and his face that had that lived in look. During rehearsals at a concert at the Royal Festival Hall, I noticed Pete sticking a four-inch strip of white gaffa tape across the stage floor, about a metre in from the edge. When he finished, I asked why? He casually replied; “I do this at every show, it’s so Ella doesn’t fall off the stage.” At first, I thought he was joking, and not sure that this wasn’t just another tour prank. Ella wore thick glasses, and had a serious problem with cataracts, although until this time, I never realised her eyesight was that bad.

Throughout Ella’s career, critics made many unflattering comments about her size and appearance, something Norman Granz was unhappy about. He decided to exact retribution and arranged a press conference at a five-star Hotel, inviting the journalists who he knew, would not be able to resist the free food and booze. Norman booked the room for two days, and the day before the junket took place, he had the food and drink laid out. On the day, after an aperitif, Norman waited for the right moment and excused himself. He insisted that the scribes go ahead and enjoy the party, knowing the food was stale, and the beer flat.

In 1986, Ella underwent surgery for a quintuple coronary bypass and, as well as having a heart valve replaced, the Doctor’s diagnosed diabetes. However, this setback didn’t stop Ella recording and playing live, and against the wishes of everyone, including Norman, she went back to her hectic tour schedule. As her eyesight deteriorated further, Ella was virtually blind and owing to poor circulation, it was necessary to remove both legs below her knee. On June 15 1996, she passed away, and it was truly the end of an era.

There were several memorial concerts after her death, where some of the biggest names in the world of jazz, and pop, paid their tributes. When I read about this, I recalled a conversation with Oscar Peterson, where he remarked with a broad grin; “I loved going to all the black award shows, just to see all those mega stars kissin’ Ella’s ass.” Oscar’s comment perhaps sums Ella’s place in the history of Black music – and come to that, all music - at the top. I’ll leave the last words to the ‘Daddy’ of the crooners, Bing Crosby. “Man, woman or child, Ella is the best.”

*   *   *   *   *

The sixties was a great decade for a teenager to grow up in, England won the world cup, with players that didn’t earn a small fortune, and fall down at every opportunity. The first wave of Britpop took the world by storm, and as we didn’t have computers, iPods, and Androids, we had to make our own entertainment. Fortunately, London and the suburbs were full of pubs and clubs, where you could see live music. Every Saturday night, my mates and I would catch the train to London, and we’d gravitate towards the West End, to go clubbing into the early hours of the morning. Then, a little fuzzy, we caught the first train home Sunday, hoping we wouldn’t fall asleep and miss our station.

Soho was our first port of call, it was the ‘in’ place, and we would buzz from club to club. As we walked past Ronnie Scott’s (The Old Place) in Gerrard Street, I would hover around outside, listening to the jazz that emanated from the basement. I would ask my mates to give TheMingo’ [Flamingo] a miss, and hear some real music, but they were only interested in moving on to the club. Looking back, instead of following my mates, I wish that just once I had visited ‘The Old Place’.

When I first started going to Ronnie’s, it was a magical time and whenever I entered the club, I felt like a ‘face’. Roxie, who sat by the front door, would nod me through and I was on first name terms with all the staff. They looked after me, and in return, I made sure they got plenty of free drinks and records. I even had my own table, which was directly in front of the stage, and I could watch the great jazz from pole position.

Ronnie’s Maître d’ Martin Lyder was a bit part actor, and you often saw him in old sixties, and early seventies TV shows, like The Saint and Danger Man. He was the double of Dean Martin and knew the actor, as on occasions, he’d doubled for him, and there was a signed photo from ‘Dino’ in his sound booth. Whenever I attended the club, Martin always took care of me and knew he could help himself to a drink or three, and charge it to my table. One time he introduced me to a very interesting oriental girl, telling her to; “Look after Dennis he’s a good man.”

