|All interviews were taped and documented. They are available through the Reference Department of the Teaneck Public Library. The Library is not responsible for the accuracy of the statements nor does it necessarily endorse the opinions expressed.|
|INTERVIEWER:||Clifton B. Cox|
|DATE OF INTERVIEW:||August 29, 1985|
|TRANSCRIBER:||Jackie Kinney (12/1985)|
This is Clifton Cox representing the Teaneck Historyl Project. I will be interviewing Mr. Wally Richardson. August 29, 1985.
(I) Wally, why did you come to Teaneck?
(N) Well I like Teaneck. I first came as I remember my wife and I came over to a party. At that time, we lived in Corona.
(I) Corona, New York?
(N) Yes. On the island. And we came over to a party at a lady named Rosemarie McCoy who lived here in Teaneck. She's been here longer than I have. And we liked the surroundings here. As a matter of fact, Rosemarie is a songwriter. She wrote some very famous songs. And a person that you could probably talk to later.
(I) Of course you are a well known musician and you are also a teacher of music in the township of Englewood, right?
(N) Well I teach in Englewood now after three years of teaching in Teaneck and before that, as far as being a well known musician, you might call me a journeyman. I've worked with a lot of well known people and
(I) Some of them are who would you say? ...
(N) Well I worked in the studios recording a lot in the 50s, 60s and early 70s. And I had the opportunity to work with different types of artists. At that time, there was the rock or rhythm and blues artists likes James Brown, Willis Jackson and then the ,jazz artists like Sarah Vaughn and Joe Williams, Bad Jones, Neil Hefty and Louis Armstrong.
(I) There are some popular people there. Some of the giants.
(N) And some of these people I did albums or short performances because I was a freelance artist and I never stayed with any group for a great length of time.
(I) And your instrument is what?
(I) OK. What do you think of the school systems of Teaneck?
(N) Well the Teaneck school system I think is a good system. It is like a market, some years are better than others. You get different people coming through at different times and therefore there is some fluctuation in the standard but I find that the availability in the Teaneck system is tremendous. The things that they have to offer. And that any student who is motivated can achieve quite a bit in the Teaneck system.
(I) Of course, Teaneck was one of the first towns to really get with the balancing of integration and that sort of thing. Right? Weren't they one of the pioneers in that sort of thing?
(N) Well if I remember, I knew the fellow who wrote a book about Teaneck. I forget his name. About the suburbs and how it dealt with integration and what have you. But aside from that, the system was pretty aggressive in achieving or making a great effort in achieving some form of a balance in the area.
(I) And didn't you, when you were getting your practice teaching, didn't you have something to do with the young people in getting them together in music and
(N) Well I chose Teaneck to do my observation.
(I) OK, observation work. OK.
(N) And fortunately after graduating from Rutgers, I came right into Teaneck and with the Magnet School. And they were looking for someone who had a different music program than the one that existed in the system. And I came on with jazz, American and Latin music.
(I) So you were pioneering this new phase of music in other words, a little slight direction?
(N) In the Teaneck schools.
(I) In the Teaneck system, right.
(N) And the program worked quite well. It is just that the government funds subsided and so did the program. But it was a good program and I was fortunate to get a lot of young people who otherwise wouldn't have been educated in music, high school level, to reading music and preparing for college music programs.
(I) Yeah, sure, sure. And of course now you're teaching over in I Englewood.
(N) Right. I went from, when that program ended in Teaneck, then I went into the Englewood system where I am now for the past four years, going into my fifth year.
(I) Are you innovating any new ideas or do they have a set program that you have to follow there or
(N) Well no. Most of it was left to myself. Fortunately I was at the middle school there and Dr. Henley Truitt is principal there and he knew my work and he gave me a free hand.
(I) Which is good, yeah.
(N) So what I did, I have a lot of ideas about teaching but then I have to take into consideration the age of the students, the materials and equipment I have to work with and the amount of material that these students can absorb in, two years so therefore I try to include a balance in the program and with some room for challenge, so that the students can be challenged musically as well as learn some of the basics of music and the multi-cultural aspects of music.
(I) Right. Do you think music is as much a part or should be a part of the school curriculum as well as sports or to give a youngster that rounded background I suppose that ...
(N) Well I might say they should have sports as well as music.
(I) OK. All right.
(N) But people don't realize how important music is until, if you think in terms of not having any music on your television while these plays are going on or just no music in your car, your radio, you go to the movies, there is no music. If you go to a Broadway play, there is no music. Then you would, if you think in terms of that, then you could really see how important it is to have music.
(I) There would really be emptiness because music sets the mood, sets the tone and gives you just, it almost tells the story really I guess.
