A Conversation with Manty Ellis

courtesy Impulse Records

Manty Ellis is the cornerstone of Milwaukee jazz. Manty co-founded the jazz program at the Wisconsin Conservatory along with Tony King. He is also a recipient of the 1997 Arts Midwest Jazz Masters award. Some of the musicians Manty has worked with include Sonny Stitt, Eddie Harris, Stanley Turrentine, Richard Davis, Buddy Montgomery, Brian Lynch, Willie Pickens, David Hazeltine, and Melvin Rhyne. In 1999 Manty cut his CD, In His Own Sweet Way.

Manty owned a music store, Ellis Music, and all the famous jazz musicians who came to town would go there to jam with him. Musicians such as Freddie Hubbard, George Benson, Frank Foster, Eddie Moore, and many others could be found there whenever they were in town. Manty’s style and approach embodies the Midwestern jazz sound. Manty Ellis is Milwaukee jazz.

This conversation was conducted on a recent evening at Mason Street Grill in Milwaukee, WI, between Manty Ellis (ME), Mark Davis (MD) and Jamie Breiwick (JB). At one point, Tommy Antonic (TA), Kenny Reichert (KR), and Bill Bonifas (BB) join the conversation. At times, we were all speaking over Manty (and each other) and it was a particularly loud evening in the lounge and we often had to have Manty repeat something or would “back channel” to be sure we had a name or location correct. What follows is part one of a series of conversations that will attempt to document what is a large void in Milwaukee’s music history. Manty is an incredible storyteller. Just as his improvised melodies are intelligent, articulate, and soulful – so are his words.

We began by showing Manty some images of past musicians and venues of years gone by. The first of which was a photo of the now-defunct jazz club “Sardino’s” on Farwell Ave.

Jamie Breiwick: Sardino’s, did you ever work at that place?

Manty Ellis: Yeah, thats right over there on Farwell. That was the second place. Alfie’s was first, and that came second.

Mark Davis: You mean it was the same ownership?  What do you mean by the second place?

ME: Well, after Alfie’s died, then that became the… Ray Tabs and Penny Goodwin, they stayed there for about nine years.

MD: I mean, it was open… I remember going there at the end of Sardino’s, when like Ernie Adams had a gig there, and (David) Hazeltine and Gerald (Cannon) were playing there… that was towards the end.

JB: Sardino’s?

MD: Yeah

ME: Joe.

MD: Which Joe?

ME: Joe Sardino.

MD: What clubs did they own?

ME: The Adlib. Curro’s… ahh…

MD: Pearl’s? You said, Pearl’s?

ME: Curro’s. C-u-r-r-o

MD: Oh right, Curro’s. Right. Was that out on Bluemound?

ME: No, that was right there on 3rd and State.

MD: Oh.

ME: Gallagher’s was right next door to it, just north of it. It was the third door from Wells on the west side of 3rd Street. That was Curro’s. You go out of Curro’s and walk, and the next door north, was a place called Gallagher’s. When I was checking out the joints, one night I went down there, Ahmad Jamal was working in Gallagher’s and Oscar Peterson was working in Curro’s.

MD: Nice! 

JB: Wow!

ME: I was just walking back and forth.

MD: Yeah!

ME: I didn’t realize what kind of shit that really was.

MD/JB: Right, right 

ME: And all of that, Curro’s… Aw man, I was just trying to learn how to play. I used to go down there to hang out. EVERYbody came in there, Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach… ah who’s that Kai and JJ. Everybody came in there.

MD: Donald Byrd?

ME: You had Herbie Hancock and ah Duke Jord.. ah Duke Pearson. 

MD: Pepper Adams? or no?

ME: Yep, Pepper Adams, we used to hang out down there. Ahhh, lets see now… This is during the time…

MD: This is the 50’s?

ME: Ah, late or, must’ve been late…

MD: Or early 60’s?

ME: Yeah. Duke Pearson was involved in the Martin Luther King marches.

MD: Oh really?

ME: So, there was a march in, down there where Martin Luther King got killed. Anyways, he was with, ahh, Donald Byrd… and Donald Byrd came up to him and said…  Man, you gotta make the gig. And they got into it.

MD: Really?

ME: Yeah, so Duke Pearson said fuck it. Said he went, said he was going to make the gig… no I mean, mean make the march. They were coming from Chicago, so Donald Byrd got pissed off and hired Herbie Hancock. First gig was in Milwaukee.

MD: That’s why? Because Duke wanted to be a part of the march?

ME: Right, but Duke came to Milwaukee anyway, and I was down in the club. ‘Cause, see I knew Herbie when he was a little kid, man… we were studying with Billy Wallace. 

MD: Ok, right.

ME: At Curro’s.

MD: Would Herbie come to Curro’s?

ME: Yeah, that’s where he started.

MD: Really?

ME: He came out of Chicago, that was his first gig…

MD: When he was a kid? Like even maybe still a teenager?

ME: ‘Bout 19… 18… ‘cause me and my wife were… we went from Chicago with Billy, I knew him when he was 9 years old! You know… He’s up there, man… like a 19 year old, scared to death. He’s just leaving Chicago and they going to New York. And I was, you know, I was lookin’ at him like – he plays the keys off the fuckin’ piano, man. And I was wondering what’s wrong with him, man, he’s nervous. I and thought, I said, man, I don’t know what you’re nervous about, you goin’, I say, you probably be the cat! (laughs) … and he became the cat.

JB: Obviously! Yeah.

MD: Wow!

ME: Very quickly he became the cat, because Miles hired him. Fired Wynton Kelly, fired Paul Chambers, fired ah, Jimmy Cobb.

MD: Really? Did you get to know them a little bit here?

ME: Yeah

MD: Where did you get to know Jimmy Cobb?

ME: It was at Curro’s.

MD: Really? That was the joint?

JB: Where was that place, Manty?

ME: 3rd and State

JB: Ok

ME: Then right across the street, south of State St, Johnny Walker’s had the clothing company on the corner…

MD: Ok.

ME: Right next to it was The Brass Rail.

MD: I’ve heard of that place. Was that the same ownership?

ME: No, that was Izzy Pogrob.

MD: Who was that?

ME: Izzy Pogrob was his name. He was about 6’ 8” and weighed about 500 lbs.

JB: The Brass Rail, this is?

ME: Yeah.

MD: The owner of the Brass Rail?

ME: Right. I was down there when Chico Hamilton called me and says, hey man, why don’t you come on… this was the last night of the gig… see, he was in… Philly Joe was on the gig, he’s gettin’ ready, he came here with no drums, and Jimmy Story was a drummer around here, and he loved Philly Joe. So he went and got drums for him. 

JB: Jimmy who? 

ME: Story

JB: Story?

ME: Yeah, he died in jail. Now, this is crazy here… and, ahh, so Jimmy Story, he had, um, let Philly Joe use the drums, and ahhh what’s his name… the cat we were talking about…

MD: What instrument? Jimmy Cobb?

ME: No, it wasn’t Jimmy Cobb. The cat Jimmy Cobb was a drummer… 

-Tommy Antonic joins the table-

JB: Hey Tommy

MD: Manty, do you know Tommy Antonic? Young guitar player. Yeah, nice guitar player.

JB: Manty is telling us some stories. I’m just recording it, and trying to document a lot of the history of Milwaukee.

MD: We’re talking about a lot of the old clubs… Curro’s and the Brass Rail…

JB: There was a place called Curro’s on 3rd and State…

MD: Is the building still there do you think?

JB: It was Herbie Hancock’s first gig with Donald Byrd, was there, in Milwaukee at Curro’s. What did you say? Duke Pearson was the piano player in the band and it was during the time of a lot of the civil rights protests, and Pearson was very involved with the MLK protests and he wanted to attend this march and so Pearson was like, screw that I’m going to this march. And so Byrd hired Herbie as a teenager, and his first gig with Donald Byrd was in Milwaukee at this place Curro’s.

ME: …and they both went to the piano at the same time!

MD: Did they both show up?

ME: Yeah.

JB: So Pearson showed up anyways…

MD: They both showed up.

ME: Herbie kept the gig. 

JB: Wow!

MD: Did Donald Byrd have to intervene, and say you’re not on the gig, or something? How did they… I mean?

ME: Aw man, I told you, It didn’t make him no difference. You know.. Man, those cats…  But, um, yeah there was another cat around here, Holder Jones…

MD: What’s the first name?

