Pamela York – Lay Down This World

Pamela offers the listener an exciting journey with Lay Down This World: Hymns and Spirituals, a beautiful collection of sacred music which precedes the 20th century. Each melody has been reharmonized and reinvented into a modern context. Whether playing the ancient Celtic melody of “Be Thou My Vision,” Martin Luther’s famous Reformation hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” or the moving spiritual, “Deep River,” Pamela creates an atmosphere that is sometimes reflective, sometimes rousing, but always breathtaking. Using her tradition as a jazz pianist she tackles these traditional songs with imagination and conviction, proving her salt as a skilled arranger who can inventively breathe new life into these timeless traditionals.

While other jazz artists may boast similar accomplishments—a degree from the prestigious Berklee College of Music, being a finalist in the Mary Lou Williams Jazz Piano Competition in 2006 and 2007, or winning the Great American Jazz Piano Competition in Jacksonville, Florida, in 2007—few musicians can craft album statements as complete as Pamela. She accurately describes her style as “one foot in the tradition and one in the future.” As a recent interview praised, “While playing tunes made famous by some of the legendary masters, Pamela York makes her own statement without being a pretender.” In Pamela, both newcomers and jazz aficionados will discover an exceptional talent whose future is well worth continuing to watch on her journey of ascent. As she tours throughout the United States and Canada hoping to reach new audiences through her music, Pamela York looks forward to sharing her jazzful heart with you at a live performance and through her latest offering, Lay Down This World: Hymns and Spirituals.

Matt Savage – Welcome Home

My next album, Welcome Home, will be released November 9, 2010, with a CD release concert at the Regattabar in Boston on the 10th (plus a big radio interview on WICN on the 8th!)

Recorded in Brooklyn, NY at Systems Two Recording Studio in July 2010, Welcome Home features the legendary Bobby Watson on alto sax, Jeremy Pelt on trumpet, Joris Teepe (John Funkhouser on some songs) on bass and Peter Retzlaff (also Yoron Israel) on drums. The album is all original compositions, recorded with a trio and (for the first time) a quintet!

This album is all about the different places I’ve seen in my life (my organic farm in New Hampshire, New York City, Berklee College of Music in Boston). No matter where I am, I still feel at home, and that’s what this album describes. The album changes moods many times, ranging from “epic” piano ballads to trio pieces to upbeat quintet showcases. The first single from the album will be “Big Apple Blues,” a funky piece (featuring some fun trumpet/sax/piano trades) from my five-part “Big Apple Suite.”

An Interview with Steve Turre 2001

Steve TurreSpeaking of Rahsaan with
Steve Turre
by Mark Ruffin

At about the same time that Steve Turre began a series of concerts this year celebrating the music of the late Rahsaan Roland Kirk, the good people at Label M re-issued Here Comes The Whistleman. That 1965 recording was Kirk’s debut for Atlantic Records and is available on cd for the first time.

Three years after that recording, in San Francisco, Kirk met Turre, then a teen-age trombone player, and took him under his wing, and helped him to develop his own wings. With his Rahsaan Roland Kirk tribute band, Turre is repaying the favor to the great saxophonist, who died in 1977, by playing his music to a new generation of jazz lovers. Mark Ruffin caught up with Steve before an engagement in Chicago.

JazzUSA: Can you tell us a bit about the Rahsaan Roland Kirk tribute concerts that you’re doing?

ST: Well, the players first. The rhythm section is Buster Williams, Mulgrew Miller and Lewis Nash. The front line- of course, we have to have three horns, because Rahsaan played three horns at once, so we have three guys up there doing the work of one man. (laughs) We have Gary Bartz on alto and soprano saxophones, James Carter on tenor saxophone, clarinet and flute, and myself, Steve Turre on trombone and shells.

JazzUSA: That’s a hell of a band.

ST: And we’re just playing the music of Rahsaan Roland Kirk. We’re going to play his compositions. So, it’s kind of a tribute that I’ve put together. I did the arranging, but it’s all his compositions. It’s not my music. It’s a tribute to Rahsaan and the wonderful music he left here for us.

JazzUSA: Is this a one-shot deal?

ST: No, we’ve played in Europe and we’re heading to the west coast later this summer.

JazzUSA: Are you recording this band?

ST: I’m going to record it, but I just did a record with a quintet, trombone and tenor saxophone. That’s coming out first, but I am going to record this band.

JazzUSA: You know man, a lot of folks don’t know that Rahsaan was a great lyricist, and that he wrote the words to Stanley Turrentine’s Sugar and Charlie Mingus’ Goodbye Porkpie Hat?

The WhistlemanST: Oh man, he could do it all, lyrics, music, orchestrations. Of course, he couldn’t write it down. He did this piece for strings and big bands and everything, and he got together with my wife (cellist Akua Dixon) and told her what to write down, every note, and she wrote it down on paper and they performed it at Town Hall. This was back in the 70’s. It was beautiful.

JazzUSA: Have you and Miss Dixon been married that long.?

ST: 23 years.

JazzUSA: That’s great. How did you meet Rahsaan ?

ST: The first time I heard him play was fall of 1966. I graduated from high school in the spring of ’66, and then that fall I went to college at Sacramento State in California, and I had heard that Rahsaan was going to be in San Francisco at the Jazz Workshop. So I drove down there on a Saturday, and to the Saturday night performance at the club. Actually, you were supposed to be 21. I was 18. But I put on a fake mustache, came in early, paid my money, sat in the back and ordered a Coca-Cola, and they let me slide. They knew, but they let me slide. And Rahsaan blew my mind, so I stayed for the second show, and after the second show, he said, ‘thank you ladies and gentlemen for coming out. Remember, tomorrow afternoon, we’ve got the two o’clock session, bring the kids.’ So I went up to him afterwards. I just wanted to shake his hands and tell him how much I appreciated and loved what he did. We talked for a minute, then I said, ‘you’re having a session on Sunday.’ Then he said, ‘it’s not really a session. What it is, is a matinee, and they don’t serve alcohol and people can bring their children, so they can listen to the music. Why, do you play?’ I said, ‘well, yes, I play trombone.’ He said, ‘it’s not really a jam session, but if you want to play, come on down and bring your horn, and you can play music for the kids.’ So, I went down and sat in with him, and it clicked.

There are two people in my life where the first time we played together it just clicked. We phrased the same way. We breathe in the same place, without discussing it or nothing, we just knew. One was Woody Shaw and the other was Rahsaan, and I went on to work with both of them. So after I played that afternoon, he invited me to stay over and play that night, for the Sunday evening performance. And I stayed and played that night too. After that, every time he’d come through the Bay Area, which was at least a couple of times a year, he’d call me, and I go work with the group in a local club with him. Until later on, in ’73, I moved to New York. I came with Art Blakey. I sat in with Art in San Francisco, at the Keystone Korner, and he asked me to join the band. He brought me to New York in the spring of ’73. In ’72, I toured with Ray Charles, that’s when I first met Ray. Then, I came back to the Bay Area, and I hooked up with Woody, and Woody introduced me to Art, and that took me to New York. Then I ended up working with Rahsaan again, until he passed.

JazzUSA: Once you got to New York, you started working with Rahsaan regularly?

ST: No, I stayed with Art for a while. Then I went with Thad Jones/Mel Lewis, for a while. Then I went with Chico Hamilton for a while. Then, I went with Rahsaan. That was about, early ’75, I think.

JazzUSA: When did you start playing trombone?

ST: Oh, in the fourth grade.

JazzUSA: Did the instrument speak to you instantly?

ST: I knew I liked it. I think when I was in junior high, I knew music was going to be my calling. I always liked music. From the beginning, it was fun. It felt fun. I had a knack for it and I enjoyed it. And I played it as much as I could, because it was fun. I think in junior high, I knew that this is what I wanted to do, play the trombone.

JazzUSA: Coming up, what kind of music did you listen to?

ST: All kinds of stuff. My mom and dad met at a Count Basie dance. So they were big band fans. That was the pop music of their day. They danced to that. Before I was ten years old, I had heard the real Duke Ellington Orchestra, not the ghost band. Of course, Duke was there, and the whole saxophone section with Johnny Hodges and Harry Carney. I remember Harry Carney doing Sophisticated Lady and holding that note. Clark Terry was in Duke’s band at that time. Britt Woodman. Ella Fitzgerald was the guest vocalist and Coleman Hawkins was the guest soloist.

JazzUSA: Damn.

ST: Before I was ten years old, I saw that. And I heard the Basie band later that year. I think it was ’57 or ’58, somewhere in there. Basie had Al Grey, Benny Powell and Snooky Young and Thad Jones and Marshall Royal. I mean, it was one of the great bands. I also heard Woody Herman’s band, when Bill Chase was with him and Phil Wilson and Sal Nestico. That was a great band. I heard a lot of real music, big band wise. Also, my folks liked New Orleans traditional. We had a lot of Louis Armstrong records. I actually started improvising in the New Orleans traditional style. You know, they would listen to orchestral music too, and of course Latin music and Mexican music. Then when I was in high school, somebody gave me a J.J. Johnson record. At that point, it was all over. I said, ‘wow, what is this? I want to get with this. I didn’t even know you could play a trombone like that.’ I was blown away, so I started getting everything of his that I could find, and try to learn it, and see how you can apply that. Of course, back then, there weren’t any books of transcriptions, or no Real Book, or anything. I just used to get the records and wear them out, play along with the record. And it was really better that way, as far as I’m concerned, because you learn the music from the ear. You learn the nuances and the phrasing and the feel of where you place the rhythm and everything, rather than just looking at notes on a paper.

JazzUSA: Man, one day, last year, I was in New Orleans walking through the French Quarter, and I heard two screaming trombones. It was you and Al Grey. I could hear you guys a block away.

ST: Really?

JazzUSA: I felt like one of those kids in The Pied Piper, I just followed the sound.

ST: Man, you know he’s gone now. That is such a loss. I knew Al wasn’t well, but I didn’t expect him to leave us like that. And Britt Woodman left us this year too.

JazzUSA: Were those guys very influential on you?

ST: Definitely, but not like J.J. I just think J.J. is the father of the modern style, but Britt recorded with me. He’s on two of my records.

JazzUSA: Yes, he’s on that great shell choir record….

ST: The Rhythm Within?

JazzUSA: No, the self-titled one from just a few years ago.

ST: Yes, Britt’s on both the Steve Turre and The Rhythm Within. On The Rhythm Within, which is another shell choir record, with Herbie (Hancock) and Pharoah (Sanders) and Jon Faddis. There’s one tune on there that’s just a duet between the two of us. You see I love Lawrence Brown too, and Britt is the direct descendant of Lawrence Brown. He took Lawrence’s place in Duke’s band. I appreciate that approach. But I like all the different approaches. (laughs)

JazzUSA: How did you learn how to play shells? Where did that come from?

ST: Self-taught. You don’t learn that in school.

JazzUSA: So what did you do, just one day walk on the beach pick one up and blow?

ST: No, no, no, no. That was Rahsaan. You know how I said, whenever Rahsaan would come through town a couple times a year and I’d work the local club with him.

JazzUSA: Uh-huh.

ST: Every time he’d come to town, he’d have something a little different. He’d have a few different tunes. He’d bring a different instrument. Sometimes, he’d make them himself. One time he had the nose flute. Another time he had the black mystery pipe, which was a piece of black garden hose that he’d taped a funnel to the end of it, and put a saxophone mouthpiece at the other end of it. Then he’d cut some finger holes, and he played it something like a snake charmer instrument. That was the black mystery pipe. Another time he came, he had a shell and a gong. He would just hit this one note on the shell and circular breathe, because he was the man for that. Remember that b.s. they had on television about Kenny G holding the note for the Guinness Book of World Records. That was bullshit.

JazzUSA: Absolutely.

ST: (laughing) Purity bull, and he knows it too. Rahsaan, up there, where ever he is, knows it too. Rahsaan was the champ.

JazzUSA: He’s proven that on live recordings.

ST: I know. Prepare Thyself To Deal With A Miracle. Anyway, Rahsaan would hold this note on the shell, and then would intermittently hit the shell on the gong. It would be like a meditation. And it would cast this vibration over the room, and all of a sudden, the whole room was just still. And out of that, he would put the tenor in his mouth and come out with a real pretty ballad, you know, real whoosy, like Ben Webster. And it was really hip. But the sound of the shells just touched me. So after the gig I asked if I could play it. So I blew it, and I said, ‘aw man.” A couple of months later, I found one. At first, I played just the one note into it too. Then I found that if I put my hand in it, I could change the note and I realized that if I really wanted to play melodies, with some arranged pieces, I would have to get more shells. Then it was just a matter of trial, error and evolution. And as I evolved as a musician, I was able to hear how to make music out of the instrument.

Of course, I’m not going to play a Charlie Parker or a Coltrane tune, Donna Lee, Giant Steps, or nothing like that. I can’t play that on the shell. And I’ve had some people say, well it’s not a legitimate instrument because you can’t play Donna Lee on the shell. Well, I never heard Tricky Sam (Nanton) play Donna Lee on the plunger, but nobody says that about him. At first, I was very shy about bringing the shell out, because people used to accuse Rahsaan of being a gimmick. I was with him and we were very close friends, and I could see that it hurt him very deeply when people would accuse him of being a gimmick. He was sincere. He was real. That wasn’t no bull, it was beautiful music.

So I became sensitized to that issue, and I didn’t want to be called a gimmick with that. So I was, at first, very shy about bringing it out. Then I had an experience in the late 70’s. I went to Mexico with Woody Shaw. We played a concert in Mexico City, and a lot of my family came out. I invited them and they came to the concert. That night, Woody called a tune where I played the shells, and the people really responded and everything. After the concert, my relatives, we got together and had coffee and cake and stuff. We were talking and they said, ‘you know, your ancestors use the shells.’ I said, ‘what?’ They said, ‘you go to the museum.’ So I went to Mexico City where they’ve got a big archeological museum. They’ve got all the artifacts from the Mayan Aztecs and everything. And they had shell instruments, just like what I was playing. I was blown away. I said, ‘golly, no wonder I’m attracted to them.’ I decided then that I was drawn to this for a reason and I was supposed to do it, and I don’t care what people think, I’m gonna do it.

JazzUSA: So it has to be especially gratifying when you started placing high up in miscellaneous instrument categories in polls.

ST: Well, I appreciate what I’m doing. Sure, it’s good to be appreciated. But what really makes me feel I’m on the right track is not what any magazine says. I mean, that’s an honor and it’s good for business and I appreciate it. But what lets me know that I was on the right track was that Dizzy liked it. Dizzy not only featured me on the shells when I was with the United Nations Jazz Orchestra, but he also played on my record with the shells. And J.J. asked me to record with him, just playing the shells. Verve is still sitting on that. It’s still in the can.

JazzUSA: What kind of guy was Rahsaan?

ST: That’s a hard question because he had so many sides. He was so brilliant and such a mind that you just can’t put him in a bag. You couldn’t define him. He was beyond being defined. He could sit down and talk to you about Louis Armstrong or Sidney Bechet, and the next day have a deep conversation about Charlie Parker, then about Ellington. He’s the one who really turned me on to how bad Ellington really was. Then he might be talking about Cecil Taylor another day. He could play out. Remember that Mingus record Live At Avery Fisher, Rahsaan was on it, Jon Faddis and George Adams, where George Adams tried to go outside on Rahsaan. Rahsaan wiped the floor with him. He took that shit so far out, it was just incredible.

JazzUSA: He also liked pop music too.

ST: He liked music, if it was good music. He played some pop tunes, but he didn’t play any jive tunes. He played good tunes. He liked anything that was happening.

JazzUSA: As a person, was he jovial, sad, intense, always nice?

ST: He was unpredictable. Not only on, but off the bandstand. Sometimes, we would go into his house and we would rehearse and then we’d get to the gig and he wouldn’t play anything that we’d rehearsed. (laughs) He didn’t know what he was doing. He just let the spirit lead him. He didn’t have any preconceptions. He just went with the feelings. Another thing. He wouldn’t bit his tongue. He would tell it like it is. And that didn’t make him popular with the powers that be with the record companies and the television kind of people. In terms of the business establishment promoting him, they didn’t give him a lot of hype, because he told it like it is. During the 60’s and into the 70’s, there was a lot of protests going on, and he would tell it like it is. He had zero tolerance for racism. He was open to all people, if the spirit was right. Obviously, he was blind; he couldn’t see what color you were. But he could tell be the tone of your voice, where your spirit was coming from. He didn’t tolerate racism of any kind. He would speak out about it swiftly and set it straight. He was outspoken, but he loved to have fun too. He was a practical joker. He was a great teacher. He was so wonderful to me.

Marilyn Scott Sings The Stories Behind The Songs / Nightcap

Marilyn ScottSinging The Stories Behind The Songs
Marilyn Scott speaks about ‘Nightcap’
by Paula Edelstein

P.E.: Congratulations on NIGHTCAP Marilyn! What a stellar celebration of the Great American Songbook. Marilyn, when did you first fall in love with these unforgettable songs?

Match a classic song stylist with a deep love for jazz, blues, soul, timeless melodies and lyrics and a magical, genre-defying transcendence can’t help but blossom. Over the course of seven previous recording Marilyn Scott has established herself as one of contemporary music’s premier singer/songwriters. Over the years, she has carried on a quiet but steady love affair with the Great American Songbook and has worked with a variety of well-known producers including the incomparable George Duke. Marilyn’s rendition of “The Look of Love” from her 1998 recording titled Avenues Of Love, earned George Duke a Grammy nomination and with Nightcap, Marilyn and George team up again to offer her fans eight stunning versions of songs that traverse the musical spectrum.

With the support of Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, Brian Bromberg on acoustic bass, Ray Fuller, Dean Parks, and Dori Caymmi on guitar, Brandon Fields on sax, Dan Higgins on flute and sax, Rick Baptist on trumpet and Lenny Castro on percussion, Nightcap offers listeners an enjoyable musical experience. Whether kicking back and taking in the insightful lyrics of “Here’s To Life,” or enjoying the updated bossa beat on “I Wished On A Moon,” Marilyn Scott sings the story behind the song with passion, soul and purpose.

Marilyn: I think I appreciate the writing of what we call “standards” today — that is music from as far back as the 30s to the present time. There are so many categories of “standards” so I really tried to choose from the 40s-50s era. I tried to pick things that are not overdone and at the same time reach for those that I connected to so that I could give them my own interpretation. I like a lot of songs but I can’t sing them as well as some can so I really try to reach for those that I can connect to.

P.E.: On Nightcap, you give your listeners the full range of moods – be it a song about frustration – “Yesterdays,” “Here’s That Rainy Day,” or songs about positive hope such as “Here’s To Life,” “Isn’t This A Lovely Day” or “Smile.” What is the most important aspect of a song for you – its melody, its ability to tell a story, its ability to withstand the test of time, or its ability to be reinterpreted in various musical styles?

Marilyn: Its message and the intermingling of the emotion from the chords that make that message hit your heart in a certain way so that it makes it something special for the listeners. That’s another reason that these songs are good for me because musically and lyrically they hit at the same time something that is true for me in my life. I think that is what draws us to any artist or any music that we like. When people like the music we make, we realize that it really can make a difference. With each new recording, I am able to further connect with old fans and make new ones and that’s a blessing. When I was recording Nightcap, I was sharing a part of my life through my favorite songs. While listening to my CD, I hope everyone can make it a part of themselves.

P.E.: Who were some of your early jazz vocal influences? Teachers?

Marilyn: Definitely Betty Carter, Sarah Vaughan, Etta James, Ella Fitzgerald, Joe Williams, Andy Bey. There were a lot of people that sang other styles of music and of course when you listen to their music, it undeniably has an effect on you.

P.E.: On Nightcap, you’re reunited with George Duke who earned a Grammy nod for his arrangement of “The Look of Love” a song on your AVENUES OF LOVE CD. But this marks the first time that Duke has produced and arranged an entire recording for you. What was is like working with him again?

Marilyn: Oh, I always enjoy working with him. I think he works so well with vocalists. He can just walk right through it and he brings out the best of your qualities. No matter who it is – whether it’s the percussionist or myself – he gets their input and he loves making music that way.

P.E.: He definitely has a chemistry with the artists he produces. There’s Brian Bromberg, Vinnie Colaiuta, and of course Ray Fuller. How did you recruit them for the Nightcap project?

Marilyn: Well, it’s not hard especially living in Los Angeles – knowing everybody, working with everybody, and living a musical life. So when you think of certain kind of projects that you want to put together, I know for myself, you think of those players you’ve worked with before.

P.E.: Marilyn, you’re well known on the session vocalist scene but as a leader, there is much more responsibility. What do you enjoy most about being a leader of your own ensembles?

Marilyn: I will always consider my friendship with the members of Tower of Power to be the most influential, as they helped teach me how to work in the studio and how to be a session vocalist. Now, as a leader, I’m thankful that I’m still around to be able to garner the likes of the people that I can play with and to make good music. I really can attribute it to the fact that I’m lucky and blessed to be in that position. I’m at wonder every time I have to pick up the phone and invite and everybody’s always gratefully saying, “let’s go.” So I think it’s a good time for making music now with so much bad luck that has hit the recording business over the last few year, I figure in a way, think they’re interested in reuniting people to make quality music and forgetting about making it the most expensive project ever. I think if you get quality people involved, it’s going to sound terrific and the musicianship is going to be able to shine because of it.

P.E.: Is there any one format that you enjoy most – producing, performing, writing?

Marilyn: With every project, it leads you to the next thing and with this one, it’s been almost like taking a step back. It reunites me with my some of my love of blues, R&B and great writing. It can be considered pop writing, jazz writing, etc. So it makes me want to do more of those things and write in those ways.

P.E.: You’ve an extensive background in musical theatre and motion picture soundtracks. Do you intend to return to the musical theatre or singing on film scores?

Marilyn: I’ve met incredible people in those fields and I had a great experience. I do a lot of poetry and a lot of writing of all types of songs. When you’re in this field, it really does embrace every aspect of it. So we all pick up the same brush, we all have some poetry skills or acting skills or whatever. I guess it’s whatever opportunity that walks your way or whatever time envelope that you put yourself into, that you find yourself artistically.

P.E.: Please give us some insight into the PRANA Foundation. I know that it teaches young people about racial tolerance and other aspects of living in a multi-cultural world.

Marilyn: It’s a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide funding for anti-bias education for children. Earlier this year, we partnered with the Anti-Defamation League in Los Angeles to help launch a program with the L.A. Unified School District called the Miller Early Childhood Initiative, which provides anti-bias training for teachers, caregivers and parents of pre-school children 3-5.

P.E.: Thank you so much for the interview and here’s to continued success with your career, the Prana Foundation and of course, Nightcap.

Marilyn: Thank you, Paula.

Reprinted with permission of…

The Life and Music of Jean Luc Ponty

Jean Luc PontyAn Interview:
The Life and Music of Jean Luc Ponty
by Paula Edelstein

Jean Luc Ponty is a pioneer and undisputed master of violin in the arena of jazz and rock. He is widely regarded as an innovator who has applied his unique visionary spin that has expanded the vocabulary of modern music. Ponty was born in a family of classical musicians on September 29, 1942 in Avranches, France. His father taught violin, his mother taught piano. At sixteen, he was admitted to the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris, graduating two years later with the institution’s highest award, Premier Prix. In turn, he was immediately hired by one of the major symphony orchestras, Concerts Lamoureux, where he played for three years. While still a member of the orchestra in Paris, Ponty picked up a side gig playing clarinet (which his father had taught him) for a college jazz band that regularly performed at local parties. It proved a life-changing jumping-off point. A growing interest in the jazz sounds of Miles Davis and John Coltrane compelled him to take up the tenor saxophone. Fueled by an all-encompassing creative passion, Jean-Luc soon felt the need to express his jazz voice through his main instrument, the violin.

Ponty’s notoriety grew with remarkable leaps and by 1964, at age 22, he released his debut solo album for Philips, Jazz Long Playing. A 1966 live album called Violin Summit united Ponty on stage in Basel, Switzerland with such notable string talents as Svend Asmussen, Stéphane Grappelli and Stuff Smith. In 1967, John Lewis of The Modern Jazz Quartet invited Ponty to perform at the Monterey Jazz Festival. Jean-Luc’s first-ever American appearance garnered thunderous applause and led to a U.S. recording contract with the World Pacific label (Electric Connection with the Gerald Wilson Big Band, Jean-Luc Ponty Experience with the George Duke Trio). Through the late-60s and early 70s, Ponty achieved mounting critical praise and popularity across Europe. In turn, the violinist soon found his signature talents in demand by top recording artists the world over. In 1995 Ponty, Al DiMeola and Stanley Clarke formed the RITE OF STRINGS and recorded an album under the same name. The tour was met with astounding success and once again in 2004, a new generation of fans are privileged to hear and see the original Rite of Strings concert at venues across the USA. In addition to the Rite of Strings concert tour, Jean Luc Ponty has released a DVD and CD titled IN CONCERT to coincide with the Rite of Strings tour.

As one of the most innovative electric violinists to ever grace a bandstand, Jean Luc Ponty electrifies his fans during this awesome “live” recording in Warsaw, Poland on October 23, 1999. Simply titled IN CONCERT, Ponty is joined by his touring band of William Lecomte on keyboards, Guy Nsangue Akwa on bass, Thierry Arpino on drums and Moustapha Cisse on percussion and together they deliver a powerful musical journey that will have listeners feeling as though they have been accompany the great man on this exemplary voyage. With the release of the audio CD and DVD of the same name, the two-volume set provides a fascinating insight into Ponty’s diverse repertoire, which remains unparalleled by many of his electric violin contemporaries. With its West African rhythms, French classicism, electric jazz and a superlative command of the many ranges of the violin, Jean Luc Ponty captures the many flavors of music in this exciting MUST HAVE event. We had the extraordinary privilege of speaking to the great Jean Luc Ponty about IN CONCERT, his life and his music.

P.E.: Jean Luc, thank you so much for the interview. Congratulations on the re-emergence of the Rite of Strings collaboration with Stanley Clarke and Al DiMeola in addition to the release of your latest recording and DVD titled JEAN LUC-PONTY IN CONCERT. What a remarkable job of providing both a historical overview of your development with Stanley and Al plus giving a new generation of fans a chance to see and hear some of your best concert performances from around the world. What are your thoughts on the Rite of Strings at this point of your career?

J.L.P.: The experience, to me, is better than ten years ago because it grew on us and we know each other better than we did when we first got together. We have a better grasp of the music – each of us have brought original compositions – we have thought about what we need to do to improve our more improvised direction.

P.E.: I’d like to give our readers some insight into your musical career. So let’s start with your major influences and why you chose to play the violin as opposed to another musical instrument and how you go into jazz?

J.L.P.: My father was a violin teacher and my mother was a piano teacher. It was an influence but I guess the vocation and the talent has to be there personally and you either have it or not. But since my parents were professional musicians, they knew how to direct me so that I would learn my instrument in the best way possible. They just started me out.

P.E.: Were you trained formally and with whom?

J.L.P.: Once I decided to become a professional, they sent me to the best school in Paris, France – Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris. I graduated from that school at age 17 and was going to become a classical musician. In fact, my vocation was to become a classical conductor – I love conducting. But before I could get into that, I got into jazz because I also played piano in the background. I chose violin as my main instrument when I was eleven and I stopped studying piano somehow. But whatever I do on the keyboards was extremely helpful when I wanted to start writing my own music later on. So to answer the question of how, I got into jazz… I also had learned to play the clarinet but it was more like a hobby cause I really love the wind instruments as well. So that’s how I got into jazz because there was a jazz band in Paris made of students. They were not professionals but they were playing at the university and they were looking for a clarinet player. They taught me what jazz was about; I had a good ear and could improvise the art. In the late 60s, I discovered Miles Davis, John Coltrane and the whole bebop and hard bop school of jazz and I became very passionate about the music and decided to switch to the violin because I had a lot more technical ability. However, I did not know that my instrument was very rarely used in that style of jazz and more so in modern jazz. So I started with some prejudice against me because many in jazz thought the violin was to be used to play the older styles of jazz like swing, but certainly not modern jazz.

P.E.: Combining the violin, guitar and acoustic bass as the core of the band was a daring move at that time. Now, that your fans have come to know that this combination of strings, professionalism, and personal interaction is timeless and continues to excite another generation, what advice can you give to aspiring trios that are contemplating the use of this particular string format?

J.L.P.: Well the format – that particular one – was initially Al DiMeola’s idea. The three of us had come from the same background of music in that Era – jazz/rock fusion in the 70s and we had crossed paths but had never played together. I had played with Stanley on two occasions in France but had not played with Al. So Al’s idea was to have us play acoustically because he knew of Stanley’s sensational playing of the double bass and that he had done arrangements as an acoustic bass player, and was also well known around the world as an electric bassist. In fact he started on a classical instrument as a young man and he also wanted to become an electric guitar player. So at first, I wasn’t sure because in jazz even though I play electric violin and had studied classical music. But very quickly in jazz, I improvised myself so that I could find the right volume to play with the drums and jazz rhythm section and that led me to a whole other sound. It was kind of a challenge for me at first, but then we realized that we had come up with original instrumentation. Sometimes you have to follow your inner voice. For the younger generation, I would say be less conforming. The whole thing is to dare, to not be afraid to be adventurous and explore new formats.

P.E.: Your compositions have such exquisite arrangements and you write with an easy grace, energy, warmth and experimentation. What are some of the technical difficulties associated with playing the electric violin such as playing in a venue that may not be suitable for the acoustics?

J.L.P.: I must say of all the instruments I play, the violin is the most difficult technically. I have to keep practicing every day if I want to stay sharp. I don’t think there is any difference as far as the venues go. I think it’s better playing in a concert hall.

P.E.: What equipment do you use?

J.L.P.: My main instrument is a 5-string electric violin (with a low C string) made for me in 1993 by Zeta Music Systems. It is available for sale as the “Jean Luc Ponty Signature Model”. I also play the Zeta violin through a MIDI controller, model VC-225, also by Zeta. I also use a 5-string Barcus-Berry made in 1980 with natural wood finish, which I use when I want a more acoustic sound but still needs amplification. I use my Barcus-Berry through a small EQ box called PARA ACOUSTIC D.I. made by L.R. Baggs. They also make a great bridge with incorporated pickup for acoustic violin. On occasion, I might also use a 6-string electric violin (with low C and F strings) called the Violectra. This is not to be confused with the violectra by Barcus-Berry which I played from the late 60s to the mid-80s, which is a regular 4-string violin with special strings tuned one octave lower. This new 6-string “Violectra” was invented by David Bruce Johnson in the 90s. My favorite violin bow is a “Spiccato” made by Benoit Rolland, a very talented bow maker from France recently established in the U.S.A. – this bow is made of composite material and has a unique system to adjust the tension and balance of the stick according to the personal needs of the player. All of the violins are equipped with Helicore strings by D’Addario.

P.E.: The material on IN CONCERT covers much of your versatile career and includes some of your best work with “Enigmatic Ocean,” “Open Mind,” and “Pastoral Harmony.” What is your favorite composition and why?

J.L.P.: No favorites, they are all like my children. I have written at least 200-300 compositions and obviously the ones that I keep playing, like the ones on the IN CONCERT DVD and the recording, or the ones with The Rite of Strings go all the way back to the 70s. So there are some contrasts right there.

P.E.: I understand that you will be making personal appearances with your daughter Clara at the Border’s Book Stores very soon. Is she still a protégé?

J.L.P.: She was. She is no longer. She began playing at a very young age and started composing at a very young age. She studied classical technique and has since started composing on her own. The Borders tour is not a concert, but Clara will be playing the piano and I’ll be doing mostly a meet and greet!

P.E.: We’re looking forward to that. Finally, Jean Luc, you’ve explored many facets of the jazz idiom and have opened the doors for many of today’s contemporary jazz violinists such as Regina Carter, Karen Briggs, etc. What are your thoughts of the state of the violin in jazz today?

J.L.P.: I think they are doing a very good job. I know Regina personally and I’ve heard Karen. They are very talented. There are a few wonderful violinists around the world…I heard a young man in Moscow, Russia and he was swinging! I didn’t’ expect to hear such great jazz in Russia! There is another young man from Denmark – Mads Vinding. He is sensational. There are also a few up and coming jazz violinists in France. For a very long time, I was thinking what I had started was at a dead end. But I am very pleased that the younger generation has picked up on the idea and it makes me very happy!

P.E.: Thank you so much Jean Luc. We really appreciate everything you have contributed to the music world and especially your influence on modern day jazz violinists. Where can your fans visit you to learn more about upcoming concerts and tours?

J.L.P.: Thank you Paula. My fans can visit me at for tour and concert information.

Reprinted with permission of…

An Interview with John Pizzarelli

John Pizzarelli“LET THERE BE LOVE” says
John Pizzarelli
By Paula Edelstein

The young and gifted Sinatra-style singer and guitarist showcases his golden tenor on 15 great songs collected for LET THERE BE LOVE. As with our generation, John Pizzarelli grew up hearing plenty of great pop songs, great jazz, Tin Pan Alley and Great American Songbook standards that stayed in his memory. The son of great jazz guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli – John embarked on a music career with a style owed to his dad, Wes Montgomery, Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald. His voice works perfectly for the 15 songs on his latest release for Telarc Jazz, LET THERE BE LOVE, a soft, romantic gentle CD that sounds great anytime. With favorites like “Let There Be Love,” “Our Love Rolls On” and “Everything I Have Is Yours,” any hopeless romantic will be forever enamored with the beauty of this collection. John wrote four originals and the songs selected span 70 years of songwriting which reflect the universality of love over time. LET THERE BE LOVE —our sentiments exactly! We caught up with John between concerts and talked about his great new record.

JazzUSA: Hello John! Congratulations on your new release for Telarc Jazz, LET THERE BE LOVE. You’ve stepped away from the trio format on this one and brought together a really great ensemble for the CD that includes your dad, the great guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, your brother Martin Pizzarelli on bass, Ray Kennedy on piano, Tony Tedesco along with Ken Peplowski on tenor saxophone, among others. They really show their appreciation for your spontaneous expression of love! How did you get these guys all together in one place?

JP: Tony Tedesco is our drummer when we do Pop’s gigs, like with symphonies and big bands and he has played on our records before. Kenny Peplowski plays clarinet and Harry Allen on tenor sax have been old friends of ours…so if you can get them in town all at the same time, then we have our problems solved. Adding the drums was more of a business decision; because there’s something about the drums that has that added shine to it that sounds better on the radio. I wanted the sound of brushes on the tracks…the intimate sound of a guy playing brushes as if you’re just sitting around the living room!

JazzUSA: That intimate sound is definitely coming across on the CD. You continue to please your audiences with your great interpretations of the Great American Songbooks, wit and great original compositions. LET THERE BE LOVE spans 70 years of songwriting from some of the greatest writers in music history! How involved is paring down a list of that magnitude to get to the great 15 songs you included?

