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Excerpts from Living in Iowa Preston Love Interview

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JACK SHEPARD: In a nutshell, can you tell me about your career.

PRESTON LOVE: Being 79 and being in the business all of the last 60-61 years, you have so much to say and so many stockpiles of experiences. It's hard to list them and numerate them. But I never exaggerate what I've done. I'm very proud of them. There are very few people in rhythm and blues .blues and jazz, which I regard as "black music", that I haven't played with or knew personally.

JACK SHEPARD: Music has been a part of your life.almost all of your life.your brothers played music,...you kind of picked it up from them...can you tell me a little bit about the beginnings?

PRESTON LOVE: With black people...our music was an important thing because it was one of the few things we had in the early days, the people that escaped anonymity and became well known, were usually musicians. We didn't have major league sports stars, so the Cab Calloways, the Duke Ellingtons, the Don Redmans and these famous music figures. So, at the early age of like 13-14, we became very aware of the great black names of music.

JACK SHEPARD:They were your heroes?

PRESTON LOVE:They were our heroes and they came here to perform and we would see them by one means or the other. So, music has been an important part of my life as well as the life of almost every African-American. The black neighborhoods which we are in the midst of now..were small. The few who escaped to the bigger time...are those who were talented, right here in Omaha or Des Moines or Sioux City or Waterloo. I've had people come, on the job, where I'm playing, "how much do you want for your autograph?" I say, "you honor me by even wanting my autograph". "You flatter me by wanting Preston Love's autograph'" and "I'll be happy to sign it."

JACK SHEPARD: Tell me about the biggest thrill. Playing in Honey Creek, Iowa had to be a big thrill, tell me about that?

PRESTON LOVE: The beauty of these little towns..the beauty of coming to 12th and Center and playing the Billican _____________in Des Moines, IA, with these bands, these territory bands and then later with my own band. I was once a big name in Des Moines. We had young, good looking guys. I was young and handsome and these young women went crazy over us and as the women went, so the men went. Sioux City was another very charming place, where we drew big crowds. Waterloo. I probably hold the biggest..the record for the biggest crowd ever at Electric Park. We played the kind of music they wanted for that era.

JACK SHEPARD: Tell me about the thrill of playing that first concert?

PRESTON LOVE: At the Airplane Inn in Honey Creek, which is exactly 17 miles due east of where you're standing and where I'm sitting. Black bands were a novelty because we had a different approach to the whole thing. They expected us to play "in the moods" and "the darktown strutters ball" and some of the corny things but in our way, which was unique and decidely different from the way white bands played. Honey Creek had bigger crowds on the Saturdays we played. Ordinary Omaha bands and Iowa bands from Des Moines and around could not outdraw the blacks. The Airplane Inn was very dilapidated. The roof and all that. It wasn't at all fancy, but they would pack it. Those farmers and the people from the surrounding towns, even like Omaha and Council Bluffs, liked to come there because they got away from town where they could have a ball. Warren Web and the Spiders was the band I first played with as a drummer. There wasn't much of a town there. There was a garage across the street, and there were two or three little buildings, that was all that was there.

JACK SHEPARD:Tell me about the thrill of being up there the first time?

PRESTON LOVE: I was too young to realize the impact and importance of that. I was 15 then.

JACK SHEPARD:..were you nervous?

PRESTON LOVE: Later, I suffered great nervousness when I performed some places, like Carnegie Hall and the Roxie Theatre in New York and places like that. But I wasn't the slightest bit nervous. Young, and blissfully happy. I thought I was better than I was. Then we played on New Year's Eve night, we played the Armory in Red Oak. Got $2.50 for that night. I never suffered nervousness. I was excited about doing it but I never intended to be a drummer, I wanted to be a sax player.

JACK SHEPARD:Can you describe what a typical dance would have been like? Can you include packing stuff up in the bus, making the drive, trying to get it arranged, setting up, what the crowds would have been like? Can you set the scene for me?

PRESTON LOVE: The whole aura of playing an engagement, was part of it and all of it was significant. Getting in that bus, getting there to the job was very difficult with those old raggedy vehicles, getting dressed because we dressed up and fixed our hair slick. Playing for those people, they were sacrosanct, ....

JACK SHEPARD: They were sacred to you then?

PRESTON LOVE: You have heard of the hungry musician? Nothing was ever truer than that adage. We tried to make a show. We wanted fancy clothes, fancy pants, fancy, shiny horns. All of that was part of it. It was even more important to us than even when we got to be big time because we were striving to reach New York City and Broadway and Hollywood and wherever.

JACK SHEPARD: How did the crowds react to you?

