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Interview with: Art Foxall
Interviewed by: Louis Marchiafava
Date: February 19, 1990
AF: I am Art Foxall. Today’s date is February 9, 1990.
LJM: This is Louis Marchiafava conducting an interview for the Texas Jazz Heritage Society. First, I’d like to welcome you here and thank you for participating in this oral history project. I would like to begin the interview by learning some basic background information, such as where and when you were born.
AF: Okay. I was born in Houston, Texas, April 21, 1925, in a little section of town in those days they call the Fourth Ward, over on Bailey Street.
LJM: That’s an historic district now, you know.
AF: Yes. I can understand, after coming back and traveling back and forth. It’s really historic.
LJM: It’s named “Freedman’s Town” after the settlement there by black Houstonians after the Civil War.
AF: Oh! No kidding!
LJM: We’re hoping to preserve some of the houses in that area.
AF: Oh, yeah. I remember those houses. I was looking through some of those houses the other day as I was riding through the city. It brought back a lot of memories.
LJM: Can you tell me something about your family background?
AF: Well, my mother and father both was from Lake Charles, Louisiana. My mother’s name was Agnes Foxall. However, my dad’s name was Arthur “Art” Foxall, Sr., and I was called “Junior”, as always, and now they call the Second. And so they migrated from Louisiana, first to Part Arthur, and then they moved to Houston, and this is where I came up and I was born. They birthed me. And I also have a sister here, but she was born in the Third Ward. Her name was Delores Foxall, but as of now her name is Delores Jordan. And we moved to the Third Ward when I was, oh, about four or five years old. I attended Blackshear Elementary School. That was over there on Holman and Ennis, and from there I went to Jack Yates High [School], and I was graduated from Jack Yates High in 1942.
LJM: Do you have any idea what brought your parents to Houston?
AF: Well, I think at that time it was a bigger city and better living, and a lot of times in those cases, you know, the further you could get your family away from home the better you got along because they couldn’t run back to Momma and Daddy too quick.
LJM: What kind of work did your father do?
AF: My father was a waiter. He used to work at a place called Ye Olde College Inn many years ago. And he retired from the railroad.
LJM: I think they tore down the restaurant about fifteen years ago.
AF: Yes. It was out there by Rice University.
LJM: Yes. That’s right.
AF: In fact, he told me that’s where he met Mr. Howard Hughes when he was going to school. He used to come over there and eat all the time.
LJM: Were there any members of your family involved in the music profession?
AF: No, other than my mother loved to dance, as coming up, you know, people from Louisiana loved to dance and have a good time. I understand somewhere down the line I was a relative of Bunk Johnson.
LJM: When were you introduced to music?
AF: Well, I was introduced to music, you know, when I was approximately the age of thirteen years old, and I just wanted to be a football player. And I tried that, and I realized all I wanted to play football for was to get a sweater. And I say, “Heck, I can start playing music and get sweaters and go to all the games and play the after-parties after the football games to earn a few nickels. So this was it, and my parents . . . . You know how most youngsters are. They never know exactly which direction they want to go, and so they said, “Well, you start playing the clarinet, and, if you start playing the clarinet , in the later years maybe we can get you a saxophone because they wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do. I tried to be a prize fighter. I wanted to be a boxer and all this, but I told them I wanted to play music, so I started out on the clarinet. I played clarinet in the high school band, and later, under the direction of Abner Jones. Later I changed to saxophone, and I also played in the orchestra. And this is something you can either use or you can bypass it, but during the time that I was in high school the two rival high schools were Wheatley and Jack Yates. Those was the two. Booker T. Washington [High School], they didn’t count too much. But during those days we were considered to having the best band. So, on Armistice Day [a] parade they’d have. Well, naturally, they would put our band in front. But our band followed the elephants and all of the horses and everything else, and you know what they would be doing in the streets. So, therefore, we had to march and not miss a beat or a step and go around all the other stuff. So I say we got a good band any time you can do all that and not miss a beat! Every Armistice Day they had a big parade. That was one of our big things: to play in the parade and everything, and I enjoyed the music.
And music has been very good to me. Up to now I haven’t had any problems. You know I hear musicians say they can’t get jobs and everything, but I always thought of music as being an insurance salesman. I mean, if you find out what the people like and give it to them, you know. I mean I never thought of trying to do what I wanted to do. I thought of trying to make the people happy, and if you make them happy you’ll always stay working.
LJM: That’s a good philosophy. And a very practical one, too.
AF: Yes. Very much so.
LJM: Let me go back for just a moment. Are you telling me you wanted to get in must be because you wanted a sweater?
AF: Well, no. Not really. Well, what happened was, one year every kid on the block got a horn for Christmas. So, we all wanted instruments, you know, and so, naturally, I wanted one, too. And so I got to playing music, and I had a little job working in a little drug store they used to call Rosedale Pharmacy on Rosedale and Ennis. There was a little pharmacy there, and I used to ride a bicycle, and I think I was making about twelve-and-a-half center an hour, and I was also going to school. I only worked four hours a night so that fifty cents a night riding a bicycle delivering over there in the Riverside area. And I went out one night and played a girl-reserve dance with Amos “Bill” Glendon [phonetic] and another fellow named Joey Goodin. They hired the band. And I made, I think, five dollars, and I quit that job. I said “Music is it!”
LJM: So, you were approximately thirteen or fourteen at the time?
AF: Yes. Thirteen or fourteen.
LJM: And you started playing a which school?