ME: Holder, H-o-l-d-e-r. He had a bachelor’s degree from, um, Wisconsin State Teacher’s, which is UWM.

JB: UWM, yeah

MD: What did he play?

ME: Trumpet. But his main… his forte was he was an arranger.

MD: Good?

ME: Damn good, aw yeah. And he always had a big band here. 

MD: When you were coming up, like your first gigs, Manty, what kind of gigs were you doing? Like, what, like small group stuff? Or were there a lot of organ trios? 

ME: No. No organ. Not when I came up.

JB: When were your first gigs? Do you remember about what years?

ME: Oh yeah, my first gig was at, ah, Lapham Park Social Center. [1]

JB: Lapham Park Social Center?

ME: Yeah. That’s where Bunky (Green) and all the guys started over there. You know, we had a big band over there called the Rhythm Kings.

JB: Were those gigs mostly big band gigs?

ME: Well it started out, I ended up running the thing over there and me and Bunky were the last two working the gig. You know, they got, ah… See, I was always figuring out the business angles on the gig, rather than the music my old man was teaching me I didn’t have to worry about, ‘cause I was looking at the business angle. And I looked at that and they were doin’ something stupid. Mr. Gellwright (sp) was the, ah… director for the social center. He told the guys that they could have a session over there. And at that time, man, six bucks a night was big money. So… and I saw how he was running it, he says, well, just have all the guys come up and i’ll come in at about ten o’ clock and see how many guys there are and get you the money for, you know, all the guys…. and I thought, wait a minute.. he’s gonna pay me for all the guys that come? So, I went around and got everybody.

MD: What kind of place was it Manty? When you say it was a social club, was it a bar? 

ME: No, it was like a recreation center.

MD: Yeah, so no alcohol, you mean? or…

ME: Oh, no, no this like a city, ah..

MD: Yeah.

ME: You know, you had a gymnasium.

JB: A community center. 

ME: Yeah, it was basically for the gymnasium, thats where we had the concerts. I got sixteen guys to come over there and he came in and he counted ‘em, and he handed me a check for sixteen guys, six bucks apiece. Wow! This is great! So I called Bunky off to the side, say man, lets work this thing real good. (laughs) We worked the hell out of it, man!

JB: So, it was you, Bunky Green, who else? Do you remember anybody else who would’ve been in there, involved with that?

ME: On that gig, let’s see… There was Bill Jordan, ah, the bass player, and Curtis Sprewer, the drummer. You ever heard of them? Never?

JB: No. 

MD: What age? Were these guys a lot older than you?

ME: Oh yeah. Curtis was, ah… he must have been eight years older.

MD: Yeah.

ME: And, um… Let’s see… Dick Smith… Did you know Dick? Dick Smith? Drummer? 

MD: I don’t think so.

ME: Oh, man. There, now that was a terrible story there. There’s a guy that was before his time. He had drummers like Max and Art Blakey and them cats… they all knew about him.

MD: He was serious?

ME: Aw man!

JB: Dick Smith?

MD: And was he a Milwaukee guy? 

ME: Yeah!

JB: I’ve never heard of him!

MD: Was he like the best cat around? Was he like the best?

ME: By far… Right now, if he was here, he’d still be, by far…

All: (laughs)

ME: I tell you, here’s a guy, he was playing like Elvin Jones and those cats in the 40’s!

MD: Really?

ME: Right… and nobody would hire him. They told him he was crazy, and all this. He’s just ahead of his time!

JB: Wow!

ME: He used to keep everybody in line. The last time I talked to Bunky was when we buried him. I called Bunky and I told him. Bunky says, yeah man, he says, Dick Smith was very hard on me. He says, but he was right. I said, what do you mean? He said, man… See Bunky was like… a monster at about 14 years old. You know? And so, Dick Smith would always get on his case ‘cause Bunky was playing so much.

MD: Yeah.

ME: He used to tell him, Bunky, you are over-playing your horn.

JB: Over-playing, yeah.

ME: He was over-playing. So Bunky said, man, this particular night, we’re playing on the gig and he said, man, I played and I played and I played, and I thought I was… and I went runnin’ to Dick Smith… and this cat wore glasses on his nose and he always looked over his nose, like that. And Bunkys talkin’ about, hey man did you hear? And Dick Smith was… Man, you ain’t playin’ shit!
All: (laughs)

ME: Bunky said, he hurt me so bad, he said,  that I didn’t know what to do. But he… Bunky said, you know what? He was right!

All: (laughs)

JB: What was Dick Smith’s story?

MD: Yeah, what happened to him?

JB: How much older was he than you? Or was he..

ME: He was about ten years older.

JB: Ten years older than you… Do you know much about his background? As far as… I mean, was he born and raised here? Or? How did he have a national rep… I mean, how did those cats know about him? Max and Art Blakey and those guys know about him?

ME: There used to be a lot of bands that come out of here.

JB: Right. Ok.

ME: Um, Dick Smith was around when Jay McShann, you heard of that name?

JB: Yeah, Kansas City, yeah.

ME: Around that time when Bird and them… and, ah… he was on the road with different cats. 

JB: Yeah.

MD: Ok

MD: What happened… What happened to Dick Smith? Did he stay in Milwaukee?

ME: MmmHmm

MD: When did he pass away? Like…

ME: Aww man, lets see… its got to be at least ten years.

MD: So, did he stop playing?

ME: Finally at the end he did.

JB: (to Mark) It’s funny you never heard about him.

MD: Was he playing? I never heard about him.

ME: Ah, he was playing. He used to go to the Jazz Oasis.

JB: That’s incredible.

MD: Yeah.

JB: That… Never heard of him. Amazing.

ME: Bad dude.

MD: So, where else did you play when you were real young, Manty? What part of town? Or what was the…

ME: Up and down 3rd Street.

MD: Third Street? That’s what was happening?

ME: Third and Walnut? Where MYSO is?

JB: Yes.

ME: That’s where I used to work all the time.

JB: And that’s what they used to call Bronzeville right? And that.. 

ME: I don’t know nothin’ about Bronzeville.

JB: That’s why I was curious to ask you about that.

MD: Why do you say that Manty, like the term? You ever use that term?

JB: No one called it that.

ME: Never heard of it.

MD: Did they ever use that term? 

ME: Nope.

MD: Is that like a newer thing? Where they start calling it Bronzeville?

JB: After the fact.

ME: Yeah, later on they started calling… talking about Bronzeville. I always wondered what the fuck they were talking about.

ME: I remember up on… twenty-four, twenty-five hundred block of 3rd, there was a club we worked in, and the guy that had the club… Jimmy Johnson was the bass player… I don’t know who else was working on that gig. Nelson Symonds was working down the street, this guy.. You ever heard of Nelson?

MD: Nuh-uh

ME: You know him?

TA: I heard he was crazy.

JB: Never heard of him. Nelson Symond?

ME: Yeah. Guitar player. 

JB: (to Tommy) Who did you hear about him? How…

TA: Wes talks about him in an interview. 

MD: Really?

JB: What?

TA: He said, Nelson Symond… I’m interested now. “Cause Wes said, if Nelson Symond came to the U.S., it would be over. That was what Wes said. But I checked some of his stuff out… like there was…

JB: So he has recordings out there? That are available? Where did you hear him?

TA: They were hard to find, but like twenty pages into google… 

JB: Ok

TA: I found some stuff.

JB: So wait, what was the deal with Nelson? He was living here?

ME: From Canada.

MD: Right.

ME: Him and, ah… Did you know Jimmy Duncan?

MD: No, I just heard the name.

ME: His brother, Charlie Duncan was a drummer, and they lived in, ah… Montreal. They came here and stayed until the visa ran out. So I got to know Nelson real good. Played with him… I mean, he couldn’t.. He was a guitar player. At that time wasn’t that many cats playing. And, ah…

MD: So, a lot of guitar chops or something? Or what? Is that what you mean by a guitar… I mean.

ME: Naw, he was music oriented, jazz oriented… but not… He didn’t know nothin’. He just played. But he could play. You know… at that time thats when the organ groups first come around.

MD: Did organ groups get real popular in Milwaukee at a certain point? Or not necessarily.

ME: Uhh…

MD: I thought Berk said at one point, he said there were a lot of organs…

ME: But, ah… see, the organ players around here… there was a good organ player around here, Will Green?