PRESTON LOVE: The audience were much more informed and cosmopolitan and knowledgeable about the music than they are today. Back then, if you couldn't swing, they knew you couldn't swing. And they wouldn't turn out for your dances because swing was the music of that time. And with us black guys, we had an edge, we had something, they found us very exotic and exciting.

JACK SHEPARD:..and what would they do when they did like you?

PRESTON LOVE: Scream, holler, jump up and down, fill the dance floor. The best barometer of how we were going is how that dance floor filled up and they would react just like they do for rock bands now.

JACK SHEPARD: Tell me what it was like to play an Iowa gig? Was there any difference in playing in Iowa than in other places?

PRESTON LOVE: North Dakota, South Dakota, far Northern Minnesota, way up in Montana, way up in Western Nebraska, some of the cities around the various Midwestern states, where we played mostly, were very provincial. Very countrified. Iowa, and I mean this, because we said this in the buses, was the most progressive, advanced of all of these states. They were closer to Omaha than other states, and Kansas City. So, Iowa audiences in most cases, were ...we liked the word "hip". Plus, as far as the racial thing is concerned, they were the least discriminating of any of these states, except Minnesota.

JACK SHEPARD: You mentioned some of the other places you played besides Honey Creek..you remember the ballrooms?

PRESTON LOVE: There was a Tom Archer ballroom chain. He had a ballroom in Clear Lake, The Surf, they had one in Marion, they had 4 or 5. The one in Des Moines...which was the Val Air and the Hundred__________(Hunter) Club. They had the Tromar__________in Des Moines. Boy, that was the real big time. Electric Park, Spider Curve _________, The Roof Garden.

JACK SHEPARD: So you spent a lot of that time playing dances in Iowa. You also did some Artist in Residence work in Iowa schools, also, didn't you?

PRESTON LOVE: One of the prominent things that I mention so often is the Iowa Arts Council. They treated me royally. They saved my career at one period. I wasn't working. My money was gone here and I started doing a 1975 Artist in Residence at the schools. I couldn't count the weeks that I've been in Iowa. I've crisscrossed that state doing Artists in Residence.

JACK SHEPARD: Tell me what do you hoped to accomplish in those residence programs? Did you ever instruct them on how to play?

PRESTON LOVE: First thing I made them know, if I'm pretty good, they were awed by what I could do, what about the guy that can do it so much better than I? The Charlie Parkers, etc. They were astounded. They said, "you mean there was somebody that could do that better than you?" I said, "Infinitely better." There were greats sitting right next to me, countless ones...Illinois Jacket. Lester Young. Don Byas ___________. Lockjaw Davis.

JACK SHEPARD: You grew up with some people that you admired that you ended up playing with. Can you tell us a little bit about those guys?

PRESTON LOVE: Most of the guys that I played with in the big time, at one time..I had worshiped, idolized and admired. And here suddenly, I'm sitting next to this guy. Suddenly, I was playing first sax over them. The first of my sets, I set next to Don Byas __________, can you imagine that? On that stage. And I thought he was the greatest tenor player other than Lester Young that ever lived. I still think it.

JACK SHEPARD: How do you define jazz?

PRESTON LOVE: The only standard for jazz is how well you can improvise and if you have a melodic line...if you have a good ear, because it's played by ear most of the time. Inventive. You must be inventive, like you're inventing the cotton gin. You must be creative. If you aren't, then you're not a jazz player.

JACK SHEPARD: Now, if you can improvise, you're a jazz player, do you improvise every time you play that song?

PRESTON LOVE: If a man asked me to play "Stardust" straight. I'd play "Stardust" straight. But here's the difference. I might put more feeling in it. More pathos, more hesitancy at times and that's what makes it jazz. But, a person that doesn't have a talent for that can never do it, meaningfully and improvisationally and deviate from the melody..

JACK SHEPARD: What's your gift?

PRESTON LOVE: But, without an ego being involved and you can check this with every authority, I'm one of the top five lead saxophone players that God ever let be birthed in jazz. I'm not one of the great soloists at all. Although I can play.

JACK SHEPARD: Who else is on that same team of five great saxophonists?

PRESTON LOVE:I would say Earl Warren is the greatest of history, then I would say Willie Smith, then I would say, Aldo Hardwick___________________with Duke Ellington, then I would say, Teddy Bruckner, he and Willie Smith and Hilton Jefferson of the Cab Calloway band.

JACK SHEPARD: How about the men that would play the solos?