John PizzarelliJP: I’ve been very lucky (as I knock wood) that there’s an editor that plays a crucial role in that. All the songs just come out the right way. The ones that aren’t supposed to be on the record usually don’t make it. I was just happy that this ended up being the right songs at the right time. You just know. It just always works out right. These decisions just seem to work out right!

JazzUSA: Besides singing and playing such great love standards as “These Foolish Things,” “As Time Goes By” and “Our Love Rolls On” you’ve collaborated with your wife, Jessica Molasky and Ray Kennedy to write “Lucky Charm” and “It’s Our Little Secret.” “All I Saw Was You” is yours alone. Can you give your readers and listeners an inside tip on the inspiration and influence for these three songs?

JP: You know it’s funny, the way Jess and I write. On “Lucky Charm,” I had this melody in my head, and I think I may have come up with the title. So whenever we write, I say something like, “we have to write a song like this.” And she is able to take that dumb idea that I come up with and write some really interesting, funny and intelligent lyrics! So that just happens. We had half of “Lucky Charm” written, went to dinner and then wrote the rest of it while waiting for the waiter to bring our dinner. So there we were, coming up with all different “arm” rhymes…farm, shoes on the table, Don Knotts and Clark Gable…(laughs). And with the “Our Little Secret,” Ray Kennedy had this instrumental melody that I was listening to. But I was thinking, “you know what, the way this record is turning out, I don’t think an instrumental is going to work on this record.” Literally, I was waiting for a ham sandwich to come, was home alone and I thought, well let me sit down and see if I can come up with a lyric for this. So in about one hour, I had the lyric worked out. On “All I Saw Was You,” which is my song… I wrote that song on a train between Washington, D.C. to New York, and I was just trying to think of song titles. I thought of an old Harry Warren song and thought, “what other way can I say that?” So because there were hardly any people in that particular train car, I was able to take out my guitar and write this song’s melody.

JazzUSA: You’ve stated that the concept for LET THERE BE LOVE is “songs which reflect the universality of love over time.” One of my favorite songs is “Everything I Have Is Yours” and you sing it with such great nuance and phrasing, it’s so romantic. Had this song been in your repertoire for some time or did you select it especially for this CD?

JP: I actually had awakened about 5:00 a.m. one day and couldn’t sleep. So I was going through this songbook of the 40s and stumbled upon this song. I had met Burton Lane who had written that song years ago so I started to play it. I thought, “This is really good.” I’d never been through the whole song before.

JazzUSA: The tribute to Les Paul “Just One More Chance,” is ripe. Why did you choose this particular song to dedicate to Les Paul?

John PizzarelliJP: That song was a hit for Les Paul and Mary Ford in the early 50s and my dad had been subbing for Les Paul at the Iridium a couple of nights when Les was sick. So he had been playing it with their group and told me he loved this song called “Just One More Chance.” So I found a lead sheet of it and the music to it and went over it. I thought it would be great to get my dad to play on it, so I kind of beat him to the punch! That’s probably the oldest one on the CD, circa 1931. Arthur Johnston wrote that song and he is one of the co-writers of “Pennies From Heaven.” So just a little trivia for you!

JazzUSA: Great trivia…thank you so much! Your legendary father, Bucky Pizzarelli joins you on another tribute to seven-string guitar pioneer George van Eps on “I Don’t Know Why (I Love You Like I Do).” Was George one of the reasons you began playing a seven-string guitar?

JP: Indirectly. My father had always been a great admirer of George from hearing him on record and meeting him. In the 60s, George had a seven-string guitar mass-produced by Gretsch guitars. My father bought one and played it all the time. So when I started playing the guitar and playing with my father, he said, “why don’t you play the seven-string? It’s a good accompaniment instrument and I can use my seven string to accompany you and you can accompany me.” So I stumbled upon it because of my dad and he because of George van Eps.

JazzUSA: Funny how those things happen! Will you be appearing in concert soon?

JP: We have a long tour coming up with Maureen McGovern in 2001. Check out our tour information at and We’ll be playing some great cities, so look for one near you!

JazzUSA: Thank you so much, John for this great interview. We really wish you a lot of success with LET THERE BE LOVE. Our sentiments exactly!

An Interview with Yulara

An Interview with
by Paula Edelstein

“What we have in mind with FUTURE TRIBE is to go to the one place that everybody carries within themselves. We believe that the whole external universe is also found within us all. There’s one planet, and this one planet is called Yulara. On this one planet is this peaceful, easy, partying tribe, and it’s the future tribe. Everybody can connect to the Future Tribe within.” Groove, soul, heart, Yulara.

Now I can really get behind the concept of Yulara’s (Annie Hilsberg and Robert Matt) latest CD entitled FUTURE TRIBE on the Higher Octave Label. Songs like “Om Namah Shivaya,” “Future Tribe” and “Children of the Pleaides” really prepare a place for you in a very peaceful universe. The 12 great songs relay their jazz, world, ambient, and trance dance grooves in such a way as to really pull you into their musical realizations. African vocalist Angelique Kidjo (who co-wrote the title song), the very talented guitarist Brian Hughes and Cusco join the talented duo, on this great musical excursion. I caught up with Annie for a really nice chat about her latest CD. Let’s hear what she had to say!

JazzUSA: Hello Annie! Congratulations on your latest release FUTURE TRIBE. It’s really a great way to bring the world together! I really like the concept and with all the ruckus in the world, we can always use a great planet like Yulara! Many with the Venus vibe could use some more help! Are the songs a variation on the themes of COSMIC TREE and ALL IS ONE?

Yulara: Hello Paula. Yes, basically that’s right. The idea behind Yulara is that we wanted to create songs as huts in a cyber village. In this village, live people of all different cultures with music being the connecting factor. Yulara is an experience to explore this purely universal language which is music! Music knows no boundaries, needs no laws, is totally free to enter any heart at any time and has the ability to heal us human beings, to recognize our divine nature! On this CD, we added 12 new huts for the “future tribe” and found out that Yulara is actually a planet within – Annieways – that’s the idea.

JazzUSA: Bringing people together through the power of music is always a great idea. I imagine you’re gaining an even bigger audience with FUTURE TRIBE with the addition of such great guest stars as Angelique Kidjo, Brian Hughes and Cusco?

Yulara: It was an honor for us to work with these musicians and sure, we hope that this work will broaden the audience of Yulara.

JazzUSA: Annie, when you and Matt were deciding which songs to include on FUTURE TRIBE, did you have Angelique in mind to co-write the title track or was it a spontaneous happening in the studio?

Yulara: It was the idea of Patrick Conseil at Warner Chappell in New York and thanks to him, we were able to send tracks back and forth between Berlin (Germany) and New York (USA) with the vocals recorded on to the playback. Jean, Angelique’s husband did the vocal recording in his studio in New York and Robert included them in the song arrangement in Berlin. It was a meeting in musical cyberspace! The song turned out so well and the name says the whole thing about the vibe of the CD that it’s the title track now!

JazzUSA: Annie, Wow!! FUTURE TRIBE spotlights Yulara’s increasingly jazzy, up tempo direction which is another stage in your musical evolution. Why have you chosen to include more jazz elements in your music?

Yulara: To us, it is simply an evolutio of the Yulara Sound. It’s just fun, to play these kind of tunes and rhythms and they do contain jazz. We also love many great saxophone players as well as other instrumentalists in jazz history. But jazz is evolving all the time…in all directions and so on FUTURE TRIBE, there are also influences of World music and definitely Ambient or as we call it Trance Dance in it.

JazzUSA: Annie, you are one of three really special female saxophone players that I respect and admire; the other two being Candi Dulfer and Suzanne Grzanna. Why did you choose the saxophone to express your musical talent?

Yulara: I started to play flute when I was 12 and then picked up the saxophone only when I was 19, so that was pretty late. But that’s when I also wanted to be able to express the “yang” side in me – the more male energy; to scream out what I had to say…and the saxophone is the closest instrument to the human voice and what I love I that you can tell stories with it. To me, what makes it very attractive is that you can express all kinds of emotions with it. But, I also love the flute and especially the alto flute which I play a lot on all three CDs. It has a very deep, healing sound quality and a mystic element to it.

JazzUSA: You really expressed what a lot of us feel. I really enjoy both instruments – saxophone and flute for those same reasons. Which saxophone do you play and which reed gets the best sound for you?

Yulara: I play a silver Selmer Super Action Series 2 and Guardala Super R&B mouthpiece! I tried many times to get different mouthpieces, but none of them worked as goo as this one so I stick to it!! I play Bari Plastic reeds. It’s a very loud set up but I love playing “live” with this set up. It’s fun and has a lot of power. My soprano saxophone is a curved Yanagisawa with two metal platings and I play is with a Bari mouthpiece and Vandoren reeds. It’s my baby! I bought it after playing about five notes on it. I fell in love with it right away!!

JazzUSA: Those are really beautiful horns and you sound great Annie. The great Indian rhythms, World grooves and multi-cultural jazz experience that we are hearing on FUTURE TRIBE is often categorized as New Age in the USA. Is there such a category on German radio?

Yulara: Only to a very small degree. In Germany, we didn’t have a New Age movement like in the USA. Some tracks are surely known here but probably more in the “esoteric” field or in Ambient music like “Café del mar” or the whole Ibiza – chill out groove. These different scenes haven’t met the broad radio audiences so far.

JazzUSA: Well you’re really making an impact with FUTURE TRIBE on our shores. Is there a tour in the works and if so, are you coming to the USA?

Yulara: We really want to – and we’re ready to come to the USA anytime. We’re trying to find a good management company for the USA right now. So if anybody wants to help us, please write to!

JazzUSA: Annie you’re so talented, that shouldn’t take very long. But I know what you mean when you want to express yourself just right…and with the right people backing you. Thank you so much for this interview. I really like FUTURE TRIBE. Tell Robert thanks and say hello to Angelique, Brian and Cusco. Stay in touch!

Yulara: Paula, thank you so much.

JazzUSA: Annie, I had a great time and you’re so welcome. Stay in touch with YULARA (Annie Hilsberg and Robert Matt) and check out their latest CD, FUTURE TRIBE on Higher Octave Music. Visit their website at

An Interview with Dee Dee Bridgewater

An Interview with
Dee Dee Bridgewater
October 1997
By Mark Ruffin

The first time I had ever heard of D.D. Bridgewater was as a young musician back in the very early 70’s while I was still in high school in suburban Chicago. The word among high school jazz bands was that the University of Illinois had the best jazz band in the state. Even after I chose Southern Illinois University, the legend of that band grew even as the star students D.D. Bridgewater, Cecil Bridgewater and Donald Smith moved onto become red hot professionals with Roy Ayers’ Ubiquity, Horace Silver and Lonnie Liston Smith (Don’s brother) respectively.

It was on the Ayers soundtrack album “Coffy” where I actually first heard Bridgewater sing. The next time was on Stanley Clarke’s classic debut album “Children Of Forever” and I was hooked. I followed her career from her great 1978 Clarke produced debut album on Elektra “Just Family,” to her cameos with jazz acts ranging from Norman Connors to the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Big Band. Her next album “Bad For Me” came out the next year and was produced by George Duke. But by that time she had established herself as an actress with a Toni award for her role as Glenda The Good Witch in the Broadway production of “The Wiz.” She reprised that role in the movie version with Michael Jackson and Diana Ross and other movie roles followed including the basketball film “The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh” and John Sayles’ cult classic “The Brother From Another Planet.”

The first time I met D.D.Bridgewater was Thursday afternoon, April 7th 1994. The date is so etched in my mind because the night before I witnessed an unbelievable Carnegie Hall concert and party where actress/singer Vanessa Williams and over 50 of the top jazz musicians alive jived and jammed until the wee hours and no one could ever forget that. The public part of that event, “Carnegie Hall Salutes The Jazz Masters” became a Verve album, Polygram Video and PBS television special. On it, Bridgewater paid tribute to Ella Fitzgerald with a brilliant version of “Shiny Stockings.” Little did she know that three years later, she would record “Dear Ella,” a whole album full of Ella Fitzgerald tunes.

By this time, Bridgewater had completely re-invented herself. Gone was any of the pop trappings of her first two albums. She had also been gone to France. The French adopted her just as they had Josephine Baker over half a century earlier. She was a huge star and at the time rarely came home. Why should she, when she and Ray Charles had one of the biggest hits of the 80’s in Europe and couldn’t even get the song released in the States. Overseas, she was playing nothing but concerts at big halls and being treated like royalty, where in the States, her former record company MCA had treated her like an afterthought. But the opportunity to build her career at home came when she signed with Polygram/France, because in America her records would be on the prestigious jazz label Verve

Today, even the casual jazz listener knows about her serious jazz singing and her ebullient joyous nature, but on this day “Love And Peace” hadn’t been nominated for a Grammy and topped every jazz sales and critic chart. She was just beginning to charm America and was very anxious to sit with a journalist she had heard was a big fan. We met at Verve’s Manhattan office, but could only find solitude in a storeroom. Needless to say, the music on the walls led to a wide varied discussion about jazz, her life and career and surprisingly my life. We became friends quickly. Not the kind of personal friends where I fly to Paris to see her (I wish) or where she even thinks about calling me. But whenever she’s comes to my hometown somehow we manage to always see each other and hug and laugh, if only for a few minutes.

The following interview was at least our fifth meeting. The number of times I have seen her since that day three years ago is surprising considering where she lives. But then again the frequency is a direct result of America finally recognizing her unique talent.

JazzUSA ‘Zine: All of the songs on your new album are songs that Ella Fitzgerald sung in her lifetime, except the title track. Tell us a little about that.

D.D. Bridgewater: Kenny Burrell composed and wrote the lyrics to this song and he had written it in 1995 for Ella and he never did have the opportunity to get it to her, to play it for her, just to have her hear it before she died in ’96. I had contacted him about doing a number or two on the album to represent the years she had worked with Joe Pass. He said, well you know I’ve written this song. And he told me about “Dear Ella. He sent me the cd and the lyrics and I really liked it. So I said well, why don’t we do that as the duet piece, so that’s how it happened.

But he didn’t want it to be a duet piece, but that’s one of the wonderful things that I get to enjoy as a producer, exercising producer decisions. I told him I’d have Ray Brown and Lou Levy and Andre Ceccarelli, who’s my drummer in France for 12 years in the studio, so that if it didn’t go well as a duo, we could work it into a quartet piece. Of course, I scheduled their arrival for two hours later than our studio time. So he was waiting and I was like well Kenny let’s just do it you and I and let’s see how it goes, so I’m very pleased about that. It worked out very well. I love it. There’s a version that he plays a solo on that’s not on the album because it’s nine minutes long if I left everything in. So, this is an edited version.

JazzUSA ‘Zine: When I first heard that you were doing a tribute album, I had mixed emotions because there’s a current glut. You know how record companies are, if there’s one success, they all hop on the train, and right now the hot thing in jazz right now is tribute albums.

D.D. Bridgewater: I didn’t know that.

JazzUSA ‘Zine: Well your record “Love And Peace” really kind of set the current standard. After that more just followed. I thought well, I know D.D. is going to do a great job, and I didn’t know who the tribute was going to be to. When I found out it was Ella, I was surprised because I wanted to know the motivation. I thought, wouldn’t D.D. do a Sarah Vaughan tribute? Isn’t she your main influence?

D.D. Bridgewater: No, I wouldn’t say Sarah was my main influence. I would say my main influences are Sarah, Ella and Billie Holiday. I would say the most influential singer for me in terms of how I approach my music is Betty Carter. And then in terms of image, it’s Nancy Wilson. But in the beginning of my career I was always associated with Sarah mostly, Ella for scat and Billie for ballads. But my sound is closest to Sarah Vaughan. I would say the timbre of my voice is closer to Sassy. I was going to do a tribute to Sarah Vaughan with Frank Foster with the Count Basie Orchestra, because I thought, ooh, that would be fun and that kind of fell apart.

JazzUSA ‘Zine: Well tell me about the motivation for “Dear Ella.”

D.D. Bridgewater: To be very honest, when Ella passed, I was surprisingly shocked. Even for me, I was devastated. There’s no other word, I was devastated, and it was very difficult for me to even speak about her for four months without crying. I think it was just that she was someone who I just took for granted. I mean, she was like always there. She’s always been there and I thought that she would always be there. I knew that she had been very very ill, but I didn’t know that it was that serious. After she had her first amputation, that’s when I realized it was serious, but they kept it so hushed, that it was a shock.

So I thought that this woman, to me, was the jazz singer who is responsible for making jazz singing so popular all over the world, Ella Fitzgerald is, among all the jazz singers, the most singularly popular jazz singer who is known all over the world, and who is a household name. And in this country, she is a legend. She is part of American music period without us saying a jazz singer. I mean, she was a jazz singer but she’s also part of the American music legacy. So for me I just felt she warranted a tribute and no one did anything so I realized that in October. She died in June and in October I was like there’s nobody doing anything. This is crazy. So by the end of October, I said to the record company, well maybe I’ll do,,,, Maybe I’ll try…And they all jumped on it.

In France, Jean Phillipe-Allard, who runs Polygram Classics & Jazz, he thought this was the best idea since I don’t know what. So the next thing I knew, I’m calling him back two days later saying I’ve changed my mind. I don’t think I should do this. This is too risky. I don’t want to be labeled as the tribute singer. He said, it’s too late because I’ve done like a survey all over and everybody wants you to do this, and I’m like oh wow. Then it became a task of really getting down to the nitty-gritty and doing it, so the first person I called was Ray Brown.

JazzUSA ‘Zine: So it wasn’t a record company decision at all. It was just by chance that you happened to be in flow with the times and they jumped at it.

D.D. Bridgewater: Yeah, usually what I do for my albums, I will decide what I want to do and I’d call them up and I’d say okay gentlemen, this is my next project. It’s going to be this, and they don’t hear anything until I come back with the finished product.

JazzUSA ‘Zine: I notice the album is broken up into four different parts; orchestra, big band, combo, trio and duet. And I noticed that you did all the work hiring the contractors, booking the studio and everything yourself. Did you have fun doing that?

D.D. Bridgewater: (laughing) I can’t say it was fun doing it. But, when the end result is what you had in your mind, then that’s when the fun begins. When you have the finished product in your hand and it’s come out the way you had hoped it would come out, then that’s when I’m happy and I see that what I wanted to do as a producer actually worked. I think the role of a producer is to delegate the responsibilities and to put together the right creative team to make the product that it is that you’re trying to achieve for the artist. So, since I am the artist and I am the producer, as the artist, what I was trying to achieve with this was a kind of retrospective of all of the various aspects of Ella’s career.

In my opinion, one couldn’t do a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald and not try and touch on all the different bases. You know, the songbook period, which was mostly with orchestras, all of the big band things she did with Count Basie and Duke Ellington and the different big bands that she worked with. She did do some stuff in combo, but the combo stuff was really for me because I wanted a piece with Milt Jackson to tell you the honest to god truth.(laughing) I had to have Bags.

JazzUSA ‘Zine: Along with Milt, you have a host of folks on the album including Antonio Hart on alto, Lou Levy on piano, Grady Tate on drums, Slide Hampton on trombone, your first husband, Cecil Bridgewater on trumpet, and Ella Fitzgerald’s first husband, Ray Brown, the first person you called, on bass. Why was he the first person you called?

D.D. Bridgewater: First I called Ray just to find out if he thought it was a good idea that I do the tribute. He felt that it was and he really felt that if anyone was going to do it that it should be me. Then I thought it would add credibility to it if he was actually on the album. So he’s like the conduit. I also wanted to have a pianist that had worked with Ella and Oscar(Peterson) was not well at the time. It was too risky. Hank (Jones) wasn’t free. I couldn’t get a hold of Tommy Flanagan and again Jean Phillipe-Allard suggested Lou Levy. Grady Tate worked with her on a lot of the big band sessions she did. A lot of the musicians that I have on the album, without me knowing worked with Ella.

JazzUSA ‘Zine: As you were putting this together how did you deal with those great Nelson Riddle arrangements? Did you just have to throw those out the window?

D.D. Bridgewater: I didn’t think about that at all. What I was trying to do with the album was to give more play to underrated arrangers and to give more play to musicians who I think are being passed over by the record companies.

JazzUSA ‘Zine: Did you know Ella yourself?

D.D. Bridgewater: I met Ella, yes. I met her in 1983, the first time and I met her again in ’84 briefly, then I spent some time with her in ’89 in Paris after she had been awarded the French Medal of Arts & Letters.

JazzUSA ‘Zine: You were born and raised in America, but are you now a citizen of France?

D.D. Bridgewater: I am not a citizen of France. No, no, no, no. I’ve been living in France for 12 years. My husband is French. I don’t see where it matters anymore where one lives. I think that as an artist, I’ve found a place that works for me, where I feel comfortable artistically and also as a human being. Which is not to say that I don’t feel comfortable when I come home. I feel very good when I’m at home. But artistically and in order for my jazz to live, I found that France was a better country, and the European continent is much more receptive to jazz music and treats jazz more as a classical music. I do only theatre and concert work, and I’m considered in France, just to be a star.

JazzUSA ‘Zine: And one indication of that is that you sung for the Pope.

D.D. Bridgewater: I’m surprised you knew that. Yes I did.

JazzUSA ‘Zine: And you’re well known as an actress in Europe, although you did win a Tony on Broadway here for “The Wiz” and a lot of people know you as the Good Witch Glenda. And I hear you’re going back to theatre in North America. Is that true?

D.D. Bridgewater: Maybe. I would like to maybe do a limited run of “Lady Day,” the musical that I did. Well it wasn’t really a musical, it’s a play with music about Billie Holiday that I did in Paris and in London. So I’m doing in Montreal, a limited run of the musical “Ain’t Misbehavin,” and I’m gonna do the Nell Carter role. But that’s just for two weeks, and I’m using that as an opportunity to get producers out to see me on stage again so I can speak about doing “Lady Day.”

JazzUSA ‘Zine: In England, you were nominated for the Laurence Oliver Award for Best Actress for “Lady Day.” That had to be quite an honor.

D.D. Bridgewater: Yes it was. First of all, in England, they don’t like to nominate foriegners. And the British theatre, for me, really is the seat of theatre. Theatre originated there and Shakespeare and all of that, so that was a very big honor to be nominated.

JazzUSA ‘Zine: And you’ve been nominated for a Grammy award three times, with “Love And Peace” being the last time.

D.D. Bridgewater: That year I was told by a lot of the NARAS people is that they decided in the end to give the Grammy that year to Lena Horne because she’s been ill. I don’t get it, instead of giving her a Lifetime Achievement award. It’s all politics. For me, my goal isn’t to try and win a Grammy award when I do an album. My goal isn’t even to get a nomination. My goal is to honor whoever it is I selected or to do whatever it is I’ve decided to do on that project to the best of my abilities. So for me Ella Fitzgerald is the first lady of jazz. We wouldn’t be here, we jazz singers today, if it hadn’t been, a lot, for Ella Fitzgerald. And this is my way of paying my last respects to somebody I think is great.

Other Dee Dee Bridgewater Resources

  • Verve Press Release
  • European Jazz Network
  • NetCetera
  • Patrice Rushen: A Modern Day Renaissance Woman

    Patrice RushenSpeaking With Patrice Rushen:
    A Modern Day Renaissance Woman
    by Paula Edelstein

    With great songs such as “Forget Me Not,” “I Do,” “My Heart, Your Heart” among her solid repertoire of original compositions, Patrice Rushen is “Anything But Ordinary.” You need only to give one special listen to her exceptional collaborations with some of the world’s best jazz, pop, and R&B artists to know what I’m talking about! A world-renown virtuoso, bandleader and side musician, Patrice is truly a modern-day renaissance woman. She has been on the music scene as a composer, a music supervisor for motion pictures and television shows, as a pianist/keyboardist, as a vocalist and still is one of the most intelligent ladies you’ll ever meet. A child prodigy, Ms. Rushen began her musical studies at age 3 and is still going strong. Her songs are all over the airwaves, motion picture soundtracks and can be heard on a plethora of television shows. So when it came to interviewing her about her musical lifestyle, you better believe she had a lot to say! So Listen Up and believe me when she tells you “There Are Two Sides To Every Story!”

    PE: Patrice, thanks so much for the interview, it’s truly an honor! First of all, I just want to say, that a lot of your earlier hits still make my day! Songs like “Forget Me Not,” “My Heart, Your Heart,” “You Love Me Only” really have kept their artistic value over time. Now that my gushing is out of the way, how are you? (Smile)

    Patrice: Well thank you Paula!

    PE: I’d like to talk about some of your musical accomplishments – as a composer, what is the most cherished song in your repertoire at this point of your career?

    Patrice: Oooh, that’s a hard one. I don’t know if I can tell you what the most cherished is because songs are …I kind of liken them to children, you know. That’s like asking, “Which child is your favorite?” But I guess I have a special place in my heart for “Forget Me Not” because it was not only one the most successful of my “commercial” repertoire but because that was when I learned an important life lesson that the record industry taught me. When that record was about to be released, the record company didn’t like it at all. In fact, they didn’t like the whole album! And they told me so. Of course I was devastated but I had gotten a lot of feedback.

    But rather than roll over and roll up, my co-producer at the time and I said, “well since we know up front that they don’t like it and don’t believe in it, and know that they aren’t going to promote it, we want to give it a fair shot and get it in front of an audience.” I had a very successful run with the song and it’s still on the air. Several other contacts used it. It was in the movie BIG, in the trampoline scene and later Will Smith used it in MEN IN BLACK. So the life lesson I learned was that if you believe in yourself and know what you’re about, you’ve got to be willing to take the chances that no one else will.

    PE: That’s for sure and thanks for not rolling up and going away Patrice! You’ve collaborated with the crème de la crème of pop, rock, jazz, hip-hop and as you mentioned worked as a music supervisor for movies and television. Do you plan to score other films and television series in the near future?

    Patrice: Yes, I have been. Over the past few years, my emphasis has really been as a composer for film and television as well as over the past four years, focusing on the symphonic stage. Those are some of the things that have allowed me to branch out and do some of the things that I want to do.

    PE: Is writing a score for a film or television show more difficult than writing a complete 12-track recording for release as an audio CD?

    Patrice: No. But it calls on some of the same skills but they’re two very different entities. On a CD recording the music is the star of the show. With film music, it’s more of a collaborative effort and the music’s primary goal is to enhance the story and is a creative, manipulative tool. One that calls for a lot of skill and technical technique so that the viewer is unaware that they are being manipulated when they are watching the film or television show.

    PE: Your collaborations with such noted musicians as Stanley Clarke, Ndugu Chancler, George Duke and so many others has obviously given you the experience and staying power that is necessary to be successful in this business. But have you ever considered doing an all-female project?

    Patrice: I have and would enjoy working with someone of the stature as Geri Allen, Teri Lynn Carrington, and Sheila Escovedo among others. They are great musicians and have worked with some of everybody and the fact that they are women is secondary to their talent.

    PE: Who were some of your earlier influences with respect to becoming a musician?

    Patrice: My mom and dad for sure. There were also primary teachers who recommended that they put me in an experimental program at USC because she recognized my musical talent at an early age. I received a lot of encouragement in those prep classes for many years and then went on to study classical piano at USC. One of the best memories is the fact that I was encouraged to appreciate all genres of music…not just jazz or classical or pop. But by the time I was in high school, I had enough musical vocabulary to make my decisions about what I wanted to do professionally. The music of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Oscar Peterson, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, The Beatles, Rolling Stones, even Perry Como were some of the musical influences.

    PE: You’re appearing at the 25th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival this month with the L.A. Home Grown All Stars. …I know you’ve performed with Ndugu, Ernie and Paul previously but have you performed with Tom Scott before?

    Patrice: Oh yes. We’ve all worked with each other and for each other often! On any particular day, any one of us would have been a leader and called the other to come work together. We also grew up with one another…and besides the principals that you mentioned, this band is made up of seven other members that all have a connection to Los Angeles. We have all recognized that you have to do more than one thing in order to survive as a musician. We do film, television, are bandleaders, are studio musicians, work nightclubs and we have to be well versed in a lot of musical styles. That is what this band is celebrating…a sort of patchwork quilt kind of career that we’ve sewn together in order to be successful and to survive in an atmosphere where there are so many talented people.

    PE: Yes indeed, you are truly a modern-day renaissance woman and here’s to your continued success. Thank you so much for taking the time from your busy schedule to talk to SOTJ. We look forward to hearing more of your great recordings and we’ll see you at the Hollywood Bowl.

    Patrice: Thank you.

    Reprinted with permission of…

    Moxie – Interview and Performance Review

    Moxie Chicks
    Three ladies of Manhattan transfer to Les Zygomates
    by Matthew S. Robinson
    Moxie Chicks

    On April 6, a hot new girl group hit Boston, bringing the sweet sounds of the Big Apple to Beantown. The group was called Moxie, and with good reason, for these three ladies combined enough spirit, spunk and expertise to fill all of Manhattan. In fact, they have!

    Laurel Masse and Janet Siegel were the original female half of the Grammy Award-winning vocal quartet Manhattan Transfer. When a near fatal car accident sidelined Masse, recent Mass. import Cheryl Bentyne took up the torch singing some of the Great American Songbooks swingingest songs. Now, for the first time ever, the ladies of Manhattan Transfer will get off at South Station for a weekend of MT classics and contemporary favorites at Les Zygomates. For Bentyne, this tour represents a return to the Leather District’s favorite wine bar.

    Moxie @ Les Zygomates, Boston, MA 4/6/2001
    Having defined the metaphor for contemporary jazz vocalizations, the women of Manhattan Transfer took their own show on the road for a debut weekend stand at Boston’s hottest bistro/listening room. From the tenored tenor of Vaudeville to the Yellowjacket-ed strains of smooth jazz, these two pair of partners made for a terrific trio. Cheryl Bentyne conducted with her entire body and soul while Laurel Masse sang a cello piece by Bach and forever member Janis Siegel offered some of the best mouthed mute trumpet lines to be heard for Miles.

    Combining the Boswell Sisters with the Pointer Sisters, the ladies of Moxie swayed and laughed through alternating solo sets and group efforts that displayed both individual talents and newly-discovered collaborative strengths. Among the most notable high points were Bentyne’s animated Latinate lump of Cole Porter’s “My Heart Belongs to Daddy,” Laurel’s appropraite and uproarious Frenglish hip-shaker “Language of Love” and Siegel’s Streisand-y “Witchcraft” and well-titled “Tender Trap.” Though no major tour is planned, the boys of Manhattanmight want to consider their own side project, as they may need to find other work for a while.
    © 2001, M.S. Robinson, ARR

    “Last year, we presented the world premier of Cheryl’s Cole Porter revue,” recalled Les Zygomates General Manager Lorenzo Savona, noting that Bentyne’s stellar solo shot inaugurated the bistro’s Jazz Side Cabaret Series.

    “I had gone to the restaurant a number of times,” Bentyne explained, “and when Lorenzo told my husband [show Producer/Arranger Corey Allen] about his ideas for the new music venue, he made me promise to be the first show.” Bentyne is very much looking forward to coming back to the bistro. “I love this place,” she said, “and there are so few good rooms in town these days.”

    As for Masse, she is looking forward to singing with her stand-out stand-in. “I had been singing alone for a number of years,” Masse remembers. “I went to see Manhattan Transfer in 1997 and ended up sitting in with them.” This fateful five-part reunion would plant the seed for the terrific trio that is due to land in Boston next weekend. “Cheryl and I hit it off,” Masse recalled happily, “and the idea soon found itself in all of our female brains that we might all sound good together and we might get along – which we do and we do!”

    Bentyne remembers the reunion in very similar terms. “When Laurel sat in with us at Saratoga,” she said, “we had this bizarre psychic connection and we acted on it.”

    Though Bentyne and Masse had filled a similar role in the group, they had never actually met until the Saratoga show. Now they are looking forward to spending time together and getting to know each other personally and musically. “This is the first group singing I’ve done since leaving The Transfer,” Masse admitted, “and to sing with two such fabulous singers is a great experience.”

    “It’s a very interesting process we’re going through,” Bentyne agreed. “It will bring me up to the plate to do my best work because these women are tremendous singers.”

    As for what they will be singing (tremendously), Masse and Bentyne mention names like The Bosley Sisters and, though they are yet to find a Beatles’ song, Siegel has suggested “The Married Men” by The Roches. “This is a girl thing,” Masse maintained. “There’s something to be said for the timbre of the female voice and there are some things that just women have to sing about.” Bentyne agrees. “As we are all women,” she suggested,” we can look in different places for subject matter and range.”

    Through solo spots and collaborative efforts, Moxie brought a wide variety of music to their fans and friends in Boston. “We all have different strengths,” Masse said, “but put us all together and we sound good!”

    This confident sound comes from years of experience at the mike. “I was born to sing,” Masse declares. “It has always been the thing that has made me feel best.” In fact, Masse says, she did not realize that people did not sing all the time until she reached grade school. “How can you not sing?” she queried. Today, Masse helps hesitant harmonists by offering workshops across the country. “There are people who are afraid to sing,” Masse mused, “and I make it safe for them to try.”

    Bentyne also got an early start in music. “My parents saw me in a high school musical,” she remembered, “and when the show was over, my mother said ŒI didn’t know you could sing.'” As a tutor at Berklee College of Music, Sudbury-based Bentyne also helps other aspiring vocalists reach their potential (and fool their folks). “My kids are great,” Bentyne lauded, “and they help me figure out what I know and don’t know.”

    One thing the women of Moxie do know is that they are ready to take a tip from another talented set of independent and entertaining women (i.e., Laverne and Shirely) and do it their way. “We’re three grown-up women who know how to do it,” Masse said, “and that’s rare!”

