Joe Temperley and Wycliffe and everybody came to my house on 18th street to run over the music
This is from a 1989 concert that was aired on PBS under the banner of Live at Lincoln Center. It was called Ray Charles in Concert, A Classical Jazz Christmas with Wynton Marsalis.
We were just getting Jazz at Lincoln Center off of the ground and struggled through Duke and Billy Strayhorn’s Nutcracker Suite. One selection on the concert was ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. I arranged it for an album recorded earlier that year entitled Crescent City Christmas Card. Those arrangements were my first attempts to write for more than 4 horns. It was long before I knew J. Kelly, and I didn’t understand about the importance of music copying and being supremely organized on the page.
Joe Temperley and Wycliffe and everybody came to my house on 18th street to run over the music, and I hit them with my illegible hand copied parts complete with unregulated rehearsal letters and numbers……they wanted to faint. But they hung in there with and for me and many, many hours later, everything worked out.
New Orleans clarinetist Alvin Batiste was a special guest on this album. “Bat”, as we called him, was my father’s a contemporary and very close colleague (more akin to an uncle to me). He was famous for practicing all day and night. When we were growing up, Branford and I ran out the house as he walked up to the door. We knew he would say, “get y’all horns, man!” And you would be there literally 5 hours later with him and my father learning all sorts of exotic scales, complex songs and stuff, but always everything without a single note of written music. Funny for a man who was called “Mozart” as a teenager because he won a competition to play the Mozart Clarinet Concerto with the New Orleans Philharmonic in the 1950’s.
When we performed ‘Twas the Night, my reciting instructions were written in the same pop up picture book I would use whenever called upon to read at benefits or for kids at elementary schools. The actual book can be seen in a frame of this clip. I had written all of my cues in pencil and could barely see them under the concert lights.
This arrangement has an 8 note theme for the reindeer. Santa is the trombone. And a shifting of moods from a shuffle swing to ballad to New Orleans counterpoint swing is the playing field and the attitude. It uses a diversity of harmonies and progressions as well as Jelly Roll’s way of constructing longer forms with short transitions. We are joined on this video by the great Clark Terry who had not ever even rehearsed with us or heard this at all. I cajoled him backstage to play with us, and to my surprise, he said ok. And did.
As always, I was blessed to work with these great musicians and people, from youngsters I had met when they were in high school like Todd Williams, to my colleagues like Reginald Veal and Wess Anderson (who were college roommates at Southern University and watched us play on the 1984 Grammys and said they were going to play with me one day), to my big brother and genius drummer Herlin Riley who I had played with in Danny Barker’s Fairview Baptist Church Band in the early 70’s when he played trumpet and was 13 and I was 8, to “Bat” who was Wess’ teacher at Southern, to Clark Terry who had played with Basie and Ellington and was a legend beyond description who had encouraged me to play when I was a teenager in the 70’s, to Joe Temperley who was from a coal mining town in Scotland and carried soul around in his pocket. That was all a part of it. And that was all of it.
I felt fortunate at that time to be with these musicians in that moment, and I treasure them and those experiences even more as the years pass. They would regularly work far, far beyond the call of duty to create great music and extraordinary performances for our audiences. It was and is, a blessing.