Notes from the Road: Remembering Joe Temperley

Joe Temperley, by Frank Stewart for Jazz at Lincoln Center

News | Sep, 20th 2016

UPDATE: Today—September 20th, 2016—would have been Joe's 87th birthday. To celebrate, here's his stirring performance of "My Love Is Like a Red, Red Rose."

On May 11th, 2016,Joe Temperley passed away.He was one of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra’s founding members, having held the baritone saxophone chair since the Classical Jazz series at Lincoln Center in 1987. In 1957, long before gracing our band with his presence, Joe started playing with Humphrey Lyttleton’s Band in Scotland. Not long after, he moved to New York City to be closer to the center of the jazz world, and he replaced Harry Carney in the Duke Ellington Orchestra in 1974. Though he was the physical link between Ellington's band and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Joe meant more to us than that. He was the spirit of jazz, embodied. Over the course of three days, on the Orchestra’s first official tour after Joe’s passing, we asked some of the band members to tell us their most memorable stories about Joe on the road. Most often, the question was answered with a laugh and a “Which one should I tell?” What we have gathered is not a quaint nod to his incredible work ethic, but an attempt to capture Joe at his funniest and most loving—his truest self. 

CHRIS CRENSHAW: I was conducting for a show with Alvin Ailey at City Center in 2010. It was a rollercoaster of emotion. I had worked with Joe on this part. It was the arrangement of a Duke tune that I cannot remember. I was listening to a recording of the Ellington band play it in the lead-up to rehearsal, and when Joe started playing the part, I told him, “You’ve got to play it like the guy on this recording.” Then Joe said, “The guy on the tape is me!” Everyone was laughing at me because I didn’t know that Joe had replaced Harry Carney as the baritone saxophonist in that Ellington band.

KENNY RAMPTON: Limericks [laughing]. I wish I could remember his limericks. I’ll share one story with you. When I first joined the band, we were doing a tour of Europe. It was like a month-long tour. It was a little bit of a grind and by the end of the tour I remember just being really tired, and it was one of those days when we had to take a bus to a train to another bus to the hotel, where we arrived just in time for sound check and then performed. It was day after day of that kind of thing, and I remember being really tired and noticing Joe. He was always there before I was, so I’m not sure if he was the first one, but he was one of the first to arrive. He was always dressed well, always carrying all of his own stuff—and he was the oldest guy in the band. I remember being completely exhausted before looking over at him—he was clean and ready to play—and thinking, “Man, if he can do it I can do it.”

PAUL NEDZELA: The first time I met Joe formally was when I took a lesson from him. I had met him and seen him play in the Village. Each of my parents would take me to check him out. I took a lesson with him when I was 14 or 15 years old. I ended up studying with him at Juilliard, and he would give me little insights into the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. He had a big thing about intonation. If there was one thing I remember, it was that. He was tired of people playing sharp. The other thing that I remember was the Bach's piano/flute duets. One person would take the flute line, another would take the right hand of the piano. If you were one of Joe’s students, you have to remember the Bach duets.

MARCUS PRINTUP: One great story about Joe was that we were in the airport—this is 10 years ago—and he was in his late 70s. It was one of those trips where we got up at five in the morning, took a two-hour bus ride to the airport and got two flights and had another two-hour ride to the next hotel—a 12- or 13-hour travel day. So, as we left the last flight going to the van, it was like a 30- or 40-minute walk, and we didn’t have a cart for our bags. So, we were all complaining—“Man I’m tired,” “Man I’m hungry”—so we look ahead of us 10 yards, and Joe is there, saying “Stop complaining, you [expletives]—get up here!” And we were young. Joe taught us how to be adults on the road. I joined the band in 1993 and just watching him get up and warm up—first one to the gig, to the bus—he really showed us the way.

DAN NIMMER: My favorite Joe story from the road takes place in North Carolina. Every time we go to Chapel Hill we stay at this hotel with a fine dining restaurant in the lobby. Joe and I got off of the tour bus after a long ride. We were in our street clothes. Joe said, “Let’s go eat.” We weren’t looking raggedy but we had jeans on. So, we went in there and said, “Two for dinner.” The hostess responded, “Sorry, there’s a dress code.” Joe turned to me and said, “Let’s go upstairs and put our suits on.” So, we went upstairs, put our shirt and tie on, everything, then we came back downstairs and Joe said, “Two for dinner.” They walked us to our table and right before we sat down, Joe said, “This better be [expletive] good!”

VINCENT GARDNER: Joe would always make sure he got his part together. He would sit there—you could write whatever you wanted, and he was going to get it. Joe had this warm-up—and you know he had this amazing, huge sound, it would get you from wherever you were. Joe would warm-up in the hallways on every instrument and he would play these beautiful longtones in the altissimo register. It would sound like five or six opera singers outside. So we thought, we should write some of that into our pieces. So we did, and Ali wrote those notes into his arrangement of “Little Drummer Boy” for the Christmas concerts. Of course, the first thing Joe says is, “Who writes this kind of [expletive]?! For the baritone?!” Before proceeding to play it perfectly [laughing]. We realized after that, he is going to cuss, but he’s going to play the hell out of it anyway.

VICTOR GOINES: All of the stories about Joe on the road will have the same concept in mind: consistency. Joe was the same person no matter how he felt—bad or good, no matter what time of the day, he was always on time, always professional, always kind, and always personable. Good to be around all of the time. Joe had a certain amount of intense passion, meaning, everything he did he played with a great level of intensity, while at the same time, he was as caring about others as someone could be. That’s a very unusual thing. There’s so much to say about Joe—trying to filter it is the problem. What part to tell? After 23 years of playing with him—we’ve had great times off the bandstand, on the bandstand—one time we even went back to Scotland with him. I can’t remember that time in particular too well, but I do remember that every time we were in the UK, Joe was like a rock star. People would come from near and far to see him, as they should have. Everybody came with the understanding that this is not something you should take for granted. He was a living legend then; now he is just a legend.


All photos by Frank Stewart for Jazz at Lincoln Center.

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