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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida.
Charles Richard Robinson
Volusia County, Oral History Project
Interviewer: Renee Buckenmeyer
Place of Interview: University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida
Date of Interview: July 4, 1988
Charles Robinson is a professional jazz guitarist. In this interview, he
describes his life as a musician in thel960s and 1970s. He was born in 1941.
and he has been playing the guitar since he was fifteen.
The main part of the interview is a description of the black jazz clubs of the
1960s and 1970s. A comparison of a well-known club in New York, the Apollo
Theater, and a small, local club in Orlando, the Quarterback Club, is given.
In this comparison, he explains how musicians of that time period used these
the small, local clubs to survive. In a description of a fellow musician, he
discusses a manner of teaching jazz improvisation.
The biography contains supplementary biographical information taken from a
phone interview conducted on August 1, 1988. This information describes his
past education and current musical focus.
B: This is Renee Buckenmeyer and I am interviewing Charles Robinson, a jazz
musician. Today is July the fourth. We are at the University of Florida
and this is for the University of Florida Oral History Program. What is
R: Charles Richard Robinson.
B: Who are your parents?
R: Marie and Jay Robinson.
B: Where are you from?
R: I was born in Newark, New Jersey.
B: Where did you go to elementary school?
R: Jersey City and other places, Washington, D.C., Colorado, Long Island,
B: When did you first become interested in music?
R: Around the age of twelve.
B: What brought on this interest in music?
R: I am not sure. I had been interested even before that. At twelve, I
first started trying to play instruments.
B: What instruments did you first try to play?
R: At that time, harmonica and ukulele.
B: When did you start playing the guitar?
R: When I was fifteen.
B: What made you decide on the guitar?
R: I saw a good deal on one in a pawn shop.
B: Were you involved in band or any activities like that when you were in
R: In high school, yes.
B: Like what?
R: A little blues band in high school.
B: And what was your first job as a musician?
R: My first job was probably at a teenage club in Orlando.
B: Was that with your own band?
R: It was with the same high school band.
B: Did you take lessons for the guitar or did you teach yourself?
R: I am primarily self-taught, but over the years I have studied with Charlie
Haden [jazz bass player],Don Cherry [jazz trumpeter], also C. Major,
Clyster Major [jazz saxophonist], who I have worked and studied with.
B: When you first started playing professionally, what type of music were you
R: Professionally, I have played a lot of rhythm-and-blues, jazz.
B: When you first started, as a teenager?
B: And now what type do you play mostly?
B: What type of jazz? Any particular type mainly or that you prefer?
R: I play, I guess they would call it avant-garde jazz [Term from early 1970s,
now called free form or "The Music"]. It is kind of a mixture of all the
things I have experienced up till now put together.
B: The people you mentioned that you studied under before, which one of them
did you think helped you the most?
R: Each of them contributed.
B: Like how did Charlie Haden help?
R: Charlie Haden stressed tradition, stressed the jazz tradition, going back
as far as you could go and studying everyone up to this point to see where
it all came from, what it has gone through and where it is going.
B: Which one of them did you prefer working with?
R: I have worked with a lot of fine musicians. There are a lot of them.
B: Okay. Where do you mainly work?
R: At this time, concerts and nightclubs.
B: How would you go about getting a job at a nightclub?
R: You just have to go to the owner, show him your, I guess you call it a
resume, or whatever, your profile of yourself, and see if you can get the
job, or you can go through a booking agency. There are a lot of different
B: Did you ever go through an agency or have you always gone more one-on-one?
R: I did it all kinds of ways.
B: Do you make a lot of contacts as a musician that you feel help you get
R: That is how you get most of your jobs, through the other people that you
B: How do you establish contacts usually?
R: Through playing. You will get a call for one job, you will meet four new
people on this job. Two of them might call you up for other jobs where
you meet four other people, and it just branches out like that.
B: What other sorts of places have you worked? Have you ever recorded?
R: Yes, I have recorded in Chicago, Nashville, Atlanta, and New York.
B: With who?
R: All different types of groups. This was during the sixties.
