Transcription of Interview with Donald Gardner of the Philadelphia Clef Club
Track 1 (transcribed by TaNeeka N. Prioleau)
TaNeeka: So could you just tell us first, I guess, a little about your position here at the Clef Club, what you do basically?
Don Gardner: Well, I used to be the President, but now IÕm facility manager. I oversee everything that goes on here. You know, from checking the bathrooms is clean, make sure they clean, to making sure the contracts are signed when people rent the place and then make sure the place is up and runningÉSo I do a little bit of everythingÉwhen IÕm here.
TaNeeka: Play a little music yourself too or no?
Don Gardner: No, no, I had completely retired until nineteenÉ, till two thousand one. And they called me in from Europe and I went over there, so now IÕm back, back doing it, but I hadnÕt done it in about forty years I guess.
TaNeeka: What do you play?
Don Gardner: Drums and sing, but all I do now is sing. I donÕt play no drums. [Group laughs]
TaNeeka: No drums anymore?
Don Gardner: Drums are out. I stopped because it too much to carry around. IÕm too old for thatÉBut as far as that, thatÕs about it.
George: Do you guys [referring to the group of students] want to have him like give a little bitÉ, like I found a bunch of different groups and stuff that youÕve been in, do you mind giving us just aÉ
Don Gardner: I had been in?
George: UhÉwhat? [Group laughs] I donÕt know! I found a Don Gardner.
Don Gardner: Yeah.
George: Is that not you?
Don Gardner: Yeah.
George: That is you!
Don Gardner: Yeah.
Don Gardner: Oh, you went online?
George: I went online. [Group laughs] I saw Don Gardner and Dee Dee Ford. Okay, I also saw the Sonotones.
Don Gardner: Yeah.
George: And that you worked with Jimmy Smith, and I just wanted you to possibly give us just like a breakdown of when your music career started, how you began andÉ
Don Gardner: Well, I started when I was seventeen.
Don Gardner: I ainÕt going to say how far back that was, but it was back before any of you were thought of.
George: I could probably figure it out. [Group laughs]
Don Gardner: And Dottie Smith taught me how to play cocktail drum, which is the drum IÕm playing on here [passes around pamphlet]. Now thatÕs from back in nineteen forty something, I think. [Nineteen] forty-whatever. [Group laughs] And then I started the group called the Three Bachelors. But in the meantime, I was singing with the Jimmy ShorterÕs Band. And I was singing with a group called Boddie Blue Flames. Singing all over the place, just having a ball. When I first started though, I used to sneak into clubs to sing; I was only sixteen. I used to sneak into clubs, sing and go back out. I couldnÕt stay in them Ôcause I was too young. And, uh, I just kept at it. And then I started my own group about [nineteen] forty-nine, which was Three Bachelors; I had Jimmy Smith on piano and a fella named Outcast on the saxophone. And at that time we sang harmony and played the instruments, but I was playing the cocktail drums.
George: What year was that?
Don Gardner: [Nineteen] forty-nine, going into [nineteen] fifty.
George: I see. This was all in Philadelphia?
Don Gardner: Yeah, this was all in Philly! And uhh, then we went from the piano to the organ, and then I added Darnell Schwartz. ThatÕs when I changed the name to the Sonotones. And we traveled all over the placeÉExcuse me [interview paused while Don Gardner answers a cell phone call]
Track 2 (transcribed by TaNeeka N. Prioleau)
Don Gardner: So I started the Sonotones and we begin to travel up and down the east coast. We played in all the, what IÕd call, the ÔChitlinÕ Circuits,Õ which was all black clubs. ThenÉ[interview paused while Don Gardner answers another cell phone call] But I was making records starting in [nineteen] forty-nine. My first record was made with Gotham Records. And Doc Bagby, which was a local organ player, he was producing at the time. Umm, and I been making records up until maybe five years ago. You know, I wasnÕt doing it, not to do records to be doing something, but ahh IÕve had some records that did very well for me. I went to Europe, went to South America, ummÉwent all over the country and traveled with the Rock nÕ Roll shows or the Rhythm & Blues shows; Sam Cooke and the Drifters, and umm the ShirelleÕs, all the Motown acts. And we did that, we did that uhh until I decided to stop really. And that was nineteen seventy. But I still kept recoding. ThatÕs why there is so many records out there, some of them I donÕt even remember.
George: Yeah, some of the bigger ones I seeÉone of your biggest ones is ÒNeed Your LovinÕÓ
Don Gardner: Yeah, that was [nineteen] sixty-two.
George: And then thereÕs Don and Dee Dee from Sweden?
