Interview with Dave Cliff

Photo by: Alex Bonney

Dave Cliff Interview

MS: Can we just start at the beginning in terms of where and when you were born and your kind of musical upbringing as a child?

DC: Yeah. I was born in Hexham, Northumberland but brought up in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and my first musical experiences were, I sang in the choir, a church choir and a school choir, I listened to pop music on the radio and Jazz.
I remember my dad took me to see the movie “High Society”, Louis Armstrong was in it and I liked a couple of the numbers out of that and I heard guitar. I remember hearing Sabicas, a famous classical flamenco player on the TV and I liked the pop stuff - Buddy Holly, Elvis, The Blues, Little Richard, all that stuff. I even quite liked Cliff Richard for a certain amount of time. Don’t tell anyone that! And I heard jazz. I liked jazz, I liked the sound, I like the … I remember hearing Eddie Calvert the trumpet player, it wasn’t jazz but I liked the sound of that. There was all sorts of music on the radio, jazz always, I always liked jazz, any kind of jazz, I enjoyed it, traditional, modern.

MS: What kind of age are you talking about here then?

DC: 10, 11, 12, 13, 14.

MS: You were attracted to it then?

DC: Yeah I think so. I liked it, yeah. I didn’t know much about it really. I didn’t buy any records. But dad played a bit, he played a bit of bass and guitar, he was an amateur musician and he had a band and they would rehearse. And I remember the piano playing a piece called “Bach Goes To Town” that Benny Goodman recorded it, it was piano, a bit of a mixture of Bach and jazz, and I liked that, I thought that was outstanding. So just bits and pieces hear and there, I wasn’t into studying music. I started on the guitar when I was fourteen, just playing three chords, playing skiffle stuff and pop stuff and stuff you know, but not really studying properly. I didn’t know anything about harmony, I played the ukelele for a bit as well, tuned like a guitar, so I just messed around. I didn’t start jazz seriously till I was nineteen.

MS: What made you do that then?

DC: I was listening to it, jazz, a lot.  I was buying .. I was seriously listening to jazz then. I had records, you know. The very first LP I bought was Zoot Sims at Ronnie Scotts. An older guy in the office I worked in, he liked, he was a jazz fan, he played the trumpet, drums as well. Marshall Walker. And I went, … I had some money to buy an album and we listened to it in a record booth and thought it sounded great.  Zoot Sims with Stan Tracey, Kenny Napper and Jackie Dougan I thought that was great. It was the first album I bought.

MS: So you’d, you said “in the office”, so you’d left school?

DC: Yeah, I started work when I was sixteen in a local electric company, just clerical work.

MS: Oh, ok.

DC: I worked there until I was twenty-two. I started buying albums - Horace Silver Live at the Village Gate, Miles Davis Someday My Prince Will Come, Gerry Mulligan Quartet. I was just learning about jazz – I listened to the radio, Humphrey Lyttleton, Benny Green. But I was, I was a bit scared of it. I thought it was too hard. A bit too fast. I remember seeing Sal Salvador in the movie “Jazz On a Summers Day”, and you know it just seemed so fast and difficult.  So it scared me a bit.

MS: But you were still attracted to it?

DC:  Yes, yes, I liked it. I especially liked the sort of more fast, hard bop. I loved Ronnie Scott, Tubby Hayes Jazz Couriers when I heard them. Not live but on record and on TV and stuff. I’ve forgotten, I’ve forgotten to add something. I was playing bass guitar then. I think I copped out - I was being a bit lazy.

MS: Did you that before guitar or after?

DC: In between. Yeah.

MS: Oh OK.

DC:  I never had a proper electric guitar, I just had acoustic, cheap acoustic guitars at home. One that my dad made, but that sort of got destroyed, it disintegrated eventually. First electric guitar I bought was a bass guitar was actually a Lucky Seven. Bought on hire purchase, and I was playing in this band. They were playing Shadows stuff and Beatles and stuff and later on I joined an RnB band played more blues stuff - which I enjoyed more. But I couldn’t play jazz then, I didn’t know any tunes then or the changes or standards but I had a good ear and I’d play along with records at home, suss out key centres and stuff and get a hold of it.

MS: On jazz records you would play along with?

DC: Yes.

MS: What, you’d try and copy what they were doing or ….

DC: I would just, just listen, I didn’t take any transcribing or anything, I’d just play along and try and guess what they were doing, I’d get the idea, I’d use scales, major and minor scales I could hear. Get the key. I remember listening to Zoot Sims, and he was playing “Gone With The Wind” I could suss out, oh it’s Eb and then it goes into G there. Without knowing the chords I could hear the keys.

MS: So, key tonalities?

DC: Yes. Yeah right.

MS: So you weren't having any lessons on it at all?

DC: No, not at all. I don’t think I was drawn to have lessons. I tended to think I would just do it myself. But what, how I went on the guitar was, the lead guitar player in the band decided to emigrate to Canada, and he sold me his guitar and his amp and I just continued hire purchase payments and somebody in the group suggested I’d be the guitar player and so I jumped at the opportunity. So I’ve to got a gig playing two or three nights a week playing R’n’B and I was wasn’t really up to it, but I was up to it after six months, and at the same time I decided I am going to be jazz, work on jazz and I started practicing 5 hours every night. All hours of the weekend, practicing every minute I could, you know. It got quite compulsive actually.

MS: So when you say practice, can you remember what you were practicing then? What kind of things?

DC: I would buy books. I would learn all the scales, and arpeggios, would learn tunes, I would buy lead sheets, you know, listen to records, play along with records. I had a particular record called “Jazz for Playboys” by Kenny Burrell, which had a lot of blues on it, and would just, because I could handle it, I could understand the blues, but couldn’t play on standards. One of the very first standards I learned was um..  well there was this book, a Mickey Baker book, a famous guitar tutor book and it shows you 2-5-1. A minor7,  D7,  G Major7 and it just showed you how to play in different keys. One of the first tunes I picked out was very fortuitous was “Baubles Bangles and Beads” because it’s all just 2-5-1 in 3 different keys, Ab, C and then E. I managed to hear that and figure that out. The other song I learnt song was “Sweet Georgia Brown” which is a cycle of dominants.

MS: Yeah.

DC: So they were two good tunes to start with – just like a dominants cycle and 2-5-1. Then you’d read about it and oh Coleman Hawkins played “Body & Soul”, Charlie Parker played “Cherokee”. So they seemed to be tunes you had to learn. Also I had this idea you had to, that every musician knew every tune, I’d see bands play and they seemed to be playing without music and I thought they had this idea everybody must know every tune going, you know.

MS: I’ve always thought of you as knowing lots of tunes, so that kind of idea started early on then, that you should have a large repertoire?

DC: Yeah, back then I was probably playing bits of wrong chords and probably dropping beats all over the place but I did have about fifty tunes that I’d get round before I went to Leeds College, that was when I really started my serious jazz education.

MS: Oh ok.

DC: Leeds College when I was 23.

MS: So when, before, at this stage you are just talking about, were you playing with other people or just playing in your bedroom or… jazz I mean?

DC: There was another guitar player Rod Freeman who was at college with me in Leeds as well he used to play a bit of jazz. I’d go round his house and jam but nobody else really. Oh no, I meet some guys in Newcastle just a year before I left, George Chisholm the trumpet player not the trombone player, he went to live, he became a session player in London and went to live in New Zealand. He was a pretty good trumpet player and he had these two books of Gigi Gryce arrangements and there was an alto player whose name I forget, bass and drums, so that band I started playing with, and we did a little demo recording of these Gigi Gryce tunes.

MS: Do you still have it?

DC: No I destroyed it, in a fit of temper.

MS: [Laugh]

DC: I wish I hadn’t now. I’d love to hear it again. Then there was a guy called Nigel Stanger who had been on the London scene, and he used to play with ‘John Mayall’s Blues Breakers’ and he played organ and was a very good tenor player, in the sort of Rollins bag, and we got residency in the Rex Hotel in one of the back rooms, the big Rex Hotel in Whitley Bay, playing for the door money and I started playing with the proper jazzers from Newcastle - A drummer called Jackie Denton and the Animals drummer John Steel. Different bass players … Dave Murphy, Quite a well-known local bass player. So that was just the year before I left Newcastle… I just got in with some of the pro guys in Newcastle. They were my very first experiences.

MS: Oh OK, and then you just mentioned you went to Leeds. Why did that happen?

DC: Well I’d heard about this course and read about it in the Melody Maker - the first full time jazz course and this mate of mine Rod Freeman got on it, and I thought I could get on that. I’d never thought about it before, I thought I wouldn't have the qualifications. I only had 3 GCE’s but I went for the audition. Dickie Hawdon the trumpet player auditioned me and he was very nice and I got on it!

