One thinks of the jazz world and the country world as being polar opposites.
You would think.
Did you experience it that way?
To my surprise, no. As I became more acquainted with country musicians, I discovered that a lot of them were big jazz fans. And I realized that the two [types of] music have a lot in common. They both feature improvised solos – the bluegrass music and the hot violin solo, and so on. So they have a lot of respect for the improvising in the jazz world. And the songs were a little different, but the concept of being a hot instrumentalist existed in both of those kinds of music.
And so I came to have a lot of respect, and received a lot of enjoyment out of country music. I didn't pay any attention to it at all when I was growing up. I was a real jazz snob. I knew nothing about classical music or country or pop or anything else. Jazz was my world when I was a teenager. That was a great experience in Nashville. It not only introduced me to the professional music world and got my career off to an early start, but it also very much broadened my awareness of what was out there in the music world.
So you went a couple years at Berklee.
Yes. And then I moved to New York. Marian McPartland, who I had met through Joe Morello [was] the drummer who was on the Hank Garland record. He was an old friend of Garland’s. And he flew down to Nashville to be on the record, taking a break from Dave Brubeck's Quartet. And so he told me when I came to New York the next year to be sure to get in touch with him. And we went the one night down to a club called the Hickory House, a famous jazz club at the time, and was introduced to Marian. And based on just that meeting and Joe's big recommendation, she called up George Shearing, another British piano player friend of hers, and told him about me. I got a call to come and audition for George. And so that's how I got the job with him. I toured for a year with Shearing's band.
I remember reading in another one of your interviews that he tried to make a record using counterpoint in a classical style.
Yes. Toward the end of that year with George, I had started being more proactive at bringing in songs for George. They were either tunes I had tried to write, or other people's songs that I thought would be a good fit for George's style.