I.H. Smalley

Duration: 50Mins: 24Secs
Please read and accept the disclaimer below to continue.

DISCLAIMER

I have read and accept the terms of the disclaimer.

The Houston Oral History Project is a repository for the stories, accounts, and memories of those who have chosen to share their experiences. The viewpoints expressed in the Houston Oral History Project do not necessarily represent the viewpoints of the City of Houston, the Houston Public Library or any of its officers, agents, employees, or volunteers. The City of Houston and the Houston Public Library make no warranty as to the accuracy or completeness of any information contained in the interviews and expressly disclaim any liability therefore.

The Houston Oral History Project provides unedited versions of all interviews. Some parents may find material objectionable for minors. Parents are encouraged to interact with their children as they use the Houston Oral History Project Web site to complete research and homework activities.

The Houston Public Library retains the literary and publishing rights of its oral histories. No part of the interviews or transcripts may be published without the written permission of the Houston Oral History Project.

Requests for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to:

The Houston Oral History Project.
Houston Public Library
500 McKinney
Houston, Texas 77002


The Houston Oral History Project reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to decline to post any account received herein and specifically disclaims any liability for the failure to post an account or for errors or omissions that may occur in posting accounts to the Virtual Archive.

For more information email the Houston Oral History Project at information@houstonoralhistory.org.

I have read and accept the terms of the disclaimer.



Interview with: I.H. Smalley
Interviewed by: Bud Jackson
Date: August 1979
Archive Number: OH 459

[Music Intro]
Radio Announcer: Welcome to Jazz Insights, a special look at jazz both nationally and locally and the people that make it all happen. And now here is your host Bud Jackson.

[Music]

Bud: Hello welcome to Jazz Insights huh this evening it's my pleasure to introduce huh to the listening audience the great I. H. Smalley. I. H. huh thank you for being here today

I.H.: Thank You Bud, Thank You

Bud: Okay. Huh, you are a native Houstonian, right?

I.H.: Very much so

Bud: Where were you born at? What part of Houston where you born in?
I.H: West End part

Bud: West End part? Ok

Bud: Well, huh, what was the jazz scene like huh during your days coming up huh as a kid first?

I.H.: As a kid it wasn't to much to it, it developed along the way, and to show you how I was off into it I thought for 3 to 4 to 5 years that Duke Ellington was a white man

Bud: Ah, I see I see

I.H.: Why, because I had no way of knowing. Just hearing him on the radio was about all
Ok how did you uh how did you get involved in music? What was your first instrument? And who was your first teacher?

I.H.: Well tell you what uh Bud, my first uh, my first instrument was a clarinet, I started out on clarinet. And uh my brother, E. J. Smalley at the time was attending Bishop. And uh he found out that I was very interested in music and uh he sent one of his saxophones uh down to me through a teacher I never will forget named Dezon(?) and uh when I walked in the classroom that morning he told me I have a horn that your brother sent you.

Bud: hmmm

I.H.: And he was very nonchalant, but nice about it.

Bud: hmmm

I.H.: And uh I started out on that saxophone, lost that one, bought another one and from then on I been into it.

Bud: Ok, uh what was your first pro gig I guess you might say, not with a big name, but just your first money making uh gig?

I.H.: Bud you'd be surprised to know how has changed from then to now. The first gig I think paid fifty cents or a dollar and tips. And it was right here in Houston. But now you get, you get hit cross the face with something [laughs] if you want somebody to play for fifty cents or a dollar.

Bud: Well, did you learn uh the sax in school, uh through a private teacher, or how did you acquire lessons.

I.H.: I stayed, I stayed on private lessons with the clarinet for three or four years you see, under a man that uh my family knew by the name of Wilburn. And he was, he was a very nice teacher, he worked at S. B. Shaw where my father once worked. And I stayed under him, I think I was taking lessons once or twice a week. I think it was twice a week, you see? And then uh as I told you when the brother sent me that saxophone it was a very easy switch from clarinet to saxophone.

Bud: Ok, you went to Booker T. Washington, did they have a band situation there at all?

I.H.: No. no. In uh, in talking with the principle about it, they had no funds for instruments or anything like that at that particular time, you see?

Bud: So you had to have a place to gig, how did you acquire your chops, how did you get you know you get strength on that instrument?

I.H.: Well I started playing around in the church orchestra and I'd have to leave the church orchestra on Sunday nights to go make the little gigs you know. [laughs] Like round the Pilgrim Temple or Pilgrim building on West Dallas.