MS: So what age were you were you then?

DC: Twenty two, twenty three.

MS: And you did three years there?

DC: Yeah

MS: So what happened there? Did you know anyone who was teaching on it or…

DC: No I didn’t.  I’d heard of two of the guys, I’d vaguely heard of - Bernie Cash and Peter Ind. Bernie was running the course, and Peter was teaching on it and Bryan Layton, great piano player from Leeds, they were the three main tutors and Dickie Hawdon. Dickie Hawdon ran the big band. But Peter Ind was sort of the father figure of it all, the most experienced player. He was a very good teacher, I learnt a lot from Peter, he turned me on to a lot of stuff, you know –about methods of practice, he’d studied with Tristano, so that was a good thing for me. That turned me around a bit.

MS: Did you know about Tristano before you went or…

DC: No didn’t know anything about him. I’d heard some of those albums, tracks like ‘Subconscious-lee’ I’d heard it, a little bit, but I wasn’t particularly attracted to that music in the beginning to be honest. I didn’t appreciate it. I was listening to sort of Johnny Griffin and George Coleman, and Rollins I’d just got into Rollins. I’d just got into “Giant Steps” - Coltrane, listening to more hard, aggressive sixties jazz, bluesy Cannonball Adderley. That appealed to me more at the time. The subtlety was lost out on me.

MS: This was... What year was it you went there?

DC: ’67

MS: You started there in ’67. What year were you born then?

DC: ’44. June ’44.So yeah, I was twenty-three then.

MS: OK. So you say he gave you a method of practicing, you, could you I mean… 

DC: Yeah, you know, some of the important things … sorry, go on.

MS: No, I mean, you know it’s, a lot of people kind of know a bit about the Tristano method because its kind of used in jazz education, in terms of learning solos and all keys... Do you want to talk about that?

DC: Yeah, the key thing, one of the first things was, there’s two or three key things to it. First one is singing solos. The first solo I picked was ‘Cool Blues’ by Bird, which was two tracks, two choruses of a blues and that really, I quite enjoyed doing that because I used to sing in a choir so I didn’t feel inhibited. I find a lot of guitar players were very inhibited about singing and I find students very reluctant to do it funnily enough. I enjoyed that - I took to that OK. I remember I transcribed, I didn’t actually write them out, I just learnt to play them. Some of the Parker solos I must confess I only I learnt to play them at half speed. 16 rpm on the record player. An octave lower. But it opened up my ears, I started to enjoy jazz more intensely, started hearing it more vividly.It just became really clear how great Parker was. And the other thing was slow practice. Scales. One of the first lessons with Peter Ind we just played through the thirds or the triads of the major scales, he played them with me. That’s something I do with my students, I play the scales with them, I don’t just sit and listen to them. I play them with them. Very slowly.

MS: Yeah, I’m the same.

DC: I think it’s a great thing. It’s about doing things in a thoughtful caring way not just… Some of these people have a bit of a cross with scales, they think ‘oh yeah I know this scale’ dadadadadadadada. Rattle it off. It’s not, you’ve got to play the scale with feeling, that’s one of the things Peter went on about. That was another thing.
Then these rhythmic things. We used to clap in different rhythms- two over three, three against four, and again I didn’t take to it first. I didn’t understand it at first - I was a bit hostile, but I eventually got the hang of that and that made a lot of difference.
And the other thing was a general approach of trying to be self-aware. Peter was into Freud and Wilhelm Reich and all these psychoanalyst people. So it’s about trying to be more self-aware, where your motivation is, what you’re doing, why are you really doing this. So it’s a whole re-education in all sorts of ways, it’s very compelling and fascinating yeah.

MS: And is that, do you feel that has stayed with you?

DC: Yeah, sure yeah totally, yeah sure.

MS: In how you teach as well?

DC: Yeah sure, influenced a lot the way I teach. Yeah, sure.

MS: So did you continue after you left the college?

DC: Yeah.

MS: I mean, what happened then, did you stay in Leeds?

DC: I wasn’t very ambitious really on the music scene, and I thought, well, playing the sort music, it’s not, at the time it was all Miles, Bitches Brew and all the more abstract and fusiony scene. In London it was Graham Collier and Mike Westbrook, it was a different sort of bag from what I was doing, and I didn’t feel there was much place for it, what I was doing.

MS: You weren’t attracted to that music?

DC: Not particularly, at the time. I was probably a bit be-bop fascist.

MS: [laugh]

DC: I couldn’t stand ‘Bitches Brew’, I knew some people loved it but I couldn’t stand it. The last Miles record I liked was ‘ In a Silent Way’ that was sort of rocky blues, it was good, a  very tasty album. Anyway, that’s a sidetrack. I’d just sort of started signing on and doing the odd gig in Leeds then a couple of friends of mine moved to London and I thought I best should come to London. So I came to London. My first playing experience was going to Peter Ind’s house playing with a great tenor player called Chas Burchell who was well into Warne Marsh.
So I was playing with all the good players, but I learnt a lot, because they were playing tunes, and there was a guitar player there who knew all the tunes. Derek Bailey - no I don’t know Derek Bailey - Derek Phillips, Freudian slip. And he, so I would just watch him and try and, or the tunes, they played a tune I didn’t know, I remember they played “Have You Met Miss Jones”, I didn’t have a clue on that, so I’d go home and learn it, get the fake book and learn to play it. So that was very beneficial for the first couple of years, I wasn’t doing many gigs. The first gig I did was for two quid - playing with some dodgy clarinet player in a wine bar or something - but I gradually started getting a few gigs and eventually I ended up playing at the Bulls Head with Tony Lee and people like that and Peter King and Art Themen. Because at the Bull’s Head, it was like they would book a trio - Bill LeSage and Tony Lee, predominantly, and book two guest horn players, and it would just be like a jam you know, just play tunes by ear - no music.

MS: So that was in the 70’s you’re talking about?

DC: Yeah mid ’73, ’74..... And I also played with the drummer Tommy Chase, bit of a character, played with him a lot in trio gigs with a bass player called Danny Padmore. We didn’t do many gigs, we did a lot of rehearsing, a lot of debating and arguing. That was another playing experience that was interesting.

MS: So how were you surviving, you said you weren't doing that much…

DC: I had a couple of days teaching. I worked for the Inner London Education Authority teaching guitar in inner city schools and that was enough to get by, the odd gig and the odd private student. I wasn’t very … I wasn’t into working hard. I was into practicing hard, but not into working hard. I didn’t want to do…

MS: When you say working hard, you mean not wanting to do lots of gig?

DC:  Well, I didn’t want to do, well, the other thing is, amps were heavy, I’d never, I’ve never driven, amps and guitars were heavy then, you didn’t have these gig bags or the little amps like now, little dinky amps. It was all heavy. It was hard work. The first gigs you get in London were crap money and miles away, and so I didn’t fancy, you know you’d get a cab ride and it would wipe out your whole gig fee.

MS: And you’ve really never wanted to drive?

DC: I was just, I don’t know, I’ve never really been into it. I’m anti cars. My brother loves cars. I hate them. So, I was a bit of a drop out, really, living a bit the hippy life. Living on the margins. Renting a room in Earls Court, and just taking it easy, but I was very diligent about my practice. I was still taking solos down, you know.

MS: What kind of solos were you doing then?

DC: Well just going back to Leeds, I worked one term on Lester Young eh.. Parker then Peter recommended Lester Young who I’d never listened to at all really.

MS: For a term you’d work on…

DC: Parker. I did about six solos. Then I did half dozen solos on Lester Young Then next year another tutor was teaching me there. Peter and Bernie left, they had a falling out with the establishment at college over salaries or something, some dispute, and then Bernie was teaching up in Leeds and I went to him privately for some lessons.

MS: He was a bass player as well, wasn’t he?

DC: Yeah, he was very influenced by Peter and he’s a good player, classical player as well - and he was a good teacher. He was probably a better teacher than he was a player in some ways. And he used to recommend doing Charlie Christian, because he was influenced by a lot of Christian’s stuff, so I did a load of Charlie Christian solos and then I carried on just picking people, a couple of Konitz solos, a couple of Clifford Brown’s.

MS: Did you do them all the same method? The same painstaking method?

MS: Can we just start at the beginning in terms of where and when you were born and your kind of musical upbringing as a child?

DC: Yeah. I was born in Hexham, Northumberland but brought up in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and my first musical experiences were, I sang in the choir, a church choir and a school choir, I listened to pop music on the radio and Jazz.
I remember my dad took me to see the movie “High Society”, Louis Armstrong was in it and I liked a couple of the numbers out of that and I heard guitar. I remember hearing Sabicas, a famous classical flamenco player on the TV and I liked the pop stuff - Buddy Holly, Elvis, The Blues, Little Richard, all that stuff. I even quite liked Cliff Richard for a certain amount of time. Don’t tell anyone that! And I heard jazz. I liked jazz, I liked the sound, I like the … I remember hearing Eddie Calvert the trumpet player, it wasn’t jazz but I liked the sound of that. There was all sorts of music on the radio, jazz always, I always liked jazz, any kind of jazz, I enjoyed it, traditional, modern.

