Kaye Berigan wanted to play the trumpet as long as he is able to remember. Originally from Fox Lake, Wisconsin, his persistence paid off after young Kaye’s family relocated to Milwaukee. Finally, at age 11,his mother agreed to allow Kaye to take lessons, and he hasn’t been able to put the instrument down since then! Kaye has gone on to enjoy a 50+ year career as a mainstay on the local music scene.
Kaye graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, then attended the Naval School of Music. Following graduation, he served his country with the 28 pc. Army band, in Italy. Sixteen months passed, and on return to the states, Kaye began a teaching stint in the Milwaukee Public Schools as a band and ensemble teacher. He was also in demand for private trumpet lessons, accepting students at the Wisconsin Conservatory and in his private studio.
Recognized for his versatility, Kaye has seemingly done it all: he’s played in pit orchestras, dance bands, with duos, trios, quartets and is a familiar face on the bandstand, with Milwaukee’s acclaimed 16 pc. All-Star SUPERband big band. He most recently can be seen with his jazz 4Tet at Ally’s Bistro in Menomonee Falls on the first Friday’s of the month.
Kaye has backed numerous local and nationally known musicians; locally, the names Ziggy Milonzi and Tommy Sheridan represent steady gigs lasting 17 and 19 years, respectively. He’s also been chosen to play with Bob Hope, Henny Youngman, Fabian, Frankie Avalon, Della Reese, Vic Damone, and Mel Torme, when they appeared in Milwaukee. One of his fondest memories is being featured as a soloist with Woody Herman and his Thundering Herd.
Kaye can be heard on numerous recordings, but his most recent CD “From the Curve” (2005, Mobius Trip Rec.) features Kaye on all tracks, collaborating with fellow musician Steve Lewandowski. The CD has received rave reviews, including some national attention.
In 2005, Kaye Berigan was named the WAMI (Wisconsin Area Music Industry) Reeds/Brass Player of the Year. In keeping with the ever-growing demand for his talents, he was honored as the Traditional Jazz Artist of the Year in 2006. He is working on several next projects, including a DVD of live performance and new musical collaborations. Kaye is frequently called upon to do Jazz Clinics at high schools and universities.
JB: So, where was your start in music, where did you grow up, where did you go to school?
KB: I grew up in Milwaukee mostly, and I started playing trumpet at the age of 11. There was a grade school band that was… nothing.
JB: Yeah. MPS?
KB: No, this was Saint Peter and Paul’s ahhh grade school.
JB: Parochial school.
KB: Yeah. And then I went to Riverside High School. There was no jazz band there.
JB: Ok. When was this? What year was this?
KB: Ah, ‘51…
JB: This is high school?
KB: And, there was an accordion player at the church who was playing for dances, and we had a saxophone player and myself… and something called combo Orks books, there was a melody, a harmony, and a counter melody.
JB: How do you spell that?
KB: Combo O-R-K-S. And he would yell out trumpet, saxophone, we would switch around on those parts. There was no jazz band in high school, there was no jazz band in college… and…
JB: Where was college?
KB: So, in high school I was always trying to improvise and there was a kid that formed a big band in his basement, and we would play on the south side at social centers on Fridays for five dollars, minus thirty-three cents for social security. *laughs At one point, now this was eventually I got a call from another trombone player…
JB: This is high school?
KB: Yeah, we were in high school… to play in another big band. These are just thrown together and you go out and play. We were playing at a church on the east side, and he said ok… and the saxophone player found out about it, and he said, well you’re in our band you can’t be in another band… and I said well, we don’t have a gig that night, and he said “Well, what if we did?”. So I became the first freelance trumpet player, I think by doing that. *laughs I got fired from that band. But, in college I was playing in, ah, local big bands that were thrown together. There was a Phi Mu Alpha big band that would play at the student union. I didn’t belong to the fraternity because I had no money, and I would go and hang out and one of the trumpet players would go dance with his girlfriend and I’d play the rest of the night.
JB: So, you mentioned the social centers, what was that like kind of a community center?
KB: Friday nights at various schools, in the basement… and bands like our little stupid big band playing the old swing charts…
JB: Like Glenn Miller…
KB: Yeah, yeah…
JB: Dorsey Brothers, kind of a thing…
KB: Yeah, all that stuff.
KB: So, I was always practicing improvisation. When I was in college, there was one year where I was practicing 6 to 8 hours a day besides going to school. Just improvisation.
JB: Were you doing music education? or performance?
KB: Yeah, music education. And ah… a trombone player friend of mine said there are jam sessions at a place called The Lounge on Walnut Street.
JB: The Lounge.
KB: Yeah. Now, you had something that… on Facebook that said Harris Lounge, so maybe that was it. Because it was around 8th and Walnut.
JB: In talking to Manty, that was where all the clubs were.
JB: That whole… what they call Bronzeville.
JB: Which is interesting because, I asked…
KB: It wasn’t called that then.