Don Gardner: Yeah, that was [nineteen] sixty-five. And then we did, me and Baby Washington, did an album. That was in, I guess [nineteen] sixty-nine. Then I did some stuff in Chicago; for a friend of mine, when it came out, I didnÕt even know it was out. ThatÕs how I ended up in EuropeÉI had a hit record and I didnÕt even know about it, so I had to go see it. [Group laughs]
Jennifer: What was the difference between the Philly jazz scene, versus likeÉyou said you traveled up and down the east coast? Was it like a difference in the atmosphere or the people orÉ?
Don Gardner: No, because we all had organ groups. Doc Bagby, Shirley Scott, Hershey [inaudible], Eddie ÔLockjawÕ Davis, and when Lockjaw left you had Stanley Turntine. So it wasÉwe would just follow each group. Each group would almost run into each other, going from Pittsburgh to Buffalo to Syracuse, New York to Newark to Philly to Baltimore to Washington. It was just a circuit. And you could work all year in these circuits. And all these organ groups just followed. And it was just about the same thing everywhere you went Ôcause people were into organ groups at the time, you know. And ahh, some of them played jazz, some of them played what you would call rhythm and blues, and some of them just played, you know, everything. But that was the time when music was music and songs were songs. Today itÕs a whole different thing.
Jennifer: In the jazz scene or just music in general?
Don Gardner: Music in general.
Don Gardner: You know, jazz had a thing were nobody knew what they were doing because they were changing it. ThatÕs when Dizzy Gillespie and all them started playing. And that changed the sound of jazz. You know, and jazz has changed to another level now. But that smooth jazzÉIÕm not talking about that Ôcause thatÕs not jazz.
Jennifer: So what do you..what likeÉyeah, IÕve heard that from a few people. Like what do you consider authentic jazz? Like what is it about it that makes it so real?
Don Gardner: Well, number one, Anita Baker is not a jazz singer. Uhh, and a bunch of other singers you hear on smooth jazz, theyÕre not jazz singers. TheyÕre basically song stylists because when you here them, you know who they are. The rap groups, half the time you hear them, you donÕt know whoÕs who because they all sound alike! The beat is the same, they sound the same. When I came up and you heard a Dinah Washington record, you didnÕt have to guess who that was. You knew that was Dinah Washington. When you heard Sarah Vaughn, you didnÕt have to guess who that was. You knew it was Sarah Vaughn. Today, you donÕt know whoÕs doing what. IÕll put it this wayÉI donÕt know! You know, when I listen to the radio, if somebody said that wasÉI wouldnÕt know because I donÕt listen to it. When I do listen to it, it sounds like the same thing over and over and over. But the media and the people that own the stations just feed it to them. AndÉI could make you a hit if I had the radio stations to keep playing it. And it could be junk. If I play it long enough, people will buy it. ThatÕs how fickle people are.
Track 3 (transcribed by Georgette Cox)
George: I have a question actually, Ôcause when I looked you up, I usually like, when I try to find out different things about music, I go to a certain site; itÕs called allmusic.com. ItÕs pretty like accredited music site run by like BMJ [inaudible] MGM label, and it had you listed as like Don Gardner, loosely associated with Dee Dee Gardner, under R&B?
Don Gardner: Dee Dee Ford?
George: Yeah, Dee Dee Ford [chuckles]. It had you listed as an R&B, umm, like type blues singer,
and I was interested because I guess Mother Dot gave us to you as like another jazz musician and I know IÕd also found out other things where you had been jazz. And I wanted to know where you made the transition from doing something that was more jazz-oriented to something that was more rhythm and blues, and how you see rhythm and bluesÉhow you saw that like change over, I guess, like the early [nineteen] sixties, late [nineteen] fifties and how it changed since then?
Don Gardner: Well, number one, I started off singing gospel. Then, when I decided to go into the music thing, it was jazz...the same jazz. [inaudible] Dizz and all of them, they were doing what was supposed to be done, so thatÕs where I went. But when I found out I wasn't that good doing itÉI mean, we played it and it was good, but we didn't have that niche that made us outstanding where people wanted to buy it. So I found out singing in the rhythm and blues field, I could make money. It was all about making money. At least for me! [Group laughs] When you get a family and start having kids, you got to make money. So jazz, I might have starved to death, but with rhythm and blues, I made a beautiful living. And thatÕs what itÕs about. Jazz changed mainly when people started going to clubs and listening to records.
George: So you are saying that people didn't really listen to as many jazz recordsÉ?
Don Gardner: Hey, once they started going to and paying five dollars to come in the club and listen to the same records they had at home, I never could understand that, but thatÕs what they did. All of a sudden in the [nineteen] seventies, people were running to the clubs and paying to dance to the stuff thatÕs in the jukeboxes. And thatÕs how they started having DJs in the clubs. So what it boils down to is if you are a club owner and you can pack your joint at five dollars a head and don't have to pay nobody...just have someone play records, youÕre going to hire a band? No. It's economics. And well, he would know about that [points to Karon who has a finance concentration]. It's economics. It's a matter of survival. You got to pay bills and all that kind of stuff. And that hurt live music.