Bud: I remember that.

I.H.: You remember that?

Bud: I remember Pilgrim building, yeah.

I.H.: And uh, from then on I just, just got in to it.

Bud: You know I was under , under the impression that um a church band was something new, I didn't know it was uh you know, you know that they were doing that type of a situation back in the past.

I.H.: Yes, the (repeated) orchestra at that particular time played church songs and whatever the choir sang we played it and then we had our special songs that we played and I recall very well uh friend of mine was in that band use to play beautiful violin, Rutherford Hicks. Uh he died in California six years ago, seven years ago something like that, little longer. And uh, there was Doc Covington that played trumpet, violin and what have ya.

Bud: Uh, just a master of all trades uh?

I.H.: Yeah

Bud: On instruments. [laughs]

I.H.: Yeah [laughs] And then there were the Jenkins's in that uh particular choir and so on. It was good six or seven of us or something like that.

Bud: Ok , now you said you left the church group and, and just?
I.H: After I started to playing you know them lil one nighters, you know, lil beer joints, you might call them.

Bud: What were the name of some of them then, if you can remember.

I.H.: Uh, that has faded from my mind.
[laughs]

Bud: Ok, was it, was it Jazz that you were playing at that particular time, or what kind of music was it that you were playing at that particular time.

I.H.: It was the rock-n-roll, and it wasn't er, you know just er, er anything like that , we just playing sweet songs and every once in a while we had a sang 'er and, and I recall they had a lil place over her on Gray. A lil lady played piano at that time by the name of uh Susievelle Clemons and William Perry, friend of mine. He's around.

Bud: Name sounds familiar.

I.H.: Yes and uh, he uh, he was sanging and playing the vibes and I thank we were getting fifty cents or a dollar over there at night. But every time we had to take a break, we had to run across the streets and count the kitty. [laughs] It was fun and we was making a lil bread. And that job lasted six months or better.

Bud: During that time did you have uh an idol that you saw like emulated or tried to play like or?

I.H.: Well during that time the only thing I had to listen to was the radio and as I told you about Ellington's band I thought that the band was uh, I thought that he himself was a you know ofay stud(?) But incidentally I used to hear Johnny Hodges play and that's where I gained quite a bit of my inspiration, was from Johnny Hodges, whom has uh passed. A great alto player, that played with the Ellington band for years.

Bud: Okay, I wanna remind you all that we are talking to uh I. H. Smalley and I want to let you know too that I. H. Smalley will be honored on the 24th of August um the City of Houston and the Houston jazz month club have gotten together and will be getting together to honor the great I.H. Smalley, uh and you can check out our roast and toast dinner and all of this good stuff in his honor.

Bud: I. H. now what's the first tune were gonna be listening to today?

I.H.: Incidentally it's the theme song "On the sunny side of the Street".

Bud: Is there any significance to that particular tune or the reason why it is the theme song uh for you and your group?

I.H.: Well in playing at the Eldorado I acquired that theme song. As you know, I stayed at the Eldorado with the Dupree's for eight years. And during that interval we'd play all the year and summertime come they'd take vacation the band go on vacation we'd come on back in the fall and all that sort of stuff.

Bud: Mmhmm

I.H.: And um, played for every outstanding club here in the city, right there at the Eldorado.

Bud: Okay.

I.H.: As a matter of fact they used to call it "the home of happy feet".

Bud: Yeah, I remember that too. [laughs]

I.H.: "The home of happy feet".

Bud: Yeah.

I.H.: And I.

Bud: Ok, go ahead.

I.H.: And I have played there for seven nights and week. And then I used to sponsor on Tuesday night or Wednesday night, I just don't recall, a lil night call "ladies night", all the ladies admitted free without escorts. And we'd have a packed, jammed house.

Bud: Okay, and "Sunny side of the Street" kicked everything off then uh?

I.H.: "Sunny side of the Street" kicked everything off.

Bud: Could you give me a run down on the musicians on this particular cut, or who will be, who will be playing with you on the music we will be listening to.

I.H.: Uh, G. T. Hogan on drums, "Carty" Cartwright on piano, Johnny Williams on bass, and yours truly vocal and on saxophone.

Bud: Okay, here we go, "Sunny side of the Street", I.H. Smalley.
[Music Intro]
Radio Announcer: This recording is for the explicit use for the promotion of jazz for the month of August 1979. It may not be used without the expressed permission of I. H. Smalley and the American Federation of Musicians.
[Music Continues]
[Music Ends]

Bud: Alright, "Sunny side of the Street", I.H. Smalley and crew that uh, that was a very nice tune I.H., uh real hard playing.

