Part five of a six part interview with John Altman over videos contained in the Altman-Koss Video Jazz Archive.
This part of the interview gets personal, with Altman departing a bit from the archive to talk about his personal career as a performer, composer, and impresario. We start with his time at Monty Python and eventually learn about his experience running The 10 Room, where he became hosted some of the biggest names in hip hop, pop, and R&B.
As a longtime composer for Monty Python, Altman has hours of public and private footage of the cast and crew. We spend some time watching interviews and sketches, including one of the cast wishing John Cleese’s 75th birthday.
5:38 John Altman: Yeah, I’ve got this weird assortment of stuff..
Camellia Boutros: Well your career – it’s spanned over so many different things.
JA: It’s so many different things, yeah… actually, talking about that… Somebody gave us all of these, which are interesting.
Altman starts playing a video
CB: Is that John Legend?
JA: Yeah, it was his first ever show.
CB: Wow… Where is this?
JA: It’s a club I ran called the 10 Room… They had no clue who he was.
CB: [Laughs disbelievingly] Was he discovered here?
JA: Yeah! And Amy Winehouse.
CB: I also saw that you worked with Will Smith?
CB: What was that for?
JA: He performed at the 10 Room.
CB: He came here?!
JA: Yes! Uh, everyone came here. When they did the Amy Winehouse film, they said, “Do you have any footage of her?” And I said, “Well, it was before she got famous, so the only person who would have taken footage would be if somebody came down with a film camera.” And somebody did come down with a film camera, and he sent me all these that I hadn’t seen, about a year ago.
7:55 We’re watching footage of John Legend, then Will Smith, then Altman playing with Amy Winehouse.
JA: [laughs] It’s like stepping back in time. There’s me.
8:50 We can hear Altman’s sax playing from the recording
9:45 CB: Pharrell?!
CB: Do you play up there with Pharrell?
JA: Yeah! I’m sure I do.
CB: How fun was that?
JA: It was fun! Yeah. There’s Eminem’s manager.
10:45 Pharrell performing with N.E.R.D.
JA: I just got sent a bunch of these tapes.
CB: Are these in the archive?
JA: Sorry? No, these have just come to me. They’re not in the archive.
CB: Do you think you’d ever consider including them, as an offshoot of jazz?
JA: Yeah, I mean the only thing is I don’t own the licensing for all these private recordings, they couldn’t use Amy Winehouse’s because they couldn’t clear them.
CB: Oh, okay.
CB: Well that’s amazing, then.
JA: Isn’t it? This was every Monday night! Lionel Richie, Amy Winehouse, Will Smith, The Roots… I mean, you name them.
13:02 Altman stops the video.
CB: So much of modern-day hip hop owes itself to you.
JA: It’s just amazing having a club. It was the best place in London! There were never any paparazzi, never any, um… hassling, you know.
CB: Is it still around?
JA: No. I mean, Patrick [Patrick Alan] still does some things but it’s much different now.
CB: What did it take to come in?
JA: Guest list.
CB: Ah. Can’t just buy tickets.
JA: No, I mean, all this time it’s free. Nobody gets paid to come in.
CB: So many of these were R&B and hip hop, were you always a fan?
JA: Yeah! Yeah, I mean, I really enjoyed enjoyed being at the forefront and doing that, I kept my chops in, doing that sort of thing.
CB: You usually go up on stage with them?
JA: Usually, yeah, I mean, I ran the night, you know, they’re all there because I sort of ran them in, with Patrick [Alan]. History!
CB: Yeah. And it’s so great, from my perspective, that it’s something that came from the jazz world. Because hip hop artists are so indebted to…. it really speaks to what’s going on right now, there’s so much hip hop to jazz roots.
JA: Yeah. Well, especially with my friend Kamasi and Kendrick Lamar…
CB: You know Kamasi and Kendrick Lamar?
JA: Yeah! I mean, Kamasi was in my band!
CB: What?! I just saw Kamasi in fall for the first time last October and it blew my mind.
JA: Oh, it’s great.
CB: You know Kendrick?
JA: Yeah, I mean these are people I used to hang out with.
CB: What year is this?
JA: Between 1999 and 2006.
In fact, they’ve dated most of these, so…