EPHIE RESNICK, 1959: This band, which played in the waterfront loft of painter Maurice Bugeaud, featured Danny Barker on banjo, Kenny Davern on clarinet, Ahmed Abdul-Malik on bass, Walter Bowe on trumpet and Ephie Resnick on trombone. Photo by Burt Glinn / Magnum Photos.
This is the third in a series of celebrations of the singular trombonist, pianist, composer Ephie Resnick that began in July 2020. The earlier posts — words and music by Ephie — are here and here. Ephie continues to be a born seeker and explorer — someone who wants to live in the moment rather than contemplate the glories of the past from a seated position — so although he was pleased by being brought to light, it was less important to him than the work.
Response to the posts about Ephie was enthusiastic, and I started to reach out to the musicians he had played with during his years in England: most were eager to say something about this man they think of as frankly irreplaceable. Without involving Ephie in any of this, I collected reminiscences and admiring glances, which I offer below. Ephie deserves this and much more.
Let’s hear Ephie and the wonderful pianist Fergus Read in 1997 (who died young, sadly) creating and recreating WHEN YOU WISH UPON A STAR:
Simon Da Silva:
Ephie was always so encouraging and friendly to me, I loved playing with him.
Ephie was a real positive influence on the guys he came across in London and even now when his name crops up a surprising number of us remember playing with him or hearing him play and warm recollections ensue on his individuality and his little quirks but mostly of how his ideas were always fresh and new and his never ending enthusiasm. Regrettably I only played one or two gigs with him but his effect on opening my musical vision was immense. I remember chatting to him when the age old subject of musicians and families came up and how he intimated that it’s often a stark choice and warned me to be careful that families don’t get in the way. For an Italian descendant like me the family is important but his philosophy helped me in making the right choices so I am now one of the lucky jazz musicians who are able to combine the two.
Here’s part one of Ephie and Marty Grosz in duet, THE END OF INNOCENCE [ROSE OF WASHINGTON SQUARE, RUNNIN’ WILD, STRUT MISS LIZZIE]:
Ephie played a gig with the Merseysippi Jazz Band once and on the tune Mood Indigo he had nowhere to go as all the available harmonisations has already been covered by the front line. So he added a major 7th to the harmony with astonishing and memorable effect – recalled by the leader many times since to me!
Another time at a regular gig in Shere in Surrey – he was accosted outside while he was having a smoke of one substance or another! All I could see was this rather tall lady – I think it was a gregarious jazz singer who had sat in – towering over Ephie talking at him with great passion. When I asked Ephie if he knew the lady – he looked at me and said ‘Apparently!’
Final one, recounted by Warren Vache. In hospital recovering from his car accident, he built up a collection of teddy bears by his bed which the nurses all found very sweet. Turned out this was the only way he could get his weed into the hospital!
I was the bass player in Chas’s band and it’s lovely to hear Ephie’s voice again and to know that he has fond memories of those times.
He and I would often share a ride to gigs when we’d have long discussions about all sorts of topics and as a relatively young man and much less experienced musician I learned so much from him about music but also about all sorts of other things and will always be grateful. He gave me the best advice I’ve ever had when he said ‘All you can do is behave like a gentleman’. It was helpful in the stress of my failing marriage at that time and has been useful to remember since.
Ephie is a truly wonderful player but an inexperienced non-jazz audience would occasionally struggle to follow some of his solos . There was an occasion when the band was booked to play for a very up-market wedding – the reception would be held in a beautiful country hotel overlooking the River Thames but the actual wedding ceremony beforehand was to take place in a lovely rural field on the other side of the river with a small vintage steam launch to ferry the guests across in batches. Chas’s six piece band would at this point be divided in two, with three musicians playing to the guests already in the field whilst Ephie, Candy the banjo player, and I were to play on the boat as it delivered more guests. On our first number Ephie played a mind-blowing cutting-edge solo but Candy and I saw that the passengers looked somewhat mystified. When the tune ended to noticeably muted applause Candy said diffidently ‘ Um..Ephie, this is a wedding…’ to which he responded ‘ Oh, you think we should just play nice toons? ‘ ‘ I think so..’ she said. After which Ephie played some of the loveliest mellow jazz I’ve ever heard, to a very appreciative audience. And we played at that hotel on countless subsequent occasions.
Thank you Ephie.
