Saturday, August 17, 2013

Note from Pete Leinonen

I was at the UW when Joe was teaching and attended many of his classes, even playing for a couple, although I wasn't enrolled in them. After Joe left I was asked by some faculty members who I thought they should hire. I had some credibility with the faculty because I was also Bill Smith's bass player. I advocated for Monk, but they really wanted Herbie, who was practically a pop star by then.

Joe was a dear friend and I'm glad you're  keeping his name alive. I played with a band of veterans of various Joe Brazil groups at his first memorial, where everyone was rather shocked by his lack coverage in the Seattle press. That was my first reunion with George Griffin after his return from California. Ed Lee organized and led the band.

I met Joe early in 1962. I was working a summer job at Boeing then as a design trainee (a short lived career) when I started hearing about Joe from coworkers who were jazz fans. It seemed like everybody knew him even then. I heard him play in a lot of small clubs in those days, and some early jazz concerts. Eventually I would play myself in some of the same rooms, including the Mardi Gras and The Checkmate.

Later, when Jerry Heldman started the Llahngaelhyn (originally the Queegqueg) in 1965, I was beginning to play out a little in some Seattle clubs, such as The Poopdeck, The Blue Moon and The Pamir House. Larry Coryell had a lot of the friday and saturday night house band gigs at the Llahngaelyhn. These were the early gigs, 8 or 9 to 1 I think, when the club was open to the public and a cover charge collected, before the after hours sessions began. When Larry left for New York, his friend, guitarist John Day got the gig with Jim Murray on drums and me on bass, as The John Day Trio. We played there frequently, right up to when it closed. Joe's band played there too but usually on a different night.

Joe Brazil led a band called "Equinox" with a front line of Joe and Omar Brown on saxophones and Ed Lee on trumpet. The rhythm section was Lee Anderson on piano, Bobby Tuggle or George Griffin on drums. Jerry Heldman was on bass at first, followed by Rufus Reid who joined shortly after his arrival in the northwest, and sometimes Milt Garred.

That band was one of the most powerful things I had seen or heard up to then. I had heard louder bands. I had played rock and roll (R&B actually) in the 50s. But nothing generated more energy than that band that Joe led. Prior to that experience, I had known bebop mostly from records and, as you know, recording technology of the time was simply unable to capture the energy in the music. Neither were the bands who had learned it from records. That Front Line of Joe's, often playing in unison with the explosive rhythm section was just pure energy. Thrilling. I can hear it in my mind's ear today.

As our jazz community grew, more and more clubs began to open up, and one weekend Joe was double booked, so he hired The John Day Trio to play the second room.  I remember when he and Ed Lee came in during the last set to pay us. They were wearing beautifully tailored wool overcoats and those Russian fur-lined hats that Kruschev popularized. What an impressive sight. I began to view jazz as a high and dignified art form.

Eventually Rufus Reid's Seattle sojourn came to an end as he moved on to Chicago and beyond. Prior to that move he held the three best gigs in Seattle. Much to my surprise, I received calls from all three leaders in the following week. From that beginning I have been blessed with being able to earn a living playing jazz here in Seattle. I thank Rufus every chance I get.

Of course one of those leaders was Joe, and I was able to play with him frequently for the rest of his life. In addition to Equinox, I played with his big band, and I played many of the rehearsals at B.A.M. We also played dance gigs around the C.D. My last gig with Joe was in Tacoma sometime in the 90s. I know the late pianist Eddie Creed played some small duo gigs with Joe after that. I didn't see him again until The Llahngaelyhn Reunion in 2000. Joe came, but didn't play. He hugged me so long, I had to pry myself free to go back on stage.

He's one of my parents, and I'll love him until I drop.

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