The first jazz record I ever bought was a 10" 78 rpm Parlophone coupling of John Kirby's great little band playing Dawn on the Desert and The Turf. I was new to jazz and had actually gone to Copenhagen's Magasin du Nord's record department in search of a Beethoven sonata. It was around 1948 and my grandparents had made me a gift of their old HMV floor model gramophone, the English Victrola. New records were still hard to get, so when none of the store's three classical recordings appealed to me, I ask to see what they had in jazz. They had that one recording, so I bought it.
Kirby's five-piece band was a stellar group of musicians, three of whom I would get to know personally several years later, but their names were all new to me when I slipped the disc onto my turntable, wound up the old machine, and treated my ears. This had to be done before my mother came home and found me out. She could always tell when I was playing a new acquisition, and that was her cue to suggest that a pair of socks or a shirt would have been a more practical expenditure. She was probably right, but I never enjoyed socks as much as I did music.
A 1936 photo taken in front of the Savoy Ballroom with fellow members of
Willie Bryant's orchestra. L to R: Roy Eldridge, Procope, Chu Berry, Dicky Wells.
One of Kirby's players was Russell Procope, who was born in New York City August 11, 1908 and began his professional career at age 18. The roster of his subsequent musical associates is impressive and includes Jelly Roll Morton, Chick Webb, King Oliver, Fletcher Henderson, and Benny Carter, the latter a childhood friend. He joined Kirby's band in 1938, replacing alto saxophonist Pete Brown, but he is most widely known for his long tenure with Duke Ellington's orchestra.
Wikipedia (English) has a fairly detailed online biography here.
This is the first part of a lengthy interview with Procope, conducted in my Manhattan apartment at the request of the Smithsonian Institution. We did it over a period of several days, and I hope to bring it all to you in this blog. I say, "hope," because one of the tapes separated from the cassette hub in a most awkward way. None of the audio was lost, but I am unable to fix it by the conventional method. I will keep trying. In the meantime, I have the first two tapes ready to go, so there will definitely be at least one follow-up. I don't think there are many interviews with Russell Procope around, so I hope you find this one interesting.