JB: Exactly! I brought it up to him, I said what is this, can you tell me about Bronzeville? He said, I don’t know anything about Bronzeville. We didn’t call it that.
KB: That was later.
JB: That was later, yeah.
KB: So, we went to the “Blue Monday” session, two o’clock on a Monday.
JB: I saw that on one of the… the little ads. Blue Monday sessions.
KB: Yeah. We were very timid and we didn’t know what to do. And, ah, finally we were… the announcement was made, if there are any musicians in the club, would they please come up to the bandstand. So we went up, the trombone player and myself. And, the trumpet player was Billy Howell and he said, we play every night, come back any time you want. So I went 6 to 7 times a week for a year. I was always there.
JB: What was the club? This was The Lounge?
KB: The Lounge.
KB: Then there were other clubs around… ah… after the trumpet player left for New York the piano player would never let me sit in, so there was another one called The Basin Street on 3rd and Vliet. Apparently Rashaan Roland Kirk played there, there were a lot of locals. All of these names… a good friend of mine Bill Schaefgen would know…
KB: No, trombone player.
KB: We had a band called “What on Earth”, which was an outside band, a lot of originals but also played standards.
JB: So, by now, this is 60’s?
KB: Yes. So, we were all freelancing always, taking anything we could get, which was often nothing. So, ah… There was another place on Juneau and 7th, the name of which escapes me, but I think that’s where I first ran across Berkeley. There’d be a whole line up of horns waiting to play, which went on forever.
JB: Jam session, or?
KB: Yeah, yeah. And then I sat in with Bunky Green at the Celebrity Club on 12th near Vliet. That’s where I met the bassist Lee Burroughs. We worked together a lot for many years. There was a place a block east called The White Horse, which was a gay bar, but we would play jazz gigs there. Tenor player by the name of Ronnie Wirth, who ah… and I’m trying to think of what Danny’s last name was, black tenor player that moved to Chicago, that was around all the time. Ah, anyway… college, again, no jazz band. I first met Lee Cowan in college.
JB: Piano player.
KB: Yeah, he and I would play, ah, sometimes we would get gigs at The Estate. I got drafted, I was sent to the Naval School of Music, where I learned what is a whole note and what is a quarter rest.
JB: Tell me about that a little bit, where did… what was that like? Where did you get sent? Did you go through basic training and all that?
KB: I went to Fort Knox. And then I wanted to get into the band there because I didn’t want to be in the army and I was newly married and I wanted to be near my wife and they kept sending me further and further away. So, I got sent to the Naval School of Music, and I could not leave the work post except for the weekends. And at one time the barrack sergeant pulled my pass for four weekends in a row, so finally I went off on my own out the back gate. My wife was living in town, working. Ah… there was a good jazz band there. But again, theory lessons were “what is a whole note, what is a quarter…”
JB: Is this after college?
KB: Oh yeah. I had a degree by then.
JB: So you finished school…
KB: Then got drafted.
JB: What year would this have been?
KB: I finished school in the winter of ‘62.
KB: … and I got drafted in June of ‘62.
JB: So this is pre-Vietnam.
KB: Oh yeah, but there were guys that I was in with that were being sent…
JB: Just starting…
KB: … to near Vietnam.
JB: So were you in the Naval Band?
JB: Oh, I thought you said Navy.
KB: Naval School of Music.
JB: Ok, gotcha. So you were in the army, but it was the Naval School of Music.
JB: What was it, like, theory classes?
KB: Yeah, trumpet lessons, ah… big band, ah… it was largely a waste of time.
JB: It was a waste of time?
KB: Oh yeah, yeah… I said, I have a degree in music, I’d like to take something like counterpoint, arranging… or something
JB: Yeah, something more advanced.
KB: … and they said you are a draftee, you have to take basic theory lessons, when you finish that, then come back. So, I was doing all the assignments and turning them in and at one point… and then skipping ahead to the next week, and the next week. And finally I got a Navy guy, and I said, you know, he didn’t know what to do with me, so he gave me a test and I thought, oh he understands me. I took the test, gave it back and the next day I said, well… He said I just gave that to you because I didn’t know what to do with you. So I said…
JB: Busy work.
KB: Yeah, so I sat there for a week and did nothing and then finally I got tired of that so I finally got out and I went back to the first guy and I said, arranging, counterpoint? all that, and he said no you are a draftee, you have to have so many weeks of theory and you’ve had it and that’s all. Then I graduated from that, and that would have been maybe February of ‘63 and I got sent to a 28-piece band in Italy.
JB: But through the military?
KB: Yeah, the army band. 28-piece.
JB: Orchestra? Wind Ensemble? Big Band?
KB: No, a lot of, ah, spit and polish, blue uniform, parades… um, I hated it.
JB: Marching, kind of? Concert stuff?
KB: Oh yes, spit and polish honor guard stuff. Things in various Italian villages where we would do blood donor parades, we would march people to church and then march them back to the blood donor spot, and then get fed a lot of wine and food.
JB: Sounds pretty good!