MD: Will Green, I hear about.

JB: He taught Hazeltine, and…

ME: and Marcus (Robinson)

MD: Was he an incredible player?

ME: Yeah.

MD: Yeah.

ME: Yeah, I mean, he played organ… all four members were separated…

MD: Yeah.

ME: … and he played the bass with his foot 

MD: And he was blind right?

ME: Blind.

JB: I heard about him from Hazeltine.

MD: Didn’t he do like repair work, ah… TV’s… or

ME: Yeah.

MD: And he was blind.

All: (laughs)

MD: How did he do that?

JB: That’s amazing! A TV repair man that…

MD: He knew electronics, apparently.

JB: That’s unbelievable! 

MD: Did you work with Will a lot?

ME: Well, we hung out. Will… now that you mention that… I’ve gone up… Will had a little shop, on 11th…

MD: A repair shop?

ME: Yeah.

MD: On 11th?

ME: MmmHmm. And he taught music in there.

JB: In the repair shop?

ME: Yeah, yeah he had an organ… oh it was a big place.

JB: Yeah.

ME: I had gone up in there several times… had to take the TV off his head where he’s sticking his head up in this big TV? And he’d cut something in there, you know and have his ass…

JB: Stuck in the TV…

ME: I had to take the TV off of him twice!

All: (laughs)

ME: He had a reputation, he’ll fix your TV, but nobody else could ever fix it after that!

All: (laughs)

ME: And he made a thing called a “T-bass”.

MD: “T-bass”?

ME: For the organ. He made it. Hooked it up, man, you take your foot and play the organ pedals, sound like somebody playing the bass.

MD: So, it created the sound.

ME: MmmHmm

MD: Using the pedals?

ME: MmmHmm

MD: More acoustic sound?

JB: So, he invented this?

ME: Yeah, integrated it with the organ.

MD: Did anybody ever produce it, you think? Or was it just him…

JB: Just him…

ME: Just him… and Lonnie Smith had something similar, too.

MD: Oh really? Was Lonnie… Lonnie was around here a bit?

ME: MmmHmm.

MD: I mean, living here?

ME: Yeah!

MD: Yeah. Wait, in the 70’s? or.. or, late 60’s?

ME: Late 60’s.

MD: Yeah.

ME: Um… Lonnie was, ah… a place up on 3rd and North called Maxamillion’s.

JB: Ok.

ME: And, um… Lonnie Smith came here and stayed for about six months…

MD: What did have, a house gig there?

ME: Yeah.

MD: Like every night? or something?

ME: Yeah, six nights a week.

JB: Six nights a week, at… it was Maxamillion’s?

ME: MmmHmm

JB: That is unbelievable. I didn’t know that. That is why he is listed on that Ron Myers website [2].

MD: Ron’s got him on there?

JB: Lonnie Smith. He has him listed on there. That makes sense if he was here for six months. I mean… he was here. The other… other person I heard that lived here for a while, maybe you know, was Rashaan Roland Kirk.

ME: Yeah.

JB: Did he stay here for a while, also?

ME: We put him on a train to go to New York. First, he went through Chicago.

JB: … through Chicago.

MD: Where is he from? Cleveland?

ME: He’s from Ohio somewhere.

MD: Yeah.

ME: He stayed here for…

MD: He came here first?

JB: Did you work with him at all? 

ME: Yeah.

MD: Did he come here before New York? Like…

ME: Yeah… You ever heard of Marvin Stamm?

MD: MmmHmm

JB: Yes. The trumpet player, yeah sure.

ME: No.

JB: No?

ME: Marvin Stamm…

JB: Must be a different Marvin Stamm. 

ME: Flute…

MD: Oh really?

ME: … and tenor saxophone.

JB: Marvin Stamm?

ME: He worked with a lot of organ groups.

JB: Ok. Different Marvin Stamm then, yeah.

ME: Now… Berkeley would know him. I might have the last name wrong. Just mention “Marvin”, ‘cause they… they’re real good friends.

MD: He and Berk? Yeah.

ME: Marvin… he was here… um… ahhh… Roland Kirk was here, Ron Burton? Bill Burton? Ron Burton, this cat… all got aliases. He had aliases every place he go ‘cause cops were after him all the time. (laughs) So his name… here, his name was Bill Burton. When he went to New York, I’m looking for Bill Burton, then his name is Ron Burton out there. (laughs) He’s still out there!

MD: Who is… what does he play?

ME: Ah… keyboards. Well, he was, ahh… with Roland Kirk.

JB: Oh ok, so he came through with Roland Kirk.

ME: MmmHmm.

JB: Ok.

ME: And he stayed too.

JB: Was… Now, like, Lonnie Smith coming through, and Roland Kirk, was it that there were a lot of gigs to be had? At that time?

ME: Well, at that time, a lot of guys were on the road.

JB: Or was Milwaukee just on the scene? Or was it more of a circuit, like people could come here and like pass through…

MD: Was there any more than Chicago? Not necessarily… It was just…

ME: No, alot of the guys… you see, being close to Chicago you get the over flow.

JB: Right.

ME: Guys… You go there… work at the Showcase, maybe Wednesday through Sunday. Then, if they came here, they get the gig here on Mondays and Tuesdays.

MD: Yeah.

ME: Like at the Jazz Gallery.

JB: Right.

ME: Chuck [3] used to do that. A lot of guys did that.

MD: Right… Manty, did you study guitar with someone? I know you played piano, but, did you study guitar?

ME: My old man.

MD: He was a guitarist?

ME: Piano…

MD: He sang too, right? Did he sing?

ME: Danced, sang, all that shit.

MD: So, he was your guitar teacher?

ME: He got me started. Basically, he got me started with piano.

MD: Or, did you teach yourself guitar from, at a certain point.

ME: Well… when I started, there was a guy named George Patrick.

MD: Patrick?

ME: And, um… he was like a theory monster. Now… and it used to be the Milwaukee Academy of Music which was right across from the Conservatory [4]. On the corner.

JB/MD: On Prospect?

ME: That’s why I couldn’t play football or anything. I went to Lincoln, I’d go out for football and my old man would make me quit and go to music school. And he always said, well just make the team and then quit. You know, so that’s what I did. I’d make the team… then quit.

JB: What did your father play?

ME: Piano, guitar, banjo…

JB: So he taught you first, he was your first teacher.

ME: Yeah.

MD: Was he doing, like, stride… and that kind of stuff?

ME: Yeah. You know, ‘cause he… the older cats, you know they…

MD: The older styles…

ME: … Anything over a seventh, man, was… Wow! You know? (laughs)

MD: Did he work as a professional musician?

ME: Oh yeah. He worked around, you know… when he was workin’ man, two bucks a night was big money.

MD: Really? Did he do other things too? Or was music his main thing?

ME: Mechanic

MD: Mechanic?

ME: Yep, Machinist… used to do a whole lotta shit. He’d do anything.

MD: Yeah.

ME: Anything, just… And, um…

MD: What was your dad’s name?

ME: Grover.

MD: Grover? So you were named… named after him?

ME: Yeah.

MD: Yeah…. Was your family in Milwaukee a long… did he grow up here?

ME: He came here in the… 8th grade.

MD: Where did they move from?

ME: Texas.

MD: Hmm

ME: Born in Indiana.

MD: Oh ok. 

ME: Jeffersonville. Ah… Do you follow boxing? Do you remember when Muhammad Ali was, ah… screwed up and they put in… took his title?

MD: Ok.

ME: And his sparring partner became the champion?

MD: I didn’t know that.

ME: Jimmy Ellis? They are all from Jeffersonville, Indiana.

MD: Are you related?

ME: Yeah! Aw man, I got a lot of relatives that been out there… ah… Do you watch basketball?

JB: MmmHmm

ME: College?

MD: You probably do Jamie.

JB: A little bit… little bit.

ME: You ever heard of Steph Curry?

JB: Yeah, of course!

ME: That’s my cousin.

All: (laughs)

ME: Del Curry…

JB: Del Curry, yeah.

ME: … that’s his father. 

JB: Yeah, yeah.

ME: Well, Del’s grandmother, is my mother’s sister.

JB/MD: Ok, ok

JB: So, yeah, cousins.

MD: Just, once removed.

JB: Steph Curry is a… he’s a big star!

MD: That’s cool.

