Friday, August 24, 2012

Russell Procope and relativity

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.

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.]
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.

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).

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