KB: Well, then every four of five weeks we’d have to put on a steel pot and have guard duty with a rifle with no bullets and four hours on eight hours off… and then I got out of there. I went through New York, I had friends who were trying to make it in New York, Bill Schaefgen was one… ah… Tom Marik was a tenor player who was very good. Dave Sherwood was an alto player, sounded just like Lee Konitz. I had no money, I had $100.. and I looked around and Sonny Rollins was out of work, so I said, I can be out of work in Milwaukee rather than New York. So I went home, I came home.
JB: But you stayed in New York for a little while?
KB: I was there for like ten days.
JB: Oh ok, for just a bit.
KB: I was staying on people’s couches and my wife and I, we stayed on their kitchen floor.
JB: So back from Italy…
JB: New York for a minute… and then back to Milwaukee.
KB: My wife got a job as a dental assistant, and was earning money and I was hoping for the phone to ring and there was nothing going on, so I decided I need to bring in some money so I started substitute teaching in schools… which I did the half year after college, between college and the Army.
JB: Subbed a little bit… and that was in MPS?
KB: Yes… and then I did it for a year after the Army. I was working a resort gig in Lake Elkhart for the summer… ah, tenor, trumpet, piano, and drums. The drummer was the band leader and he couldn’t read music. We’re playing three act shows, and he was trying to memorize it, so… ah $100 a week was a lot of money.
JB: What kind of music was that like?
KB: Oh it was…
JB: Standards? Or?
KB: First of all, we would play cocktail hour in the bar. Yeah, standards, but a lot of them I didn’t know so my repertoire picked up.
JB: You learned from doing it that way, yeah.
KB: Yeah, and then we would play a dance set, and then we would play three acts.
JB: Is this mid-sixties by now?
KB: And I did that on and off for three summers.
JB: While subbing in MPS during the school year.
KB: Well, for one year, then I got a full-time job.
KB: And, ah… I was at Lincoln Junior High.
JB: It was a high school first, right?
KB: Yeah. Awful. 60 faculty members, 20 of us were brand new teachers. I was going to quit after my first year. I said, ok give it another year and I worked this much harder (spreads hands apart) and it got that much better (spreads fingers apart), after the second year… and so I said, I’m quitting I’m not coming back, I’m gone. And, ah, at the end of that second year, out of the twenty new teachers, one was left, the rest had all disappeared… and he quit teaching the next semester. It was that bad. I came home from my night off from that Lake Elkhart gig and there is a postcard on the table that said report to John Burroughs Junior High School, and I didn’t know what that was. So I went there and was part of a wonderful feeder system, great school Junior High through High School. I had a concert band that rivaled some of the high school bands in the city.
JB: At the Junior High.
KB: Yeah. We played class B music and when I had left nine years later, the guy who took my place looked through the music and said we can’t play this, and that was what we had been playing. I was sending 60 kids every year over to the high school.
JB: Man, amazing.
KB: A full band.
JB: So what was the feeder system? What High School were they going to?
KB: Ah, James Madison and that’s where I ended up and I was there nine years. Now the gigs I was playing, I was freelancing… so I got hooked up with two wonderful pianists, Tommy Sheridan and Ziggy Milonzi.
JB: Ziggy Milonzi, I have heard of him, yeah.
KB: Ah… these guys had gigs, mostly in the downtown hotels and the North Shore country clubs. I was working, eventually between 90 and 120 gigs a year, freelancing. Some would be big bands, whoever would make the phone ring would go on the calendar. If somebody else called with a better gig I didn’t take it because you had…
JB: Steady work, yeah.
KB: I worked the circus, I worked the circus parade, ah… shows, the folk fair, a show at the PAC, big band things, duos, combos…
JB: You were doing all kinds of stuff.
JB: You name it.
KB: Yeah. Whoever called me, I would do it. I played duos with pianists or guitar players, I played jazz clubs, I played country clubs. The jazz clubs were more jazz-like, the country clubs were more formal. Steve Swedish was the guy that booked everybody in town, until he died… then he stopped.
JB: I haven’t heard that name before. What was his story?
KB: Oh, he booked everything from solo organists for a wedding…
JB: Was he like an agency?
KB: Agency, and he would front the big bands, and so on.
JB: Ok. Steve Swedish?
KB: Swedish, yeah. And, ah, so then some other people took his place, for example when Ziggy Milonzi died, his big band was still there. Ron DeVillers, Jack Carr took it over, were leading it, they bought the book.
JB: So it started as Milonzi’s band…
JB: Because I saw an interesting video that Hary Kozlowski sent to me…
KB: Ok, he was in it. Oh! That was after Ziggy died… Ron DeVillers had us on channel 10.
KB: The band didn’t sound too bad.
JB: It was a really nice band. It was DeMiles on piano, I think Curt Hanrahan was playing in the sax section…
KB: John Kirchberger, um…
JB: Kozlowski, obviously on trombone… yourself on trumpet, DeVillers on trumpet, was Betz in that? Mike Betz?