PRESTON LOVE: Charlie Parker, Sonny Stitt, Cannonball Adderly, James Moody. Sonny Stitt, he and Charlie Parker were my favorites. Lester Young. Ben Webster. Illinois Jacket, who I worked in Basie's band with...John Coltrane..they're all much better soloists than I am.

JACK SHEPARD: You've got to love music..

PRESTON LOVE: There's nothing in the world greater in my life than music, except my wife of 60 years, of course, my mother was and my progeny. There's nothing greater in the world other than those things that music is in my life. Not only as a player, but as a critic of it.

JACK SHEPARD: What was it like for you to play with Count Basie? For you to audition for Count Basie? Tell me how you felt about that?

PRESTON LOVE: If there's a heaven, I went to heaven on September 6, 1943, on the stage of that place, when I auditioned in Earl's place, a man I idolized and worshipped and the band that was all of my life..and I played one number. I left from right over there, in front of the building to go to New York with Count Basie.

JACK SHEPARD: They don't call it dreamland for nothing.

PRESTON LOVE: Everything that happens in my life, from here on, is anticlimax.

JACK SHEPARD: So, when you finally sat in with the band and you played and you played quite a bit .....then you got the job?

PRESTON LOVE: They tried other guys out and I sounded so much like Earl, I was his alter ego. Fortunately, I was a sight reader and very few black musicians were in that day. We didn't have the opportunity for training and education. I began to break away from Earl a little, as I became exposed to rhythm and blues because Johnny Otis got me exposed to rhythm and blues and I really have more rhythm and blues credits than I have jazz credits.

JACK SHEPARD: Partially because of your age..you were a very young man when jazz really got going?

PRESTON LOVE: Jazz, that's what the little kids in Minnesota and Dakotas and Iowa and Nebraska applied to our music. "You guys play jazz?" Duke Ellington never used that term, jazz. In my younger days, the term jazz, referred to the sex act. If you went with a woman, you said you 'jazzed her'. I thought our music was too sacred for that.

JACK SHEPARD: Should we call it swing? Should we call it bebop? Should we call it dance music, is that better?

PRESTON LOVE: Let's not categorize things. Put them in slots. That is the failure of the American society, so that they can sell it and market it. But there are different music idioms and each one has its place. It's not about jazz. Why can't we form our lips to say "black music"? Why do we find it so hard. Why do we find it so hard to say "black music". That was once what it was considered exclusively. All of this documentation of jazz, all of this chronology, all of this is fine but again, it is no more sacred to be a great jazz player than it is to be a great polka player.

JACK SHEPARD: Part of my question was more "why do we care"?

PRESTON LOVE: We care because jazz is America's great artistic contribution to the world. We didn't give polkas, waltzes, symphonies, classical music, that's not black at all but we gave them all of jazz and blues, that's all black. Suddenly, we're going to be talking about Benny Goodman. I don't consider his jazz meaningful at all.

JACK SHEPARD: He's a great player.

PRESTON LOVE: Great clarinet player. Harry James, great trumpet player but what about that corny jazz he played? Corny improvisation. It sold. So the downbeat that these people are concerned about, sells. Money, commerce, the great corrupter of art is money. So most of these documentaries, I avoid them. So, let's do a 19 hour on Preston Love and I'll tell you the truth. Not what I read in a book but what I experienced. So, let's get funded to do a 19 hour Preston Love and I will point out the great players of history, who this man Ken Burns didn't know anything about.

PRESTON LOVE: The obvious names of this term jazz, everyone knows them but in many cases they become that way through hype, promotion and personal subjective evaluations. So some of the guys who were all that famous weren't as good as some guys who never made it. There are some in cities like Omaha that were completely passed over because they didn't know about them. Why are they going to deify, canonize, this term jazz, if we're not going to remain true to who they are? Why are we going to include some people, like Woody Herman who was not a great jazz player at all? Because the public wants ..he was a popular figure. Benny Goodman is going to come off as the greatest jazz clarinet player, not at all. Lester Young played two solos, on two records, "Texas Shuffle" and "Blue and Sentimental", that in a true jazz sense, would wipe out everything that Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, and Woody Herman played in their lifetimes.

JACK SHEPARD: We're counting on you being the authority. You wrote a book about it. You wrote a history on the music. Why did you write that book and who did you write it for?

PRESTON LOVE:I didn't write it mainly as related to my music career. It was really my autobiography. We got diverted from that some because I wasn't famous enough for an autobiography. So, it became a combination of both. Having played with some of the people I played with naturally, I should get some recognition in the music aspect of my life. Two major critics described it as the greatest jazz book ever written by a jazz musician.

JACK SHEPARD: Tell me some of the great things about the bands you played in? Tell me about the first band you played in and what you loved about the music and the people you played with?

