Junior Mance: Eighty Years Young
JM: The house trio included me, the late [bassist] Israel Crosby and a local drummer Buddy Smith. The gig lasted two years; they brought in singles and gave each one four weeks. Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, who I had played with in 1949Lester was generous with the solos.
AAJ: I'm sure you picked up a lot from Dizzy Gillespie, too.
JM: That was my music school. I stayed with him two to three years. I lived near him in New Jersey. Dizzy had a studio in his basement and invited me over any time to show me anything I wanted to know. I was over there almost every day. He was a teacher without trying to be; I don't think he realized how much he was teaching people. He would show you more than you asked for. Miles Davis said, "Anyone who plays with Dizzy and doesn't improve didn't have it to begin with."
AAJ: How did you put a band together?
JM: Dizzy was responsible. He had a record date with Norman Granz. Halfway through it, Norman asked me if I'd like to make my own record. Norman told me, "I hope you don't mind using Ray Brown." I stammered before I said, "Yes!" Ray was his house bassist for recording; everybody wanted to play with Ray. The LP was Junior and the drummer was Lex Humphries. That record went for about a year and got good reviews. I was able to get some gigs when Dizzy was off, then when I wanted to try leading a trio, I did it with his blessing. I did a lot of trios with Riverside and also backed up "Lockjaw" Davis and Johnny Griffin.
AAJ: You began teaching at the Manhattan New School in 1988.
JM: I just celebrated my 20th year there. I had never taught before and was passing by a bar one night when Chico Hamilton and Arnie Lawrence, the two founders of the [jazz program at the] school, saw me and called me in for a drink and asked me to teach. They finally convinced me to come to Arnie's class the next morning and I had a ball doing it. Martin Mueller, the administrator of the school, invited me to teach blues. They asked me to try it for a week and I loved it. I had Larry Goldings, Brad Mehldau and Jesse Davis as students in my first year.
AAJ: Is the 100 Gold Fingers (featuring various combinations of ten jazz pianists plus a rhythm section) tour of Japan still ongoing?
JM: Every other year. It was offered to a producer here, but it was turned down. We play to packed houses, though only a few of us who started with it in 1989 are still with itmyself and Kenny Barron. They've put out a lot of recordings, though not all of them have reached the U.S.
AAJ: What projects are completed?
JM: There are several CDs in the can in Japan. My recent Café Loup CD features one of my students, singer José James, on two tracks.
Junior Mance Trio, Live at Café Loup (JunGlo Music, 2007)
Cannonball Adderley, Sophisticated Swing: The Emarcy Small Group Sessions (Emarcy/Verve, 1995)
Junior Mance, Special (Sackville, 1986)
Gene Ammons/Sonny Stitt, Together Again for the Last Time (Prestige, 1973)
Junior Mance Trio, At The Village Vanguard (Jazzland-OJC, 1961)