JB: He’s a big star.

MD: Yeah.

ME: Shit yeah, Del was worse than him! Man, the metro conference.

JB: Yeah, shooting… he was a shooter.

ME: They called…

JB: Deadly!

ME: Yeah… they called a certain time of the game, they called it “Curry time”. And he was shootin’ them three-pointers, man, in college, like they were nothin’!

JB: Yup… yeah Steph, I know. That’s awesome!

MD: Yeah, Manty.

ME: So there’s, you know… there have been a lot of… Frank Morgan was out of here.

MD: Yeah.

ME: Sam Ward.

JB: Was Frank Morgan from here originally?

ME: Well he came here at 5 years old.

JB: But he was raised here?

MD: Are you related to him? Or did you just grow up with him 

ME: His grandmother took my mother in like a daughter, and we all came up together in the same house.

JB: You and Frank were tight though, you grew up together basically.

MD: So you are almost like… yeah.

ME: Yeah. First time I saw Frank I grabbed him by his throat and tried to break his fuckin’ neck. (laughs) I just didn’t like him, man. We were 5 years old.

All: (laughs)

MD: Where did you grow up, Manty? Which street were you on when you were a kid?

ME: 5th and Vine.

MD: 5th and Vine?

ME: Yeah, thats where I was born.

MD: Ok.

ME: Then I moved to 4th and Vine, and 6th and Vine… I was 23 years old, man… I was 14 before I crossed North Avenue. So, I knew my area down there.

JB: Did he (Cecil Taylor) come to Milwaukee much?

ME: No, he came down quite a bit, yeah.

JB: Did you ever work with him at all?

ME: *laughs with JB* Hell no. You had the AACM in Chicago.

JB: Roscoe Mitchell was in Madison, too.

ME: Yeah, he’s still lives there.

JB: You were telling me Berkeley (Fudge) played with the Art Ensemble (of Chicago)?

ME: He went all the way to Europe with ’em…

MD: He went to Amsterdam, I think.

JB: What did he say about it?

ME: ‘Bizarre bullshit’, he said. *laughs* He said, “I could just do it…It’s just a gig, y’know?” They had an 18-piece band and no charts…no rehearsals. It was a “play what you wanna play” or “whatever you think you wanna play” atmosphere.

KR: There’s a band in New York who I’m forgetting…this famous composer. He was from South America but he does something of that nature, where he hires all these ridiculous musicians like Kurt Rosenwinkel and Aaron Parks…just top quality dudes, and they all play in this big band but it’s very…It’s along that vibe of….a shit ton of people onstage, lots of improvisation.

ME: It’s total improvisation.

KR: These guys are good, so I wonder how it sounds.

JB: What was the Madison scene like when those guys were around, like Jimmy Cheatham? Did you play up there or work a lot?

ME: Yeah, we worked there.

JB: Richard Davis has been there for a long time.

ME: Yeah, since 1974…before there was Jimmy Cheatham. We had a place on State Street, the Good Karma was the name of his, down on that side of town.

JB: I wonder if that was City Bar?

ME: Nope. Down in that State Street area, they had something like that. They didn’t sell any alcohol or anything there, they just opened it up with a stage in there, and people came and brought blankets, ate their lunch.

JB: You’d play there with Richard Davis, or…?

ME: No, they had Jimmy Cheatham. They had Tony Callum, not sure if you know him. You didn’t need to meet him, though – he was…out.

JB: Oh, they played out a lot?

ME: No, man…they were “out”, as in the music was crazy. *laughs* I took David Hazeltine down there on his first gig outta town in Madison. And with that mother, hauling up his organ and lifting things… *laughs* Tony Callum, he played drums: he never….he’s one of those drummers that everything was always there but you didn’t always put it together. He’d do some amazing things and you’d lose sense of the time. He never did put his style together, you know?

JB: So that was Hazeltine’s first gig outside of Milwaukee, was in Madison?

ME: Yeah. The hotel was right on the State Street square, around the Capitol was the place to be. We worked down there. I know that was Dave’s first gig outta town.

JB: What about this place called Satin Doll on Fond du Lac avenue…Do you know anything about that place at all?

ME: Sure I do.

JB: Did they hire musicians and that?

ME: No

JB: Really?

ME: You see, Satin Doll was on Fond du Lac. That’s a recent venue, compared to some of the others. Where MYSO is now used to be Max’s Lounge…lots of cats used to work there.

JB: So that preceded Satin Doll now?

ME: Yeah, that’s where she used to dance there…Satin Doll worked at a place called The Flame.

JB: When was that?

ME: 40’s & 50s. Loretta Thomas. She was an organ player. Her husband, Derby Thomas, was a crook. He ran places. He was a real crook.

JB: The Flame? I think I’ve heard of that.

ME: Yeah, that was around during the 40’s, early 50’s. Satin Doll and Bobby Burdette (saxophone player), they were always there. Also, Polka Dot – that was on 14th and Meinecke. Bobby owned it, that was his place. Loretta White was her name then – she played organ there.

MD: Was Bobby known as a great player here?

ME: He was known around here, yeah.

JB: What style would you say he was, exactly – like, if you could compare him to another artist?

MD: Was a more commercial artist, would you say?

ME: Yeah, definitely. Well see, everybody was “commercial” back then.

JB: Like Louis Jordan or something?

ME: No, he wasn’t that commercial. He wasn’t /that/ hip. Louie Jordan was a bad dude. *laughs*

JB: But as far as what era you’d place it in, what would you say it was stylistically?

ME: What I remember most about Bobby was he played tenor saxophone, and he never needed a mic, no matter what. He could drown anything out, play with the organ and kit. That guy was solid, and he was very lazy as far as playing. He’d have a gig and anybody’d come in, and he’d want to give them a saxophone and be like, “You wanna play?”, even if they’d never played a saxophone before. *laughs*

MD: Was he coming out of more of a swing era?

ME: Yeah, yeah. That drummer Dick Smith I was telling you about? He played with Bobby. They were into it all the time.

JB (to KR): He was telling me about this drummer named Dick Smith; neither of us had ever heard of him before. He was telling us he was ahead of his time, said he was sounding like Elvin Jones in the 40’s… Apparently Max Roach and Art Blakey knew about this guy. He was always just… in Milwaukee, always under the radar.

ME: Ike Day (Chicago)…a lot of cats from Chicago got their experience coming up here to Milwaukee – for instance, Ramsey Lewis. His first gig was up here, with this trio. They wore top hats and tuxedos when they played.

MD: Do you think those guys recorded much, like Bobby Burdette or the others?

ME: No, recording was something fairly new then…then the computer came up and killed that right away. There wasn’t too much recording going on back in those days. If you had a recording date, you knew things were getting serious, y’know? Real serious.

JB: Right, recording is so easy to do nowadays. Anybody with a laptop can do it.

ME: All of the guys that are recording now? They don’t have any sponsorship, there’s nobody behind them telling them what to do.

JB: Right, there’s no labels, or… I wanted to ask you about the Impulse record that you’re on with Buddy Montgomery, 1969. That was recorded in Chicago, right? Capitol Studios, or…what was it?

ME: Yeah. That’s where I did mine. Impulse was one of the better labels, for jazz, you know.

MD: Was Buddy living here at that time?

ME: Oh, yeah. You see when Buddy moved here I moved to San Francisco.

MD: Did you know Buddy before he moved here?

ME: Yeah.

MD: Just from him coming through, or what?

ME: Just through Wes [Montgomery], ’cause Wes had come through. It was his brother.

MD: But did the Montgomery brothers come to town a lot?

ME: Yeah, that’s how they got on up. Buddy and Monk were after the same broads, and Buddy won out I guess. *laughs* Rosie Curro – remember that club I told you about? That’s her family, who owns that club.

JB: That was the place.

ME: Yeah. Their family owned the club, man.

JB: Buddy and Monk were both after the same woman?

ME: Yeah. Buddy and Monk came here to work for Frank Balistieri over at the place he had on 2nd Street. Frank was…he was mafia. He had everything.

MD: Was he the one who got busted?

ME: He died, yeah. And his sons are lawyers. They couldn’t indict him for anything else – murder or nothing like that – so they got him for income tax evasion.

JB: That’s how they got Al Capone, too. They couldn’t get him convicted of…murder or anything…. income taxes.