MS: What kind of age are you talking about here then?

DC: 10, 11, 12, 13, 14.

MS: You were attracted to it then?

DC: Yeah I think so. I liked it, yeah. I didn’t know much about it really. I didn’t buy any records. But dad played a bit, he played a bit of bass and guitar, he was an amateur musician and he had a band and they would rehearse. And I remember the piano playing a piece called “Bach Goes To Town” that Benny Goodman recorded it, it was piano, a bit of a mixture of Bach and jazz, and I liked that, I thought that was outstanding. So just bits and pieces hear and there, I wasn’t into studying music. I started on the guitar when I was fourteen, just playing three chords, playing skiffle stuff and pop stuff and stuff you know, but not really studying properly. I didn’t know anything about harmony, I played the ukelele for a bit as well, tuned like a guitar, so I just messed around. I didn’t start jazz seriously till I was nineteen.

MS: What made you do that then?

DC: I was listening to it, jazz, a lot.  I was buying .. I was seriously listening to jazz then. I had records, you know. The very first LP I bought was Zoot Sims at Ronnie Scotts. An older guy in the office I worked in, he liked, he was a jazz fan, he played the trumpet, drums as well. Marshall Walker. And I went, … I had some money to buy an album and we listened to it in a record booth and thought it sounded great.  Zoot Sims with Stan Tracey, Kenny Napper and Jackie Dougan I thought that was great. It was the first album I bought.

MS: So you’d, you said “in the office”, so you’d left school?

DC: Yeah, I started work when I was sixteen in a local electric company, just clerical work.

MS: Oh, ok.

DC: I worked there until I was twenty-two. I started buying albums - Horace Silver Live at the Village Gate, Miles Davis Someday My Prince Will Come, Gerry Mulligan Quartet. I was just learning about jazz – I listened to the radio, Humphrey Lyttleton, Benny Green. But I was, I was a bit scared of it. I thought it was too hard. A bit too fast. I remember seeing Sal Salvador in the movie “Jazz On a Summers Day”, and you know it just seemed so fast and difficult.  So it scared me a bit.

MS: But you were still attracted to it?

DC:  Yes, yes, I liked it. I especially liked the sort of more fast, hard bop. I loved Ronnie Scott, Tubby Hayes Jazz Couriers when I heard them. Not live but on record and on TV and stuff. I’ve forgotten, I’ve forgotten to add something. I was playing bass guitar then. I think I copped out - I was being a bit lazy.

MS: Did you that before guitar or after?

DC: In between. Yeah.

MS: Oh OK.

DC:  I never had a proper electric guitar, I just had acoustic, cheap acoustic guitars at home. One that my dad made, but that sort of got destroyed, it disintegrated eventually. First electric guitar I bought was a bass guitar was actually a Lucky Seven. Bought on hire purchase, and I was playing in this band. They were playing Shadows stuff and Beatles and stuff and later on I joined an RnB band played more blues stuff - which I enjoyed more. But I couldn’t play jazz then, I didn’t know any tunes then or the changes or standards but I had a good ear and I’d play along with records at home, suss out key centres and stuff and get a hold of it.

MS: On jazz records you would play along with?

DC: Yes.

MS: What, you’d try and copy what they were doing or ….

DC: I would just, just listen, I didn’t take any transcribing or anything, I’d just play along and try and guess what they were doing, I’d get the idea, I’d use scales, major and minor scales I could hear. Get the key. I remember listening to Zoot Sims, and he was playing “Gone With The Wind” I could suss out, oh it’s Eb and then it goes into G there. Without knowing the chords I could hear the keys.

MS: So, key tonalities?

DC: Yes. Yeah right.

MS: So you weren't having any lessons on it at all?

DC: No, not at all. I don’t think I was drawn to have lessons. I tended to think I would just do it myself. But what, how I went on the guitar was, the lead guitar player in the band decided to emigrate to Canada, and he sold me his guitar and his amp and I just continued hire purchase payments and somebody in the group suggested I’d be the guitar player and so I jumped at the opportunity. So I’ve to got a gig playing two or three nights a week playing R’n’B and I was wasn’t really up to it, but I was up to it after six months, and at the same time I decided I am going to be jazz, work on jazz and I started practicing 5 hours every night. All hours of the weekend, practicing every minute I could, you know. It got quite compulsive actually.

MS: So when you say practice, can you remember what you were practicing then? What kind of things?

DC: I would buy books. I would learn all the scales, and arpeggios, would learn tunes, I would buy lead sheets, you know, listen to records, play along with records. I had a particular record called “Jazz for Playboys” by Kenny Burrell, which had a lot of blues on it, and would just, because I could handle it, I could understand the blues, but couldn’t play on standards. One of the very first standards I learned was um..  well there was this book, a Mickey Baker book, a famous guitar tutor book and it shows you 2-5-1. A minor7,  D7,  G Major7 and it just showed you how to play in different keys. One of the first tunes I picked out was very fortuitous was “Baubles Bangles and Beads” because it’s all just 2-5-1 in 3 different keys, Ab, C and then E. I managed to hear that and figure that out. The other song I learnt song was “Sweet Georgia Brown” which is a cycle of dominants.

MS: Yeah.

DC: So they were two good tunes to start with – just like a dominants cycle and 2-5-1. Then you’d read about it and oh Coleman Hawkins played “Body & Soul”, Charlie Parker played “Cherokee”. So they seemed to be tunes you had to learn. Also I had this idea you had to, that every musician knew every tune, I’d see bands play and they seemed to be playing without music and I thought they had this idea everybody must know every tune going, you know.

MS: I’ve always thought of you as knowing lots of tunes, so that kind of idea started early on then, that you should have a large repertoire?

DC: Yeah, back then I was probably playing bits of wrong chords and probably dropping beats all over the place but I did have about fifty tunes that I’d get round before I went to Leeds College, that was when I really started my serious jazz education.

MS: Oh ok.

DC: Leeds College when I was 23.

MS: So when, before, at this stage you are just talking about, were you playing with other people or just playing in your bedroom or… jazz I mean?

DC: There was another guitar player Rod Freeman who was at college with me in Leeds as well he used to play a bit of jazz. I’d go round his house and jam but nobody else really. Oh no, I meet some guys in Newcastle just a year before I left, George Chisholm the trumpet player not the trombone player, he went to live, he became a session player in London and went to live in New Zealand. He was a pretty good trumpet player and he had these two books of Gigi Gryce arrangements and there was an alto player whose name I forget, bass and drums, so that band I started playing with, and we did a little demo recording of these Gigi Gryce tunes.

MS: Do you still have it?

DC: No I destroyed it, in a fit of temper.

MS: [Laugh]

DC: I wish I hadn’t now. I’d love to hear it again. Then there was a guy called Nigel Stanger who had been on the London scene, and he used to play with ‘John Mayall’s Blues Breakers’ and he played organ and was a very good tenor player, in the sort of Rollins bag, and we got residency in the Rex Hotel in one of the back rooms, the big Rex Hotel in Whitley Bay, playing for the door money and I started playing with the proper jazzers from Newcastle - A drummer called Jackie Denton and the Animals drummer John Steel. Different bass players … Dave Murphy, Quite a well-known local bass player. So that was just the year before I left Newcastle… I just got in with some of the pro guys in Newcastle. They were my very first experiences.

MS: Oh OK, and then you just mentioned you went to Leeds. Why did that happen?

DC: Well I’d heard about this course and read about it in the Melody Maker - the first full time jazz course and this mate of mine Rod Freeman got on it, and I thought I could get on that. I’d never thought about it before, I thought I wouldn't have the qualifications. I only had 3 GCE’s but I went for the audition. Dickie Hawdon the trumpet player auditioned me and he was very nice and I got on it!

MS: So what age were you were you then?

DC: Twenty two, twenty three.

MS: And you did three years there?

DC: Yeah

MS: So what happened there? Did you know anyone who was teaching on it or…

DC: No I didn’t.  I’d heard of two of the guys, I’d vaguely heard of - Bernie Cash and Peter Ind. Bernie was running the course, and Peter was teaching on it and Bryan Layton, great piano player from Leeds, they were the three main tutors and Dickie Hawdon. Dickie Hawdon ran the big band. But Peter Ind was sort of the father figure of it all, the most experienced player. He was a very good teacher, I learnt a lot from Peter, he turned me on to a lot of stuff, you know –about methods of practice, he’d studied with Tristano, so that was a good thing for me. That turned me around a bit.