I.H.: Thank You

Bud: I do uh hear a little bit of Hodges in your playing, you definitely have a way of making that sax work, yeah. You uh, you went on the road for a while a didn't you, back in your early day of jazz, or your early days, what band did you go on the road with?

I.H.: Well I went on the road a lil taste with the Milton Larkin Crew. And after, after a while I decided I'd give that up and you know and the band went on to rehearse and Milton done very well for himself. Left here and went on into the Rhumboogie (Club). Stayed in the Rhumboogie supposed to been for two weeks and he stayed in there nine months. And then from Chicago to New York and on round. Milton Larkin had a great band.

Bud: I was about to ask you, what were some of the big bands other than Milton Larkin? Milton Larkin's' a group that performed here in Houston.

I.H.: Well not to many Bud, due to that fact that I always had my own thing going, you see? Out of eight years, if you stay in one spot for eight years, you don't have time to fool with nobody else's band.

Bud: I see what you mean.

I.H.: So that's the way that sort of thing just panned out.

Bud: Okay, what was the jazz scene like during your particular stay at the Eldorado.

I.H.: It was out of sight, it was out of sight. What I'm trying to say is they had crowds at that Eldorado every night, packed, jammed, due to the fact they don't have the competition now; then like they have know, you see? So it was Saturday night, Sunday night and all through the week.

Bud: What were the names of some of the musicians in your group during that particular time?

I.H.: Well, the lil lady that played piano with me was Johnnie Mae Brown, she passed. It was Vernon Banks, he as passed. And Eldine McIntosh was the drummer, his home is here, but he resides in California. And Melvin Martin, guitar and Snooty Mims, trumpet. And Pop Haines on bass.

Bud: That name sounds familiar, Pop Haines.

I.H.: Yeah, he has passed, he was a veteran, pretty well up in age there. So we had a real nice type group. And later on I picked up on Volly Bastine a very good friend of mine, he played with me quit a while.

Bud: I see you played with Chester Boone and his band, Eddie Golden, also with Arnette Cobb and his organization.

I.H.: Chester Boone was at the Harlem Grill at the time. Ed Golden, Arnette Cobb and myself was in the reed section. And Chester played the trumpet. Chester is now in New York City. And we hung on in there for a while and made a lil piece of bread, you know? Which wasn't much bread, but it was you know, help you along, you see. So we three was in that reed section with Chester Boone.

Bud: Well what was, like now, disco music is the happening music now. It's the craze now. In that particular time period, the Eldorado time period. What pop music or what other music was giving competition to jazz then? I would like to know that.
Like disco is taking over jazz now?

I.H.: Yes, I read you. But at that particular time it was just doing a fast two-step and that was about it you know. And the dance to them sweet songs and things like that.

Bud: More, everybody was clubbing

I.H.: Everybody was making love.

Bud: Oh, I heard that. [laughs]

I.H.: You see, and if a cat wanna make love to a babe, he don't want her to be way in one corner and he in another. They was standing right close to each other, whispering in each other's ear and all that sort of thing.

Bud: So music was just like that? That type that would make you whisper in a lady's ear?

I.H.: Soothing, soothing. [laughs]

Bud: Alright I. H. that's really nice, really nice. What do you think about the new music now, all the disco music now, what's your opinion on that?

I.H.: Well, me being a musician as long as I've been, I don't dig it. Well I couldn't possibly dig it, due to the fact that jazz and the disco don't go together. Its an entirely different beat and it just wouldn't ever make it together.

Bud: Never would make it?

I.H.: Now, never would make it.

Bud: Do you think you ever would?

I.H.: Disco?

Bud: Yeah.

I.H.: No, never will

Bud: [laughs]
Alright, again were talking with I.H. Smalley and we are dealing with the insights into I.H. Smalley and his music.
When did you first start singing?

I.H.: Well, I'll tell you about show business Bud. It's a thing that as you go along you got to change the act, you see? It's just like you going into Las Vegas, if you don't have something stout to go with you or something worthwhile, a worthwhile act, you can't stay there but three days. But if you got something good going for yourself, you will last longer. And singing is just one of those things that I just got pushed into and then I started to sort of enjoying it myself. I said well if everybody else can do it, why can't I do it? And the main thing about singing is singing on time. And singing some of the words right and not most of the words right.
[laughs]

I.H.: You see?

Bud: I hear ya. I hear ya. I hear ya.