ME: Buddy came here with Wes, that’s the first time I met Buddy. When Wes came, he had been using Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers, and Jimmy Cobb. Miles (Davis) had used them. Buddy would sometimes say, “Man, these cats cost too much.” *laughs* I’ll just use my brothers. Every time he’d come, he’d come by and hang out, when he brought his album from the tapes he’d made of new albums and such. I had all that shit at home, he’d come by and take my tape recorder and…most cats didn’t know about Wes. He didn’t drink alcohol, didn’t mess with no dope, but he’d eat a whole fried chicken, a whole cake, and a gallon of ice cream.

MD: Was Buddy like that too?

ME: Yeah.

MD: Where would Wes play when he came to town?

ME: He didn’t come here much until Buddy moved here. If he came and played, he played on my gig.

JB: So did you got to know Wes a little bit? After Buddy moved here, Wes would come here more frequently, you mean?

ME: I met Wes before I met Buddy. That’s where I got initiated, man – over in Chicago, where Buddy was…with Wes, Monk, Pookie Johnson (tenor player). They were workin’ in Chicago, at Sutherland Hotel. The guy that was teaching me was also teaching Herbie Hancock, named Billy Wallace. Billy had moved away because he was having some problems living here, and it was kind of silly. So he moved to Chicago and he became the number one piano player down there, by far.

MD: Did you ever live in Chicago?

ME: I lived in San Francisco, I lived in New York. And I went through Chicago to get the both of ’em. *laughs* I didn’t like Chicago.

JB: How long did you live in New York?

ME: Probably a year, but I wasn’t playing man. That was with the federal government, working for the Air Force. I’m a certified air frame technician, from back then. They’ve changed all the shit now, but when Wes came here it was for the gig I was tellin’ you about with Frank. That’s the only gig he played here; otherwise he’d come here to see Buddy, you know? And that gig I told you I worked seven nights a week and had to take a vacation? That’s where they’d come up here to gig. Finally that place (Alfie’s) closed up for some reason, not sure why…I think the mafia got into it with the government. They tried to give me that club, Balistieri did.

JB: He tried to give you the club?

ME: That’s the Mafia. You don’t wanna do that shit, man. There was three cats running it – John Volpe, who was married to Sardino’s daughter; this is a big family, you know?

JB: Sardino’s was a jazz club on Farwell.

ME: Yeah, and John Fazio. You guys are pretty young to remember, but there used to be a streetcar up there, they took it off the tracks and made a restaurant out of it, up on Green Bay avenue there. He ran that when he was in the Mafia. The other cat was Don Contardi, who was a lawyer for the mafia. Jon Volpi’s son ran Sardino’s. As Joe’s son, he was clean, see? So he could get a liquor license. Volpi was a crook, from the bottom of his heart. He didn’t care. He fucked with the Mafia like it was nothin’, man. They opened up this club and came over there to the Jazz Oasis one night and Volpi was runnin’ it for the mafia. He says, “Hey man, we’re gonna get this club up over here, we’re tired of doin’ this shit with you guys and we wanna get you a band. This was the first band I’d ever had, at the Oasis. It was called Sardino’s then.

MD: Which location? Was it called Brother’s Lounge, or?

ME: At Holton and Meinecke, that’s the one. That’s the same place.

JB: Brothers Lounge.

ME: He asked me, “Don’t you wanna get your own thing goin’, and quit fuckin’ around with me? I said, “Sure.” So he says, “we’re gonna open this club”. It closed for about three years. But they went in there and did a real good job on it. They’d gotten it ready to open up for about a month and they had a plane, skywriting, “What’s it all about, Alfie’s?”, ‘cause Alfie’s.

MD: You are talking for the club Alfie’s?

ME: Yeah, this is where we’re getting started.

ME: This Dr. here, Lefco, Seymour. You don’t know about him?

JB: No, I don’t think so.

ME: Dentist. He was a dentist. He went to school with Ray Brown and Oscar Peterson.

JB: Is that who… you gave me that Dizzy Gillespie chart? Mark gave me a photocopy of it, I have a copy of a handwritten chart by Dizzy. I did hear about him then.

ME: Night in Tunisia?

JB: No, “Con Alma”.

MD: What about Seymour?

ME: Right, yeah. Seymour had this thing about singers… He was also a songwriter, he wrote some nice tunes, you know? So we went in there, man that was place was packed seven nights a week.

MD: What was Seymour’s involvement?

ME: He had the singer, and she sang his tunes.

MD: Did he kinda back it a little bit?

MD: Who else did he help out?

ME: Mostly Penny (Goodwin). We went over to Chicago and had them pal us around with him, canned strings and all that. They charged them for violin players. They ripped him off.

MD: Did he produce that record, or something?

ME: Yeah, he produced it. I think Penny has them all in her basement. He’d spent his money away. But anyway, Volpe was running Alfie’s and after seven months of that place being open, Volpe had a brand-new Thunderbird… got married… and bought a house. He was stealing that much money off the guys, man.

JB: Off the club?

ME: Yeah, he was fuckin’ with Frankie, man. You don’t do that, you know?

ME: That’s the real shit. There’s no way of knowing everything they owned, they had it all locked up. I told you it’s deep as hell. But you gotta get in with ’em and you don’t have to worry.

JB: Yeah, all those old warehouses in the 3rd Ward and that.

ME: They bought up a lot of real estate. Well, what happened was the feds came to close Alfie’s when they used to come around and mess the joints up…y’know, mess ’em up, but not necessarily close ’em up.

JB: Just to poke around, and…?

ME: Yeah, you know, “Not enough light in here, we gotta shut ya down for not enough light” type stuff. *laughs* What happened was they got into it about something, ’cause Volpe was stealin’ the money, so Volpe gets pissed off and calls the Feds, tells ’em the license is in his name, and that he doesn’t want the license anymore and he quits. And he walks out. So John Fazio, man…you don’t fuck with him, he’s really crazy. He’s all-star football player at Lincoln High School, into all that. John got up outta bed and came down to Alfie’s in his house coat with his gun, he was gonna kill him and Volpe ran. They never found him, he was hidin’ out. So after they closed the place up, they had a meeting up there. That’s when they tried to give it to me. During the meeting they’re talking and the cat says, “Well, You know, we need somebody who’s gonna be able to have a nice record, and not have the police bother and run the club for us, and be part of this and be part of that,” and he’s talking to me. I said, “Yeah, that’s what you need. Not me though!”. *all laugh*

MD: Didn’t want to mess with that.

ME: You take it, you can’t quit!

JB: Once you are in…

ME: No! Once you are in, you can’t quit, y’know? Anything can happen – people disappear, man. I told you about Pogrob.

JB: Right. Mequon. You said they found someone’s body in Mequon?

ME: Izzy Pogrob, with eight shots in his head.

MD: He was the guy at the Brass Rail.

ME: Izzy. He was about 6’ 8”, ‘bout 500 pounds.

JB: Big cat.

ME: He bullied everybody. Did I tell you what happened with Chico Hamilton? Chico Hamilton was down there. Chico called and said, “This is my last night, why don’t you come out to the gig?” I said, “OK”, and I’m down there hanging with Chico. After the gig, he says come on and go with me I gotta get the money for the gig. I said, “Ok.” I go there, and get into the back room and Pogrob is back there… And he’s got two guys standing with him, he is sitting at his desk with his head down. He looks up and he says, “Chico?”, and I’m standing there with Chico… He says, “I ain’t payin’ you shit.” For a whole week.

JB: For a week?

ME: Yeah! For a week!

JB: He said he wasn’t gonna pay him?

ME: No, and then he looks at Chico and says, “What’s the payroll for your band?” Chico told him, he’s paying the guys for this and that. He had a cello player, you remember he had that group with cello, and Jim Hall and whoever. He told him, he says, “Alright, I’ll tell you what, I’ll pay the band but I ain’t payin’ you shit.” *all laugh* That’s the kind of guy he was.

JB: Fuckin’ Jim Hall.

MD: He wouldn’t do anything?

ME: Nah, that’s what he did. Of course everybody was dogs then. Philly Joe was playin’ drums down there one time and the guy (Jimmy Stewart) let him use his drums on the last night of the gig. That night we went down to say goodbye to the cats and Philly had his drums in the truck. Ready to go. *laughs*

JB: He took his drums?! *laughs*

ME: He had ‘em. *laughs* That was common. You know, you hear all these guys names and they were dogs, man! Sonny Stitt?

