Following the August Rifftides piece about Hal McKusick, Marc Myers, aka Mr. JazzWax, sought out McKusick and is running a multi-part interview with the veteran reed man. The 83-year-old McKusick reminisces about a life in music from his debut as a teenager in the big bands to his teaching today. The gifted saxophonist, composer and arranger Al Cohn was among his colleagues.
Al and I worked in Elliot Lawrence’s band in the early 1950s. Al was the most unbelievable arranger. He could write anything and it would swing. He was tireless. He would play all day and write all night. I used to copy for Al. Working with him taught me so much about arranging and copying, which helped when I was copying for Johnny Mandel and Gil Evans.
We’d go all night at Al’s apartment in Brooklyn. You can’t believe what a thrill it was to write an arrangement, copy the band parts from the score, bring them into rehearsal the next day and hear great musicians play it perfectly on virtually the first run-through. That’s what kept you motivated–knowing what you were hearing in your head would be heard by many soon after you finished writing it up.
To read all five parts of Myers’ interview with McKusick, go here.