Article in "Just Jazz Guitar" magazine from November 2008.
The abbreviations are:
SK; Steve Kiningstein
CB: Carl Barry
DM: Dom Minasi
MG: Mike Gari
JW: Jack Wilkins
The Sessions at Lou Sosa’s Loft (1965) by Dr. Steven Kinigstein
The Photo is of Chuck Wayne
SK: Who was Lou Sosa?
CB: Lou Sosa was a personal friend of mine. I met him at a similar type of thing like we’re doing today, a guitar session. There was a lot of that going on then. We were a group of friends. We wanted to get together and work on some stuff. Lou owned a Christening factory, where they manufactured Christening clothes; but he was a part- time musician. He was a Jazz guitarist, and a very good one. Lou was highly influenced by Django, and he was also Chuck Wayne’s dearest friend. They were that close up until Lou's death. (Lou passed on about a year or two before Chuck.)
SK: What years are we talking about?
DM: The mid to late 60’s – ’65, ’66, ’67.
CB: Lou had unbelievable ears. He couldn’t read a note, but he knew all the songs. He knew everything. He used to work with this pianist who was also an opera teacher. He was going to all these classical concerts as well as hanging out with Chuck all the time.
MG: It was Lou’s idea to start the sessions. It must have started with only two or three of you.
CB: Well, I had just started playing around town. I remember very clearly, Lou bringing Chuck to one of my gigs. It must have been my second night, and I was scared to death! I didn’t know anything from anybody. Chuck sat in, and that’s how I met Chuck. Lou ended up being best man at my wedding, Jack (Wilkins) was in the wedding party.
SK: What were the sessions at Lou’s loft like? Could you describe them?
CB: It started off just as a hang, really. Chuck was still with the Ed Sullivan Show at that time. It was near the end of the run of the show.
MG: And he was still doing gigs at night, at clubs like “Chuck’s Composite”. Chuck would show up after his gigs, really early in the morning.
DM: Didn’t he also do the Merv Griffin show with Jim Hall?
MG: Yeah the two of them. Wow.
DM: I would go to rehearsals. That was cool. I’d just walk in.
CB: So that’s how it started. We went up to Lou’s loft because it was in an isolated, industrial area in Brooklyn. We could play at all hours and nobody would complain.
At first it was Lou, Chuck, Jack and I. Then Chuck started bringing some of his students. Then we started bringing some of our friends.
DM: You brought me into that.
DM: (laughing) You needed a rhythm section.
SK: So you knew each other before getting together at the sessions?
DM: Carl and I knew each other.
SK: Then a player had to know somebody in there in order to come to the sessions?
CB: Yeah, that’s right. But that was a time we don’t see anymore; when everybody went way out of their way just to play together, learn from each other.
DM: Those days, I remember, the four of us, we kept each other working all the time.
There was so much work.
CB: Yeah if I couldn’t do it, I call him or if he couldn’t do it he’d call me. (points to Dom Minasi and Jack Wilkins)
DM: Carl was doing a steady gig at Gil Hodges (Bowling Alley in Brooklyn) Jack would sub for him, I would sub for him.
MG: We’d talk about the sessions at the loft to other players and say, “You gotta come.” CB: Then a whole bunch of New Jersey players would come. What we wound up doing was two guys would play with Chuck as the rhythm section for one or two tunes and then it started to rotate, so that everybody got a chance to play with Chuck.
DM: The first time I played with Chuck I was shaking like a leaf. Oh man! I never wanted to play after that! (laughs)
CB: And I’ll tell you what’s out there, Jack and I have talked about this a lot: All of those sessions were taped. When Lou died, I think the tapes went to his son.
SK: When did Lou pass away?
CB: About a year or so before Chuck, ’98 or 99.
SK: Back to the sessions. Could you describe the atmosphere? Were you constantly playing?
MG: No. It got to be so crowded that sometimes you didn’t get to play until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning.
SK: Did you guys ever get together with each other outside the sessions just to play together, jut to have some fun?
JW: Of course. Every week, sometimes twice a week.
DM: We used to play together all the time.
JW: If I had a gig and they came down, they would all sit in.
DM: We used to sit around and play in my kitchen. We played for hours and hours.
SK: Although the sessions weren’t just for developing players, it sounds like players were picking up a lot from each other.
CB: Right. It wasn’t one level of players. It was a bunch of guys that were hungry for music.
SK: You spoke about what happened when Chuck Wayne came in the room. Everybody started shaking. What was Chuck Wayne’s role at the sessions?