AF: Well, I entered the band at Jack Yates High School, and I stayed right there until I graduated from high school. And then, after that, I did a stunt in the military service in the Navy. And while I was in the Navy I took Sam Donahue’s place at Lever [phonetic] Beach in Long Island, New York, with Artie Shaw’s band for a short time.
LJM: In high school did you have an opportunity to play jazz or was it the usual music that you associate with high school bands?
AF: No, you see, we had a jazz orchestra and also the high school band. I played clarinet in the high school band, and then I played the saxophone in the jazz orchestra. We had about, like, it was about an eighteen-piece band, but you see, during those days we was playing arrangements like from Les Brown, Count Basie. I mean, we was playing with charts. You know, at that time you could buy a whole orchestra arrangement for seventy-five cents, and you just spread the music out. They used to call it “stock” because you could take any three instruments and play it, and it would blend together, you know, where in a special arrangement it doesn’t sound good unless it’s there, you know. Because, I mean, if you don’t have a second trumpet player or the first alto player you can’t play. But you could take what we used to call “music stock” for seventy-five cents and take the third trumpet [part] and put it with the fourth saxophone, and you could still hear the arrangement in it. So that’s what mostly we was playing in high school. We had a real good trumpet player during the time who was Joseph Bridgewater. He’s passed on. Most of us have passed on. We had another trombone player by the name of Matthew Gee. He went real far. I understand his brother is doing well, too. He was a baritone player originally, and he went to trombone, and he went all the way to the top: all the way to Duke Ellington, which is one band that I never encouraged myself to want to play with because I always felt that if I had played with Duke Ellington my music career would have been over with because where else could I go unless I go to the symphony? However, I did have a chance to play with the symphony, which was one of my goals. I did a concert with the Everett [Washington?] Symphony, and we had special charts. I was really happy about it.
LJM: When did you begin learning how to play the saxophone?
AF: Well, I began to play the saxophone after I had played the clarinet for a couple of years, and there was a fellow that . . . . You see, in those days they’d say, “You want a saxophone?” He’d say, “We’ll get you a saxophone.” And so I got the saxophone, and by playing clarinet it wasn’t too hard to shift over from the clarinet to the saxophone because, basically, they are very similar. I used to have a friend. . . You know when we was in school, [to the] one that had a saxophone, “I’d say, “Well, you show me how to play a saxophone. I’ll show you how to play clarinet.” So we’d swap off like that. And then, eventually I started taking lessons, and I had very good instructors right along the way that was very hard on me, but I can appreciate it now. And the main one was Arnett Cobb. Next one was Eddie Vinson, “Cleanhead”, and next there was Earl Bostick. Everywhere I could get a little lesson I’d go right to them, and they’d help me. So they brought me right along.
LJM: How did you happen to meet these men?
AF: Well, I met Arnett. He was teaching a fellow that used to live over near the Cooney [phonetic] Homes at that time. That’s what they early called it. So he said, “I’m taking lessons from Arnett.” At that time he was playing in Milton Larkin’s band. So, I met Arnett over at his house, and I figured I could sit by while Arnett was teaching him and learn a lot myself, and that’s how I learned. And then, pretty soon, I used to go up to the El Dorado when they was playing up there and hire [hide?] under the tables and so forth. At least they had matinees, which I wish they would start doing something like that today for kids that’s under-age where they could just drink soda and non-alcoholic beverage, no drugs or nothing like that, and just have a good band where they could appreciate good music and dance the way we did. It would be always someplace to go and look forward to. I used to go to matinees. I loved the bands so much. I was just a youngster, and [they] didn’t like for kids to be up there at night so I’d hide under the tables and so forth when the place started packing up. Then I would come from under the table, and I would sit by the band all night long because I really enjoyed listening to the band and listening to the style because Arnett’s idol was Joe Tomas [phonetic], used to be with Jimmy Lunceford. They were very, very good friends. I really enjoyed it. He helped me a lot, a really lot!
LJM: What year did you take lessons from Arnett Cobb?
AF: This had to be approximately about 1942, ’41 or ’42, because I went into the military service in ’43, and I came out of the Navy in ’46. After I came out of the Navy I entered the New England Conservatory of Music back in Boston. They were always teasing [me]. I had a bandmaster here at Jack Yates [High School], Abner Jones, God bless him. He used to tell me, he’d say, “No way in the world you can make that conservatory.” So after I got to Boston, I’d say, “He told me I couldn’t make it.” But the exam they give was so hard! I told them, “I didn’t come to school as a professional musician. I’m coming to learn to play.” But in a conservatory you’ve got to have so much knowledge just to get through the door. And I said, “Wow!” But I did pas it, which made me feel very, very good.
LJM: I would think so.
AF: But to get into a conservatory, I just figured you entered just like getting into any other university or school. But when they get through giving you all these exams and tests and stuff, I said, “Wow! You’ve got to almost be finished before they’ll even accept you, you know.” So that’s why most times when someone enters a conservatory you have to respect them because they had to have enough knowledge to get through the door. And that’s where I started studying classics quite a bit, and everything, and later on I entered a school of music called the Schillinger School of Music which is now called Berkeley.
LJM: Let me go back before we get too far ahead. When did you start playing for money?
AF: In high school.
LJM: Tell me about that.