Part two of THE END OF INNOCENCE [DON’T LEAVE ME, DADDY, and AVALON]:
We got on really well and when he was in London we used to get together and play standards along with bass and drums on a PC program called Band in A Box. He said the drummer on it was much better than a lot he had worked with. I don’t know if he told you but I recorded his second CD at my flat in London and he was on my second CD, ALMOST STRAIGHT AHEAD. It was recorded in 1997 at my flat. Ephie said that the ballad he was featured on was the best thing he put on record.
[Editor’s Note: Here is the Bandcamp link for that CD, still available. MAINSTREAM MAGIC and MAINSTREAM MAGIC both feature Jimmy and Ephie in a quintet setting — extraordinary music. “Nice toons” indeed.]
I only met him a few times as I joined Chas’s band late-on but we did a few gigs together. I have very fond memories of our brief encounters and really loved his playing – creative, adventurous and inspiring. He was kind and encouraging of my own efforts (on sax) and that was a lovely thing coming from the great man.
I didn’t meet Ephie that many times. I remember playing with him probably 20 years ago (at least) — the main thing I recall is the filthy hollowed out carrot that he used to smoke dope through. And his tunes, which were somehow old and new at the same time and also in the tradition whilst being very personal in style.
I played in Chas McDevitt’s band in London when Ephie was in it, and he and I also did a few gigs in other bands and as a duo (I’m a guitar player). Ephie used to come to my house and we’d work through some musical things, but I was a young man at the time, too wrapped up in my own problems to really learn from Ephie as much wisdom, musical and otherwise, as he had to offer me, which I very much regret. It’s wonderful to know that he’s still around and playing, and great to hear his voice again – although I could almost hear it just reading the interview, because, as in music, his phrasing is so personal an idiosyncratic.
Part three of THE END OF INNOCENCE: [ODJB ONE-STEP / MISS BROWN TO YOU / WOLVERINE BLUES / DON’T BLAME ME / BIG BUTTER AND EGG MAN / YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME]:
Ephie Resnick is a superb musician and a wonderful, remarkable man. He wouldn’t agree with me of course, but it’s true. I am so lucky to know him. This year, we’ve been in touch more than in previous years; partly due to the global shutdown, and the need for us to stay in closer contact, but it’s also because we have work to do.
We’ve been talking on the phone and exchanging compositions by mail. We talk about what we feel is important in music. We affirm each other’s efforts (a word that Ephie liked to use when I first knew him). It’s ‘work in progress’: a bit messy, a bit incomplete, but there’s substance there. When I called him a few days ago, I told him I would like us to record some of this material – and hopefully in the not too distant future. We recorded some standards back in February (just before the lockdown), and although the results were promising, I think we’d both like to record again, this time with more original material.
Some of the original material will be co-written. I’ve already worked on one of his tunes, which has quite a chromatic and contemporary feel to it. I had been talking to him about the principles of George Russell’s music, which I find fascinating. This is hard to explain down the phone and in letter, but I feel that Ephie has taken the essence of some of these principles on board, and worked them in his own beautiful way. He’s sent me another tune which sounds almost baroque in places – this is the next one to work on. He also sent me a beautiful melody without chord changes. This is also something we’ve talked about. Giving the melody freedom without specific harmonic constraints. For the melody to stand up in its own right. In a recent letter he wrote: “I’m seeing that making melodies for me is easier than making chords. I was using chords to make melodies but I’m how reversing the process’. After quite a fallow period, I now feel motivated to compose again. I needed inspiration. And being mailed scraps of notated paper has done just that. Some of the phrases are hard to make out (his eyesight is not too good), but there are plenty of gems. That’s the important thing. He’s still making the effort. I’ll work with them, send them back and we’ll see where things go from there. My own compositions have so far been based on well known standards: All the Things you Are and Out of Nowhere. But my aim has been to make the melodies very different to what you might expect from these sequences: ‘In the cracks,’ Ephie might say. Don’t follow the your regular path; explore outside it. This is a central part of Ephie’s musical outlook and what makes him such an engaging musician. Make notes work that shouldn’t, make your lines unexpected. In his last letter, Ephie almost apologised for not sending me anything recently – ‘My piano is being repaired’ he explained. ‘My chord sense is still primitive, so I need the piano to test out new sounds’. I’m glad to say he now has his piano back.
At 92, Ephie still has his young soul. It’s how he keeps being creative. Sometimes when I talk to him I think of him as being younger than me. There’s never a feeling of ‘I’ve seen it all’; instead, a simple openness to learn and move forward. He chooses not to dwell too much on the past, prefers the present and, even at this uncertain time for everyone, looks a little to the future. This is driven by his desire to learn, grow, and improve. And he has always been very generous and supportive towards anyone who is trying to do the same. He is a wonderful friend and mentor.