B: Have you always played rhythm-and-blues and jazz or have you ever played
R: Yes, during the sixties I played some other types. I played more of a
variety during the sixties than at any other time.
B: Have you ever gone on the road with a band?
R: Yes, lots of times.
B: What was the first time you went on the road?
R: The first one I remember is with a jazz organist named Johnny King.
B: And around what areas did you go?
R: We went to Mississippi, New Orleans, then up to Illinois, then the drummer
and I left in Galesburg, Illinois.
B: Why did you leave?
B: What do you think of jazz clubs in Central Florida? Do you think there
are good opportunities for jazz musicians?
R: No, this is definitely not a good area for jazz.
B: What sorts of clubs are there in Central Florida and Orlando that do have
R: In Orlando, you have Valentine's, Brazils, ...
B: Long list.
R: Yes, right. They change up, it varies. It has never been real good for
jazz down here. In the earlier times, sixties, I played mainly in black
B: Is New York a good spot for jazz?
R: Yes, but also, there are a lot of musicians there.
B: Have you ever worked in New York?
R: Yes, I have. At the Apollo Theater.
B: And what was the Apollo like? Around when was this?
R: Late sixties. It was nice.
B: What sort of people did you work with?
R: I was backing a rhythm-and-blues singer(Dee Clark) at that time.
B: So, were you a regular in a band, or a replacement?
R: I was an accompanist. The band there at the Apollo was a house band.
They had a lot of players from Count Basie's and Duke Ellington's band. I
would come in and show them the arrangements and then play behind the
singer I was working for.
B: Did you always play with the same singer?
R: At that time, I had been on the road with him for a year and a half.
B: What do you remember about the Apollo?
R: It was just a neat place to play. The shows ran all day long. They would
have one show and then show a movie, then you would come back, but you
would have that time off while the movie was going so you could walk
around Harlem and see what was going on. Like across the street,
upstairs, they had Daddy Grace's Church, which had a big band. They would
be up there playing. You could hear it down on the street. It was pretty
nice. Plus there were jazz clubs all in that neighborhood, you could go
around and sit in after the show. Everybody knew you were in the show at
the Apollo, so you could come right up and play.
B: Do you get much work going and playing at jam sessions, establish many
R: It can happen that way for you too. You can go in and play at a jam
session, somebody likes the way you play.
B: How would you describe a jam session?
R: It is just a bunch of guys playing. Find some tunes which they know in
common and improvise, play the music.
B: Does jazz involve a lot of improvisation?
B: Did you go to college?
R: Yes, I did.
B: Which one?
R: I attended the University of Florida for a year. Then I went back to
school later on at the University of Central Florida in the seventies and
received a degree in sociology.
B: Why did you not major in music?
R: When I went back to school, I had already been a musician for around
fifteen years and what was happening in the schools at that time were
things that I did not quite agree with and so I did not quite fit into the
B: Do you think that you learned more from experience or from teachers?
B: Do you think that is how most musicians acquire their knowledge?
R: No, there are a lot of different ways. For some the schools are better
they relate better to that. For me it did not work that way.
B: Do you read music?
B: Have you been reading music since you started?
R: No. I am self-taught. I learned along the way.
B: Do you write music?
B: What types of things do you write?
R: Just tunes. I do some arranging too.
B: What do you mean by arranging?
R: That is where you would take a tune, say you have six or seven pieces, you
write out an arrangement for them.
B: When you work in a jazz band, do you prefer them to be small, like trios,
or do you like the larger bands better?
R: I have always preferred the smaller groups, but I have done some work with
big bands. At times, that is fun too.
B: Which instruments do smaller bands usually consist of?
R: It could be a lot of different combinations. It could be guitar, bass,
drums, saxophone, trumpet, tenor sax, or anything. But the essential is
the rhythm section, the bass and drums at least. Even then you can work
with just bass and guitar.
B: How often do you practice?
R: About a minimum of four, a maximum of eight hours a day.
B: How do you usually practice, with other people or alone?
R: My personal practice is alone, but if I am with a group that has some
pretty involved arrangements, then I would have to rehearse a lot with
B: In Volusia County, are there many jazz clubs?
