SMITH: Have you ever felt that jazz was seen as African American music, and therefore, African Americans should go first?
DAVE: You know, that’s a strange thing, because that question is going to be asked forever. And the answers are going to change, as historians know more, or know less, or buy the whole myth. But for me, all my heroes were black – Duke, and Art Chano – the great pianist, Teddy Wilson. Billy Kyle, who was a hero of mine, played with Louis Armstrong. And Fats [Waller.] So naturally you think of all these great black musicians. Jack T. Garden was my real brother musically. And then I think of all the wonderful things that black musicians admired about white musicians. Like George Shearing said, ‘I can’t tell the difference, ‘you know, because he’s blind. And he said one time, ‘I don’t care if somebody is purple, as long as they can play.’ And that’s the answer.
SMITH: But when you hit the cover of Time did you felt guilty, uneasy, ambiguous about being a white guy, singled out to celebrate the new jazz, as opposed to Ellington?
DAVE: You know, you’re not the only one that asks that question. I was on a panel one time, and that question was asked, and it was all jazz musicians and me. Lionel Hampton was there, Billy Taylor, I forget who else, maybe Max Roach. And they were saying, it’s difficult for white guys to feel this and feel that and play jazz, and then the person running the discussion said, well, how about Dave? And Lionel answered and said, ‘oh, we don’t mean Dave. He’s got his own thing going.’ And he just waved it off. And you see, that has happened to me all my life, is that I’ve been accepted. One time, I was doing a show in Rotterdam with Willie the Lion Smith, who was great, wonderful — he influenced Duke Ellington and a lot of other great musicians — and [there was] this Dutch MC …and he said, ‘Mr. Willie the Lion Smith, isn’t it true that no white man can play jazz?’ And Willie said, ‘meet my son,’ meaning me. And that dismissed that question right away.