George: ItÕs mostly jazz?
Don Gardner: Yeah. And the other thing is, blacks has never supported their own music...whitey does. If it wasn't for whitey, jazz wouldn't even been going on today. Ahh, blues wouldn't be going on today. You know, every club you go in, if itÕs a blues act there, youÕre going to find 90 % white.
George: That's true.
Don Gardner: And you say why? I haven't the slightest idea because it's your music. And none of us go to see it. You know, it's sickening to me, but thatÕs the way it is. And that's why a lot of acts go to Europe, because they can make a living. You can't make a living here unless you have a big record and you're big, you know. But for the average cat that wants to make a living at it, this ain't it. It's sad, but that's the way it goesÉand it's all about the bottom line. I hate to put it that way, but that's the way it is. And I didn't make it that way, but thatÕs the way it is.
Track 4 (transcribed by Georgette Cox)
TaNeeka: When you talk about blacks not attending these blues concerts, are you talking about in the past or are you talking about the present, today?
Don Gardner: Even today, sweetheart, even today. If you put BB King, who is supposed to be the biggest black Blues singer in the world, and Bobby Blanton, and a few other ones together, and put them down at the Wachovia, you stand there and watch who comes to see them. You would see thousands of whiteys and a speck of blacks. [Group laughs] It sounds frightening, but it's the truth. And guess what? They will sing what they hear because they know it. They will sing the rolesÉand act like theyÕre black, just carrying on. And the black people looking at them saying, ÔWhatÕs wrong with them?Õ. It's sad, but that's what it is. And you knowÉI have no answer for it. But I have seen that in the past I'd say twenty years I've been on the road. I've gone like to New Orleans to go to clubsÉwhitey. Blacks up there playing and white people go to concertsÉsame thing. You go meet George Benson and go to his concert, eighty percent white. What can I tell you? Now, yÕall young, maybe yÕall can change it. But I canÕt. IÕm too old for it nowÉbut it's sad that we don't know about our own people's music. Now, I have one good thing that I see here that the young cats are really getting into jazz and theyÕre playing. And I don't think jazz will ever die because young people still experimenting and looking and trying to find new ways to do things. And they getting away from the electronic everything. They are going back....they want to hear the bass player and they want to hear the drums. They want to hear the trumpet, and all that electronic stuff they are getting away from slowly, but surely. But nowadays, you can make a record at home in your basement just pushing buttons.
George: What type of musician would you consider yourself?
Don Gardner: Me?
George: Yeah. Like if you were asked, what do you say? Like IÕm a jazz musician or IÕm an R&B singer? When did you like most enjoy your career?
Don Gardner: When I was making good money and that was in R&B. [Group laughs] I'm serious though.
George: So you consider yourself an R&B singer?
Don Gardner: YeahÉmore so than jazz. IÕm known most for rhythm and blues, and most of my friends in the business are rhythm and blues. Most of the jazz friends I had have died. You know, Jimmy Smith and Lockjaw and all them I used to travel with on the road, most of them are dead. But I still have a pretty nice number of rhythm and blues artists that I still keep in touch with. But that was the time when I made good money, so I would have to go along with that. I was never really known as a fantastic jazz artist. I was known as rhythm and blues artist or just a song stylist or something like that.
George: What is a song stylist?
Don Gardner: A song stylist is a person that interprets the music, and every time you hear them you know its them because you know how they interpret something. Frank Sinatra was a song stylist.
George: I see. It's like taking standards and making it your own?
Don Gardner: Yeah. You can take anything, but when you hear it, and they do it, you know it's them. 'Cause you know what their phrasing is and what their whateverÉYou got to know it when you hear it. And that is what you call a song stylist. At least, thatÕs what I call a song stylist and most people do. But when you hear a singer, a singer is a person that can sing anything and don't necessarily sound like themselves doing it. You know, like Aretha singing opera. But one thing about Aretha, you know thatÕs Aretha singing opera from the way she does it. But there are some singers that can sing anything; they're just singers. What you give to them, they'll sing it. They will sing it their way, but they don't deviate from the melodies and stuff. They try to stay right where the person that wrote it did it. A song stylist will take it and read it and then try to interpret it and try to figure out what the fellow was saying or woman was saying when she wrote it and what she was trying to convey. And then try to express that. That's the difference between the two. I mean, thatÕs my opinion, I might be wrong. But you can tellÉwhen a person sings a song and it moves you, then you know that that person has thought about it, either lived part of it, or got something from it.
