The shock of ginger hair which gained trumpeter Robert (‘hudnick his life-long nickname of Red Rodney is far from being the only colourful thing about his life. bizarre even by jazz standards. It wasn't the only time he would resort to a pseudonym. either. but more of that later.
Red Rodney first made his mark on the New York jazz scene when (‘harlie Parker selected him to take over the trumpet chair in his quintet. recently vacated by Miles Davis and temporarily filled by McKinley l)orham. The choice of the 22 year old white trumpeter puzzled almost everybody. but as Parker's biographer Ross Russell put it. Bird wanted someone ‘who could play. who would follow directions. and who thought ('harlie Parker was (iod. Rodney measured up in every respectf
It is doubly appropriate that Red Rodney should be returning to lidinburgh to make his debut Jazz Festival appearance at the same propitious moment as Bird. (‘lint Eastwood‘s film biography of Parker. in which Rodney is played by Michael Zelnicker. receives its British premiere screening at the Film Festival. llisJazz Festival appearances will include headlining Bird/and (see jazz listing). a tribute to Parker named after the famous New York jazz spot dedicated to the saxophonist just before Rodney joined the band in 1949.
His two year stay in the Parker quintet changed his life. for better and for worse. He acquired a priceless musical education alongside the man generally held to be the greatest of all jazz improvisers. but also picked up a heroin habit from the most notorious user on the scene. perhaps giving in to the prevailing suspicion ofthe time that in order to play like Bird. you had to do like Bird. despite the saxophonist’s warnings to lay off. It led to several spells in the federal narcotics hospital in Lexington.
‘l was with (‘harlie Parker for about three and a half years.’ says the trumpeter. ‘and that was kind of like going to college for me. If you spend time on the stand listening to a great genius like that. you can‘t help but learn to be a better player. Bebop is the hardest music of all to play. and I remember that first week in the band was really hard. but getting to play it every night meant I started learning right away.’
It was to be a long time before Red Rodney really got to use the full benefit of that musical education. He had played in big hands led by (‘laude 'l’hornhill. (iene Krupa and
CHARLlE PARKER AND RED Rooms?
Getting into Jazz Festival mood. trumpeter Red Rodney talks to Kenny Mathieson about ﬂying with Bird. stirring Porridge and kicking Horse.
RED LETTE DAY
Woody Herman. but chafed under the restrictions ofstrict ensemble playing and limited scope for improvisation. His years in the Parker group. which included an infamous tour of the Southern states during which the trumpeter had to pretend to be an albino to placate local feeling about racially mixed bands. allowed him full freedom of musical expression. but the acquired problems relating to drugs. and the drift away from bebop in the mid-1950s. side-tracked the trumpeter.
‘After I split with ('harlie. when he started to work with the strings and so on. I didn‘t really get to play much jazz. I needed to make some money. and I did all the kind ofjobs where you actually do that. like playing in the studios. I played the show orchestras in Las Vegas for a while as well. backing all the big singers and so on. It's no fun to play that stuff.’
In the late 1950s. however. Red Rodney took another stage name. and tried a different line. The trumpeter became (ieneral McIntyre. and perpetrated a series of frauds. culminating in a robbery at the Atomic Energy (‘ommission in Mercury. Nevada. in which he inadvertantly acquired documents the (iovernment badly wanted back. With his record. the FBI soon worked out what was going down. It was the plausible confidence trickster's big mistake. but it also turned out to be Red Rodney's big break.
He was sentenced to five years. the first six months of which were spent in Leavenworth. and the rest of the 27 months he actually served in the more congenial surroundings of Fort Worth. 'l’hat latter prison proved a good one for the trumpeter: he quit heroin and took a college degree in law. although he was ultimately disbarred from practising because of
2'I‘he List 19— 25 August 1988
his criminal record. 'l‘he whole thing was a bizarre episode in a strange life. but. as he told Village Voice jazz writer(iary (iiddinslbeyoml confirming it was all true. Rodney never spoke of the episode when I talked to him on his last visit to Fdinburgh) in the wake of Watergate in 1975. he has no regrets.
‘l have no regrets whatsoever. because I've lived a full life and I never hurt anybody. I suppose there is a little guilt in the act alone -— you know it's the wrong thing to do - but when I compare it with what's happening today. then no. it's really not wrong. it was fun. And I paid the dues. I paid more dues than the sonovabitches who almost stole the country are going to pay.‘
It was around that time that Red Rodney finally got himself back on
PETE MCCARTHY IS 007
Familiarto the lastlew
Fringes as haltoladuo. olcourseldo—butit'sa MCGOUQh 3'10 McCarthy. scripted show. a monologue Pele McCarthy this year with an interval. I've done it features in two shows. in all sorts at places— Chewing ona club sandwich magnilicentGeorgian
in Hove. he looked surprisingly normal. bearing in mind his one-man show makes a virtue (and money) at rummaging through the intimate recesses ot other people's homes. “Pete McCarthy Live in Your Living Room' took ottlast
year in Edinburgh. and has since been deviating in Melbourne and Brighton.
‘I had the idea otdoinga show in a grubby bed-sit. So lthought. why not do it in people's houses? lt‘sa show aboutthe metaphysical aspects at a serious hang-over. ldon't
the rails. returning to the field he admits he should never have left (‘the wrong turn I made was getting disgusted with the music business and with jazz‘). The rehabilitation of his playing chops was made doubly difficult by dental problems inflicted in 1963. when a couple of over-zealous l.as Vegas cops knocked out his front teeth. and the effects of a stroke in 1973 which left him paralysed fora year. but the trumpeter made a successful return to the music. picking up (irammy nominations for two records. including Sprint. one of his fruitful collaborations with saxophonist Ira Sullivan. which contains some of his best music.
His playing remains crucially influenced by bebop. although inevitably the fire of that era has been banked down. It has been replaced. however. by a growing maturity ofstyle. and a determination to let the music keep expanding. to continually embrace new things. ()n his latest album. Red (iiant. Rodney plays exclusively llugelhorn. and makes splendid use of the more mellow tonal qualities of the big horn. llis Edinburgh visit will certainly spark the fiery side of his playing. however. in the company of the excellent Peter King. one of Britain‘s best jazz players. and an alto saxophonist also heavily influenced by Parker's example. 'l’hat turn of the wheel will find
damage people's homes. People think I’m goingto come and rip the piss out at theirinteriordecor-which
mansions. sleazy bed-sits.l did it in one house Iastyear
where the peoplethatlived there were all either
‘ research physicists or arctic , explorers. The living room
. was like a rubbish tip. And
they'd obviously made an ehorttotidy it up. There was an alcove piled high with mattresses. boxes and bicycles. The piano was being used as an ironing-board. In Melbourne I did it ata hen-nightlorthe experience. I took a
Taking on a seriously muscleyrole. McCarthyis
. Red Rodney back in his natural i environment. blowing bebop for ' Bird.