AF: Well, I had a little job working at a drug store at that time. I can remember it very well. It was a drug store called Rosedale Pharmacy located there on Rosedale and Ennis. So I was working two hours for a quarter and four hours for fifty cents riding a bicycle being the delivery boy. And so the school asked us one day . . . . We had a little band that we were rehearsing with and playing all the time with Amos Milburn, because he tried to be real great, too, as a blues artist. He made Chicken Shack Boogie and a lot of other stuff. And, so, we played the dance, and I think the school paid us five dollars apiece for that night to play the dance, and after that I say, “No more drug store.” I say, “I can make five dollars in one night, and working four hours for fifty cents, so I say, ‘No! No way!’” So I really got into it then because it opened my eyes. I said, “Wow! This is something that you enjoy doing and getting paid for it!”
LJM: Did you continue to work professionally through high school?
AF: Yes. I played with Russell Jacquet. He had a band at the El Dorado. That was Illinois Jacquet’s brother. I played in his band, and then I did a couple of dates with I. H. Smalley. And then the high school had a band [led by] Abner Jones, and we played up there like on weekends and stuff. And then I also played with a fellow . . . Well, this is jumping ahead a little bit, but when I was [in] school in the Conservatory I would come home every summer to be with my family, and during the time I would come home I’d always play. But one summer I played with a fellow by the name of Lester Williams, Lester Wintertime Williams Blues, and I played with him for a long time and toured with him all through Texas. This was when I got a chance to learn my state because between Texas and Louisiana we played everything almost that could be played. I saw towns that I had never saw before. By being born in Houston I never went into any of the little, small towns. Here in Houston I think I played [in] Sugarland. I played Conroe and Lufkin, and that was about it. But later in 1943 I moved to Los Angeles, California.
LJM: When did you go into the Army.
AF: I went into the Navy. I went into the Navy in March of 1943.
LJM: You were drafted?
AF: Yeah, I was drafted. Well, at that time they said you were drafted into the military service, so they had a big desk line up ahead. They had the Army. They had the Air Corps. They had the Marines and all that stuff. So the last fellow was sitting on the said, he say, “What’s your name?” because I couldn’t pass him up, so he was the Navy. So I gave him my name and everything, so I just went on into the Navy. And during that time, you know, I could have went with the navy band, but I didn’t know. All the things they told me was that if you went in as a steward branch you’d be wearing a uniform like an officer, and that was very impressive to me to be wearing an officer-type uniform if I went into the steward branch. So I went into the steward branch. That’s like cooking and baking and such. If you become a petty officer you wear a uniform just like the chief. You know, you didn’t have to wear them thirteen-button pants and bell-bottoms and such. So this was impressive to me, so I went into that branch, and I took training in Bainbridge, Maryland. That’s where I took my navy training. So I went into that. And after I got into that I found that it would be hard for me to get into the music band because I went into the wrong branch. But the officers sort of liked me and everything, and at that time I took [an] examination for the United States Navy Music School, passed it and everything! And they sent my papers back and wrote in red “Negro.” This was a hurting thing, but it’s true. At that time they weren’t accepting any blacks in the United States Navy Music School, and I took the exam. I’m out there in the South Pacific. The chief gave me the exam and everything. I played for them and everything, and I passed it, and I just knew I was going to go to music school and was turned down.
LJM: They let you see that?
AF: Oh, yeah. The sent it to me. I wish I had been looking for it, you know, because my mother kept a lot of my personal things, but they sent it back to me. But I was so happy at that time I didn’t care about them saying Negro or black of whatever they wanted to say. I said, “Well, at least I passed it.” I knew I had to be a good enough musician to pass it because it was a tough exam. So, anyway, when I came out of service, I said, “Well, I’ll still keep going.” Every knock is a boost, sometimes.
LJM: That’s something someone never forgets.
AF: No, you never forget that. You try to, but, you know, it was a hurting thing, but I was young enough to not let it bother me. I’d have preferred to have them say that they wouldn’t take me because I am black than have them say [that] I didn’t pass the exam.
LJM: It is satisfying for yourself.
AF: Right, because that part didn’t bother me because I was in the Navy, and I had it very good. In fact, I was well-liked by all officers and all commanding officers in the Navy because when the fellows would get depressed and all, I’d put the band together and we’d play. And they looked after me, and they gave me very good duty. I never regret the time I was in [the] service. I was in approximately eight major battles including Iwo Jima, Saipan, Guam and all these places. In fact the ship we were on was the first ship to go from the Panama Canal to Hawaii without an escort. And the captain of the ship, he was very brilliant, so they took him and put him in Nimitz’ staff.
LJM: Do you remember the name of the ship that you served on?
AF: Oh, yes. Definitely. USS Storm King AP171.
LJM: Did you get the uniform you wanted?
AF: No. Well, I finally got it. I took the money instead. You know they give you the money to buy the uniform. Well, I only had about six or seven months to go before I got discharged, and I said, “Well, heck. I don’t care nothing about it.” I’d wore it so long now it didn’t even bother me.
That that’s what it was all about: the uniform. Other than that I could have went to Great Lakes. And if I had became a seaman when I joined. As a seaman, then, I could have went right on over and went to Great Lakes like Willie Smith and all the other musicians that went in service. They had a good band in Hawaii, and they also had a good band at Great Lakes. That’s where they have sort of like a music school there you could go to.
LJM: But the didn’t allow blacks in it, did they?
AF: Well, at the time I was trying to get into the Academy of the United States Navy.
LJM: A different thing.
AF: Yeah. Yeah. A different thing, but they did have Navy bands with a lot of blacks in them during that time, but, you see, I was coming from the steward branch rather than the seaman branch. And this is what they sent back to me.