Track 5 (transcribed by Karon Singleton)
TaNeeka: So what kind of criteria are you using to distinguish between a jazz artist and an R&B artist? Is it simply the sound or is it like the originality?
Don Gardner: No, itÕs what they do. Like a jazz artist, youÕll know itÕs a jazz artist by the way they improvise and what they do with the melody and what they do off the melody. You knowÉrhythm and blues people, they have a set thing the way they do it, and thatÕs it. But a jazz artist will take a rhythm and blues tune and youÕll hear the first part but after that, he gone about his business with it. And you know itÕs the tune, but the way he is playing it doesnÕt sound like the tune. Because he improvised and he creates while he is playing. You can tell that most jazz artist when they get on stage, most of them donÕt know what theyÕre going to play. You go see a jazz artist tonight and he will play the same song tonight and play it a set later or two sets later and it doesnÕt sound like the same song. I mean the rhythm of getting into it does, but after that itÕs a whole different ball game because he is constantly looking for something. You know, most musicians like that, they looking for something and only they know what they are looking for. You have no way of knowing it, but they know what they are looking for, but they never find it. Most jazz artists are never satisfied. You find a jazz artist say he satisfied, somethingÕs wrong because most jazz artists are always looking, always searching for something because theyÕre never satisfied.
Georgette: I actually have a quick question. Umm, I looked online, umm, a little bit of the history about the Clef Club. And I noticed that you have a lot of different classes that you offer to the general public. And one of them is the Theory in Syncopation class. I was wondering could you tell us a little bit about if I were to actually attend that class, what are some of the things I would learn and what exactly Syncopation is?
Don Gardner: Syncopation isÉthe class, I donÕt teach the class. Leon does it. He is head of the Nascent of Jazz Orchestra. We found that kids were having trouble reading music and knowing how to sway from one tempo to another and the syncopation between the two, not getting it together where it flows. And thatÕs what he teaches them. He teaches howÉif you hear a tune on the radio sometimes, they from one thing, then they go to a waltz, and they go to a tango then they goÉitÕs all the matter of getting that syncopation together to switch and its segway from one to the other. And thatÕs what itÕs about, basically.
Georgette: And how does that incorporate into jazz? Is that with improvisation?
Don Gardner: It incorporates into jazz Ôcause jazz players do that. You know, they just seem to do it automatically. They just seem toÉThey playing and the drummer decides he wants to go somewhere and he go there, and everybody follows him. You know, but when itÕs written, you can look at the paper and see its written, but then how do you interpret what you see, And that means you got to really think about it and keep playing it and trying until you finally feel it flows. And you get the syncopation together. ItÕs a matter of the beat and the structure of the beats.
George: I have another question actually. Who do you consider to be like a promising R&B artist today and what do you think of the state of R&B today?
Don Gardner: R&BÉ now I have to tell you, I donÕt listen to the radio. So if there are new artists out there, I wouldnÕt know who it is. IÕve heard some artists I like and donÕt even know their names, I just like what they were doing. But the state of R&B is in a flux because the powers that be donÕt play it. ThereÕs a lot of good artists out there, that would maybe become very big if they could get their music played. A lot of artists now got their own record companies, which is beautiful. So theyÕre controlling everything, which is good. But they canÕt get the records played Ôcause they donÕt control any radio stations. We donÕt own any radio stations that we control, not to the extent that we listen to them. Most of our stations are talk stations that blacks own, its not playing music. And I could understand it because there is a whole lot of stuff to talk about. You know, just to try and get us to get our heads together. Years ago, I used to do record promotion for Curtis Mayfield, and I would just go in the station with CurtisÕs record, give it to somebody and it was on the air before I even got out the door. You canÕt do that today because somebody in California programs thirty stations. ThatÕs why they all sound the same.
Georgette: This is an aside, Ôcause I am actually, um, a big fan of Curtis Mayfield. Ah, did you work with him when he was doing the Superfly soundtrack?
Don Gardner: Yes, I was with him when he made it. I stopped playing music to move to Atlanta to help him remodel his house, and I was with him for about five years. When he did Superfly and when he did Claudine and everything. We didnÕt think it was going to be that big, but it really did it. ThatÕs odd to hear a young person say theyÕre a Superf---, a Curtis Mayfield fan.
Georgette: I mean, I grew up on that stuff. I mean, IÕm a little, I mean, IÕm young but I grew up on that stuff.
Don Gardner: Yeah, I know what you mean. You heard it in the house soÉ
Georgette: Yeah, and IÕve also seen it when I was little. IÕve seen SuperflyÉ
Don Gardner: Oh okay. Yep.