MS: Did you know about Tristano before you went or…

DC: No didn’t know anything about him. I’d heard some of those albums, tracks like ‘Subconscious-lee’ I’d heard it, a little bit, but I wasn’t particularly attracted to that music in the beginning to be honest. I didn’t appreciate it. I was listening to sort of Johnny Griffin and George Coleman, and Rollins I’d just got into Rollins. I’d just got into “Giant Steps” - Coltrane, listening to more hard, aggressive sixties jazz, bluesy Cannonball Adderley. That appealed to me more at the time. The subtlety was lost out on me.

MS: This was... What year was it you went there?

DC: ’67

MS: You started there in ’67. What year were you born then?

DC: ’44. June ’44.So yeah, I was twenty-three then.

MS: OK. So you say he gave you a method of practicing, you, could you I mean… 

DC: Yeah, you know, some of the important things … sorry, go on.

MS: No, I mean, you know it’s, a lot of people kind of know a bit about the Tristano method because its kind of used in jazz education, in terms of learning solos and all keys... Do you want to talk about that?

DC: Yeah, the key thing, one of the first things was, there’s two or three key things to it. First one is singing solos. The first solo I picked was ‘Cool Blues’ by Bird, which was two tracks, two choruses of a blues and that really, I quite enjoyed doing that because I used to sing in a choir so I didn’t feel inhibited. I find a lot of guitar players were very inhibited about singing and I find students very reluctant to do it funnily enough. I enjoyed that - I took to that OK. I remember I transcribed, I didn’t actually write them out, I just learnt to play them. Some of the Parker solos I must confess I only I learnt to play them at half speed. 16 rpm on the record player. An octave lower. But it opened up my ears, I started to enjoy jazz more intensely, started hearing it more vividly.It just became really clear how great Parker was. And the other thing was slow practice. Scales. One of the first lessons with Peter Ind we just played through the thirds or the triads of the major scales, he played them with me. That’s something I do with my students, I play the scales with them, I don’t just sit and listen to them. I play them with them. Very slowly.

MS: Yeah, I’m the same.

DC: I think it’s a great thing. It’s about doing things in a thoughtful caring way not just… Some of these people have a bit of a cross with scales, they think ‘oh yeah I know this scale’ dadadadadadadada. Rattle it off. It’s not, you’ve got to play the scale with feeling, that’s one of the things Peter went on about. That was another thing.
Then these rhythmic things. We used to clap in different rhythms- two over three, three against four, and again I didn’t take to it first. I didn’t understand it at first - I was a bit hostile, but I eventually got the hang of that and that made a lot of difference.
And the other thing was a general approach of trying to be self-aware. Peter was into Freud and Wilhelm Reich and all these psychoanalyst people. So it’s about trying to be more self-aware, where your motivation is, what you’re doing, why are you really doing this. So it’s a whole re-education in all sorts of ways, it’s very compelling and fascinating yeah.

MS: And is that, do you feel that has stayed with you?

DC: Yeah, sure yeah totally, yeah sure.

MS: In how you teach as well?

DC: Yeah sure, influenced a lot the way I teach. Yeah, sure.

MS: So did you continue after you left the college?

DC: Yeah.

MS: I mean, what happened then, did you stay in Leeds?

DC: I wasn’t very ambitious really on the music scene, and I thought, well, playing the sort music, it’s not, at the time it was all Miles, Bitches Brew and all the more abstract and fusiony scene. In London it was Graham Collier and Mike Westbrook, it was a different sort of bag from what I was doing, and I didn’t feel there was much place for it, what I was doing.

MS: You weren’t attracted to that music?

DC: Not particularly, at the time. I was probably a bit be-bop fascist.

MS: [laugh]

DC: I couldn’t stand ‘Bitches Brew’, I knew some people loved it but I couldn’t stand it. The last Miles record I liked was ‘ In a Silent Way’ that was sort of rocky blues, it was good, a  very tasty album. Anyway, that’s a sidetrack. I’d just sort of started signing on and doing the odd gig in Leeds then a couple of friends of mine moved to London and I thought I best should come to London. So I came to London. My first playing experience was going to Peter Ind’s house playing with a great tenor player called Chas Burchell who was well into Warne Marsh.
So I was playing with all the good players, but I learnt a lot, because they were playing tunes, and there was a guitar player there who knew all the tunes. Derek Bailey - no I don’t know Derek Bailey - Derek Phillips, Freudian slip. And he, so I would just watch him and try and, or the tunes, they played a tune I didn’t know, I remember they played “Have You Met Miss Jones”, I didn’t have a clue on that, so I’d go home and learn it, get the fake book and learn to play it. So that was very beneficial for the first couple of years, I wasn’t doing many gigs. The first gig I did was for two quid - playing with some dodgy clarinet player in a wine bar or something - but I gradually started getting a few gigs and eventually I ended up playing at the Bulls Head with Tony Lee and people like that and Peter King and Art Themen. Because at the Bull’s Head, it was like they would book a trio - Bill LeSage and Tony Lee, predominantly, and book two guest horn players, and it would just be like a jam you know, just play tunes by ear - no music.

MS: So that was in the 70’s you’re talking about?

DC: Yeah mid ’73, ’74..... And I also played with the drummer Tommy Chase, bit of a character, played with him a lot in trio gigs with a bass player called Danny Padmore. We didn’t do many gigs, we did a lot of rehearsing, a lot of debating and arguing. That was another playing experience that was interesting.

MS: So how were you surviving, you said you weren't doing that much…

DC: I had a couple of days teaching. I worked for the Inner London Education Authority teaching guitar in inner city schools and that was enough to get by, the odd gig and the odd private student. I wasn’t very … I wasn’t into working hard. I was into practicing hard, but not into working hard. I didn’t want to do…

MS: When you say working hard, you mean not wanting to do lots of gig?

DC:  Well, I didn’t want to do, well, the other thing is, amps were heavy, I’d never, I’ve never driven, amps and guitars were heavy then, you didn’t have these gig bags or the little amps like now, little dinky amps. It was all heavy. It was hard work. The first gigs you get in London were crap money and miles away, and so I didn’t fancy, you know you’d get a cab ride and it would wipe out your whole gig fee.

MS: And you’ve really never wanted to drive?

DC: I was just, I don’t know, I’ve never really been into it. I’m anti cars. My brother loves cars. I hate them. So, I was a bit of a drop out, really, living a bit the hippy life. Living on the margins. Renting a room in Earls Court, and just taking it easy, but I was very diligent about my practice. I was still taking solos down, you know.

MS: What kind of solos were you doing then?

DC: Well just going back to Leeds, I worked one term on Lester Young eh.. Parker then Peter recommended Lester Young who I’d never listened to at all really.

MS: For a term you’d work on…

DC: Parker. I did about six solos. Then I did half dozen solos on Lester Young Then next year another tutor was teaching me there. Peter and Bernie left, they had a falling out with the establishment at college over salaries or something, some dispute, and then Bernie was teaching up in Leeds and I went to him privately for some lessons.

MS: He was a bass player as well, wasn’t he?

DC: Yeah, he was very influenced by Peter and he’s a good player, classical player as well - and he was a good teacher. He was probably a better teacher than he was a player in some ways. And he used to recommend doing Charlie Christian, because he was influenced by a lot of Christian’s stuff, so I did a load of Charlie Christian solos and then I carried on just picking people, a couple of Konitz solos, a couple of Clifford Brown’s.

MS: Did you do them all the same method? The same painstaking method?

DC: Singing it and then playing it…

MS: Singing it first and then….

DC:  Yeah, spent about a week or so singing it, then a week or so, a couple of weeks playing it.

MS: Yeah.

DC: I wrote down a couple of solos but not many. I wrote down a couple of Lester Young’s a couple of Charlie Christian things. I was a bit lazy about writing, my reading’s not great my rhythmic reading’s not …it’s definitely a bit imperfect. But it is good to write them down as well. But the important thing is hearing it, singing it and feeling it, and playing it.

MS: Yeah. OK, and then I was just thinking, it’s probably not that long after the period we’re talking about - the early seventies where, correct me if I’m wrong – I’ve seen a photo of you playing with Konitz and Marsh.

DC: ’75, ‘76

MS: Yeah, in the North, wasn’t it?
DC: Whitley Bay that photograph’s from.

MS: Yeah

DC: You can just see Warne, Lee and me. You can’t see Al Levitt or Peter Ind. I know that photograph yes.

MS: So was that a one off or...

DC: I’ll tell you what happened. Peter got this little tour in Holland with a guy called Gerry Teekens who ran Criss Cross Records.

MS: Yeah, I know the name.