KB: Betz was in there, yup. Jack Granatella. Tom Newberg was in the sax section, that’s who I was trying to think of. Larry Miller was the bari player…
JB: Welland on bass, probably?
KB: Welland on bass, Jack Carr on drums. There were different alto leads. It could have been Tim Bell, ah but there was a different guy on that TV show. I’m not coming up with his name.
JB: But that group worked a lot?
KB: We played at Garibaldi’s once a week.
JB: That’s not the same place in Bay View?
KB: It was a little tiny place…
JB: Different place.
KB: No in Bay View. It was at the end of the expressway at that time. The expressway leg stopped there, now it is further south.
JB: Ok. Can you remember what street that was? Because there is a place in Bay View now called Garibaldi’s. I wonder if it is the same place.
KB: It’s on… maybe the name will come to me.
JB: Because the Cactus Club is right across the street and that’s been there a long time too. They are both still there and both still doing things.
KB: Meanwhile, I was doing things like playing at The Estate, ah.. Chuck…
JB: When did that start?
KB: Chuck had it back then, well that would have been in the 60’s.
JB: So the Estate started in the 60’s? Was it always a jazz club back then?
JB: As long as you can remember it had been a jazz club. Into the 60’s though?
KB: And then after Chuck…
JB: Chuck who?
KB: I never did know his last name.
JB: But he owned the place?
KB: He either played gigs there, or he let me sit in and give me free drinks. I could sit in. Then Sal Monreal bought it and he would play drums.
JB: Yes, see that’s…
KB: He would play drums.
JB: I’ve got some photos of, I think, Sal Monreal playing drums with Rich Kremer on bass and Hattush Alexander on tenor and Foshager on piano. There is one photo I have of that, I don’t know what year it’s from, but that was Monreal. Was that a little bit later, then? When Monreal owned it?
KB: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah… that would have been switching into the 70’s.
JB: Ok, ok.
KB: In fact, there was a club, Monreal’s, on East North Avenue, where the previous library used to be. Ziggy got a booking in there… and we played George Welland and Jack Carr and myself, and Ziggy.
JB: It was called Monreal’s?
KB: Yeah. And then he got Berkeley and Manty in there
JB: Ok. He must have… when I started coming on the scene a little bit in the late 90’s I think, I want to say he owned Caroline’s? What is Caroline’s? No?
KB: I think he did and I think Caroline was leasing it from him.
JB: But it might have been called Monreal’s.
KB: I always remembered it as Caroline’s. What happened was, there was a club on 3rd Street, Old World 3rd Street called Buck Bradley’s.
JB: Yes, I know that place.
KB: And Manty played there and I used to go down there to sit in. Manty introduced me to Carol and Paul. He hired me to play a gig with Manty, across the street from Caroline’s.
JB: How long ago was this? I mean, this is jumping ahead a little bit.
KB: They must be in business 16 years.
KB: So it was before that.
JB: So 90’s then.
KB: So I played the gig, and I told Steve Lewandowski I’m here, Manty is here, why don’t you bring your axe and come down and he sat in and then, ah… Paul started using Steve. But originally he was using Bill Martin. So I worked with Paul probably the first maybe 13 months, 5 to 8 times a month. Meanwhile, I’m still freelancing, but the work had kind of diminished. I was playing in the All-Star Super Band from the beginning.
JB: That moved around a lot… was the first?
KB: Started at Jimmy D’s, on 58th or so and Blue Mound.
JB: Long Wong’s?
KB: Then it was in Long Wong’s.
JB: That was the second place?
KB: No, I think the second place was the Irish bar on 60th and Bluemound, and then Long Wong’s. And we played at Caroline’s briefly, and then Monreal’s on Bluemound and…
JB: So another Monreal’s? Was it the same guy?
KB: I don’t think so.
JB: No. Different guy.
KB: I think so.
JB: Oh, I know where that is. I think its a Mexican restaurant now, La Fuente.
KB: Yeah. They took a music venue and changed… it was a Mexican restaurant on the corner and a music venue next to it. They turned the whole thing into a Mexican restaurant. Just what we need more of.
KB: And again, meanwhile, I’m working with guys like Bill Sargent and playing big band, but the work is starting to dry up.
JB: Diminish. You are playing at Ally’s Bistro a lot. You have a regular gig there.
KB: One night a month. They have music every Friday.
JB: They rotate it. Ok.
KB: I was in a band called Laverne, which morphed into a band called What on Earth. That was in the 60’s and probably went into the 80’s.
JB: Who was all in that band?
KB: We would play at the Jazz Gallery. Leigh Cowan was the pianist, Bill Schaefgen was the trombone player and kind of the inspiration for it. After Laverne, it became What on Earth and it was Bill and Jack Grassel on guitar, Leigh Cowen on piano, different bass players, maybe Hal Miller, different drummers maybe Dave Ruetz, and then at one point Jack asked if I wanted to be in it, and I did because it was a lot of free improvisation…
JB: Kind of progressive.