Ronnie would often crack jokes about the food and the club’s chef, he would tell the audience; “The chef’s half Japanese, half Negro, and every 24th September he bombs Pearl Bailey” and, “How can you fuck up cornflakes? He would round on a punter eating supper and tell them; “The food here must be good, a thousand flies can’t be wrong,” going on to state; “The food in the club is untouched by human hand - the chef’s a gorilla,”

If any of the waitress’s happened to be serving during his spot, he would introduce her to the audience stating; “She’s a very intelligent girl, reads a lot. I asked her what she thought of Dickens, and she replied she’d never been to one - she thought Moby Dick was a bad case of VD.” Many of the waiters and waitresses were foreign, and he joked about one in particular. “We had a Hungarian waiter working here recently...he didn’t understand the social security system and he used to stick Green Shield stamps on his national insurance card. He got nicked for it; the judge gave him six months and a tea set.

It may be Ronnie’s name above the door, but the success of the club was down to Pete King, he put in the long hours, and made sure the business ran smoothly. Pete’s ‘inner sanctum’ was a dark office situated at the back of the club. Behind his desk, the wall was covered with a montage of photos, of all the great jazz artists who appeared at Ronnie’s.

Ronnie died on 23 December 1996, and Pete carried on until the clubs 45th anniversary, some record. Without Ronnie by his side and the jazz scene he knew long gone, in June 2005, he sold the club to Michael Watt, and the impresario Sally Greene. The French designer Jacques Garcia handled the clubs refurbishment, which took three months and cost nearly a million pound. Ronnie must have turned in his grave at this sum and I can hear him saying; “A million quid? Why didn’t they just chuck a hand grenade in the place?”

Pete died on 20 December 2009, and joined his best friend Ronnie in that great big band in the sky, which at least he doesn’t have to manage.

There’s no doubt that the best time to have visited Ronnie Scott’s would have been the seventies and eighties, when it was at its apex. I recall one memorable moment, when I was in the club during the summer, everyone was in shirtsleeves. It was so hot that during the break, I went outside to get some air. On the way out, I bumped into Pete, and jokingly asked him to turn on the air conditioning. He dryly replied; “Den, what are you talking about? It’s on; the front doors have been open for the last two hours.”

It is only now looking back that I realise, just how lucky and privileged I was that Ronnie, and particularly Pete, allowed me to visit the club during their golden days.

*   *   *   *   *

By the end of the ‘70’s, the bean counters were taking over a business that music men had successfully run for many decades, men who made music the priority. True, the excesses of the industry couldn’t get any worse, and the sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ rollers, were quite rightly shown the door. There’s no doubt that these excesses needed to be reined in, however the music men were the core of the business. Now, it was all about budget controls, and the accountants had a large say in the direction of a record company. There were times when I felt like bank manager and, as far as music went, that was the last thing on the agenda.

By this time, every record company had dispensed with their Jazz A & R managers. Realising that if I wanted to keep a job at Polydor, I would have to move on, or find another vocation. The chance arose when a colleague left and I was promoted into the world of pop. The downside was I’d now have to attend all the meetings and deal with office politics, something I was useless at. There was one ray of sunshine; I would look after Creed Taylor’s crossover jazz label CTI. As well as signing up the likes of Freddy Hubbard, Grover Washington, Esther Phillips, Hank Crawford, and Eumir Deodato. Taylor had also signed the ‘High Priestess of Soul’, Nina Simone, and her latest album ‘Baltimore,’ had just been released. 

I thought working with Joe Pass was hard work, but I hadn’t bargained with Miss Simone. My secretary rang through to let me know she was on the line and wanted to speak with me. I knew she had a reputation for being cantankerous, and in the past, suffered mental health problems. I was intrigued by the unexpected call, and warily picked up the phone. “Hi Nina, how are you?” I asked. She replied; “Fine, I want some fucking money, when can I come in and collect?”

I was stunned by this demand, she was contracted to CTI, it was up to them to give her money, not Polydor. As subtly as I could, I explained, there was no way the company would advance her any money, and she should talk to Creed Taylor. She didn’t take to kindly to this suggestion, and for the next couple of minutes gave me a real ear bashing, showering me with abuse that a New York ‘rapper’ would have been proud of, before slamming down the phone down. 