    © 2001, M.S. Robinson, ARR

    An Interview With Lee Ritenour

    An Interview With Lee Ritenour
    June 28, 1997
    i.e. Music Studio
    by Mark Ruffin

    [Click Here To Jump To The Story Continuation Point]

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: How’s the little one?
    RIT: Little Wes is fantastic. He’s on his way to New York. He’s been in Brazil with my wife. Carmen is down there working on a project.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: How old is he now?
    RIT: He’s gonna be four this month. He loves music. He’s got it in the blood.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: Is your wife a musician too?
    RIT: Not really. But being Brazilian, I think it’s also in the blood. They all play a little percussion and they all sing do music. When I’m down in Brazil, I’m always amazed just how much music is in the air down there.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: Have you ever met Antonio Carlos Jobim?
    RIT: Of course. My wife, curiously enough, went to high school with Tom Jobim’s wife Anna Jobim and they are the closest friends. So whenever Carmen goes to Brazil and go to Rio she usually stays at Anna house. I only met Jobim a couple times. I can certainly describe my first meeting with Brazil because it was very influential. I was 20 years old. I was at a party at Sergio Mendes house. Sergio had a recording studio in the back of his house and there was a lot of people there that night, and there was a jam session towards the end of the evening. Jobim was there and Dave Grusin was there and I’m not absolutely sure if that was the first time I met Dave, but I didn’t know Dave very well at that point either. I was doing some recording for Sergio Mendes so that’s why I was there, just starting into my career. Jobim was there and sat there and played a new composition that night that turned out to be Children’s Game that’s on the current Twist Of Jobim record.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: It’s on Portrait too, right?
    RIT: Yes, I’ve covered that tune twice.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: And Jobim played some piano….
    RIT: Yeah, and I played some guitar and Dave played a little Fender Rhodes and Oscar Castro-Neves was playing some acoustic guitar and I think there was a drummer there Claudio Sloane. We had just a good old jam session, but mostly Jobim would sit there and play tunes for us and we all would just go gosh, that great.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: Did you play with him that night?
    RIT: Sure. I forget what tunes we played. We all did a little jamming. It was something I’ve never forgot. I’ve met him once or twice since then at shows and different things but nothing like that first time.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: We know how you feel about him now. How did you feel about him then?
    RIT: Very much the same. I grew up in the 60’s as a teen-ager and of course that was the first huge influence of Brazilian music in America with that infamous Stan Getz, Astrud & Joao Gilberto, Tom Jobim recording,. So the year I’m talking about was sometime in the early 70’s. By that time they had already hit the big wave of the bossa nova in the late 60’s, So to me the guy was already an idol because I already knew most of these great tunes that he had written. I had fallen in love with Brazilian music in general and his music as a teen-ager. I went to Brazil when I was 19, apparently it was in the blood pretty early on and later I married a Brazilian and a lot of my records have had a Brazilian feeling.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: When you went down there when you were 19, was that to tour?
    RIT: No, that was just because I had fallen so much in love with the music and I had met some Brazilian musicians, Oscar Castro-Neves being one of them. He was the guitarist in Sergio’s band at the time and I decided, with a friend, to go down to Rio for a little vacation and that ended up being a very interesting trip as well because I bought my guitar, I ended up doing a little recording with Oscar Castro-Neves down there. I spent New Years Eve on the beach down there and going to several major Brazilian musicians houses. The Brazilians love to jam so in those days you jammed. It was an invitation that I couldn’t resist at the time to go down and it really wasn’t for anything specific, it was just a little holiday. I guess it was something I was really drawn to. It was great.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: Why did you start a record company?
    RIT: (laughter)

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: Why throw caution, not to mention money to the wind?
    RIT: Yeah, what a crazy idea.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: Yes. Did you think because Dave Grusin got $40 million dollars you could get it too?
    RIT: (Big laugh) I did it more from a musical point a view. I tend to be a little bit of a control freak. It’s interesting, as time goes on, I want more avenues for my music and the different things that I do in a musical capacity and I had two partners that sort of showed up on my doorstep that had been friends for many years, that it seemed to make sense. One of them was Mark Wexler who ran GRP Records for 11 years for Dave Grusin and Larry Rosen, and from an artist point of view, he was the one that was the work-aholic, I mean Dave and Larry of course were too, but Mark was really the essence of how the day to day things got done at that company. And all the artists really appreciated him and he became a buddy. When he left GRP, we sort of just glanced off and said maybe we should do something ourselves one of these days. At the same time, Michael Faigen, another friend of ours who owns Jazziz magazine, started talking to Mark and the three of us put our heads together. What’s nice is the synergy in the areas that we cover.. I’m the music guy. Mark is the business guy, Michael is the multi-media and promotion type man. Between the three entities, we had an interesting synergy. At that point we looked for a partner and Polygram really opened up their doors and they’ve got a wonderful jazz staff over at Verve. So far it has turned out to be a terrific joint venture. It’s a tremendous amount of work. We’ve already come out with two albums and it’s not nearly enough.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: What kind of work? Is it different from anything you thought it would be?
    RIT: Probably not. In a Utopian sense, because I have such good business partners, I thought that I would mostly be involved with the music, but of course I’m involved in everything and that’s probably, ultimately, the way I wanted it anyway. I was also from a musical point of view looking to do two things. One I wanted to do more producing, but I didn’t want to do producing just for the sake of it, because a lot of people have asked me throughout the years and I’ve kind of shied away from it because I wanted to make sure I kept my artistry in tact and also my guitar playing. On the other hand, I felt myself drifting a little more towards production but I thought that if it was something on my own label, that there was a little extra emphasis and a extra degree of help I could lend. Also if I didn’t have time or I didn’t feel I was the right producer, I have the expertise to maybe suggest the right producer, go find the producer, find the right studio, find the right engineer, find the right combination of musicians or band. So you don’t have to be totally involved in every project, but you can be involved in the point that you help. I found this very intriguing. Also I wanted to develop some new artists. I think that’s very exciting, to get somebody from the ground up and then of course, work with some established people. On a personal front, it was very challenging and very desirable to eventually bring my recording career over to i.e. and make my own records there and have a little more control over as to what happens after the record is made.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: I remember a few years ago when we were talking and you were saying how when you first went to GRP, everything was basically done on a handshake. There was no contract until the company was bought, and then you had a contract.
    RIT: Right.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: I heard that once you started i.e., that you were still under contract to GRP and that you couldn’t put your name on A Twist Of Jobim as the artist. Is that true?
    RIT: It’s definitely been complicated. The situation with Tommy LiPuma and GRP…. Tommy is a wonderful person and he has been very understanding that I wanted to go do this with my own label and at Polygram. At the same time, I’m still a GRP recording artist. I have a live album coming out. I’m very happy about that project, because that was Tommy’s idea. He loves live albums, he’s been involved with many of them as a producer and he encouraged it and I found the right band and the right combination of material I think to put on that album. At the same time we worked it out that the next studio album is going to be on i.e. and then the arrangement is for me to go back to GRP and do another project for them as well. Right now, I’m definitely splitting my personality and sharing between the two labels. It is a little complicated at times, contractually. The jazz business is very funny because everyone just in any business is competitive. Meanwhile we’re rooting for my live record at GRP and I’m rooting for Dave Grusin’s Mancini album, meanwhile Twist of Jobim is killing over here at i.e. There’s sort of a competition of course naturally, but there’s a very nice relationship, because I totally respect Tommy and he totally respects me and he and Mark Wexler had become very good friends and he’s very good friends with Michael Faigen, so the jazz business is too small a business to have too many enemies. (Laughs) What’s nice is that we have a bunch of good friends and I couldn’t ask for a nicer guy in Tommy LiPuma.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: So it’s very amenable for you?
    RIT: I think that if GRP had their druthers, I’m sure they’d been happier if I’d just stuck there. But they understand that I had a chance to grow and I wasn’t going to have my own record company within GRP, that structure wasn’t there, and the Polygram people offered the situation and it worked out well. It even gets more complicated, I belong to this group called Fourplay which is at Warner Brothers.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: Yeah, man, you’re sort of like George Clinton at his height, a contract at every major label.
    RIT: (Laughs) I didn’t mean for that to happen. Someone said to me the other day, ‘Lee, you’re on three labels, isn’t that a conflict of interest?

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: Well, wouldn’t it had been easy just to get some live tracks together and just give it to GRP to satisfy the deal?
    RIT: I don’t think the record sounds like that. I certainly didn’t do that and would never do that. First of all, it was Tommy’s suggestion to do the live record and I thought it was a good one because there’s one interesting fact about this album is that I have 25 solo albums, I’ve never done a live record. That’s why Tommy is such a great producer. He came up with the idea for Dave Grusin to do the Mancini tribute. I think that was a very clever idea because Dave was very influenced by Henry Mancini. They’re both great film composers. Dave is very close to Mancini’s wife Jenny and I think Dave has a great infinity for Mancini’s music and knew how to handle it and I think Tommy saw that. So, I think that was a very nice idea. Likewise, there’s a lot of live albums out there and people come and go with live project and for some reason, there’s some kind of misnomer in the industry that people put out live albums when they’re sort of in-between their regular projects. That’s not the way it used to be with live albums. Live albums used to be a very serious endeavor for an artist in their career, because it shows a whole other side of the artist. So I’ve never gotten to show that so I put a lot of work and effort into this album and sonically, it’s recorded almost like a studio record, and I picked a very interesting combination of musicians in Bill Evans, Alan Pasqua, and Sonny Emory. There’s a great blend of what I like in contemporary jazz and straight ahead jazz together.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: I’m really surprised you got Dave Grusin to tour. How long is this tour you’re about to embark on?
    RIT: The tour for me stretches quite a bit because we’re going to Europe for three and half weeks, but the U.S. tour is just about 14 shows, in all the major cities, and Dave is doing almost all of those. It’s a pleasure to get him back out on the road because we really, other than these one off specialty shows that occasionally we do, he’s never really gone on a tour since about 1985, when we had Harlequin out.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: How’d you get him to do it?
    RIT: We’re buddies and he loved playing on A Twist Of Jobim and I think he felt proud about his Mancini project and the schedule is really not too hard and he had a little bit of time in June so I caught him at the right moment. In general, he doesn’t like to go on the road too much. There was one European tour we did one year where, the European tours are always so difficult because you do 20 one-nighters in 20 different countries, and that one practically killed him. (Laughs) That was pretty much the end of it. I promised him that this wasn’t going to be like that.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: There’s a lot of real positive things to talk to you about in the making of A Twist Of Jobim, but there’s one real sad note, and that was it was the last recording of Art Porter.
    RIT: It was actually Mark Wexler who suggested him because Art was on Verve/Forecast and when I was looking for a soprano player to accompany El DeBarge on that tune, I was actually thinking soprano or maybe alto, and Mark said what about Art Porter. I said that’s interesting, but I don’t really know him that well. I’ve met him, he’s opened for me on a show or two. He said he would be great on that tune. So, we arranged it and we flew him out here and he was so nervous, and he’s such a sweet guy. He was nervous because it was the first time he had worked with me in the studio and he wanted it to be right. It was so right. Like the first take was good enough. I think we did two more and it took all of a half-hour and he had such a sweet sound. And it turned out to be his last recording. It was so shocking that he had that accident, but he left a small legacy and it’s here and there’s such beautiful playing on that track.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: Who else kind of nailed things for you and made the album easier?
    RIT: There was so many different kinds of people that did the project. Oleta Adams came in and just nailed her stuff very easily. Almost all the musicians, you know the Christian McBride’s , the Ernie Watts’ the Alan Pasqua’s, the Harvey Mason’s they nailed the stuff very easily. But some people like to take more time, Dave is like in the middle. He likes to get inside the thing and work it a little bit, take his time, but not too much. Al Jarreau on the other hand, he works late at night. He only warms up about three in the morning. You’ve got to hang with Al. We’ve got to hang, talk, just get into the music and just vibe it out and around four o’clock in the morning is when the good stuff comes out with him and I’m not quite the night bird anymore so it was like okay, but he’s another great artist. Everybody was totally different. Art Porter nailed it in a few minutes and Oleta the same way. Other people took more time. But I’m used to giving that time because I can definitely take my time to do it too. Sometimes, I’ll get things on the first take but sometimes I find myself still tweaking something hours later.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: Are you going to have vocalists on the tour?
    RIT: We did get El DeBarge for the West Coast, El was not available for that mid-west swing. Vesta Williams is singing with us because Oleata Adams was in the studio doing a record so she was not available, so Vesta is singing. And then we have a new Brazilian artist that we’re signing to i.e., a young lady who’s a very interesting artist named Badi Assad. She’s a Brazilian artist. I actually didn’t even know she was Brazilian when I first heard her, bur she’s an incredible classical guitar player with incredible classical guitar chops. She sings like a bird, she looks beautiful and she plays very different. She’ll do things where she’ll play the guitar rhythm with her left hand from a very unusual rhythm. She’ll start playing the body of the guitar as a percussion instrument with her right hand or playing her face or playing her body as a percussion instrument, and at the same time, singing a melody. Sometimes, she’ll play a percussion instrument with her right hand and play the guitar with her left hand and sing a third melody. Some of it is actually kind of avant-garde. It’s very different. She’s going to be on the tour opening up and also joining us in the middle of the show.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: Speaking of folks on i.e., I know you have Eric Marienthal, anything else in the future?
    RIT: We’re talking to Miss Vesta, it’s not a done deal yet, but we’re talking. You know she did a song on Eric Marienthal’s new record. A great version of Until You Come Back To Me.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: What about Fourplay?
    RIT: This is a Lee Ritenour year for recordings because I’ve got them coming out all over the place. Fourplay coming out right around the corner with a best of album with two new tracks. One of the new tracks is with Take Six and it’s the Stevie tune Higher Ground. Harvey Mason, our drummer, did most of the production on it and then there’s a new tune of mine that’s also on the recording. It seems a little early for a best of after only three albums but again, that group has a problem getting together and a lot of it these days has to do with my schedule. (laughs) Hopefully, we’ll get together early next year for a new recording.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: You know one of my favorite solos of yours was on a early Patrice Rushen album called Before The Dawn. I can think of countless others, after all of these sessions, is it over 2,000 or something…
    RIT: You know there was this Japanese fan about six years ago, a Japanese fan came up to me in Tokyo one day and he said I’d like to give you something Mr. Ritenour and I said ok. I figured it was a tape or a photo I was going to sign and he pulled out this book almost and it was pages after pages of everything I’ve ever recorded and it added up to almost 3,000 sessions. I looked at it and I don’t think he missed anything. I think it was all there. I had my dad put it in a scrapbook.(laughs)

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: Any memorable sessions in any of those?
    RIT: I love to tell this story to my friends, I’ve never told it in an interview. One night we were recording George Benson’s album Give Me The Night and Quincy was producing. This was many years ago and the cast of characters in that room was George playing guitar, I was playing rhythm guitar. We had Harvey Mason. We had Louis Johnson on bass. We had Greg Phillanganes and we also had Ray Parker Jr. So there was a bunch of guitar players and Herbie (Hancock) was playing piano that night. It was quite a cast of people. I forget which song we recorded that night, but Quincy said, Stevie Wonder is coming down later. He wrote a song for George and he’s coming down around midnight. So we’ll finish this song and we’ll have some dinner and wait for Stevie. Okay, great. So we all wait. We wait, we wait. Now it’s two o’clock in the morning, then three. They get a call,’Stevie’s coming, just wait.’ Now Quincy’s real nervous because he’s got all these expensive musicians who are on the clock here and we’re all just hanging out doing nothing. Finally, Stevie Wonder shows up. He shows up with this huge entourage, so then you got to hang out for an hour. Now it’s four o’clock in the morning and Quincy finally get Stevie over to the piano. ‘Stevie come on, show the guys your song. Let’s do your song.’ And so Stevie walks over to the piano and everyone’s anxious to here the song and Stevie sits down. He starts to play the song. He starts the intro and man it sounds great. He stops after the intro and he says ‘Q, what do you think man?’ And Q says ‘aw man that’s beautiful Stevie, go on.’ And Stevie says ‘well give me a few more minutes and I’ll finish the tune.’ (big laughter) You should have seen the look on Quincy’s face. We were on the floor man. .

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: Well as a producer, I hope you’re never faced with anything like that.
    RIT: (laughter) Maybe Q could afford it, but I can’t. That was the end of that session.


    An Interview with Bob Dorough

    An Interview with
    Bob Dorough
    by Matthew S. Robinson

    In the 1970’s, millions of sugar-wired American kids were joined every Saturday morning by friends like Mother Invention, Conjunction Junction and a hopeful piece of legislation simply known as Bill. In three-minute animated predecessors to the modern music video, these colorful characters instructed their young fans about grammar, math, science and history through catchy, memorable songs that are still popular today.

    And who brought all these educated pals to our televisions each week? Jazz pianist and songwriter Bob Dorough. Though he is also the only man to sing on a Miles Davis album*, Dorough is best known for his musical multiplication tables and harmonized history lessons. Since those days, however, Dorough has returned to the world of club gig jazz and has recently released Too Much Coffee Man, his second album on the Blue Note label.

    So what does the man who made three a magic number think about his own legacy? We recently had a moment to catch up with the casually caffeinated composer to see what becomes a septuagenarian legend most.

    JazzUSA: Is the new album new for you or is it part of your career life trajectory?

    BD: (Laughs) Well, you know, I wrote some new songs and I did some old songs so it’s a mixed bag, But I planned it in 1999. It took a while to get it all down. So it’s new in every way.

    JazzUSA: How about the timing of the album and your relationship with Blue Note. Would you have liked that to have come along earlier in your career or is it fine the way it is?

    BD: That would have been nice, but I’m glad that they finally searched me out and signed me up even late in my career. It’s kind of a boot, in fact, you know, when you think you’re struggling along on the outside. I was wondering if I should start recording on the ‘net or that kind of thing when you’re selling on the web. And suddenly, they called em and now I’m on Blue Note Records. It’s awesome!

    JazzUSA: Has your career made you cynical at all about the recording indsutry?

    BD: No, not at all, but there is a certain amount of cynicism among musicians which I picked up and joined in on. You know, a lot of them are such cheats, taking advatntage of the great talent they have. But I’m not bitter. Why be bitter?

    JazzUSA: What has the School House stuff meant to you?

    BD: Well, it’s so wonderful because young people who were watching cartoons when I was already out of it grow up and hear me at a jazz club and the recognize my voice or my style or something and so I get a lot of fans that ordinarily a jazz man might not pick up- fans of that age.

    JazzUSA: Do you see yourself as sort of a bridge or introduction to jazz for these people?

    BD: I do. I take advantage of the fact that they are struck by School House Rock. I did some concerts a while back called “School House RockŠAnd All That Jazz” which mixed a little jazz set in with the other stuff which let them hear something they might otherwise not have heard. So I’m a bridge of some kind. Even the School House Rock was a little bit jazzy. Let’s face it. It’s not real pure rock and roll. It’s got a lot of varieties in the beats and all that.

    JazzUSA: Is it still as gratifying and fun to play?

    BD: Oh it is. Oh yeah!

    JazzUSA: What do you hope your new support and exposure will allow you to do?

    BD: Maybe play in slightly larger venues than I have been playing in and maybe with a bigger band. I’ll go with anything from a duo to a quartet or quintet.

    JazzUSA: You play with some pretty strong names. Is there anyone else you’d like to play with?

    BD: I have some stars on my CD and it’s hard to book them because they’re doing their own thing. You need more money to be able to play with someone like Joe Lovano or Christian McBride. But I’d like to play with Tim Hagins. He’s a trumpet player who is also on Blue Note. I think he’s great. I’d like to play with Russell Malone. He’s a great guitarist. But he’s a big star now, so that may not happen. I’m happy to go out with people hardly anyone knows, just to get it out there. Everybody plays good these days.

    * “Nothing Like You” on Sorcerer

    © 2001 M. S. Robinson, ARR

    An Interview with Al Jarreau

    Conversation with
    Al Jarreau
    by Mark Ruffin.

    In his long career, the style of singer Al Jarreau has usually defied description. He has scaled the top of the pop charts, been celebrated as an original jazz stylist, and has even won a Grammy in the R&B category.

    “You could add schizophrenic to that,” the singer said with a hearty laugh during a national promtional tour last month. “I’m all that and maybe still some different things tomorrow. I don’t know who I’m going to be.”

    After a period of stagnation, Jarreau does know that his career has a jumpstart thanks to the his red-hot new album, Tomorrow Today. The eleven-song disc is his debut for GRP Records, after 20 years and 15 recordings for Warner Brothers, and it is easily his best album in over a decade.

    While the 60 year-old Milwaukee native is receiving praise for the record from old fans, radio stations and critics he calls ‘the analytical folks,” Jarreau is deflecting the compliments towards his producer, Paul Brown. Through diligent research and a knowledge of modern rhythms, Brown has pushed the right buttons and delivered music that also finds the singer attracting new fans.

    “Paul has an especially sensitive musical acumen and awareness that allows them to do two things very well,” Jarreau explained. “He can find out the detail in his artist that they may not even recognize and see themselves. He then gives them a reflection of it in a little bit different way, so that they can see things with a new pair of eyes and let that effect what they do on the music.

    “He also has his pulse on the finger of the music that is happening today, and knows how to give his artist that contemporary canvas,” the singer continued. “That’s what great sensitive producers do today. they help to make your sound one that is comfortable for a listener who listen to (Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs) Puffy. Not that all Puffy people are going to listen to Tomorrow Today and be comfortable, but they’re some people there listening to the hip-hop urban sound of today, who can pick up some pieces on this Jarreau album and go right there and be comfortable. Paul made that happen.”

    Hard core fans of Jarreau will no doubt marvel at how so much of the old classic sound of Jarreau comes through the slick 21st century production on Tomorrow Today. Above all, that seems to be what the producer was aiming for.

    Brown, best known for his work his saxophonist Boney James, who plays on one song with Jarreau, studied the singer’s rich history. Then by experimenting and using gentle persuasion, he was able to extract nuances from Jarreau that other producers have overlooked on his other recent recordings.

    For instance, one day, in his unique a cappella style, Jarreau was explaining to Brown his concept of a vocal version of the Crusaders classic, Put It Where You Want It. But instead of calling in the band, Brown turned on the tape recorder.

    “He said, ‘why don’t you do it just like that. That is so raw and it is so you and the way you perform in a live situation. It’s something you don’t typically do in a studio situation, so let your audience have that moment because it’s so personal.’ And he was so right.”

    That song, re-titled Puddit, is one of the songs on the album that go back a number of years with the singer, and was overlooked by his previous producers. Others include a duet with Vanessa Williams called God’s Gift To The World and Something That You Said, a lyric to an old Weather Report tune that Jarreau had been sitting on since 1978.

    Most surprising though is the genesis of the hit single and opening track from the album, “Just To Be Loved By You.”

    “That song came to me more than twelve or thirteen years ago and has been sitting on the back burner waiting for just this moment,” Jarreau explained. With every album I made, I pulled it out and listened to the song with (past producers) Narada Michael Walden, Marcus Miller, and even as far back as Jay Graydon. But it was only Paul who went ‘wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute.’

    “It was written all those years ago as a Brazilian samba but I was too close to the song. It took Paul to make it contemporary and it took other people to tell me that it should be the single. The analytical folks tell me that that song sounds real today, but sound as if it could have come from my old days. They say it sounds like an Al Jarreau that we know and recognize and could have come from before.

    “That’s Paul,” the singer concluded, “from really studying me and knowing the varied sides of me, he gave me a glance at that reflected in a mirror that he held and said, ‘look at this Al, and look at this Al, let’s let that shine through.”

    An Interview with Poncho Sanchez

    Poncho SanchezA Conversation with
    Poncho Sanchez
    Mark Ruffin

    Fate has been very kind to percussionist Pancho Sanchez, especially in January. It was New Year’s Eve, 1974 when he made his big-time professional musician with legendary vibraphonist Cal Tjader. It was in January 1979 when Sanchez made his first recording under his own name. And this January, Poncho Sanchez is the featured interview in this month’s JazzUSA. Sanchez’ new album, his 18th, is titled “Afro-Cuban Fantasy” and features the exquisite vocal work of Diane Reeves. According to our Mark Ruffin, the gregarious musician is a loquacious as he is talented. It’s no surprise to us as to how funny he can be, after all the liner notes on his last album “Freedom Sound” was done by Bill Cosby.

    JazzUSA: Tell us about the incident in the bar where you were jamming that kind of started your career.

    PS: There was this guy there who saw me playing and he said he knew Cal Tjader and he was going to tell Cal about me. I looked at him and said ‘yeah, right.’ He said ‘you want a drink?’ Yeah sure, I said. I took a drink and said, ‘yeah, I’m going to tell Cal about you.’ ‘Sure you are, buddy, thanks for the drink.’ I remember I came home and I told my wife I talked to some guy who said he’s a friend of Cal Tjader and he’s going to tell him about me. She goes ‘yeah, sure.’ About a week went by and Cal Tjader was in town at Concert By The Sea in Rodondo Beach and I always went to see Cal. I went downstairs and as I’m going downstairs to get our tickets and I’m walking in the club, sure enough this guy was standing right there talking to Cal Tjader. His name was Ernie, and I went ‘whoa.’ I told my wife, ‘remember that guy I told you was jiving, there he is talking to Cal.’ It’s funny, he was talking to Cal Tjader at the time about me. I walked in, he goes, ‘hey Cal, there he is. That’s the guy.’ I was like, is this really happening? He then introduced me to Cal and Cal goes, ‘you know, Ernie is not the only guy who has mentioned your name to me when I come to L.A. He goes on to say people have told him about my conga playing and we talked and he suddenly goes, hey man you want to sit in. I was floored man, I couldn’t believe it. He said ‘I’ll call you up in the middle of the set. We set down and we went to go watch the show and the next thing you know, I was the show. I got up and set in and I ended up playing like four tunes with him that set. And he took me in the back and asked me for my phone number and address and what not and said maybe I’ll give you a call. Even when I left that night I was pumped up. I thought that was the highlight of my life right there, I sat in with Cal Tjader. And I thought ‘he ain’t going to call me, he’s just being a nice guy, right?’ Sure enough, about two weeks went by and he gave me a call and asked if I could work with him a whole week while he’s down south(-ern California), and I need a conga drummer.’ I said, ‘are you kidding?’ I ended up playing with Cal Tjader New Year’s Eve at the Coconut Grove at the Ambassador Hotel opposite of Carmen McCrae, New Year’s Eve 1974-75.

    JazzUSA: That’s a great story.

    PS: And he had just hired me for that week only. And I played the first set the first night and he came back stage and said hey man, the gig’s yours. ‘The gig’s mine, what do you mean, the gig? You mean to play with you permanently.’ He said, ‘yeah, man. It’s your gig, if you want it.’ I couldn’t believe it man. And at the time I was laid off from a factory job. I working in a foundry. I was laid off already five months and getting towards the end of my unemployment. I told him he didn’t know what kind of blessing this is. Anyway I was with Cal Tjader for seven and a half years until his death in Manila. I was right next to him. We were all right next to him when he died of a heart attack in Manila. I toured the world with him and that’s how I got my start and my name known and from there on in, I had to do my own thing.

    JazzUSA: And he used to feature you prominently too.

    PS: Oh, yes, I was the featured soloist of the band.

    JazzUSA: I never got the chance to see Cal Tjader, but I’ve heard many live recordings and it sounds like you guys were having so much fun.

    PS: Cal man was a great guy to work for and a wonderful musician. Cal Tjader could play. He knew all the standards. He could play good man. Of course he was a great jazz vibraphonist and had a great feel for Latin music. He played great timbales too. He’d take a vibes solo and when it was the piano player’s turn he’d switch right over to timbales.

    JazzUSA: You know a lot of folks are always surprised to find out that there wasn’t a Latin bone in his body.

    PS: (laughs) no, he’s Swedish. Incredible.

    JazzUSA: It was Dizzy who said the musics of the world would come together one day, and Cal Tjader was kind of an embodiment of that statement.

    PS: Absolutely, and he could dance good too. Cal was a tap dancer as a young boy and his mother and father used to have a vaudeville show. His mother and father used to have a talent school where they would teach people to dance, act and what not, and get them ready for different shows. So he not only knew how to play music , but how to play piano well and dance. He used to dance the mambo and cha-cha-cha. He used to say ‘the authentic way, like the way they do it in New York City.’ (laughs) Cal was really a wonderful guy, a wonderful human being. I miss him still today, because he was just such a good guy to be around.

    JazzUSA: Again, I can only get this from the live records, that it sounds live he was into putting on a show, not just throwing a band out there to jam.

    PS: Oh yeah. He had a nice presentation and he always had killer soloist. Before I was in the band, he had Mongo Santamaria, Willie Bobo, Armando Peraza, all these great soloists, great musicians. Tons of great piano players, Lonnie Hewitt, Vince Guaraldi, Chick Corea.

    JazzUSA: Were you intimidated by that legacy when you first joined the band?

    PS: Well yeah. First of all, I grew up with those records and all that too, so I was like, I was blown away when he asked me to sit in. And of course, from the moment I got the gig, I was serious for about the first three years in the band. He even used to tell me that I was too serious. I wanted to give him everything I had. I wanted to try to be as good as Mongo Santamaria. I wanted to try to fill that chair as good as Mongo did. To me, I could never do it, because Mongo was one of my heroes in life. So, to me you’re never as good as your hero.

    JazzUSA: Claire Fischer was a big part of your formative years too, right?

    PS: Absolutely. Clare, is a harmonic genius. He’s of German descent, but he speaks very fluent and very correct Spanish. He even corrects my Spanish. He did help me a great deal with arrangements and writing tunes. We wrote many tunes together in the earlier years. Clare was an important part in the growth of my band and my thing.

    JazzUSA: So you were this hot conga player in L.A. How did you learn music?

    PS: I’m self-taught. I’m the youngest of eleven kids, with no other musicians in my family. All my brothers and sisters loved to mambo and cha-cha-cha. As a little boy growing up…. We’re from Texas; Loredo, Texas. My mother and father are from Mexico. So really, traditionally, this is not my music. My music is Tex-Mex polkas. I’ve done that too. But my brothers and sisters got into the mambo and cha-cha-cha when I was a little boy. So every morning, every day, every night, my brothers and sisters would listen to Tito Puente, Machito, Tito Rodriguez, Cal Tjader, Mongo, all that stuff. So as a little boy, I heard it in my house every day. To me, it was no big thing. It was my music that I heard at home. Then I started going down the street and there was a couple of people playing guitar and they taught me how to play rhythm and blues tunes and pop tunes. At that time, it was more into a soul bag. So I learned all that and I also did that. I played in bands that played rhythm and blues, soul blues.

    JazzUSA: And you played guitar?

    PS: Yes, the guitar was my first instrument. This was like when I was in junior high. And then I went to go join a neighborhood band and when I went to go audition, they already had four guitar players in the band already. And they all played better than me. I thought, well I guess I’m not going to get into this band. And they said, you know, we don’t need a guitar player, but we need a singer. And they said, why don’t you try singing the song. And I said, well I don’t really sing. I kind of sing to myself when I play. They said, hey man, why don’t you try it. I got up and I sang a tune. It was a pop tune from the 60’s, I don’t even remember what it was. But I got up and sang the tune with the microphone and after the song was over, the guys in the man, said ‘wow man, you sing great.’ And I was the lead vocalist with that band for about six years. That night, they sent me home with a stack of 45’s records. In those days they were 45’s. From that moment on, I started checking out James Brown very heavily, all the Motown people- the way they approached the crowd, and the way they spoke, the way they danced on stage. So I got into that. So from the guitar, I was the lead vocalist, and then I learned how to play the trap set drums. And I played drums in a couple of groups including a Latin jazz group in high school. I started playing congas towards the end of high school.

    JazzUSA: What was the inspiration for you learning trap drums?

    PS: Because, that’s what was available at the time, growing up as a teen-ager, everybody’s got guitars and drums, and I was into James Brown a lot. I started playing drums because I knew a drummer down the street, so I went over there and started messing with the drums and started to learn to play pretty good. No matter what instrument I played in whatever band I got in, I also happened to be the lead vocalist as the same time. Then I just started watching Mongo play at the old Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach, and see Cal Tjader’s band come through town. It was all self-taught-just watching and listening to those records everyday, and practice.

    JazzUSA: Was a Latin jazz band, your first real experience playing congas?

    PS: Yes. Actually, my father bought me a conga and I bought the other. It was two congas in a pawn shop. And I just kept putting on those Cal Tjader and Tito Puente records everyday in the garage and try to tap out the rhythms and figure out the way they were doing it. And then if I couldn’t figure it out, I’d go see Mongo play and watch his hands. And then go home and try it. I’d do it for hours and hours, days would go by.

    JazzUSA: Poncho, you’ve always managed to put out good quality records, but there’s been something magical about the last four or five, like you’re trying to up the ante with each release.

    PS: That’s what we try to do. It’s hard to keep on raising the bar. You can reach a certain plateau and that’s alright. As long as you hit a good plateau, a certain spot and stay with it. But it’s true, David Torres, my musical director and pianist, we work and plan these things out pretty good. We’ve been working on them and getting them together. And I’ve been also adding Scott Martin, he’s been over-dubbing baritone on a couple of these recordings, to have a little bit brighter, a little bit more fuller sound. Also everyone in the band gets better at just what it takes to make a record. With each record that goes by, everyone in the band learns more about which way we’re going and how we want to go about getting there. Experience, you know what I mean?

    JazzUSA: And it’s been the same band for a number of years now, right?

    PS: Right. I have three original members. I’ve had the band almost nineteen years now. And everybody else has been in the band for at least ten years. The new guy has been in the band for about a year. A new trombone player Francisco Torres.

    JazzUSA: The name of your new album is Afro-Cuban Fantasy. Over the last few years there’s been this large influx of Afro-Cuban music, but it’s nothing new to you.

    PS: I remember when Afro-Cuban music, or Latin music, or Salsa music was not cool. When I first started this band…. I mean, there was a Latin jazz craze in the 50’s and then in the late 60’s, the Santana thing started happening and people got into that rock/Latin sound and that stuck around for a long time and the Latin jazz thing was not in. To me, it’s always been great. I’ve always loved it. But I remember, guys who have Latin jazz bands today, back then were telling me, ‘hey Poncho man, that shit you’re doing with the be-bop lines and the Latin tunes with the Latin grooves and the jazz influence. That ain’t hip man.’ They told me fusion and funk was happening. Now some of those guys who were musicians here in L.A. telling me what I was doing wasn’t cool have Latin jazz bands today. That’s how much I love and respect this music. I remember when Latin jazz wasn’t hip. We’re not faking. We are Latin jazz.

    JazzUSA: And because you stuck with it, you can tour the world now.

    PS: Yes, we have capitalized on it and I know for a fact that the Pancho Sanchez Latin Jazz Band has a very important part in the growth of Latin jazz all over the world. Because I take this music all over the world. JazzUSA : The popularity that has been going on the last couple of years, have you noticed it in your audiences or in record sales?

    PS: It’s definitely on the up and up, because we’ve been touring for years already and the crowds were always pretty good. There were some times when we were traveling and the crowds were kind of small and you do get kind of discouraged, and you feel bad with the money and it’s a tight scene. But now days the crowds are much bigger and we’re playing in places that we never dreamed of. One of the last tours we did, we played in Iowa, in Wisconsin, places that I never dreamed of wanting Latin jazz, and we were backed by popular demand in some of those places.

    JazzUSA: Even in the big cities, instead of playing funky little clubs, you’re playing big concert halls.

    PS: Yeah, but I still like to play those small clubs too. If I was on a tour in the mid-west and I got a club date, I don’t have a problem with that. You’ll do those because you’re on the road, you’re on the way, so I’ll stop over a night to play a small little club and get enough money to play for the room and pay the wages for the band and then you move on to the next night in a big university or concert hall and then you can charge money. It’s part of the road.

    JazzUSA: How old are you?

    PS: I’m 47.

    JazzUSA: And Afro-Cuban Fantasy is your 18th album.

    PS: It’s my 17th for Concord and I have another one on Discovery Records which I did before I signed with Concord, making a total of 18.

    JazzUSA: There’s another late legend you obviously got to know and that was Discovery Records founder Albert Marx.