KB: Yeah, and sometimes just standards, and sometimes originals. So I learned a lot from being in it.
JB: That group worked at the Gallery…
KB: The Jazz Gallery mostly. So all of these things overlap… commercial work, club stuff, duos, big bands…
JB: A little bit of everything.
KB: Yeah. Somewhere around 2001, maybe? I was in a musical called The Sideman, in fact, he recorded the trio for us. I was the only live performer. There were 24 performances.
JB: Was that at The Rep?
KB: It used to be down on St. Paul and Water, the big white building there. Now they moved further south into their own building and I’m not sure what the name of it is anymore. I’d have to look it up.
KB: No, it wasn’t the Skylight.
JB: I am interested in hearing a little bit about how you got into jazz because I have always really been drawn to your playing, just as a listener and a trumpet player. I think we have, probably, I’m just guessing, some similar influences in Miles Davis and Chet Baker, in that I hear a lot of just really melodic kind of playing, and really inventive and creative kind of playing.
KB: Coming from you, that’s a tremendous compliment.
JB: Well, it’s true, and I am curious were some of your first influences as trumpet players, I guess?
KB: At home and college I was practicing improvising. Somebody once… I was warming up for the Elk’s youth band and I caught this guy out of the corner of my eye listening to me. He said, you sound just like Miles Davis.
JB: This is high school?
KB: No, this is college… and I had never heard Miles Davis.
KB: And once again, I have had this background…
JB: No jazz band in either high school or college…
KB: Right, no teachers. Playing at The Lounge 6 to 7 times a week was big. That was my school. So anyway, I had never heard Miles Davis. So I went to the record store on 3rd, south of North Ave and I’m paging through…
JB: What was the name of the record store?
KB: Ah… I want to say LoDuca’s. Those days…
JB: Is that related to Andy? His family?
KB: Probably. In those days you could play a record and put it back in the bin.
JB: Listen to it before you bought it.
KB: Yeah. So I’m paging through, I scraped up five dollars because I had no money… and I find Miles Ahead. Miles Davis with Gil Evans… and I thought, well, big bands, I like big bands. So…
JB: Totally different…
KB: Yeah, so I listen and I fell in love with Miles Davis and Gil Evans. And that really influenced me. I would play along with that record over and over.
JB: Up to that point, what were you listening to? Before you heard Miles Davis…
KB: Not much.
JB: You were just playing the trumpet. On your own. Improvising just kind of, whatever. Whatever came into your head.
KB: I think Billy Howell influenced me. Billy played a lot of bebop.
JB: Who was that?
KB: Billy Howell, the trumpet player at The Lounge.
JB: A local guy?
KB: Played a lot of bebop.
JB: Did he tell you stuff to check out?
JB: He just let you play.
KB: Yeah. And if I played something decent once in awhile he’d say “Yeah!”. So, if you got a “yeah”, you did something right. I had like a composite of licks, like I could play lick number 14 and then lick number 102.
JB: This is stuff you heard from Billy though…
JB: Or stuff that you had worked out.
KB: Yeah. Then after the Miles thing, I heard Art Blakey with Lee Morgan and that was an influence. Then I decided I had to drop all of that and become more inventive.
KB: But I took from that and built on it.
JB: So Miles and Lee Morgan. Was Chet Baker ever somebody that you checked out much?
KB: Not too much, although I liked him. Lee Konitz and Bill Evans became influences.
JB: That makes sense because Lee Konitz is such a melodic player and creative. His whole thing is like playing around the melody, and embellishing the melody, and…
KB: The technique.
JB: Right. Cool.
KB: So, those were my influences and then I kind of had none. I mean, I listened to everybody.
JB: Did you ever have a jazz teacher? Per se?
JB: Yeah. But you learned theory in college.
KB: I learned theory in high school, and when I got to college I knew what they were trying to teach me. I already had that. My downfall was keyboard.
JB: You took like a high school theory class.
KB: Three semesters.
JB: Oh, so that’s pretty extensive!
KB: Yeah, it was a tiny group. I took it. I learned a lot.
KB: My basic approach, harmonically, was knowing that I could play in the key for a while and then something happened and I was in a different key for a while. And then I learned about two-five-ones.
JB: How did you learn about that?
KB: I think I would just ask different people.
KB: I remember there was a chord change in “All the Things You Are” that bewildered me. I turned to the pianist and I said what is the chord there… and he told me… and I said oh, ok.
JB: I had a similiar experience, and I think we had a similar path, in that I didn’t really have a jazz teacher myself either until college. I had one lesson with Mike Plog. We were playing a blues in the lesson, and then we hit the ninth bar, the two chord and I didn’t know… I wasn’t doing that at all. And he was like, oh, you need to play a two-five-one there… and he’s like here are a couple things you can play over that.