R: None at the moment. There is one Clancy's in New Smyrna.
B: Was there any job when you were younger that left a really great
impression on you?
R: Yes, lots of these jobs. Like I said, the Apollo, playing in New York,
playing in Chicago.
B: Like what in Chicago?
R: The theater jobs. The Regal Theater there. The Howard Theater in
Washington, D.C. I guess the job that left the deepest impression was
playing with Elvin Jones [jazz drummer] and Allen Ginsberg [poet] when they
came down here a few years back. I played a recording session with them.
B: Why did that job leave such a great impression on you?
R: Well, they are both giants in their fields. It was just nice to play with
people like that. It was kind of an unusual recording session.
B: Why was it unusual?
R: Well, it was just guitar, drums, and a poet reading his poetry.
B: Do you ever work what is considered a regular job, instead of your usual
R: I have had to work day jobs, but I prefer not to.
B: When did you decide that music would be your career?
R: When I was about sixteen, I guess.
B: What made you decide so young?
R: I just liked it.
B: Did your parents encourage you to be a musician?
R: No, I guess they foresaw what was in store for me.
B: What was in store for you?
R: Music can be good and it can be bad. You can be out of work a lot. It is
up and down. But I have enjoyed the experience up to this point.
B: Do you think most jazz musicians consider success as monetary?
R: No, not the ones I have met. They are in it just for the music. The
money, I do not know any that would turn the money down, but it is not
their main consideration.
B: Are there any people that you have worked with locally that you have
enjoyed working with?
R: Yes, Ira Sullivan [jazz musician; saxophone, flute, trumpet]. I enjoyed
playing with him. There is a piano player down in New Smyrna, Harold
Blanchard, saxophonist John "Spider" Martin and a drummer over in the
Tampa-St. Pete area, Majid Shabazz. There are quite a few. C. Major. I
always enjoyed working with him. He is dead now. He used to come up here
to the University of Florida and give clinics.
B: And what did he play?
B: Was that his real name?
R: No, his real name was Clyster Major. When I was working in the black
section in Orlando, he was the band leader and most of what I know
about music I learned from him. He had a master's degree from Columbia
University in music education. But he did not teach in the traditional
manner. There was nothing ever said about written music or any of those
things. He taught more in the African tradition. People find their own
part in this type of teaching. Rather than a part being put in front of
you and you interpreting it...
B: He encouraged improvisation.
R: Yes. And later on when I studied with Don Cherry, especially Don Cherry,
his methods were exactly the same as C. Major's.
B: Have you ever played any other instrument?
R: I play a little bit of bass, not that much. I started out with harmonica
and ukulele when I was a kid. Not anything to brag about.
B: So, you enjoy playing the guitar?
R: Yes, I do.
B: Do you ever experiment with other types of music?
R: Other types of music? During the late sixties, early seventies, I played
a lot of jazz fusion, they called it then.
B: What is fusion?
R: It was sort of a mixing of rock-and-roll and jazz.
B: You were saying before about playing the black section of town. Is there
a difference between the jazz clubs in black sections and white sections?
R: Yes, there was a very big difference. The audiences were more appreciative
of the music, seemed to understand what we were doing a lot better.
B: In the black section?
R: Yes. Also, the type of jazz which we played there was very different from
what was going on in the white clubs. I always considered what was
happening over in the white clubs, down here at least, a kind of cocktail
music. So, I mainly worked the black clubs. In fact, I found later that
what I had learned along the way was not transferable to the white clubs.
B: The style was not the same?
R: Yes. Different points of reference, the phrases have different meanings
to different people. I do not know how to explain it, but all I know is
that is the way it is down here right now.