Track 6 (transcribed by George Hayes)
George: So I guess IÕm kind of interested in, because I do a lot of like recording. So IÕm interested in how like sound recording, you know like going into the studio and putting down a record, like, how it changed, because it seemed like you said you put out a lot of records that I may not have seen. How did you become a producer, I assume, or did you start off as a tech?
George: How long do you think it should take?
Don Gardner: DonÕt you think itÕs ridiculous to cut an album in a year? I mean they spend hours, days and nights. I mean come on. We used to cut an album in two days, tops. [Group laughs]
George: Did you do everything once though with no takes? Like you did one take of that?
Don Gardner: I was normally done in two takes.
George: YouÕre done in two takes, and thatÕs it? ThatÕs ridiculous!
Don Gardner: Yeah, it donÕt take that long.
George: ThatÕs out of control, to be done in only two takes.
Don Gardner: I know people who used to take, to go inside and sing the song once and walk out. [Group laughs] If you know what youÕre doing, you go do it.
George: I guess people are too perfection oriented these days.
Don Gardner: Hey, he sold thousands of records and people still love his music, because he knew what he was doing and he knew how to sing it. The arrangements was there, and the people to play, and they got good musicians to play it. You know, one or two takes, that was it, if he did that! You werenÕt going to take twenty or thirty takes, back and forth.
George: I feel like itÕs more the producerÕs fault. I would say, as an artist I would never want to be in the studio taking more than four to five takes.
Don Gardner: ItÕs all about money, they just waste money. Anytime it takes someone $100,000 to cut a CD thatÕs ridiculous. But money doesnÕt mean anything today. You know, they spend it like it ainÕt nothing. I wish they would give me a couple $100,000, IÕd take most of it home and still got the record.
Georgette: Do you find itÉI know that you have a couple of classes, umm, either for senior citizens or you have senior citizens that actually teach some of the classes to some of the young adults. Do you find it difficult, I mean as far as the young adults being responsive to them?
Don Gardner: No, what we have is, uhh, mentors like. If thereÕs a saxophone player, heÕll have a senior or an older work with him and play together, and we find that if they listen, they can learn something. The only reason why we do good in the music thing is because we have kids coming from the colleges come here. And the main reason is we have musicians that have worked as a musician. See in colleges and things, they have teachers who went to college and learned by the book, but they havenÕt really went out and played. They havenÕt been up and down the road starving and all that kind of stuff, you know? TheyÕve had it good, so they go out and try to teach, but a cat that has been out there, and been going through the mud and all that kind of stuff, when he teaches, he teaches what he knows and he learned it from experience from living it. And when you live something, you teach it with more enthusiasm then somebody that went to school and learned it. ItÕs a big difference. So we have that more here than in most places in town. And itÕs the same thing I learned, because the first time I went to Jazz Educators Convention, itÕs been about eight years now, and when I got there all I saw was white faces, and I was thoroughly upset. Thoroughly upset. I mean, I could not understand this. ThereÕs probably like ten thousand people and maybe six hundred blacks. I mean, they came from around the world. But, they had black stars like Clark Terry, and the piano player Billy Taylor and all of them [musicians] that the whiteys know upfront. I jumped all over them niggas. [Group laughs] They was through with me. IÕm serious, you know, theyÕre teachers, but come on. Now they are trying to change, the history of jazz. And if you look out, ten years from now, you wonÕt hear a black name that started jazz. Watch what I tell you! Put it down, because if you watch, youÕll see the change. Even Downbeat is talked about, and Downbeat made money off blacks ever since thereÕs been a Downbeat. ThatÕs all they wrote about, was black artists. I canÕt think of the white catÕs name from back in the day, he had a band, and somebody said they were playing jazz, and now all of a sudden they are trying to change it and say that he started jazz. So, you can forget get about Hammy and everybody else. Give them time.
Track 7 (transcribed by Stefan Doig)
George: What did you think of Ken BurnÕs series on jazz?
Don Gardner: I thought it was good, but not complete. He missed a lot of people, but at least he tried to tell the story. I think that the story should be told by a black thatÕs kept up with it and knows about it. But I give him credit Ôcause he did tell the story. At least some of it got out.
George: What parts would he have missed?
