I met the legendary jazz drummer, Bill Goodwin, in his hideaway home atop The Deer Head Inn, “one of the oldest continuously running jazz clubs in the country”. For the next enchanting hour, this most gracious and consummate musician, producer, educator and human being spoke so generously about his life in music and “the most American of Art forms” — Jazz.
LE: HOW DID YOU MAKE YOUR WAY TO STROUDSBURG, PENNSYLVANIA?
BG: Once I had started traveling and got to New York in ’63, I started developing a network of friends — a musical network, professional network. A lot of that carried over into friendships and dates and such that I’d done on the west coast as well. I started thinking, “Boy, it would be great to be in New York. The quality of what was going on really seemed to suit my temperament. I was very successful in Los Angeles and I grew up in L.A. but maybe you never want to be where you grow up.
I had met Gary Burton and his bassist, Steve Swallow. Steve and I had become very friendly. When they needed a drummer, they thought of me, called me up out of the clear blue sky and asked me if I would join the band. I said, “That would be great.” I came back and auditioned and they said, “You want to relocate to New York?” and I said, “Well, yeah.”
I already had a wife and a kid. I wasn’t going to just go without a gig. So I went and the family moved in the middle of ’69. I had a friend who had a place in Long Island City but he had a country place. His name was Bob Dorough. I worked with Bob in L.A. in the 60s and we had become very good friends right away. We got to work together, accompanying folk singer Chad Mitchell. Bob and I got really tight. If you know him at all, he’s just the greatest guy.
When I came to New York, of course Bob was one of the first people I looked up. He kept saying, “Come and visit us in Pennsylvania”. I knew Philadelphia because of work but I had no clue about the Poconos. Bob said, “Meet me at the corner of 50th and 7th avenue and follow me and we’ll drive out.”
It was the summer of 1969 and my wife and kid and I spent a weekend at Bob’s house in Mt. Bethel, PA. He still lives there in the same house. We were subletting places on the lower east side and we had friends in Brighton Beach we were staying with but we just loved it out here. And of course we loved Bob and his now late-wife, Corine. His daughter was exactly the same age as my daughter and they really hit it off. The next thing, we’re coming out on a regular basis.
My wife and I went off on a European tour and Lisa, my daughter, was in boarding school. We came back December of ’69 and we didn’t have a place in the city. We stayed at Bob’s house for a couple weeks. He knew these people that were leaving a house that they were renting. So we went and met them and met the landlord and we got the house. We moved in in January of 1970. The rent was $100 a month. It was 130 acres of land for a ten-room farmhouse in East Bangor. We stayed in that house for 15 years and then moved to Stroudsburg. We divorced, I married again, moved to New Jersey and now I’m back here.
I had places in New York — an office in midtown Manhattan that I shared where you could also sleep if you needed to — with a bunch of other drummers. I had friends, couches and extra bedrooms all over New York. It was a reciprocal thing. We had this farm house and people would come out and hang out with us all the time so we had a real thing going between New York and Pennsylvania.
LE: IT SEEMS SO MANY OF YOU GUYS ARE OUT HERE.
BG: Well, there was already a core. We had four working New York musicians: Bob Dorough, myself, Urbie Green and there was a big band bass player, named Russ Savakus.
Russ had become a studio musician and a contractor. I didn’t know him at all. I just happened to be driving around the new neighborhood and I saw this name on a mailbox. I said, “That’s an unusual name. That’s got to be the bass player.” And sure enough, it was this guy. I think Dorough finally introduced me to Russ. We became best friends with him and his wife and he started hiring me to do jingles and record dates in New York. I was working on the Schoolhouse Rock! series all through the early-70s. I’m the drummer on most of those spots. My kids think my claim to fame is I’m the drummer on numbers 2, 4, 5, 7, 9 11 and 12 multiplication segments.
Bob Dorough brought me here to The Deer Head for the first time. Do you remember the piano player named Johnny Coates, Jr.? He was the house piano player here for many years. One of the greatest piano players I ever heard. Bob is very funny. He said, “Let’s go hang out tonight, we’ll go get a beer. I know this bar they have a piano player.” I was like, “Well, yeah… I’ve been all over the world; I’m a sophisticated jazz musician, playing with the greatest people in the world. It’s cool, see a local guy…”.