JB: Yeah! Talk about Sonny Stitt. You were in his band for a while.

ME: Yeah, I was in his band for 49 straight nights.

MD: Where were you guys playing?

ME: On Burleigh.

MD: It was all here?

MD: What club was over there?

ME: It was “The Most”. His aunt owned the club. Jeanette, she was married to his uncle, they had a big barbeque goin’ on.

MD: Did he have any other ties to Milwaukee? Where did Stitt grow up?

ME: Detroit. I think it was Detroit. He came here and we worked, he was convalescent to go in the hospital.

MD: When was this Manty?

ME: This was in the 70s. ’72, ’73, something like that.

MD: He must have been playing great, then.

ME: He always played great. Sonny Stitt, man.. Everybody always talked about Charlie Parker, but with Stitt… The history books say, “Had there not been a Charlie Parker there’d never have been a Sonny Stitt. And then there’s another history book that comes out and says, “There was a Charlie Parker and there ALSO was a Sonny Stitt”. He was incredible.

JB: How did you get into his band?

ME: Huh?

JB: How did you get with him?

ME: He came here to go into the hospital. Something’s always wrong with Sonny, man – he was dissipating so much, man. He had a briefcase he carried around, everybody thought he was a doctor or something. He had dope in there. *laughs* A whole briefcase of that.

MD: Who else was playing with you guys on that, then?

ME: At first, Melvin (Rhyne) was on the gig. That was really a trip.

JB: Organ?

ME: He was playing electric piano, that’s when the Wurlitzer was popular.

JB: That would have been cool.

ME: I’ll never forget this, man. People were packed in there one night and we were playing and somebody asked Sonny to play, “The Very Thought of You”. So, he asked Mel and asked if I knew the tune. I said yeah, so we start it. We get halfway through the tune and I’m sitting there listening, and I know it. All of a sudden shit starts goin’ off into outer space with wrong changes and everything. Sonny Stitt turns around and says, “Hey man, just play the regular changes…”. He thought he was was trying to substitute, you know. *laughs* They were just the wrong changes. *laughs*

JB: Right, right. *laughs * So he was just fucking up.

ME: Yeah, yeah. He just kept on playing and Sonny kept on going and the shit went out again. And so Sonny just said, “Hey man, just play the regular changes”, y’know? And Melvin looks at me, then looks at him, and says, “Fuck it, man, maybe I should just go home” in the middle of the tune. He picks up his piano, starts taking the legs off, puts it under his arm and walks off the stage. *all laughs* Sonny looked at me and said, “I know that motherfucker from someplace else”. He said, “That ain’t the first time he did that, I should have known or watched him, and known it when his nostrils swell up and his hair stood straight up on his head and said, “Fuck it”. He thought Melvin was the devil. *laughs*

MD: Manty, was it coincidental that Melvin and Buddy were here, and Hattush or…?

ME: Melvin was first.

MD: ‘Cause he went to Madison…

ME: Right. He was here from Madison.

MD: Did that inspire anyone else to come here?

ME: No, Buddy was already here when Melvin came.

MD: What did Buddy come here for, exactly?

ME: It had to be about ’67. I moved to San Francisco then. Then I came back.

MD: When did Hattush come here?

ME: Hattush came here in the 50’s. Hattush came here with a organ player from St. Louis named Jimmy Dean.

JB: You are talking about Hattush Alexander, came in the 50’s… so he had been here a while then.

ME: Yeah, Hat been here quite a while.

MD: Did you work with Hattush back then?

ME: We worked a gig, do you remember where Jimmy Mack’s used to be? It used to be Antonio’s Palace.

JB: The Main Event?
ME: Yeah, the Main Event. Antonio’s Palace, the guy who used to run it… was a mafia joint too. He fired me and Hattush both. Yeah, that was funny because we had all kinds of problems. After the night that we worked, he called the both of us who were on the gig. He called us both in the office, he looks at Hat and he looks at me and he said… paid us, and said everything’s cool now? I don’t owe you anything? We said no. He said, well you fuckers will never work here again! *all laugh You’re fired! He fired me and Hattush right there. Hat looked at me and I looked at Hat, said wow, that’s interesting.

KR: I guess you really don’t argue with him.

ME: Man, Ive seen cats like Jimmy Johnson… (to MD) you know Jimmy Johnson?

MD: I’ve heard of him… what was his deal?

ME: Jimmy was a bass player.

JB: Was he a good player?

ME: ….. he was ….

MD: Was he a character?

ME: …he was ok. But around here, he was real good. We worked a gig up on 3rd St, a couple blocks north of Center… one block north of Center. We finished the gig, went to get paid, it was July 1st, thats when they get the licence changed over… them guys took all the money and split, and left the club. We come out to get paid, ain’t nobody there, man. So, Jimmy Johnson takes the cash register, its locked, you know, ain’t nothing in it. He takes it out, he’s sitting on the curb…

MD: Took the whole thing out?

ME: Yea, ripped the whole cash register out, got him a house brick, and he’s beatin on the cash register. That guy we was talking about, Nelson Symonds? He was there. Yeah, he was there.

MD: Manty, is Billy Wallace around?

ME: Yeah. He’s in Denver.

MD: Oh yeah, that’s right.

ME: I’ll probably have to go get him, eventually. Cause, he’s getting older and…

MD: But he’s playing?

ME: Oh, he can play!

MD: I mean, playing out?

ME: Naw, he won’t play out. Noooo, noo. Man, when he lived in Vegas, the singers … man, he said, I don’t need to do this shit no more. I’ll sing myself, if I want to sing.

JB: So, he taught Herbie?

ME: That’s where I met Herbie, comin… over in Chicago.

MD: When was the first time you met Herbie?

ME: He was nine years old.

*all laugh

MD: How did you happen to meet him?

ME: Going over to see Billy.

MD: Was he studying with Billy then?

ME: Yeah. Every time I went over there, he was there.

MD: Jazz? or more classical?

ME: Man, Billy doesn’t know shit about classical music. Billy Wallace never took a lesson from nobody. He’s self taught. Completely. You know how when you practice learning piano and you play with your fingers like this? (curves fingers) He plays flat fingered. I was talking to him the other…

MD: Tatum played flat fingered.

ME: Yeah, he was playing with his whole fingers, instead of like this.

JB: Who was the other cat? Chris Anderson?

ME: Oh!

JB/MD: Did you ever know that guy?

ME: Yeah! Blind.

MD: Yeah

JB: Herbie references him as one of his teachers.

ME: Billy respected him.

MD: Did you ever hang with him in Chicago?

ME: Yeah, Billy took me to his house.

JB: Was he a real unique player?

ME: Yeah, harmonically.

MD: I heard him out in New York, and he’s unusual…

ME: Chris Anderson?

MD: Yeah, his playing is unusual. You ever get any insight into what he was..

ME: No, I never… Billy would take me up to his apartment and he’d have a piano, and I’d just sit there. And these cats would start playing a tune, and then Chris would play and the Billy would say, yeah that’s nice, I tried it this way. Man, harmonic geniuses, man.

MD: Herbie’s got that new book and he talks about getting together with Chris and I think Billy. He said they’d all take turns playing a tune.

ME: Right.

MD: That’s sounds like what you are talking about. Probably mind blowing stuff.

JB: Harmonic geniuses. That makes a lot of sense, like why Herbie is Herbie.

TA: Did you get a chance to hear Herbie when he was that young?

ME: No, the first time I got to really hear Herbie was when he went to the piano…

JB: In Milwaukee?

ME: Yeah, was when I really got to hear..

TA: Like 16 years old?

ME: No, he was like 19 or 20. And he was scared to death. He was going to New York. Thats when he went. About 6 months after that he was with Miles. You heard of George Duke, thats another dude who was a monster.

MD: Did you get to know George Duke?

ME: Oh yeah, when I moved to San Francisco.

MD: Did you work with him?

ME: I got to play one night in Richmond, California it was at the… this guy that worked at the, workin for the navy, he was a bass player, his name was Edgar Williams. He drove a forklift at the place where I was working, and he knew I was a musician, and so he came over and invited me out to Richmond for a… he had a gig that night out there. And he just got a drummer that came in from Brooklyn, his name was Mickey… anyways, George Duke was on that gig on piano, the bass player was Edgar Williams, and this drummer Mickey Owens. And I went out there and I played with them that night and the drummer got killed on the freeway, the same night.