LJM: So, when were you discharged?
AF: I was discharged in 1946. I was stationed in Bremerton, Washington. And what happened was I joined the navy band. There I went in and sat in on the Navy Band there in Bremerton, and they like me. So, they said, “Well, if you can get transferred off your ship you can join the navy band. So I was somebody that they wasn’t doing what they was supposed to do for the Navy. You know what I mean? Always late and never do any duty, so they just transferred us and put him on a ship and brought me in his place, and then I was able to be in the band. And that is how I played in the band right until I was out. During the course while I was there, this was where I met Quincy Jones.
LJM: How did that happen?
AF: Well, Quicy was a little youngster, and he was living in Bremerton. And he used to come out all the time and try to do a little writing and stuff and wanted to hear it, and he tried to play a little trumpet and everything. But we knew he was going to be a good arranger and everything, but we never figured about no trumpet playing, you know. But through the years later he did play with Dizzy [Gillespie]. We never accepted his trumpet playing, but we always accepted his writing. And so, after the years passed by, I hadn’t seen him in a long time, and he came up and we found out we were attending the same school together in Boston, which, at the time, it was called the Schillinger House of Music.
Schillinger was a fellow that put music to mathematic and drew graphic pictures and all this stuff, and you’d have centralized graph paper where you could write arrangements where nobody else could understand it but the people who had been studying with Schillinger. But now it is called the Berkeley School of Music.
Well, I’ve seen Quincy. I’ve talked with him, but one of the fellows that was responsible for him was a very dear friend of mine. He was always keeping me aware of what was going on. His name was Bumps Blackwell. He discovered Sam Cook and Little Richard. And I recorded with Little Richard also.
LJM: Did you have clear idea of what you wanted to do when you were discharged from the Navy?
AF: Yes, I did, and that was to play music and make people happy.
LJM: Did you have any clear idea of how you were going to achieve this: whether you wanted to have your own band; whether you wanted to get more experience? Exactly what did you have in mind?
AF: Well, the thing was, basically, I took lessons when I was in California from one of the fellows. He was with the Twentieth Century Fox Studios. He name was Russ Cheevers. And so, I wanted to play music, but I never cared nothing about a band leader or anything. I just wanted to sit back there and make good music. My Highest ambition at that time was to work in the studio in a studio band, but then I found out after I had tried that a little bit, and I said, “Studio band is not for me because I love to see people happy, and I love to hear applause. Applause is what makes you really feel good when you do [a] number and you the house come down and all this type of thing. This is what really I went for because with the studio, you know, if you did a good job they was fixing to say, “Hey, you supposed to do it. That’s what we pay you for.” You know, you’ll do everything and play, and, I mean, you don’t get no praise for what you do. Maybe later on through the years . . . Like I have one friend named Clarence Johnson. He’s top-notch today. He’s the one that played with Hank Messina [Henry Mancini?] and made the Pink Panther. That’s him playing saxophone on it. He went out and recorded the same arrangement and everything and [it] didn’t even get off the ground. And he’s a top musician! He was with the Merv Griffin show for fifteen years. And so we talk all the time, you know, and he was telling me. He say, “Well, Art, you know, you didn’t hang around the studio because you could have been a studio [musician].” And I said, “No, I was a little too slow waiting, so I just off and go on the road.” I wanted to be just a real good musician, but, through the years, what happened was every band I got in and played, they always made me the straw boss because they say, “You knew how to talk to the musicians, and you knew how to get things out of them.” And so, consequently, I’ve been bandleader. They jut automatically just put it on me. And, you know, like when I was in Boston. Well, we’d have [a] band and whoever got the job was the leader. If I went out and got a job, I was the leader. Same thing if another fellow went out and got a job, then he was the leader. So, consequently, I was ending up getting all the jobs, so they just say, “Hey, you going to be the leader from now on.” But I never wanted [to be] leader because I never wanted that responsibility, because when you deal with musicians you are dealing with a lot of different personalities, and what you say for one you can’t say it for all. To get the best out of them you have to know the psychology to use on one. One you can talk real nice to and you can get very good results from them. And then you can take one that you just make fun of him and say, “Oh, I don’t know how you ever made it this far.” A fellow had been playing for me about ten years, a fellow called Monk. He was a drummer, and he had been playing with me a long time, but I had another fellow playing with he, and he said, “You know, man, I’ve been with Art five years and he never told me one night that I played good.” He [Monk] said, “Well, let met tell you. I’ve been with him almost fifteen years and he never told me that.” But I’ve always tried to pay musicians a good salary, and I figured as long as you were in the band and I don’t say anything to you about how good you are playing you are doing well because if you wouldn’t [weren’t?] you wouldn’t be there. That’s what I am paying you for: to play good. So, if you’re with me and I’m not hollerin’ . . . . Now, if I’m not paying you and want to get some service out of you for nothing, I’d be patting you on the back, saying, “Man, you are the best musician in the world.” And telling you all this kind of stuff. But when I’m paying you top dollar, I am paying you to do a job. And when Christmas come, I would always treat them right and give them nice gifts and stuff like that, and that let them know that I appreciate them and everything. I used to try to use a little psychology: [that] everybody in my band had to own a Cadillac. When I was coming up they all had to have a Cadillac. And the reason I did that, I put them in debt so I knew they’d stay with me.
LJM: Did any of them figure that out after a while?
