The June 17 item about Bill Perkins elicited this response from Gordon Sapsed in the UK.
Thank you – and to Steve Voce for the original interview. The piece today about Bill Perkins has got me starting my day revisiting Perk Plays Prez – and the CD will follow into the car with me when I go out later. I had forgotten that it is Jan Lundgren on piano – and that Jack Sheldon vocal! Rifftides is already influencing my life ….
Tell your friends. We want all the visitors we can round up.
The superb vibraharpist, jazz theoretician and teacher Charlie Shoemake e-mailed this reflection on Perkins.
Bill Perkins was a wonderful musician but a bit of a mystery to me.I’ve always thought that there were two ways to improvise.One, completely by ear and, two, by ear based on knowledge of chord changes.If you were to transcribe any solos of Sonny Stitt, Hank Mobley, Dexter Gordon, Harold Land, Sonny Rollins, Tubby Hayes, Joe Henderson, (and many others coming from Charlie Parker’s concept) you would be able to easily ascertain the chord changes of the song from their melodic lines because that’s where they’re drawing them from. With other players like Zoot Sims, Art Pepper, Paul
Desmond, and Bill you couldn’t. In an earlier time think of the difference between Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw or Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins.
It’s not that one way is infinitely better (though I myself always tended toward more admiration for the harmonically knowledgeable guys), they’re just two different approaches. The mystery for me with Bill’s playing was that I always assumed that because of his style that he didn’t know anything about chord changes, but in speaking with the fine pianist Frank Stazzeri awhile back (Frank worked and recorded with Bill extensively) he said that wasn’t the case at all. He said that he too felt as I did at first but as he got to know and work with him more he realized that in actuality Bill knew EVERTHING about the changes of the songs he played.He just heard his melodic lines in a different way. This was really surprising to me because, as you mentioned in your piece, he started out coming from a Lester Young base and finished more in the style of Wayne Shorter (both of whom put very little stock on improvising off of specific chords). Straz also said that Bill’s playing (and personality as well) always had some hidden hint of mystery, which I certainly agree with.
Charlie and his wife, the fine singer Sandi Shoemake, left the wrangle that L.A. has become and moved up the coast to Cambria. They run a series of concerts at a restaurant called the Hamlet, with name players as guests. It has become a Central Coast attraction, I once wrote, second only to the Hearst Castle. Details here.