B: When you were on the road, what other musicians did you have a chance to
R: When I was around Little Rock, I worked with a very fine pianist, Sonelius
Smith, who later on went on to New York and worked with Roland Kirk [jazz
saxophonist], and also recorded some albums with Andrew Cyrille [jazz
drummer] and a lot of other people. In Chicago, I played with Philip
Upchurch, a very good guitar player. Around New York, Idress Muhammed, the
drummer, a lot of guys around there. Down here, Hakim Jmi, the bass
player. In Miami, Frank Foster [saxophonist]. In Orlando, at the
Quarterback Club, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis [saxophonist], Red Holt [drummer],
the drummer with Ramsey Lewis [pianist], PeeWee Ellis. He left Miami with
James Brown's band playing rhythm-and-blues and later on went to San
Francisco and started a group with Dave Liebemen [saxophonist]. Then,
later, after that, he went to London to produce Rod Stewart. Just a lot of
different guys over the years.
B: You mentioned the Quarterback Club a few moments ago. What is that?
R: At that time, that was my mainstay. I used to go on the road. When I
would get off the road, I would go back to the Quarterback Club and work
with C. Major.
B: Around when was this?
R: This was all through the sixties and early seventies.
B: What was the Quarterback Club?
R: It was a black club which also brought in jazz groups. They had Count
Basie and they brought in the best rhythm-and-blues groups. We had an
organ trio and we would alternate with the groups they brought in. We
would play jazz and they would go on and do their shows, and on the
breaks, we would go on and play jazz again. It is a nice environment for
B: How would you describe the typical black club?
R: Describe the typical black club of that time? Usually a variety of
things. It depended on where the club was, what city.
B: What was the Quarterback Club like?
R: We alternated with other acts. It was almost always a jazz group in
every club you would go to, that alternated with the rhythm-and-blues
B: Was the main focus of these clubs music?
R: It was not so much that they were fancy places, but the best music
was always there. That was the backbone of the whole industry. There
were plenty of other guys besides myself that when they could not go on
the road or do anything else, that was home. The pay was not that good,
but the job was there. You could play whatever you wanted, you had a lot
B: Is that hard to find, places that give you a lot of freedom now?
R: Yes. Later on, different laws were passed allowing blacks to go to white
clubs and they kind of left the clubs in the ghettos. The places were
not doing as good anymore and that whole scene kind of folded up.
B: Now, what is it like?
R: Now, it is different. Things have switched more to concerts. There are
more local jazz concerts you can play on. That was not happening back
then. As for real playing, that mainly happens in peoples' houses because
you have to bend now. At least down here, I do not know what is happening
in New York. But down here you have to bend a lot to the club owner's
wishes in the jazz clubs which they have now.
B: What are your plans for the future as far as jazz?
R: I am still trying to get recorded. There is a possibility that I might go
to New York next year, try it around there for awhile.
B: Was there anything else that you would like to say?
R: Not that I can think of.
B: Thank you very much.
The following was taken from information obtained from an interview of
Charles Robinson by Renee Buckenmeyer on July 4, 1988, and a phone interview
of Charles Robinson by Renee Buckenmeyer on August 1, 1988.
This Interview is with Charles Richard Robinson, a jazz guitarist in
Central Florida. The purpose of this interview is to obtain information about
jazz music in Florida.
Charles Robinson was born on November 29, 1941, in Newark, New Jersey.
His father, Jay Robinson, was a major in the United States Air Force and his
mother, Marie, was a nurse. Because hie parents were in the air force, he
moved frequently and attended a variety of elementary schools. Robinson found
the moves enjoyable, but he disliked the adjustments to new schools.
Robinson first began playing musical instruments around the age of
twelve, when he first received a ukulele for Christmas. As a teenager, he got
his first job as a professional musician at a teenage nightclub.
In 1959, Robinson graduated from Winter Park High School. He attended
the University of Florida for one year and then quit to pursue his musical
During the early 1970s, Robinson decided o return to college to get a
degree in music. While at the University of Central Florida, he found he
disliked their method of teaching music. It was too technical and it tried to
force the music into some type of system. He switched his major to sociology
and finished his degree.
Robinson is now working in Central Florida as a jazz guitarist. Although
the South has never been a good area for modern jazz, there is more of a
demand for it now than in the past. Robinson has played a variety of types of
jazz, such as be-bop and fusion. He now plays "The Music", also known as free
form of avant-garde jazz, which uses the other types of jazz as a basis for