AF: No. They never did figure it out. I mean, honestly! They just figured I say, “Well, ‘cause I had a Cadillac, and I say I didn’t want to make them feel like I was taking all the money buying a Cadillac and they didn’t have one. It was a status. I mean, we’d pull up in front of a job, and there wouldn’t be nobody in the club, and all the musicians had a Cadillac parked out there [and] people would pass by and [say], “Wow! That club must rally be jumping! There must be a real nice clientele of people going there. Look at all the new Cadillacs out there!” And, in the meantime, when you go to talk to a club owner about a job, and if he saw you driving a nice car like a Cadillac and stuff, he knew that you must be a pretty much decent musician because you couldn’t afford to have these things if you wasn’t making no money. I was able to always get my salary, and I never had to really scuffle for jobs because all I had to do was just call and say [that] I’ll be available on so-and-so. However, I did have agents and managers and all of this stuff. I had all of that, but then Houston has been very good to me. I can’t knock it at all.
LJM: How long did that phase go on?
AF: Well, that was right after I came out of service, because when I was in service I was inactive other than playing different things at the USO and so forth like that. But when I came out of service, this is where I started in Boston, and then when I left Boston I met my wife, and we have a daughter named Torrey [phonetic] Lee Foxall. She’s twenty-seven. As a matter of fact she’s here with me in town now. So, then I knew I had to really start playing. However I did work a short deal for North
American. That was the thing in the air factory, North American Aviation. I worked a short stunt, and I got a job to go to play in Seattle, and we got booked up there, so the wife was a little disgusted. She said, “Well, you’ve got to know what you’re doing because you losing this job to go play a job playing music youre’ going to be it.” So I said, “I know what I’m doing.” So I lost the job, but then I started playing music. It was just a chance. You know when you have something to do, you’re going to do it because you know you have no other choice. A lot of times this is what happens to a lot of musicians, a lot of professional people: they have so much knowledge, and they have so much choice of going so many different directions they end up not going no direction. But if you say, “Hey, the only way you can make it is to do this,” you’re going to figure a way you can do it. And I always thought of a musician as being an insurance salesman. You know, you sell people the insurance they need; you play the music they enjoy.
LJM: That is a winning combination.
AF: This has always been my motto, and I have worked with a lot of jazz musicians. Unfortunately I was on the same deal with Charlie Parker and Miles Davis. I played the Apollo Theater and all this stuff, but I always say, you know, if you want to make a living, and you can’t make it monetary playing music, it’s got to be something wrong because the world loves music. And, you know, it is changed in a lot of areas, so I’m still over here into the mainstream because all of the older musicians, God bless them, they are fading away very fast. I guess it’s because I’m getting older, but they’re leaving us, so we’ve got to have one around here to keep this music going. And so, this is what I am trying to do: trying to keep it going like it was, say, in 1940 and 1950 and 1960: the same type of style because to me it’s a lot of good jazz musicians out today, but they have lost the identity. I mean, at one time I could listen to a musician and say, “Wow! That’s Earl Bostwick. Wow! That’s Arnett Cobb. Wow! That’s Illinois Jacquet and all these different types of musicians: Coleman Hawkins; Ben Webster. You could tell all these types of musicians and identify with them. You knew exactly the way they played, you know. But now you can hear a thousand saxophones and you’re lucky if you can name two of them.
LJM: How would you describe your style?
AF: I would describe my style as more of a spirited, basic mainstream jazz; something that will make you pat your foot when you hear it. And you will hear melodies with it: melodies that when you leave out the club you will come out humming something just not even thinking about it. And, like when I’m playing, a person will be patting their fingers on the table or patting their foot. I look at them out there cause they feel what I’m putting into it because music is an art as far as I’m concerned, and it is just like painting a picture. You can have a thousand artists paint one picture, and no artist will paint that one picture alike. Same thing with musicians: thousands of them will play one song theme up and each will pay a variation just a little different.
LJM: Are there any musicians who have had a particular impact on your musical style?
AF: Yes, very much so. Arnett Cobb is number one. In fact, when he heard me play, he laughed because he could hear so much of himself in it, and he was very hard on me. I never will forget one day I went up to [him]. He was in Boston playing at the Savoy. And I have always tried to help him out, and you know during those days they used to march through the aisles, and people would throw dollar bills. Well, his horn wasn’t playing right, and he never took time to look at it. He’d say, “Hey, Fox, take my horn to the shop,” and I took it to the shop and that man pulled about thirty dollars out of the horn where it was clogged up in there. And so I brought him the thirty dollars, and he said, “Well, you so honest you keep all the money that was in that.” I said, “Hey, you had some money.” He say, “That’s yours.” And so, every time he come to town I’d be wanting to take that horn to the shop if he needed any repairs or anything.
LJM: I’ll bet he looked in it after that.
AF: I don’t know whether he did or not. But listen, when he had his band called Cobb and the Mobb, but I’d go up to his place with he and his wife. So, she felt sorry for me. He used to say, “Let me hear you play something.” So I’d start playing and he just eat on my case! He’d say, “Don’t you trying to play solo until you lean the melody.” Which was right! And so now when I play, you can practically almost hum the melody even though I am ad libbing because he’d stay with me to stay with that melody. People understand melody, you know, so if you are going to play Stardust, let’s let them know that it’s Stardust! You can play variations after you have established that it is Stardust. In the early day a person would ask you for a tune, and you’d play it, and you’d play it in so many different ways until they’d say, “When are you going to play my tune?” And you’d say, “Well, I just got through playing it.” You’d played it so far out that they did not recognize it. So, if you’re going to play something, you’ve got to play and let them know what you are playing and understand what you are playing. You never play above your audience’s heads, you know. I did a concert not too long ago, and I wanted to really stretch out, and a musician friend of mine, he said, “Art, you have established a style, and it’s no use of you going ‘way out there in left field with this alternate jazz and playing it.” I said, “Well, I just wanted to let them know that I can play it if it’s necessary.” He say, “Well, you don’t have to do that. You are established, and when people hire you, they want to hear that mainstream jazz.” So I got started listening to it, and I started changing, and I said, “No. I’ve been successful all these years in playing what I am playing. Why should I change the horse in the middle of the stream?” And you know, more of the older musicians are leaving us. Well, I’m one of the few legends that will still be around to still carry the sound on.