PRESTON LOVE: Lloyd Hunter was the first big band I played with in Omaha. All the guys were Basie crazy in those days, Jimmy Lester crazy, Duke Ellington everybody was and Lloyd was the closest to Basie. We played dances throughout the territory..we'd drive 600 miles overnight for a gig, to make $4 which was not like $4 today, a lot more money. We'd go all the way across the State of Iowa to Wyoming...all the way down to Goodland, Kansas, to work for the door. We might make $3, we might make $4. But that money, you could subsist on that kind of money in that day with families. It was 1941. Those guys went to play with Duke Ellington, Count Basie, most of them. Most of those guys ended up in the "big time". They recruited them from Omaha. From right where we're sitting, they lived in these homes around here. The greatest band of course, to me, in God's history was Basie. Playing with Basie was like, suddenly God would give you his best reward and I played with him twice briefly in 1943 while Earl was sick and I went back and played permanent with him from '45 to '48. After that, I played with the Ray Charles big band. Ray Charles' band in 1966, if Ray himself, were qualified to lead a big jazz orchestra, that would have been the best of the bands because he had more money than Basie and all of them and he could really develop the band, and had the top engagements and the top money in the world.

JACK SHEPARD: What was being on the road like back then?

PRESTON LOVE: The white bands traveled in relative style and luxury. We didn't. They had fine buses. They could check into the fine hotels in the towns and they could eat in the restaurants. The main difference is the glamour. The recognition. Out here you didn't get it. It was all in New York. It was back East. Philadelphia, Chicago, New York, Boston. Iowa was more rewarding to our careers than Nebraska. The towns were bigger. Blacks in every town..the bigger towns. You're playing West Nebraska, after you leave Lincoln, you might not see a black person for a year. We were in Beatrice, Nebraska, there was a black family there. We went over to see them and they looked at us..these little girls, and they were so thrilled to see some black people.

JACK SHEPARD: What do you think seeing you guys up there playing important music did for those people?

PRESTON LOVE: We played Hastings, I remember, and a few blacks came to the dance, to see these black guys. Oh yeah, they were just thrilled.

JACK SHEPARD: So the music was about black pride?

PRESTON LOVE: Who were the inventors, creators of the jitterbug, the frog..the snakehips in my day, the blackbottom...who were the beginners of that? Entirely blacks. Music was the big, big, thing of our existence and expressing ourselves. But money has become involved. The great corrupter has become involved. So therefore, suddenly, we're excluded from our own art.

Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Don Redman, I'm missing some great composers. They were the great composers of jazz and performers.

JACK SHEPARD: Let's talk a little bit more about the life of a musician. It appears to me that there aren't that many careers where there is so much to do, before you really start working?

PRESTON LOVE: We didn't regard it as work. It was pleasurable to cart this stuff. It was physically debilitating, but to set up a bandstand and adorn it, if we were going to do that..setup the P.A. system. It was so wonderful once that crowd came in and suddenly, everybody felt and enjoyed some degree of star status or at least attention, the attention of the young women, white or black.

JACK SHEPARD: A lot of it is about attention isn't it?

PRESTON LOVE: Attention. Every human being likes it. There's no modesty in human beings. If you were a minister, you want to be the top minister. Whatever you are and that's healthy.

JACK SHEPARD: You want to be the best saxophonist, I imagine?

PRESTON LOVE: I wish I had been. Every compliment I get, if I think I deserve it, I cherish it. I cherish it. There's people that imagine that since I'm almost 80, I can't play, because I'm ancient, a fossil, an antique of the past. Nonsense. I'm one of those that refuses to be that. And if I become, I'll quit. If I could live my life over again, I'd like to live the four weeks.the two different weeks that we played the Orpheum_____________in '45-'46. I'd like to play the Roxie again with Basie. I would like to play Carnegie Hall with Ray Charles, which I did in '66. I'd like to play the Tromar____________in Des Moines and the Val Air with Basie. I'd like to play some of those Motown things I'd play by Smokey and the Miracles and the Temptations and Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knight when the crowds rioted to get to those people and I was their bandleader and young enough to enjoy it.

JACK SHEPARD: So, there's been a lot of good days.

PRESTON LOVE: There's no one who's had a more varied career than I in history. Duke Ellington played jazz if you want to call it that. He never played rock, rhythm and blues, raggedy bars in Bathgate, North Dakota, at Devil's Lake, North Dakota, 40 below zero. One thing I do regret, is that I was never a great composer. That's where all the money is and all the fame. And if I made one grave error in my career, it was not joining Duke Ellington, when he sent for me in 1954, to replace Johnny Hodges. I turned it down, because I had my own band, played Des Moines, Deep River, Iowa, (laugh)...that positive stigma, of playing with Duke Ellington, would have carried me the rest of my life. That credit would have carried me forever.

