Rick Petrone Interview
Rick Petrone played bass during what is considered by some to be Maynard's most popular and creative period...the early and mid 1970s. Those that saw Rick play as part of Maynard's band in concert undoubtedly remember his extended solo on La Fiesta. Since leaving Maynard's band, Rick has had a successful and creative career. With the current release of Maynard's "At The Top" DVD (which features Rick) as well as a new CD featuring Rick (see below for details), it seemed like a good time to talk to Rick and catch up.
I want to thank Rick for taking time to answer my questions.
- Let's start with your musical background. Can you tell us about your musical education?
I began as a violinist (horrible) moved to acoustic bass at 10, started playing gigs at 11 (no lie). Did the usual H.S. things in music. I was basically self taught until I went to Berklee 1964-69 and roomed with guitarist John Abercrombie, who was a friend from my hometown in Greenwich, CT. There I was one of 5 bass players (over 100 these days). I also met Lin Biviano and played in his Maynard band at Berklee. This band met every Saturday and little did I know where it would lead.
In 1968 I was fortunate to study and play with trombonist Phil Wilson who recommended me for Buddy Rich's band. The band needed a fill-in for a few months while bassist Bob Magnusson dealt with some Viet Nam war problems. I stayed on for about 6 months and had blast. Buddy and I actually became friends and I saw him many times when I was on the MF band and we played on the same bill. I went back to school, graduated with a BA in Music and went on the road with the Glenn Miller band & then the Tommy Dorsey Band, both ghost bands by that time of course in 1969.
I had also gone to Berklee with old friend Joe Corsello from Stamford, CT. He recommended me to Marian Mac Partland and I joined and stayed with her for 1970 & early '71. With her I got to play with Chuck Mangione, Sarah Vaughan, Jackie & Roy, drummer Mickey Roker, pianist Duke Jordan and Ralph Towner (when they filled in for her).
- Who were your musical influences?
My first teacher was Ken Barry, my father, who played guitar and sang and guitarist John Abercrombie who I knew in H.S. and roomed with at Berklee.
My first bass influence was Ray Brown then Paul Chambers, Scott LoFaro Eddie Gomez and Stanley Clark. Today, Michael Moore, Gary Peacock, Linc Milliman. Actually, there are dozens, I listen to so much great music.
- What are some of your favorite albums or artists?
Joe Henderson-Mode For Joe, any Bill Evans Trio w/Scott or Eddie Keith Jarret Trio. I love Carmen McRae's singing (she opened for us (MF) at Wolf Trap and I got a chance to interview her years later -see below). Each week I have a new favorite it seems there are so many great players!
- Before joining the band, were you a fan of Maynard's music?
As a matter of fact, Joe & I were in Raleigh N.C. w/ Marian and we were in a record (I said record) store listening to the then NEW MF Horn 3 with McArthur Park and I said to Joe if I ever get a chance to play with that band it will be tremendous! And I had already been into the older stuff because Linc Milliman was on some of the early recordings.
- When did you join Maynard's band, and how long were you on the band?
This is a great story! In early 1971, I was passing some down time from Marian working with another pianist who asked if I could go to Cincinnati with him as he auditioned during a college festival. These were done where dozens of bands played for college buyers who would buy the bands for future concerts at their colleges. It was 3 days long and I had to drive from CT to get there for a room and no bread. Why did I do it? Because some of the other acts were Horace Silver, Cannonball Adderley, Earth, Wind & Fire and Maynard, who I had just seen in CT.
Lin Biviano was on the band then and asked for my number because Joel De Bartolo was thinking of leaving to join Doc Severinsen when the 'Tonight' show band moved to L.A. I never thought he would call but he did just a few weeks later. I called Joe Corsello & told him Lin had called (he roomed with Lin at Berklee) and said I didn't know if I was going (I had a new daughter, etc). He screamed "are you nuts, you said you would give anything to join that band" So I did! (you can't make this up) It was in 1971 and I stayed until 1973 and recorded 'Live at Jimmy's" & "Chameleon", traveled over a million bus miles, 3 countries, dozens of TV shows (one is now The 'At The Top' DVD) and had the best musical experience of my life.
- What was the first recording like?
Another good story! We were told at one of the first rehearsals for the tour that we would be recording "Live at Jimmy's" during our week engagement at the club in NYC (no longer there) But.. We'd be running up and down I-95 between NY & DC to do it. Sort of like this - Play the gig, rest a while - get on the bus drive to Philly do a clinic - get on the bus back to NYC do the gig - rest a few hours, get on the bus drive to DC do the Mike Douglas show get on the bus drive back to the gig, etc AND be on so that we might get a good take to record. Well, the real deal was that Maynard had just had oral surgery and could hardly play & most of his stuff was done later. In the mean time we had guests front the band all week like Billy Watrous, Clark Terry and others. And I had just joined the band as a 26 yr old wide eyed kid. Check the personnel and you'll see the guys who helped me along. Besides Lin & Bruce Johnstone I owe my MF life to Randy Jones & the late Pete Jackson who got me through the early tough times. Oh, here's an aside I've hardly ever told anyone but if there's a place to tell it this is it.