So anyway, I walk in and we sit down and this guy started playing and I say, “Bob, you didn’t tell me he was like one of the best piano players in the world!” He is. He was and he is. He’s inactive now. Health reasons but he’s just a marvelous musician. So anyway, that’s it. Bob Dorough — the simple answer. It’s a complicated version of a simple answer.
LE: WHEN I THINK OF WHEN YOU CAME TO NEW YORK IN ’69, I THINK OF A ROMANTIC PERIOD IN JAZZ.
BG: To me the 50s and early 60s — between ’55 and ’65 was the greatest time. I just really developed the interest in jazz and in music and pursuing music as a profession and all these things were happening. You know all the great jazz players were still alive: Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, just many, many of the jazz greats that I admired were alive. There were really great newer, younger bands playing who were totally burning. Free jazz came on the scene with Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor, the Brazilians came to America and that strain came in. You could hear jazz on the radio all the time. Jazz hit records. Dave Brubeck had a hit record with “Take Five”, Stan Getz had a hit record with “Girl From Ipanema”, Ahmad Jamal had hits, Eddie Harris… It was just a great time. Everything was coming together. I was eighteen years old in 1960. That was the year John Coltrane started his great quartet so I got to witness that whole thing — the change in the music — got to see all of the great players who were around at the time and were touring all the time.
I tell my students now, we listen to these great records, players from the 50s and 60s and they say, “Oh, these guys sound so good. On every record they sound consistently great.” I say, “They were playing every night and then they were probably recording in the day. If they were off the road they were home in New York, they had a record date in the daytime and then they went and played some club for five hours that night. They were just playing all the time.” And I came up in that time when you just worked — I mean, I worked six, seven nights a week — many afternoons, just playing, playing all the time. Meeting people… that’s how I learned to play… Now I get to practice because I don’t have gigs every night!
LE: YOUR STUDENTS, THOSE YOUNGER MUSICIANS COMING UP NOW, THEY DON’T GET TO PLAY EVERY NIGHT. IT’S CHANGED. THE WHOLE SCENE HAS CHANGED. WHY DO YOU THINK THAT’S SO?
BG: Economics. Rents weren’t bad at that time and nothing paid that much but you could get a steak dinner at one of those places like Tad’s in Time Square for like a buck-seventy-five with a potato and salad, you know. I came to New York in ’63 with Milt (Trenier) and stayed at the President Hotel on 48 Street. It was approximately $30 a week to stay there. It was two or three blocks from BIRDLAND so I went over there every night. That cost $3 to get in. A beer was a dollar. I was making $175 bucks a week and I was still able to save money.
LE: SO WHAT ARE THE YOUNGER MUSICIANS GOING TO DO?
Mostly what they do is they form bands, you know, they organize their own tours and they bypass the old system which has pretty much crumbled. The old jazz infrastructure, you know, booking agents, European, Japanese markets. That’s all changed. You adjust with the times.
LE: HOW HAVE THINGS CHANGED IN EUROPE AND JAPAN?
When we worked with Phil’s group in the 70s and 80s, we were in Europe like four times a year. We would spend fifteen, twenty weeks a year touring Europe and then lots of work in the states. Japan once every two years, for sizable amounts of time. We were just working all the time. There were certain clubs and we were popular in those places so they kept having us back a couple times a year. A club in San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles and then Chicago of course. New York there were four or five different clubs we’d play regularly. When I first came to New York with Gary Burton we played one club ten weeks. It was the top of the Village Gate we had like a residency — it was great.
I think the promoters — especially in a lot of Europe — Spain, Italy, Portugal places like that — used to have lot of civic funding for concert series and they’d have big jazz festivals. They still have some but there are not as many. The ones that still exist maybe the musical taste is more in the avant-garde now. Especially the German festivals. Phil’s group really doesn’t fit into that. I’ve played with some avant-garde musicians and so there are opportunities to do things but I’m very selective in what I do. But I have friends who are younger people who are traveling all the time, booking their own tours. The last time I was in Japan I ran into guys I didn’t even know who were there at a little jazz club. All guys that I know or played with or I hung out with and they’re doing their own thing or they’re finding people to work with. The new people. And I guess our — when I say “our” I’m thinking of Phil’s group — situation of older musicians, I think you have to be much more involved in doing it yourself.