(N) Well actually music as you say sets the mood and puts emphasis on the feelings, it creates a danger, it creates the suspense, it creates the happiness and especially when it comes to children, I mean when you listen, I've worked on Sesame Street for a while and that's when I really got into the importance of the different instruments.
(I) I was going to ask you about that because you were one of the first persons on Sesame Street, were you?
(N) Yes, in the music, the band. When they, in the early stages of Sesame Street.
(I) Do you know Bob McGrath?
(N) I can't say I know Bob McGrath.
(I) Yeah. He lives here in Teaneck.
(N) I've heard about Bob.
(I) He is on Sesame Street.
(N) Well let me tell you the reason why I might not know him because we were, I was working with Joe Riposo who had a lot to do with Charlie Brown. One of the creators. And we were dealing Skitch Henderson's New York, we was the backup group on Channel 5. And we used to do some albums and backup for Bob McAllister. A lot of children's music. And at that time, we would go in and put the music tracks down. And the actors would come in later.
(I) To act to the music.
(N) To act to the music. So that's why I didn't. get to
(I) Get a chance to meet these persons and people in person.
(N) But I remember when they had Sesame Street Day in Teaneck several years ago and I know that Bob McGrath was involved in that.
(I) He's quite an interesting person because he used to sing with not Skitch Henderson but the other group, the Pennslyvanians.
(N) Fred Waring.
(I) Fred Waring and then he was also with the other guy here in New York that had that group. He became one of the lead singers. Now what is the makeup of your family. There is your lovely wife Vivian and who else makes up your family?
(N) I have one boy Jason. He went through the Teaneck school system.And my wife is a registered nurse in Englewood Hospital. She's a Lincoln Grad from the Bronx, came up through the ranks in nursing for several years. And my boy is now in the service. Army. And he is stationed in Hawaii at this time.
(I) Well that's nice. Nice place.
(N) He had an opportunity to go visiting this summer and he is looking good and healthy and that was the most important thing.
(I) What would you like to see happen in Teaneck if you are a homeowner and property owner in Teaneck as far as the government of Teaneck? Would you, any particular area you'd like to see an improvement or
(N) Well I am glad you said any particular area. I think we could start right here in the northeast because when I first moved there were so many services that I don't see in the northeast but I see in other parts of town. In Teaneck. And that's a simple cleaning up of areas owned by the municipality that are allowed to just grow out of hand. And some of the pickups, such as furniture and things we have that twice a year I believe at one time and I think this helps the community stay clean and organized.
(I) We only have one pickup. Right.
(N) And people do winter and spring cleaning and you can keep your property together when you can get junk out of it and cut down on fire hazards and such things.
(I) That's a worthwhile observation. Yes.
(N) A lot of things are contingent upon cleanup. As far as safety, cleanliness.
(I) Is there anything particular you'd like to see done in the school system, any additional programs you'd like to see come forth?
(N) Well, are we talking about Englewood or Teaneck?
(N) Teaneck, I've been out of Teaneck for four years now. Out of the school itself. When I left it, it was well stocked with programs. There is one thing I would really like to see in Teaneck. The high school being mostly a college prep school is not really thinking of some of the students who may not be college oriented.
(I) College material.
(N) Yes. I guess college material would be the word. Well it is hard to say college material because maybe they are not ready at this point. They may be college material but what kind of college material? Teaneck leans towards liberal arts more or less than a totally rounded program as far as some of the trades. The shops and
(I) You are saying they should be geared for more specialization?
(N) Right. Some special career courses. I know they utilize Bergen Tech for some of that and it is difficult for me to know to what extent but I think I just feel that the system should think a lot in terms of career oriented programs as well as the highly motivated college programs.
(I) Of course they have said that young people today, to really get a job, they have to specialize a little more and maybe not go into the liberal arts sort of direction, they'll have to go into computers or
(N) Right. Well there is another side to that too. I have been hearing that when they get to some of the colleges now, that liberal arts in the college is becoming a big program now because the students are not sure which way to go and I understand that some of the companies would rather train students who are not already trained for programs so that they can train them their way. In other words, if they get a student who is a liberal arts, I mean he knows his reading and his writing and all the basics, and now this is good material for them to mold into the way they want their company working. And this is sort of on the order of the Japanese schools. They stress the basics. And all through public school and when they get to college, it seems to be like more easy for them. So then they just expound upon these general courses and then they go into corporations and companies and be molded.
(I) Of course they allow their people to have more of an input into the procedures and operations of their companies too I understand.
(N) This I understand. Also investing and they have a lot of incentives for workers as well although no system is perfect but they seem to have a good corporate
(I) It tends to give them a good motivation
(N) Although some of that can be backfired if they are not careful as far as locking someone into a company for so many years but maybe they have a realistic program and maybe we don't have a realistic program because here you can lose your job after so many years and be out on the street.