JACK SHEPARD: Who's the best?

PRESTON LOVE: Duke is the greatest jazz musician of God's history. Louis Armstrong was second to him even. Count Basie's band was the greatest swing band, ever! There's nobody close. Everybody came after Count Basie swinging. Basie himself was not a gracious figure. He was not a beautiful figure like Ellington and Basie's band was not as deep into the so called jazz thing but you couldn't outswing him.

JACK SHEPARD: What was Count Basie like as a man? That's what I missed from your book is that you're not telling me what it was like to know this person.

PRESTON LOVE: Count Basie. He died on my birthday, you know. April 26, 1984. Basie was an unwholesome person in many ways. He was a vindictive, petty, unlettered man, but he wasn't what you'd call a "bad guy", but he did some terrible things. We called him "groundhog", which meant lower than a groundhog. He was not a cultured man in any way. One of the great leaders, to organize a band and make a band work.

PRESTON LOVE: When I played the Orpheum _____________with Basie, one week in '45..you do 5 shows a day, that's 35 shows, so that's 70 shows we did on that stage. He never mentioned my name. All of my people are there. Take a solo ...he never gave you recognition, which is essential. That's the way he was..There's nobody else that would be that unprofessional.

JACK SHEPARD: Who were some of the good guys?

PRESTON LOVE: Duke was an easy going, loose, guy. You call him a ------------------, he called you one. You couldn't call Basie no ------ ------. He didn't even joke with the fellas much. Cab was great. He gave a two week vacation every year with pay. We had a private car on a railroad. Cab was a great leader that way. Duke was that easy going. We're artistic, we don't give a damn, come in around 10. The band would play for a set and Duke would come and make his grand entrance. Jimmy Lusford __________was a ------ because he didn't want to pay the boys anything. He was a disciplinarian. Lloyd Hunter was the finest here.

JACK SHEPARD: What was Preston Love like as a bandleader?

PRESTON LOVE: Just like Duke and them. Let's have a ball! One thing you must do though, you must be on time. You must be sober. But so far as any class system, or strata, no. And if I owed them a dime, they got it. My guys made more than I did. Bandleaders usually make five times what the people make. Most bands that I work in, I'm the best musician. If they were better, they wouldn't be with me. They would have been with Duke Ellington or somebody.

JACK SHEPARD: You talk about things people have said about you, how do you want to be remembered?

PRESTON LOVE:I want to be remembered as the most charitable son of bitch that ever lived. I gave away a fortune every day. I want to be remembered as certainly having more varied....a wider range of credits of any native in Omaha, white or black. We had guys that are greater jazz players, a greater rhythm/blues player, better conga, whatever but the overall, I played them all well. I was the bandleader for Arethra, Isaac Hayes, all those names, you don't make a $100 a night with them, you make thousands. Morris King is a great man. He was the head of Motown. You ask him what he thought of Preston Love as a saxophone player, what he would say would be too much, I wouldn't accept it. It'd be so .you go and ask the Temptations, who the greatest saxophone player they ever played with and they would say, Preston Love. Go ask Smokey.



Bix Beiderbecke

William Carson

Kevin Dean

FELDSPARjazz

Paula Grady

Betsy Hickok

Ron Hillis

Dan Knight

Preston Love

Hob Mason

John "JR" Robinson

Gail Williams

The Vanguard Jazz Collective

More biographies of jazz artists in Iowa

Jazz: former giants, current giants and more Iowans


LISTEN TO LOVE

- Jazz Me Blues

- Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone

- Sand Man

- Tush

LOVE'S MUSICAL CREDITS

According to the Omaha Weekly of 12/21/00, Preston Love has played music with these performers.
(a partial list):


- Count Basie
- Fats Waller
- Lucky Millinder
- Dizzy Gillespie
- Lena Horne
- Ethel Waters
- Billie Holiday
- Dickie Wells
- Snooky Young
- Buddy Tate
- Jimmy Rushing
- Buddy Rich
- Johnny Otis
- Diana Ross and The Supremes
- Marvin Gaye
- Tammi Terrell
- Stevie Wonder
- The Temptations
- Aretha Franklin
- Ray Charles
- T-Bone Walker
- Little Esther Phillips
- Frank Zappa
- Sonny and Cher
- Janis Joplin
- Buddy Miles
- Smokey Robinson
- Gladys Knight
- and more, more, more.


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