We had all our songs picked out for the recording, of course, and we were all set to play them over & over, night after night to get them down. Well one night Maynard calls Jeff Steinberg's 'Nice & Juicy" One. Two One, Two Three and we're in. No one told me -or I missed it - and if you listen closely to the beginning there is NO BASS as I was frantically looking for the music - of course that was the take they used and now everyone knows the truth - I'm still laughing about it & so is Maynard.
- How was playing on Maynard's band different from other gigs?
M.F. was and probably still is, the most considerate, caring, listening, musical and musically entertaining person I've ever worked with bar none. It was he who gave me the solos I had and worked with me to make them feature pieces with the band, like La Fiesta. Everybody solos on Maynard's band if you can & want and we, I, just loved it. We felt like a team, played like a team and had a BALL!
At the end of the first tour (7 weeks long) I went up to Maynard and said if it was okay I'd like to be back. He looked at me, smiled and said I was hoping you weren't going anywhere, why would I hire anyone else?
That's when I knew I had made it and he was someone I'd really have a ball with.
- You were featured on one of Maynard's most popular and respected albums, Chameleon. Do you have any special recollections about that recording?
Sure do, It was one of the first times Columbia Records recorded a band in one room. We were all in a big circle with only some dividers around Dan D'Imperio's drums and I think we did everything in one take, maybe two. I was excited to record my solo on La Fiesta, equally disappointed when it was cut (and extremely thankful for the DVD). We were a little put off recording Livin for the City and Jet being a true Be-Bop band of course, and very amused at Maynard's singing of 'I Can't Get Started' with Flo's added lyrics. It was the first recording of Maynard's Holton Superbone (meets the BadMan). Oh, and we were all surprised to see guitarist Joe Beck on the final product. I've worked with Joe since then and we do have a laugh about that. Joe did it all in an overdub session weeks after we recorded and, at the time, none of us had ever met him!
We were still excited to have our second record out and a few months later at the Wichita Jazz Festival we got to play 'Chameleon' with special guest Herbie Hancock on piano - what a kick for all of us and especially ME! See Danny D's new liner notes for more Chameleon info.
- Do you have a favorite story from playing with the band?
There are tons of them.
Maybe the one night we were traveling hundreds of miles to some gig and stopped to get gas and all of a sudden we started a soccer game in a field. I realized that here, completely without thought, ego, or fear was the entire Maynard Ferguson band with Maynard (who always rode the bus by the way) roadies, AND bus driver Bernie the Bolt playing soccer somewhere off the highway in somewhere USA. WHO else would do that Buddy? Woody? Basie? Duke? I doubt it :)
Or maybe it was when we were at Disneyland in California. I was really excited to be there. I had been at opening week in 1955 and here, 16 years later, I was playing there with family and friends hangin' out. It was my job to sell the records after the show - Sorry Ed Sargent I had the job first :) - Anyway here I was doing my job after the show signing autographs, selling albums and pictures and here come the cops!
Trying to arrest me for soliciting goods on private property.
Somehow I got out of being arrested but I was sure embarrassed.
Believe me my visions of Mickey Mouse went down the tubes that night and the band ribbed me for weeks. I guess that's one Ed's happy he missed.
Or maybe the time we were in Ithaca and I hadn't seen my daughter in a while & my wife took her to see us for her 4th birthday. Not only did he bring her on stage to play (hold) a tambourine during Hey Jude but he had a birthday party for her and gave her her very first watch - which she still has 30 years later!
Or maybe I could go all night with this :)
- How would you describe Maynard's bandleading style?
All for one & one for All. He never missed a beat and never let us look wrong after a mistake. He gave us every opportunity to succeed and when we did he was the happiest. What more could you want? If you watch the video you can see him in action and it's great. Even my students who see it today say it would have been fun playing for him (except those red shirts, which still beat the Japanese kimonos by a long shot).
- As a Bass Player did you find it difficult to reach Maynard's audience?
You mean because I didn't play trumpet?
Absolutely not. He made it easy by featuring me Every night once on electric and once on Acoustic. He had nick names for us and stories before each introduction. Pete & I were his interview mates on a few occasions and would find ourselves in a radio station answering questions with him so the audience knew us and loved us. Even in Japan they knew us before we got there and actually had a red carpet from the plane to the first press conference. (I was 'Chicken-San" in Japan because I didn't like sushi).
- You played with the "alumni band" at Maynard's 75th birthday bash in Boston. What can you tell me about that experience?
Well I met you and that was cool!
I couldn't believe how much fun that was. We were 26 again for a few hours and I almost wanted to get on the bus again, and what a bus not the old cow herder we had.