    PS: Yes, he was the first one to give me a start on record. It was Clare Fischer who told me about him. I guess he was looking for a new young artist at the time and he asked Clare if he knew somebody. Clare told him he knew this young conga player in the Cal Tjader band. Clare told me he told him that I carried myself very well and was the featured soloist in the band. He asked where we were playing next. He lived in Hollywood and Clare told him our next gig was in Tucson, Arizona. Marx goes, ‘you know what, I’ve got family out there. I’m gonna fly out there and visit them, and take him in and see you guys play that night.’ Sure enough, I remember he told me, ‘Albert Marx is gonna be here tonight, he might want to sign you.’ Of course I did my very best that night, of course I always did with Cal’s band, and the next thing I knew, I signed a contract with Discovery Records. I was about, I don’t know 26 years old. I did my first record with them. It was called Poncho. Actually, it’s right here, I had it because I was thinking about making a t-shirt of the cover. Let me check the date. January 10, 1979. That’s when I did my first recording.

    JazzUSA: So this month was your 20th anniversary in the record business?

    PS: That’s right. I already look at the anniversary of the band. But that’s right I recorded that 20 years ago this month.

    JazzUSA: You know, Poncho, a lot of folks are probably really surprised that you’re not from the islands?

    PS: I get that all the time, yeah. Even drummers, the Cuban guys and the Puerto Rican guys. They come up to me and they start talking to me right away. You know, I speak Spanish, but they start talking to me in their style and saying ‘yeah, Poncho man, you’re from over there, Cuba, right? (laughs) And I tell them no, no, no, I’m Chicano. They look at me ‘Chicano, what are you talking about?’ ‘No man, my mother and father are from Mexico, I was born in Texas.’ And they go, ‘wow, how do you know how to play this music, man?’ (laughs) A lot of hard work man. I studied it real hard for a long time. And at the time I was learning to play this music, it wasn’t like nowadays. I do clinics all over the world and they have many videotapes out there about this music and how to play this music. They’ve got cd’s, play along cd’s, many other people like me do clinics, Giovanni (Hildalgo), you name them, all those percussionists, they go out and do clinics all over the place. When I grew up, there was no such thing. I didn’t have anybody to show me. As a matter of fact, when I finally got enough guts and courage to go up to Mongo one time here in town, he was sitting at a bar, I went up to him and told him I had a question, ‘am I playing this pattern right?’ I’d play a pattern on a stool or something, and in those days, the Cuban conga players wouldn’t tell you too much. It was more like a secret or something or whatever. He’d look at me and he’d tell me ‘mas or manos’ which means more or less. That’s it. That’s all he’d tell me and he’d walk away. That’s the way it was in those days. He wasn’t being mean to me. It’s just that it was different in those days. Nowadays, I tray to take time when a kid comes to me. If they ask me something and I’ve got time, I’d stand there and answer questions.

    JazzUSA: Are you and Mongo tight now?

    PS: Oh yeah man. I talk to him about once a month. He’s been a featured soloist in our band and I’ve been featured in his band. Although, he really doesn’t have a band anymore. He’s just doing guest shots.

    JazzUSA: So do you remind him of those days when you were a young buck?

    PS: (laughs) Yeah, we talk about it all the time. It even goes deeper than that. I named my oldest son after him. His name is Xavier Mongo Sanchez. My son just graduated from University of California-Berkeley. He got a degree in astro-physics. He’s heavy. He just started in the job he’s always wanted, for the government, working on computers that guide nuclear warheads. As a young kid, he was playing bongos with me, and then suddenly he said, I don’t want to do that, and he got into astronomy. That was his call.

    JazzUSA: And playing bongos was your call.

    PS: Exactly, and that’s what he does and he carries Mongo’s name, and Mongo knows that, and Mongo tells people about when me and my wife would go see Mongo play when Mongito was still in her stomach. I used to go up to Mongo and go ‘Mongo, if it’s a boy we’re going to name it Mongo.’ So, he used to get all happy and I’d say come on and touch her stomach so we’ll have good luck. Sure enough, we had a boy and we name him Mongo. I named a boy after him, so we’re family.

    JazzUSA: It sounds like you’re family. How long have you been married?

    PS: We celebrated our 26th anniversary last July. I have two boys. Mongito, and the other one is 16 years old, they’re ten years apart, he’s playing saxophone in the school band. His name is Julian Tito Sanchez. Same story, Tito Purente is one of my good friends, and you know I have to be a fan if I named my sons after them. Now I play with both of them, so hey man, my dreams have come through.

    Visit the Poncho Sanchez Website

    Dianne Reeves –

    Dianne ReevesDianne Reeves
    Christmas Time Is Here
    (Blue Note – 2004)
    by D. Kevin McNeir

    Some musicians who haven’t come up with a new recording in a while have been known to slap something onto vinyl or compact disc given the new changes in technology, just before the Christmas season begins. Perhaps they figure that with the wealth of popular holiday tunes from which they can choose, that their fans won’t notice that their effort was lackluster at best.

    Whenever jazz legend Dianne Reeves steps up to the microphone you can bet she will bring all of the goods. And once again the “grand dame” delivers with her latest recording, Christmas Time Is Here, recorded on the Blue Note label.

    One cannot help but be impressed by the vocal histrionics by which Reeves has come to be known—she can doo wop, modulate, bend notes and scat with the best of them—from Carmen McRae and Ella Fitzgerald to Sarah Vaughn. And with a multi-octave range and several back-to-back Grammy Awards to her credit, Reeves certainly has earned her way to the top and to her inclusion on the list of all-time female vocalists from the jazz genre.

    While her Christmas Time Is Here is certainly pleasing to the ear, those who are used to her interpretive skills may find that this recording lacks some of the mind-blowing vocal work that one has come to expect from someone of Reeves’ caliber. In fact, that is perhaps the real problem with this CD. The recording starts with a bang as Reeves literally nails “The Little Drummer Boy” with her own unique style. The musical accompaniment is reminiscent of a Jamaican calypso band with a lot of ear-pleasing percussion that is not over the top. And the beat is a cross between modern jazz and reggae.

    However, Reeves’ voice stands out as she delivers with expressive phrasing and well-placed vibrato. At the end of the tune she gets a little funky—it’s almost a beckoning to get up on your feet and dance.

    Another selection that merits your attention is “Carol of the Bells.” This writer recalls wonderful memories of practicing and performing this piece at every December concert as a member of the high school symphonic orchestra—every band and choir had this one in their repertoire.

    Reeves cooks up something wonderful here with the wailing of the saxophone and keyboards extraordinaire. “Carol of the Bells” is clearly a jazz interpretation of a classic Christmas tune, and it’s done very tastefully.

    The title tune, “Christmas Time Is Here,” was made popular by the Peanuts holiday classic television show that airs every December. It has been recorded as a vocal selection as well as an instrumental piece. Here, Reeves treats the piece like a quiet conversation among friends and family. In fact, one can almost imagine playing this selection as the children race for the Christmas tree to open their gifts.

    Some critics have argued that this third selection on the CD doesn’t equal her performance on the first two songs. But as Reeves has remarked in several printed interviews, she more than anyone, has worked very hard to know her instrument—her God-given voice. Sometimes less is better.

    “You try to pace yourself, make sure you’re connecting with what you’re singing,” she says in an interview with Tim Pulice. “When I first started out, I used my voice all over the place because I was really into my voice.

    I really wasn’t into the lyrics and wanted to stretch out, be and do all of these different things. It wasn’t until after I worked with Harry Belafonte that this started to change. The world music we were performing sometimes has a dual message that had to be shared in the lyric. Through that situation, I found that less is more, that storytelling is best.”

    Among the remainder of the selections, be sure to listen to “A Child Is Born,” a tune that is not often recorded but is certainly a perfect choice for one with the vocal abilities of Reeves. And given her desire to find songs that “tell a story,” this is one that may earn its way onto the list of Christmas jazz classics.

    Also, check out “Let It Snow” if you’re looking for Reeves scatting her way in the Fitzgerald tradition. She lets go on this one and securely tackles the multiple octaves that are required in the vocal arrangement. The final piece begins with the strumming of a classic folk guitar—a fitting instrument for the tune “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Reeves’ voice is almost haunting as she converses in an intimate conversation with the guitarist while the overall performance is a good teaching tool for those interested in showcasing what can happen when a well-rehearsed jazz ensemble gets into a groove—feeling it each as they improvise. And while it may not go down in the annals of jazz history as one of the greatest interpretations of this popular piece, this writer enjoyed it.

    Reeves is good, but not great, on this CD. Still, it will certainly make your Christmas “bright” if you add this one to your collection and can pop it into the CD player as you relax by a cozy fire and make a toast to the new year and all of its possibilities.

    Kora Awards 2001

    If there was a defining moment at this year’s Kora awards it was when Coumba Gowlo raised her kora award above her shoulders and sang in her textured, high pitched, soaring and elegant voice – ‘Senegal, Senegal – oh Senegal.” A moving moment for nationalism, Pan-Africanism and beauty – and that surely is what the kora All African music awards ought to be about?

    If there was a fabulous moment it was when South Africa’s fragile celebrity Brenda Fassie ran up onto stage dressed in pigtails and a grey and particularly revealing schoolgirls dress, grabbed her award, did the splits, blew a kiss to the favoured guests Nelson Mandela and Graca Machel, and sang the words – ‘I stay like this’. And that’s what Brenda is all about – that crazy streak, that incredible flare, attitude and individuality. And that’s what the Kora All African music awards really ought to be about – exposing our celebrities and their dynamite.

    If there was a vulgar moment it was when South African R&B newcomer Ernie Smith was crowned ‘Most promising male artist on the continent.’ I have no doubt that Ernie Smith will sell and sell well all over the world – but that’s because he’s playing derivative and commercial R&B. He sounds more American than the ball clutching duo KC and Jojo – and he probably wants to as well. All over this continent we see beautiful bands and performers that just exude music, pride and integrity. All over this continent we hear the vivid strains of expressive and original music. And surely that is what the Kora awards ought to be about?

    And if that wasn’t enough American R&B singer – Bebe Weiner – left with a kora too. Where in Africa is this guy from? ‘Detroit Michigan’, he answered. Oh the African Diaspora! Sure music may have originated from Africa and affected all the strains and strands in the rest of the world, but surely this big ego platinum pop is again diluting the musicality on this continent?

    I hope I am not sounding too precious. I recognise Africa needs to establish itself in a global context, Africa needs to enjoy and benefit from international influences and I recognise the desire in sucking up to the dollar as much as possible – but I think we need to be doing it on our own terms. And our own terms are not by promoting the wannabee cock-pop, or even the cock-pop itself. Our own terms is our own voice – that soft and subtle sound that you wont catch on prime time television.

    While I am here I might as well labour the point. American R&B is one thing at an All African music award ceremony, but sportsman is another altogether. Yannick Noah may be a little better looking then the South African rugby boys – but he doesn’t sing any better and Senegal’s racing car driver Demba Dia is merely an imitation of the Ferari’s he would like to drive. And there were other crazy decisions. Can you see any comparison between Werrason and Miriam Makeba? Of course not – there are none except the Kora has them up against each other for best arrangement? You could never compare the musicality in Pata Pata to the mindless bum-groove Congolese zouk. But, you could compare Pata Pata to some of the original music on this continent. And you could compare Pata Pata to the incredible musicality of Rokia Traore. These are our musicians.

    “I don’t think we have made any incredible progress from the last edition. I think there will be incredible changes next year. You will see much more of the continent, much more categories. This year is largely about pop music and that is not what Africa is all about,” said chairman of the judging committee Wally Badarou.

    The Kora is bouncing rather uncertainly between these two camps – the big balls and budget pop music and the real and beautiful music. There are a variety of reasons for this, financial insecurity, the fear of collaboration, fearfully close relations with big labels and the definite xenophobia of the South African recording industry. And these may never change, however the kora has shown some direction. And that is exciting.

    Last year the event was politicised and boring – this year the event was a hoot – it was entertaining, organised, invigorating and it did have those momentary flashes of beauty. And that is where the longevity of this event lies.

    Please send us all your opinions and any suggestions for next year.

    Read An Interview with St Michael Zulu, Zambia’s first nominee and winner. He was voted by audience vote best African artist for 2001.

    Africa Beats is brought to you each month courtesy of the Afri-Beat Web Site.

    Visit the Afri-Beat Web Site and enter the world of African music.

    An Interview with Marcelo Zarvos

    Marcelo ZarvosA Self-Portrait of the Young Master
    A Moment with Marcelo Zarvos
    by Paula Edelstein

    Marcelo Zarvos possesses many traits but he is best known for the beautiful music he creates, plays and arranges. The fact that he is young, gifted and smart comes as no surprise to those that have collaborated with Marcelo or to those that have been seated in his audiences. He’s deep. The Brazilian prodigy has played and studied with some of the best musicians and educators in the world and no doubt has begun to realize that the depth of his talent is the one quality in his art that attracts and keeps his audiences returning for more. Marcelo’s seemingly mystical ability to raise a collection of life experiences and transfigure them, give them beauty and set them to music is a wonderful discovery for those that love music. He shares those brilliant talents on MUSIC JOURNAL, his second release for the M-A Recordings label and highly anticipated follow-up to the brilliant LABYRINTHS. As some of the most beautiful music we’ve heard in this decade, JAZZUSA.COM was elated to speak to the young master as he prepared for his Autumn Concert Series throughout the United States:

    Marcelo ZarvosJazzUSA: Congratulations Marcelo on MUSIC JOURNAL. It is absolutely brilliant! If I were stranded on a desert island and asked to record a project, I must say that I would use some of your concepts…with your permission of course! I understand that you set your mind back to record these musical events. How far back are you taking us with the concept for MUSIC JOURNAL?

    MZ: First of all thank you for your continuing support of my music. As far as the events that inspired MUSIC JOURNAL I would say that they go as far as back as my early childhood in Brazil, or further if you want to get spiritual about it.

    JazzUSA: While envisioning the music for your journal, what were the decisive factors that influenced your selections, i.e., are you referencing chronological experiences, most creative inspirations, most symbolic experience, etc.?

    MZ: The decisive factors were purely intuitive and what defined by how vivid those memories were in my imagination. I strongly believe that for really significant events and/or places in a person’s life, a quick glimpse is enough to remember it forever. It’s a lot like painting from memory, actually.

    JazzUSA: Unlike LABYRINTHS, you are playing the accordion on “In A Doorway.” Was there a time when you previously played the accordion or is this a new instrument you’ve learned recently?

    MZ: I started playing the accordion about three or four years ago. It’s interesting, though, that some of my earliest memories of any musical instrument are from the accordion music from the Forró groups I heard as a child in Brazil. The way I used it in MUSIC JOURNAL is very different however, and it tends to act as one more melodic voice to complement the sax and cello rather than as a rhythmical or harmonic source.

    JazzUSA: “Gallop” is a brilliant rendition of the Brazilian galope rhythm and for me suggests a majestic romp mounted on a beautiful stallion along a beautiful coastline. What was your vision and imagery for this beautiful piece?

    MZ: You got that right! You know, I try to be careful not to impose my vision on the listener, but have to admit that this particular piece was really all about the image of galloping horses: first at distance where they almost seem to be moving in slow motion and gradually closer as we move towards the end of the piece with the music getting faster and louder.

    JazzUSA: Marcelo, you continue to impress your audiences with your compositional integrity for chamber music or a mixed ensemble of classical and non-classical musicians. I’ve noticed that MUSIC JOURNAL includes the brilliant artistry of Chris Dahlgren on double bass. Please discuss the inclusion of sections for double bass on the very beautiful and spiritual “While She Sleeps.”

    MZ: The melody in “While She Sleeps” is another type of chorale-like writing that I started exploring in my previous album LABYRINTHS particularly in “Lu’s Rag.” Due to the simplicity of the line and its very diatonic character, it can work both as a high melodic line or lower, in the bass register. In addition, Chris Dahlgren’s beautiful and rich tone in this instrument was too much to resist and it remains one of my favorite pieces in the album.

    JazzUSA: “Avenida Paulista” suggests a rousing remembrance of Brazilian folklore with both samba and bebop stylings. What is the special symbolism that inspired the “Avenida Paulista” piece?

    MZ: I always joke that “Avenida Paulista” is a cross of Fifth Avenue and Wall Street, in the heart of my native city of São Paulo, Brazil. It is also a kind of symbol of the fast and frenetic pace that big cities such as São Paulo and New York can have. Towards the middle of the piece, there is a slower and somewhat darker section that is meant to portray Avenida Paulista at night, when the streets are empty and quiet.

    JazzUSA: “One More Year” is one of the most beautiful works I’ve heard in some time. It is so full of the imagery from the different places and events you’ve experienced and is the perfect culmination for MUSIC JOURNAL. We would like to extend our deepest gratitude to your stellar sextet and Ms. Lawson for her brilliant work on violoncello. Absolutely stunning!

    MZ: Thank you! Actually “One More Year” is dedicated to Dorothy Lawson. I wrote it on the occasion of her fortieth birthday as a gift and token of my admiration for her artistry.

    JazzUSA: Will you be appearing in Summer and Fall Concert Series in 2000?

    MZ: We will be performing in the Caviarteria in New York City on October 15th at 8 PM. For updates on live performances by Zarvos & Group I suggest that listeners check out my website at

    JazzUSA: Thank you so much for this interview and again, our heartiest congratulations to you with respect to MUSIC JOURNAL. It’s so beautiful. Keep in touch with the brilliant pianist Marcelo Zarvos and you’ll discover music you haven’t heard anywhere before!

    An Interview with Terrence Blanchard

    Terrence Blanchard
    Hollywood Jazzman

    by Mark Ruffin

    Terrence Blanchard Trumpeter Terrence Blanchard was mixing his new album at Avatar studios in New York City when he took a few minutes to talk to The 37 year old composer is currently living in two worlds, that of a leader of a band that tours and records regularly, and that of a Hollywood film composer. – Ed.

    Blanchard, the bandleader, has a promising young sextet that includes his long time pianist Edward Simon and young 19 year-old saxophone-playing newcomer Aaron Fletcher. Currently, the latest movie featuring Blanchard, the film composer, Spike Lee’s “Summer of Sam,” is in that marketing purgatory between coming off the big screen and moving on to video. But, there are plenty of Lee’s movies available featuring the work of Blanchard including “Do The Right Thing,” “Mo Better Blues,” “Crooklyn,” and the critically acclaimed score to “Malcolm X,”

    “Spike has definitely helped people to understand who I am and what I do as both a leader of a band and a film composer,” Blanchard said by phone from Avatar. “I’m content to live in both worlds right now. I’ve been doing both successfully and I feel proud about that because I’ve known people who’ve had to give up one or the other.”

    In the middle part of this century, there were a few well-known Black jazz musicians straddling the line between working in film and on stage including Quincy Jones, Benny Carter, J.J. Johnson, Oliver Nelson and Benny Golson. As we closed the door on the 20th century, one would be hard pressed to find an African-American who’s getting as much work as Blanchard, and not just with Spike Lee. Blanchard’s other film credits include, “The Inkwell,” “Eve’s Bayou,” “Sugar Hill,” and others.

    “I have three films I’m working on in the fall,” said Blanchard updating his work. “Two of the projects are solidified, but you know how Hollywood is, I have my deal with them, but I don’t know if they have their deals. I’m supposed to be doing the music for Ice Cube’s sequel to “Friday,” plus something for the director of “Eve’s Bayou.” I also did music for a film for HBO titled “Gia.”

    Blanchard entered the jazz world via New Orleans where they grow trumpet players the way Iowa grows corn. He was in the first crop of young lions in the late 70’s and early 80’s that practically saved the acoustic jazz movement. With his childhood friend, saxophonist Donald Harrison, he followed fellow New Orleans musicians Wynton and Branford Marsalis into Art Blakey’s legendary Jazz Messengers and on to stardom.

    Blakey, a drummer who died in 1990, was influential in jazz because for 35 years he hired a great number of jazz stars while they were in their formative years. Blanchard has followed in Blakey’s footsteps in making sure that younger jazz musicians gain positive experiences. Except for Simon, Blanchard group members are all in their 20’s.

    “These guys bring a certain kind of enthusiasm,” Blanchard said. “They have a wide-eyed usefulness that’s cool. It’s kind of like an Art Blakey thing in that you hear about one (young musician) or talk to one and that one starts to expose you to the rest and these guys come in very excited about playing music.”

    Blanchard said, like in Blakey’s time, there’s an endless pool of young good musicians in New York to build a band with. However, in the world of music for Hollywood, he admits that the number of young African-Americans is frightfully small, but his ears are always open.

    “There is a young sister I know who is really talented and a really good writer and hopefully people will start to take notice. Her name is Kenya Tillery. She sent me some of her work and I saw her at the Sundance Film Festival Lab for gifted composers and filmmakers. She’s a person I think you’re going to hear about in the future.”

    The next album for Blanchard will include all original material and his old friend Branford Marsalis with members of his young band. His current album is appropriately titled “Jazz In Film,” and in addition to movie music by Duke Ellington, and Quincy Jones, his own music from the movie “Clockers,” is included. After doing so many movies, the trumpeter said an album of some of his favorite old movie themes was inevitable.

    “It was just time. I had written for all these film project with music for larger ensembles and I always wanted to do that for one of my own (record) projects. “Jazz In Film,” was the perfect opportunity to bring both of my backgrounds together to make one concise musical statement.”

    Be sure to visit
    The Ramsey Lewis Home Page

    Marcus Miller – Master of all Trades – DVD

    Marcus Miller
    Master of all Trades – DVD
    Koch – 2005
    S. H. Watkins, Sr.

    Wow! Marcus Miller is arguable one of the best electric bassists in the world and you need only get a few minutes into this CD to see why. Few performers can stand with bass in hand and pop it like Marcus Miller does. Backed by Poogie Bell, Dean Brown, Roger Byam, Bruce Flowers, and Michael “Patches” Stewart Miller leads the crew through some seriously funky and sometime mellow sets.

     Recorded live at the famed Knitting Factory in Hollywood, CA in October of 2002, Miller and the band are joined on a few numbers (Boomerang, People Make The World Go Round) by vocalists Lalah Hathaway and Raphael Saadiq.

    What else can I tell you? The man has written music for Miles Davis and Aretha Franklin, performed on over 400 artist CDs including Barbra Streisand, Mariah Carey, Bill Withers, Elton John, Frank Sinatra, and LL Cool J as well as producing countless hits and scoring over a dozen films.

    But the point is the music. Marcus and the band JAM the tunes, the DVD production is excellent and the listener is immersed in the experience.

    DVD 2 contains a series of guest interviews with – Luther Vandross, Herbie Hancock, Roberta Flack, Stanley Clark, Reginald Hudlin, Lalah Hathaway, Lenny White, Omar Hakim, Bill Withers and Ralph MacDonald.

    This is a must have DVD.

    Track List01. Power
    02. Lonnie’s Lament
    03. So What
    04. Scoop
    05. Boomerang
    06. Panther
    07. When Your Life Was Low
    08. People Make The World Go Round
    09. Amazing Grace
    10. Burning Down The House
    11. Killing Me Softly
    12. Miles Medley: Hannibal – Tutu – Amandla.

    Nancy King – King on the Road

    King on the Road King on the Road
    Nancy King
    by S. H. Watkins, Sr.

    I had the opportunity to sit in on An Interview with Nancy King last month and it became evident why she is such a soulful singer. She has a wonderful acceptance of life and her place in the scheme of things that allows her to focus on the music. Ask any of the up and coming female jazz vocalists who they idolized as singers and most will include Nancy King on their ‘short list’.

    Her most recent release King on the Road is a great collection of tunes performed with bassist Glen Moore (from the internationally known ensemble ‘Oregon’) and sax-man Rob Scheps. The CD itself includes some classics (Up a Lazy River, Caravan) and some originals, many penned by bassist Moore. Nancy has a long performance history with Moore, recording three albums with him under the moniker ‘King and Moore’ in the 90’s.

    The title tune is Nancy’s own rendition of the Roger Miller classic ‘King of The Road’. She also performs the Bobby Gentry hit ‘Ode to Billy Joe’. Both of these tunes are bluesy and Nancy’s subtle intonations and expressive interpretations, set against Moore’s solid bass lines and accentuated by Shep’s sweet sax, bring you into the stories and carry you along beautifully.

    The production on the CD is very clean, giving you a real sense of being right there at the session. ‘Pretty red Truck’ is one of Nancy’s favorites and she sings it like she enjoys it. Having seen Nancy King perform many of the tunes on the CD live at Jazz DeOpus in Portland, Oregon, then hearing the album I can attest to one thing, this CD is very Nancy King…true to the music.

    Be sure to check out our Nancy King Interview in the next issue of JazzUSA!

    Josh Roseman Interview

    josh RosemanNo Bones About It
    Josh Roseman is making a name by tooting his own horn
    by Matthew S. Robinson

    Name: Josh Roseman
    Age: 34
    Gig: Trombonist

    Growing up in a musical family, Josh Roseman had plenty of inspiration. Josh¹s cousin Ed was an accomplished composer and musician, and his father was an amateur musician who gave Josh his first lessons on what would eventually become his signature instrument — the trombone.

    “There was a lot of music in my house,” Roseman recalls, “and there was a musical bug that traveled around. My cousin got bit pretty hard and I was the indirect beneficiary of his interests.”

    Starting his own musical journey by studying bass, percussion, and a number of brass instruments, Roseman went back to the woodshed during his early teenage years, spending countless hours listening to the likes of Marvin Gaye, Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Wonder.

    “My parents listened to all sorts of stuff, from Miles Davis to Marvin Gaye,” Roseman explains. “There was a lot of Soul and Jazz and I got totally sucked into listening. I was a rabid vinyl collector. Any money I had, I spent on records.”

    And though Roseman had a number of musical heroes, none turned his head like saxophone legend Charlie Parker.

    “I was blown away when I first heard him,” Roseman says. “There was a relentless, reckless brilliance to the music and it was also rhythmically challenging because he had total freedom within the beat. Though that disoriented some folks, it interested me. I wanted to try to deconstruct it, and I am still working on that.”

    Working through the catalogs of Ornette Coleman and the later works of John Coltrane, Roseman began to find his own musical direction. “I looked for opportunities to fuse them with other things I had heard,” says the DownBeat Magazine “Rising Star.” “I was also looking for opportunities to play, and as those came up, it affected what I did.” Roseman began “playing out” in the 1980¹s, doing the Boston club circuit as a trombonist and bassist with several Jazz, Soul and Reggae bands. After taking courses at Berklee College of Music while still in high school, Roseman was granted a scholarship to The New England Conservatory of Music, where he studied under such local legends as George Garzone, John Swallow and Gary Valente.

    “It was an inspiring situation because there was always someone practicing,” Roseman recalls. “It gave me an opportunity to stick my fingers into a community of musicians and that really sustained me as a player.” In 1988, Roseman was given the opportunity to perform and record with Oliver Lake, a member of the legendary World Saxophone Quartet, as well as with other Jazz stars such as Greg Osby, Geri Allen, and John Stubblefield. “Oliver and I had friends in common,” Roseman explains. “So after going to see him perform at the Somerville Theatre, I introduced myself. A few days later, he called me to invite me for a recording session.” As soon as the sessions were done, Roseman knew that he had to move to New York, which he did in 1990.

    “It was always the plan,” he says. “The Conservatory was stimulating, but the trombone is very dependent upon the acoustics of the room in which it is played, so playing alone n a practice room was not the thing I wanted to do. I wanted to give my music a place to go. And while the scene in Boston is very nurturing, I wanted to be in a situation where there was a little bit more empowerment for musicians. New York is a place where a musician can really take their life into their own hands.”

    While in The Big Apple, Roseman began to perform with fellow Conservatory alum Don Byron, with whom he formed a group that also included pianist Uri Caine and violinist Mark Feldman. “I had that young and available look and Don responded to that,” Roseman explains. “I met Uri and Mark in his Klezmer band.”

    Having worked his way through BeBop, Straight Ahead Jazz and even Klezmer, Roseman continued to experiment and expand his musical horizons as a member of the Giant Step collaborative. “We became the house band for these weekly artistic collaborations that included musicians, Rap artists and DJs,” Roseman explains. “Eventually, we decided to form a real group from it.”

    Groove Collective was soon signed to Warner Bros. Records and began touring all over, spreading the gospel of America¹s greatest artistic creation around the world.

    “It was a great ride,” Roseman says.

    After some time performing with the likes of Medeski, Martin and Wood, The Roots, Me¹Shell NdegeOcello, and Soulive, Roseman formed the Josh Roseman Unit, which released their critically-acclaimed recording, “Cherry” (Knitting Factory / Velour) in 2001. This past year, JRU released a second CD, “Treats for the Nightwalker” (Enja / Justin Time). And though this collection of original compositions is barely out of the studio, Roseman is already working on his next album, among other projects.

    “I am also preparing for JRU¹s first European tour, composing a commissioned piece for Joshua Redmond¹s San Francisco Modern Jazz Octet, and working on a solo tribute project to some of the Ska greats from Jamaica,” Roseman says, citing another branch of what he calls his “musical bloodline.” Despite these myriad undertakings, Roseman still has his musical vision firmly in mind, and that vision has led him to begin work on a new acoustic Jazz album that will demonstrate the power of the horn in all its unadorned beauty.

    “I have always tried to bring acoustic sensibility to electric music and vice versa,” Roseman explains,” but this project is especially important to me because it will allow me to focus on the legacy of the instrument, which is where it all begins.”

    © 2004, M. S. Robinson, ARR

    An Interview With David Murray

    David Murray Talks
    June 16, 1997
    Steppenwolf Theatre, Chicago, Il

    [Click Here To Jump To The Story Continuation Point]

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: Collaboration seems to be a big part of what you do, is this something you do purposely?
    DM: Being able to have the opportunity to get some energy off somebody else and at the same time, deliver what you have to them, I guess that kind of defines collaboration. I’ve always tried to do collaborations with great artists. One of the first that I did was with Randy Weston, the pianist. I’ve found that when you do high level collaborations, like with Fontella Bass, it always take you to a higher level. For me to put together a gospel group is one thing. It would have the flavor of David Murray, but to put something together that has something to do with gospel that includes Fontella Bass, you have the opportunity to perform with one of the masters. When I played Latin music I performed with Ray Barretto. It means much more than me going out and deciding I’m going to write a song that sound kind of like Latin. But to do it with the people who set it in motion and the people who are carrying the flame in that particular genre is reassuring.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: The same thing can be said for your collaborations with the Grateful Dead.
    DM: Sure, I mean, it would be one thing for me to put together a rock and roll band myself, but to perform with the Grateful Dead quite another experience, a better experience as far as I’m concerned.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: Have you tried your hands at any other collaborations besides these concerts with Fontella Bass?
    DM: Yes I have. I did a thing over in Paris called the Deep River Gospel Choir. There’s a woman who lives here in Chicago, her name is Gwendolyn Robinson., she used to work at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. We put together this choir. It was a show called The Deep River. Later on it became the Deep River Gospel Choir. We’re going to be doing a tour, probably in December, of a lot of the cathedrals in Europe. We did a concert a few years ago at a festival in Paris. It was 20 great voices. So, certainly I’ve tried my hands at gospel, and I grew up in the Church of God in Christ. I grew up very close with Tremaine Hawkins and people like that. In fact my mother played in church.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: Wasn’t your mother a professional gospel pianist?
    DM: Yes. Katherine Murray. She used to play at a lot of convocations as well. She was a very high level, high profile piano player in the Church of God in Christ..

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: Is there also some kind of Off-Broadway play you have happening?
    DM: Yeah, Next year, we’ll probably be on Broadway, I hope. We’ve been working on it for three years. It’s on Satchel Paige and the Negro Baseball League. (Grateful Dead guitarist) Bob Weir, Taj Mahal, Michael Nash, Kerry Williams and I are collaborating on this. We’ve completed the music, now I’m just doing some of the arrangements for some of the big band pieces. It’s a serious musical about Satchel Paige. It shows his life, the social implications he had to deal with, being the first successful black in baseball. A lot of people don’t know it, but Satchel Paige, for those times, was a wealthy person. He used to pitch for a lot of teams. In fact, he sustained the Negro Leagues, nearly by himself, him and Rube Foster. He would play on one team, he might pitch two or three games in a day’s time. He might go a pitch two or three innings for another Negro team that needed him to help them at the gate. We’re bringing out some of these things.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: I read somewhere that you’re the most recorded musician alive. Is it important for you to document every thing you do?
    DM: Sure, I think so.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: How do you manage to do it? There are a lot of people who would love to document everything, and there’s always a David Murray album coming out.
    DM: And there’s also things that they don’t have documented that I have. There are many things that I don’t have documented as well. I do a lot of things. I have a lot of different bands, it’s just the way it goes. I’ve got a trio, a quartet, octet, big band and if each one of those groups want to record once a year, that’s four cd’s in a year, just taking care of those groups. That’s not even including my special projects. Right now I’m working on a big project with (flute player) James Newton. We’re going to do the obscure side of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn in Paris at the Cite` d’ Music. This is a large project. It’s something I’m going to have recorded by French Radio. It may or may not be a record, but I’m sure when it’s done, all the work and effort I’ve put into it, and James as well, I’m sure that somebody will want me to make a recording of it. If the situation is right when it presents itself, I’ll decide then whether or not to make it commercially available.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: Could you pull off that same kind of project you were just talking about with James Newton in the U.S. ? There seems to be a different kind of acceptance in jazz in Europe than in the U.S.
    DM: I can pull off a project like that in the United States. I have pulled off large things. I did a big thing in ’86 with Paul Gonsalves, Ben Webster and Lester Young in Boston with a big band and orchestra. This one is going to be on a higher level, I think only because the people are totally interested. I feel that in America, the establishment, or people who want me to perform at festivals or whatever, they’re in pretty good shape. The enthusiasm is definitely there. I’ve played the Monterrey Jazz Festival, and played at the festivals in New York, Chicago and Atlanta…. I always think that when people say that jazz is better in Europe, I don’t really agree with that. I think that people really like jazz right here in the United States. I think that once you get outside the big cities, you might have a bit of a problem, but generally people love jazz if they get an opportunity to hear it. If the d.j.’s would play more jazz, people would like more jazz, it would be just fine and it wouldn’t be all this whining about jazz is not accepted in America because that’s bull. People love jazz. My kids love jazz. Every generation that I see out here, if given the opportunity, I think they’d love some jazz. I do workshops and I see kids who love jazz. I go into a workshop in Columbus, Ohio and there’s 50 kids sitting there with brand new alto saxophones trying to play a Charlie Parker riff. To me that’s a great indication that our youth, you just have to lay it on them, they’re ready. It’s probably our problem. Everyone could contribute to their kids hearing good music, not even necessarily jazz, but just good music, instead of just letting your kids be totally saturated by rap or music that you don’t really want them to listen to, but then parents still don’t turn it off, they just let it go on. We have to tell children, here listen to this, this might extend your brain a little bit. Okay, you learned the lyrics to that rap song , now learn the bridge to this song.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: There are some divisions in jazz itself. I noticed that you and keyboardist Rodney Franklin started together, now you guys have gone totally different directions. Some people wouldn’t even call him a jazz player.
    DM: There might be a division within jazz, but me and Rodney are really cool. I still play with him sometimes. He’s a great player. There are different spectrums of jazz. Jazz is kind of like the hue tones of African-American people. We have a lot of different tones in our hue. We have a lot of different levels and different types of jazz. The determination, for me, and it should be for everybody else, is if it’s good, or not good. I don’t care if it’s electric, as long as its good. I don’t care if it’s acoustic, as long as it’s good.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: Speaking of that, a lot of people are going to be surprised by this high-octane electric band you’re performing with here, especially Miles’ ex-keyboard player Robert Irving III.
    DM:That’s true, they will be surprised. I’m not really worrying too much about when you plug in, and people talk about you, that you’re crossing over. I don’t care. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve been crossing over ever since my people came here on a boat. (big laugh) To me, boundaries are lines made to be broken.