DC:  At the time he was a school teacher, and he had booked, and Peter had booked Bruce Turner on saxophone, whose a big Konitz influenced.. but people don’t realize that, he’d studied with Konitz and Tristano. Bruce, - he’s an interesting player, but he’s quite an eccentric guy, and he booked Al Levitt who was living in Paris on drums - so it was Peter’s quartet, so I’d met Gerry Teekens. And then they were getting… Warne Marsh was coming over and Peter was going to do a trio thing, there was going to be a Dutch piano player whose name I don’t know but he played with Mingus, and Al Levitt. They were going to accompany Warne Marsh on some gigs and some of the gigs were going to be in England, and I got booked to do a couple of the gigs in England. Then the piano player dropped out from Holland so I got the gigs in Europe. Then coincidentally Lee Konitz was at Ronnie’s I saw Lee Konitz playing with John Taylor, Ron Mathewson and Tony Levin… did 2 weeks at Ronnie’s.

MS: In ’75, ’76?

DC: Yeah. So then somebody, some promoter in Europe thought of the idea of getting Warne and Lee together, they hadn't played together for years, some 15 years. So they did some dates at the Montmartre with the Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen trio and did some recordings there. So it all came together very fortuitously. So I ended up doing the tour in Christmas and January.  We did about four weeks, Holland, Scandinavia, Germany, the odd gig in Germany, France, one gig in France then four dates in England. Some with just Warne and then some of the dates with Konitz as well. The best gig was in Edinburgh, Peter Ind’s got that on tape. It was fantastic…

MS: Were you going to release it?

DC:  … but Lee doesn’t want him to release it.

MS: Why? He doesn’t like it?

DC: Maybe he thinks Warne’s cutting him. I don’t know, but maybe that’s got a lot to do with it. But he isn’t, it’s all great, it’s fantastic. I was very happy with my own playing there as well. But, he did the record, he did put out a couple of things we did at Montmartre. They’re pretty good from Warne and Lee’s point of view but I didn’t play very well, so I’m…but Peter’s got some great stuff because he recorded there nearly every night.

MS: Right.

DC: So he’s got a fantastic archive somewhere... (Laughs). Worth having. Yeah so that’s how it came about. Peter Ind recommended me for those gigs in England. So that’s how that came about.

MS: Was that the only time when you played with both Warne Marsh and Lee Konitz together?

DC: Yes, it was quite a lot of dates, say maybe fifteen or sixteen gigs. Oh then Konitz got… I think it was originally Warne’s gig, there was two weeks in Italy. Konitz ended up doing that. That was just with Konitz. Italy and Sicily tour… and then I didn’t see Konitz for about seven years after that.

MS: OK, and you’ve played with him on and off over the years.

DC: Yeah he’d do the odd gig I’d sit in. He was playing at the Canteen, a short lived jazz club in the Eighties in London.

MS: I remember that.

DC:  He wasn’t getting on with the rhythm section - but I wouldn’t say it was their fault - a lot to do with Lee, but he did invite me to come and sit in and I sat in and played a few tunes in the second set one night. And the subsequently I did some gigs, one with Kenny Wheeler in Coventry about ten years ago, and one - his seventy fifth birthday concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall  - me and Peter.  He asked me and Peter to do some trio things with him. The rest of the concert was him and John Taylor with another group and various things. Obviously he did some things by himself - did a solo saxophone thing at the beginning of the concert. Oh yeah, and then…  there was something at the 606 a couple of years ago, I did a night with Peter, Lee and me - that was ok, that was quite nice.

MS: Ok, yeah I remember that. When you actually played with those guys - who you’d been studying of course from that method and listening to that music. Was it how you thought it would be? Tristano and those guys particularly make a big point of pure improvisation.

DC: Yes, yes.

MS: Did it feel like that when you were playing?

DC: Yeah sure, it definitely felt like that. I felt influenced by them, not to just try and fall back on clichés. Sometimes on most gigs, I’d tend to fall back on my clichés, but I felt very aware of these two heavy players listening to what they were doing! You know, it made one a bit self conscious in certain ways.

MS: So it changed your playing on those gigs?

DC: Well, Yeah. I tend to be affected by who I’m playing with anyway. I tend to be very affected by what’s going on around me. I haven’t got a set way of playing. If somebody’s  music is aggressive, I might become more aggressive and change my way of playing,  I tend to be influenced by what’s happening. So yeah, I was affected and I enjoyed it. Then after a bit, after a couple of weeks or so I was feeling, I felt a bit superfluous to things -  I felt as if they don’t, especially Warne’s playing, he doesn’t seem to need comping. He’s outlining every change and every beat.

MS: Well there’s quite a few albums with him without piano or guitar.

DC: Yes yes, I felt like I should lay out. I was laying out for a bit you know.

MS: Did they ever say lay out to you.

DC: Sometimes Konitz would. Warne never did. He was pretty laid back, didn’t say that much, quite a taciturn man. But he’s very strong at what he does. He didn’t say that much. He was easier to follow cos his time’s so precise. Lee’s more behind the beat and the rhythm section was a bit spacey now and then, if I can say that. Everyone was doing all this turning the beat around, intentionally. Sometimes they’d throw me a curve.

MS: Was that the horn players? The bass and drums weren’t turning it around deliberately or were they?

DC: Well Al Levitt had a very loose feel, almost Elvin-ish. Sometimes I felt that it didn’t quite mesh that well. Sometimes it was good, he’s a good player. Just sometimes I would find it a bit hard, maybe it was just me - I’m not blaming anybody else. I’m not trying to turn on anybody else. Sometimes I was finding it a bit hard playing.
But I was very green and lacking in experience. I hadn’t really played with drummers that often, I hadn’t really been a seasoned player playing with drums then, and gigging around generally so I was a bit raw in some ways. Sometimes it was great and sometimes we were terrible - from my point of view. I’m just telling you about my subjective point of view.

MS: Did you think that they were pretty much on form the whole time?

DC: They played great yeah. Warne liked to do some really uptempo things and Lee didn’t - I mean he could play them. He played great on them, but he didn’t feel comfortable on them. Warne seemed to be really showing off his chops! You know, “The Way You Look Tonight” at break-neck speed!

MS: So there was a bit of a competitive thing maybe between them?

DC: Maybe yeah sure, yeah. There was all sorts of cross tensions, I won’t go into it - but I found out later. I thought these guys were all gonna be really tight and love each other - but they don’t. There’s all sorts of cross tensions between Peter and Lee and Warne and Lee and Lee and Warne and Al Levitt. I won’t go into it, it’s boring, but there was certain tensions. So I was quite happy with it, I did a few weeks, I learnt a lot and I was very grateful to Peter for giving me that opportunity. Extremely grateful. After a month or so I felt as if I needed to go back and woodshed a bit. It was a big lesson for me. Got to go home and practice now.

MS: What did you feel you had to practice after that?

DC: Just sorting out who I was, and what I was, and what I was doing. Just be more thorough, more together. I felt more humble afterwards. Cos I think, I wasn’t big headed, but sometimes I’d think, ‘yeah I’m pretty on it’, part of you says ‘yeah I’m the shit, nobody’s doing this’ cos to tell you the truth, round then what you don’t realise is, thirty years ago, there wasn’t many bebop guitar players around then,

MS: I was just thinking that. 

DC: Just Joe Pass and Barney Kessel, those two.

MS: But in England?

DC: But it wasn’t my contemporaries It was all jazz rock I didn’t know people like Jim Mullen - I’d never heard of him. There was only Terry Smith, and Louis Stewart was a giant.

MS: In fact Jim wasn’t really involved in jazz areas.

DC:  Well, he was doing the cross-over fusion thing

MS: I remember seeing him in Kokomo.

DC: Yeah, he was touring round. He wasn’t on the gig scene really, doing gigs round London, duo gigs and that stuff.  I didn’t know about Jim until about 1980.

MS: So you were, one of the few really playing pure jazz guitar.

DC: Yes, there was Louis and Terry Smith they were two of the names, and Phil Lee. Phil was playing a lot more modern things, I didn’t know, his vast knowledge of harmony and standards is excellent, but he was working in a lot more different areas playing in contemporary bands and reading gigs and stuff that was an area that I wasn’t really involved in. I’ll tell you something, I ended up doing gigs with Dixieland bands, Alex Welsh and Alan Elsdon. Mainstream Dixieland and pub work. There was a lot of pub work then. Six piece bands maybe playing tunes like “Jumpin’ at the Woodside”, “Broadway”, “Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans?”  But I ended up playing with more trad guys playing four to the bar.

MS: Did you enjoy that?

