CALIMAN Hadley (Saxes Inc.)

Although Caliman was born in Idabel, Oklahoma, in 1932, he is so closely associated with the early Bebop scene in Los Angeles that it's easy to think of Southern California as his birthplace. The Central Avenue clubs (the Cotton Club, Club Alabam, The Downbeat, Club Araby, Club Finale) first opened Caliman's eyes to jazz. The studios in nearby Hollywood included jazz in its films and on its recordings. The predominantly African American high schools in South Central Los Angeles boasted small big band programs with a number of talented young musicians. At Jefferson, Caliman's high school, an anonymous donor provided tubas and saxophones. An instructor was hired and a big band was born. Caliman joined that big band (along with another tenor saxophonist, Wilbur Brown) and learned charts by Duke Ellington and Count Basie.
The high school band was only part of Caliman's education in jazz. The clubs and its touring musicians helped foster his musical interest. "When I was a kid at that age," recalls Caliman, "it was nothing to see musicians live. Duke Ellington? Count Basie? Lionel Hampton? You got the chance to see the guys and know them. There's a band that Eddie Vinson used to play with -The Cleanheads. Every time they came to town, I saw that band. I knew the guys in the band."
Another important influence on Caliman was the great tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon. Caliman's family lived on the same street as Gordon's. The young saxophonist had listened to his records in high school, and emulated the lanky, gifted Gordon. "Everyone was trying to sound like Dexter or Lucky Thompson back then," says Caliman. "I had all Dexter's records." Caliman wasn't shy. He introduced himself to Gordon -4 years his senior- and they connected. Gordon sometimes borrowed Caliman's horn. "That's how I really got to know him," he adds. "I had the same kind of saxophone that he had." In one instance, Gordon had dropped his saxophone, damaging the instrument. He visited Caliman and asked if he could borrow his horn. "Of course!" Caliman recalls, laughing. "I thought maybe some notes would stick up in there!"
The connection was made. Gordon provided instruction to Caliman. Caliman, in turn, became know as "Little Dex" around the Central Avenue scene. Unfortunately, the pair had something else in common: both musicians were junkies. Caliman's Bebop career was starting to take off. He was performing at clubs around Los Angeles, and touring with various combos and ensembles. Cocaine, heroin, and crime however, were bigger influences than Bebop. In the early 1950's, Caliman would find himself in prison alongside his mentor and idol Dexter Gordon.
Caliman's first run-in with the law was in the 1950s. By his own admission, Caliman (along with his girlfriend at the time) burglarized an office in Los Angeles, stole the company's checkbook, and began forging checks in order to pay for their drug addiction.
The police were soon onto Caliman and his companion. The pair fled to Idabel, Oklahoma then moved to Cincinnati (his girlfriend's hometown). Her father was the top juvenile officer in the city, and helped Caliman find a job delivering flowers. Shortly thereafter, her father learned about their run-in with the Los Angeles law enforcement, and Caliman was offered a choice. "Her father told me, 'I'll help you anyway you want,'" Caliman recalls. "'You can run or you can turn yourself in.'"
Caliman turned himself over to the authorities. The pair was flown back to Los Angeles and thrown in jail. She was bailed out immediately. Caliman, on the other hand, remained incarcerated. "My dad said, 'Well, I know where you are. You're good and healthy. They'll feed you. You're not out on the streets. I'm not worried about you.'"
Caliman's girlfriend eventually bailed him out of jail. The next day, Caliman was busted for attempting to steal a cigarette truck. He landed in prison this time, at Chino, with Gordon and a number of other jazz musicians. Caliman's addiction was not uncommon at the time. Many jazz musicians were struggling with heroin and cocaine addiction, and landed in jail throughout their careers. "It was a trend at the time," explains Caliman. "Everyone was [messed] up." Caliman remembers spending a stint in jail with Miles Davis and Art Blakey. "They were busted and sent to this segregated tank," says Caliman. "Nobody knew who they were, except some of the musicians. I recognized who they were, and brought them up to the front section where it was privileged to be. I had been in there long enough."
Meanwhile, back at Chino, Caliman was waiting to learn which prison he would be sent to: the maximum security San Quentin facility? Or the minimum-security facility at Chino. He was twenty years old and facing eighteen months of incarceration.
He was sent to San Quentin. It was there that he met other musicians, including a saxophonist named Yama Johnson. "The guy played exactly like Charlie Parker," Caliman recalls, clearly in awe and still amazed by the musician. "This guy was self-taught. He played out of the side of his mouth, he couldn't read a note, but he could play exactly like Charlie Parker. We would go down to the yard and play. I learned a lot of stuff in prison. Nothing about technique or tone or armature or finger position. Just blowing. Just making a loud sound."
Caliman was returned to Chino shortly before his release. He joined Gordon, Roy Porter, Honsey Matthews, and other jazz musicians. Caliman and Gordon would walk the yard and talk about music. A teacher from Pomona College taught the inmates dictation, theory, and even some classical music. "I tried to play the clarinet," he says (he would later use that instrument on recordings with Carlos Santana during the 1970s, in addition to his own recordings). "Dex tried to play the flute. We just did different stuff. And then we would have jam sessions."
Caliman was eventually released from prison. But things were hardly any easier. "Prison turned out to be a stigma," says Caliman. "You were dead. 'Oh, yeah, I'm a trustworthy person. I just got out of jail. I can get a good job.' No. It was an economic squeeze. If you came out of prison, the only job was being a jazz musician. As a jazz musician, the environment was really bad for someone with an addiction. So it might be better if you got yourself a straight job. Don't play music anymore."
Quitting music was not an option. Kicking his drug addiction was equally as challenging. Caliman's choice was both difficult and mature. It was a choice that would also turn his life around and rescue his jazz career. "I started paying attention to the horn," he says, frankly. "I realized that drugs were keeping me from the horn. I was through with that [stuff]. If there was a room full of drugs, I didn't want any of it. It was hard to turn it around, but it was the last straw. That was it. I wanted to play my horn. I wanted to play my saxophone and stay out of jail."
Caliman began to network with other musicians in Los Angeles. He went to Sunday jam sessions. He hooked up with Bobby Hutcherson, performing at a gig six nights a week for nearly three years. He also made a living working at recording sessions. He performed at casuals and dances. Anything to keep him away from drugs.
A phone call from Gerald Wilson also helped. Walter Benton had quit Wilson's big band, and Caliman was offered the spot. He headed to Salt Lake City with the group. "It was a totally different thing," says Caliman. "It really encouraged me. I had lots of solo space, and Gerald really liked me."
A similar phone call from Louis Gasca, inviting Caliman to play with Mongo Santamaria, provided more opportunities. Gasca had kicked Bobby Capers out of the group, and he needed a tenor horn. Caliman joined the group and performed for a month at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, a month at the El Matador in San Francisco, several years at various clubs in New York City, and a long recording stint in Philadelphia.
Caliman eventually quit the band and returned to Los Angeles, where he recorded with Leonard Feather, Joe Pass, Joe Harris, and others. Caliman also spent the 1970s recording with rock musicians. He recorded a number of sessions (and subsequently toured) with Carlos Santana and The Grateful Dead. "There was so much money on the rock and roll side," says Caliman. "It was phenomenal."
Caliman had turned things around. He had a solid professional career. Most importantly, he recorded four albums as a composer and bandleader: Hadley Caliman (1971), Impetus (1972), Projecting (1975) and Celebration (1977). Prior to these recordings, much of Caliman's studio work consisted of side projects with other musicians. Caliman's albums were different. He wrote most of the songs, and his soloing abilities were punctuated. The first two albums are on vinyl only (and collector's items for hardcore jazz fans). The other albums were re-released on compact disc in 2003 by Catalyst Records.