    End Other David Murray Sites on the Internet…

    Metro Active
    Chriss & Co.
    Justin Times Records
    Marcel Safier’s David Murray Page

    Nicholas Payton Interview

    Nicholas PaytonA Word With
    Nicholas Payton
    by Paula Edelstein

    Nicholas Payton shares his secrets of sonic influence with an amazing suite that he has titled Sonic Trance. This masterful 18-track program is meant to be listened to in its entirety in order to enjoy and comprehend the full effect of each composition. However, knowledgeable music lovers are encouraged to enjoy the metaphors associated with each individual track because Payton’s set is awesome!

    Nicholas Payton composed the entire musical story and has filled it with many of the brilliant shapes, forms, nuances, and technical escapades that you’d expect to experience while watching an action packed movie. However, it is your aural imagination that is the window into Payton’s brilliant mind and this exciting fusion of several musical genres. That sort of interaction is sure to please since Sonic Trance is a musical expression that is both intelligent and entertaining. It grooves, it rocks, it’s all about jazz. So straighten on those headphones and kick up the volume because you’re in for a real treat. We talked to Nicholas Payton during a break in his busy schedule and here’s what he told us about Sonic Trance. So listen up!

    P.E.: Hello Nicholas and congratulations on a stellar label debut for Warner Brothers. Sonic Trance is miles away from your 6 previous releases including those titled DEAR LOUIS and NICK AT NIGHT. Who or what was the motivation for this new musical direction?

    Nicholas: I think for my quest and desire for NOT wanting to settle into any kind of comfort zone in terms of what was previously established in my career, I feel that any artist usually when they’re in the process of development reaches a point when they can either forge ahead or stay with what’s comfortable and established. For me, I wanted to see what was ahead as opposed to just being complacent.

    P.E.: That’s great. Nicholas, you’re really utilizing a variety of musical styles including groove, hip-hop, electric keyboards, special effects and new colors for your trumpet… but you are mindful as ever to include the great jazz elements that have sealed your popularity around the globe. Do you think this new direction will work in your favor with your die-hard jazz fans?

    Nicholas: I think so. Hopefully it will. What I see with this project is that it has the possibility of reaching a broader audience than maybe with what I was doing before. I think it’s an extension of my previous works, so I think that a lot of the people that followed the records that I’d done, will see how it’s all connected and will continue to support my music. But, hopefully, this music will have a real appeal to a younger audience and I’m really trying to reach out to them.

    P.E.: Nicholas, you mentioned that you approached the recording like cinema…with certain recurring melodies being a metaphor for certain characters that appear and reappear in different incarnations. Would you be so kind as to explain this in terms of the song titles?

    Nicholas: Sure. I think a lot of it has to do with the sequencing of the record. For one, it was my idea that SONIC TRANCE be listened to as a complete work from beginning to end as opposed to a selection of tracks strung together. With respect to the energy – a lot of the energy of the record – I wanted to focus on the transitions being an important part of the mood of the CD as the songs themselves. Many times I’ll have a song and right when we’re beginning to cook, I’ll cut it off right in the middle and start to something else so that the cross fades are likened to scenes in a movie where they sort of pull you in and point to the ending of the movie. I wanted to imbue that same sort of feeling.

    P.E.: It certainly does. Especially with “Fela I” and “Fela 2,” “Shabba Un-Ranked.” Moving on to another sequence in this great program, “Blu Hays” is the closest thing to straight-ahead jazz on the CD but some fans will nonetheless compare SONIC TRANCE to Miles Davis’s seminal early ‘70s forays into funk/rock fusion as heard on BITCHES BREW and TUTU. What are your thoughts on that likely comparison?

    Nicholas: Well for me, I think this project is me trying to make a declaration that there is more than one way to play jazz music…and it doesn’t have to only be acoustic, that it doesn’t only have to be in a traditional type of swing rhythm. There are many ways of expression and with all this technology that we have, and all the interesting things going on in hip-hop and R&B and popular music, why not utilize that? It think that jazz musicians – from the beginning of time – have increased the popularity of jazz music by taking popular songs, things and elements that people were familiar with and filtered it through their own voices. And that is exactly what I’m trying to do here.

    P.E.: Adonis Rose, Tim Warfield have played with you on several of your recordings. Who are some of the new members in the band and how did you hook up with them?

    The telephone rings to the tune of a trumpet call! Big laughs fill the room since it’s not Nicholas playing his horn!

    Nicholas: Well there’s Kevin Hays on keyboards, Daniel Sadownick on percussion, Vicente Archer on bass and Karriem Riggins on sampler and keyboards.

    P.E.: I didn’t know that Karriem Riggins had that in him because I associated him with the late, great Ray Brown.

    Nicholas: He’s very busy…he does a lot of production in hip hop and other styles. In fact, he probably does more of that than straight-ahead jazz.

    P.E.: And you’re from a very musical family out of New Orleans, Louisiana – your mother being an opera singer and classical pianist, your father a respected bassist and retired school teacher. It’s been said that you started gigging at age 8 in your dad’s bands! Did you ever consider any other career other than that of a musician?

    Nicholas: Yeah, I mean music was always a part of my life although I didn’t know until later on that it would be a career endeavor!

    P.E.: Who are some of your trumpet heroes both past and present day players?

    Nicholas: There’s Louis Armstrong…Miles Davis, Wynton Marsalis, Dizzy Gillespie, Clifford Brown, Freddie Hubbard, Terence Blanchard, Roy Hargrove, Brian Kaiser…there are so many, both past and present.

    P.E.: Those are definitely A list trumpeters! I’m sure you are aware that you populate many of those GREAT TRUMPETER lists yourself! With SONIC TRANCE, we certainly hope you achieve a tremendous level of success. Thank you so much for the interview and congratulations on the debut for Warner Brothers Jazz. Keep in touch with Nicholas Payton at

    Reprinted with permission of…

    Phil Ramone – Discusses the making of Genius Loves Company

    Phil RamonePhil Ramone Discusses
    The Making of Genius Loves Company
    The Last Recording of Ray Charles
    by Paula Edelstein

    Genius Loves Company was completed only months before the legendary Ray Charles passed away. A giant among his musical peers and one of the most versatile musicians that ever lived, Ray Charles’ last days were spent recording some of his favorite music with many of today’s favorite performers. Concord Records and Hear Music has released this special duet recording which features Ray singing with such well-known artists as Norah Jones, Diana Krall, Natalie Cole, Gladys Knight, Johnny Mathis, Elton John, Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt, Van Morrison, B.B. King, Michael McDonald, and James Taylor! This is a true historic moment in musical history.

    Produced by John Burk, Executive Vice President of Concord Records and the Grammy-winning producer Phil Ramone who has produced recordings for Frank Sinatra, Barbara Streisand, Bob Dylan, John Coltrane, Billy Joel, Stan Getz,among others, Genius Loves Company reflects the stylistic contrasts, sensitivity, passion and love that was Ray’s essence and the love and respect Ray’s fellow artists held for him during the session and long after the tapes stopped rolling. We spoke to Phil Ramone about his involvement in the making of the project and here’s what he told us.

    P.E.: Hello Phil, thank you for the interview about the making of Genius Loves Company. This must have been a very emotional experience for you considering the turn of events with Ray Charles’ health and impending death just months after the recording was finished. Did Ray show any signs of how ill he really was during the recording sessions?

    Phil: Actually more at the point when I did the Elton John session – when we did “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word” – he was quite fragile at that point. That was the first week of March. From November to March, which was when most of my time was spent with Ray and doing a song here and there, and right after Christmas he looked weaker. He was getting thin and his power to sustain…he was a trained entertainer and had been accustomed to doing two hour concerts with no problem.

    P.E.: I imagine this had to be a very emotional situation. How did you initially become involved in the Genius Loves Company project?

    Phil: Well it started when I did this duet with Van Morrison in June 2003 for a show called Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. Van Morrison was among the honorees for that evening, and he was about to come to America. So in a conversation with him, he asked, “How does this show work?” I explained, “Another artist will sing one of your songs and part of your collection and the you will answer by singing one of your songs back to the artist.” So he said, “the only way I’ll do the show and the only way I’d feel comfortable is if I can sing with my dream artist, Ray Charles.” So after a lot of calling and testing, asking and begging and trying to change Ray’s schedule and seeing whether he’d be in New York, and if not, we’d fly him in…that’s how we started the whole idea because once the two of them appeared on the same stage, Concord Records had been talking to Ray’s people and to Ray for months and months. So it was probably another six months before we actually got started. November was when I got involved. But to convince Ray to want to do it, was all John Burk’s and Concord’s idea.

    P.E.: Let’s talk about your involvement with his duets with Diana Krall, Elton John, Bonnie Raitt, Natalie Cole and Van Morrison – all superstars in their own right with contrasting styles that span the musical spectrum – whether pop, rock, blues, jazz, country, to R&B. Diana Krall hits her mark with the great Ray Charles on one of his most memorable ballads, “You Don’t Know Me.” Can you share a momentous highlight on the making of this song?

    Phil: Well, I think number one, he was reticent about doing that song because it’s a classic record of HIS. Of any other artist who has done that song, we’ve all been sort of aware that Ray’s rendition was the perfect model. Once he’d said okay to it, he said, “I’d love Diana Krall.” I think that’s what I saw in the studio– which is pretty much what happened with almost every artist…they were a little nervous, asking questions, is there anything that I should know about, humble, making sure that they were comfortable. Ray had a very engaging way with her and Diana, being a wonderful perfectionist about the way she works, was so humble. She started out very nervous, but I told her that she had reached that stature in her career so that if she was uncomfortable, say so or I’d say it. Ray had a radar that was his own and he could tell…he’d say “that’s okay daawling.” He was very endearing.

    P.E.: We were nearly moved to tears after listening to Ray Charles and Elton John’s rock ballad duet on “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word.” These lyrics can take on so many different meanings especially since Ray asks, “What did I do to make you love me?” “What have I got to do to be heard?” “What do I do when lightning strikes me?” He definitely had revved up his personal appearances over the past 3 years at various festivals, concerts and even did a television series with Clint Eastwood titled The Piano Blues for PBS. What was your experience with Ray and Elton that led to their recording of this particular song?

    Phil: Well it goes back to the NAMM Convention in Anaheim, CA, where the manufacturers show off their products. They honored Elton John that night at The Pond. The guests included Norah Jones, Diana Krall and Ray Charles! Ray sang that song and it was so emotional, so good and Elton was just thrilled. So when I asked Elton if he wanted to do Genius Loves Company, and when Ray said, “I love this song, “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word,” it seemed obvious that this song would be a high end, emotional time in both of their lives. I didn’t realize that Ray would be as fragile but when they got to the studio, there was so much love.

    Elton got there a hour and a half before the session! They had tea, and talked about other stuff…he was preparing. I think artists have a way of preparing, I have my own way of preparing. He was always aware of how Ray would come into the room and he wanted him to feel the love and respect in the room. How exciting it was. Ray always knew what he was going to do, Elton knew what he wanted to do. I prepared the crew to make sure that if anything was going to happen…the cameras would be outside. The crowd in the studio was huge which is unusual for me.

    P.E.: The City of Los Angeles recently designated Ray Charles’ recording studio as a historic landmark and that’s understandable. Among the songs he recorded there include “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind” with Bonnie Raitt. His remarkable versatility continues to shine through with Bonnie Raitt and many people know of his ability to tell the story behind the song in any musical style. Ray said that Bonnie Raitt “proved something he’s always said – country and blues ain’t just first cousins, they’re blood brothers.” Why was “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind,” so special for Ray? Had he worked with Bonnie Raitt previously?

    Phil: I don’t know whether he’d recorded with Bonnie. When you look at the list of songs on the album, you know that he scrutinized everything before and after. Certainly, his love for the cross check here is to look at how and what Ray Charles has always been— a completely versatile musically diverse human being who never cornered himself into saying, “This is what I’m doing and this is the only song that I would like to do.” I think the counterpoint to that is that everybody had a couple of songs that he was happy to do with them. One of the classiest things that happened was when he said, “I would love for you to do that song. I’ve always liked that song.” I know with Bonnie, “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind,” was the kind of song she always wanted to sing with him. I don’t think she’d ever recorded with him.

    P.E.: “Fever” took on a whole new meaning when Ray dueted with Natalie Cole and one could surmise she has become quite adept at remote recordings and scoring. Is it true that they used the version done by Little Willie John (Raelette Mabel John’s brother) instead of the arrangement that Peggy Lee had made famous?

    Phil: Well, he wanted to refer to that because the story on that is that Little Willie John made that record before Peggy Lee did. So there may have been some other lyrics…because Ray kept saying, “There are some other lyrics we’ve got to look at,” but we never got a chance to go check that out.

    P.E.: Genius Loves Company closes with Ray and Van Morrison singing another great duet – “Crazy Love,” which they recorded during Van’s induction into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame.” Are the Raelettes singing on this song? Do you know what is happening with The Raelettes now? Will they go on to record with another artist, keep their name?

    Phil: I don’t know that but I suspect that The Raelettes will go on and will be known as The Raelettes. But they were not in the television show…I know there is some misconception about that. Those were singers that I work with around New York.

    P.E.: Needless to say, every time I play this CD, I get emotional and I’m sure that even though life goes on, it’s hard not to question one’s own mortality. The movie based on Ray’s life story UNCHAIN MY HEART: THE RAY CHARLES STORY is scheduled for release this year also. Are their any duets with these artists featured on the soundtrack for that particular movie?

    Phil: Not that I know of. I haven’t seen the dailies and Taylor Hackford is one of my favorite directors. But I hear from everybody that Jamie Foxx is just incredible, but I haven’t seen or heard the soundtrack.

    P.E.: Thank you so much for participating in the preservation of Ray Charles’ vast legacy. Unfortunately Genius Loves Company was Ray’s last recording on this planet, but Phil, you deserve a great credit for documenting his final hours and musical history. Do you have other plans for subsequent releases since I’m sure there are hundreds of previously unreleased songs written by the great Ray Charles?

    Phil: Well, as in all cases, I know there are many recordings that he’s made and the person sitting there at the Ray Charles Studios archiving all of his songs will have a lot to do. But I’m sure that we’ll be hearing a lot of Ray Charles for some time to come.

    Be sure to read
    the CD Review.

    P.E.: Thank you again and here’s to the success of Genius Loves Company, an important and momentous event in musical history and the life of Ray Charles.

    Reprinted with permission of…

    Najee – A Point of View Interview

    Najee is one of contemporary jazz’s true pioneers. Creating a fresh and pulsating “rhythm and jazz” dynamic in the early days of the smooth jazz format, the versatile saxophonist—whose first two recordings, 1986’s Grammy nominated NAJEE’S THEME and 1988’s DAY BY DAY, went platinum—inspired the whole urban vibe that took over the instrumental world throughout the ’90s. Mixing up his trademark soulful soprano with dynamic touches of flute and alto, Najee made a dramatic return to the scene this August with his Heads Up debut, MY POINT OF VIEW.

    A native of Jamaica, Queens, New York, Najee shared all of his musical dreams—and later, many professional gigs—with his brother Fareed, a guitarist who was a year younger. Their father passed away when they were very young, but their mother encouraged a deep exposure to jazz via recordings by artists as diverse as the Miles Davis Quintet, Junior Walker and Mongo Santamaria. Najee showed an early interest in the sax but a grammar school teacher steered him towards clarinet when there were no sax chairs available in the school band.

    “My life and career have been shaped by what I like to call ‘life defining moments,'” he says, “and the first of these came when I took a tenor sax solo in my jazz band at August Martin High School and realized that suddenly, all the girls knew my name! Fareed and I started playing professional gigs together at 15, and had a mutual support system going.”

    Najee began studying under the direction of Jimmy Heath, Frank Foster and Billy Taylor at Jazzmobile in Harlem, and he also studied flute with Harold Jones at the Manhattan School of Music. “Later,” he adds, “Fareed and I spent a year in the music department at Bronx Community College, then auditioned and got into the New England Conservatory of Music, with me majoring as a woodwind and composition major and Fareed focused on guitar and composition. Musically, I really loved everything, from Kool & The Gang to Grover to Sanborn to Maceo Parker. I also couldn’t get enough when one of my teachers played Charlie Parker for me.”

    Needless to say, Najee’s POINT OF VIEW is the culmination of his studies, brilliant influences, and creative skills set to music. This stellar debut also offers the saxophonist/composer/arranger the promise of a future among the best of the best at Heads Up International. We caught up with Najee as he launched his concert tour in support of POINT OF VIEW. Here’s what he told us so, listen up!

    Najee’s Point of View
    A New Contemporary Jazz Aesthetic
    by Paula Edelstein

    PE: Congratulations on your debut for Heads Up International – MY POINT OF VIEW! It’s been a long time coming but it’s well worth the wait. What a great CD Najee. I understand the buzz is really positive. You got to be really happy about that.

    NAJEE: Yes I am, I’m very happy to work with people I enjoy working with from the Heads Up label.

    PE: Oh yes, they’re a great group. Najee, you got some hot guest stars including guest appearances by vocalists, Will Downing and newcomers Lomon Andrews and Sisaundra, keyboardists James Lloyd and Rex Rideout and Chris “Big Dog” Davis. How did you hook up with them or had you played with them before?

    NAJEE: Yes, they’re actually friends of mine. Will and I go back many years. The first time we worked together was on a record called JUST AN ILLUSION. Over the years, we’ve toured together in different packages and I had the pleasure of playing on his Christmas CD this past year. When we were recording this song, Chris Davis said, I’d love to have Will come in here and do this.” So I called Will and Will told me politely in a nice way, “Man, I was going to come in there and surprise you but you just messed it up.” As far as the other people, Sisaundra is a very gifted vocalist and is on tour with Celine Dion and has her own solo career. Then Lomon Andrews is a young gentleman out of Connecticut who, when I was recording, came by. I ended up putting his song on the CD.

    PE: Let’s talk a little about your jazz influences. I understand you began studying under the direction of Jimmy Heath, Frank Foster and Billy Taylor at Jazzmobile in Harlem, and he also studied flute with Harold Jones at the Manhattan School of Music. These are very heavy jazz influences and that association really surfaces in your music. What do you think was the one most important thing learned from your association with Jimmy Heath and Billy Taylor?

    NAJEE: I think the one thing that I learned from them was diversity. Originally, I went in there with a mindset as a kid that all I was going to play was R&B music and that was cool. But they encouraged us to study music seriously – jazz in particular but also classical and to learn the fundamentals. And to be as diverse as possible even though they were primarily known in the jazz realm, they were very diverse and knowledgeable about music. They also encouraged to play more than just saxophone and to play flute.

    PE: Najee, you’ve also played with some very hip contemporary artists such as Prince, Quincy Jones, Lionel Ritchie, Chaka Khan, Freddie Jackson, Stanley Clarke, Billy Cobham, Larry Carlton and so many others. An incredible career! With MY POINT OF VIEW, you have come full circle with that whole urban vibe influence that you helped to launch back in the late 80s. What are your thoughts on the state of contemporary jazz today? There’s some criticism about it being too formulaic.

    NAJEE: I think it’s somewhat formulaic. It would be nice to have some variety of artists that are out there doing some interesting things and to be able to listen to what they’re doing and give them a shot to help the format live. As with all formulaic things, after a while they tend to become predictable. I am not excluding myself from this criticism. So I think it would be healthy for the industry to allow some of the artists that are doing some interesting things. You never know who’s going to be the next big one!

    PE: I agree. There is music out there that barely scratches the surface and then there is music that reaches deep inside of a person’s soul. Najee, your sound on soprano, tenor and alto are so emotional and romantic and you’ve often said your music is a product of your personal life experiences. But technology also plays a part in getting that trademark sound. Do you have a favorite saxophone voice?

    NAJEE: No, I can’t say that I have a favorite. The song dictates to me what I’ll play. I’m one of those guys who people call a doubler, which means that I play more than one voice. People know David Sanborn as an alto saxophonist, but I enjoy playing alto, tenor and soprano. The soprano ended up becoming the most successful voice even though it was an instrument that I didn’t like very much in the beginning.

    PE: Do you have to use a certain technology, mouthpiece or reed to obtain these heartfelt sounds that we hear?

    NAJEE: Well, my set up has changed over the years. Recently I’ve gone back to using a very simple mouthpiece made by Beachler.

    PE: Your brother Fareed produced some tracks on MY POINT OF VIEW. His arrangement of Sisaundra’s vocals on “Emotional” is awesome. What was the inspiration for “2nd To None” and “Emotional?”

    NAJEE: “2nd To None” was written by James Lloyd and myself. We had made a loose commitment years ago to work together and we’ve been friends for many years. We’ve always said, “Man, we got to get together and write.” On this particular record, I made sure that I wasn’t going to let him slip out on this one! Especially since it was his idea to check out Heads Up. He spoke very highly of Dave Love and all the staff over there.

    PE: Well congratulations on your new association with Heads Up Najee. They’re an excellent group of people. Will you be on tour in support of MY POINT OF VIEW and where can your fans find your schedule?

    NAJEE: Yes, we’re currently on tour and putting together the cities as we speak. We’ll probably play South Africa again in January and be back in the states to continue the tour in 2006.

    PE: Wonderful, we’ll look forward to your playing the West Coast and here’s to much success with MY POINT OF VIEW.

    NAJEE: Thank you Paula.

    An Interview with Lee Ritenour

    Lee RitenourTributes and More Tributes
    Lee Ritenour
    by Mark Ruffin

    It would be easy to assume that Lee Ritenour came up with the idea of his “A Twist of Marley” tribute album as a sequel to his highly successful “A Twist of Jobim,” from 1997. That Jobim tribute band didn’t tour, but Ritenour is touring with his “Twist of Marley,” band, featuring Gerald Albright, Patti Austin, Jonathan Butler and Phil Perry all of this month..

    Actually the guitarist first planned a tribute album to Bob Marley & the Wailers nearly ten years ago. Somehow that project turned into a Wes Montgomery tribute album titled, “Wes Bound.”

    “Wes Bound,” was the seed for this record,” Ritenour remembered. “At that time, in ’92, I was seriously thinking about doing a tribute to Bob Marley. I started to work on it, but I couldn’t quite put the picture together, and the gear changed, and I ended up doing “Wes Bound.””

    That Montgomery tribute album featured five tunes written by the late great guitarist, four by Ritenour, and the seemingly out of place, “Waiting In Vain,” by Bob Marley and featuring vocalist Maxi Priest.

    “That was the one song I couldn’t resist holding over, and it took this long for the rest of the album to come to fruition. The man upstairs, Mr. Bob, wouldn’t let it go, he wanted this album done.”

    In fact, Ritenour insists that on many occasions, he felt an otherworldly presence pushing him to complete the Marley tribute. He also repeatedly compared the experience to producing a film where it may take years for the right script to come together with the right stars and director.

    “I’d work on “A Twist of Marley,” then work on business and other projects, then come back to it, and then go do something else,” Ritenour said Not long after the “Wes Bound,” record, Ritenour, along with the publisher of Jazziz Magazine, decided to start a record company called i.e. music, which delayed the Marley project again. The company put most of their eggs into another all-star tribute project, “A Twist of Jobim,” in honor of Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos-Jobim.

    “Marley’s music kept grabbing me, but I could never get the complete picture on how I could crossover his stuff until after I did “A Twist of Jobim,” ” Ritenour remembered. “With Jobim’s music I began to feel more comfortable taking another composers music and playing with it and evolving it for the style I represent.”

    He was progressing on the album when he was delayed as the record world shook in 1999 and Universal Records bought Polygram. Being in partnership with the latter, after dumping the former, i.e. music was sold but still survives.

    After the legal maneuverings were over, he felt the force of Bob Marley.

    “I felt some kind of wave with this album, ” Ritenour related “It had legs, a force of its own, and once it got flowing it was so natural. Every artist on the record happened to be in L.A. when I thought about asking him or her to record.

    “Once it started to click, it just clicked so easily, I kept laughing. I remember saying ‘I think Mr. Marley wants some jazz and r&b on his songs.”

    Ritenour began most of the work using real samples of Marley tracks, separating certain instruments and blending them with his. He eventually took all the samples off and replaced them with live musicians, with one exception. The horns, guitar and organ that open the first song, the anthem “Exodus,” are lifted from Marley and the Wailers original version.

    Among the guests on the album are Albright, Perry, Michael Brecker, Will Downing , Jonathan Butler, Patti Austin and many others.

    “I didn’t want to do a straight up and down pop or r&b record of his material, because that’s not who I am or who I represent, ” Ritenour commented. “At the same time, there was no way I could chase the Wailers, and there was no point in trying to do that.”

    Bob James Interview 2004

    Bob JamesLet’s Take It From The Top
    An Interview with Bob James

    by Paula Edelstein

    When you think of Bob James’ song repertoire, your thoughts will probably take you from one end of the musical spectrum to the other. From television and motion picture themes, to traditional styles of jazz to contemporary smooth grooves – he’s traveled many musical journeys. In the realm of songwriter, Bob James has written some of the most memorable songs that you’ll ever hear. In the realm of pianists, Bob is right up there with such great jazz pianists as Monty Alexander, McCoy Tyner, Mulgrew Miller, and several others that have populated the jazz galaxy for the past 40 years. In 1962, Bob James recorded a bop-ish trio set for Mercury, and three years later his album for ESP was quite avant-garde, with electronic tapes used for effects. After a period with Sarah Vaughan (1965-1968), he became a studio musician, and by 1973 was arranging and working as a producer for CTI. In 1974, James recorded his first purely commercial effort as a leader; he later made big-selling albums for his own Tappan Zee label, Columbia, and Warner Bros., including collaborations with Earl Klugh and David Sanborn.

    With over 40 recordings as a leader of his own trios, and with numerous appearances as a session musician and co-founding member of the group Fourplay, Bob James has contributed more than his fair share of music, talent and jazz education around the world. Fourplay, an all-star group originally comprised of Bob James, guitarist Lee Ritenour, bassist Nathan East, and drummer Harvey Mason) was formed in 1991 after the quartet came together on part of James’ Grand Piano Canyon album. They have since recorded a number of CDs for Warner Bros. that have all been big-sellers, not surprising considering the popularity of James and Ritenour. Larry Carlton took over the guitarist’s spot in the late ’90s, first appearing in Fourplay on the band’s successful 1998 album, 4. That group’s music borders on jazz with some strong improvisations mixed in with large doses of pop and R&B.

    Today Bob is still at his best on his KOCH label debut titled TAKE IT FROM THE TOP. He pays tribute to some of jazz’s greatest pianists with excellent renditions of their signature songs and songs that majorly influenced his appreciation and sense of jazz piano. We spoke to Bob during his promotional campaign for TAKE IT FROM THE TOP and here’s what he told us…so LISTEN UP!

    P.E.: Hi Bob, it’s great to talk to you again and it’s even more rewarding to hear what’s been happening outside of your gigs with Fourplay. Take It From The Top is awesome and features you in a new trio setting paying tribute to some of your favorite pianists. Let’s talk about some of the songs and why you were inspired to include them on Take It From The Top. First off, your excellent arrangement of “Tenderly” must truly be one of the sweetest renditions on the 21st century jazz scene today. I understand that Oscar Peterson had a major influence on you during your college days. Have you ever had the opportunity to work with Oscar Petersen?

    B.J.: Hi Paula. Glad you liked my new project. When I was first trying to develop my skills as a jazz pianist, I listened to many recordings. I wanted to understand how the great artists approached their music, and what gave each one their trademark style. Because it is such a personal form of expression, and because it’s improvised, jazz gives the performer more opportunities to develop their own individual way of communicating, and I can remember how much it fun was to try to determine who the artist was, or just be listening to a few phrases of one of their solos.

    Oscar Peterson was one of the pianists I was listening to a lot, and the title of the album that I literally wore out, was “Tenderly.” Although Oscar primarily recorded in the trio setting, this project consisted of solo & duet performances and it really gave me a chance to study his technique and self-contained rhythmic power. I quickly learned that it would be a mistake to spend too much time trying to imitate his awesome physical technique, but still got a lot from feeling the energy and power of what it was like to really “swing!” In this version of “Tenderly” I was definitely not trying to sound like Oscar; I was thinking of it in the same way that I approached the other tunes, as an opportunity to pay my respects, and to show my appreciation for what I learned by listening to all of these great pianists.

    P.E.: You couldn‘t have shown more respect than by paying such a great tribute Bob. Your playing is absolutely beautiful. “Nardis,” is another great tune from another great pianist; the inimitable Bill Evans. You’d recorded this song previously on your first album – BOLD CONCEPTIONS – and now have revisited it 40 years later! Why, of all the songs that Bill Evans made into jazz standards, did “Nardis” have such a profound effect upon you?

    B.J.: Bill was the other jazz pianist I listened to the most. And “Nardis” was obviously a tune that inspired him, because he recorded it so many times, with so many different approaches. In fact, although he’s not credited for it, I’d be surprised if he didn’t share in some part of the composition of that song, since he was working with Miles Davis at the time, and was a big influence on his music. I find “Nardis” to be an endlessly challenging tune for solo exploration, because it sets a haunting mood, and was an early example of the shift away from standard chord progressions of popular tunes, toward a more modal linear approach. And yes, I was shocked when I realized that it had been 40 years since I made my first attempt to record that piece. It certainly is a tribute to its strength that I still find it exciting to play and to experiment with.

    P.E.: “Poinciana,” is highly touted as Ahmad Jamal’s trademark piece and your rendition here is ever bit as stunning. Bob, you’ve written many great songs and many journalists have assigned several songs as your signature piece. What song do you consider your “signature” song?

    B.J.: Once our music reaches the public, it takes on a life of its own. Privately we may have our own favorites but if you’re lucky enough to earn a “signature piece” it is because your listeners heard it and singled it out. In my case “Angela,” the theme song from the Taxi television series, has continued to be the one that my audiences most often ask for. In no small measure because of the vast amount of people that heard it around the world through the syndication of the successful series.

    P.E.: That is definitely one of our favorites and is still included in many performing arts high schools and college-level courses that teach scoring for television or motion pictures. At the other end of the musical spectrum, you’ve smooth-grooved with some of the best musicians on the contemporary jazz scene but Take It From The Top is definitely a straight-ahead jazz set. You’re playing with James Genus on bass and Billy Kilson on drums – both of whom have quite an extensive history as straight-ahead jazzmen. Why did you choose to arrange these songs as straight-ahead jazz pieces instead of smooth jazz pieces?

    B.J.: Since the end of the bebop era there’s been a struggle, mostly unsuccessful, to come up with names that adequately represent the different stylistic changes that have taken place in contemporary jazz. Most every jazz fan understands historically what the terms Dixieland, Swing, Bebop represented, but in the last 30 years, an unfortunate polarization has taken place, with the “serious” camp on one side of the fence and the “popular” on the other. And the names that have been coined to represent the newer styles have had the effect of being divisive rather than informative. Yes, it was a great thing when jazz began to be accepted as America’s unique art form and was liberated from only being heard in clubs, and shifting from dance halls to concert halls. But some of the best aspects of early jazz will never be well suited to the confines of formal concerts or academia. And it is for that reason that I find the term “straight-ahead” so misleading and even prejudicial, as it has been applied to only one stylistic approach. It seems to imply that those not playing in a classic post-bebop style are somehow going down a crooked or less than ideal path. To make matters worse, the most recently coined phrase “smooth jazz” comes not from the jazz community but from the business of commercial radio marketing and advertising. So now there’s a whole generation of fans who rarely ever get the opportunity to hear what jazz is like when it covers both the rough & smooth territories. Is straight-ahead jazz never smooth? Do smooth jazz artists never get rough? It’s all kind of silly in the final analysis. And I’m sure this long-winded answer was not what you were looking for to a simple question about my CD. The shorter answer would have been that, although the instrumentation was the traditional jazz piano trio format and the tunes were standards, I tried to approach my performances stylistically in the same way I always do–as a jazz musician now living in the 21st Century and trying to respond spontaneously to everything that goes on around me.

    P.E.: As a jazz educator, what courses would you include in a jazz piano curriculum?

    B.J.: The most important would be to develop the basic technical skills and I’m a believer that a good solid classical education provides the best opportunity to accomplish that. Learning the real meaning of the more mysterious jazz words that elude even the best musicians from other genres, like “swing” or “groove,” is best accomplished by getting out and playing in a “live” group situation, in my opinion.

    P.E.: Which course do you feel is the most important one for an aspiring jazz pianist to study most: improvisation, melodic phrasing, or the history of jazz?

    B.J.: After acquiring lots of technique, those three are vital, but I would suggest reversing the order…learn about the history by studying the great classic recordings, learn how those great artists re-interpreted and manipulated melodic phrases, and finally armed with those skills, venture out on your own and improvise!

    P.E.: Brilliant! Now that you’re on a new label – KOCH – can your fans expect to hear more straight-ahead and swinging jazz piano in the trio format on the road?

    B.J.: Woops, I guess I’ve already spilled the beans about my hang ups with those terms. Let’s just say I plan to keep marching straight-ahead down the same path I’ve been heading throughout my career, trying to swing as hard as I can. I love playing in the trio setting and hope to keep a balance between that format and also playing in some larger groups that give me the opportunity to collaborate with my favorite guitarists, saxophone players, etc., etc., etc.

    P.E.: That’s a date we’re looking forward to hearing for sure. Will you continue to work “live” with Fourplay?

    B.J.: Yes, definitely! We’re currently planning a tour for the fall to showcase the new CD project JOURNEY which we just finished recording in Los Angeles.

    P.E.: Well there you have it folks. The great Bob James doing what he does best and sharing his great music with jazz lovers. Thank you so much for the interview Bob and great luck at Koch and with Take It From The Top and JOURNEY! We look forward to hearing you in concert.

    B.J.: Thank you Paula.

    You can keep in touch with Bob James and Fourplay at

    Reprinted with permission of…

    Al Jarreau – Accentuating The Positive – An Interview

    Al JarreauAl Jarreau
    Accentuates the Positive
    by S.H. Watkins Sr.

    Al Jarreau has a new CD, and it’s an all jazz album… the first he’s ever done. Getting ready for the interview, I visited his web site for some insight and information that I might not have. While browsing I ran upon a line where he asks that you email him to ask questions but not about his “zodiac sign or favorite color”. Armed with this warning, I got on the horn and gave him a ring….

