Interview with John Altman: Part 2

Part two of a six part interview with John Altman over videos contained in the Altman-Koss Video Jazz Archive.

As we watch footage Count Basie and Duke Ellington, Altman clues me in on some background information and stories from the artists involved that I would have never known otherwise.


Altman and I are watching his compilation of Snooky Young for LACMA.

1:05 Camellia Boutros:  In every one of these clips he’s using a hat or a mute or something

John Altman: Oh, that’s what he was known for.

2:18 He puts on a video of Count Basie performing in ‘58

JA: [about Snooky] So this is the video he was watching. So I’ve got film of him watching himself about 50 years later.

CB: That’s amazing. You said you don’t have that film…

JA: I don’t have it on this platform… I have it on DVD. The inaugural jazz cruise, he was on it, he was playing on it. So he came down to watch the video. I ran a lot of videos and he was watching this one.

3:45 Thad Jones appears on screen for a solo.

JA: So this is one that came from our Swiss contact.
CB: He sent you guys a lot, huh?

JA: Boy. I mean we used to get boxes full of video tapes, like shipped over, and we’d send back things that we had seen.
CB: What year is this?
JA: This is ‘58.

CB: Were most of your contacts producers and broadcasters, or-

5:00 JA: No, no, just, – punters as well, like jazz fans, who, if something came up on television they would tape it. Of course they had not seen any of this, so we all benefitted.

CB: Mmhmm. I love that there’s that element to it, where there’s an exchange happening-

JA: Yes.

CB: So it’s an interactive, live thing versus, just historical record, although it’s that too.
JA: It’s both. Because, if you’re a jazz fan, you love jazz.

CB: [Still watching Basie] Love that drummer.

JA: Oh, he’s the best. Best big band drummer ever.  I saw them… in London. Duke Ellington, Count Basie … anybody who came to London, I was there. There I was. But quite often, for example in this… [looks for a video]. Yeah. I mean basically I’ve got everyone. So I have Clark Terry Big Band in ‘73. Which, a lot of guys in the band had never seen, so I did it for Jimmy Heath.

CB: Sorry?

JA: Jimmy Heath, who was in the band at the time, I made a copy for him. Which knocked him out, because he…

CB: He didn’t think it existed, huh?

JA: Well, after 43 years, you know… It was always great  showing these to people who’d done it, you know, it’s a whole different experience, because they would have memories of playing or whatever that obviously you would have, because it was them, you know, it was their band.

I mean, for example, this…

CB: Duke Ellington in Copenhagen?
JA: Yeah. This is the night after I saw him. Listen –

CB: Where’d you see him?
JA: In London. So he would have flown from London to Copenhagen to do this gig.

He puts on the video.

JA: So that’s the same line-up, same musicians… he falls asleep on stage… it’s great

9:30 CB: [laughs] [pause] Doesn’t really, no!

JA: Yeah, he knocks out!

CB: [pause] Jet lag? [laughs]

JA: Uh – I don’t think so. In fact, Jimmy Hamilton, um, Ellington kicks him. Ellington says – “Wait, hold up,” he says – “Huh – aww man, do I have to?”


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