I know that I probably have about one-hundred-thousand people around the world that will support what I do. So all you have to do is try to be in touch with your people. It’s like political parties talk about appealing to the base. That’s what I want to do. Appeal to the people who would like what I do. Already like what I do. But I increasingly meet people now, young people, young musicians who say, “Oh, Bill, it’s so great to meet you. You know, my mom has all your records. My dad or my grandma used to love your stuff in the seventies.” But I think it’s great. It cracks me up. I mean it’s terrific. But I think about always being the youngest guy in every band. And now I’m not. Somebody’s grandma likes all my stuff.
LE: BUT THAT MEANS THEY’RE LISTENING TO IT, TOO. THEY’VE HEARD YOU.
BG: There are different outlets now. If you want to find jazz music, there’s a lot of it. I mean the whole recorded history is available on line and you can go hear stuff. I mean, I’ll turn on PANDORA and I’ll hear stuff that I even haven’t heard yet. Or I’ll hear stuff that I’ve forgotten or haven’t heard in a long time. And you know, I go on line and search stuff out. See something; think of something in the middle of the night. Go on my iPad and go to Amazon or iTunes and download it.
LE: HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT PANDORA AND OTHER COMMERCIAL MUSIC STREAMING SERVICES?
BG: I think it’s like radio. It’s advertising. I think they should work out a better mechanical royalty arrangement for the composers and stuff. I don’t think that they should be allowed to maintain these start up interest rates forever but meanwhile people can find your music or hear you play and can turn on the radio and hear you on PANDORA or SPOTIFY or better yet SIRIUS XM or jazz radio — mostly FM college radio — but there’s still hundreds, two or three hundred around the country.
LE: WHEN I THINK ABOUT THE ADVENT OF JAZZ AND GO BACK AND LISTEN TO THOSE RECORDS, IT’S MIND-BLOWING. THEY WERE MAKING THIS NEW MUSIC YET MOST DIDN’T HAVE A FORMAL MUSIC EDUCATION.
BG: Well, some were educated and some were educated on the street. But I came from a very privileged background and I was smart even when I was young and I could look around to see what I wanted to do. I met people and played and made myself available for that stuff. I don’t think it’s really that difficult. Pat Metheny did it. They drove everywhere and they played everywhere and he became a jazz superstar.
In the beginning of Phil Woods Quartet forty years ago, that’s what we did, too. We had a van. We drove most places. We didn’t drive to the west coast but we drove southwest. Spent a lot of time on the road and we played anywhere they could pay us a minimal amount of money and just kept it going. Eventually made some records and so you’re just establishing a reputation. Phil Woods was already a star but he was out of the country so he sort of made a come-back with us and it was really great. It’s been great for all of us.
We had DUKE ELLINGTON BAND with the guys in there for two, three decades. MODERN JAZZ QUARTET, people like that, decided to play together and make something happen. And that’s what we decided to do. And that came from me being here. I’m not a religious person but I do think there’s some sort of power in thought or intention. If you have the intention and the goal and you’re thinking about it then you can draw things to yourself. But you know, I made tens of thousands of phone calls, gone to a zillion gigs, met a lot of people. I played with a lot of people and I’ve been in a lot of places and I’m very sociable and I meet people. We form friendships, sometimes just working relationships or true friendships. So, I chose to really stay with it — to stay with one group for that amount of time. It’s an exceptional thing in jazz. You don’t have that kind of thing so much anymore.
LE: DO YOU THINK IT HELPS TO HAVE MORE JAZZ STUDIES PROGRAMS IN SCHOOLS AROUND THE COUNTRY?
BG: I teach at William Patterson University. A famous Jazz Studies Program. That’s where the kids make their networks and hone their craft. I’m a little concerned but it seems to me that I’ve had a lot of students over the last fifteen years that have been there and many of them are doing well. They’re playing well and some of them work day jobs to support themselves, others work full-time in music. They have related things that they do in music. I mean, I do other things besides play. I teach. I’ve been producing music, records for over thirty years. I’ve been working with Phil Woods for over forty years. We still work a couple of weeks a year. I put together my schedule. But I have a lot of time off. I’m seventy-two years old so I’m not really worried about making it in the biz. All my kids are grown up, I’m single, and I’m living in a jazz club, what could be better?
