Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians
Myrick, Bert (Wilbert)
Myrick spent his first 14 years in the Holbrook/Russell area on Detroit's near east side. His parents, Martha and Wyman, from Warrington, Georgia, moved to Detroit shortly before Bert was born. He's the third of five children, and Bert is the only one who became a musician or." His parents separated early in Bert's life and his mother struggled to sustain her family. She was very supportive of her children and encouraged each of them to follow their heart and, perhaps as a result of the freedom its members were given, the family has always been close. Bert's mom instilled in her children a clear-cut work ethic and a strong sense of family, values Bert took to heart.
Bert was eager to study drums during music class in grade school but another student gained the drum chair. Bert practiced on his makeshift kit at home. When he got to Cleveland Intermediate School at age 13, he received instruction on his chosen instrument, and his mother got him his drum set. Although he liked the big band radio broadcasts that were common during the mid 1940s, Myrick bought records by Charlie Parker and Miles Davis. While in Pershing High School, Myrick would "go around with different friends and we'd go to different houses and set up and play." He worked part time after school and, upon his graduation in 1947, joined the Army Reserves to help support his family. When he returned from the Reserves late in 1948, Myrick was self-conscious about his lack of formal music training and didn't have enough confidence to play music professionally. He confined his musical activities to practici ng and jamming with his friends. In addition, Bert (then eighteen years old) began to explore his options with the fairer sex and this occupied a lot of his time. Myrick was drafted in 1950 during the Korean conflict. He served as a heavy equipment operator in a Combat Engineering division. Driving a bulldozer or operating a crane, he helped build bridges and roads near the front lines. Surviving the war and developing confidence in his abilities, Myrick returned to Detroit a grown man. He found a burgeoning jazz scene, one that included many players such as Tommy Flanagan, Kenny Burrell and bassist Vishnu Wood who would shortly migrate to New York City with a major impact upon the city and its musicians. His first job was with the William Bell Quartet. Myrick began to sit in at clubs that hosted jam sessions, like the West End Hotel and the World Stage. He became friendly with members of Detroit's inner jazz circle. However, most of his early jobs were with less well known bands, like the Bell group, or with "jump" bands, like the one led by veteran saxophonist Floyd "Candy" Johnson. He paid attention to Johnson's onstage deportment and learned the importance of punctuality. Myrick recorded for the Fortune label with a group that included saxophonist and future Motown legend Thomas "Beans" Bowles. The band was used as a backup for various vocal groups, names of which have long since slipped from memory. Bert Myrick became friends with Elvin Jones, then playing at the Blue Bird Inn with the Billy Mitchell Quintet. Bert also made the now-legendary sessions in saxophonist Joe Brazil's basement, located just down the street from Myrick's house. "Everybody you can name used to come by those sessions," Myrick recalls. "I talked to Trane (John Coltrane) for about an hour, sitting on the basement steps. That's when he had left Miles and was looking for a drummer to go with him, but I had a family, two sons," he says, reflecting on his missed opportunity. Myrick got a "day job" shortly after he married Geraldine Moses in June 1954. Then, as now, a sideman's salary was not sufficient to support a family. Myrick wanted to get a job as a crane operator, but in 1953 a black man couldn't get such work. Bert got a job at the Chrysler Tank Arsenal instead, but he felt the regimented assembly line work was too confining. Myrick became friendly with pianist Barry Harris around 1955. Harris, the doyen of Detroit's beboppers, is one of the great jazz teachers, and Bert learned a lot from him. There was a special chemistry between the two musicians that sparked the music, although Myrick typically gives credit to Harris for most of the magic. Myrick and bassist Ernie Farrow worked in Harris's trio at the Blue Bird Inn in the late 1950s. The group expanded to a quintet on occasion with the addition of Kiane Zawadi (trombone / euphonium) and Sonny Red (alto sax). The trio also worked jobs in Cleveland, and the quintet once drove to Manhattan in Bert's car to record numbers from the soundtrack of "Flower Drum Song". When Harris pulled up stakes and moved to New York in 1960, Myrick joined pianist Terry Pollard's trio at the Hobby Bar. Pianist Kenn Cox, who first heard Myrick play at Joe B's, has been Bert's admirer and frequent rhythm section partner for thirty years. Myrick's musical vocabulary does not include genres other than jazz. He was one of the few musicians around town who was not involved with Motown Records during the 1960's. He was the first drummer with the newly formed Austin-Moro big band, and worked with vibraphonist Jack Brokensha's quartet. In 1964 Myrick, then 34, joined the quintet led by trombonist George Bohanon and tenor saxophonist Ronnie Fields. Bohanon and Fields worked in drummer Bill Hyde's quintet at Odum's Cave in April of that year. After the job ended, they formed their own band. Groups like Chico Hamilton's (with whom Bohanon played in 1962) and the Jazz Crusaders popularized the tenor / trombone front line and the sound was a favorite of Bohanon's. The rhythm section fluctuated at first but stabilized with Myrick, Austin and Cox. The quintet had two main jobs, the Village Gate, and Paige's Lounge, with short stays at the Drome Lounge, Chit Chat Lounge and an after hours gig at the West End Hotel. Myrick enjoyed -- thrived, even-- on the Coltrane-flavored repertoire, then very popular among musicians. "We were influenced by Coltrane from back to front, especially Ronnie," Cox recalls. "Ronnie and I did most of the writing for the group, and in addition we had several Coltrane numbers in the book." The band stayed busy with concerts and club dates and garnered good press. Bohanon and Fields made overtures to Limelight Records about the possibility of a recording contract. Limelight liked the idea but wanted a sound closer to the Jazz Crusaders, then selling many discs for Pacific Jazz Records. Ironically, the Crusaders recorded three of Cox's compositions ("Trance Dance" & "The Latin Bit" were issued), turned up at Bohanon-Fields rehearsals and incorporated some of what they heard into their own sound. Not surprisingly, Limelight's demand struck the wrong chord with the musicians and led to the breakup of the quintet, according to Myrick. Fields dropped out early in 1966, during their Village Gate gig. Miller Brisker was hired as a stand-in, but the revised quintet lost their steady job when the Village Gate dropped its music policy in September of that year. The band dissolved shortly after and the musicians scattered: Fields had a series of day jobs, moved to California and sold upscale automobiles in San Francisco. Bohanon, too, settled in California and established himself as a first-call studio musician. Cox, Austin and Myrick stayed in Detroit and continued to energize the jazz scene. Myrick and Austin remained with Terry Pollard. Bert continued with Terry Pollard's trio and freelanced occasionally. When Pollard disbanded her trio due to illness in 1978, Myrick found few jazz gigs, and he gradually became disenchanted with Detroit and wanted a change of scenery. He moved to New York City in 1978 and prospered on the competitive Manhattan jazz scene. His credentials are solid and include work with pianists Red Garland and Monty Alexander. He returned to Detroit in 1996 to care for his mother. Since his homecoming Bert has conducted drum clinics and seminars, and was a member of the house trio at Baker's Keyboard Lounge. Recently he's led his own group at Baker's, plays with many Detroit and Ann Arbor musicians and works steadily with pianist Alma Smith's trio.
Material from a concert at the University of Michigan student union on April 4, 1965. It was recorded by Kenn Cox and produced by drummer Bud Spangler. It was released in 1974 under Myrick's name.
This Entry by Jim Gallert