MD: That night?

ME: Exact same night.

MD: It seemed like he had kind of a McCoy thing…

ME: Aw, he could do anything.

MD: What took you out to San Francisco?

ME: Well, I went out there on a vacation and I checked out the scene. Wasn’t too much happening musically. I figured… that’s when I took that vacation, I was working 7 nights a week here.

MD: At Alfie’s?

ME: Yeah. And I decided I’d rather be out there for a while.

MD: What’d you dig about it?

ME: The weather. Mostly, the weather.

TA: Were Joe (Henderson) and Bobby Hutcherson out there at that time?

ME: Yeah. Bobby Hutcherson, Harold Land, ah, Ron Carter.

MD: Did you work a lot out there? or was it hard to break into the scene.

ME: Man, when I got there, I had… I got there on a Thursday night, I had two gigs Friday, when I got there. But, I wasn’t what I wanted… the organ was very popular, I don’t like working with organ.

MD: You don’t?

ME: Noooo. Hell naw. I had this one gig at this place called The Scene that was in Pacific Heights. Coming from Oakland, you go up through San Francisco. I had that gig and Oscar Brown Jr. was writing these plays and stuff. Man, the cats out there had his music all fucked up, couldn’t write it out the way he, you know.. I straightened out all his music and everything. I wound up, he got me on that gig, that was a four-night gig, he got me to work with him. That theater thing with him? I never missed a day’s work. I worked all the time. the only reason why I quit that, was because the play was going so good in San Francisco, that they decided to open it in New York. That was a good idea. The day before we leave, they had this cat… Tony, Tony something, he played the lead part, and the guy that played the lead in Bye-Bye Birdie, he played the lead in that the whole time I was there. They got Big Black… you ever heard of that? The conga player? He played a lead part in there. When we got ready to go to New York to open up, they told me that they had gotten rid of Big Black…

MD: As an actor?

ME: Oh yeah, he was an actor. All those cats, they’ll do anything for money. So they got rid of him and said, guess what? We’re getting Muhammad Ali to play the lead part. Now, wait a minute… *laughs I said, let me think about that a minute. I wouldn’t go to New York. Merl went, the organ player… Merl Saunders.

JB: Merl Saunders?

ME: Yeah, that’s who I worked with all the time in California.

MD: He’s been through here recently?

ME: Oh yeah, but he’s dead now. Jerry Garcia? Grateful Dead… All those cats.

JB: You worked with those guys?

ME: I knew all of em. Merl was doin that.

JB: I thought he did like a Grateful Dead thing, in Milwaukee.

ME: Sure, he did. He came here a couple times. Three or four times.

MD: What’s the place… Shank Hall.

(Bill Bonifas joins the conversation)

MD: (to BB) He was just saying how he got to know the dead in San Francisco.

JB: The Grateful Dead.

BB: Somehow, I didn’t translate, that’s really cool.

ME: The Grateful Dead *laughs

TA: I heard that all those guys in that band were into jazz.

ME: I don’t know about that… they were dopers. That’s what they were. Big time dopers, that’s all.

BB: Somehow I went to a Grateful Dead concert when I was a kid. And I got to meet Jerry Garcia. I think I said one thing, I asked him is that a custom made guitar? All he said was, “ Ugh”. *laughs That was my whole conversation with him.

ME: That was the extent of his vocabulary too.

MD: Manty, how come you left San Francisco and came back here?

ME: The music was sad out there.

MD: You decided to come back.

ME: Yeah. Then Buddy (Montgomery) called me out there, wanted me to come back and do the, that recording with him.

JB: The Impulse thing…

ME: Yeah.

JB: ‘69

ME: That was screwed up too.

JB: What, the recording?

ME: No, the whole situation. Now, he’s in Milwaukee, these guys going to take care of business… and I’m in San Francisco and I’m supposed to come to Milwaukee, moving back… and he’s going down to Chicago to finish this contract obligation. And he gives me the wrong date. So, I’m driving back from San Francisco, you know, and I drive past Chicago and I’m looking over at the city, yeah there’s the studio over there and I have to come home. When I get home, they are burning up the telephone, “man, you are supposed to be at the studio!”. I said no that’s tomorrow! He said, No, it’s today! Aw, man.

JB: So you gotta drive back, you just drove from San Francisco to Milwaukee.

ME: Yeah, so I said, well I’ll be there tomorrow. He said, we’ll do part of it today, and the other part of it tomorrow. That’s why I wasn’t on the whole album.

JB: That’s right. I have it. I found it at Bullseye records, they had it and I just recently bought a copy of it.

ME: This Rather Than That.

JB: Yup.

BB: Is that the title?

JB: Yeah. It’s on Impulse. And he’s holding an apple…

ME: A lime and…

JB: and a lemon.

ME: A lemon and a lime.

JB: Oh, I thought it was an apple and a lemon. So, a lemon and a lime.

BB: Like a brunette and a red head or something.

ME: This Rather Than That. He’s got a real nice blues tune on there, “Willy Nilly Blues”.

MD: Yeah. With that bass line, octave kind of bassline.

ME: Yeah, it’s only two notes in the bassline. On the chords, it’s just like a blues.

BB: I always liked that Oliver Nelson, what is it “Blues and the Abstract Truth”…

JB: That’s a great record. Freddie is on that, Roy Haynes on drums…

BB: That was highly produced. They used a lot of reverb on those horns, you know they didn’t used to do very much.

ME: Well, the studio does that. They go in the studio and change everything… Wes (Montgomery) told me, he did a trio thing… he said, man, I went back, they played it back for me, it was a big band on there. *all laugh. He, said what the hell is this?

BB: I bet they did that with Wes, he did that thing with strings…

ME: Oh, sure.

BB: “A Day in the Life”, yeah, that was like, Herbie is on piano… as much as that was like a commercial record, that’s what got me interested in jazz because my dad had that record, but man, that’s some good guitar playing on that…

ME: Yeah.

BB: …and that was an entry point, because I didn’t hear the real straight-ahead stuff.

TA: People knock it, but that later Wes stuff…

BB: His playing is great!

TA: Caravan? With the big band? Shit’s crazy.

BB: Yeah.

ME: That’s commercial Wes.

TA: It’s still good.

BB: The playing is still great.

ME: Yeah. What you really shoulda done, is sit there and listen to him and then have him hand you his guitar, “you can play now”. Man, I said, holy christ, what is this? And he handed me his guitar, it felt like a thousand pounds, man. *laughs Aw, man. I tell you one thing it did for me… I don’t mind, whoever is playing, it doesn’t bother me. After that. That’s the way…

JB: Yeah, right… that sets the bar pretty high. To get handed Wes’ guitar…

ME: By Wes.

JB: By Wes.

ME: And then before that, they were playing some tune, and he was playing and his cord was tangled up, man, he was playing something. I said, how can he probably play that, and I look around and he’s kicking his cord playing… he wasn’t even… I said aw, man… unbelievable.

BB: I like to go on youtube and just, put Wes Montgomery and there will be some outtakes of some European recording session and stuff, that someone was filming or a television show… and it’s always solid. I mean, it’s never not solid.

ME: Oh, that’s him. He’s a player, man.

TA: I have a question about Wes, because I hear everyone, there seems to be like two different… people say that he was like this sort of savant guy who didn’t know anything about like changes, and I hear some other people say, who knew him, that say he was like really up on, like he knew about how to play changes. Like he wasn’t just getting it out of the air…

ME: Wes… none of those brothers were heavy, head-wise. They just played.

TA: Yeah.

MD: I mean, would Buddy talk about, I don’t know, would he refer to different extensions, or a flat nine…

ME: Aw, hell naw…

MD: It wasn’t about that, right?

ME: Let me tell you about Buddy… I was by the house one time, and we were talkin’ about music, and I was tellin’ him… Man, you outta get with Tony King. ‘Cause you know, he’s a harmonic genius. He knows all the… he doesn’t play anything, but he knows it.

JB: He knows the theory.

ME: Buddy says, yeah I talked to Tony, he wants to talk about building chords and stuff. I said, yeah! He says, yeah, well he told me about this C7 chord, its C, E, G, and Bb… and he went to the piano and played it and said, “I don’t like that.” *all laugh

MD: He didn’t want to talk about it…

ME: He couldn’t! He didn’t know nothin’ about that! The next step from that is voicing, you know…

MD: He didn’t think about it that way.

