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Willie Ruff, the e-interview
By Ben Ohmart
(more articles from this author)
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He's played in the Lionel Hampton band - and he's still going!! Luckily we got to catch up with him after releasing his current CD, Breaking the Silence.

[Ben] How long have you been performing? Doesn't your lip ever get tired? What about the body? What drives you on?

[Willie] The Duo has been performing continuously since 1955. When my lip gets tired I stop and pick up the bass, even on stage. The body reacts well to good care, rest, rewarding work, peace and sensible nutrition. Music and teaching drives me and I hope to do what I am doing now for the next 40 years!

[Ben] Are you aggressively touring and performing the new album, Breaking the Silence?

[Willie] We are aggressively touring college campuses, schools, etc. and performing the new album. The music on the cd was recorded at various times at Yale and in California, all live except the Hollywood Strayhorn music that was actually recorded in my apartment.

[Ben] When/where was Breaking the Silence recorded? How has the response to your latest disc been?

[Willie] The response to the cd has been very positive, the most we've ever had.

[Ben] How does it Feel being a Name; someone people look up to; filling up concert halls? I'll bet even your dog is impressed.

[Willie] We may be Names, but not big enough to be bothered by it. And no, my dog is not impressed, he couldn't care less. Give him Alpo and he's as happy as any jazz hound.

[Ben] You've worked with some of the best people around. Ellington, Lionel Hampton. How about a couple backstage stories on some of these guys?

[Willie] A story about Ellington. I once asked him about his habit of eating his dessert first whenever he dined; his reply was, "Baby, life is So uncertain."

[Ben] You and your partner Dwike Mitchell left Lionel Hampton's band early in your careers. Why was that?

[Willie] Yes the Duo did leave our positions with Hamp early in our career. But the reason for being there was that it was the perfect support system for learning our craft and how to live the jazz life. When that was accomplished, it was time to be the Duo we had planned to be since our days of playing together in the Air Corps in the days of intense racial segregation of the U.S. military.

[Ben] Tell us a little about Dwike. He must be some great pianist, since you guys have been together for so long. What's the secret of your hit collaboration?

[Willie] Mitchell is the most naturally gifted pianist I know, a musician born to do what he has always been able to do, even in early childhood, he HAD it and still does. The secret of our long association: our beginnings in a military band in which Elvin Jones was the percussionist in his pre-Coltrane incarnation.

[Ben] You're giving away mp3 samples on your site, which is courageous in a way. Some record companies and artists are dead against the format. What made you decide to make use of this technology? Has there been any evidence that it's helped sales?

[Willie] MP3. What a great concept! I feel no threat from it for one good reason: I never got paid a recording royalty from any record company I ever recorded for, so why not give the music to young people--old folk aren't into downloading--who may get something from it? Viva MP3!

I don't know yet if sales of our cd is helped by MP3.

[Ben] Besides music, what does Willie Ruff live for? Hobbies? Wives? Cars?

[Willie] What I live for is music, teaching, sailing, writing, and a fleet of classic cars: 48 Packard, 58 Olds Super 88, 1964 Porsche 356sc roadster-- a Bitch!--a couple old Benzes and two old American trucks.

[Ben] If you could give up and coming jazz players a bit of advice for these competitive times of ours, what would you say?

[Willie] Advice to the jazz young: Never stop learning, stretching and teaching!

[Ben] Where can we see you play soon?

[Willie] The Duo celebrates the new Zinsser book and "Breaking the Silence" with a concert at the Yale Club in New York -- 8 pm Jan 19, 2001.

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