Seeing Stan Mark & Lin and meeting some of the guys I never played with was unbelievable. Nice to know the fans remembered us and it was great to see Maynard loving every minute of it. My wife finally got to see what I was talking about all these years and understood what being a part of that really was like -sort of- you'd have to be one of us to really get it!
- When did you leave the band and why?
It was after we got BattleStar Gallactica & The Theme From Tommy that some of old jazzers decided we'd been around enough. It wasn't Maynard but the business of the business that did that and we knew it, all 6 of us that left. Bruce Johnstone, Bob Summers, Pete Jackson, Randy Jones & I tried to start a quintet that really didn't materialize. But then Bruce, Joe Corsello & I got together with Lew Soloff & John Scofield for the first incarnation of 'New York Mary' this group later recorded 3 albums for Arista records and featured Bruce, Joe & I and for a time Alan Zavod on keyboards & Donald Hahn on Trumpet. Oh, by the way for our 1st big gig at Baker's Keyboard Lounge in Detroit it was Maynard, after we'd left him, who pulled the bus up with all the band to catch us in concert - WHO'D Do That?.
- What did you take away from the band, experience-wise, etc?
Music is fun and if you didn't learn that from Maynard you learned nothing. You also learned to bring your 'A' game every night because EVERYTHING counts and you never know who's out there. Never be intimidated by other players, just play your thing and it will work out. Have a good time 'cause this time's the only time. Remember where you came from. All these things were never really talked about or preached they were set by example. Because of my MF experience I got some great endorsements from amplifier companies, got a custom bass guitar or two, got a chance to play with great players and to this day have people come up and say they saw me when.
- What have you been doing (and who have you been playing with) since you left Maynard's band?
It's been a while but I'll try and make it short (er than it should be).
After New York Mary (3 years) my family was getting bigger, 2 daughters. I decided to take a musical playing break and began a 17 year radio career as a jazz disc jockey. (Remember the interviews with MF & Pete? they stuck) Anyway, in a nutshell I went from a 2 hr show on Sunday Morning on AM radio to a 24 hour jazz station, using all my own records for a while, to program director, operations manager, on air every day to General Manager. Built a house, put the kids through college. The eldest is married and now I have 3 granddaughters. Still live in Greenwich, CT. (A couple of times I actually interviewed Maynard for the station and talk about a fun time with some fun questions)
Oh the music, well that came too. While doing all that I played with Chet Baker, Mel Torme, Thad Jones & Mel Lewis Big Band. Recorded with Marlene Ver Planck with Mel Lewis on Drums. Played tons of gigs with great players like Phil Woods, Nick Brignola, Arnie Lawrence, Clark Terry, Dave Brubeck, Don Friedman, Dave Stryker, Jon Hart, Joe Beck. Recorded with Houston Person, Joyce DiCamillo, Giacomo Gates and now Richie Hart Trio, where we've done 3 CD's.
I had met Richie years ago before Maynard in Nyack, NY when we were both in a big band that included Bill Watrous, Danny Stiles, Joe Romano, Andy Fusco, Gary Smulyan, Glen Drewes, Neil Slater. Then we went separate ways for years. Got together on a gig by surprise and started thinking about taking it further. Got Joe Corsello to play drums and now have been together for 3 years. We did one CD ourselves then 'Blues In The Alley' and Greasy Street for Zoho Music.
- I see that you have a new CD with Richie Hart entitled Greasy Street. What can you tell me about that recording? Where can we buy it?
This CD is just out since October and as I write this it's number #20 on the national air-play charts. It features Richie, Joe & me along with with Dr. Lonnie Smith, organ, Jerry Weldon (Harry Connick) on sax, Clifton Anderson (Sonny Rollins) trombone, Pete Levin (Gil Evans) keyboards.
'Greasy Street' was written for NYMary by me & Joe who gave it a New Orleans second line feel for this newer version.
It's available on Amazon.com, CD Baby, Tower Records, Borders Books.
- What else keeps you busy these days?
Besides Richie Hart Trio, Joe & I have been working with guitarist Gene Bertoncini and vocalist Giacomo Gates.
We have co-founded a music program for kids in Stamford where we coach jazz combos thru the year and host a 2 week summer jazz camp.
I have a few private students in my home weekly and still travel when we have to. I do most of the adjudicating for the Connecticut regional and All State jazz bass chairs and have consulted them about materials and requirements for those auditions. I spend a lot of time participating in rhythm section clinics with Joe & Richie thoughout New England & I'm working on a bass & drums technique method with Joe Corsello.
The Richie Hart trio will be doing a 'Wes Montgomery' clinic at this year's IAJE in NYCity. It's our 2nd appearance there. I still average over 150 gigs a year and keep as busy as possible.
If anyone is interested in reaching me just e-mail me at SummerJazz2005 and I'll be happy to e-mail back.