Oral Histories

Interview of Curtis Amy

Saxophone player and bandleader.
Beyond Central: Curtis Amy
Beyond Central
African American History
Biographical Note:
Saxophone player and bandleader.
Isoardi, Steven L.
Amy, Curtis
Persons Present:
Amy and Isoardi.
Place Conducted:
Amy's home in Los Angeles, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library's Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Stephen L. Isoardi, UCLA Oral History Program; B.A., government, University of San Francisco; M.A., political science, UCLA; Ph.D.; political science, UCLA.Isoardi prepared for the interview by consulting jazz histories, autobiographies, oral histories, and relevant periodicals, listened to recordings, and viewed personal archival materials when made available.
Processing of Interview:
Victoria Simmons, editorial assistant, edited the interview. She checked the verbatim transcript of the interview against the original tape recordings, edited for punctuation, paragraphing, and spelling, and verified proper names. Words and phrases inserted by the editor have been bracketed.Amy reviewed the transcript. He verified proper names and made minor corrections and additions.Alex Cline, senior writer, prepared the table of contents. Simmons assembled the biographical summary and interview history. Gail Ostergren, editor, compiled the index.
6.4 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Series Statement:
Interviews in this series extend the UCLA Oral History Program's "Central Avenue Sounds" series and preserve the spoken memories of musicians who were active in the jazz music scene in Los Angeles from the 1950s to the 1970s. This series includes a broad range of interviewees, some of whom are well known and others who may be less known, who were chosen to document their specific point of view, contribution, role, or experience. Particular areas of focus include the African American musicians' community and the development and emergence of the so-called jazz avant-garde in Los Angeles.
First childhood memory seeing Cab Calloway perform--Begins study of the clarinet at age four--Family background--Mother Emma Amy's talents as a singer in church--As a youngster, Amy assists his father, Caurie Paul Amy, clean local movie theaters--Amy's neighborhood in Houston, Texas--Mother moves to Los Angeles after remarrying--Mother's aborted music career--Amy's first awareness of racism--Musical education--Experiences while doing deliveries for a local pharmacy--Music Amy enjoyed as a youth--Neighborhood resident Lightin' Hopkins
Musicians who served as role models for the young Amy--Turns down a touring opportunity with Hopkins--Attends Wiley College in 1943--Amy is suspended due to a college prank--Enlists in the army in 1946--Becomes a bebop player while working in the rhythm and blues field--Plays with Amos Milburn--Visits his mother in Los Angeles before being sent overseas--Music Amy heard on Central Avenue--Amy is stationed in Japan
Amy marries John Evelyn Edwards in 1951--Musicians Amy used to travel to hear while he was living in JAckson, Tennessee--Reasons the marriage dissolved in 1955--Amy works on the Chrysler Corporation assembly line during the day and plays engagements at night during his first years living in Los Angeles--Jazz clubs and musicians in Los Angeles during the mid- to late fifties--Lands a regular Sunday morning engagement at the Trocadero--Meets Thelonious Monk--Pacific Jazz Records owner Dick Bock hears Amy at Dynamite Jackson's--Albums Amy recorded for Pacific Jazz with organist Paul Bryant--Central Avenue's deterioration byt the late fifties.
Eric Dolphy--Clubs around Western Avenue--Don Cherry--The Lighthouse--Amy hears Clifford Brown--Albums Amy did with Lou Rawls and Onzy Matthews in the early sixties--Amy's album "Sounds of Broadway, Sounds of Hollywood"--The fate of Matthews--Amy puts together his own sextet--Projects Amy did which included Horace Tapscott
Frank Butler and other drug-addicted jazz musicians--Earl Anderza--Amy's frustration with the label of "West Coast jazz"--Joe Gordon--The fate of Amy's unreleased recording of a suite of original compositions, "Shaker Heights."
Amy purchases a soprano saxophone to play on his 1963 album "Katanga!"--His reaction upon hearing the mix on his album "Mustang"--The album's producer, Joel Dorn--Trumpeter Dupree Bolton--Amy takes the "Katanga!" band into an after-hours venue called the Metro--His last communication with Bolton--The audiences at Los Angeles jazz clubs during the sixties--The racial situation in Los Angeles at the time--Amy is hired to play in the band for the "Loman and Markley Show"--Amy plays the saxophone solo on the song "Touch Me" by the Doors.
Concerts with the Doors--Groupies who sought out Jim Morrison--The lack of active jazz clubs in Los Angeles in 1965--Amy joins Ray Charles's band in 1966--Becomes Charles's music director--Charles's talent--Situation that lead to Amy's departures from the band in 1968--Amy's dislike for the prevalent tendency to view East Coast jazz and West Coast jazz as separate, opposing forces--Gerald Wilson--Amy begins playing in Wilson's band in 1963--Wilson's arranging style.
Amy's regular engagements at the Narbo Club in the late fifties--Women jazz musicians--Experiences which caused Amy to avoid using drugs--Amy's musical career moves into mostly pop music beginning in the seventies--His appreciation for all styles of music.
Musicians who influenced the young Amy--Amy performs his first composition while a youngster in Houston--His preference for exploring the harmonic richness a multiple horn lineup can afford--The creative atmosphere in Los Angeles during the fifties--Musicians who played in Amy's groups--The influence of trumpet players on Amy--Amy's favorites of his own recordings--The decline of jazz in Los Angeles by 1965--Amy's whereabouts during the Watt's riots--The American Federation of Musicians, Local 47--Elmer Fain--Amy learns the importance of the groove in music.
Amy's success and its consequences--More on the lost recordings of his suite "Shaker Heights"--Amy's association with Lou Adler while working for him in artists and repertoire at A & M Records.