JB: And that was like the first time I ever even thought about a two-five-one. I wasn’t thinking about it. That’s interesting, so you had somebody that said, oh, no that’s a two-five…
KB: Basically I was playing in terms of major keys, minor keys… and I could be in the key for a while and then something would change and I’d be in a different key. But my ear really developed, especially playing with Billy Howell at The Lounge. I just had to listen like crazy.
JB: Can you remember any of the other musicians that were playing at The Lounge back then?
KB: Bill Schaefgen will know everybody. Doug somebody was the tenor player. Jimmy somebody or other was the pianist. But, I mean, I ran across so many people, Jimmy Johnson and Jack Rice were bass players…
JB: Jimmy Johnson I heard about from Manty also, the bassist.
KB: Rudy Moroder, in fact, used to hire those guys. Everett Clark was a pianist who played guitar. Once in awhile I’d run across these guys at some of these clubs. Joe Delosh was a drummer.
JB: Say the name again?
KB: Joe Delosh.
JB: Oh yeah! That just came up again because I had posted something about that guy.
JB: The Velvet Room… he used to hang out at the Velvet Room when I started playing in there, he would always be there.
John Price: Me too. That’s right.
JB: But he would always sit in on drums.
JP: Every time.
KB: He was quite a character.
JB: Someone said he went to Alaska.
KB: Yeah? He used to play with Les Czimber at The Driftwood, which was across from WTMJ.
JB: Oh , ok. On Capital?
KB: Yeah. Les Czimber was a Hungarian refugee. I heard he went to Arizona. Joe Delosh would play drums. Al Jarreau used to come in and sit in.
JB: No way. So this is before he left here.
KB: I would come in and play, sit in.
JB: Was Al on the gig? Or he would just come and sit in?
KB: He would come and sit in.
JB: This is the Driftwood?
KB: Yeah. Maybe George Welland was the bass player… maybe not. Who remembers bass players, right?
JB: So, what was Al sounding like back then?
KB: Oh, the same. Always the same.
JB: Singing standards though back then?
KB: Yeah. Again, all these things overlap.
JB: So you knew Al, before he got kind of famous.
KB: Yeah, in fact, I worked a big band gig with a trombone player that had that band. Nick Contorno and the trombone player had a band… And I’m playing in the band…
KB: Chuck Dreyfus. He went to school with me. High school.
JB: Is this guy alive still? Is he still around?
KB: No. And we’re playing in Ripon College and Al Jarreau has a group down in the basement, a vocal group. Acapella… and he comes up and he sees me. He probably didn’t know my name, he said “Hey, trumpet man!”.
KB: Oh yeah.
JB: That’s crazy. So when was that? That was college?
KB: College time.
JB: So late 50’s?
KB: Yeah, late 50’s maybe ‘60.
KB: Well, down across from the Pabst is an alley called, Tunnel…
JB: Tunnel Inn…
KB: Tunnel Inn on Front St.
JB: I found a flyer of Dick Ruedebusch.
KB: Across the alley was The Elbow Room, and guys like Scat Johnson would play there. And so, I’d go down and sit in with one or the other.
JB: But, was it kind of racially divided though?
KB: Yeah, it was mostly black guys in The Elbow Room and…
JB: White guys at the Tunnel Inn.
KB: Yeah. The Tunnel Inn was Dick Ruedebusch… Again, any place that was a place to sit in, I would show up, because I wanted to play. This place called Mr. Ricky’s on Burleigh, on the east side of whatever cemetery that is. They would play on Sunday afternoons. Bob Knudson was a wonderful trombonist. Vince Patter was a saxophone player. Dick Elliot played guitar.
JB: Yeah, he’s around still.
KB: Before he went to Vegas. Don Kiel was a drummer. Ah, I don’t remember the bass player. Oh, it was Wally Gerasimov. Wally Geras was, ah, also a Hungarian refugee came along with Les Czimber.
JB: Let me give you something… The Brass Rail.
KB: I never worked there. There were some guys that worked the strip club there. There was a place further south and it was mafia run, and I would sub for Kenny Danish on a Monday, there was nobody in the place, and I kept wondering, how can they… well, it was a mafia club.
JB: So, The Brass Rail was a place that…
KB: I caught the Jazztet there, Addison and Art Farmer. But it was mostly known as a strip club.
JB: It was a strip club? At the same time that it was a jazz club?
KB: Kinda, yeah.
JB: Because that was the place, Izzy Pogrob was the owner, Isadore Pogrob. It’s a famous murder. He ran the place. Was it that there was a music part of it and a strip club part?
KB: No, it was all overlapped. I caught Woody Herman’s band… The place was so small, they played behind the bar all standing in a straight row.
JB: Just one long line.
KB: Yeah, I don’t know how anybody could hear anybody.
(Greg Marcus, John Price, Mark Davis join the conversation)
KB: There was a jazz bar below the front entrance…
GM: There was one called The Columns many years ago, that’s where Al Jarreau played.
KB: Oh, The Columns was on the south side. It was part of a country club, I think.
GM: Well, there was a place here called The Columns.