I.H.: So that is just something I added to my act.

Bud: Okay, do you, well I noticed that you sing like Louis Armstrong to a point. Was Louis Armstrong an influence so forth as to your singing or toward your singing?

I.H.: As a great musician, Louis Armstrong was a great musician, I like to hear him sing. So I began to do lil things, they said it sound like him, so I just kept on doing them. So that's the way that panned out.

Bud: I heard that.
Okay we are going to I. H. Smalley do some singing here. The tune is "When You're Smiling". Can you give us a little run down on that particular tune?

I.H.: I heard Joe Williams cut a record on that or a tape rather on that about a month ago and I had been playing it all the time. Then when I heard Joe with the nice band behind him do it, I started to do it more so and it's taken to the people very well.

Bud: Okay, here we go, I.H. Smalley and group, "When You're Smiling".
[Music Intro]
Radio Announcer: This recording is for the explicit use for the promotion of jazz for the month of August 1979. It may not be used without the expressed permission of I. H. Smalley and the American Federation of Musicians.
[Music Continues]
[Music Ends]

Bud: Yeah, "When You're Smiling", I.H. Smalley and Crew. Real nice, I.H., some heavy singing.
I.H. Thank You.

Bud: You've been around the Houston scene along time, are there musicians? Well I'll revert, I'll turn that question around, is the feeling the same now as it was or like it was in the past? Is there any difference, are the musicians closer now, or are they more far apart?

I.H.: Well that's a tough question to answer. Musicians now days seem to be doing a little better because first of all we have a union. When the union is comprised of all nationalities. But its better due to the fact that the blacks and the whites and what have you, all work together, you see? As long as you can blow and you can do your job, just like on the baseball team, your completion or nationality hasn't got nothing to do with it.

Bud: As long as you can produce.

I.H.: As long as you can produce, that's the whole thing in the nutshell.

Bud: As you know I have been talking to some of the younger musicians and there's a sense of separation amongst the musicians, I guess it's the competition or maybe the economics as it stands, but they don't seem to be pulling together, this is the impression that I am getting

I.H.: Well it could be the competition, it could be the type of music some groups are playing. Some cats like to play funk, some cats don't, you see? So you find that them cats like to play that funk, you find that all of them know well into it. Whereas I can play a taste of it, but not enough to last all night long. Because why, because it's not my speed.

Bud: Okay is the jazz scene better now than it was before?

I.H.: It's a lots better. It's a lots better

Bud: Making more money, huh?

I.H.: Number one, making more money. And number two, people that listen to jazz seem to appreciate more now than they did then, you see? Because they have what you call an understand of jazz. Long as you stay on top of the melody and somebody knows what you playing, everybody's almost happy. See that's the way that sort of thing goes.

Bud: That's some good insight right there. Long as you stay on top of the melody huh?

I.H.: Yeah, you have to stay on top of that melody and hit around that melody and they will know what you playing. But now you take some jazz groups, even myself, if I walk in, when they get through with the number I still couldn't tell you what they played. How were they still playing jazz? But, I'm from the old school, I believe in trying to stay close to that melody line, wherein everybody know what you're playing.

Bud: The use of electronic instruments in the music field.

I.H.: I think it's very good, very good. They come in hand, but most of the electronic instruments are used mostly with the rock crew, you see? Or the disco crew.

Bud: Have you been a side man on any albums? Or do you have any albums to your credit?
I.H. Naw, like I said, when you doing your own thing, you don't have time to fool with somebody else's thing.

Bud: Again, I want to remind you that we are talking to the great I.H. Smalley who is the jazz month honoree for the month of August, which is jazz month. I.H. Smalley is one of the great contributors to the jazz medium here in Houston, he's been around for a while and he has definitely made some great strides and have definitely turned some people on to the jazz happenings in the Houston area.

Bud: I.H., I want to ask you this question, since we have talked about electronic music and also disco music. Now there is a new form of music called Avant-garde or free form music, what's your impression on that? A guy might hit a note for seven hours and go dee-dee dee-dop and that's it. Creative music is the word that their using, what's your opinion on that?
I.H. Tell you what, see that cat is producing something that he feels. In other words, he's getting off into his thing or getting off into his bag.

Bud: So your saying like, whatever you feel, if you can do it, do it?
I.H. That's right. That's just like blowing an instrument. When a man's standing up blowing a solo, you got to be concentrating on it. To know where you're going and know where you are coming from. If not you get yourself all tangled up in there and you don't know nothing. That's the way that goes.