Don Gardner: ItÕs just different artists that I know that he had missed. I canÕt think of them right now, but when I saw and I looked at it to my time, and he hit on the same people that everybody knows. But thereÕs some people that are back there that had a lot to do with it. They didnÕt become as big as Satchmo [Louis Armstrong] and the different ones, you know, Ôcause Satchmo had somebody that he dug when you start going back. But, [BurnÕs] couldnÕt cover it all, but IÕm just happy that at least somebody put something out. So now you can say ÒWell, hereÕs part of itÓ He had us in there so. If somebody really starts looking into the real history and goes back to New Orleans to the archives down there and check all those names, youÕd see names youÕve never heard of and that he didnÕt have in there, but their influence on jazz was pretty well. But that would take a lot of searching and looking but itÕs out there somewhere, youÕd just have to find it. But I think that what he did was good. I mean, he did it well, but I just felt that he missed some people. Somebody elseÕs supposed to be doing another one now and adding more people to it. I heard that he was supposed to go back in and revise parts. I think heÕs going to add some people or whatever. I just heard that but I donÕt know if itÕs true or not. But I enjoyed it. It brought a lot of memories back really, of some people that I knew personally. But, ahh, it was good. Anything is good if you tell a story, I ainÕt going to say even if it ainÕt right, but at least you tell something. Because before people saw that, they didnÕt know nothing. But I tell you this, if you go overseas, they got more stuff than that, and they can really show you some stuff. They keepÉlisten, I went over there and they were telling me what kind of draws I had on. ThatÕs how much they knew about me that I didnÕt know. [Group laughs] They been keeping things through the years. Everything they see written, they pull it out of the papers. And all the papers from over here, they get them and they read on everything. And the people that keep records of stuff, they got it and they can tell you about everything. They know who you played with, ÒWho was on the session?Ó I donÕt know who was on the sessionÉthey were just musicians. I went to the studio, did it, got my money, and went about my business. I donÕt remember who was in the session. ÒWell, who was on bass?Ó I donÕt know. Frankly, IÕm ashamed that I didnÕt keep up more with the things I did and kept things. I mean, when youÕre doing it, you donÕt keep up. Between your friends taking it and your family giving it away, you donÕt think about it.
Jennifer: When you were talking about the white people kind of taking over, Mother Dot was talking about the same sort of thing with the union or whatever, and how the Philly scene was like predominantly black at first, but then like a lot of white people came and took it overÉcould you just like talk about that a little?
Don Gardner: Back in the [nineteen] thirties the union was segregated. They only had a white union and the black couldnÕt get in. And the people that started our local, they kept on insisting and insisting until they finally said ÒOkay, letÕs give these black folks a charter.Ó So they gave us a charter and uhh, the men that started the union started with like some twenty-five cats and they ended up with something like fifteen hundred. And a lot whites joined our local, but we couldnÕt join their local. And then when they decided to desegregated, instead of them making the whites come to us, they made us go to the whites. But we had a building, we had a bar and all that kind of stuff. The whites had a room. And they thought they was going to get the bar and the building when they merged, but we got rid of [the bar and the building] two years before they merged Ôcause we started the Clef Club as a social arm. So we turned everything to the social arm for a dollar. Our building, our license, everything. All they got was members, and half the members didnÕt go there. They went to New York, Jersey, Delaware. [Nineteen] sixty-seven is when they took out charter. From nineteen thirty-three to sixty-seven. Our union was swelling. Everybody who came to town came down to jam and carry on. Right down the street on Broad Street, two blocks down between Christian and Catherine. You know where the McDon GardnerÕs isÉthat lot right next to that. ThatÕs where the union was.
George: IÕm not really sure how unions workÉso when you guys were getting gigs, did you use them to get certain amenities?
Don Gardner: The union people would come on the job, you had to pay your dues. And they come and you had to give them a percentage. When people come through town, they would have to pay to play here. And that was every town in the country. The only thing the union does now is when you play in the theatres or if you go to the Kimmel Center and people come in, then they would have to have their union cards and all that junk. But years ago, if you played a club or anywhere in town they came. The black union took care of all the black clubs in town, and some of the whites, where blacks played. But the white union was mainly for the symphonic orchestra and anytime someone comes to the Earl Theatre, used to be downtown, or anyplace that a lot of people come then thatÕs where they would be. But it is not as strong as it used to be. They used to close the club down if you didnÕt pay. They would have your gas cut off, electric cut off everything. The union was something else back in the day. When the unions merged it hurt a lot of things. Frankly, desegregation hurt a lot of blacks, whether they want to admit it or not. A lot of businesses had went under once they desegregated. Cause then blacks could go to other places to buy stuff. Before you had to go to your own to buy stuff. Now you could go anywhere so that hurt in that respect. But thatÕs life.
Track 8 (transcribed by Marcel Pratt)
TaNeeka: Clef Club emerged as a place for blacks to have their own building dedicated to jazz because youÕre used to seeing jazz being played in like bars.