KB: Yeah, Chuck Hedges had… what’s the hotel now, it was the Sheraton on 5th and Wisconsin? What’s it called.
GM: Now it’s the Hilton.
GM: It was the Marc Plaza in between.
KB: Chuck Hedges had a band there and I think Buddy Montgomery played there.
GM: Buddy Montgomery played at the Bombay Bicycle Club there, forever.
JB: That’s what is the Hilton now, was the Bombay Bicycle Club.
KB: Chuck had a place, just when you went in the entrance, bam, there it was. And he did a week tour in Europe and had me sub for him.
JB: Oh, nice.
KB: Yeah, it was nice. I used to play with Chuck at the Red Mill.
KB: Oh, yeah yeah.
JP: Yeah, I did that a few times with him.
KB: Um, Christopher’s on 3rd.
KB: In fact, a friend of mine sent me a collage of all the musicians, double page, that played at Christopher’s. Christopher had me… In order to get the gig I had to show up, I don’t know what week night it was… and help run the jam session. And there would be a lot of high school kids there, which was nice.
JB: Yeah, the next generation…
KB: But they’d be sitting there with their horns on their laps and wouldn’t move. So I took it upon myself to go and encourage them. And I’d walk up and I’d say look, I know you want to play, they are up there playing… what you need to do is get up, walk on the stage, if you have a tune in mind that you’d like to do, call it, otherwise try to play what they are playing… and they’d move. Because that initial paralysis is awful.
JB: Did you have much recollection of a place called Curro’s?
JB: Does it sound familiar?
KB: Yeah. There were a lot of Italian guys there, who owned stuff on the East Side. Sardino’s was another, Ray Tabbs used to play.
JB: How about Alfie’s?
KB: Alfie’s was on Atkinson? and…
JB: Did you ever work there?
KB: I used to sit in.
KB: No, um… David Hazeltine played there with the singer Penny Goodwin. And the story goes… One night she scratched him.
MD: I remember this.
KB: Gouged him.
JB: She scratched him?
KB: Yeah yeah.
KB: Cause she used to be real freaky. Ah, Lee Cowan used to play at Alfie’s, that’s when I would go there. There’s another place off of, where Green Bay comes in on 3rd St. Melvin Rhyne used to play there with Berkeley and I used to go and sit in.
JB: What was that place? Do you remember what that was called?
KB: No. I asked Berkeley how come you let me sit in? He doesn’t let other people sit in. And he says, because he likes your playing.
JB: Well, that’s a good sign.
KB: Around that time, there weren’t a lot of trumpet players.
MD: What was the place you were talking about on Green Bay and…
KB: Yeah, Melvin Rhyne played there with Berkeley, but I…
MD: Where did you think it was?
KB: I can’t remember the name. But, Alfie’s was further north.
MD: Did those guys ever play up at the place on Brown Deer Road? We were talking about Lee Cowan…
KB: The Speakeasy.
KB: Yeah, Lee played at The Speakeasy. He and sometimes Lee Burrows.
MD: Yeah, yeah.
KB: And that was kind of close to Lee’s house so he could get drunk and probably make it home.
JB: That place is still there.
KB: Oh yeah.
JB: So , Curro’s… you never… did you ever go there?
KB: Curro’s… it doesn’t ring a bell. But there were some places on the East Side that I would go in and hang out. Ah… Ray Tabbs played at, I think, Sardino’s and it wasn’t ever conducive to sitting in.
JB: Restaurant? Was it a restaurant?
KB: Nah, just a club. A bar. I don’t know if they served food or not.
JP: Did you ever play that little place they called Alexandra’s?
KB: That sounds familiar.
JP: It was where the downtown city club used to be, on Broadway. Down those little stairs, that ramp. Down right there. Do you know what I’m talking about? It was a club for like, maybe two years. I used to play there with Marcus Robinson.
KB: Oh, ok. There’s a place now, in the basement of the building on the corner of Wisconsin and Water.
JP: No, it’s not Wisconsin.
KB: Wait, no no. Whatever that place is called, Wisconsin and Water they used to have music there too.
JP: This place was on Wells.
KB: Oh. Because, what was, before they moved to Wisconsin and Water they were on Broadway in a walk down and it was called that same name, whatever it is now. And before that it was called Barney’s and Barney had a bar on Water St north of Wisconsin and it was like a railroad car. And a lot of musicians would go in there and hang after a gig. UWM professors would be there and if you didn’t know anybody, you’d tune into really interesting conversations. Barney would have raw beef at midnight and any woman that came in would get a rose. And, ah… a brandy and a beer was something like 45 cents. So then he moved to this place… I’m retracing my story now… He moved to the place on Broadway and then somebody else got it from him and it changed to whatever it is…
JP: This place was run by Arlis Jones.
JP: Yeah, ARJ’s the same guy. This place, it was called Alexandra’s. It was like 1993.
JB: So you were kind of new here still.
JP: I had been here like 3 years. It was like 1993-94, I used to play there with Marcus Robinson and what killed it… it was a really nice room, and it was a great gig… Marcus was like.