I first met Ephie in London in the early 1990s when he was performing with Chas McDevitt’s band. My friend Candy Prosser who played banjo in the group, told me I must come down and hear him. Although there were things I didn’t ‘get’ about his music (and that is still sometimes the case!), the impact that Ephie made on me that day was profound: that youthful energy and wonderful sense of swing; his ability to create extraordinary lines that no other trombonist would attempt. The risk taking and ‘in-the-moment-ness’ of the best kind of jazz. And the soulfulness. And when the set finished, I was introduced to one of the most warm, polite, and humble human beings I’ve ever met.
This is not to say Ephie doesn’t have directness of approach and an ‘edge’ on occasion. He’s mellowed a little now, but when I first knew him, he was always keen to observe young musicians and to ‘tell them’ something about their playing. He could be abrupt. His observations and comments were, I think, often linked to his own ongoing development. Muscular tension was one preoccupation which he said had hampered his trombone playing, and he was always keen to observe it others! I remember him telling one young trumpet player not to push himself up on his toes when he played – ‘It’s tension – you have to relax’. He was always telling me to keep still when I played (I hope I move a little less now). Most younger players were grateful for this directness, but sometimes he could push a little too far! One story, concerning my friend Candy (mentioned above), sticks in my mind. After her apparent reticence to learn chord sequences from memory, Ephie decided, mid tune on a gig, to turn her chord book over! After the tune had ground to a finish, Candy, never one to mince her words, said ‘Ephie, don’t you EVER do that again’, to which he impishly replied “Ahhhhh..you’re angry. That’s WONDERFUL!!!’
Shortly after first meeting him, I introduced Ephie to a fellow trombonist and friend of mine, Mark Bassey. For the next couple of years, probably every fortnight or so, we met up at my parents place in North London. It was a workshop – a time for comparing notes, playing jazz standards (three trombone counterpoint!), improvising freely, and even playing Corelli string trios! This last activity was not only challenging as a reading exercise, it was wonderfully instructive on how to phrase and play melody; something that Ephie does beautifully. More recently, I’ve reflected on the classical influence in Ephie’s music. The compositions he has sent me recently certainly have that feel about them. It should be noted that he studied classical trombone at Julliard, 1946-9, and at the same time, was going to hear Bird and Diz at the original Birdland!
A great example of Ephie’s strong sense for melody appears on a Kai Winding Trombones record (1960), a group which I believe he toured with quite extensively:
Kai’s and Ephie’s solos are so different. Kai’s solo is buoyant, bubbles along in lovely relaxed, boppish manner. But Ephie’s entry (after the piano solo), is in full-voice. The opening melody, which underpins the whole solo, could almost be a symphonic theme. After a bustling quaver passage he refers to this theme again, before hitting one of the fattest top F’s I’ve ever heard a trombonist play on record. It swings so wonderfully. It’s loud – not in a tasteless way; a jubilant and affirming way (there’s that word again). I wonder what the other trombonists in the group thought? You can’t compare it to anyone else. This solo has stayed with me. In fact, the opening melody inspired one of my own compositions.
Ephie’s stay in London during the 90s touched many UK musicians. Just being around him could do that. Listening to him, observing him and taking delight in the way he went about things, gave you something of substance to take away. Something that the best conservatoire course could never give you. Something that wasn’t always easy to quantify, but something you could digest for years. He still affects me in this way. It’s often to do with the way he says something, his sincerity and love of the musical process. One of the things I love about his music is that it doesn’t fall into any stylistic bracket, something which I feel has become rather a problem for jazz today. I have heard him in a wide variety of musical contexts, and yet he always sounds like Ephie. This all embracing approach is so healthy. It has no bounds and keeps him exploring. These explorations are done solely on piano now. He ‘threw the trombone out’ over ten years ago and has since been focusing on the keyboard. He has found this very liberating – it represents a new chapter in his musical life and the music is just as engaging as it has always been. Although physically Ephie says he is ‘falling apart’ (he is actually in pretty good shape), he is proceeding musically as he has always done. His work is his lifeblood. I’ll be speaking to him soon having completed a new composition and looking out for his next envelope through the mailbox!
Afterword . . .
Let’s end with a Frolic — Ephie and Fergus Read in 1997, performing WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO:
As I was compiling this blogpost — which would not have been possible without all of Ephie’s friends — someone I explained it to said, “Michael, that sounds like a memorial service. How wonderful it is that Ephie is around to read all those great tributes!”
Yes. We value Ephie Resnick. We love him.
May your happiness increase!