In 1980, Caliman and his then-girlfriend moved to Washington State. They landed in the town of Cathlamet (his girlfriend had family there), located along the Lewis & Clark Trail. He spent some time looking for students to teach, but otherwise had very little success as a jazz musician. "If you want to lose your momentum as a jazz player," says Caliman, "move to a little country town like Cathlamet and teach. Nobody knows who you are."
Caliman was also performing at gigs in Portland. And he started looking to Seattle for work. He introduced himself to Julian Priester -an instructor at Cornish College of the Arts- who offered Caliman a substitute teaching position. That position later turned into a full-time teaching job. He retired in 2003.
"I really like the SRJO [Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra]," he says. "It's forcing me to read music again. And the camaraderie is good, too. I had seen them, but I didn't know them. I heard Jim Wilke playing one of our songs on the radio yesterday, and it sounded good. That sax section sounded good."
Now, he is most excited about the quintet he leads. The group entered the studio last fall, recording seven tracks, including: "That Old Black Magic," "Delilah," "Close Your Eyes," "Linda," "You Leave Me Breathless," and "Soul Train." Those tunes are performed regularly at the group's performances. The result is amazing. During a show at The Triple Door earlier this year, Caliman kicked the evening off with "Commencia" - a jumpy, fast-paced Latin tune that gave the audience a jolt. He also introduced the song "Linda" -a ballad (written for his wife) that floated and dipped in melodic beauty.
"Playing with Hadley is very physical," says the group's drummer Byron Vannoy. "He's from the old school of driving Bebop, and it's very physical stuff. It's a workout with him every time. The guy is seventy-two years old, and he will run you into the ground if you don't rise to his thing. He's a wonderful musician and a great person, and he's got a lot of life. There's a spirit in this certain generation of jazz musicians that, I hate to say it, I don't see it in a lot of generations younger than them."
"He is the sweetest person," adds Linda, Caliman's wife. "In all that he has been through in all of his life, he is untainted. It's a spirit. The spirit has remained intact. He's not been jaded or been cynical by all that he has seen."
Caliman really enjoys each performance. The magic that can happen between musicians is his goal. Rather than trying to control the musicians and their performances, Caliman is often standing in the corner between solos, clapping along with the audience when he hears what he likes. True, he is the star and headliner. But he also knows how to pick his musicians and concede the stage. And his quartet has a signature Caliman sound that speaks to experience, talent, and improvisational excellence.
One Saturday evening in January 2005, the Hadley Caliman Quartet was wrapping up its first set at Tula's restaurant and nightclub in downtown Seattle. Caliman had just led the group through a spirited set of Bebop standards. As Caliman exited the stage, Halberstadt grabbed a microphone. "Ladies and gentleman," he announced, "there is a saxophonist here tonight who is turning 72 years old." Halberstadt pointed to Caliman. A moment later, a waiter appeared from the club's kitchen carrying a large birthday cake marked with glowing candles.