(I) Yes, that's true. Which is happening.
(N) Happening a lot. Men who have put a lot of time in jobs and just as they get about fifty four, find themselves with no jobs. Fifty five. And there they seem to gear their people towards another job or kind of look out for them.
(I) Do you find any similarity between the Englewood and Teaneck school systems? Or is there any likeness or differences that you think are quite outstanding or
(N) Well I think the benefits and some of the pay is a little lighter in Englewood. It seems to be exceptionally tight fisted money.
(I) Teaneck has a better paying scale than the Englewood system.
(N) I feel that way. And it could be because of the diverse backgrounds in Englewood. I think Teaneck has more of a balanced economic structure.
(I) I know they say that the teaching profession, there has to be an increase in the salary part of teaching because Houston right now has the shortage of teachers. They say they are really in a bad way.
(N) And New York too.
(I) New York is another place, yeah.
(N) I heard it is nationwide.
(I) It is nationwide. That is true.
(N) It is funny, I was about to get fired last year. I was on notice for three months and then they called me back so I was off notice I guess for three months and then they hired me back and all of a sudden this year, I hear there is a shortage of teachers in this whole area. And you know while in Hawaii I met other teachers who were on the tour, the vacation tour, and they were talking about some of the tested qualifications and tests they had to take, teachers from Texas and Indiana and North Dakota, you know, those areas are concerned about what is happening in education and it is all similar to some of the things that we are dealing with here.
(I) You could probably go to Houston and get a job like nothing.
(N) I understand Houston is well represented at the conventions because of their size of the state and they have a very good aggressive representation at most of the conventions, a large and aggressive one. So they seem to be very well on top, of their system.
(I) But they say one of the reasons why of course is the attrition, people retiring, but they say one of the main things is other industries are snapping up these school teachers into their private business. That's true.
(N) But I also heard on the radio, I think is was John Shoyer who said that that's one of the highest, that is going to be one of the highest paid areas in the future.
(N) No, I mean teaching.
(I) Teaching, yes. Well in one sense, they are one of the highest educated. So if you base it on that
(N) But it is so unfortunate, nurses and teachers really deal in some sensitive areas and don't get paid as well as they should.
(I) I do know now, you take a business administration graduate, he gets around $21,000 to start. A teacher gets I guess an average of around $14,000 as a beginner.
(N) I remember when I went into Teaneck, I was down around $11 so I had to crawl in there and if you didn't put in so much time, you could have just walked away.
(I) The only thing that I can see that maybe the reason why it is like this is because teachers only teach say ten months a year where they have that, it is almost like having two months vacation, you see, where in other industries you work twelve months of the year. Now that may have some bearing on it. I don't know.
(N) It is not really two months vacation. Your job is closed for two months because you don't get paid for those two months. And still it is too low. Because you need those two months, believe me, you need it because you are dealing with minds. You are dealing with students' minds.
(I) There is no question that it is the most important product is the young people that you teach. There is no question about it.
(N) And the tension that can accumulate by June is tremendous because the students get restless and the teachers get a little edgy so everybody has to be careful.
(I) What do you think about the system that some towns are having like in San Diego and Los Angeles, they have a year round school system but they have these three and four week breaks in between but they actually go to school year round. Would you like to see that system here?
(N) I am not sure but it sounds like you do need a little more time even in the middle of the year. Because there is not always vacation during those times. You have to catch up and get ahead. And reevaluate. There is no time for that in the middle of the year. Once you start in September, the only time you have to reevaluate anything is in July and August but then you need all of July to pull yourself back together and then August, everything is not available to get motivated again. Get your program started again. So it is, what do they say, six on one, half a dozen on the other.
(I) Could you name some of the Broadway shows you participated in, became a part of in your music?
(N) OK, well Broadway plays like DON'T BOTHER ME, I CAN'T COPE, I started that one in its infancy. And then I used to sub in it when it hit Broadway. Most of my plays experience have been mostly subbing or off-Broadway such as I can't think of some of them now but I have them all written down but they are not at my fingertips.
(I) You have to check your file. I was talking to Milt Jackson not too long ago and he was saying that as soon as his few years, he'd like to get back into teaching which he's never been, like yourself, you, he said he would like to get into teaching young people and of course he is strictly a jazz musician and he says that he'd like to
(N) Very creative.
(I) He'd like to get into that some day real soon.
(N) Well, I'd like to get back into performing eventually, you know. Do more performing. I did also teach in the Jazzmobile Workshop in Harlem for about ten, eleven years. That's a Billy Taylor project. And it has been managed by Babe Bailea, a former jazz drummer, who is now donating a lot of time to the administration of that project and they are opening up a big building in Harlem. It should be ready by now with its own recording studio and offices. And on the other hand, I've been teaching at IS 201 building which is now not functioning as a school but we give classes there to students and they pay maybe $30 for twenty or thirty five lessons.