DC: Yeah I did. I like swing music, I love the swing music and Django and Charlie Christian, Lester and Ben Webster and all that stuff  - Charlie and Roy Eldridge, the Count Basie band - yeah I enjoyed that. I think it’s a pity a lot of young musicians don’t listen to anything before Bird. Some of them even start with Trane - they’re not even going back to Parker. But they should do, cos then there’s a sense of melody. Nobody’s trying to be a virtuoso, it’s just simple pure melody and not long solos. I prefer shorter solos these days. I don’t think it’s a restriction - Bird and Diz could do it in two and a half minutes.

MS: Yeah, very true. So, we’re talking now after this experience and you’re going back and doing some more practice, and you feel a bit humble, and can we move onto the eighties here?

DC: Yeah sure.

MS: What happened to you in the eighties in terms of playing situations?

DC: Well I was sort of a bit on the margins in late seventies. I went over to Israel and spent a bit of time in America, a few months. Six months there, then six months in Israel because I got involved with romance. Then I came back to England and I was doing bits and pieces. Peter Ind would call me occasionally. He used to play with Martin Taylor. Martin Taylor had a duo thing and sometimes I’d dep for that and people would call me just for odd gigs. I was fairly on the margins, not really on the centre of the stage then. It was partly my own fault, I was moving around and I didn’t even have a phone, I didn’t have a telephone.

MS: You didn’t have a phone?

DC:  Never mind a car. But then, then my marriage sort of broke up around about ’82 and my wife went back to live in Israel with my son who was only two.
Then I felt like, ‘I’ve got to do it now’, do anything, just get out there and play with anybody”. I was sick of being skint and I was getting bored not working and once I’d changed my attitude, suddenly the gigs started coming in. Rubbish at first but it got better and better. By the late eighties I started getting gigs with people like Warren Vache and Scott Hamilton - top American, you know, really seasoned players. Doing much better quality work playing with people like Brian Lemon, so it’s still that mainstream thing, but with the good quality players like Roy Williams, players like that, as well as getting some…doing the odd gig with Peter King. Well just odd pick-up gigs, not part of his group. So I was playing with more of the ‘name’ players.

MS: So you thought that was your change of attitude...

DC: Helped yeah.

MS: Did you actually physically go out and look for that work?

DC: I would do things like, people would call me like Steve Rubie might call me at midnight and say ‘oh the band hasn’t made it would you like to play?’, and I’d go on and play. I just thought, I’ve got to go out and play before I die, and I just felt there was a sense of urgency. I remember I had loads of gigs at the Six. I would play there about twice a month.

MS: So we know about the 606, which then was in Kings Road.

DC: Yeah the 606.  I remember I saw younger players like Simon Woolf, Steve Berry and Mick Hutton all in the same year. I ended up doing a lot of trio things with Simon, and later on Mick Hutton. Mick Hutton and Mark Taylor, they great were a rhythm section at the 606. They did loads of great gigs there - and people jamming, Don Weller was sitting in. Konitz came down one night and sat in with me and Mark and Mick, it was great, he played a set with us. It was really nice. That was a very good time for me despite Mrs Thatcher. I was having a good time. Basically, I was free, living the bachelor life and putting my time into playing. I had a couple of days teaching work and I was doing a lot more playing. Then in the nineties it even got better. I got work abroad playing in Spain and Germany, I played on tours with Ruby Braff. Some good quality work. I can’t complain having a varied career, patchy, but interesting.

MS: And you’d sort of been involved with teaching for quite a while now?

DC: Yeah. I was one of the first kids in our school could play three chords. So people asked me for lessons. I’m not a qualified teacher, I’ve never studied you know, education but people have always asked me for lessons so I usually ended up doing it. I quite enjoyed it, especially when I got my method from Peter Ind - I found out I had something to offer. So I’ve always enjoyed a bit of teaching. Then I was asked to do some on the course down in Wales. That was twenty years ago I think, in ’89. Simon Purcell and Mick were doing that with John Taylor. Probably you were there? I don’t know.

MS: No I didn’t do it originally in Porthcawl.

DC: Yeah I did it for ten years in Porthcawl and ten years in the other place. Then I ended up doing other summer schools, Wavendon and I did one up in Manchester, so I started doing very well, so that was nice to do. I enjoyed doing those and more gigs, and I had a bit of spare money in my pocket, for a change!

MS: Did you kind of learn on the job or did you have, or did you have a method anyway that you were... You’d thought about it before, you know - how you were going to teach...

DC: Just learnt on the job, learnt from experience. I learnt to be patient. I learned to try and … the essential thing is to find what is the next step this person needs, never mind what I want to do. Because sometimes people can’t switch levels, you’ve got to try and get into the student’s head. What does he need now, never mind what you think he needs. What does he need? What is the next step? Simplify everything. Keep things simple. Cover the fundamentals. A lot of people, I see sometimes people give them material that’s too difficult for students - teaching them tunes and not teaching them properly but superficially - teaching difficult tunes to people.

MS: So what do you mean by fundamentals?

DC: Well if you can’t play the melody, play all the chords and play all the arpeggios and all the scales of the tunes then you’re hiding to nothing, you’ve got to do all of that first.

MS: Do you do all that before any improvisation?

DC: Well just not be totally rigid with it but yeah, do most of that before. I don’t work exactly rigid like that, I like to jump in and have a go and I’ll always encourage students that sometimes you’ve got to jump in without being prepared. Some of the gigs, you can’t. You couldn’t be ready for every gig in your life. Some gigs you’re not ready like, maybe I wasn’t ready to play with Lee and Warne. Sure, but you’ve got to do it. You’ve just got to do it and take the consequences, otherwise you won’t learn anything, there you have it, nothing ventured, nothing gained.  But yes, basically I think people should be more thorough. I find a lot of people are just un-thorough. That’s the problem, that’s one of my big things. They haven’t done their homework. It’s like, I know people, I saw a guy who’s been on a jazz course, guitar and music technology and he came to me, he was this Portuguese guy and he was totally messed up. The first tune they taught him was “Giant Steps’” I said ‘play a blues’. He couldn’t play a blues.

MS: Poor guy! That’s demoralizing, isn’t it?

DC: I know it’s terrible. It’s appalling. It’s criminal! So I taught him a blues in Bb, three chords and then we went slightly more complex and I’ve sorted him out you know. What’s the point in playing “Giant Steps” if you cant play a blues? It’s stupid, it’s upside down, you know.

MS: It’s not going to happen, is it? What’s your relationship with composition?

DC: I’ve tried to compose a few things, but I don’t think they’re that great. They’re sort of secondary. I think everybody should try and compose. Of course there’s different styles of composing, some people compose lines over sequences, Bird did that. Tristano school and all that but with writing I think everybody should try and compose but I think the essential thing about jazz for me is the spontaneity thing. Just things happening in the moment, I think I’m better at that as well, that’s more my strength. I don’t think I’m a great composer but then again I don’t work at it. If it were my desire to do that and I sat and practiced composing five hours a day then maybe I’d be better, but I don’t, so I can’t really complain. I’ve written about six or seven tunes and I’ve recorded a couple of things.

MS: Have you written lines on existing chord sequences?

DC: Couple of things I did yeah. One was just a minor blues. There’s lots of intricate major blues compositions but most minor blues are just little riffs like “Mr. PC”, there’s not many bebop minor blues. There’s ‘Interplay’, Bill Evans, and ‘Israel’ by Johnny Carisi they are the exceptions, but they’re mainly just riffs. So I wrote a little minor blues I was quite pleased with called “The Right Time”. It’s ok, it’s not gonna change the world but it’s quite reasonable. More eighth note orientated, you know.

MS: So you had a real purpose doing that one because you thought there was nothing available worth playing.

DC: Yeah right.

MS: Ok. In terms of your own collaborations that you choose yourself with musicians, because you mention musicians that call you to play.

DC: Yeah I’m not a bandleader these days. I get sometimes called to do guest spots, playing with a trio as a leader which I enjoy doing. I do a lot with Geoff Simkins, I’ve got a very close relationship with Geoff, I met him in the mid eighties and we hit it off. I enjoyed playing with him particularly so I’m always happy to work with him. We’ve done two or three albums together.

MS: I know Geoff a little bit and you both seem influenced from that lineage of Tristano.

DC: Geoff’s quite a remarkable figure Well Geoff’s totally self taught. He’s a very bright guy, he’s very self taught I get the impression.

MS: Well then so are you. Well... You were pointed in the right direction.

DC: Yeah, studying with Peter Ind for six months and Bernie, incredibly important, that was crucial. A piano player friend of mine, Roy Hilton, he did the same thing, he was a very good player, underrated and he said the same thing - that it made a total difference, what we did. So I probably wouldn’t have made it otherwise.

MS: Ok, but Geoff has had none of that?

DC: As far as I know, yeah. He’s totally self taught yeah

MS: Well I’ll be interviewing him soon so I’ll find that information.

