DeM: This kind of gets into another question I’ve been thinking about: Why did you go into jazz?
Nat: Wait a minute, I wanted to say that this theory doesn’t hold true because I don’t know everybody’s background. I know that Victor surely didn’t have to walk through the juke-joint section of London, and if he did, I doubt if they were playing Muddy Waters. This doesn’t mean a racial thing; it’s environmental. But even that theory doesn’t always work out. But this is what I believe.
Sam: My family background was the same. My father played piano, drums. An aunt played organ in church. There was always instruments around the house—guitar, piano. I played the guitar in church when I was a kid. We always had a stack of records, Lunceford, Basie, and a phonograph. They called it Graphaphone then. You’d wind that fella up. … So I always heard music, and liked it.
In the school I got a chance to get into the band. That was it for me. I played bass drum in the marching band.
I just came up liking music and liking jazz. I was never too fond of that real … that gutbucket music too much. ’Cause in those days when Sam Donahue … in the days when they used to have the Coca-Cola hour, my parents used to put me to bed. But I had a little radio by my bed, and I used to sneak and turn that fella on and listen to the Coca-Cola hour. They used to have Andy Kirk one night, then different big bands used to come on … Cab Calloway. That’s how I got into jazz.
Louis: I’m a little younger than Sam. I started when jazz … I really started listening to Charlie Parker and Lester Young. They were already into their thing. That’s when I started listening, more or less. Always heard blues. You can’t get around that no way. Going to school, dancing. Naturally, you go through an age, 14 or 15, when you go through that. During that time I was going through it, I was still listening to jazz.
The fellows I was playing with were playing jazz. Sometimes the gig you had, you’d have to play a few blues tunes in order to hold the job. But everybody preferred jazz, so I knew what I wanted to play.
DeM: Cannon, was your experience the same as Nat’s?
Cannonball Adderley: I started listening a lot longer before he did. There was even more to it than that. In fact, some things Nat didn’t remember. When we hardly knew how to read, we knew how to sing. We would sing for company and all like that. Pop would go get us just as proudly, “Come on, boys! Sing WPA!” So you know how long that’s been.
DeM: The Mills Brothers.
Cannon: That’s right. I had a scrapbook with the Mills Brothers in it. I had their autographs because they visited our town when I was … You don’t remember, do you, Nat? See, that’s what I’m talking about. It’s been that long. Well, I had their autographs and some girl’s who won a Maj. Bowles amateur contest—Mary Perry, Diamond Tooth Mary Perry.
And like that church thing … We were Episcopalians, but we’d go down on the corner on Sunday night and listen to them get into it. Tabernacle Baptist Church. Sunday night after church they’d have a fish fry. We’d go down there to get some of that fish. They’d be inside poppin’—Hey! Jumb! Hey! Jumb! Be swinging. And we’d dig it. We’d be outside dancing and carrying on. We’d consider it sacrilegious.
DeM: Victor? That leaves you. Since you’re from a different country, a slightly different culture …
Vic: I was fortunate, because my brothers were musical. I had three brothers, and the youngest of the three is still nine years older than me. So when I was around 6, they were already playing, getting together rehearsal bands. They’re called semiprofessionals in England. They’d have rehearsals at the house every weekend.
I’d like to say right here that Nat, Cannon, Sam, Louis, their general environment outside the home, too, led to the buildup of the jazz feeling. While naturally in England, outside the house, there was nothing. In fact, jazz was like a dirty word, practically. My mother, it was just a drag for her to have this “noise” every weekend, but my father was musical. He never played when I was old enough to realize that someone was playing an instrument, but he did play when I was a baby. He used to play cello.
Anyway, my three brothers used to have rehearsals, and I would hear them every weekend. Finally, after a few months of that, I wanted a set of drums for my birthday. My father bought me for my birthday. My father bought me one of those—what do you call them? Woolworth’s? Two cents … ?
Vic: He bought me one of those sets of traps. You know, with the snare drum on the bass drum and those little cymbals. I used to practice on this thing. My brother would be playing when they weren’t rehearsing. One brother played and piano and accordion; another played trumpet. After I practiced a few months, they were having a rehearsal … this is getting away a little bit, but it’s just to illustrate how much environment can do something to a person … and the drummer couldn’t figure out the introduction. My brother was going mad trying to explain it. So my brother said, “Come, Victor, you show him how to do this,” I could hear how it went; I could hear what he was supposed to be doing. But at this age, I didn’t want t embarrass the guy. For if he saw a 6-year-old kid showing a 24-year-old guy how to play something, it would be a drag, so I wouldn’t do it. The following week when they rehearsed and he still couldn’t do it, my brother insisted. So I got up and played it right, I suppose.