Don Gardner: Well the clef club started off as a social arm for the union. In other words, we had like, to get the license, well we had the license but then they were giving us trouble so we started the social arm, and there was gentleman smart enough to figure that sooner or later they might have to give up their charter, ya know, so they put everybody that was in the union in the clef club, all the union members became owners of the clef club. So when they merged the owners just moved their stuff and went about their business. We sold the building and everything, they ainÕt get nothing. But, uh, what happened, we had jazz singers every weekend in the union building, and it was nothing to see Duke Ellington sitting up there playing the piano or Count Basie or anybody- if they were in town, like if they were at Earl Theater, when they got off they came down there. Cause we had some chicks in their cooking chicken and chitterlings, and getting down, potato salad and stuff. And thatÕs where they would be, all them new musicians from out of town, thatÕs where they hung out, so the whites would come too and that was thing, cause you could play all night, you know, you could play all night cause it was a private room, thatÕs what it was. That went on for years.
George: What years were those?
Don Gardner: We started the Clef Club in, well the Union had its name and we were doing it in the Union Hall, started and we got our license in 38, thatÕs the first time we had the license, and we still got those licenses, all we did was change the license from ÒThe Musicians UnionÓ to ÒThe Clef Club.Ó So we had license since 1937 and we still have that same license. ItÕs beautiful. But this building this was a grant, some body grant and built this building for us. And they built it to how we want it basically. We thought weÕd have more room but we ended up with less room. But when somebodyÕs giving you something you canÕt holler. So thatÕs the story about the building. The William Penn Foundation built it for us.
Karon: Was there anybody like, when you were younger that influenced you or that you looked up to?
Don Gardner: Oh lord yes, Billy Epstein was one of my closest, Dark Bagby and Bill Darget was two others. And thatÕs just because they, years ago, ya know if they saw you trying theyÕd help if they could. TheyÕd sit down and rehearse with you or if youÕre doing something wrongÉlike Billy joe Jones. I taught myself to play the drums, so I wasnÕt even taught ya know. And he came in there one night, and I didnÕt have a sock cymbal I never played so I never bought one. So he brought it in and said IÕll be back tomorrow to get sock cymbal and when he took the sock cymbal I almost couldnÕt play it. Just that one night playing that sock cymbal once he showed me how to do it made a complete difference in the sound and the feel so I had to go buy me a sock cymbal so I credit him with that. I didnÕt have no sock cymbal I started off standing up playing the drums. So people like that. Like Louis Garland he used to rehearse with me bout twice a week. He was a jazz pianist; he played with Miles Davis, John Coltrane and all them. But he lived right around the corner, IÕd go in their and be in their hours. Just going thru the flipbook and all the songs ya know because it helped him and it helped me. It helped me get the tune together and it helped him playing the tune, so it was like helping each other. But it was ______ which was good.
Georgette: I have a question
Track 9 (transcribed by Marcel Pratt)
Georgette: I was just wondering, I know that you were saying smooth jazz isnÕt exactly authentic jazz. Do you have the same opinion about Latin jazz and groups and people like Tito Puente?
Don Gardner: No. No. TheyÕre expressing their form of jazz. And frankly Dizzy Gillespie started it, putting the Latin beat in the jazz. ItÕs jazz because even today theyÕre improvising and trying new things. But when I say smooth jazz, smooth jazz, when I listen to smooth jazz, I hear all kinds of singers that you know are not jazz singers, and theyÕll tell you theyÕre not jazz singers. Why am I calling it smooth jazz and theyÕre not jazz singers.
Georgette: So you would say Latin jazz is more authentic versus smooth jazz É. to begin with?
Don Gardner: Yeah, I would, definitely. Because theyÕre playing and you tell when theyÕre playing and you tell when theyÕre playing they improvise and if you go to hear them, when they get past the intro to the song, you donÕt where theyÕre going. You donÕt where theyÕre going, and what they gonna do, and you can tell that theyÕre having fun, because jazz is fun, and thatÕs what made jazz so good, cause people couldnÕt sit still with jazz. They had to move their feet or something because cats of the bandstand look like they having fun with all the racket you had fun, so it was a happy thing, an exciting thing. Some people you go and thatÕs why when they bring good people, you get that feeling and itÕs close. Another thing about jazz. Jazz was always good in tight places. Tight places where you couldnÕt get by and you had to go like this to get by, and the smoke and all that made jazz, the smaller the better. You ainÕt got no questions?
Don Gardner: Come on wit it.
Marcel: What was your favorite or like the best record that you made?
Don Gardner: My best record. A record called Òson my sonÓ. Son my son. I love ballads. But I never had a hit, I had a nice ballad but I never had a hit ballad like ÒI need you love,Ó and I though that was they worse record I had in my life.
George: You can still buy it online, I was looking at it.
Don Gardner: I know, listen somebody paid somebody paid 7000 dollars, no 13000 dollars for one of my records. And I didnÕt make a penny.
TaNeeka: What! HowÕs that possible? How?
