I like this brief exchange from Chris Albertson’s 1979 interview with clarinetist and alto saxophonist Russell Procope (1908–1981). From 1946 to 1974, Procope was a member of the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Here Procope recalls his growing awareness of older musicians in the mid-to-late 1920s:
Procope: They used to talk about Joe Oliver and Johnny St. Cyr, and all those old guys, you know.The cornetist and bandleader Joe “King” Oliver was born in 1885; the banjoist and guitarist Johnny St. Cyr, in 1890. By the mid-to-late ’20s, they were past twenty-five, though hardly old. But age varies with perspective, right? Older than you is old.
Albertson: They weren’t really that old then.
Procope: Well, they were older than I was. I was about seventeen, eighteen, nineteen; they were probably about twenty-five. I called them old. [Laughs.]
Chris Albertson’s interview offers the rare opportunity to hear Russell Procope talk about his life and work: Part One, Part Two. And here, courtesy of YouTube, is one of Procope’s finest moments with Ellington, “Second Line,” from New Orleans Suite (1970).