Bud: Alright, were are going to listen to the next piece of music by I.H. Smalley and his group. The tune is "Don't Blame Me" and its featuring "Carty" Cartwright. Can you give some insight into that particular piece?
I.H. Well we decided to slow the pace down and "Carty" Cartwright is a very good singer and a piano man, so I told him to take over on the mic on this particular tune. And "Carty" has worked with me off and on for the last fifteen years I would say. He once had a lil trio of his own round here. But being into business like "Carty" is, I don't think he has too much time to give his time to music. But it so happens every time I wanted him, he's always on hand.

Bud: Okay, here we go, I.H. Smalley and group, featuring vocals by "Carty" Cartwright, the tune is "Don't Blame Me", I.H. Smalley and group.
[Music Intro]
Radio Announcer: This recording is for the explicit use for the promotion of jazz for the month of August 1979. It may not be used without the expressed permission of I. H. Smalley and the American Federation of Musicians.
[Music Continues]
[Music Ends]

Bud: Alright, were are back with the jazz month club August honoree I.H. Smalley. We just heard the tune "Don't Blame Me" with featured vocalist "Carty" Cartwright. Very nice piece I.H., very nice, some real nice sax playing on there too. I can see exactly what you were saying when you said you like to play so that people can get close together.
I.H. Right.

Bud: Very beautiful ballad, very beautiful ballad.

Bud: Tell me, what were some of the names of the major clubs that you played at here in the city?
I.H. I played at such clubs and hotels like the Rice Hotel, like Club Ebony. As a matter of fact I played at the club where we are having the banquet at.

Bud: The Marriott.
I.H. The Marriott. Well just to sum it all up and make a long story short. I played the high class and the low class.
[laughs]

Bud: That did, that summed it up.
I.H. That did, the high class and low class.

Bud: You were mentioning earlier about some of the great performers that have lived here, that have played here and are now living out of state and really making a big name for themselves, like, Don Wilkerson. Tell me do you remember some of the situations about Don Wilkerson?
I.H. Well Don Wilkerson played with me at the Club Ebony and a very good sax man. And I understand now he is with the great Ray Charles. And then there was Volly Bastine that played trumpet with me at Club Ebony. As a matter of fact, as you know, Club Ebony use to sponsor some of the best shows in town, every weekend. Starting Friday night, they would take reservations and every table in the house would be filled, you know Friday, Saturday and Sunday night. They would have them shows twice a night.

I.H.: At that particular time I had a very good piano player with me, also played organ, was Kendrick's, Burt Kendrick's, played piano, he's in California. And George Haines on drums and Johnny Williams was on bass. We had a pretty stout crew. And Fontenot also played tenor with me on that engagement. I stayed there, right at nine months, nine months.

Bud: What advice, could you give or would you give to a young musician now who is thinking about getting off into the jazz field or the jazz medium?

I.H. I would tell a young musician now if he intends to play jazz, don't mess with rock-n-roll and disco. But how can I tell him when he's gone deal with the ones gone pay him the most money? Money is a thing that rules the world as you know. So you see, if you go into one of them disco houses, they don't want no jazz, they want that disco beat. Two or three guitars and a drummer will do the trick.

Bud: Just blast it on out, huh?
I.H. Blast it on out. But that's good for them, I don't fight the feeling or nothing like that.

Bud: You don't fight the feeling. [laughs]

I.H.: But it's to each his own.

Bud: Okay, that's a beautiful philosophy. And I've noticed that you have mentioned that throughout our interview about do your own, or whatever it is that you're doing, do it your own.

I.H.: Right.

Bud: Okay, I.H. it's been my pleasure talking to you we are going to end the interview right here with a tune called, "There Will Be Some Changes Made". Could you give us a run down on that particular tune?
I.H. Well Bud it was just a tune that I played and it had a good feeling to it and I like to play it because it had a lil snappy beat to it. And where we are playing now, which is at Hubert's fine seafood house, there is no dancing, so everybody's eyes are focused on you...[interview fades out]


[Music Intro]
Radio Announcer: This recording is for the explicit use for the promotion of jazz for the month of August 1979. It may not be used without the expressed permission of I. H. Smalley and the American Federation of Musicians.

[Music Continues]
Radio Announcer: Jazz Insights with Bud Jackson, comes your way every Monday night at seven and each Friday at noon for a special look at what's happening in Jazz. Join us for out next program, that's Monday night at seven and Friday at 12 noon. Jazz Insights is a presentation of KUHF radio.

[Music Fades Out]