DC: Some of the best players are self taught. Mullen, he’s a great guitar player and he’s totally self taught. As Don Weller says “it’s all about earholes”. That’s what it comes down to. But then again, a great teacher isn’t gonna make a great player out of rubbish. In a sense you always teach, cos, if you see a guy one hour a week, your practicing about twenty hours by yourself, that’s when you sometimes gain the insights, they just tell you what to do, you’ve gotta go home

and find out for yourself. Everybody has to discover the same thing for themselves.

MS: Yeah, you’ve got to be curious about the music.

DC: Yes. I totally agree. That’s it. It’s self generating, yeah. You can’t force it upon people, they’ve gotta want to do it. Jim Tomlinson, that sax player, he said that. You can’t make someone do something they don’t wanna do, they’ve got to want to do it.

MS: So where did you meet Geoff, did you meet him on a gig?

DC: Tony Bell a mutual friend. Geoff had a duo gig in an art gallery, just a background music gig about 1986, ’87, and Tony encouraged him to ring me, he said ‘oh give Dave Cliff a ring’ he thought it might work. Geoff rang me we did the gig and it went like a treat you know... Then I formed a quintet, we did a recording with Alec Dankworth, John Pearce and Mark Taylor. Then we formed a quartet with different players - Simon Woolf, different drummers, Paul Clarvis. Then we recorded as a trio, last record we did with Geoff was as his trio, it was under his name, with Simon Woolf. So it’s a fairly open thing it’s been anything from a duo to a quintet. It’s fairly loose. We don’t rehearse a lot.

MS: Do you talk about what tunes you wanna do?

DC: Yeah, maybe rehearse the odd thing but not an arrangers thing, we’re not arrangers. It’s fairly straight basic stuff, bebop you know, straight-ahead standard based music.

MS: Are they all on Spotlite those albums or..

DC: We did one on vinyl, ‘Miles Music’ called “The Right Time”, that was under my name. Then we did a quartet under my name, that’s called “Sippin’ at Bells”. Then we did one, a Tadd Dameron tribute because Tony Williams the record producer wanted me to have a theme to the music, so I thought about doing all the compositions of Tadd Dameron - that was a quintet with Roy Hilton added, Mick Hutton on bass, Simon Woolf did half of it as well. Oh I did a tape with Geoff – “West Coast Blues” recorded at the Six, we only put it out on cassette, had some of my best playing on that. That was really good, the sound quality is not great, but it was OK. That was done in ’91. The most recent thing I’ve done with Geoff was a couple of years ago, called “Conversation”.

MS: What label was that on?

DC: It’s on that label that the flautist organized. I’ve forgotten what it’s called. He’s put various things out. Geoff did a CD with Nikki Iles, it’s on that label.

MS: Wasn’t the guy on the course? Didn’t he come on the summer course?

DC: Yeah he always reminded me of Jethro Tull. Flute and long hair. Anthony or something... He’s a friend of Geoff’s.  He did that album for him.

MS: So were you pleased with the’se recordings then?

DC: Yeah yeah I suppose. I did a recording with Lee Konitz in Italy. He said you’ve got to knock 25% of your playing on a recording. So if you knock that expectation off, you can be satisfied with your playing.

MS: Oh what the level of your playing?

DC: Yeah, knock 20% off. I think thats true. It’s not nerves, it’s just the blandness of the situation. There’s no audience, you’re in a booth, it’s an un-natural situation, it’s hard to get inspired at 9 o’clock in the morning and play a raving solo.

MS: So the audience is important for you.

DC: Yeah, somebody listening. Adrenalin.

MS: I remember, Bill Evans said he always did his best playing when he was at home, interestingly enough, without an audience.

DC: It think everybody’s different. I need to react from someone, I need a lot of help from other people. I find it hard to get inspired just by myself. I get bored with what I’m doing. I found I’ve sometimes been practicing playing jazz less, just doing exercises and patterns and scales and sometimes got bored with what I’m doing. Maybe it’s just a phase I am going through. I have different phases you know. I’ve always changed my practice routine, you know done one thing and a few months later do the opposite and then switch it round again.

MS: Are you a pretty regular practicer?

DC: I try to yeah, with childcare duties and gigs I don’t practice much more than half an hour these days. I try and do it everyday.

MS: So you must have gone through a period of learning lots of tunes.

DC: Yeah I never had a policy. If I’m on a gig and somebody calls a tune I’ll try and learn it. I enjoy learning tunes, that’s how I’ve learnt harmony. On the whole it’s all learning standards. You learn a tune, and you learn it one way and then you see a different book with different changes or you’re on a gig and you learn it from the other players and you find different ways around it and then you find bits from that tune that fit in another tune until eventually somebody puts a chord sheet of an original tune you’ve never heard before but you recognise everything in it. You know, two five one’s, cycles, chromatic descending, you see everything that’s in it.

MS: Well it makes it much easier then.

DC: Yeah, you can hear it in your head, what’s happening, without hearing the song. You read the changes and you can hear it, that’s the only way you can play it - if you can hear it.

MS: Have you got plans to record anymore?

DC: There’s a lot of recordings that I’m on that aren’t that great. I might do. I’m not sure, I got together with another guitar player Dave Warren, we did a recording but we haven’t put it out yet, we’ll have to put it out ourselves. People aren’t buying CD’s these days, people are just putting tracks on the computer, I dunno anything about that technology things.

MS: Do you mean, just as downloads?

DC: Yeah

MS: Yeah, unfortunately it does seem the way that’s going.

DC: It’s a pity.

MS: The quality’s suffering and people don’t have any hard copy in their hands.

DC: Yeah sure, there’s nothing like a tangible thing like a CD or an LP.

MS: Ok, is there anything else you’d like to say? Anything significant in your career, I mean I know about the collaborations with Geoff, and you’ve found a kindred spirit in lots of ways, musically. I’m just wondering, over the years, are there any other particular experiences that really stand out?

DC: I remember doing four night with Michael Moore and Warren Vaché trio at the Pizza Express, that was great. They were two great players.

MS: What was great about those guys?

DC: Well they both had great time. They both had a great knowledge of songs and they were both very dynamic. It was the first time I’d done a trio, a drum-less trio where there was a lot of dynamics, Warren would go down, Michael would go down and I would follow. There was a lot of dynamics and it was great. That was outstanding, that was good as anything I’d done. I’ve done some great gigs with Geoff. I did some gigs with Jim Mullen in the eighties, that was interesting, yeah.

MS: In a quartet situation?

DC: Yeah with bass and drums, and a couple of duo gigs too. There’s a lot of players I’ve enjoyed playing with including your good self.

MS: That’s very nice of you.

DC: I enjoy being a freelance player, I like playing with different players, I like different situations. I ‘m not too hung up on playing the same thing all the time. I quite like the cut and thrust of freelance. It’s a challenge - what role are going to play in this particular group? How do you fit in? What’s needed to do? It keeps you on your toes and people have different sorts of repertoire, you’re playing with young guys who play more modern material and then you might be doing a more traditional scenario where it’s Ellington tunes, it’s all sort of interesting to me.

MS: Have you been involved in any other areas of jazz apart from the standard tunes, like people’s original music?

DC: Yes, I play with this woman tenor player Jo Fooks and she writes all originals but their fairly standardy sort of sequences, they’re not written on other sequences but their fairly straight, conservative harmonically. It’s challenging cos I’ve got to play the heads with her on all the tunes and the piano comps. Yeah I’ve worked in bands doing more of that but not a lot, not loads but it has been part of my experience and I’ve enjoyed that as well. I can’t think of many particular examples. Ray Warleigh. He likes to write a few tunes, he plays standards as well.

MS: Did you do some of Ray’s tunes?

DC: No not particularly arranged but original tunes with different chords.

MS: What that are not functional harmony necessarily or? Not five one type harmony... Or would it be?

DC: Well I did a gig with Konitz and Kenny Wheeler, the only time I’ve played with Kenny Wheeler and we did some of those Kenny Wheeler things which were challenging - so that’s not functional.

MS: Although a lot of that is disguised functional.

DC: Yes, you’re right. When you look at it, it makes more sense the more you look at it. That’s true, that’s a good point. Accept that. I find those things quite hard, especially when you haven’t got a piano. When you play more modern creations I feel the need of a chord behind. It makes all the difference. I find it too naked - just bass and drums. I feel that’s a challenge too far sometimes.
If I’m doing a trio gig, just guitar bass and drums I’d choose different repertoire, if I’ve got a piano I’d be more ambitious and play more complex tunes because I can float and ride on the chord, you know just play one note, whereas sometimes I get that compulsive thing about spelling out the chords if I’m playing with just the bass and drums. Dadadadadadada you know, start running the changes and I don’t wanna do that I want to play just improvised fresh ideas, but that’s just a thing I do, I shouldn’t do it, but I do.