LE: ARE YOU CHILDREN MUSICIANS?
BILL: My son is a musician, entrepreneur, painter, graphic artist. Does a lot of different things. He’s currently working in the electronic dance music field. Composes. Puts his stuff up to listen to on the website of Gold Whistle which is the label. He works under the name of Max Klaw. He’s in Brooklyn and has a studio in New York.
The rest of my kids are all very musical but they don’t pursue it in anything other than amateur. They all like to sing along and play Beatles ROCK BAND. I’m terrible at that by the way. It’s a lot of fun. That’s our holiday thing. We all get together and it’s really funny. I usually try to play the bass part or the guitar part. The drums are too hard — I close my eyes when I play.
LE: DID YOU HAVE A FORMAL MUSIC EDUCATION?
No. I played in band and orchestra in junior high and high school. I played saxophone. I was playing in concert band and marching band but I was pretty bad. I mean, I knew what was good and it wasn’t me. I started playing drums in high school because I was fooling around with drums at home and I had piano lessons when I was a young kid and so I knew something about music and I could read music. I ended up asking to be put back in the drum section my last couple of years of high school because most of the drummers couldn’t read. I would go back and help them learn the parts and I liked it back there. If they needed me to play saxophone, then I would play saxophone. Otherwise, I’d be back in the drum section. Then I started doing gigs when I was about thirteen with my friends. It was 1955. We had a little band. We had about three songs. We played at youth centers, dances the early days of rock and roll so we had some simple little rock tunes and stuff that people could dance to.
LE: YOU HAVE THE SAME BIRTHDAY AS ELVIS PRESLEY.
BG: Yes, I do. I remember his first records when I was a kid. Rock and roll really started to happen when I was a kid and I saw that grow into the monster it’s become today. Those first rock and roll records were tremendous; Elvis’ records, but especially Little Richard and Chuck Berry and Fats Domino and then the blues artists. Fantastic stuff. Very exciting to be around when that was all happening. That’s what I mean it was all coming together at the end of the 50s. The beginning of the 60s. So that ten-year period from ’55 to ’65 — as far as my listening habits go — I could live with that pretty much.
LE: OF THE YOUNGER MUSICIANS, WHO DO YOU LIKE TO LISTEN TO?
BG: That’s a good question. Well, everybody’s younger than me so everybody sounds good. I mean, you know, there are a few people who are older than me. Phil Woods is older and Bob Dorough. I love the guys who are playing with me on here (“Raise Four” with Pat Bianchi, Adam Niewood and Chris Higgins). They’re all in their thirties and wonderful musicians. There are a ton of them. I like a trumpet player who actually has a house out here. His name is Keyon Harrold. A great trumpet player. His wife, Kat Rodriguez is a saxophonist with Beyoncé and they have a young child. They live out here and I see them occasionally and I’ve played with Keyon a couple of times. I think he sounds fantastic. A friend was telling me about a group called Neon Dreams that he said was very progressive. I might have to give them a listen.
And drummers — there’s so many wonderful young drummers — but I think one of my former students — a guy named Tyshawn Sorey — from Newark is tearing it up. He’s fantastic. Another of my former students, Mark Guiliana just put out a record with Brad Mehldau — a duet record. Marcus Gilmore is great. He’s Roy Haynes’ grandson. You know, there are a lot of them. But I don’t really define it by age because I’m on the bandstand with literally an eighteen year old and an eighty year old and we’re peers.
LE: I OFTEN THINK ABOUT THE GREATS. THEY WERE GREAT WHEN THEY WERE EIGHTEEN AND NINETEEN.
BG: Many were. It isn’t like a new phenomenon, you know. I tell my students, “You know, you sound really good. You’re like nineteen, right? You know, Tony Williams had the job with Miles Davis when he was sixteen.” Just — you know — just reality check.
LE: WHAT COURSES DO YOU TEACH?
BG: I teach drum set and ensemble. The program is an ensemble-based. There is a big band but it’s mostly small groups and all the instructors have at least one, some have two. I have one every semester and I have four or five lesson students.