    JazzUSA: Hi Al, tell us a little about Accentuate The Positive… After all these years what made you decide to put out an album that is all jazz?

    Al: Ahhh. it’s a promise I made to my audience a long time ago. I’ve been promising this album where I would do things that were really jazzy. There is an album from 1965, in fact it’s called Al Jarreau 1965 that was not an official album that hints in this direction, but nothing else other than these forays I made into the jazz arena, songs like Take Five and A Remark You Made and others, but not really a complete album like this, which I’d have to call a real jazzy album. I had to do this for my audience, and for me and I owe really to this genre.. style… era of music that made me who I am since We Got By. All of that stuff that I’ve been singing in R&B songs… that solo in boogie down (begins to scat a bit)… I do that because I started singing (scats and sings some more) when I was 21 years old, you know, 22 years old singing some Dizzy Gillespie hot licks, you know, from Grooving High.. so I owed it to this stuff that was my classroom, my academy, that made me who I am… and here it is first chapter. First chapter… there’ll be more.

    JazzUSA: Can you give a little bit about the genesis of that 1965 record?

    Al: What was happening is I was a student at the University of Iowa studying rehabilitation, which is work I went on to do about a year or two after I left there and worked in San Francisco… where I met George Duke. I was singing in this club called The Tender Trap owned by a drummer who was an ex-wrestler from the University of Iowa, he was in love with Frank Sinatra so he called it the Tender Trap. David Sanborn played there, a whole list of people who were in that neighborhood, and I went there and started sing on weekends while I was in school at the U. of I. We decided that we would go and record this music, get it down for our own library… my Mom would like to know what I’m doing when I’m not studying. That’s what we did, it was really not, at that time, meant to be released, but it GOT released, and I’m glad because it is part of my history and what I was doing before I came on the scene 15 years later.

    JazzUSA: Let’s go to another night in the early 70’s… what about the night that Columbia records set up the showcase for you in L.A.?

    Al: Oh my goodness! You know about that, do you? How embarrassing… man oh man. Well I had been courting Columbia, playing my music for them for a while, I had some demo tapes and stuff. One of their vice presidents was supposed to come to the Troubadour club in L.A., a brilliant club that’s still going and doing music, where I opened for Les McCann. I’m still waiting for them to show up, they never showed, but who did come was the people from Warner-Reprise and the rest is history… I signed with them and was with them for more than 20 years and most of the albums that people know me for came as a result of those several evenings that they came there and signed me up!

    JazzUSA: So Warner owes it all to Columbia?

    Al: (Laughs) I’m not gonna say that (Still laughing).

    JazzUSA: Are there more jazz records to come?

    Al: That’s what I’m about to say, I feel like this is just the beginning of a new chapter for me and there’ll be other albums like this to come, but of course I need to do that Brazilian album, and the Big Band album that I’ve been promising as long as I was promising to do this jazzy project, so yes… that and other things.

    JazzUSA: Why write a song about Betty Carter?

    Al: Oh… every reason in the world to and not very many reasons NOT to write a song about Betty Carter. She was a force. She doesn’t get the kudos that Ella Fitzgerald gets, that Carmen McRae gets, and certainly not Diana Krall and Norah Jones (laughs). But, (she was) a brilliant singer right out of that improvisational, free floating kind of spirit of the moment is the way she performed and touched me, and thousands, and I just wanted to tip my hat to her and say that her song is still playing in my heart and on my face as raindrops fall… and that’s why I wrote that first line, you know….

    JazzUSA: She’s a wonderful lady…

    Al: Brilliant lady. And thank you for picking up on that because on the pre release it’s only title is Betty but the real title is Betty Be-Bop Song, that’s what will be on the final record jacket.

    JazzUSA: On Cold Duck you mention Eddie Harris by name in the lyric.

    Al: Yes.

    JazzUSA: Is it a tribute?

    Al: Exactly. Exactly it’s a tribute to Eddie Harris. Another one of those guys who didn’t get the awards and the kudos he deserved but who touched my heart and my spirit because he knew you could be a jazzer and still invite people to funk and dance. I want people to listen to my music too, but I don’t want every piece to be something you have to sit and mull over in your mind, I want them to get up and dance! That’s why Boogie Down and others like that I sang. So… yeah Eddie Harris… and it’s not the first time I’ve visited some Eddie Harris… I also did Compared To What.

    JazzUSA: Having grown up in chicago, I recall a long while back on a PBS Chicago show called Soundstage, you and Chick Corea doing a version of Whispering

    Al: Yea yea yea yea! Wow! That’s where it began…

    JazzUSA: That’s where Groovin High came from?

    Al: That’s where it began. I began the lyric then, and just finished it a few months ago. Things take a while.. you know (laughing).

    JazzUSA: 22 years to write the lyrics!

    Al: Right ain’t that something? And Blue and Green took even longer. I did that on the record with Narada Walden called Heaven and Earth… the lyric for Blue and Green took even longer.. I don’t know if anyone discovered that record … yet. I began that lyric in ’63 or ’64 and finished in the middle 90’s and came on this record.

    JazzUSA: Was the Soundstage appearance the first time you and Chick had gotten together?

    Al: oh yeah… that would have been the first time we really played any music together. We knew each other before that and he invited me to come, and that was the beginning of my interest in working on that song which happened some several years later on a project that Jay Graden produced and I went and wrote the Be-Bop lines for an already begun lyric that Artie Marin had begun. I mean he wrote the (begins singing) Yesterday, just a photograph of yesterday and all it’s edged folded and the corners faded sepia brown, and yet it’s all I have our time’s love, a postscript to it’s ending… and then I wrote the Be-Bop lyric, and so things take a little time. One of the beauties of having a career that’s not one song long on top radio is that you get to grow and evolve as an artist (laughing).

    JazzUSA: Did that collaboration lead to Spain?

    Al: Exactly! It led to Spain. It led to my finally doing that song during the Jay Graden period, which lasted for about five albums, and I finally finished that lyric and did the song.

    JazzUSA: On the new CD, the only common name between the performers and the composers is Russell Ferrante. Is that a coincidence? And what’s a Skootchabooty?

    Al: Well the title is just what is says, and you have to listen to the song a couple of times to get the notion that what I’m talking about is ‘Get Your Boogie Down’. Get up and move, it’s time to go, time is wastin’, you can do it if you get your boogie down… Skootchabooty bottom move… Skootchabooty bottom move…

    Well, Russell is one of my heroes for a long, long time. All that work he’s done over the years in various guises, including Yellowjackets. I called him 18 years ago, if it wasn’t 20 years ago, and said “Russell let’s get together and write.” I went to his house with this very piece of music in my head and sang him those opening lines (scats the melody for a moment), then he came up with the bridge (more extended scatting), then I wrote the lyric for it!

    One day we have to do it in the form we did it that afternoon with Russ playing the left hand… bass player get outta’ town! Somewhere on cassette tape I have me singing dummy lyrics, and him playing accompaniment, just two of us, and a left hand to die for, so yes… that song has history too. No coincidence, no coincidence that Russ is there, and I predict that he and I will come together again and do more things.

    JazzUSA: My son, Stephen II is only 27 years old and he said to tell you he LOVES your music, and he’s not the only young person I know that loves your music.

    Al: (Laughing) say that again and keep saying it… I just recorded it (laughing).

    JazzUSA: Many artists and record companies are changing the style of their music releases to reach the younger generation, you don’t do that. That can’t be attributed entirely to your past crossover hits, is that appeal intentional or just because the music is good, and everyone appreciates good music?

    Al: Well, I crossed over but I’m not so sure the kind of music that I did of a crossover sort is relevant today because it’s a whole different kind of rap-n-roll these days, and I’m not sure I can reach a young audience doing exactly that music. What happened is because I’m an R&B singer and Pop singer I’ve done more of that music, still influenced by jazz, as I have jazz music itself. We were talking about those tunes that I’ve done that were really directly out of the jazz book, I’ve reached people. I’ve reached young people and a young audience. You should see my audience in Europe, you’d fall on the floor. In the front row, at outdoor venues in the summer, is kids 15-30, all standing there jumping up and down and dancing, ’cause I want people to dance to my music. Then I give them some Spain. Then I give them Joe Zawinul’s A Remark You Made and their eyes roll back in their head as they hear, in the same context, coming out of the same mouth, with the same musicians that refuse to have borders, they hear this other music that they go and find later. Yeah, they find Chick, and they find Dave Brubeck because… First of all, radio there is so broad you hear me between Beastie Boys and Sting (Laughs). It’s real broad and the kids feel less barriers between music.

    JazzUSA: I hate to use the word idol, but who are your idols?

    Al: I LOVE the word idols, and I got ’em. They are lined up and they run all the way from Johnny Mathis and John Hendricks, who were the greatest influences on me, the balladeer? Johnny Mathis was an extension of Nat King Cole, so Nat King Cole was certainly one of the idols. If John Hendricks is a jazz singer, then he and of Ella Fitzgerald are certainly Idols mine. People who I wanted to be like, tried to sound like (launches into a short segue of Unforgettable)… hey man! Are you kidding me? Idols! If you don’t have idols, I don’t know how you come to pick up an instrument or pick up a mike and try to sing. You want to communicate like that person that touched you so deeply that you can’t help but get up and take the mike when someone hands it to you, or pick up your horn and play Diz licks or Sanborn licks. Oh, idols are so important, the touch us in our heart, change our lives as listeners and push us to do music, write music, bring music to people ourselves as musicians and singers.

    JazzUSA: OK, so speaking of idols from another point of view, what do you think of (R&B singer) KEM?

    Al: I plan to be in touch with his management in the morning (laughs) and tell ’em “Come on let’s do something together”. I don’t know if that’ll happen, but I think it’s something we ought to do. There’s enough there that we are cut from similar cloth and I think we ought to do some work together.

    JazzUSA: Just for general information, what is Al Jarreau’s favorite color?

    Al: Blue and Green. I love them… blue of the sky and green of God’s greenery.

    JazzUSA: Been good talking to you Al.

    Al: Thank you… thank you for letting me Yakety Yak.

    An Interview with Ramsey Lewis

    Ramsey Lewis Speaks

    by Mark Ruffin

    Ramsey Lewis

    Publishers’ Note: Although JazzUSA hosts Ramsey Lewis’ home page, it had nothing to do with our decision to interview him and review his new release. We chose to do so because we think that Ramsey Lewis is one of the world’s Jazz greats, and the album is smoking.  ‘Nuff said..

    JazzUSA: Is there a theme to your new album Dance Of The Soul?

    RL: If there is a theme, it sort of covers the musical landscape of Ramsey Lewis. There a song called Cante Hondo that is very much influenced by European classical music. Of course I spent many a year studying European classical music, and still enjoy listening to it and playing it. And totally across the spectrum from European classical music is a song called Mercy And Grace. It’s recorded with my church choir with my sister conducting, it’s my sister’s church, and it’s a stone gospel piece. Now in between, there’s Sub Dude, which is fun for me to play because I like all kinds of music and it’s a r&b piece written by the guys at Ivory Pyramid-Kevin Randolph, Frayne(Lewis) and Sterio Ever since I went to (Chicago) Wells High School, I’ve been exposed to American popular music. Up until Wells High School, it was gospel, classical music and by high school I was listening to Dinah Washington and Mahalia Jackson, so there was gospel and some blues. But in high school, it was multi-ethnic and I was exposed to our pop scene. The pop scene to me before that was Nat Cole and Frank Sinatra. So, one of pop artists, not then but now, that I enjoy listening to is Sting. And I much be honest, a couple of years ago I went to hear (his sons) Bobby and Frayne and Kevin Randolph. They were playing at the (Hotel) Intercontinental and they did Fragile. The song kind of stuck with me and I hadn’t thought about it but Frayne said you’ve always liked it why not try it. And it worked so well.

    JazzUSA: What’s really interesting is that you actually have the guitarist who played on the original version of Fragile, Fareed Haque.

    RL: Yeah, that was Frayne’s idea. He said didn’t he play on that with Sting? I thought, he sure did and we gave him a call and he said, I’ll be glad to do it.

    JazzUSA: What about the other tunes?

    RL: I wanted to show off, exhibit if you will, my love for straight ahead jazz and I heard this pianist Ryan Cohan who plays with trumpeter Orbert Davis. I really liked his playing and I liked the cd, but then a friend asked had I ever checked out Ryan Cohan, cause I was looking for some really good jazz songs.

    JazzUSA: Weren’t you looking for some Latin-tinged songs?

    RL: You’re right. On the drawing board, before I decided to just let whatever Ramsey feel come to the forefront and let that be the theme of the album, it was going to be a more Latin involved album. That’s why on the credits of the album I thank Monica DeLeon and Carlos Aqui Aquilla for their creative assistance. Anyway, my friend said check out Ryan Cohan. I said oh yeah, I’ve heard him. So he came down to the studio and I told him to bring some stuff. He brought the cd I already had and he said here’s a couple of songs that are sort of Latin that you may like, Dance Of The Soul and Lullaby. And I loved them and said I’m gonna do these. He said thank you and he was about to leave and I said “I like the way you write. I’ve been wanting to do a tango. I want to do a jazz tango. I want it to start rubato, with like a piano solo with no time and go into a tango rhythm, but a hip tango. Then go back to rubato.” He said “okay, I’ll be back.” He came back in about ten day and he’d written this beautiful song called Cancion. I told him I loved it and he was about to leave. (laughing) I said “wait, wait. I want to do a solo piano song that shows the fact that I’ve been in classical music but it’s interesting from the jazz perspective and it would be great if it had like a Spanish tinge to it.” I went to the piano and showed him a couple of chords he might want to use and another little idea he might want to use. He went away and came back with Cante Hondo. So there may be lurking in the background somewhere, or lurking in each of these tunes, some Latin, Afro-Cuban, or whatever want to call it, feel. I think there’s maybe not one song that somewhere in that song, there isn’t something Latin or Afro-Cuban.

    JazzUSA: How did you and Frayne arrive at Teena Marie’s Portuguese Love?

    RL: That was purely the team. The guys. We were talking about r&b, not only Sub Dude, but they suggested a song from the 70’s. Portuguese Love was suggested by Frayne and Sterio.

    JazzUSA: Was that the only suggestion?

    RL: No they brought forth others. I can’t remember the others. This is the one I liked best.

    JazzUSA: Had you heard the original before?

    RL: I had heard it, but completely forgotten it. But when they played it, it came back to my mind.

    JazzUSA: Are you aware that Maynard Feguson covered it on an 80’s album produced by Stanley Clarke?

    RL: No, I wasn’t aware of that. One of my favorite songs on the album, and I have a lot of favorites by the way, but in this particular genre, Love Serenade is a simple song that we were not going to use. Frayne thought that it was just too simple and wasn’t much to it. We started working on it and it turned out to be a charming tune to me.

    JazzUSA: Now Ryan Cohan has to be one happy young camper.

    RL: Ryan Cohan is elated. He gave a recital very recently and I went down. He really played well. I met his mother and since then, he and I met again and he’s going to do more writing. And yes he is a very happy person.

    JazzUSA: Where did he get the Latin influence from?

    RL: I certainly asked him. He said he’s a huge Chick Corea fan and of course, Chick Corea is a huge Latin fan. He figured if he was really going to get inside Chick’s head, that he had to get inside Latin and he had to do just that. He studied Latin music.

    JazzUSA: It’s funny, Chick isn’t of Hispanic origins either.

    RL: Yeah, he’s Italian, I think.

    JazzUSA: I noticed you took half of Cohan’s publishing, was that a requirement for him to get the tunes on your album?

    RL: No, no, no. It wasn’t a requirement at all. But with the association with me and the company that I have, we are international and he is not and he chose to let my company administer the songs, because I’m hooked up around the world as a publisher.

    JazzUSA: Carl Griffin, Larry Rosen, Dave Grusin, Kent Anderson, I can go on and on, the whole old GRP staff is set-up somewhere else now at N2K. How do you feel at GRP now? Are you an orphan? Lee Ritenour certainly is an orphan, if not a lame duck.

    RL: I feel wonderful. Tommy LiPuma has made me feel right at home. Things change. You must remember that I been through a few years now. I’ve been in the business now for a couple of years and I know things change. I’ve only been with three record companies in my whole life, but Chess, which I was with for 15 years, it changed. CBS, which I was with for 19 years, changed. After being with GRP for a short period of time I knew sooner or later it was going to change because when I went there, they had already sold the company.

    JazzUSA: They were in the process of selling when you signed, right?

    RL: No, they had sold to MCA. When I signed,. Larry Rosen was only on as an executive consultant to run the company. That was part of their deal, we’ll give you ten zillion, zillion dollars, but you’ve got to stay on to show us how you did it. So when I got there he was there and he said “oh, I’ll be around for at least five years.” I think he was around for about four.

    JazzUSA: Have your old friends at N2K put out feelers?

    RL: Yeah, in so many words, without raiding the old camp of artists, which I understand some GRP artists have already gone, it was let be known to me that if ever I was without a record home, that I could find one there. But, what with no pressure, nobody said “you know what, you ought to leave those m.f.’s.” Nobody came to me like that.

    JazzUSA: Well GRP certainly have to be happy with that, and they have to be happy with this record.

    RL: They are. When I turned it in, not only did I get many, many phone calls from people in the company, but Tommy LiPuma must have talked to me several times in the period of two or three days listening to the album and telling me how happy he is with the album. That it’s the kind of album that he was hoping that I would turn in.

    JazzUSA: He left you alone too, didn’t he?

    RL: Yeah.

    JazzUSA: What did he mean by the kind of album he was hoping for? RL Well, not only does the album have depth and integrity in my estimation with the choice of songs, but the album shows that I’m aware that no man is an island and in this business we call show, you need to show it to folks or people need to hear it. You need to get airplay and you need to get exposure and it’s that kind of album. Now when I do an album on the Impulse label, it’ll be aimed at a smaller crowd. But when you do an album on GRP, you know where they’re going. They’re going for all the marbles. But at the same time, as an artist, I think there’s a way to be both intelligent and creative at the same time being emotional and aware of the variety of people out there that buy records.

    JazzUSA: GRP, since Tommy has been there, does seem to be less concentrated on GRP proper. He has Impulse, Blue Thumb and all these other little labels now, and the GRP records now seem to have a bit more integrity and maybe a little less NAC and a little more depth, would that be a correct assumption?

    RL: I don’t know if less NAC would be the word I would use, but without using any words like that, Tommy LiPuma says “I want you to record what you feel, man and if you’re recording for GRP, you know what the label is all about. You know what we’re trying to do. If it’s something you’re going to do on Impulse, you know what that is all about and what we’re trying to do. But the bottom line is no matter which of these labels you record for, if it’s not coming from your gut, then it’s going to show up in your music and we want to move people.” He also said that we want product that’s going to be around. Jazz USA: Are you doing a record on Impulse

    RL: I’m going to jazz interpretations of operatic arias ala Gil Evans and Miles Davis.

    JazzUSA: Didn’t I read somewhere that you were against mixing jazz and classical music?

    RL: Yeah, I don’t like jazzing up the classics. What I don’t like is to take a classical theme and just put a jazz rhythm up under it with no sensitivity or respect with what the song is about. The way I intend to interpret these songs is with the greatest respect for what the composer intended. When I say jazz up the classics, I use jazz very loosely when I say it that way. I’ve heard some people take rock and roll rhythms or r&b rhythms or shuffles and put a classical theme on top of it. I don’t respect that. If it takes away from the beauty of the piece, if it takes away from what the piece is all about, then why do that piece.

    JazzUSA: Now with this Impulse project looming in the background, and with this Latin tinged album?

    RL: And there’s the gospel album also on the board at Impulse.

    JazzUSA: I heard you had cancelled that project.

    RL: Oh no, that is going to happen.

    JazzUSA: Okay, with all that looming, your band is being more challenged than they have been since you’ve had this particular band together.

    RL: Right and I think one of the things that (drummer) Oscar Seaton, (bassist) Chuck Weeb, (keyboardist) Mike Logan, and (guitarist) Henry Johnson, like about my band, and I call it our band, because their contributions are major believe me, is that we have this kind of variety. I see the band more as a repertory band where we look at different kinds of music. We just don’t sit there and do r&b or pop or NAC or straight ahead or fusion, we look at different kinds of music. If it feels good, we figure it out and say hey, let’s make this our thing, let’s try this.

    JazzUSA: This album, unlike any of your other GRP albums, is a truer representation of your band, you know what I mean? Before this album, if you heard your band live, your band was always deeper than the albums, more concrete more substance. It’s like your record has finally caught up with your band.

    RL: I agree. The first two GRP albums, I was aware of what GRP was about and I might have put some things on the album that I play in person thinking that I was joining the GRP family and here’s my version or being a part of the GRP family. After so many concerts, people would ask ‘did you record that song?’ And I’d have to say no. After a lot of that, I realized I had to get what this band was about on record and I think we came really close this time. If you think the record sounds good, wait til you hear the band play it.

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    Ben Sidran – Cien Noches

    Ben Sidran
    Cien Noches
    Nardis Music – 2008

    This is Ben Sidran’s first Hammond B3 organ project. It’s an instrument he has played for forty years, and occasionally (as on his recent radio-friendly CD Nick’s Bump) featured on recordings. But CIEN NOCHES — the title refers to the fact that over a period of ten years he performed one hundred nights at Madrid’s famed Cafe Central — is the first time he has paid direct tribute to the instrument and the club scene it spawned.

    The album includes the original songs “Get It Yourself,” an acerbic commentary on the rock and roll industry, and “Cave Dancing,” an extended parable of jazz and the roots of religion. In addition, it features two Bob Dylan classics, “Gotta Serve Somebody” and “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” along with saxophonist Bob Rockwell’s “Drinkin’ and Thinkin,” an obvious party favorite.

    Sidran is no stranger to combining jazz, party music and story telling. Raised in the industrial lakeshore city of Racine, Wisconsin, while still in high school, he went to Madison, the home of the University of Wisconsin, to play with his own jazz trio and soon joined a Southern comfort party band led by frat boy singer Steve Miller and his Texas friend, Boz Scaggs. He eventually penned the lyrics for Miller’s hit song “Space Cowboy,” earning a place in rock history and royalties enough to cover his graduate education.

    In 1967, when Sidran moved to England to attend Sussex University, where he explored the cultural roots of Black music in America, he did session work at Olympic Studios, including dates with Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones and the band Spooky Tooth. Upon receiving his doctorate in American Studies in 1970, he moved to Los Angeles and entered the record business.

    That same year, Holt, Rinehart & Winston published Black Talk: How the Music of Black America Created a Radical Alternative to the Values of Western Literary Tradition, a book based on Sidran’s disseration. In the words of saxophonist / educator Archie Shepp, “it is one of the most important works on the social process by which Black music is communicated.” The next year, Sidran’s first solo album, Feel Your Groove, a jazz/funk hybrid, featuring Blue Mitchell on trumpet (the first of five such engagements), Willie Ruff on bass and Jim Keltner on drums, was released on Capitol Records. It was one of the first examples of so-called “fusion ” music, although at the time, Sidran reported, “We are not fusing anything; we are just playing the music that we love.”

    Growing up in the sixties, it was not unusual to love everything from James Brown to John Coltrane. All of Sidran’s subsequent 30+ recordings have exhibited this same passion for the groove. His albums — which include Live at Montreux (1979), featuring Mike Mainieri and the Brecker Brothers; The Cat and the Hat, (1980) featuring Joe Henderson, Tom Harrell and Steve Gadd; Bop City (1983), featuring Phil Woods, Eddie Gomez and Peter Erskine; Life’s a Lesson (1992), an album of Jewish liturgical music featuring Carole King, Joshua Redmond, Bob Berg, Lee Konitz, Eddie Daniels among others; and The Concert for Garcia Lorca (1998) which was nominated for a Grammy — are all grooved yet sophisticated.

    In a recent interview, Sidran talked at length about his love for the Hammond organ.

    “I first played the Hammond B3 organ forty years ago at a small club in Madison called the Tuxedo Lounge. It was run by a black guitar player from Indianapolis named Johnny Shacklett; he had been a contemporary of Wes Montgomery and he played guitar upside down, without a pick and used octaves and block chords, just like Wes. The club was small, located in the black neighborhood of Madison and had a Hammond with a Leslie speaker. Johnny had just taken it over and wanted music six nights a week. He could only afford two musicians so he hired me to play organ and a drummer named Ron Rhyne, the brother of the great organ player Mel Rhyne.

    I had never played organ before but I grew up playing boogie-woogie and stride piano and always had a very strong left hand. Figuring out how to play decent organ bass was not that difficult. We were working six nights a week and after the first month, I could make the instrument rock. I’ll never forget the first time the crowd got on their feet and Johnny started calling my name. It was a religious experience. All together, I worked at the Tuxedo lounge for three months and when the gig ended I was an organ player.

    There are many aspects to the Hammond organ that one has to master – not just the drawbars, to get the right sounds, but also the chorus and the percussion settings and the Leslie speeds. All these things contribute to the groove. But the most important thing is the feel of the bass.

    Anybody who is a fan of Jimmy Smith or Groove Holmes or Larry Young or Jack McDuff knows that the bass line is everything. Not just the notes – which are important too – but how one uses the position of the notes within the groove to drive the music. Unlike playing in a normal trio or quartet, when you play organ you have the opportunity to set up and support the solos with complete authority using the bass groove.

    Along the way I have asked other organ players for advice – Jimmy Smith just smiled, Mel Rhyne showed me some great drawbar settings, Joey DiFrancesco hipped me to some volume pedal technique – but in the end, it all comes down to how you feel about this large piece of furniture. You have to love it before she loves you back. There’s nothing like it.”

    Will Downing – After Tonight

    Will Downing
    After Tonight
    (Peak – 2007)

    Suffice it to say that after nearly two decades of remarkable recordings and performances around the globe, Will Downing is recognized as the premier male vocalist for the embodiment of his singular, sensuous blend of R&B, jazz and pop. Yet 2007 marks the release of what is unquestionably the most crucial album of his career. It’s not necessarily in reference to the content of the album, which is more of the masterful songs of sensual romance that have become his signature. The crux of After Tonight, Will’s 13th album and first for the Peak Records label, is the commitment in the face of adversity he summoned to complete it – the sheer “force of Will” that inspired the man to see it through to its fruition. When you listen to After Tonight, you are listening to music created and recorded by a man coming to terms with and battling a rare and severely debilitating condition known as Polymyositis.

    Listen To The Will
    Downing Interview

    Polymyositis is a chronic muscle disease – an inflammation of the muscle fibers – the cause of which is not known. It results in weakness that can be severe with equally maddening, random and inexplicable periods of flares and remissions. For an artist of Downing’s stature to make an album under normal circumstances comes with an already grueling set of challenges to make the best music possible. Factor in the frustration of discovering you have suddenly come down with this disease and all of its creativity sapping symptoms and one realizes that only a man of Downing’s spiritual fortitude could pull himself up against all odds to make his latest statement heard. After Tonight is more than just another album for Downing. It became a monumental reason for him to wake up on many a morning – a purpose that only his attention could bring to life. And Downing is determined for it to be far from his last.

    In an intimate letter enclosed within the liner notes of After Tonight, Will humbly discloses to his fans that the disorder “basically took away my ability to function on my own, including the use of my limbs or even walking. The majority of my vocals were cut from my wheelchair at home.” Where the average man would have crumbled in self-pity, Will fortified his faith, leaned on trusted friends and tapped into a reservoir of strength he didn’t even know he had…for he had never had to reach for it until now. In his letter, Will continues, “After a period of depression and `why me’s,’ I rekindled a relationship with God and family like never before. His love for me is getting me through these interesting times. I’ve come to deal with these circumstances but not accept them as I know I will overcome this illness.”

    Reflecting on what was most different about making this album from the twelve he’s done in the past, Will continued, “One thing I’ve really learned about myself is my ability to utilize alternative routes. Singing while sitting was ridiculously hard, so I found myself doing things in increments. Lines 1 thru 4 on a song may have been sung from the wheelchair, while lines 5 thru 9 may have been sung from the hospital bed. However, every line was only done when I was in the emotional mood to sing.”

    Crucial to the seamless completion of After Tonight was the return of Will’s longtime co-producer and friend Rex Rideout, in whom Downing placed his complete trust above and beyond the normal call of duty. Rideout has been working with Downing since his fourth album, Love’s the Place to Be, introduced during a Roy Ayers gig Rex was playing on by singer Audrey Wheeler, who is now Will’s wife. So the work on After Tonight was very much a family affair. “Family and familiarity played a major role,” Downing continues. “Being immobile made me put a lot of my trust in my producers and musician friends. We used technology to its highest heights. We swapped tracks over computer lines when – under normal circumstances – I would sit with each musician going over line by line. But because our musical tastes are so completely in tine, I trust Rex Rideout implicitly.”

    >”I am deeply touched by the trust that Will placed in me,” Rideout shares. “My job was to help make After Tonight the best possible representation of Will’s artistry during this challenging space and time. It was an honor and a heavy responsibility -one that I took very seriously. Will was really counting on me. He couldn’t be with me during all phases, so we did a lot over the internet – me in my west coast studio and he back east in his wheelchair at home or his hospital bed. At one point, I even flew to his house to set up a little studio for him in his room. Knowing how difficult this process was becoming for him, I kept asking ‘Are you sure you can do this?’ He always responded, ‘Man, I got it!’ The most nerve-racking part for me was sending him mixes then waiting for his response. Everybody from Will and I to mixing engineer Ray Bardani was looking at this under a magnifying glass. I did everything in my power to make After Tonight the Will Downing experience that his fans expect. And I am so proud of the job done my man, Will.”

    After Tonight opens with the soulful introduction of “Will’s Groove,” a mood piece that smoothly sets the scene for all that follows. And what you hear in the beginning of it is exactly how the song was conceived. Rideout shares, “Will called me up and said, “I have a bass tine I want to use to open the album. Do you have your computer on?’ I booted up and that’s the groove he gave me.”

    Immediately following is a string of seriously sexy tunes as only Downing can deliver them. “Fantasy (Spending Time With You)” sports a Corvette cool West Coast love man groove featuring Randy Bowland on guitar while “Satisfy You” finds Will playfully interpolating a line from the film Dreamgirls as he croons, “The first time that I saw your face / All I said was oh, my…oh, my…” The reassuring “All I Need Is You” is the album’s jazziest piece musically and most romantically vulnerable lyrically as Will sings about a couple at a moment of insecurity. Kirk Whalum contributes some tastily multi-tracked tenor lines. Meanwhile, Roy Ayers lays down some delicious vibes solos on a second mood piece, “Lover’s Melody,” a classy club jam for cupids who like to move.

    The album’s first single and title track, “After Tonight,” captures Will on par with the sound of today’s younger male soul singers, but with the sentiments of a grown man with long term love on his mind. “My mission tonight is to please you / Baby, we’re gonna take this love and make it do what it do / ‘Cuz after tonight I’m gonna show you how to make love / After tonight I’ll be the only love you’re thinking of.” This particular track was so strong that it is reprised at album’s end with a dreamy remix.

    The first of After Tonight‘s two covers, “No One Can You Love You More,” is from the pen of the incomparable Skip Scarborough, a man also responsible for Quiet Storm classics such as “Can’t Hide Love” by Earth, Wind Et Fire,” “Don’t Ask My Neighbors” by the Emotions and “Love Ballad” by LTD. The song was originally recorded on the self-titled 1977 debut album of dearly departed vocal legend Phyllis Hym n, a woman that Will shared stages with on many a night in the later years of her life. “We had some amazing shows together and shared some great laughs…most of which I can’t share with you,” Will teases. “But the song ‘No One Can Love You More’ was suggested to me by a friend. Honestly, I barely remembered the song but that’s what made it easy for me to interpret in my own way. It’s such a great lyric.” Updating the unforgettable sax work done by Gary Bartz on Phyllis’ original version is Gerald Albright, another old friend of Will’s with whom he cut an entire album in 1998 titled Pleasures of the Night.

    The second cover of After Tonight is far more personal and profound for Downing. “You Just Can’t Smile It Away” is a relatively obscure yet no less galvanizing composition from the peerless Bill Withers who recorded it on his last album to date, Watching You, Watching Me (1985). It is the second Withers song that Will has recorded, followed by “Grandma’s Hands” from his CD All The Man You Need (2000). It speaks plainly yet poetically about problems that demand to be faced, something very much top-of-mind with Will as he struggled to complete his latest work. Downing reflects, “When Bill writes, he paints…and I enjoy a good painting. Bill tells a story of America – sometimes in an urban way, sometimes in a classic way, but always from the heart. Bill tells it like it is and that has always drawn me to record his songs.” Downing’s deep connection to this song did not go unnoticed by co-producer Rideout who found himself quite moved as he watched Will chisel his take into perfection. “In the Withers song – more than any other – I detected a vulnerability from Will that I’ve never heard before,” Rideout states. “He told me he tried different takes during daylight hours with other folks around him. But around midnight, it hit him to sing the song white he was all alone lying in bed. That take is pretty much that you hear on the record. My eyes welled-up the first time I heard it.”

    Will Downing has been wowing sophisticated soul fans with his soothing, sensual baritone voice for two decades now. After behind the scenes work ranging from ’80s club production king Arthur Baker to vocal diva Jennifer Holiday, the Brooklyn-born singer/songwriter made his solo debut in 1988 with the self-titled album, Will Downing. It was highlighted by a dance cover of John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” and Deniece Williams’ “Free.” These numbers set Downing up as a sensitive interpreter of classics. Covers became a staple of his CDs and eclectically include Paul Davis’ “I Go Crazy,” Angela Bofill’s “I Try,” Thom Bell & Linda Creed’s “Stop,
    Look, Listen (To You Heart),” Janet Jackson’s “Anything,” Ephraim Lewis’ “Drowning In Your Eyes” and Luther Vandross’ arrangement of Leon Russell and Bonnie Bramlett’s “Superstar.”

    Will Downing’s winning musical blend has landed him on radio stations across the R&B, smooth jazz and adult contemporary dial. His hits include “Sorry, I,” “Do You Still Love Me,” “Nothing Has Ever Felt Like This” (a duet with Rachelle Ferrell), “When You Need Me” (a duet with Chante’ Moore), “Don’t Talk To Me Like That” and “A Million Ways.”
    His engaging live shows have made him a familiar touring presence, performing in Europe and stateside at venues ranging from nightclubs to outdoor festivals and, particularly, all-star packages. Downing has graced stages with cross-pollinating peers such as Gerald Albright, George Duke, Regina Belle, Jonathan Butler, Art Porter, Lee Ritenour and Vesta, just to name a few.

    Beyond the music, Will Downing has proven himself to be an outstanding photographer. His lens work was showcased in a 2004 calendar featuring portraits of singer/musician friends. And in 2006, he self-published (though Will Downing Productions) a coffee table book titled Unveiled, filled with his work as well as that of several other African American graphic artists from Philadelphia’s ArtJaz Gallery scene.

    Will Downing was the official 2005 spokesperson for the American Stroke Association and continues to tend his name and efforts on its behalf. He also supports the Myositis Association.