Don Gardner: Number 1, I never knew the record was out. ThatÕs to start off with. HeÕs a record collector, and thatÕs an original. I never even seen the label. He paid 13000 dollars for it. When I was in Europe, this last month, he asked me to sign. So I said well if I sign, that means that you could sell it for 20000 dollars right. He said yeah, so I donÕt know if I should sign it or not, I ainÕt made a penny yet. I signed it, you know. But you canÕt say nothing, somebody wanted from somewhere. And thatÕs what made me go Europe because somebody else paid 7000 dollars another record of mine. And I wanted to go find out what is this all about. And I donÕt have one of em and that the one he got I never seen. He showed it to me but I never seen it. I heard about it once I was in Europe but I never heard about it. I had to learn the song cause I had never sang it, I only recorded it. I recorded it for a friend of mine and the years heÕs been talking bout he had to do this to it but I forgot about it. But heÕs dead. He died ten years ago, so he never knew how big the record got. ThatÕs the way the business goes, and you canÕt cry over it, whatÕs done is done.
TaNeeka: You can sue.
Don Gardner: Sue who? HeÕs dead. And he wrote the song, so itÕs his song.
Track 10 (transcribed by Jennifer Supplee)
TaNeeka: [I know that the mission of the Clef Club is to further the level art] and the culture within the community, and besides the classes that you offer, how are you guys doing that and how effective do you think youÕve been?
Don Gardner: Well, lately we havenÕt been doing too much, but we getting ready to get back to it. We go out to the nursing- senior citizens and play, weÕre planning a series of preservation, a jazz series, we plan on doing it in the parks all over the city. And go to Camden and Delaware really, uh, and thatÕs the way you have to do it, you have to just make yourself available when people need something and go do it. And we send musicians out to play at schools, and do seminars at schools, and all that kind of stuff. Trying to tell children the history of the music, uh, and uh, Mr. Hines, who is our educational director, when he takes people out, he makes sure that they understand who they talking about, and he asks questions about them to see who they might know play jazz. And itÕs surprising, some of the kids do know. They heard about Duke Ellington, they heard about Kyle Basey, so somebodyÕs telling somebody something, which is good. All we trying to do is keep that thing going anyway we can, itÕs not easy, but thatÕs what we trying to do. And trying to teach these kids- you know- it got to a point that musicians were just playing and didnÕt know what they were playing, and didnÕt know their horns Ôcause they didnÕt take time. And we are trying to show these kids that you got to learn your instruments, you got to know your instruments, you got toÉand make it a part of you. You get your instruments and make it a part of you, and thatÕs when you can do it. DonÕt let your instrument just be an instrument, make it a part of you. To some of them, itÕs getting to them, and if that keeps going, then theyÕll pass it on. ThatÕs the only way you can do it.
TaNeeka: [To Stefan] You got a question?
Stefan: The only question I was going to ask, or probably ask, was what are some of the biggest names that have actually played at the Clef Club itself?
Don Gardner: Jimmy Smith, Lionel Hampton, Clark Terry, Al Grey, Bill Darget, uh, Gloria Lynn, uhÉwhatÕs the boy, that New York cat?...not Renton Marcellus, the other oneÉBradford Marcellus, heÕs been here. ColtraneÕs son, heÕs been here, uh, who else? ThereÕs been some others, Jimmy Heath and the Heath brothers have been here, uh, and the [inaudible] ThatÕs all I can think of right now. OhÉDon Gardner Bird, Don GardnerÕs been here, Shirley ScottÕs been here, Stanley TurntineÕs been here, uh, the bass player, Clark, something Clark. I canÕt think of his first name but the last name is Clark, played bass, heÕs been hereÉ
Georgette: Stanley Clark, Stanley Clark maybe?
Don Gardner: Yeah, thatÕs who he is. And um the Sunrye Band has been here, the Chicago Jazz Ensemble has been here, McCoy TynerÕs been here, George Benson has been here. ThatÕs all I can think of right now.
Georgette: But George BensonÉI mean they play a lot of his songs on smooth jazzÉ
Don Gardner: I knowÉstill ainÕt jazz, except the instrumentals, theyÕre jazz.
Don Gardner: But the vocals are not jazz.
Track 11 (transcribed by Jennifer Supplee)
Don Gardner: Oh yeah, Jack McDuff has been hereÉJack, Joey DiFrancesco. Mostly organ players have been here. And we had the organ jamminÕ like that through the years,
Georgette: But what does um- sorry to interrupt- what does Don Gardner Bird play?
Don Gardner: Trumpet.
Don Gardner: He had the Black Birds, I think they were called or something like that.
Georgette: Yea and I also think he collaborated with Guru from GangStarr from Jazzmatazz...I donÕt know if you know them.
Don Gardner: He might have. HeÕs always doing something with young people so. And heÕs a professor. I think heÕs down in Delaware
Georgette: Oh okay
Don Gardner: Okay
Everyone: THANK YOU