Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Juini Booth - NYC Jazz Record

Juini Booth - Encore

A lot can be said about a musician by looking at his employers. By the time bassist Juini Booth was 30 his resume included experience alongside some of the most significant jazz artists of the 60s and 70s with an emphasis on some of the greatest drummers of all time: Art Blakey, Shelly Manne, Tony Williams, Elvin Jones. His innate sense of time and reliability as a role player has given Booth a career that most people could only dream of.

Born in Buffalo, New York in the late 1940s, Booth began skipping school to make dates with Chuck Mangione and his brother Gap while he was still a teenager. Inevitably Booth broke off for Manhattan where he befriended drummer JC Moses at the East Village club Slug’s. Moses, who lived only lived a few blocks from the venue, introduced Booth to some of his friends: Hank Mobley, Paul Chambers, Kenny Dorham, Philly Joe Jones. “Here’s this little young guy hanging around. So they found a use for me,” recalls Booth. That use turned out to encompass everything from Ron Carter’s castoff gig catching curveballs from Coleman Hawkins at the Village Vanguard to a lifelong affiliation with the Sun Ra Arkestra. “Sun Ra was an amazement. It was not a band for the faint hearted. And it still isn’t.”

While still a teenager Booth received his greatest education by replacing Reggie Johnson in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. For two years he criss-crossed the country, five to a car, with every instrument case strapped to the roof, playing every night alongside Blakey’s thunderous high-hat. “He taught me something,” says Booth. “He gave me some muscles.” Unfortunately, due to a little problem with the IRS, Blakey was dealing strictly in cash during Booth’s tenure and no recordings were ever made of that band.

Eventually Booth left the group to join Messenger alum Freddie Hubbard – a band he would subsequently quit and rejoin three times. Following his first stint Booth set out for a change of pace in California where he befriended drummer Shelly Manne and was never at a loss for work. “I got to play with all the West Coast guys – Bud Shank, Buddy Collette, Harold Land, Gerald Wilson.” While enjoying the Pacific air Booth landed two life-changing gigs in a week: a night outside San Francisco with Cannonball Adderly’s quintet and a set with Thelonious Monk at the 1969 Monterey Jazz Festival. “It was an incredible week,” recalls Booth. “I could have died and gone to heaven. I didn’t really know any of Monk’s songs but Monk liked it.”

After a year of fun and sun Booth returned to New York debunking a rumor that had spread quickly. “Milt Jackson said to me ‘Juini, there’s a rumor you’re dead.’ I came back and everybody’s doing a double take, like they’d seen a ghost.” In New York, Booth played on Gary Bartz’s Harlem Bush Music albums, participated in the avant-garde loft scene and rejoined Hubbard’s band for another few paychecks before joining up with Tony Williams’ Lifetime. “Things were changing. I started playing electric bass. My ears rang for ten years after that.” This unit also went regrettably unrecorded but there are a few bootlegs circulating of the Lifetime band in Europe with Booth hiding in the shadow of his amplification with organist Larry Young in a keffiyeh seated behind him – a far cry from that week in a West Village basement with the Bean.

His time with Tony Williams, like many of his other gigs, was short-lived and Booth returned again to New York picking up work with McCoy Tyner, who had spent 9-months as a Messenger. “I was off and on with McCoy for five years. We did some duo gigs and trio gigs,” says Booth. “His left hand. It would break the thickest strings on the piano. Way down at the bottom. I had to get out of the way sometimes.” After a few recordings Booth’s restless bass led to work with Elvin Jones. “It was loud but it was musical.” He appeared on the aptly titled Time Capsule alongside Kenny Barron and George Coleman before striking out on his own again.

Starting in the early 80s Booth began focusing on solo bass work, earning recognition from the International Society of Bassists and National Endowment for the Arts. Although he still occasionally performs solo Booth can often be found on the fringes of Alphabet City playing an electric bass with his band I Led 3 Lives at ambient space-lounge Nublu. Despite forty-plus years in the business Booth still looks like the youngest guy in the room playing a blend of house, reggae and swing well into the morning. But for all his accomplishments Booth is not just sitting around talking about the good old days. He is focused on the future with plans for a solo record and numerous other projects that will take him around the world but always, inevitably, back to New York. “I’m a loft session Wildflower. I’m a Sun Ra satellite. I’m a Coltrane-ite. I’m a Jazz Messenger. I’m a Tony Williams Lifetimer. I’m all these things. I look at it and I say ‘Well, that’s wonderful’ but it also says that I never did something of my own. And this I’m trying to change.”

Recommended Listening:
-Gary Bartz – Harlem Bush Music (Milestone, 1970)
-McCoy Tyner – Song of the New World (Milestone, 1973)
-McCoy Tyner – Englightenment (Milestone, 1973)
-Larry Young – Lawrence of Newark (Sanctuary, 1973)
-Elvin Jones – Time Capsule (Vanguard 1977)
-Charles Gayle – Ancient of Days (Knitting Factory Works, 2000)

Juini Booth @ NYC Jazz Record

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