    The Herculean and purposeful approach that Will Downing undertook to complete After Tonight – for himself, his wife, three children, extended family and fans -cannot be overstated. It is a reflection of determination, faith and character comparable in contemporary soul music to the strength that the great Curtis Mayfield – who was permanently paralyzed at the end of his life – mustered to make his final album, New World Order (1996). But unlike Mayfield’s, Will’s condition will hopefully only be temporary.

    The very source of the fortitude that Downing is leaning upon is addressed in a moving song of faith that Will composed with his wife Audrey Wheeler-Downing (who also harmonizes with her husband on the background vocals) and Noel Goring titled “God is SO Amazing.” Touching on what is perhaps the greatest gift that has come from his challenges with Polymyositis, Will Downing witnesses, “I’ve learned that God plays a bigger role in my existence than I ever realized. This was a difficult project to record, but everytime i felt down – mentally or physically – I looked to him for inspiration.”

    An Interview with Marcus Miller

    Marcus MillerSpeaking on M2 and More with
    Marcus Miller
    by Mark Ruffin

    Without the benefit of hardly any air play, “M-Squared,” the new album by bassist Marcus Miller is currently riding high at the top of the jazz sales chart. The 42 year-old musician will be playing selections from the release, with a crack band, on a North American tour that runs through the end of this month.

    “If you make the music good enough, it can overcome all those names that people need to put on music,” Miller said by phone from his Los Angeles studio. “We’ve played smooth jazz festivals where people have trouble eating their cheese, and we’ve played traditional jazz festivals where we’re the only electric band there. There’s so much to do in the middle.

    “We want to play music that they have to feel, before they can put names on it,” Miller continued. “That’s one of the reasons I’m not on the air.”

    It’s not just in your hometown where Miller isn’t on the radio. All across the country, Miller’s music is too jazzy for adult urban radio, too funky for the smooth stations, and he’s too electric for the mainstream jazz frequencies. Yet, only Brain Culbertson has a more popular contemporary jazz album in the country, according to national sales charts..

    “It depends on the day,” Miller dead panned, when asked how he describes his music. “Sometimes I call it soul-jazz, but funk-jazz usually hits close enough. But there’s not really a name to describe it, because it ‘s a combination of stuff. It’s like we’re in our own space.”

    “The problem is that I’ve been involved in making music for Miles Davis, and been involved with making music with Luther Vandross on the R&B tip, and all the stops in between, so my music is a reflection of where I’ve been. It’s just good music.”

    Marcus MillerObviously, all Miller has to do is put out a record and jazz and funk consumers will come. The same can be said for the best musicians in the world. If Marcus calls, they will come running.

    “That comes from making music that people feel and doing it the old fashion way,” the bassist said “The music is strong enough and that has helped me build an audience over the years.”

    The 14 track cd features performances by Herbie Hancock, Branford Marsalis, Chaka Khan, Paul Jackson Jr, Wayne Shorter, Kenny Garrett, Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker of James Brown fame, and other stars.

    Starting at the age of 15, the Brooklyn-born musician began a long career of backing big names on stage and in the studio. He started with flautist Bobbi Humprhey and quickly moved up to Bob James, Aretha Franklin and Grover Washington, including the G-Man’s classic “Winelight” album.

    But it was his prowess as a composer and producer that earned him a massive international following. During the 80’s and early 90’s, Miller produced some of the most important albums of our time, and wrote some of the most memorable tunes of that era.

    In a period of about 12 years, he was music director for Luther Vandross, David Sanborn and Miles Davis, and wrote big hits for them all. Respectively, among the hits he wrote for those superstars are “The Power of Love,” “Maputo,” and “Tutu.” The bassist, who also plays bass clarinet, called the trio his teachers, and said he learned something from each one of them.

    “The main thing I got from Luther was to stick to your guns,” said the man who produced eight of Vandross’ platinum albums.

    “When Luther started in the early 80’s, record companies were interested in groups. They told him he needed a group or a gimmick. Luther told them his gimmick was that he stands there and sings.

    “I saw Miles go through the same thing,” the bassist continued. “People were criticizing him and telling him what he should be doing. I learned from Miles that you can only really do what you really feel.”

    What impressed Miller about Sanborn was his ability to create his own marketplace. He pointed out how Sanborn was very popular before smooth jazz radio came along, but when it did, the sax man became a staple of the format.

    “David and I were on records that some people say invented smooth jazz,” Miller said, pointing to the Sanborn albums he played on, specifically Backstreet and Double Vision.

    “My song “Maputo,” could be called the first smooth jazz standard. But that’s just one flavor of what I do.

    “I just want to make music and have people find it, and maybe make a new category,” Miller concluded.

    An Interview with Thara Memory

    Thara MemoryAn Interview With
    Thara Memory
    by Dick Bogle

    The Joe Tex blues band arrived in Portland by bus in late 1969, but when it was time to leave, one band member decided stay in the city of roses. Trumpeter Thara Memory had fallen in love with Portland, its’ clean streets, racial harmony and friendly folk and has been here ever since, now for over 30 years Memory rapidly built a reputation as an excellent jazz and blues player, arranger, composer and educator. He recorded the CD “Juke Music” under his own name and has been a sideman with various Mel Brown and Akbar De Priest bands through the years..

    In March this year, he will graduate from Marylhurst University with a degree in Composition and Conducting. Sunday, February 25, Memory will make his conducting debut leading the University symphony, the Mel Brown Sextet, African drummers and story tellers in performance of his symphonic work”Middle Passage.””Middle Passage” is about a young African woman named Seke who is captured in Africa on her wedding day and forced to endure the tortuous trip to America and slavery. Memory and I chatted about his work.

    JazzUSA: How long has been in your mind to do something like this?

    T.M.: A lot of that comes from how I grew up. In the community where I came from there were all kinds of music happening simultaneously. In fact, when I went home in 1985, you could hear all this going on in different houses at the same time.

    JazzUSA: This particular piece, “Middle Passage.” What inspired you to do something pertaining to the middle passage and how long did it take you to develop the idea from a concept to hard notes on paper?

    T.M.: It took me three years. The idea of writing a piece of music that talks about and illustrates about a woman being taken as a slave and coming to America as a slave, the successive generations that come from her. It’s like the history of my “great mother.” That’s a part of history we don’t focus on. We focus on the history of our “great fathers,” the patriarch but not our “great mothers.”

    JazzUSA: How many movements does your work have?

    T.M.: It has three movements. I’m going to perform the first and third movements. I’m not going to perform the second movement.

    JazzUSA: Why not?

    T.M.: The second movement is not the kind of movement for public consumption until I am famous enough to do it. The second movement I call the actual voyage, not the beginning nor the end of the voyage but in the middle, the actual voyage.

    JazzUSA: You mean the rock and roll of the waves, the sickness aboard and the desire to escape and the suicides that took place?

    T.M.: You would get sick.

    JazzUSA: What was the biggest challenge in writing this piece?

    T.M.: Trying to imagine how the different forces would work together like the African drums, the strings, the jazz musicians, and the European percussion, all the things that don’t normally go together.

    JazzUSA: Are there times when the sextet and the orchestra are playing at the same time?

    T.M.: Yeah, there are times when everything is going on at the same time.

    JazzUSA: How do the emotions of the music change from movement to movement?

    T.M.: You can hear the melody going and at the same time there’s something going on under it and there’s two feelings that are happening at the same time.

    JazzUSA: What are the emotions?

    T.M.: That’s hard for me to describe. If I could put them in words, I would just go ahead and write stories like Zora Neale Hurston. I wouldn’t write music.

    JazzUSA: Do you think there will come a time when you will write only for a symphony without jazz musicians performing?

    T.M.: I already have works like that waiting for them to be performed. Here’s the way I figure it. If you don’t have anything new or different to present and are conservative, it’s going to be much, much harder to get that to the public. The way I figure is to try the stuff that’s really, really different which is the hardest to present in the first place. And if you can get those things presented, then those other things in your mind like the work I’ve done on Dido’s and Aneneas’ Lament. I did this theme and variation for orchestra on it. Believe it or not the second movement of “Middle Passage” is all symphony orchestra.

    JazzUSA: What do you want in your future?

    T.M.: I want to share with young ones my knowledge of music, be able to present the music I already know in a way and at a price so that I can eat and pay my bills and be able to leave something permanent that can be enjoyed by others.

    Story reprinted courtesy of

    2010 Portland Jazz Festival Lineup


    2010 Portland Jazz Festival
    Mingus Big Band, Dave Holland, Pharoah Sanders to Headline
    Feb 21-28, 2010

    The 2010 Alaska Airlines/Horizon Air Portland Jazz Festival presented by US Bank will be held February 21-28 with jazz outreach programming in area schools and community centers on Monday through Friday, February 21-26, leading up to a series of headline concerts Thursday through Sunday, February 25-28 throughout downtown and inner Eastside Portland venues.

    The 7th annual Portland Jazz Festival features three-time Grammy Award-winning bassist, bandleader and composer Dave Holland,legendary saxophonist and John Coltrane collaborator Pharoah Sanders, the Mingus Big Band devoted since 1993 to the musical legacy of Charles Mingus, Brazilian vocalist Luciana Souza, and contemporary trumpeter Dave Douglas & Brass Ecstasy.

    Additionally, Portland Jazz Festival’s annual thematic programming asks the provocative question Is Jazz Dead (Or Has It Moved to a New Address)? – New Music from Norway, featuring North American premieres of leaders in Norway’s new and burgeoning jazz scene. This “festival-within-a-festival” includes the avant-garde chamber jazz of the Christian Wallumrod Ensemble, the saxophone/ accordion duo of Trygve Seim & Frode Haltli, and the jazz/rock fusion of In The Country featuring Morten Qvenild (keyboards), Roger Arntzen (bass) and Pal Hausken (percussion).

    Complete headline concert schedule:

    Thursday, February 25, 7:30pm, Hilton Pavilion Ballroom, Luciana Souza
    Friday, February 26, 7:30pm, Newmark Theater, Mingus Big Band
    Friday, February 26, 9:30 pm, Norse Hall, In The Country
    Saturday, February 27, 3:00pm, Norse Hall, Trygve Seim & Frode Haltli
    Saturday, February 27, 7:30pm, Newmark Theater, Dave Holland Quintet
    Saturday, February 27, 9:30 pm, Norse Hall, Christian Wallumr�d Ensemble
    Sunday, February 28, 3:00pm, Newmark Theater, Pharoah Sanders
    Sunday, February 28, 7:30pm, Crystal Ballroom, Dave Douglas & Brass Ecstasy

    Jazz Education and Outreach

    Jazz education and outreach events include performances of The Incredible Journey of Jazz, a Black History Month celebration staged in Portland area middle schools each February. The 60-minute musical/theater piece was originally developed by Portland State University professor and pianist Darrell Grant and the Leroy Vinnegar Jazz Institute. The performance features seven actors and musicians who each play multiple roles in depicting the experiences of African-Americans through the history of jazz. Early scenes have students communicating through African rhythms, and then follow the evolution from gospel, blues, ragtime, Dixieland and New Orleans. Eventually, we witness the migration of Black Americans up the Mississippi River to Chicago and other industrial centers with the big band sounds of Ellington and Basie, to the bebop of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, contemporary experimentation of Miles Davis and Ornette Coleman, and ultimately to rap and hip hop.

    Another key outreach component is the popular Jazz Conversations, one-on-one interviews with jazz headliners and members of the Jazz Journalists Association (JJA). These interviews are presented before a live audience in the intimate PCPA ArtBar throughout the festival. The sessions are recorded by KMHD-FM, Portland’s jazz radio station, for later broadcast and subsequently are available on the Portland Jazz Festival website,, for general listeners.


    Tickets are available at all TicketMaster locations, by calling 503-228-JAZZ (5299), or online at

    An Interview with Mel Brown

    Mel BrownAn Interview With
    Mel Brown
    by S. H. Watkins, Sr.

    Mel Brown is one of the most versatile and skilled drummers in the world. With a resume that includes tours with the likes of The Supremes, The Temptations, Diana Ross and Teddy Edwards; recordings with the likes of The Beatles; Marvin Gaye, and Leroy Vinnegar; Brown continues to work six nights a week in Portland. Brown leads such diverse bands as a hard-bop sextet on Tuesday nights to live D.J. acid jazz on Wednesdays. He took a moment from his hard working schedule to sit down over a cup of coffee and talk to us about the past, the present and the future.

    JazzUSA: I often hear references to ‘Northwest Jazz’, is there such a thing?

    MB: It’s kind of hard to call it Northwest Jazz, because the musicians that are around here have played in all parts of the country with other people, they just happen to live here. I don’t think we have a certain style, just a jazz sound. You know, like in the east coast you got the hard hitting stuff, the west coast you have more of a laid back style which is a kind of a smooth thing; like the LA sound. As far as the Northwest, it’s kind of hard for me to put my finger on it.

    JazzUSA: What about NAS? Some say that New Age originate in Portland or Seattle with that whole Jeff Lorber, Kenny G. thing.

    MB: Well from that standpoint, it really started right here in Portland with Jeff Lorber. Lorber was a part of my band when I first moved back here from New York. When our saxophone player left, Jeff said “I have a friend in Seattle who plays alto”. I said “bring him down.” I knew him as Kenny Gorlick.

    A couple of nights later I was leaving the club and I said to Jeff, “let me help you with your electric piano.” He said, “No I’ve got it, everythings cool.” I didn’t realize it at the time, but he and Kenny were waiting for me to leave the club so they could go to the club owner. They told the owner “we’ll start our own band and work for less money than Mel is charging you.” I got wind of that through Thera (Memory), that’s when I fired them. That’s when they started that Lorber thing.

    JazzUSA: The rest is history. So in a strange way, you’re kind of responsible for the whole new age jazz thing getting started.

    MB: Yeah, Jeff came to me and said “let’s practice this, let’s see what this is about.” So Thera, myself and Omar, we just kind of laid down grooves, and said this is a different feel but let’s try something. We kind of started some stuff, but he (Jeff) twisted it into another direction.

    JazzUSA: What made you decide to become a musician?

    MB: Actually from the time I was 12 or 13, when I started playing the drums. My dad was a Scoutmaster in the Boy Scouts. He brought in an assistant from New York, a guy that just got out of the service. His assistant turned me onto the jazz thing. He said, “Oh you like jazz? Here I got a tape of some music, try this out.” And it was that “Milestone” album with Miles Davis. I heard that and I said “this is what music is about, this is what I want to do.” But the guy, the assistant Scoutmaster that brought this music to me, his cousin is Max Roach. So that got me off and running.

    JazzUSA: What about education?

    MB: I started in the seventh grade playing drums. When I got really into the jazz scene, got really serious, I hit it. And then I had a scholarship to college, actually to any school I wanted to take it to, through the Oregon Women’s League, so I went to school at Portland State. That’s when it was Portland State College, back in 1962, we only had four buildings. So my junior year I switched to Business Admnistration, because by that time I was already recording with Billy Larkin and the Delegates. I saw things that were happening in LA and I said to myself “what happens if I get in a car wreck and I can’t play drums? I gotta have some back up!” I’m a numbers man, so I just got into accounting.

    JazzUSA: You said you spent time in New York?

    MB: Yeah, I lived there for five years, 1970 to 1975. I was working with the Temptations at the time.

    JazzUSA: We talked a minute ago about how you helped launch the careers of Kenny G. and Jeff Lorber. Are there any other noteable jazz musicians out there now, that did a stint with you?

    MB: Not from right here in Portland per say. There are a lot of drummers around here that I’ve taught that are out doing some things now.

    JazzUSA: Like who?

    MB: There’s a guy named Bruce Carter, he’s playing with Kenny G now. Basically, every drummer around town was a student of mine at one time or another. There are some guys that aren’t playing jazz, but are doing other things. There’s a guy by the name of Dee Castranova, that has been playing with all the heavy rock bands. He use to play with a group called Bad English, he’s recorded some with Kiss and now he’s like the rock and roll drummer.

    JazzUSA: I know Max Roach is one answer, who else would you say were your two biggest influences.

    MB: My other two teachers, Philly Joe Jones and Poppa Joe Jones.

    JazzUSA: What about the rumors that you’re really just a blues muscian, playing jazz, as opposed to a jazz musician who can play the blues.

    MB: Basically, I’m just a musician that can play all different styles.

    JazzUSA: You like the blues?

    MB: Oh yeah, I didn’t wake up and start playing jazz. I started out with rock and roll and then got into the blues. I use to work with some different people. I was working with Little Johnny Taylor and I did some things with Lowell Folsom. My very first gig that I ever played, I mean professional gig, was here (in Portland) at the Crystal Ballroom, with Ike and Tina Turner. I’ve covered so many different genres, cause when I was very young I was classically trained. A lot of guys used to tease me because I was standing up in an orchestra playing nothing but a snare drum, or I was playing timpani. They said, “awww man, you need to come out in the street and see what the other stuff is about.”

    JazzUSA: You did a stint with Motown, didn’t you?

    MB: Yeah, a long one.

    JazzUSA: Were you living there as well?

    MB: I was actually in California, but I was in Detroit so much, you might as well say I was living there.

    JazzUSA: I was looking at the list of people you played with. And Motown list like everybody, I mean everybody. The only person I didn’t see on the list was Smokey, and you probably played with him.

    MB: Oh yeah, I was with Smokey. I started with Martha Reeves and the Vandellas. See, every year back in Detroit we had a Christmas show, and it ran from Christmas Eve to New Years Day. Everybody that had a contract with Motown was on the show. So while I was out with Martha, doing “Jimmy Mack” or “Dancin’ in the Street,” or “My Baby Loves Me,” Gladys (Knight) would be in the wings singing, Smokey over here, Levi (Stubbs) and boys they were waiting in the wings. It was a big family affair.

    JazzUSA: Give me one thing you remember most from your Motown days.

    MB: I just remember a bunch of fun, because it was a big family thing. You could be recording something for Junior Walker and Stevie Wonder would run by. And you’d say “Stevie what are you doing in here?” and he would pick up something and just start playing, that’s how things were back then. Even with the singers! They could be laying down some tracks and somebody would walk through, and they would say “hold it, hold it stop the track, put your voice on this!” A lot of the stuff like that was happening. Even with Martha and the Vandellas you might hear a male voice in the background… that could have been Johnny Bristol or Harvey Fuqua.

    JazzUSA: What about now? You’ve got a new album out. It’s recorded live in a club (Jimmy Macks in Portland) but the acoustics are nice. Did it come out the way planned?

    MB: Oh sure, it came out even better than I anticipated. I wanted to capture that live thing like Cannonball had on that “Mercy, Mercy,” where the crowd is involved. Most of the things I do here, if it’s a live album, the band is across the street and the crowd is on the other side of the street. The two don’t really mix, you’ll hear a few applause… that’s it. But with this CD you can hear people hollering, screaming and clapping and getting involved.

    JazzUSA: Who’s idea was it to do that?

    MB: I actually wanted to do something live, and Tim Gallineau (The Producer) said “ok, I’ve got the people that can do that.”

    JazzUSA: People need to know you have a rich history. There’s going to be a lot of people who say “who the heck is Mel Brown?” Then they’re going to read this and realize that they’ve been listening to Mel Brown all their lives.

    MB: Plus there are going to be people back on the east coast, who are going to say “I wondered what ever happened to him!”

    JazzUSA: Any gripes with the business in general?

    MB: It’s just time that somebody from back behind the scenes, gets a chance to come out in front. As you and most of the people know, everybody always talks about the singers out in the front. Who are the musicians who made the singers sing the way that they sing? There’s a lot of those guys who are dead now, that were actually back there doing those things. There are very few of us still around, and back then they didn’t even put our names on the albums.

    JazzUSA: Drummers seem to have a tendency to write pieces that are drum-centric, and listeners don’t always want to listen to things that are drum-centric for an entire CD. You almost seem to take a backseat throughout this taping . You are the driving force but you give a lot of space to the other performers.

    MB: Basically, what’s happening with me is I don’t have to prove a point. These other guys are saying “look at me I’m going to compete for the number one slot in Downbeat magazine, to be the best drummer.” I don’t want to do that, I want to compete with the other folks who are saying the President of this bank knows me by my first name, because I put a lot of money into this bank. So it’s the main appeal, I put myself in the position of saying if I sat in the audience, how long could I sit there and listen to this group.

    JazzUSA: How did you choose your band members?

    MB: I kind of hand picked them. There was a certain sound that I wanted to hear. And I knew who could give me that sound.

    JazzUSA: What are you going to do in the future besides working six days a week?

    MB: I gotta slow down before I go crazy here. I’m getting that itch to travel and move around, It’s time for me to get on the road. I need to get in touch with what’s happening musically. Do some festivals as opposed to playing clubs. Clubs are fine but, but I like the whole festival situation too; I guess it’s about 50/50. The thing about playing festivals that’s nice is that you don’t play for a long period of time, and you make pretty decent money. But you also spend half the night on your set adjusting to the sound because the sound men that are there aren’t familiar with your sound. You have to fight these guys to get what you want. When I do a soft press roll, they start turning up the dials, and it sounds like the building is coming down. So you spend all your time really upset by the time you finish your set. You didn’t play the music, you just fought for 45 minutes to an hour. Whereas in the club you can kind of get situated and the the sound can get down. And you can really get into your stuff.

    JazzUSA: Any more albums in the works?

    MB: We’re going to try and get busy and do something else, maybe with the sextet. We’re gonna take it and mesh it together with the quintet on one release. It’s not going to be a live thing, but it’s going to be the sextet on one side and the quintet on the other.

    JazzUSA: We’ll be looking for that one. Good luck to you and thanks.

    An Interview with John Scofield – ‘A-Go-Go’

    John Scofield
    Talks about ‘A-Go-Go’
    with Mark Ruffin

    A-Go-Go In a large music library surrounded by just about every kind of music, guitarist John Scofield looks like, to quote George Clinton, a sex maniac in a whorehouse with a credit card.

    Well, maybe a bit more subdued than that, but the 47 year-old musician, in a conversation that ranged from Lonnie Johnson’s 100th anniversary, to his bud’s Bill Frisell’s latest duet album, clearly was relishing a chance to talk guitar and it’s players.

    The very first album he asked about was a record that Pat Metheny once called the greatest jazz guitar album ever, Wes Montgomery’s Smoking At The Half Note. Then Scofield had trouble deciding which track to hear first, but settled on Four On Six.

    “When I got this record in 1967, it was just when I was getting in to jazz,” he says. ” I got this record along with a couple of other records and then have listened to it ever since. It’s really one of the high point of jazz music and jazz on the guitar especially.

    “This is Wes at his peak. He had made some great records before this for Riverside and made his name as an innovative jazz guitarist. Then he had gone and made these commercial records. He made Windy, Tequila, and these had mover over to the pop area. They were not really blowing records. Then he came back and made this record on Verve. I think he had stored up some stuff, so when they went and made this record and it just all came out.”

    Right now, Scofield can relate to Wes when he was having hit records. Sco, as his friends call him, latest album A Go-Go, was the sixth largest selling jazz album in the country last year. A-Go-Go is punctuated by the new Hammond B-3 organ revival groove that purists hate to admit sprang from the acid jazz movement. Scofield’s take on the sound adds what is known, “dirty guitar,” a sound he helped to pioneer.

    His backing group on that album was Medeski, Martin & Wood, one of the hottest groups in America.

    “I called them up and asked them would they record with me, because I heard their music,” he remembers. “I really related a lot to the rhythmic thing and just the jazz funk stuff that they were doing which is similar to what I’ve been doing. And they do it with a rather loose kind of perspective. The groove is everything.”

    ” MMW. They are huge. They’re like a rock band now. I mean as far a popularity. They have a whole new young audience and it’s kind of an exciting time, because there are these young people listening to this music, especially the groove kind of jazz. And they are into it, into the creativity of it and the whole thing.”

    While comparing Wes Montgomery and his successes, the conversation, it seems naturally, turned to George Benson, the most commercially successful jazz guitarist of all time. When picking tunes, Scofield didn’t even consider Benson’s 70’s output on Warner Brothers and all that came afterwards. It was Benson’s early Columbia work in the 60’s with Dr. Lonnie Smith that he chose to listen to.

    “George really made it as a singer,” Scofield says. ” He became a pop star, I just had a few more record sales. I think because there’s this new young audience listening to some kind of jazz, my record did better. It didn’t cross over really to the pop world. In a way, I’m glad because it’s really hard when someone becomes a big star and they can’t really play the music they want to.

    “George has done well at keeping his chops up, because he can still really, really play jazz. I head him at a jam session in Nice where he went and set in with Frank Foster and he played Billie’s Bounce and he played some of the best jazz guitar I’ve ever heard and this was a couple of years ago. It’s still there, I just wish he’d do it more often.”

    Scofield’s latest success is an nth of what Benson’s platinum splash was. But of what’s happened so far, he says there’s been no major change in his life and the bigger than usual royalty checks will not effect him musically. One direct result though of having a hit in the summertime was that Scofield, with Medeski, Martin & Wood did play some pretty big venues in selected American cities. And the album made Billboard Magazine’s Heat Seekers pop chart.

    “I’ve never had any record that’s sold this well. I’m still grooving on that, you talk about a groove,” he laughs.

    A Go-Go also represented a major change in the Scofield’s sound. After years of touring and recording with the same group, he now has a new group that just got together in January of this year. The new band features Marlon Brownden, on keyboards Will Boulware and the bassist is Matthew Garrison. Garrison is the son of Jimmy Garrison, the bassist in the legendary John Coltrane Quartet. ( ED. NOTE- JazzUSA will talk to the Coltrane’s former pianist, McCoy Tyner next month)

    “Matthew is carrying on the family tradition and he’s tearing it up,” says Scofield. “I’m very excited about this group. They’re a great young band.

    “The record is still in the planning stage, but by the end of the year. I’m still trying to figure out what I’m going to do, but these musicians will be a part of it. It’s challenging to make record after record and have them all be different.”

    While perusing the library, Scofield completely ignored the Miles Davis selections, but salivated at the new Lonnie Johnson 100th anniversary re-issues. It was Scofield’s three year association with Miles, from 1982 thourh ’85 that made him a bona fide guitar hero. While it would be nice to hear Decoy or You’re Under Arrest, Scofield was relieved to find that there was no Miles from that era with him on it except the soundtrack from the film, Siesta, which really didn’t reflect what that band was about.

    “It was an honor and a pleasure to play with Miles. That gig really put me out there because people were really checking Miles out. He had come out of retirement and he was more famous than ever. So people would see you with Miles and it meant and lot. And Miles featured me nice. I got to solo. But more important than that was getting to work with my musical idol. I considered him the ultimate in jazz, and then to get to play with him. I learned so much from him.”

    And while it was Miles who made him a star, Scofield was in a pretty good band before joining Miles, the short lived and underrated George Duke/Billy Cobham band.

    “That band was truly my first big time gig with those guys. We had a lot of fun.”

    Scofield says it was those two bands, because of the rock element, were the cornerstone into changing his sound. It took the jazz from his late teens Wes Montgomery, Pat Martino and Jim Hall and added the rock & r&b that was his true background and fused them together.

    “Before I was a jazz head, I was really into blues. And when I was a kid, we had rock and r&b bands and were always trying to figure out the rhythm parts to James Brown tunes. Playing with Miles and Billy Cobham just brought more of that out.”

    When asked to pick one cd from his peers, Scofield ran his buddies name like water, Pat Metheny, John Abercrombie, Mike Stern but he stopped at Bill Frisell, because he heard he had a new duet album with Fred Hersch. He looked, found it, and said the session couldn’t be complete without Jim Hall’s Live At Town Hall.

    “Wes, Jim Hall and those guys from the older generation didn’t have those kind of sound bending devices that we do. Bill, Pat and I have all used the sonic thing that rock and roll brought.” It was a unique experience and a noble idea, but alas, Scofield’s ears was too big for the time allotted and most of the music picked laid like dormant diamonds in the sand, sparkling but not being used. The last pick belonged to the writer whose journalistic integrity might have been challenged had not the incredibly funky, soulful and aptly titled Chank from A-Go-Go been asked about, savored and enjoyed with the very witty guitar player.

    “Chank is dedicated to Jimmy “Chank” Nolan who was one of James Brown’s guitar players. It’s a two-fold thing. Chank was a guitar player with James’ band, and chank is such a musical sound, it really does sound like that guitar funk thing. That’s the way it sounds.

    “James Brown is the common language of jazz/rock. It’s all jazz musicians playing over a James Brown beat.”

    An Interview with Doug Carn

    Doug Carn Returns
    An Interview
    by Mark Ruffin

    For those of you out there who swore never to give up those vinyl records until all your cult favorites are on cd. Well if Doug and Jean Carn and the rest of the roster of the late 60’a and early 70’s jazz label Black Jazz, were among the last of your favorites to go digital, it’s time to recycle your vinyl. Carn was clearly that label’s largest seller, and because of the acid jazz movement, he joins Terry Callier, Ruben Wilson and a few others as artistically brilliant, but marginally commercial acts from the 70’s who have become essential in the 21st century.

    Carn’s specialty besides his keyboard and arranging talent, was supplying he then wife with lyrics to many jazz standards. Today many of his lyrics to tunes like, Naima, Peace, Passion Dance, Sanctuary, A Love Supreme, Little B’s Poem, Infant Eyes and others are important parts of the vocalese lexicon. While his wife with onto superstardom with the legendary Philadelphia International producers Gamble & Huff- her biggest hit was a song called “Don’t Let It Go To Your Head- her ex fell into relative obscurity while still playing with major jazz stars on the road, but rarely in studios.

    It was the incredible saga of Black Jazz Records’ resurrection that has fueled his comeback. He talked with JazzUSA’s Mark Ruffin from his home in his hometown of St. Augustine, Florida.

    JazzUSA: You know Doug, I’m always correcting singers, and always see that you’re not credited on so many vocal albums for all those great lyrics you put to jazz standards. Usually, they’re always credited to Jon Hendricks. Do you have that problem a lot, people not recognizing your lyrics?

    DC: Yeah, and I tell you, Jon Hendricks wrote some lyrics to “Naima” that were very similar to mine.

    JazzUSA: “Queen of the night?”

    DC: Yeah, and he used terms like, “child of gods.” But you know I don’t fault him for that. What can I say? He was one of my influences in this whole thing anyway.

    JazzUSA: And the laws have changed since you wrote those lyrics too. (ed. Note- essentially, nowadays if you write lyric to a jazz tune, in order to collect publishing royalties, you must change the name of the song and co-credit the original composer.)

    DC: Yeah, I know what you’re talking about and I hate that. You write lyrics to a Horace (Silver) tune or a Wayne (Shorter) tune, because you love them. And if they don’t like them and don’t think they work, then you don’t need to me messing with them. That’s worse than sampling. At least, sampling is honest. They say I like your stuff. I can use it. I’m going to sample it. Here’s your check.

    JazzUSA: Have you been sampled a lot?

    DC: No, but a rap group sort of did one of my tunes in England, and sampled it in a way. It’s kind of hard to sample jazz, unless what you’re sampling is already commercial. Because the tempos kind of floats around a bit more. It’s not as tight in the pocket as much of commercial music is.

    JazzUSA: I know you’ve probably been asked this a lot, but where have you been?

    DC: Well, In a way I really haven’t been anywhere. You know I never did really get all the way out there you know. As soon as we were about to get out there, it seem that me and Jean broke up. So people kind of stood off for a couple of years. But, I’ve still been out there. I worked with Nat Adderley for a while in the 80’s. This music game, the jazz game, the success game is kind of competitive and assertive and I’m not the kind of guy to go around and push himself too hard. I push what I believe in, but I don’t really get obsessed with it

    JazzUSA: So you’ve been making a living playing music?.

    DC: Sure, I was doing that before I put out those Black Jazz records anyway. So, you know, I’ve got family down south and they’ve got themselves a few houses, part of the family had a funeral home, and I had a few things I had to look after because the older people started getting too old, I went back to L.A. for a while, and I lived in the D.C. area for a while and in the past eight years, I’ve been back in Florida.

    JazzUSA: Were you also in Atlanta?

    DC: : In the beginning, late 60’s, early 70’s. That’s where I met Jean, in Atlanta, and we went to L.A. afterwards.

    JazzUSA: I just had an argument with a guy who, on the phone, sounded very racist. He got on my case because I had said on the radio that no matter what you think about the acid jazz movement, you have to respect the way it resurrected the careers of so many folks who fell through the cracks. And this guy got on my case about calling great black music acid jazz., and how dare I. He said “what’s the name of the label? The label’s Black Jazz. Acid jazz is drugs and white folks.” Has the acid jazz movement helped you at all?

    DC: I think it has. I think it helped Herbie Hancock. What has happened is that young people have discovered that a lot of that jazz was viable and it was something that they could use and see value and could relate to themselves, because the commercial aspect of the music was kind of timeless and universal and they could adapt it. That they chose to call it acid jazz is on whoever made that label (ed. Note- it was Gilles Petersen of the BBC and head of the English record label Talkin’ Loud.) But we know what body of music they’re talking about.

    JazzUSA: I also told this guy that people talk all that racist smack to me, but whenever I go out to hear those great black artists or acid jazzers , they’re nothing but white folks there under 25. Do you see a lack of black participation in the kind of jazz you present?

    DC: That’s one reason why I haven’t been out there so much, like you said, where have I been. I guess in a way, that’s always been the case, but in the mid to late 60’s or early 70’s it looked like the black community might have been taking on a direction of greater awareness. It seems like that only went so far. But, yeah, that happens all the time. I was shocked the last couple of times I went to London,. There were young white kids under 25 who knew all the lyrics to my tunes. As soon as I played the intro, they’d go to cheering. They were singing the lyrics while I was playing and some were even dancing.. That’s a problem. The greater reason for that, for the most part, the black intellectuals have just abandoned the black community, not so much that they have joined the white community either, but they’re just kind of off to themselves. They’ve kind of written the majority of the people off in the community as incapable of understanding and appreciation.. Then too, the other thing, when you get out there and make a record of two, they think that, ‘well you’ve made it. You don’t need our help.’ I tell people all the time that as successful as Miles Davis was, he needs the help of the black community right now. Where is the Miles Davis Center for the Performing Arts? Anywhere, specifically, anywhere in black America?

    JazzUSA: And chances are, if it comes in the world, it’ll be in Japan, or England or South Africa. I will be seeing you this month in a series called “Heroes of the Hammond,” what kind of music will you be presenting?

    DC: Well, it is a organ gig. That was one of the things that I did for quite a number of years, was play the Hammond B-3. But during the time I was coming along, organ was still in the miscellaneous category, like in Down Beat polls. It was well into the late 70’s, when this guy named Eugene Ludwig came out. That’s when they changed it and gave organ it’s own category. I didn’t want to be in a miscellaneous category, so I did concentrate on piano, but organ is really my axe. So I will take it as far as the local guys playing with me can take it. Larry Young was a good friend of mine, and I play that style.

    JazzUSA: Yeah, I remember saying when I was younger, that you made Larry Young’s sound more accessible.