A couple of days later, Nina’s manager requested that I attend a meeting at her flat, to discuss the marketing of Baltimore. After her phone call, I was fascinated to find out what would happen when I met Nina face-to-face and wondered, should I go tooled up.

Arriving punctually at 7 30pm, her manager opened the door and informed me; “Miss Simone is tied up at the moment, come back in thirty minutes and she will be ready for you.” When he mentioned tied up, I hoped not literally, and strolled round to the nearest pub. I returned, only to be told to come back in half an hour, and as this happened several more times, I decided, if he turned me away the next time, I would go home. When I arrived, and to my surprise, he allowed me in and ushered me into the lounge. I perched myself on a sofa, wondering what kind of entrance ‘Madame’ would make.

As he served coffee, he explained; “Miss Simone is in ‘repose’ and cannot leave the bedroom and desires the meeting to be conducted through me.” For the next twenty minutes, we discussed the marketing of Baltimore, and he shuttled back and forth to Nina’s bedside, returning with her answers. As we concluded the meeting, he asked; “Would you like to see the latest photos of Miss Simone.”  Not knowing what was coming, I replied; “Yes, we may be able to use them in our marketing campaign.” He disappeared into the bedroom, and returned with a large album, containing 10” X 8” glossy colour shots of the chanteuse. When I opened the album, the photos came as a big surprise, Nina was stark naked. Delicately, I pointed out that they were wonderful photos, and of immense artistic value, but we wouldn’t be able to use them. With that, Nina’s manager terminated the meeting.

I’d heard stories of Nina demanding sex from people she worked with, and fortunately, spared her advances. I drove home a little bemused, as I got to see Nina Simone in the flesh, but never actually met her.

*   *   *   *   *

During the early eighties, jazz had once again become fashionable, led by pop bands like The Style Council and the Eddie Piller’s Acid Jazz label. After I left Polydor, Steve White persuaded me to manage his group, The Jazz Renegades, which he co-led with Alan Barnes (tenor). The band was slowly building up a following, playing both jazz clubs and the chic clubs, where the punters perceived jazz to be trendy [sic]. John Pearson, who I’d worked with at Polydor, arranged for us to do a gig in Japan, and whilst we were there, we recorded the album Tokyo Hi, for JVC.

At the same time I was managing the Renegades, I was desperately trying to get a contemporary jazz label funded by a major record company. Having noticed a groundswell of new and talented jazz artists, I wanted to set up a label along the lines of Verve. Steve White and I met up with Courtney Pine to see if he would be interested, and following this, I had a meeting with the PR Guru, Lynne Franks. She liked the idea, but explained that the major record companies wouldn’t be able to get their heads around the idea.

Undaunted, along with a mate Chris Peers (a co-founder of Island Records), we did the rounds of record companies, and although this young jazz scene was mushrooming, there were no takers. Several record companies thought the idea would be successful, but they weren’t prepared to invest the money required to get the label off the ground. This myopic outlook shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me, not after Lynne Frank’s dire prediction. As far as jazz went, the label idea was the last throw of the dice and I went back to being a fan, and continued to work in the world of pop.

Looking back, I worked with many famous so-called ‘stars’, however, I can’t say the experience was totally enjoyable. Having to deal with over inflated ego’s wears you down, and no matter how big your pay cheque is, you reach a point where enough is enough. I know when I walked away from Polydor I never looked back. Do I envy the people now working in the record business? NO. When I started, it was hard graft, but I didn’t care, I actually enjoyed going into the office.

In a career that spanned nearly 30 years, the highlight was working alongside Norman Granz. This experience shaped my career and whatever success followed, it was largely down to what I learnt from this icon of jazz. Looking back, what can top being Norman’s man in London – nothing - not even six number one records!

© Dennis Munday 2012