MD: I remember he was living here. Did he leave and come back?
JP: He left, he never came back.
MD: Or did he leave after that?
JP: He left after that.
MD: Oh, ok.
JB: So early 90’s?
JP: Early 90’s. Really nice room, and Marcus was this great player.
KB: I always like his playing. Inventive.
JP: Oh god yeah. And, ah… You know what killed it was that room, there was like a dual club. It was one room where the bar was a, sort of almost like this, on the side where they played jazz. On the other side was like a hip hop club. And that just killed it.
JB: Was Arlis involved with both places?
JP: Yeah. He had both sides.
JB: So, Marcus moved to Texas, right?
JB: When you were coming up Kaye…
KB: I’m still coming up.
JB: *laughs Who were some of the local players that you kind of looked up to.
KB: Tommy Sheridan, Ziggy Milonzi…
JB: What was the trumpet player, the session you went to a lot?
KB: Billy Howell.
JB: Have you ever heard that name before Mark? Billy Howell?
KB: He probably left by 1960.
JB: Where did he go from here?
KB: Ah… he went to New York. He got arthritis. He ended up playing trombone with Eddie Harris.
KB: And then I wanted to look him up, because I wanted to thank anybody that had helped me… and that was before I had a computer, so I was relying on somebody else. I got his name from Detroit, but there was more than one Billy Howell. Unless I was hitting on his name in different places. So I wrote him a letter explaining the scenario and how important he was to me and so on. And he said, I’m not that Billy Howell, but I know who it is. And I thought, well ok…
JB: Was he like, a bebop kind of player?
KB: Oh, yeah yeah.
JB: A bebopper.
KB: Yeah, a very strong player.
JB: Awesome. See, I love that shit. I’ve never even heard that name.
MD: Billy Howell. Do you think he’s around?
KB: Oh, no no.
MD: He’s passed on.
KB: Yeah, I mean that would have been 40 years ago.
MD: Oh, I got you, yeah yeah.
KB: ‘Cause I’m barely around, and look what… I take care of myself.
KB: And he played decent trombone. I have the album.
JB: With Eddie Harris?
JB: Wow! That’s cool.
KB: His wife was Babs Howell. She sang at the place on Walnut.
JB: Gallagher’s? Does that ring a bell?
KB: Kind of…
JB: A place named Gallagher’s? That’s a place Manty brought up. He said at one point, he was… young, so maybe this was even in his younger years, so… He said he would go, and it was so happening, he said at one place was Ahmad Jamal… he walked across the street and it was Oscar Peterson. On the same night.
KB: Oh… ok.
JB: In Milwaukee.
KB: Oh! Well, ok I caught, Oscar Peterson… There was a place called Henry’s downtown, on 3rd or 4th. Between Wells and Wisconsin. I caught Miles Davis there.
JB: No way! What group was it?
KB: Um… It was between saxophone players… Hank Mobley was there. I was in the second booth, there people in the first booth right by the stage and they talked through it, nonstop. And I’m thinking, you know, why would you come here… Ah, Miles even played at the UWM Union and I stole a black and white picture of him.
JB: Was that like a poster or flyer?
KB: Well, it was a poster and his picture was on it. And then I caught him at the… what’s the theater in DC, when I was in the army. The Howard Theater. And Cannonball and…
KB: Coltrane were in it.
JB: So, when he was in Milwaukee it was at a place called Henry’s?
KB: Yeah, I seem to remember that. And across the street there was some club and I caught the Oscar Peterson Trio there. Maybe that was Gallagher’s?
JB: It could’ve been.
KB: A lot of places, especially downtown, popped up and then quit.
JB: Here and gone.
KB: Yeah, the local clubs in the black area of town stuck around awhile.
JB: Can you think of any other kind of name artists that you saw in Milwaukee?
KB: Oh, well… at the place on Center…
JB: The Gallery.
KB: The Gallery. Ah, Sam Rivers Trio, Wynton…
JB: You saw that?
KB: I walked out of that so depressed. He sounded so good. I thought I’d never be that good.
JB: He was young.
KB: Oh yeah.
JB: Real young. Was Branford in that?
KB: No, it was just a quartet.
JB: Do you remember who was with him?
KB: No. I caught Chet Baker. Art Farmer, as I mentioned before. Ah, Lee Konitz. Oh! A solo set by Max Roach.
JB: Solo drums.
KB: Yeah. He played… started out in 2/4 and kept increasing the meters. Here’s a piece in 3, here’s one in 4, and so on. And there was some woeful hipster, yelling, “Yeah, baby, go baby!”. And at one point Max Roach stopped and he went up to the guy into the mic and he said, “Do you want to say something? Say something!”. And the guy was mute. You know. He said, “Look, you’ve been talking through the whole thing. Say something now.”
KB: Yeah, because he was all jive. “Yeah baby, go baby!”, all that shit. He was trying to be hip. I’ve tried to be hip but it never worked out, so I quit.