MS: I was just thinking of something that we used to do whenever we were in Glamorgan, I can’t remember what it was called… “Mornington Crescent”, where the tutors would play free together.

DC: Oh yes I enjoyed those a lot, but the trouble is I can’t take a whole night of it. That is just my personal prejudice.

MS: Would you listen to any of that music or go and see someone playing totally improvised music.

DC: I’m a bit lazy going out listening

MS: but in the past?

DC: Yeah I went to see Ornette Coleman in 1965.

MS: What did you make of that?

DC: Well I didn’t not enjoy it, It was ok. I didn’t like the fiddle or the trumpet. The sax was ok. That was at Newcastle City Hall. I only heard three big names in Newcastle, Johnny Griffin and Sonny Stitt. I must say I enjoyed them more. I quite enjoyed Ornette, but I didn’t quite understand it, I was quite young. About twenty one at the time, I thought it was ok and intriguing but I enjoyed the bop players more. This band we used to play in Newcastle, the last number we would always do a free number and I used to enjoy doing it.

MS: What you were playing standards before that and then you’d do a free one at the end?

DC: Yes, yeah. We used to start of with this tune called “Native Land” by Curtis Amy which was this 6/8 thing and the tenor player always like to turn it into a free thing, we’d just get free, scribble about and do things. I quite enjoyed doing that.

MS: Would the time be free as well?

DC: Yes. I’d done it occasionally with other people, in Leeds I’d done a bit of it but then I became a bit more, anti that, I sort of went off that a bit. I’d heard that Tristano had said, was interesting, was that a lot of it’s to do with the black man expressing his hostility towards white culture - some free aspects of free music and I feel there is, like Archie Shepp, there is a bit of that. I don’t want to get too controversial, but I think there’s an aspect of that.

MS: But not necessarily with people like Jimmy Giuffre or Paul Bley.

DC: Yeah, of course. I just went off the screamy stuff, I mean I was interested in the stuff, I actually bought ‘Ascension’ by Coltrane and I used to enjoy it. Then I had a turn around. I was getting more depressed and I just wanted more gentle music, melodic and swinging music. I was more into that.
Just to say one thing about the Lester Young factor, because it made me realise and you tend to think things are getting better, or improving or ‘modern things are better that old things’ made me realise -sometimes old things are better than new things. It turned my head around, you know. I was always hearing about people expanding the boundaries. Coltrane’s not better that Prez, he ain’t I’m sorry, but many people would disagree with me. It’s just different.

MS: Someone came up with this fantastic quote that ‘jazz is not weightlifting’. You know it’s not comparing. In jazz we can choose from any era now.

DC: Yeah, that’s true. I accept that point. Maybe I compare too much. I’m not against free jazz, I’m not anti-free jazz, I’m quite open to it. I just think sometimes it ends up where people... ‘why cant you just play lines’.. Like those free things we did in Wales, people were playing lines. It sometimes gets into funny noises.

MS: That’s a textural approach to the music, rather than lines and I’m with you on this, I happen to like the line based approach that’s one aspect of playing and that is from Tristano. Totally line based. And….

DC: When Herbie Hancock played, he used to do wonderful lines.
MS:  Yeah, but there is possibly an issue, which would be interesting to talk about briefly. The role of the rhythm section in Tristano’s music. There’s controversy about this, some people have said he just wanted them to lay it down and not interact and other people have said that’s not the case but possibly at the time, a lot of rhythm sections found it hard to play with him because he was actually more rhythmically advanced than them.

DC: I think that was the problem and not the fact that he was being dictatorial, I mean I don’t know I never met the man. But I think a lot of people…Tristano gets a lot of negative press. He does get a hard time and he was quite an uncompromising guy, he wouldn’t take any shit but I think he gets criticised unfairly.
Yeah but I think was just that. You put it very well, the rhythm sections, some of them couldn’t handle it.
The other thing is about brushes. A lot of records that you’d hear around then that sound was more fashionable, people would play the brushes, a lot of Stan Getz records or Johnny Smith or West Coast jazz. Then things got more hard-bop in the fifties like Philly Joe Jones was quite a loud player and Blakey and it was all that thing of back to basics, back to the blues, more fundamentals. A lot of the early fifties records the rhythm sections were very light, apart from Max Roach and certain individuals.

MS: I think in one of those books. The two books on Tristano that have come out recently. Peter Ind’s book….

DC: Yeah I read them both.

MS: and Eunmi Shim’s book.

DC: Yeah that’s great.

MS:  Both fascinating. I seem to remember someone mentioning the exact point you’re making, about a lot more brushes were going on then and drummers were playing lighter. Also in those books, which is fascinating to read, is that Elvin played with Tristano and Roy Haynes, both pretty fiery drummers.

DC: Yeah well he said in an interview his favorite rhythm section would be Niels Henning and Elvin Jones. I dunno if that would particularly work with him personally but they’re both great players and Elvin is certainly no shrinking violet. I mean, there is one of the records I’ve heard with Nick Stabulas and he’s playing quite busy on the snare drum. Some things at the Half Note. It’s great. And Paul Motian sounds great on that Half Note.

MS: That’s a very swinging album.

DC: He’s not playing particularly busy but he’s not playing particularly quite, he’s just laying it down, that’s a great rhythm section on that with um…Jimmy.

MS: Jimmy Garrison

DC: Yeah. I think a lot of stuff’s exaggerated about Tristano, he’s just a very strong figure and had very strong views. There’s all these different personalities, like Konitz has his own way of doing things – I mean he’s fussy about comping. He sometimes criticised my comping. He’s a bit fussy about it but…and he’s finicky about some things and not finicky about others.

MS: Yeah, well he doesn’t seem to like comping generally.

DC: Yeah he likes playing with just bass and drums, fair enough, he’s entitled to it. I mean he told me he didn’t like Jimmy Raney’s comping, ‘it’s like playing with a play along record’ he said! I thought if Jimmy Raney can’t make it work what can I do?
Anyway, you take what you want from Tristano. You don’t have to take everything, just what you need. I don’t think he’s right about everything.

MS: It’s one method isn’t it. That whole thing it has been very useful for a lot of people, you know, the singing of the solos that way of transcribing, but some people don’t transcribe at all, they’re anti it….

DC: Yeah sure.

MS: and still go on to be…

DC: I mean some people told me Bobby Wellins never practiced with a metronome but he’s got fantastic time.  Some people you know, that’s it. Some people are born with it. I mean most of us have natural skills and areas we have to work on. Certain aspects of jazz I took to naturally and some other things I found really hard. In Newcastle I couldn’t understand a minor 7 flat 5 chord. For the life of me, I didn’t understand how that worked at all. Until somebody explained it was a locrian mode. Sometimes you’ve got to think that Aminor7b5 well you’ve got to think well Cminor6.

MS: Exactly. Didn’t Barry Harris say that....

DC: Yes he did.

MS: …..and that’s what they used to be?

DC: It’s just that all you’re changing is the root note, it’s not changing the rest of the chord at all, the root’s irrelevant. Say D11 is the same as Aminor7.

MS: Yeah.

DC: it’s exactly the same thing as far as your scale and vertically what you’re gonna play on your horn, just the bass player playing a D and an A it doesn’t make any difference, just makes a different sound.

MS: I wonder if quite a few of us had the problem with the minor7flat5 because I had the same issue as you.

DC: On the test pieces I show people. Two tunes, “Night and Day” because it has that same thing descending from the tri-tone like if you’re in C it’s F sharp minor7flat5, F minor7, E minor7, Eb diminished, D minor7, G7, and “Woody’n You” by Dizzy which has Gminor7flat5, C7 altered, F minor7flat5, Bb7, Eb minor7flat5 so you can’t get away with major scales there you’ve got to get those altered sounds, you’ve got to get that down otherwise you’re stuffed.

MS: And as you say, think of the half diminished chords as minor chords.

DC: Yes.

MS: E half diminished is Gminor6.

DC: Yes.

MS: And people do relate it, once you explain it. It took me years to realise that.

DC: Because I don’t think it comes naturally to hear a diminished triad (sings it). Whereas you hear a minor major triad. We know it more naturally (sings it). But a diminished triad (sings it). It’s a bit beyond… it doesn’t really come naturally to you. It is not in folk music you know.

MS: That’s interesting. Good point. Yeah.
So those are the two tunes you would use to test?

DC: Yeah they’re two good pieces to use the minor7flat5 thing on. Yeah.

MS: Yeah I’ve always thought “Woody’n You” is harder than “Giant Steps” from that perspective.

DC: Yes, right.

MS: Ok. Anything you want to add?

DC: I’ll think of something tomorrow but probably not at the moment... No that’s it I think.

MS: Thanks very much.

DC: Pleasure. Very self indulgent, but fun.