How Rock Legend Jack Bruce Built His Jazz and Blues Bona Fides

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Jack Bruce (1943-2014) continued playing jazz and blues while performing in Cream during the 1960s.

(Photo: Marek Hoffmann)

The commercial success of Cream allowed you to do an acoustic jazz album, Things We Like.

I had this material, some of which I had written as a child, and hence the title, which was a reading book that you’d get in Britain. It was an opportunity to record with Dick Heckstall-Smith and Jon Hiseman. It started off as a trio, which the record was supposed to be. I’d written material for a trio and then I ran into John McLaughlin after the first day’s recording. We’d already recorded the first two tracks. He was a bit down, because he wanted to join Tony Williams in New York, but he didn’t have the money. So I said, “Why don’t you come and play on my record, it’ll give you enough money so you can go.” He came, and the rest of it is for a quartet.

I was planning my first tour with my first band, Jack Bruce & Friends, with Mitch Mitchell, Larry Coryell and Mike Mandel. The first gig we did in the States was the Fillmore East, two nights there. The first night Jimi Hendrix came down and Carla Bley, too. It was bizarre. The second night, John brought Tony Williams down. Tony said to me, “Do you want to join my band?” This was the opening of my U.S. tour with my first band! I said, “OK, sure man.” [laughs] Lifetime was just a trio at the time with Williams, McLaughlin and Larry Young. I don’t know why they had the idea of luring me in when they did.

Tony Williams Lifetime sounded like no one else. The albums don’t do it justice.

The problem that we had was trying to get that on record—it was so intense. We never managed to achieve that. The intensity made it almost impossible for the technology to preserve it. The people who actually saw a gig were blown away. I still get people coming up to me, in Europe in particular, saying, “I saw you at such and such and I was never the same again.” [laughs] It was unbelievable to play with Tony. It was like playing with Baby Dodds. He was the continuation of this tradition.

After working with Tony, you recorded with Carla Bley and Paul Haines on the three-record Escalator Over The Hill.

I’ve been listening to that again. I love Carla’s writing and her singing makes me laugh. It’s vast. There’s so much humor in it. I was playing with Don Cherry, Paul Motian. What can you say? It was amazing to be around, and there’s some good stuff on there, lots of imagination.

You crossed paths with Rahsaan Roland Kirk, too.

What a fantastic experience to play with him, but even better than playing with him was an astonishing gig at Ronnie Scott’s when he was doing his circular breathing thing, and he was playing this one note on one of his saxophones, and at the same time he lifted the bass player in his band, Malcolm Cecil, and threw him and his bass off the stand into the audience. [laughs] He had something out of this world. DB

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December 2018
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