INTERVIEW WITH UAN RASEY REGARDING FATS NAVARRO
Uan Rasey was with MGM studios from 1949 until 1974, was Billy May's band manager and section man, and he has taught many important players over the years.
(Summary of Phone Interview Conducted December 29, 2003)
1. When did you first meet Fats?
We met during the last week of June, 1948. I was heading for the Summer Olympic Games and had some time in New York before my ship to England was available to depart. Iíve been a track and field fan all my life and was friendly with one of the Olympic coaches. So, I spent much of my days in New York at the track and field training area watching and helping out where I could. I was going to the Olympics for pleasure; it had nothing to do with any musical job. I had polio as a kid in 1931, but I could get around pretty well in those days with crutches. Iím wheelchair-bound now.
2. Who brought you together with Fats?
Stan Hasselgard, who I knew from California. Since he knew that I was a trumpet instructor as well as a good player, he asked me to spend as much time with Fats as I could spare.
3. Did you know Stan Hasselgard well?
Yes, Stan was a good friend. He was a very fine clarinet player and a real nice guy. Stan and I played together in California along with Dodo Marmarosa and many other fine musicians. Dodo was a fine player who understood the modern harmonies, and unlike a lot of the early bop pianist, he had the technique to keep up with Bird and the other boppers.
Earlier that year, he had an engagement with Goodmanís group, which included Wardell Gray and Teddy Wilson, at the Clique in Philadelphia. Stan told me that one evening Goodman was late, so Stan started off with the group playing Bennyís part. When Goodman arrived, he was angry that Stan had started without him, and would not permit Stan to solo for the rest of the engagement! Stan took it in stride.
I learned of Stan's death over the radio after I returned from the Olympics. He was traveling across country back to California with Billy Eckstineís former wife, and she apparently fell asleep at the wheel somewhere in Illinois, I think. I donít recall her name. His brother came over from Sweden to bring the body back home.
4. How old were you at the time?
Well, I'm 82 years old now, so I was about 27 then. I think that I was a couple years older than Fats. I was given a nice party on my 80th birthday a couple years old. Benny Carter attended. What a wonderful gentleman! Most people forget that he was a very accomplished trumpet player as well as being one of the greatest alto players ever.
5. Where did the lessons take place?
We met first at Benny Goodman's apartment while Benny was out of town. Stan was staying there at the time. We also met at my sister's apartment on 96th Street and once at the Piccadilly Hotel on West 44th Street.
6. Was anyone else present at any of these tutorial sessions?
Yes, Stan was usually there.
7. What was the nature of your teaching?
Reading; he needed some help in this area. We also worked on double tonguing, playing slow ballades, taking in more oxygen to play longer notes, and how to use his air column more efficiently.
He had a great sound, but didnít believe it. I kept encouraging him. He formed notes in his mouth for a beautiful sound.
8. Had you ever heard of Fats prior to your visit to NYC?
Yes, he was already well known.
9. How many times did you meet?
Several times; I don't recall exactly. We worked together for about two and a half weeks until I left for Europe.
10. Was Fats a good learner?
Yes, he paid attention and listened well.
11. Do you remember any details regarding the instrument that he was playing?
I think that it was a "2B Conn." He used a rather small month piece, but still got a big sound.
12. Did Fats pay you for the lessons or was it more a matter of professional courtesy to a fellow trumpet player?
I did it as a favor to Stan. There was no money involved.
13. Did you ever see Fats perform?
Yes, he played well, but I do not recall which club or the other players in the group. I donít recall him playing with the Tadd Dameron group at that time. I did see Bird, Dizzy, and quite a few other great musicians on 52nd Street. I recall that Fats and I saw Miles one evening, and thatís when he said that he wished that his tone was as good as Miles. He didnít seem to realize that his tone was better that Miles!
14. What did you think of Fats' strengths and weaknesses as a player?
He had great articulation, power, phrasing, and a wonderful tone. But he lacked confidence; he didn't fully appreciate his own abilities. His believing that Miles Davis had a better tone than he did is an example of this. He wanted to get studio work and to become a more complete player. I advised him to hold his notes longer so that the listener could relate to his music more easily. He already had a great sound, but he wasn't taking full advantage of it. He was more comfortable playing up tempo selections. I encouraged him to work on developing a ballade style as well.
I encouraged him to seek a job at CBS or NBC for financial gain like Clark Terry did. I donít think that he ever did though.
15. What was his state of health as far as you could tell?
He used drugs. I told him that his drug usage was hurting him. He just looked down at the floor without denying it, but didn't openly acknowledge the problem either. I don't think that he had the will power to quit, and was embarrassed about it. I was not aware of this TB at the time.
16. Is there anything else that you can recall about Fats?
He was friendly and modest. We began friendly and hugged when I finally took off to England for the summer Olympics. He was even a bit tearful. He was one of the most gifted players I ever heard. I was unaware of him having a girl friend or wife at that point in his life.
17. Did you have any further contact with Fats after you returned from Europe?
No, we never met again after that.
-- Thank You --