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JGT Exclusive Interview: Ed Cherry, Guitarist for Dizzy Gillespie

Thomas Amoriello Jr.

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He has dazzled jazz audiences with his subtlety for five decades – Jazz Guitar Today’s Tom Amoriello talks to Ed Cherry.

Tasty and appropriate playing characterize Ed Cherry who has dazzled jazz audiences with his subtlety for five decades. Cherry spent all of the 1980s with the trumpet icon and bandleader Dizzy Gillespie and has been a leader at the bandstand in his own right since the legend’s passing.  Jazz Guitar Today would like to thank Mr. Cherry for this exclusive interview.  

JGT: Many accomplished jazz musicians come from a variety of backgrounds such as rock, classical and gospel and for you Hendrix was one of and still is one of your influences.   Did you feel obligated to make many adjustments on the guitar earlier in your career when working with traditionalists and purists in some of those early jazz jams?  

Yes. I knew right away that the sound of the instrument, time feel and language was different. I knew that early on, even before I made a conscious effort to play in a ‘jazz’ group. My dad had recordings by Wes , Grant Green, Kenny Burrell that he would play in our home often. I was aware enough to notice the tonal and phrasing differences. I liked Grant’s playing the most and then Kenny Burrell. 

My first real public jazz jam session, I went with my Strat and I was almost laughed off the stage by the older musicians. The trumpet player leaned over to me and told me to ‘go get yourself a real guitar’..haha..He was right, you have to have the right tool for the job. When you are playing in a swinging organ combo, it’s kind of hard to play a Strat with 9’s and low action and hope to get the appropriate sound. I went out and got my first Gibson, an old ES5 with heavy strings. Then I started listening again to my dad’s Lps trying to copy the lines, tone, etc. The organ player at that first jam session was Bobby Buster. Bob lived in Chicago before settling in New Haven. He played with Sonny Stitt, Gene Ammons, and Joe Diorio. He told me to listen to the way Pat Martino “COMPED”.  So I got all the Pat Martino/Don Patterson recordings I could find. Really helpful advice. In my early listening sessions I was more focused on the solos and not paying a lot of attention to the accompaniment role the guitar played in the music.

JGT: You spent many a night on the road with Dizzy Gillespie during the career.  What did you learn from him off the stage as a bandleader working with many musicians and business obligations?

Dizzy was a joy to work with. He was a positive kind of guy, not dark or bitter like some bandleaders I’ve met along the way. He treated his musicians well, paid them well, a great role model.  I had never done any international travel before him. I saw that he was friendly and respectful to everyone.  He was a stickler about being on time to the gig. He didn’t get high before the gig (he like Louis Armstrong smoked weed every day but never before he went onstage). He had a supportive wife Lorraine who kept him grounded. She wasn’t into going everywhere with him. She made comments like ‘the club is Dizzy’s office, if you were married to a surgeon you wouldn’t go in the operating room with him would you? She worked the phone and kept the house in order, very old school but it worked for them. I had my eyes and ears open to all of it. I carry a lot of this with me today. Treat my musicians and people I meet along the way with respect ( my parents helped with this one too), pay them fairly, and be on time. You didn’t so far ask about my background but my parents were very instrumental in my musical upbringing. My dad loved jazz as well as folk music. He liked Charlie Parker as well as Elizabeth Cotton and Bob Dylan (he came with me to my first Jimi Hendrix concert)  My mom played a little classical piano, not well but well enough to slowly read through some things at home. She also brought me to Broadway plays and opera at Lincoln center a couple of times. As a kid, they instilled in me the values of respecting your elders, never hit a girl, and be kind. Dizzy reinforced all of that when I was older.

JGT: Please share with Jazz Guitar Today what you found unique about using Dogal ‘Expressive Jazz Strings’ that has worked best for you and your art?

Strings? Well, I was first drawn to Dogal because they had a production set that was the same flat wound gauge as the old Gibson ‘hi-fi’ sets that were discontinued in the late 70s.  I think ;14-58.( Wes used to use this set.)  I bought a couple of sets of the Dogal and they reminded me of the old Gibsons but with more life. Those old Gibsons could be pretty dead sounding but the feel was great. Dogal has that feel . My new favorites!

JGT: If ever, what frame of mind or accommodations do you make to compliment the Hammond when playing in an organ trio or other ensemble where it is featured? 

It helps when we all LISTEN to one another, sharing is caring, listening, being a sensitive, caring musician is number one on my list, not a showboating egocentric.

JGT: Have you enjoyed any recent jazz musician (or any genre) documentaries on Netflix during your downtime?

Sure, there was one I just watched about the jazz scene in Pittsburgh called ‘We Knew What We Had’.(YouTube) .the Lee Morgan doc ‘ I Called Him Morgan’ was great as well as the John Coltrane documentary ‘Chasing Trane’.  Then there is ‘Celebrating Bird: The Triumph of Charlie Parker,  Nina Simone: What Happened Miss Simone’ and of course the Ken Burns ‘Jazz’ is interesting too although that one spends too much time on Ellington and Count Basie, nothing about guitars in jazz, the Detroit scene and the major contributors to the music from that city.  If I remember correctly, nothing about mid-60s  fusion,. It’s been a while since I’ve seen that one. Not on Netflix but great is ‘Jackie Mclean on Mars’ is one of my favorites.

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