Caliman was surprised by the gesture. The crowd applauded and cheered. The evening was remarkable for several reasons. At seventy-two years old, Caliman was hardly slowing down. The set would last well after midnight. The show would be followed by performances at the Seattle Art Museum in February, The Triple Door in March, more concerts at Tula's, and a series of performance dates that would send him back and forth between Seattle and San Francisco. Moreover, Caliman's responsibilities in the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra (SRJO) recently expanded, particularly after the passing of Don Lanphere (a veteran of the early-1940s New York Bop scene) last fall. And Caliman had spent the later part of 2003 in the studio with his quartet, recording his first album as a leader after nearly two decades.
Several months later, speaking with Caliman near his home in Poulsbo, Washington, he was reflective. "I'm lucky," he explained. "Maybe God is answering my prayers now. I know that he does answer prayers for me. It's just been me. If I could have just gotten it right, it would have been cool. He was doing his job, I just kept screwing up and misjudging." Caliman paused. "I've still got a long ways to go. I want to play forever. That's the main business at hand."
With the help of Todd Matthews / Earshot Jazz Magazine June 2005


I'm happy to share with you the Harley Caliman's 1971 debut album "HADLEY CALIMAN" on Mainstream 318 with Hadley Caliman tenor sax (flute on "Longing"), Larry Vuckovich piano, John White Junior guitar, Clarence Becton drums, Bill Douglas bass.

As Caliman says in the liner notes "I never really got a chance to do my own thing on record before". Here he did it! And the following three Lp's are really of the same brand. Great brand!

1 comment:

cheeba said...

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