LE: DO YOU PRACTICE EVERY DAY?
LE: All THE GREATS DO.
BG: Very few don’t, in my experience. The guys that I’ve known over the years who were the real masters have been big practice-people. And if they’re not practicing they’re listening or they’re thinking about music, listening to music, they’re writing music. They’re involved in music. I mean, it’s a 24-hour thing for me. I mean, it’s my life. I’ve decided on a life in music. But I do like to watch “Law and Order” re-runs and I practice on the practice pads.
LE: YOU’RE ALWAYS WORKING!
BG: I’ll be at BIRDLAND in November with Woods. I was just recording in Brooklyn last week — Sterling Place at Acoustic Studios.
What’s coming up is just school right now. Nothing ’til summer. I’ll go on the road for a week end with the GEORGE SHEARING TRIBUTE BAND. I was a member of George’s group. 1968, my last year in L.A., I spent mostly on the road with George Shearing. These are some of the surviving members of that time. Their regular drummer got sick. He’s even older than I am. So they enlisted me to play with them. I know all the music. I never forget music. 1968, though, it’s bit of a reach but I think it’ll be fine.
LE: AND YOU’RE HERE AT THE DEER HEAD EVERY THURSDAY. WHO ARE YOU PLAYING WITH TOMORROW NIGHT?
BG: It’s my regular quartet. Adam Niewood on saxophone, Adrian Mooring on bass and Bill Washer on guitar. We play a little mini-concert for an hour and then we have an open jazz session. It’s a lot of fun, a modern jazz, bebop, post-bop kind of session. That’s what most of the people that come in play. But you know we occasionally get all kinds of musicians, like really young, inexperienced or very old and different stylistic. We always find a way to get together and play. And it’s a great hang out. It’s one of my favorite days of the week.
THE BOVINE SOCIAL CLUB has played here, too. They’re sort a country-rock-folk band. Remember the band, THE BLUE SPARKS FROM HELL? Tim Carbone was the violinist. He lives here in Shawnee and he has his practice studio right across the street at The Castle Inn. There is a full recording studio there called, Mix-O-Lydian Recording Studios. Castle Inn is smoking. We’ve recorded over there sometimes. It’s getting better and better for me. I just keep sitting here and more things accrue.
LE: IT’S AMAZING WHAT’S HAPPENING IN THIS AREA WITH JAZZ MUSIC AND I STILL FEEL LIKE PEOPLE DON’T KNOW ABOUT IT.
BG: We’re hoping to change — We’re hoping to make it a better known jazz-related location. September is The COTA festival — 37 years now.
Jazz is not going to die because we get together and play. I mean guys come over to the apartment and we just play in here. And then go out and have dinner. Or somebody says, “I’ve got new music” and we go rehearse. We’ll get a little gig or we’ll play for the door or we’ll play for the tips. I won’t do that with everybody but certain people, if I want to play with them. There is other value besides the intrinsic value of the experience. It always leads to something more profitable somehow. Or you know, just in a financial sense.
I have everything I need as you can see. More than I need. There are four boxes of magnetic tape. That’s all Phil Woods stuff. Outtakes and stuff — that’s going to be all digitized. Eventually it will be like a big box. We did one of those twenty years ago for Mosaic Records. We did all outtakes. Things I collected over the 20 years with the band. And they put it out and it did quite well. Try to do something like that.
And we’re starting to release a new label based here at the Deer Head called, “Deer Head Records.” I’m the creative director of that. We’re releasing two CDs within April. Different things all recorded live usually on a Saturday night at The Deer Head. Live with an audience and very informal. We’re putting out a really nice product.
LE: SO YOU ACTUALLY HAVE STUFF RECORDED ALREADY?
BG: Like seven or eight things already in the can. We’re going to try to release every few months. A couple at a time. We have two recordings planned for this summer. One is going to be Bob Dorough because he’s not getting any younger and we want to do another record with him. I produced three of his records for other labels but it would be great to do one for this. And a young singer, Najwa Parkins, a local girl who recorded with the Phil Woods big band on her most recent recording — a wonderful talent. She’s graduated from Temple University and is pursuing a musical and acting career and we all really like her a lot.