ME: See, Tony would teach you all about everything, why it works like that.

BB: I studied with him…

ME: Tony King. He was a monster wasn’t he?

BB: Yeah, he was. I don’t know if I have the quote right, and you might correct me if you remember it but, he would say like… he’d pick like F# lydian or something and make a kid go, ok, “F#”, you know, and he’d go through it and when you’d stumble he’d laugh. And he’d say, not how about you? And he’d go up to you, because he wanted everyone to know everything. But the line he kept coming back to was, “The human mind tolerates what gives it pleasure, and what gives it pleasure is what it can do with…

ME/BB (in unison): out thinking.

ME: Right!

BB: Now, when I was younger, I thought it just meant, ah, you are a bunch of stupid kids and you don’t want to think. But, then I thought, that’s true… But, then also, the human mind tolerates what gives it pleasure, is when you know the shit so well,  then you aren’t thinking. So it’s true at both the learning stage where you’ve gotta, yeah yeah yeah…

ME: You know, I’ve been trying to remember that for years.

BB: Well, you and I were meant to meet tonight.

ME: Right.

BB: The human mind tolerates what gives it pleasure, and what gives it pleasure is what it can do…

ME/BB: without thinking.

ME: Well, that was it.

JB: Sonny Rollins says that, Bird…

BB: If you know it so well, then you are not thinking again. But, I never got the second level. Yeah, he’s calling me a lazy dumb fuck, because I don’t want to memorize the shit. And later its like, no, what he’s really talking about is you know it so well, that you got it down. That just hit me like this here, and I’m almost 60.

ME: I’m glad you brought that up , man, because that, I’ve been trying to think of that… every student that he had, he told that.

BB: Yeah?

ME: I studied with Tony for 20 years. Not just a 45 minute class, 6 and 8 hours a day. And on the weekends, we put the Conservatory together. You know?

MD: How did you get to know Tony, like originally?

ME: Well, Tony, he lived in the hood. You know. And we used to, the kids, we used to be rough, you know, throwing rocks, breaking windows and all this, just like normal kids in the hood did. And Tony was on the road, and he’d be out, and he owned this house right next to my buddy on Reservoir, right around the corner from where I live… and we’d play in the alley right where he would sleep and we’d piss him off all the time. You know, ‘cause he’d be out all up in Green Bay driving around. He’d never stay in a hotel, he’d stay in his car and he’d come home and want to sleep, and he’d come out and run us off… and we used to fuck with him all the time. You know? *laughs. He’s always runnin’ us off. And finally at the Conservatory, when they decided, ah… they wanted to put a jazz program, that was his idea in the first place.

MD: How did he approach them? How was he able to… He had been teaching there probably a little bit?

ME: Yeah, see the Conservatory…

BB: All classical then, right?

ME: Yeah, but wait a minute…

MD: Right, how did he break into that?

ME: The Conservatory wasn’t what it is now. It was the Wisconsin College Conservatory… and then it became the Wisconsin College of Music and the Conservatory was over on Farwell.

MD: Ok

ME: Near Teddy’s…

MD: Ok

ME: …in the basement. And I went over there once, and they were down there, it had rained, stormed, and Tony is down there teaching in his boots in the basement over there.

BB: Smoking cigarettes right?

ME: 5 packs a day.

BB: He’d always get chalk everywhere.

ME: Soot down his chest.

BB: Yeah.

ME: Cigarette burns all over his hands. Fingers burned off.

BB: But a smile on his face.

ME: Right.

BB: But he seemed to be a happy guy…

ME: Always.

BB: … when he was teaching. He was always happy.

ME: Right.

BB: Always on.

ME: Yeah.

BB: Yeah, that was very inspiring.

MD: How did Tony get his knowledge?

ME: How did he get his knowledge? He had a master’s degree. He got it from, what is that little college down in Tennessee State, is in the same city… country western…

JB: Nashville, or…?

ME: Yeah.

MD: Formal study…

ME: Oh yeah. He took it farther than that, man. Man, I mean he couldn’t play shit, but he could tell you anything you wanna know.

MD: Would you say he’s sort of a theorist?

ME: Definitely. Yeah. And when he taught, he taught thorough. I wasn’t just a scale, he taught you why the scale, and why each note in that scale became a part of a family and the whole world was harmonious. Each tone in every scale is harmonious with itself. That’s why, you know… I thought about that. You go back and little simple shit that he taught, if you know that, man, it’s easier at the top.

MD: Yeah.

ME: Guys used to come around and ask trick questions. They’d ask Tony a trick question and he’d have something for him. I said, what’s that? He said, ask that motherfucker “What is music?”.

*all laugh

ME: Think about that.

JB: So, someone is just trying to be a wise guy and trip him up, or something.

ME: Yeah. But, not too many people can tell you what it is. You know what the exact definition is?

JB: What did he say?

ME: Sounds that are pleasant to YOUR ear. So music to you could be noise to me, and vice versa.

MD: Sounds pretty accurate.

JB: I like that.

MD: Hard to argue with that.

ME: Right! What is sound? Well, sounds are vibrations that are controlled. If he asked anything about it, he’d ask what does 440 mean? 440 vibrations per second. Anything that vibrates is going to produce that sound. And what he meant by harmonious, you got even numbers and uneven numbers of vibrations. The even numbers won’t conflict. Uneven numbers and even numbers (hits fists together). Common sense. So, you studied with Tony, man you learned everything.

JB: Overtones….

ME: Yeah, the overtone series and all of that shit. Aw, man, he taught me all of that shit. But the overtone series, man, I lost that, because that got away from playing.

JB: Right, right… Physics.

MD: How old was Tony compared to you?

ME: Seventeen years older than I am.

MD: So, early on was he a mentor to you? I mean, I know you guys built that program together.

ME: Well, you see, Tony was the brains, and I know how to get things done. My theory is, just put all the bullshit on the side and go forward with what you are doing. Don’t even worry about that, don’t even look that way. Focus. And once you do that, you got it whipped. Because the human mind, man, even dumb motherfucker’s mind is something else, man. You could be a dumb motherfucker, but that mind is still cool. Dumber than what?

*all laugh

ME: Sure, they take and put you in the medical field and… surgeries and shit like that… you a dumb motherfucker. You don’t know nothin’ about that!

JB: Right, relatively speaking.

ME: Right! You don’t know shit about that unless you studied it. See music is a little different… it won’t hurt you, in the medical field you’ll kill somebody. That’s why we get all off track, it’s not devastating to your life.

[1] Lapham Park, now Carver Park, 911 W Brown St – A portion of the current site has a history of park use which dates back to 1853. At that point in time, Quentin’s Park, a private facility, occupied the site of what is now Roosevelt Middle School plus much of the southerly part of Carver Park. In 1879 this land was sold to the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company and Schlitz Park (a popular beer garden) was created. Through the 1940s, the park was called Lapham Park and featured the Lapham Memorial. (wikipedia)

[2] Jazz Wisconsin is an organization started by Dr. Ron Myers, “The Wisconsin Jazz and Heritage Foundation (WJHF) is dedicated to the preservation of the historic contributions of African-Americans to the legacy of jazz in North Milwaukee and the state of Wisconsin.” http://www.juneteenthjazz.com/jazzwisconsin.html

[3] Chuck Lapaglia, the owner and proprietor of the original Jazz Gallery at 932 Center St in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood. Presented local and national acts from 1978-1984.

[4] The Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, The school is descended from two music schools, both founded in Milwaukee in 1899: the Wisconsin College of Music, originally located in Mendelssohn Hall across the street from the Central Library, and the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, originally housed in the Ethical Building on Jefferson Street facing Cathedral Square. The two schools merged in 1971. It now describes itself as “the oldest and largest non-profit independent music school in the state.”

In 1932 it leased the mansion originally built by industrialist Charles L. McIntosh in 1903. McIntosh was born in New York State, and became a banker in Denver, Colorado. In 1895 he moved to Racine, Wisconsin and bought a controlling interest in the J. I. Case Company. The architect was Horatio R. Wilson of Chicago. In 1921 McIntosh sold the house to William Osborne Goodrich (1863–1956), who was married to Marie Best Pabst (1868–1947), the daughter of Frederick Pabst (1836–1904). (wikipedia)

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