JW: He was a commanding presence; but he wasn’t unpleasant. He was lovely.
DM: I remember, once, you were playing with Chuck (points to Carl) and he called out “Baubles, Bangles, and Beads”, and you didn’t know it. He showed it to you, right on the spot. And it was great! You played your ass off.
CB: (to SK) Edit the word “ass”! (laughing)
SK: Sorry, Carl. The rules clearly state that must go in bold print.
CB: Nothing bothered Chuck. Maybe he felt, like we all do, that after years of playing, he should have had a little bit better recognition.
DM: He should have, ‘cause he really deserved it. Maybe something like Jim Hall.
MG: He didn’t really pursue it.
CB: He didn’t. He was really secure about who he was.
MG: He was amazing. It was incredible being able to watch him play this stuff close and right in front of you. Those were the days.
CB: He got to know me (from the sessions), and he was very supportive. I did a lot of subs for him, and that helped me out.
SK: In addition to Chuck, were there already any other established, major guitar players at the sessions?
MG: Nah, nobody wanted to play with Chuck – I think everybody was scared. (laughs)
CB: Let me put it this way: Chuck was, at that time the player we had access to who was at that level.
SK: I am addressing this next question to you each as individuals. Is there any one thing you picked up at those sessions that particularly helped you develop as a player?
MG: For me, it was inspiring – getting to be with people who wanted to do what you wanted to do, and loving it. Of course I did learn things, but nothing I could really say that was specific. It wasn’t as if someone said, “Here’s a D7b9 chord.” Just being there was a high.
SK: What about you, Jack?
JW: I feel exactly like Mike. There was nothing specific I learned, what harmony, what chord. Maybe I learned a song or something. The main thing for me was being in the moment with all these great players. Chuck, especially because he was the master at that point. Just sitting there and playing with him was amazing.
DM: It helped me get past my fear of playing with a name like Chuck. It was something I had to work on, and I finally got past that. That’s what I learned at the sessions.
SK: How about you, Carl?
CB: For me, the beauty of it all was that there was so much interaction between all the players. And Chuck – if you had the questions, he had the answers. It was also the experience of listening to other players who had different ideas about where to go. That stuff is invaluable because it doesn’t necessarily mean that you learn something that night; but stuff stays with you. Inevitably, down the line it becomes part of who you are.
SK: Dom has said to me that most established players at that time kept their knowledge to themselves. They didn’t share their knowledge. Aspiring players had to learn things, for the most part, on their own. It sounds to me like Chuck Wayne was uncommonly generous.
DM: You better believe it!
SK: You guys have described a lot of playing at the sessions. Were there any moments that were purely instructive?
JW: Yeah. I would say. I sat with Chuck one night before we actually started playing. I was curious about the way he picked, the way he used his pick, his picking technique. He actually sat down with me for about twenty minutes and showed me exactly how he did it. If I wanted to learn how to do it, this is what I would have to do. I never officially studied with Chuck, but that was like a lesson right there. The other thing Chuck talked about was how he used the pick and fingers. Mike does that, and Carl does that. I do it somewhat. Chuck showed me that too. When Chuck showed me his “Consecutive/Alternate” picking (I think that was what he called it.) I worked on it for a couple of years. When I got into it, I couldn’t play consecutive and I couldn’t play alternate for about six months!
DM: I taught that to myself. Once, when I was on a gig, I tried to play straight eighth notes and I couldn’t do it!
JW: It’s always a process from one step to the next – hopefully.
SK: I’d like to go back to something you said before. When I’m working on something that requires me to use the pick and my fingers, I don’t feel as if I’m really using a “thought out” method. How would you describe what Chuck did using the pick and fingers? Was there a method?
JW: He just showed me what he did. He never said this is the method and how it’s done.
MG: We would probably, actually, learn things from each other when we were talking about a tune or something. I’m sure I picked up a lot stuff from you guys, and from watching some of the other guys. Plus if you heard somebody do something, whether it would be octaves or a chord solo, and you weren’t quite there, that could be something that would inspire you to work on that sort of stuff. In that regard, that’s how we would learn.
JW: Now that I’m thinking about it, what happened at those sessions is that they exposed the things you had to work on. You realized what you didn’t know. It inspired me to practice.
SK: It helped you focus?
JW: It helped me get ready for next weeks jam, we wanted to impress Chuck!
MG: For me, I think I didn’t know any tunes. At that point I think I knew maybe ten tunes.