LJM: Has there been any change at all in your style? Have you noticed any change in yourself?
AF: Well, I’d say, “Yes, a little bit, but not very much.” You so, what happened was, I was on Arnett Cobb so bad. In fact, they used to call me as I was coming up in Boston, they used to call me “Baby Cobb” because I used to sound so much like him. Then he got sick for a long period there, and he didn’t do any recording or anything. In fact, I’ve still got some 78 [rpm] records that he made when he was with . . . I forget what record company. . . I think it was Columbia . . . . when he was recording for Columbia. I’ve got 78 [rpm] records of him with Smooth Sailing and all these tunes and B. B and all these different tunes. So when he got sick for a long period there, I had no way to keep on going with him, but before, I’d keep all of his records and learn his solo work and all this stuff, and then bury it, but after he got sick, I said, “Well now, I’ve got to go on because I don’t have no more ideas.” So I started listening to other musicians which was still in this category which was Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis and few others. So then I started putting it together, and now I’m on my own. But anyone that hear me play, they can tell I was influenced quite a bit by Arnett. In fact, you know, people come by the house, and I have some videos on Arnett when he was with Lionel Hampton, and they say, “You know, if you turn your head and not look at it, them people coming in [would say], “Is that you?” And then I’d say, “No, that’s Arnett.” And they’d say, “Well, you can’t hardly tell the difference.” And I’d say, “I can’t help it if I was influenced by him. I couldn’t stop sounding like him even if I tried now.”
LJM: It’s a part of your music, and it’s part of you.
AF: It’s a part of me, you know. And so, I just talked with Buddy Tate, and he was talking about teaming up with me, you know, with the Texas Tenors because they did have that Texas tenor sound, and so I said, “Well, okay. Just let me know.”
LJM: Did the conservatory that you attended in Boston, was it in Boston?
AF: Yes. The New England Conservatory of Music.
LJM: Did that have any impact on you?
AF: Oh, yes. Very much so. Very much so. I played in the woodwind ensemble, and it took the cockiness out of me. Because after I got in the door, I got a little cocky, and I used to say, “I don’t care what kind of music it is. As long as it is in the key of C I could play it.” So they had a fellow that the only way he writes is in the key of C. His name is Paul Hindemith. And so they threw a piece of his music on me, and I didn’t get out the first two bars because he used all accidentals, like double-flat[s] and double sharp[s], but it was still in the key of C signature, but it was in another key when you use accidentals. And I say, “Well, that took the cockiness out of me.” You know, we had to go listen to the Boston Symphony and so forth and different symphonies because, you know, we’re in classics. So I went to the Boston Symphony at a rehearsal once, and Arthur Fiedler was the Director there at that time. It was Boston Pops. So, one of the fellows had a problem: it was either A or A-flat on the clarinet. It wasn’t closing properly, and he was wondering about . . . . You see, the concert was that night. He said, “I’ve got to get this fixed before the concert. Where is the nearest place where I can take my horn to get it fixed before the concert.” So a fellow said, “What notes are giving you a problem when you play it?” It was either
A or A-flat. Something wasn’t right. The adjustment was real bad. And so Arthur Field set up and said, “Wait a minute.” And in about ten minutes he said, “Aw, heck. You don’t have to worry. You can play tonight because you won’t need that key.” He done thought through his mind the whole score of all the charts and everything he’s playing and knew that he wouldn’t have too use that key. I said, “I got a lot to learn.” That was really something! To think of a whole symphony orchestra and think of the fellow’s part and say, “You won’t need this key for tonight.” But, so anyway, the Conservatory was very good for me. It got me away from being cocky and taught me that there was a lot that I have to learn, and, as they’re always saying, “Music is something that you can never master.” It’s always something to learn, and you can still keep learning. Like Benny Goodman and his teacher was talking one day, and they was talking about salary, and Benny Goodman’s teacher told me, “Well, from the size of your salary and the size of mine, I should be taking lessons from you.” So, it’s a challenge because it’s always something to learn, you know.
LJM: Have you cut records?
AF: Oh, yes. I have three albums out. The first one I did . . . . Well, most of the recordings have been done in Rotterdam, Holland. This is where I recorded: Holland. Over there because I liked the way the studio treats you and everything. But I’ve recorded with other artists here in the States, including Charles Brown, Amos Milburn and Ivory Joe Hunter and a few other artists.
One of the first albums I cut is called The Young and Old. It was cut in Rotterdam. And the reason we called it The Young and Old was because I had all the musicians in there that was very much younger than me, so I used some of their ideas against some of my ideas. And I felt as though the album would reach both people that are older and it’ll also reach the people that was younger.