(I) This is New York?
(N) Yes. Thirty five lessons I believe and they pay $30.
(I) And you are teaching them jazz and
(N) Right. Amongst many other excellent performers.
(I) Are they established musicians or are they beginners or ...
(N) You mean the students, yeah. The students can't be beginners totally because you are dealing in special area in a short amount of time so they should come with some background for their instrument even if it is classical music, whatever, just so that they know their instrument, they can communicate musically with the teacher. Then it is like bring your mind and then we can do something.
(I) In other words, you've got to be a well established musician and then you can teach him the jazz.
(N) Right. Well established student. And then we can get into improve and some of the other things.
(I) What do you call it, improve?
(N) Improvisation. If we had more time, then we would start students at the beginning. But so far, we will hold students who are very interested and give them, as a matter of fact, the guitar program, I used to take anybody that could stay in the room and it was myself and another guitarist, Ted Dunbar. He had the advanced students and I would feed them to him and then we brought in this Larry Lucy from the Manhattan community College, an old friend of mine who took on somewhat beginners, but he would feed me and now I feed Mr. Dunbar, Ted Dunbar. And we have a good guitar system there. But mostly the teachers are musicians who are in the jazz field, actors.
(I) OK. All right. I appreciate this information you've given us and I am sure the history project will be very appreciative in getting this information from you, Mr. Wally Richardson. Thank you very much.
(N) Can I add this? For about seven years, I was giving jazz lectures for the T.A.P. in Teaneck and that was on, we'd give performances and had jazz concerts and then I was giving lectures on jazz history as related to social and economical and historical aspects of black life as it related to all other life in America. And unfortunately it wasn't that well attended and I was a little let down by that.
(I) What do you think was needed to get a little more interest in that? Do you have anything you could put your finger on? Why it wasn't attended the way it should have been possibly?
(N) I would like to have seen it attended by more than the black community. We did get quite a few white participants as far as audience, people in the audience, but I was let down by the black folks who didn't come out and support it because it is a black contribution to American culture.
(I) That's true.
(N) And we seem to, for some reason, not take these things as seriously as we should.
(I) Maybe there should have been some way of getting next to the young people a little more possibly.
(N) Not necessarily because I think it is difficult to carryon a tradition if the adults don't have, if they are not up to date because
(END OF SIDE 1 - BEGIN SIDE 2)
(I) ... adult black people should have participated in this T.A.P. program.
(N) Right, they should take a very sharp and deliberate interest in black cultural contributions to the country. I know we are bogged down with corporate life and professional life but without the cultural meaning
(I) It is part of our heritage. Right.
(N) ... we can lose track of values. By that I mean, think of the monetary instead of cultural.
(I) Does this T.A.P. Program still have a program going now?
(N) Yes. But it is more oriented to classical music.
(I) Will there be any jazz do you think in the future?
(N) I don't know.
(I) Are you still a part of that program?
(N) No. Being to the lack of interest, I found that each year gets more difficult to get up for it, you know.
(I) Well of course. I mean if you didn't have the turnout for appreciation of it, it would tend to
(N) It is not that people didn't know about it. They just didn't come. Maybe they didn't think it was that important to attend. I don't want to speculate too much on why. I do know that many knew about it but just didn't show up.
(I) Is there anything else that you think that as far as music? Would you like to see more music in our school system or do you think there is enough being done in the area of music appreciation?
(N) In the Teaneck system, I sure would have liked to have seen something, a program comparable to the Megnet School program because I also think it helped out the concert band you know because many of the musicians out of my band
(I) What program was that you mentioned?
(N) The Magnet School.
(I) And where is the Magnet School?
(N) Well it is not there anymore. That was a government funded program. When the funds left, the program left. But it did feed Mr. Lovelli's program with the type of musicians he needed for his Broadway plays you know like young Frankie Brown, the drummer up there and some guitarists that were getting ready.
(I) Shows? So it was a training ground for young aspiring musicians?
(N) Yes, because Mr. Lovelli had no idea what the program was going to be like when I first came there but when he found himself with all of these well trained musicians, he could keep his eye on them from junior high school and watch them come up and knew how to utilize them by the time they got there.
(I) Sure, of course. It did sound like it was a worthwhile program.
(N) It really was. Mr. Delaney was very happy with it.
(I) OK Wallace. Appreciate this interview.
(N) Well thanks a lot for considering me. I hope it was helpful.
(I) I am sure it will be and the project, the history project is very appreciative. Thank you very much.
(N) Thank you.