SK: You’ve described how everybody went to the sessions hoping to play with Chuck; yet everyone was a little fearful as well. Did the sessions every take on a little bit of the feeling of something like a “Segovia Master Class”?
DM: I think it was like that.
DM: It was like that in a way. I don’t know how many guys showed up, just watching and learning. I guess it was a master class.
CB: I’ll tell you one thing about Chuck. Though all of us had different relationships with him for whatever the reasons, he instilled a lot of confidence in people. If he liked something you played, you knew it. He’d give you a smile or something just to reinforce something positive you might have done. You looked at him, and if he approved of something you played, you felt like you were making progress.
MG: How come Lou never played in the sessions?
SK: Lou never played?
JW: He played once or twice.
CB: He was too busy recording!
MG: He was the host.
DM: (mischievously) Lou pulled me over to the side one night and whispered, “You know, I’m better than Chuck.”
All: Loud laughter.
SK: Lou described himself as playing opera on the guitar. What do you think he meant by that?
CB: There was a piano player who was also a voice teacher and had a gig in this restaurant. All these opera singers would come in and he’d accompany them, and Lou played with them on guitar.
DM: (breaks into an aria from “I Pagliacci”)
SK: Keep singing Dom, this is being recorded and I’ll see that it goes on the JJG website!
DM: (Flashes an ambiguous smile that is somewhere between “Uh-oh” and “I dare you”.)
SK: Who called the tunes when you guys were playing?
SK: What if Chuck wasn’t there?
MG: We always picked a tune that we practiced for the last week!
All: (Embarrassed, conspiratorial, LOUD laughter.)
SK: Was there any format to the sessions? How did you determine who played with whom?
MG: Luck of the draw.
DM: I think it was whoever got there first got to play first. I always showed up late, so I had to wait a long time.
CB: It got so big with the amount of people showing up, sometimes you really had to wait.
MG: It usually was three (guitarists) at a time, plus bass and drums. At least when I was there it was like that.
JW: They started getting some horn players to come by too.
SK: These sessions were really about the guitar. What was in it for the drummers, bassists, and horn players?
MG: To make connections, I guess.
CB: Well, partially that. But at that time people did things just to keep playing.
DM: Everybody wanted to play. A lot of us were doing commercial gigs, and this was a chance to really play.
MG: It was an after-hours thing.
CB: For Chuck it was a way to show people how he approached the guitar. He believed in it that strongly.
MG: But only he could do it. Nobody else really could.
SK: Were there ever people that came there just to listen as an audience?
DM: Oh yeah.
MG: Well, my Dad used to take me. And there was Mr. Parello who took pictures.
SK: Do you feel that there was any part of your career that was particularly enhanced by the sessions?
CB: Because I did a lot of subs for Chuck, I wound up playing with a lot of players who went on to be really well known. It was unexpected.
SK: Yeah. It seems to me that the only thing for which guitarists went to the sessions was to enhance their skills.
JW: As far as I was concerned, I was going to the session to be with guys who loved playing. It was a chance to learn, and get exposed to all the things that were going on. I don’t think anybody thought, “Oh! This is going to make my career.”
MG: Well, guess what - I think I got a career from it. Between Jack and all the other people who let me sub for them, that was my way in. I never went to the union hall or anything like that. They’d probably look at me and say, “So what!?!”
SK: What is the most memorable event that you could think of, that ever took place at the sessions?
JW: I remember one thing that was rather funny. Chuck used to play these amazing cadenzas at the end of a song. It was stunning to watch him. I don’t know where he came up with these ideas. Anyway one night we were playing and I was staring at him. He was about to get into his cadenza and he said,”Go ahead.” He was pointing at me. So I looked at him and I said “I can’t play that Chuck Wayne stuff!” The whole place busted up. Remember that?
MG: I don’t, but I should.
CB: It wasn’t one particular night. It was one of the things that could be your biggest wake up call. Especially early in your career. Being around Chuck was being exposed to what it took to be a pro. Lou Sosa deserves a lot of credit. If it weren’t for him, I for one would have never met Chuck, and our relationships would never have happened. Lou had a desire for everybody to be there and have access to Chuck. He found a way to open up these sessions and make them happen. I’m thinking, as I look back at it, the sessions played a really important part in our desire to want to be better.
DM: Right. I was going to say that I got certain wake up calls in my life, and that was one of them.
SK: You guys have been sharing your memories of those days, so I’d like you all to know that today’s interview will always be a major memory for me. It was a privilege and joy to spend this time with all of you.
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Article "The Sessions at Lou Sosa's Loft" (1965)