And the second album that I cut is called Art’s Back in Town. This is the album where they welcome me back in Europe when I was there, and everywhere I played we had sell-out clubs and so forth. Everywhere I played it was packed houses. In fact, some nights I’d play from ten ‘till two and leave that and start another club from three to five. I mean, just constantly. The place would be packed because over in Europe they love jazz quite a bit and what would happen there, like when you play the first time you’d have a packed house. So, maybe the next town you play in is not but about fifty miles and so at least three-fourths of those people that was in the first time in the area that you are playing in, they all come. And so, wow! You’ve got another packed place, and by the time you play the tenth place nobody could get in because they’d follow you. And it’s amazing and made me feel so good, you know, I said, “Wow!” People say, “We heard you last night.” I’d say, “What did you-all do? Drive down?” They’d say, “No. We rode our bicycles.” I said, “Wow!” It made me feel good to know someone would ride a bicycle fifty miles to hear me play.
LJM: What was your third album?
AF: Our third album is called The Sounds of Lopez. It was made on Lopez Island, which is in the San Juans outside of Seattle, Washington, where I make my home now. This is where the album was cut. It was cut on the island there, and we did the live thing at the nightclub called The Lopez Restaurant there. And so I am looking forward to do a CD now, and so I have been working on the material trying to put that together.
LJM: When did you cut the record? Was it recent?
AF: Yeah. Well, the last one, in fact they have been telling me that someone was telling me the other day that they have been hearing it quite a bit on the radio stations here in Houston. But the last one that I cut was Art McIntyre, which was about a hear-and-a-half ago because, you know, you cut them and it’ll take about a year before they’re released. So it was about a year-and-a-half ago. And I have a few standards on there like Georgia. I also sing and do vocals. And I had a tune that is called Everybody’s Blues. It’s the life-story of the blues. You know, it’s just a little bit of all the blues put together.
LJM: You mentioned how enthusiastic Europe received you. When did you begin making European trips? Does that go back to the early part of your career?
AF: Well, I tell you what. The recording company put me on a recording session there with a lady by the name of Vaughan Griffin. She’s out of New Orleans. A very elderly lady, but she still sings jazz. And they put me on an album with her. It was called Vaughan Griffin’s Scrapbook. You know, it had all the scrap pictures she made and everything, and the company was so influenced about my playing and everything until they brought me to Europe to record and booked me in Europe. Yeah, that’s how I got there. And the company’s name is “Audio Daddy-o [phonetic].”
LJM: Apparently you had a manager and agent very early in your career.
AF: Yes, I have. Very much so.
LJM: What has been your experience with agents and managers? Have you stayed with the same manager?
AF; No, I haven’t because most of them has passed on, and what happened was, after I became single, let’s see, that was up in ’76, I took a job for twelve years with the railroad, with Amtrak because that was the first job I had when I went to California. When I left Houston and I got a job with the railroad and stayed there until I got drafted in the service. And then, after I got out of the service I played music up until that time. And then before I went on the railroad I had the band with the Sitmar [phonetic] Cruise Line. I had the band on the cruise ship for one year. And then after that I became single, and I got a job with Amtrak because I had already had previous railroad time, and I did work twelve years for them. However, it was very easy. It didn’t mess up my music career because I was able to play music according to the way my schedule was working with the railroad.
LJM: What made you go to the railroad?
AF: Truthfully was, after I became single, I still had the responsibilities for my daughter with medicine and all this other stuff, so I figured I should have a job with some fringe benefits. And, so, I went back with the railroad, and I said, “Well, I’ll just do this,” and so when Eddie Vinson came to town I told him I was about ready to quit the job. And he told me, he say, “If you quit that job I going to put [you] across my laps and give you a good spanking!” He said, “You don’t quit that job” because I only had a couple of years to go before I could retire. He say, “Now you just stay in there.” Which I am glad that I did. You see, because he said, “You’ve got a lot of time to play music yet because,” he said, “You’re playing as much as you want to now.” But anyway, I took his advice, and I’m glad that I did.
LJM: How many years did you put in with the railroad altogether?
AF: Altogether, with the time that I had when I was a youngster, I put in about fifteen years. I took a very little retirement. I didn’t stay to no sixty-five, but I just ook early retirement, but that was the basic reason I did go to the railroad because I had that responsibility of taking care of my daughter. If anything happened to her, you know, hospital and medical can be expensive these days. So I said, I’ll get a job where she would be covered. And so that’s what I did. And that’s what caused me to go back to the railroad because I had to have a job that’s traveling and moving around. I couldn’t have no eight-to-five. That just didn’t fit me too good.
LJM: Did your wife die?
AF: Oh, no. She didn’t die. We ended up in a divorce. We were married approximately twenty-five years.
LJM: A long time.
AF: Yeah, it is. A very long time, and have accomplished quite a bit, you know, but it’s the way it goes. You know, you have to keep stepping it where you see that it’s not going to work out.
LJM: People change.
AF: Oh, yeah. They change and very much so. I was always away because I was very materialistic and monetary, and, wherever my job caused me to go to make money and so forth, I would go. And see, I was on that cruise ship for a year, and that is when it happened: right after that cruise ship. When it comes to working on a cruise ship I would only come home maybe once a week. The ship would get in on Saturday morning, and I’d sail out on Saturday night, and I’d be gone for another fourteen days, and then we’d sail out of San Francisco and go all through Alaska and Glacier Bay, Sitka, Ketchikan, Juneau and all that stuff and be gone for almost three months. Well, from the beginning of the summer to the last of summer and we would be sailing from there to San Francisco. And then during the winter months I’d sail out of Wilmington: from Wilmington all the way down to Acapulco, and then we’d make one thirty-six day cruise going through the Panama Canal and over to Fort Lauderdale. That was eighteen days each way.
