I graduated in 1942--clarinet, piano, composition, and had a schooling in classical and modern music until Stravinsky. I saw Mitropoulos conduct Wozzeck by Alban Berg in 1942 at Carnegie Hall, the first time it was performed in the U.S.A. Very impressive. I was in the U.S. military from 1942 to 1945 and played in a military band. I was in the black world of jazz in New York City from 1942. Jam sessions in Harlem, Greenwich Village, 52nd Street, making friends with the black musicians famous and not, old and new. I then studied in 1950 with Stefan Wolpe until 1954 at the Contemporary School of Music. Tuition was paid by the U.S. Government. He taught me the music of Johann S. Bach with all its rules and at the same time atonal music, twelve tone music, with all its rules. After I studied with Stefan I started to understand what atonal music was like, and I was the first jazzman to record atonal music on my recording for RCA Victor with my septet in the album Scott's Fling (January 7-12, 1955): Abstraction No. 1 and Three Short Dances for Clarinet. I've used Bach style in jazz, for example, on RCA Victor Lullaby of Birdland, or Monica's Smile, recorded 1981 with the Zurich Radio Orchestra and with a string orchestra. In 1949 I experimented with playing free atonal jazz with pianist Dick Hyman, but we both had no experience in atonal music. One time in my house I decided to play my clarinet and baritone with Stefan at the piano. We improvised together, and I taped it. Improvising was a big part of my life as a jazz musician, and I was very surprised and thrilled that Stefan was one of those great classical composers like Bach and Beethoven who could improvise in their style of written music. Stefan improvised like his music was written. I improvised in a jazz style using elements that I had heard all my life in jazz. I played clarinet and baritone sax. We just played with no tonality or sequence of chords or rhythms, we just played "free." I learned from Stefan it could be done and that is how I make my space music, my requiem music, calm or ferocious. I play free with no labels, improvising since I was 12 years old. I am now 78 years old. Sixty-six years of using techniques, sounds, and rhythms to represent whatever emotions I feel and try to pass this on to the listeners. I'm still looking for the tape. I'm sure I have it somewhere. I traveled playing in all the world and was without a fixed home from 1960 to 1970. I left trunks everywhere. I jammed one time with Stefan and we did not use any systems. About jazz musicians who played "free jazz" in the 1960s such as Charlie Mingus, Cecil Taylor, Archie Shepp, Pharoh Saunders, John Coltrane. I never discussed with any of them what influences they had. I think I was the only jazz man who had knowledge of Stefan Wolpe. His name was never mentioned in jazz books as an influence in jazz or among the black jazz players.
Stefan was my teacher and dear friend. His close friend was Josef Marx, oboist and publisher of Stefan's music. They were from the old world of European composers and musicians. Stefan became a dear friend, and we had some wonderful times together. I lived at 81 Fourth Avenue in a loft 100 feet long and 30 feet wide. I was a disciple of Charlie Parker and his music called bebop. For me it is the last main influence on black jazz. Stefan was at my house when Charlie Parker came on one of his many visits to me. When I introduced them, they both were thrilled. Stefan exuberantly shouted, "Bird, I love your music!" And Bird went into his three-plumed hat routine and in his best Shakespearean voice said, "Maestro, I would be honored if you would write something for me and a 75-piece orchestra. Mr. Norman Granz will pay you for it." It was a beautiful idea but was never realized. At another meeting Bird and Stefan went with me to see a movie about flamenco dance with famous dancers Antonio e Rosaria. Stefan shouted OLE!!! a few times. Bird was sitting behind me and went to sleep. I turned around after a half hour and Bird was gone. Bird came and left when he felt like it. When Stefan composed his Saxophone Quartet, he asked me to get Bird to play the part on tenor sax. I did not know if Bird could play Stefan's music and if he would show up at the recording session. So I got Al Cohn, famous jazz tenor saxist, to play the part. I was able to school Stefan in black music with discs of Mahalia Jackson, famous and fabulous black spiritual singer. Stefan also loved Mahalia Jackson, and when I played her records for him at my house, he shouted, "Why can't they sing my songs like this!" He loved the freedom and the feeling that was in the Afro-American music called jazz and also spiritual music. In late 1950 I remember also the Carnegie Hall concert where the music of Stefan, Cage, and others was played. David Tudor played piano.
Once I met Stefan on West 48th Street on a cold day. He was going to collect a money prize from Yale and he had no coat. I gave him my cashmere coat given to me by a rich booking agent with the MCA agency. I met Stefan again in Berlin in 1957, and as we walked down the street juke boxes were blaring the Banana Boat Song sung by Harry Belafonte with Tony Scott Orchestra and Chorus. I told Stefan that I arranged that song, and he said: "I heard this song everywhere, you must be rich!" I told him I did not copyright the song as I was not interested in being known as a calypso song writer. I told him that being number one clarinetist in the world was my goal, and I had become that from 1955 to 1960. I have with me two big tapes of Stefan and Hilda and me and my first wife talking at my house at 71st Street in New York City, September 30, 1959.
I believe that all art and music is blocked by the professionists who know too much about technique and too little about emotion. I think it has to do with their scholarly, "ivory tower" existence. Stefan Wolpe lived in the harsh world and the reality of a hated Jew in Nazi Germany of the 1920s. He was anti-old style German music and with others like him wanted to take all art forward and away from militarist Germany, which had started World War I in 1914 and was defeated in 1918, leaving a crushed people who hated everybody and everything that was not part of German traditional music, art, and literature. Stefan was able to escape from this bitter existence to America before the doors were closed dooming millions of people to die. The avant-garde artists got the message from the Nazis and left Germany in the early 1930s as they could not function. No work, no money, no future. Get out or be suppressed as an artist and a human being. So Stefan got out. I never talked to him about his life in Germany or America.