The first two releases are Johnny Coates and Nancy Reed duet. Nancy’s great, she’s another local. And then there are the three guitars: Bucky Pizzarelli, Ed Laub, and Walt Bibinger. Yeah, we got all this stuff in the can. I started doing it on my own before — more than a year ago — and then I got the folks here really interested in the idea and then we just started going for it. We have an association with a label in Philly which is this label I’ve recorded for — Vector Disc Records. They’re like co-productions. And you know it doesn’t take a tremendous amount of money. It takes some money and a lot of patients, basically is what it takes. Sweat equity. And we’ll see what happens.
LE: I WOULD LOVE TO SEE MUSICIANS RECORDING SESSIONS MORE. I LISTEN TO ALL THOSE OLD SESSION RECORDS AND THEY WERE AMAZING. SO RAW AND REAL.
BG: I record most of my gigs with a little recorder not much bigger than yours. Hundreds of hours of stuff. I’m thinking of starting a little chamber recording series here in my living room. I play in here and it sounds really good. Want to set up a couple of mics and when people come over to play — start recording.
LE: THE GREAT STUFF HAPPENS THAT WAY AND LIKE YOU SAID YOUR FRIENDS COME OVER — PEOPLE WHO YOU WOULDN’T NECESSARILY PLAY OUT WITH ALL THE TIME — JUST PEOPLE HANGING OUT AND GETTING TOGETHER AND GREAT STUFF GETS HAPPENING.
BG: Exactly. Eventually we’re looking forward at some point in the future starting to do live streaming from here as well — you know — a la SMALLS. A lot of places are doing it now. JAZZ AT LINCOLN CENTER is doing it. I did one from the music store in Manhattan. It was a duet concert with saxophonist, Tim Price and me. They had a camera and a laptop and they were streaming all over the world. People were signing in from Europe, China… I don’t know why anybody would be upset with that. I think it’s so great, you know. To reach out like that… But the idea is to let THE DEER HEAD expand to the whole world.
LE: I AGREE. THE MUSIC HAS GOT TO GET OUT THERE. I KNOW A MUSICIAN WHO — EVERY TIME HE PUTS OUT A RECORD — PUTS IT UP ON HIS WEBSITE FOR ABOUT A MONTH AND SAYS, “If you really can’t afford to pay for it, take it, it’s free.” BECA– USE HIS WHOLE IDEA IS TO GET IT OUT THERE.
BG: See, I think that’s a new paradigm — business-wise. But it’s shifting. It’s kind of exciting. Times like this is when entrepreneurial things get started. I mean, I wasn’t planning to get back into the record business and this idea came up and it just seemed like this is too good not to get involved in. And I don’t have to leave the house.
LE: ARE YOU CONCERNED FOR…
BG: …the music?
LE: THE MUSIC TO LIVE ON.
BG: No. Not at all. Not at all. You know, Jazz musicians, people who love to play will play. They’ll play all kinds of music. You want to be a professional musician you’ll play any kind of gig. If it’s really horrible, you don’t have to do it more than once and if you have a creative side then you’ll write music. You’ll organize a band and rehearse it. You’ll find places to play. Brooklyn. Tons of musicians there. Quite a few of them, many of them are former students. I go out there and play sometimes with those guys. And there’s a different strata. The entry level people and people who are coming up — 25 to 35 and 35 to 45 — and then you get into the other category.
I don’t think the music’s ever going to die. I think it will keep transmuting. I mean, the whole fabric of American music comes out of blues and jazz. “Folk music” — to me — that’s indigenous. That transmuted from music that came over from Scotland and Ireland and that culture. Jazz is really an American invention and I think the most — to me — the most American of Art forms, even though it doesn’t get respect on a national level. The NEA has a Jazz Masters Program where they award a little cash and some awards to living jazz giants and that’s nice.
But you know, I look at it as I grew up in the golden age but now I think wherever I am, I think now is the golden age. It’s like that Carly Simon tune, “Anticipation is making me wait.” The tag line at the end is “THESE are the good old days.” Don’t be waiting around talking about the good old days. These are the good old days, so you know. Get up and make them.
Interview by Lisa Ellex