LJM: So you were never home.
AF: No. I wasn’t home. I was trying to build a home, you know. And so when the days come, at least, I would have something because I’ve seen so many musicians as a youngster that were very good musicians and they never had anything they could rely on or get back on. And I wanted to make sure that I didn’t . . . . I’d just go to New York and see these musicians have big cars and didn’t have nowhere to park them and park them in the street. And that wasn’t my life style. I wanted to be thought of as a musician but yet be respected as much as a doctor would be, because, I mean, I spent a lot of time in it and I wanted to be treated as a professional, not just a hobby, you know, and end up being a bum.
LJM: That happens to a lot of people.
AF: Oh, definitely! And like I always said, a successful musician is approximate twenty-five percent talent and seventy-five percent business. See, and it’s always been in reverse. It’s been, I’d say, about seventy-five percent talent or eighty percent talent, but they had no business qualification. And if you don’t have any business qualification, most times the people you get to take care of your business you don’t have enough knowledge to know about what’s supposed to be done so you still go down the drain. You play all night and all this stuff, and you wonder what happened with all this money I made. And this, you know, is real bad. But, like I said, I was real fortunate. I was blessed. As my mother used to always tell me, “Don’t say you are lucky or fortunate. Always say you were blessed.” And, so, I would say I’ve been blessed. I’ve been blessed and in fairly good health today and still playing and active and everything else.
LJM: Do you still have your band?
AF: Well, I don’t use bands unless I’m playing locally in the State of Washington area. Anytime I leave there. . . Like it’s a possibility I’ll play in Houston. If I do, I’ll use local musicians here.
LJM: That’s a common practice.
AF: Well, it’s a lot less expensive on the operator because the thing of it is, when you step out there and you start airplaning all your band and all that heavy equipment, it can really run into money. Transportation alone will run you expensive, but, you know, like with me, all I have to do is get my horn and a couple of suits of clothes or something, and I’m on my way, and, you know, get there maybe a day or so ahead to rehearse with who I’m going to play with to make sure we have our act together. And that’s it. When you get capable musicians, you don’t have any problem, because I’ve always tried to find musicians that played better than I do. It makes the job a lot easier. You know most musicians, they feel within themselves [that] they don’t want a musician that’s going to out-play them, but me, I feel honored to have musicians that play . . . . There’s one thing for sure: I’m not going to get anybody in my band that doesn’t play as good as I play. They’re going to have to play as good as I do or better. I just don’t like . . . . You know, ‘cause I always said you’ve got to give a musician a break because if nobody had ever gave me a break I would have never learned to play. But, the meantime, it’s time and place that’s full of those things, and I try to get the best capable musicians. That’s the reason I said I try to pay the musicians a very good salary so they’ll never have any comeback whatsoever what they’re going to do. I mean, you pay them well, and you get good musicians that’s going to take your business.. That’s what it’s all about.
LJM: I have one last question, and I ask this of most musicians that I interview. I keep hearing the term “the Texas tenor sound.
LJM: How would you describe it?
AF; Well, Texas tenor sound is a sound that is very big, and it’s a full sound, and it’s laid back and it’s lazy. See, easterns, people from the east, you know, like I heard them say one they all talk very, very fast. But the thing of it is, the reason they learned to talk fast around New York and so forth . . . . Heck, when it’s cold out there and twenty below zero, you’re not going to sit up there and (drawls), “Wellll, lllet me see.” You’d better hurry up and say what you are going to say because they’re not going to be standing out there in that cold talking to you. So, in the meantime, you take a lot of the horn players, they play fast. But, you take a lot of the Texas horn players, they play effective. They play effective. In other words, it’s not how many notes you play, it’s where you place those notes when you play.
LJM: So, it’s a slower sound.
AF: Slower sound, and it’s a bigger sound because, see, you can’t play fast and have a big sound. You’ll have a good sound but you won’t have a big sound. I listen to Kenny Gee and all of them, you know. He’s lipped through with an element that no one else I’ve heard slip through. You know what I mean? He’s got it going. One time he said, “I’m not a jazz musician,” but he’s a good musician because he’s Number One out there. But, it’s a totally different sound, and it’s beautiful, you know. But the Texas Tenor is different. Anyone that ever hears a musician that’s from Texas play saxophone, they can always identify them and say, “He’s from Texas. I can just tell it in his playing.”
LJM: So you have the sound too.
AF: Oh, yeah! Definitely! I have it. I can’t get away from it, so I say, “Well, it hasn’t done me any harm.” It has done me good because so many other saxophone players, they play very good and they play fast, and I’ve always said I’m going play where they can understand it. The day that I can’t play something and make a person understand what I’m doing, then that’s when I’m going to fold it up. I don’t think that day is going to come. Not now.
LJM: Let’s hope not.
AF: ‘Cause I know exactly, you know, like I said, I can take a person that doesn’t even like music, and I guarantee you when they leave they’ll say, “Wow! I enjoyed that,” you know, because I go in places and, you know, they just figure that they see a saxophone player, a jazz player, you know, in an intimate place. I mean a real exclusive place, they all think that here comes a hard player. He’s going to blow us out the thing. And when I play, you know, I mean I just have the knowledge of knowing how to play and when to play, like if I’m playing in a real beautiful dining room.