    DC: Yeah, I think I am probably a bit more straight up and down than Larry was. (laughs)

    JazzUSA: Yeah, that’s what I mean.

    DC: He was my buddy, but sometimes I have to break away in tears. I couldn’t hang for so long. I’ll be playing that, and I’ve got my originals that was organ based stuff too, on some of the Black Jazz stuff.

    JazzUSA: You mean like, “Time Is Running Out?”

    DC: “Time Is Running Out,” “Arise And Shine,” “Passion Dance,” even “Little B’s Poem,” makes a great organ piece. Some of them make great instrumentals, and some of them, I do vocals on myself. So it depends on how the moods hits me and how the crowd is, and how hot the B-3 is.

    JazzUSA: Like you were saying, this is an organ gig. If they weren’t restricting you and were just presenting Doug Carn, how would it be much different?

    DC: In order to bring my music out, I need seven to ten pieces, but clubs, they rather have trios. You can get a quintet, if you’re kind of hot, or famous, or on a major label. Clubs just aren’t ready for seven to ten pieces.

    JazzUSA: Do you have any recordings coming out in the future?

    DC: Yeah, I have some beautiful music that I’ve been working on, and projects that I’ve already completed. I was just waiting to see how the second re-incarnation of Black Jazz is going to develop and see if I was going to go with them again, or try to get the services of a quote, unquote, “major label.”

    JazzUSA: Yeah, right. (laughing) It’s only two or three of them left.

    DC: And Americans don’t own them.

    JazzUSA: Yeah, I hated it when Warners made a move, but then I thought about it and realize, at least they’re keeping it in America.

    DC: Yes.

    JazzUSA: You mentioned the second resurrection of Black Jazz. What’s that about?

    DC: You know all that music is back out on compact disc.

    JazzUSA: No, I did not know that. I play it on vinyl.

    DC: Oh man, I’ve got compact discs on all of it. Yep, the Walter Bishop Jr’s out there. The Henry Franklin’s “The Skipper” is out there.

    JazzUSA: How many of yours?

    DC: Four of mine. “Adam’s Apple,” “Revelations,” “Spirit of the New Land,” and “Infant Eyes.”

    JazzUSA: on Black Jazz?

    DC: Yeah, you should check out their web site,

    JazzUSA: Who owns it?

    DC: A brother, I guess he’s a brother. I’ve never seen him.

    JazzUSA: Did he pay you?

    DC: Yes.

    JazzUSA: Well, shit then, okay. Where is he based?

    DC: He’s based in Oakland.

    JazzUSA: He bought the masters?

    DC: Yeah. He’s had it out for two or three years, but it’s been creeping out.

    JazzUSA: I heard a couple were out two or three years ago, but somebody got sued, and ordered to cease and desist.

    DC: He did go through a few changes, but he survived it and revamped it and got it out there. It’s also out on compact disc in Japan and England too A company in England named Universal Sound put it out. They did a “Best of Doug Carn,” vinyl and cd, and a “Best of Black Jazz.” And Peevine has got it out in Japan. So in the past four or five years, I’ve been creeping back out there.

    JazzUSA: How does that make you feel?

    DC: Well, it makes me feel good in a way, but in another way, it’s like it always was. If you live long enough, they’ll eventually come back around to you. Not that I’m that old, but a lot of guys younger than me have passed away. If you can stay healthy, stay out of trouble and keep on creating, you’ll get your just rewards:

    JazzUSA: Can I ask how old you are?

    DC: You can ask and I’ll tell you, but you can’t publish it.

    JazzUSA: You’re still a young man.

    DC: I know it. A lot of people thought I was older than I was anyway.

    JazzUSA: Doug, I grew up in the Chicago area, and Black Jazz was always an enigma to the crowd I hung with. I assumed that Gene Russell owned the label, or was he just the president?

    DC: I don’t really know, man. I think that he was just the president. Either that or he owned it in the beginning but couldn’t hold on to it, because Ovation Records? JazzUSA; Yes, in Glenview, Illinois

    DC: Right. They were the people who were calling the shots. When it finally came down that that was what was happening, a lot of the guys on the label were totally wiped out and dismayed, ‘I thought we were working for the brother, blah, blah, blah.’ I said, ‘well I’m glad to meet you Mr. White Folk, maybe we can finally accomplish something and go forward.

    JazzUSA: Doug, I happen to be researching the lives of two men, who I think you knew, Donny Hathaway and Charles Stepney, do you figure in the lives of either.

    DC: No, except, that I was associated with Earth, Wind & Fire and I knew a lot of what was going on. Donny Hathaway used to come to Atlanta quite a bit when I was there in the late 60’s. In fact one of the greatest moments that I’ve ever experienced in my life was when came in and sat in with Wes Montgomery. Man you should have seen that shit. I saw it with my own eyes. It was ridiculous. You see, Atlanta, Georgia, everybody used to come there. Black people owned very high -class establishment, like the Pascoal brothers who owned the La Carousel, and there was another joint named the Birdcage. People like Wes Montgomery, Jimmy Smith, Charlie Earland, Cedar Walton, Freddie Hubbard, Jimmy McGriff, Groove Holmes, they were part of the community, because during those days, they’d book you for two weeks at a time. We’d be making them dinner, and frying fish for them, you know. It was like that. It would be nothing to see these people walking down the street, or having coffee and doughnuts in the coffee shop.

    JazzUSA: It’s funny how fate works. When I was young, I was way into Earth, Wind & Fire from the very first album 30 years ago, and I loved your albums, which came about the same time. So, naturally I saw the credits on Earth, Wind and Fire’s first two Warner Brothers’ albums, ‘thanks to Doug and Jean Carn.” So, I always thought on “Love Is Life,” and “I Think About Loving You,” that’s Doug Carn’s Hammond B-3,

    DC: Yeah man, I’m on all that stuff. On “Everything Is Everything” and “Energy,” that’s me on all of that. You see, what happened was I lived in the same apartment building with them. As a matter of fact, Janis Joplin was in that building. It was one of those Hollywood apartments that rented by the month, the week and the year. A lot of entertainers were there. So, a friend of mine, named Sidney Miller, Jr., he had Black Radio Exclusive.

    JazzUSA: Yes, the radio industry magazine, B.R.E.

    DC: Yeah, I’ve known him from Atlanta. He was big with Capitol, until they picked his brain and let him go. He was living there, and I said, well with Sid’s living there, it must be a good place to live. So, I’m in a building with some guys called Earth, Wind & Fire who don’t ever play gigs, they just practice all the time, and go in the studio. I had me an organ gig every weekend. Every Friday and Saturday, I was down in the hood making me that money, just like I did when I was in high school. When they found out I could play and I was down, they used me and they used Jean too.

    JazzUSA: And eventually, they got a deal?

    DC: No, they had the deal all the time, but I didn’t know the particulars about it. People don’t spill out all there business, but I tell you, I had no idea that Maurice was going to take that shit that far.

    JazzUSA: No idea?

    DC: No idea. I don’t know if he did either. You know, everybody believes. As a matter of fact, he was going to play on the “Infant Eyes,” album. He rehearsed it and everything, but it just wasn’t quite hitting the way I wanted it to hit. In hindsight, I wished I would’ve used him on at least one cut. (laughs) Verdine, Don Whitehead, I knew all of them. But it was the old group that I knew. Then one day he went to Denver and came back and fired all of them. That’s when he got Phillip Bailey, Larry Dunn, Andrew Woolfork and the rest of them.

    JazzUSA: What do you mean, he went to a gig in Denver and came back and fired them all?

    DC: He went to Denver to do a gig?

    JazzUSA: With Earth, Wind and Fire?

    DC: Yeah, with the first group, and then came back and fired them.

    JazzUSA: I have met Maurice a couple of times, in fact, he produced the group called Urban Knights, and I wrote the bio for the record company, so I got to hang at the studio with him and Grover Washington, who was in the group. I remembered that during one conversation we had, I asked Maurice did he know that you did a version of “”Mighty Mighty?” He said no and seemed genuinely surprised and not hip at all that you did “Mighty, Mighty.”

    DC: Well, at one point, he was hip to it, because I saw Verdine on Hollywood Boulevard and he wanted to know if me and Jean were still together. I said no. He said, well is it alright if we produce her? I said yes, it’s alright, don’t be asking me. I said, that’s cool. That would be a great thing. I said, you mother fuckers ought to be producing me.(laughs) I said look man, I want to record “Mighty, Mighty,” what do I have to do to do it. He said, record it man, just record it. So a few years later, it seems like I ran into Verdine and asked him how did Maurice like it, and he said he loved it.

    JazzUSA: And you never know, you know what I’m saying?

    DC: Yeah, let me ask you this, did you hear that Charles Stepney died of a brain stroke while he was talking to Maurice on the phone?

    JazzUSA: Wow. The rumor here is that he was actually working on the Earth, Wind & Fire song, “Spirit,” when he had the stroke.

    DC: Could’ve been, he could’ve been talking to Maurice on the phone and looking at the music, because Eddie Harris was mad at Maurice, because he said Maurice was working Stepney too hard.

    JazzUSA: Do you have a problem talking about you and Jean?

    DC: No. But I’ll tell you. It’s ain’t all that much to talk about. We were just like everybody else.

    JazzUSA: Are you guys still friends?

    DC: Not close friends, no.

    JazzUSA: But you’re civil.

    DC: Oh yeah.

    JazzUSA: As opposed to most divorced couples out there. You guys had kids too.

    DC: Yep, three.

    JazzUSA: How long were you guys together?

    DC: Four or five years, something like that.

    JazzUSA: So, the length of the three albums you made together?

    DC: Yep.

    JazzUSA: Did you guys meet in college?

    DC: Yeah.

    JazzUSA: What college?

    DC: I was going to Georgia State in Atlanta and she was going tp Morris Brown.

    JazzUSA: Where are you from?

    DC: I’m from Florida.

    JazzUSA: Oh, so you’re home.

    DC: Yeah, I came back home. I started a black cultural festival here in the town. We’ve got two jazz societies going.

    JazzUSA: What’s the name of the town?

    DC: St. Augustine, Florida

    JazzUSA: The oldest town in America.

    DC: That’s right. And you can find out all you want about the festivals and societies in St. Augustine on the web at, and buy the Black Jazz albums on the web at

    Nick Colionne Interview

    Nick ColionneSmooth Jazz Guitarist Rising
    Speaking With Nick Colionne
    by S.H. Watkins, Sr.

    I first heard Nick Colionne a few years ago after the benefit concert for Art porter’s kids in Chicago. We all went to the Metropole to kick it with the performers, and a guy named Nick Colionne was playing the club. He was jammin’ so hard that smooth jazz guitarist Peter White, who was chilling after playing the benefit, grabbed an axe and started to jam with Colionne. Nick never wavered, taking the challenge and pushing it with White to take a great night to higher heights. Now Colionne has a new record company and a new CD that’s about to hit the scene.

    JazzUSA: Nick, you’ve been at this a long time. When did you start playing guitar, and what made you decide to do it for a living?

    N.C.: Well, I started playing when I was around 9 years old. My stepfather played guitar, and I picked it up from him. Once I started I knew I didn’t want to do anything else. At 9 I wasn’t thinking about making a living at it, I just knew I loved to play. I played in Chicago talent contests and won a lot of them, and at 15 I was asked to tour with an R&B vocal group. That was the beginning of my professional career as a musician.

    JazzUSA: Do you come from a musical background?

    N.C.: Yes, there was always music around me. My stepfather played guitar, my aunt was a singer, my father was a songwriter, my brother is a drummer, an uncle plays saxophone, another uncle plays flute and percussion. In addition to all that, I heard jazz played in my house daily and my aunt probably has one of the best collections of jazz recordings in Chicago.

    JazzUSA: As a guitarist, who are your inspirations and influences?

    N.C.: Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell, Charlie Christian, Joe Pass, Herb Ellis, Grant Greene, George Benson, Jimi Hendrix and B.B. King most definitely, and Steve Vai and Albert King….a pretty eclectic bunch!

    JazzUSA: What kind of guitars do you own and play?

    N.C.: I play mostly a Gibson L-4 CES and the Epiphone Broadway. I also own a couple of Stratocasters and a Cascio guitar synthesizer, and quite a few Gibson and Epiphone guitars of various kinds.

    JazzUSA: What is your favorite?

    N.C.: My favorite depends on what I’m playing and how I’m feeling at the time!

    JazzUSA: You are often compared to George Benson for obvious stylistic reasons. Is this intentional, or just a result of his influence?

    N.C.: It’s a result of his influence. I listen to George a lot, and played a lot of his music in my career. I guess it’s only natural that some of my stylings would be compared to his. My biggest influence, though, would still be Wes Montgomery. I incorporate a lot of octaves into my playing and have since I first started. They seem very natural to me.

    JazzUSA: I first saw you play at the Metropole right after the Art Porter Benefit concert. You were out there jammin’ and Peter White popped in to play with you. It was one of the best impromptu performances I can remember, and It was obvious then that you had the talent to hang with some of the best… I saw it myself. Why has it taken so long for the rest of the world to see it?

    N.C.: Well, I don’t know! I’m just glad that now I’m getting the opportunity to get my music out in front of people so they get a chance to hear what Nick Colionne is about and hopefully they’ll all dig it!

    JazzUSA: There’s a new record deal and CD with Three Keys Music. How did that come about?

    N.C.: It was serendipitous. Everything came together at the right time and Marcus Johnson, who’s the CEO of Three Keys Music and also a great keyboardist in his own right, heard my new project and the next thing I knew I was signed and, hopefully, the rest is history!

    JazzUSA: Are you pleased with the amount of control Three Keys Music allows you creatively?

    N.C.: Very much so. Marcus gives his artists the room to create and play music that they feel, and if he’s directly involved in a tune he’s very collaborative.

    JazzUSA: Is this a multi-album deal, or are future CD’s with Three Keys Music dependent on the success of this one?

    N.C.: It’s a multi-album deal.

    JazzUSA: Any plans to perform with other Three Keys Music artists like Bobby Lyle or Michael Lington?

    N.C.: I’ve already had the opportunity to play with both of them and also with Marcus Johnson.

    JazzUSA: What kind of thing do you envision doing with them?

    N.C.: A Three Keys All Stars tour is in the works, and I also envision writing with and for other Three Keys artists. I do a lot of writing – most of the tunes on my new CD were written or co-written by me.

    JazzUSA: What about artists that are not with Three Keys Music?

    N.C.: I’ve written for other artists and I envision doing so in future, but right now my focus is on Three Keys Music and Three Keys artists.

    JazzUSA: Are there any tour dates planned in conjunction with the new release?

    N.C.: Yes, that’s in the works, too.

    JazzUSA: You ARE pressing for dates in Portland and Seattle, RIGHT? (laughing)

    N.C.: Absolutely! Portland, Seattle and everywhere else. I love playing to a live crowd and my manager says I’d play the local laundromat if I had an audience!

    JazzUSA: Anything else you’d like to tell our readers?

    N.C.: I’d like to tell your readers that “Just Come On In'” is going to be in stores September 9 and I hope that everyone who buys it will enjoy listening to it as much as I enjoyed recording it. It’s my fourth CD and I think it’s my best to date. Also I’d like to say come out and see me when I hit your town – look for Nick Colionne and “Just Come On In”!

    You can keep up with this hot jazz guitarist at

    Dave Brubeck – Private Brubeck Remembers

    Dave BrubeckDave Brubeck
    Private Brubeck Remembers
    (Telarc – 2004)
    by Paula Edelstein

    Over 100,000 US servicemen and women were killed in World War II and over 900,000 more perished in the Civil War, World War I, Korea, Vietnam, Persian Gulf War, Bosnia, Afghanistan, and now Iraq. When will it end? Dave Brubeck, now a veteran on two fronts – jazz and war – lived to tell of his days during World War II. He is one of the lucky ones.

    With Private Brubeck Remembers, the pianist pays tribute in his own way to the servicemen and women that gave their lives during World War II. Were it not for a fortunate turn of events during his tour of duty in the U.S. Army he could have been among those names on the memorials that now stand in honor of those fallen soldiers. As head of the Wolf Pack Band, Brubeck spent the rest of his military service as a musician and entertainer after a Red Cross truck pulled into his company shortly after D-Day – June 6, 1944. He and his band played for the troops behind enemy lines at the Battle of the Bulge.

    Private Brubeck Remembers is a collection of uniquely crafted, solo piano renditions of some of the most famous songs from World War II, many of which Dave Brubeck played during his tour of duty with the Wolf Pack Band. Private Brubeck Remembers also includes WWII-era photos from the Brubeck archives in California and a limited edition CD featuring an interview between Brubeck and former CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite. The interview includes Brubeck’s memories of his war years — as a musician and a GI. Let us all remember what the horrors of war look and sound like and urge those in power to seek other ways to resolve their differences. Even though the pianist-composer is now a jazz legend, Private Brubeck Remembers and so should we.

    Reprinted with permission of…

    An Interview with Nancy Wilson

    Nancy Wilson
    Speaking with the Legendary
    Nancy Wilson
    by Mark Ruffin

    Nancy Wilson has been christened with a few monikers in her long career. Fancy Nancy and the Baby are the ones that immediately come to mind. However, the adjectives used to describe the music of this savvy show business vet stretches on ad infinitum.

    But ask Wilson what kind of singer she is and the word jazz will not be among the description.

    “I am a song stylist,” she said in a phone interview from her Southern California home.

    As she proudly and comfortably settle into the seventh decade of her life, she has persevered long enough to serve a loyal audience spiced with several generations But, like most Black pop singers over 40, she suffers from the universally recognized, but seldom discussed problem of the ageism that is systematically practiced at the major record labels. After 24 years at Capitol Records and 15 years at Columbia, Wilson is without a recording contract.

    But that doesn’t mean that the year 2000 won’t be a good year for addition to the singer’s discography, for just this month, Capitol has released “Nancy Wilson-Anthology.” It is a 30-song retrospective that focuses on the more pop and R&B aspect of her long career.

    The handsomely packaged album features some of those singles that were chart-toppers like “Face It Girl (It’s Over), “You’d Better Go,” and the 1964 Best R&B Grammy winner “You Don’t Know How Glad I Am,”

    “Is that what they’re doing,” the sincerely uninformed singer asked. “I didn’t know what was going to be on that compilation, but I must agree with the theme. Most of my stuff is not jazz, it’s pop.

    “Save Your Love For Me,” that’s R&B to me,” she said of the timeless chestnut included on the anthology. “That is not a jazz tune. It’s all in other people interpretation. When I started recording, what I was recording was considered pop. I’m a song stylist. I don’t put labels on it.”

    The heavily annotated 2-cd set also reveals just how important Wilson was to the economic health of Capitol Records during the 60’s. With a huge roster that included Frank Sinatra, the Beach Boys, Nat “King” Cole, Peggy Lee and the Beatles, according to the liner notes, only the four lads from Liverpool bested Wilson for combined sales for the company during the decade.

    Another tune from the collection, “Guess Who I Saw Today,” was the very first song Wilson recorded for Capitol and it is one of her biggest hits. It is the one song that the singer is guaranteed to sing at her next concert.

    “I have to perform it every night. I have to,” said the singer, who turned 63 earlier this year. “People would be really upset if I didn’t do it. I remember inadvertently, not singing it one night and getting a nasty note about it. It is such a strong song that I do not mind doing it. I’ve never gotten tired of it.”

    Later this fall, Wilson will also be in Pittsburgh to work with the amazing non-profit performing arts group, the Manchester Craftsman Guild. In the recent past, the Guild has put out albums by the Count Basie Orchestra, Joe Williams, and Brazilian superstar Ivan Lins. Wilson is next on the MCG docket.

    “This year, Nancy will be doing something that surprisingly she’s never done before, ” chirped Lynn Coles, Wilson’s long time publicist and personal assistant. “She’s going in the studio in the fall, and she’s recording her very first Christmas album. Then she going to give all the proceeds to charity.”

    Throughout her long career, Wilson has maintained her super-star status with a busy schedule of concert dates and tv appearances during the decades. The singer has also made time to volunteer her services to a wide selection of worthy organizations such as the Martin Luther King Center for Social Change, UNCF, CORE, the NAACP, the National Heart Association and the American Cancer Society.

    “I have given so much of my life for the last 45 years, that I am now planning to start devoting most of my time to my kids and me,” said the busy woman, who in addition to touring half a year, also does commercials for breast cancer research and hosts a show for National Public Radio. “I’m a little tired, and I won’t be touring as much and doing as much ripping and running as I’ve done in the past.”

    When asked which young singers she admires today, Miss Wilson immediately ran off the names of Vanessa Rubin, Diana Krall and Nnenna Freelon.

    “But, I think Regina Belle is one of the great young vocalists out there. I love her and I miss Phyliss Hyman,” she adds. “These are all young voices with great instruments, as opposed to some of these bubble-gum kids making it. I’m kind of fed up with that.”

    This past April, at Aaron Davis Hall in New York, some females singers who admire Wilson, paid tribute to her. Belle was one of the performers as was Cassandra Wilson, Dionne Warwick, Cissy Houston and Mavis Staples.

    For more information visit the Nancy Wilson Web Site.

    An Interview with Lester Bowie

    Lester BowieA talk with
    Lester Bowie
    by Fred Jung

    Hard-line traditionalists frown on Lester Bowie. He doesn’t neatly fit into any cute categories and he is as anti-establishment as you will get. After all, Bowie is a card carrying member of the AACM, making him one of only a handful of musicians who are doing anything creative in modern music. It is too bad that working class musicians like Bowie are slowly being eliminated all together from jazz, but isn’t that in line with contemporary society. Has anyone not seen the decline of the middle class in America? I had an opportunity to sit down with Bowie and he let loose on the current state of jazz, his new album, and his beginnings as a young man in St. Louis. This is his portrait, unedited and in his own words.

    JazzUSA: Let’s go back to the start.

    LB: My father was a music teacher and he was a high school band director in St. Louis for thirty years and then he also played trumpet. So quite naturally, all of us learned how to play music from the very beginning. I think I started when I was about five years old and I’ve been playing ever since. I turned professional when I was fifteen, started doing gigs with people like Sonny Boy Williamson and Chuck Berry and then I just went on from there, a lot of rhythm and blues people and eventually jazz. I always wanted to be a jazz musician, but it wasn’t always possible to make a living playing jazz. So I got a lot of experience from circuses and carnivals and various rock and roll and rhythm and blues acts, The Impressions, I was the music director for Fontella Bass, Jackie Wilson, Albert King, Oliver Sain, Little Milton, Rufus Thomas, Carla Thomas, Jerry Butler, Gene Chandler, just a whole host of all of the people that were on the rhythm and blues scene in the early ’60s.

    JazzUSA: You stated that you wanted to be a jazz musician from the very beginning, what attracted you about the music that you wanted to make this your life’s endeavor?

    LB: When I was coming up in the early ’40s, Louis Armstrong was very popular and some of the records we had around the house was of Louis Armstrong. And at that time, jazz was the supreme music. It was the pop music of that time. Rhythm and blues was just beginning to, sort of, take hold. Louis Jordan and cats like that, in the late ’40s and early ’50s, they started to take hold, but during that time jazz music was considered the star and I wanted to be a trumpet player like Louis Armstrong. Clyde McCoy was another one of my favorites. We also had a couple of Clyde McCoy records and at that time he had a hit called “The Sugar Blues.” The lifestyle attracted me. I would read about the jazz musicians and everything about the whole genre just, sort of, it appealed to me. My father was a trumpet player and a music teacher and I don’t even remember actually when I started. And I’ve never played anything else. I tried other instruments, bass and fiddled around with the piano, but I’ve never really attempted to play anything but trumpet. It was a favorite then and now.

    JazzUSA: Aside from your father, any other influences?

    LB: When I was coming up, St. Louis was quite a jazz town and there was a lot of musicians around and I, kind of, followed them around. I listened to a lot of records, of course, Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie also helped me. I’d like to point out that usually musicians have two sources of influence. You have the musicians that you have heard on record or read about. You’ve listened to their music and their styles influence you and then you have the musicians that you actually hung out with, actually, that really did help you. I always admired Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie and even though I knew them briefly, I never knew them that well. Johnny Coles and Marcus Belgrave were two people that, we actually ran together. They really gave me pointers, literally gave me pointers, so I think they were really influential in my selection of this music and the trumpet.

    JazzUSA: Let’s talk about your association with Roscoe Mitchell.

    LB: Once we got together, I knew I was home. For example, I was working as Fontella’s director and we were doing a lot of shows. We were traveling around a lot, doing a lot of shows. We finally ended up moving to Chicago. After about a year in Chicago, doing jingles and playing with various bands in Chicago, I was getting, kind of, bored, because there was really no challenge to the music. And then there was a baritone player that took me to an AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Music) rehearsal and this was where I met the whole AACM. Muhal Richard Abrams’ Experimental Band (Eddie Harris, Roscoe Mitchell, Donald Garrett, and Victor Sproles) was rehearsing and Roscoe and Muhal and all the AACM members were there, Malachi Favors, they were all there. Once I went in that room, I immediately knew that I was home. I had never seen so many crazy individuals in one space. I felt immediately, immediately I felt at home. By the time I got home from the rehearsal, Roscoe was calling me on the phone and wanted to start a band and we started rehearsing the next day and we’ve been playing together ever since. It’s been about thirty-three, thirty-four years now.

    JazzUSA: Let’s talk about your involvement with your Brass Fantasy Band, From the Root to the Source, and The Art Ensemble of Chicago.

    LB: All of those three bands almost comprise my total musical personality. It takes that many different groups to really satisfy my musical curiosity, so to speak. The Art Ensemble is the oldest band. We’ve been together for thirty-three years now. The Art Ensemble is just an art group. It’s experimental and searching and trying to extend the boundaries of the music, of the techniques, the compositions, the whole thing. We’re really searching, still are searching for a lot of newer things. Brass Fantasy is what I call my avant-pop band. It’s a show band as opposed to the Art Ensemble. The Art Ensemble is an art band. The Brass Fantasy is a show band. Instead of my normal, white lab jacket, I wear a white, sequin lab jacket with Brass Fantasy, because it’s a show band. We try to do is to play popular music, but in a creative manner and in a way that people have never really heard it before. It’s about reinventing it. It’s about taking a sound that was made popular by singers that sing it and making that same emotional feeling felt without having a singer, or guitar, or a bass, or keyboards. It’s about extending the language of the brass choir into the popular arena. The Root to the Source was a combination of gospel, jazz, and rhythm and blues, a combination of all of the three. We have the rhythm and blues, Fontella Bass singing. We had Martha Bass, who has recently passed, who was a gospel singer. I had a, kind of, standard jazz quintet in the band and it was, kind of, a combination of all of those elements. We had the show elements. We had the rhythm and blues elements. We had the gospel elements, I mean that really focused on those areas and it takes those three to really express myself. I couldn’t really express myself in any one way, or with any one group, or playing one particular sort of style. I think the musicians of today are much broader in scope then they were, let’s say thirty or forty years ago. We draw influences from many places. We have much more information, just as the people have much more information. The audience now is very different from the audience in the 1950s. The 1950s were, even before that, when Charlie Parker and Miles Davis did their thing, when Duke Ellington was popular and Louis was popular. Louis was popular, damn near, before flight. Planes were made out of fabric, so the times have changed. People have more information now. People have computers. People are on-line. The audience now will go to a jazz concert one day, the ballet the next day, the opera the day after that, and then a blues concert the day after that. They are much more informed and it takes much more music to really impress them or to give them information they don’t have and that’s what I’ve been concerned with.

    JazzUSA: The majority of the mainstream media is traditional and the audience, as you perceive, is hungry for new knowledge, does the mainstream media, critics and writer, impede on jazz’s progress into the twenty-first century?

    LB: Boy, it really does. It really impedes on it, because what happens is people, they believe what they read and they, instead of pushing to expand the horizons of the music, most of the critics have been very conservative about, conservative that I must say, in a very incorrect way. It’s been a complete misinterpretation of what the tradition of jazz is. You have this group of people that are traditionalists and they call themselves in the jazz tradition, and yet they forget that the jazz tradition is creativity. It’s innovation. It’s moving forward. It’s a young music that’s growing and to impede the growth of that, to stunt the growth of that, to me, is a crime. And that’s what has happened. The writers have really stunted the growth of the music. The music now, if it wasn’t for the few musicians that continue to push forward, there wouldn’t even be any music. The music would have stopped. It would be dead, just like classical music has been killed off.

    JazzUSA: There are very few classical composers that are receiving any notoriety, if fact, you could probably count them on one hand. Most of what is being released was composed hundreds of years ago. You can’t count the amount of Beethoven’s 9th that there are on the market today. Do you fear that what has happened with classical music will happen with jazz?

    LB: You are right, Fred. They are trying to do the same thing with the music. You see, Fred, once the culture is under control, if we control all the art in this country, we can control the people. Music, classical music is about stimulating the intellect. Art is about stimulating the intellect, but once it’s controlled and killed off like that, they call it canonization and I call it blowing it up with a cannon. Instead of developing the music, they stop the music in it’s tracks. That has happened now. Lincoln Center is supposed to be the most important thing to happen to jazz. Nothing has happened at Lincoln Center. Nothing has been created there. There are no great musicians coming out of there. Wynton Marsalis is supposed to be the king of the trumpet. This is the first time a leader has been elected by someone other than the musicians themselves. It is a shame because that is the attempt, to do exactly the same thing they’ve done with classical music and with everything else. It happens also in painting. The creative painters don’t get a break. It’s hard for them to get out of here. It’s really very difficult and that is a problem.

    JazzUSA: Who are some musicians that are moving the music forward?

    LB: The most organized of all these musicians has been the AACM, which was an organization that was dedicated to moving the music forward. Muhal Richard Abrams, with his Experimental Orchestra, Henry Threadgill, Anthony Braxton, Roscoe Mitchell, Leo Smith (Wadada Leo Smith), Leroy Jenkins, there are countless number of members within that group that are trying to move the music forward. And then you have, for example, we were inspired by Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor, who are also still struggling very hard to survive in this music after all of these years. You’ve got a countless number of other musicians. You have some musicians in Detroit and in St. Louis, Oliver Lake, the World Saxophone Quartet, the late Julius Hemphill, all these are musicians that were writing in an entirely different way, but whose work has almost been buried or stymied. I mean, we survive because of our belief in the spirit of the music, but it’s been very difficult and I’m afraid that after we’re gone, I don’t know what’s going to happen with this music. Unless there is a group of people, and I don’t see it in the younger musicians, because as you said, Fred, they’ve been, sort of, scared off. I don’t see a movement of twenty, twenty-five-year-old, thirty-year-old musicians towards playing creative music. I just don’t see that. The musicians that are creative are William Parker, oh, and there’s a drummer named Leon Parker, who is a younger musician, I really like his work. He has a different approach to drums. And there’s Olu Dara, who is a guy my age that’s been out there a long time. There another, Graham Haynes, who is a young trumpet player that’s trying to do things. But these guys are having a very, very hard time. I would imagine, a worse time than we have had. It’s an effort to kill the music. I hope for the sake of this society that doesn’t happen because jazz is the first music that was representative of the whole planet, of all the people on the planet. It was the first music that could accept influences from anywhere and it’s the only music that is in a growth period. All the other music has been killed off. African music has been that way forever, Chinese music, or Indian music, but jazz is growing. It’s going through all these different things. It’s still growing but, like I said, they’re trying to stop the development of it.

    JazzUSA: You mentioned a few names, Oliver Lake, who had to form his own label to put out his music, and Cecil Taylor, his recording output has diminished drastically, what happens when these musicians, these standard bearers fall?

    LB: Well, I would hope that there would be someone, some guy, somewhere that would continue this work. It doesn’t take but a few. Hopefully, there will be a small number of musicians that will continue this work. But the problem is, will they be heard? This number is going to continue to get smaller and smaller, where as, there may be fifty people now that were involved when I was coming up. It may go down to ten after we’re gone. After that, I just don’t know. I would hope that the music would survive. I believe that it will survive, but will it survive, will the society, of which this art is designed to enhance or to help develop, will it benefit from the music? I have doubts about that. And then what happens is, everyone just goes to sleep. We’re much easier to control if we don’t think. Americans have been known through the world over as a country that doesn’t want the populous to think too much. Don’t think about this. Do what we tell you to do. I think it will just get much worse.

    JazzUSA: When I spoke with Phil Woods, he referred to America and Americans as “having a lot of growing up to do”.

    LB: It does. A lot more, not just a bit.

    JazzUSA: Are these growing pains or a conscience effort by those in power to suppress the music?

    LB: Well, I do definitely see that it is a conscience effort to, by media, by the leaders, the people in power, there is definitely, without a doubt, a conscience effort to suppress this music. Hopefully, we will get past this. Hopefully, one day the people will hear what we’re doing and once we can get, if we can just crack that door and get a foot in, there’s a lot that we can make available. I think we can really change things, if we are just heard. For example, the Brass Fantasy, is a group that’s been together, I’ve had that group for eighteen years. Most people are just becoming aware of that group, but that group has been surviving for eighteen years. Here’s a group that once you’ve heard it, you almost fall in love with it and it opens the door for a lot of other things. Hopefully, through the work we’re doing and for the next few years, we are trying to make sure that this music is available to the masses. If that happens, I’m sure that things will change. People will, once people hear a new sound, and people want to hear it. It’s not that the populous doesn’t want to hear it, it’s just the people in between us and the people that don’t want to get this music heard. The people are ready to hear something. They’re hungry for it. I see it everyday. I see it in their faces when they hear us play music that they haven’t heard before. It will survive. I don’t believe that it’s going anywhere. If we can ever get through, one thing about our generation of music is none of it has ever cracked through this barrier. No one has any power. None of us have any backing. None of us are getting grants or anything like that. We’re not getting any sort of funding. We’re not even getting support. We’re not even getting heard in this country. I worked in the U. S. once or twice last year. Most of the work is done in Europe and in Japan and in Australia, every place else but here, where the music was born.

    JazzUSA: Why is it easier to make a living playing the music in Europe?

    LB: It’s like what we were saying about this being a very young society. The Europeans know that they benefit from art. They use art to stimulate their young. A concert in Germany is half full of people under the age of twenty, maybe even a tenth of those are under twelve. The rest are of all ages. This is a young society that doesn’t realize the importance or the connection between the art and the intellect. The older societies realize that. They realize there is something to learn in this music, there’s something they can teach their young. They’ve got some jazz schools in Europe, and Germany, and Italy, and they’ve got some musicians in Italy and France that are just unbelievable, because they have been learning from these musicians that have been shunned in the States. So they understand that. They’ve gone past what we’re into now and they realize that any new art form, regardless of where it comes from is of importance and will aid in the stimulation of their intellect, and thus enhance their society. They realize that. We, here, haven’t gotten into that yet.

    JazzUSA: Using the recent example of the American media’s fixation on the happenings in the Oval Office and how Americans perceive something such as sex so differently than Europeans, is this society breeding a society of fear?

    LB: People are afraid to expand their intellect. Their mind is not familiar. It seems as though the American power structure is intent on keeping us unthinking, that way we will just be consumers, and service, and employees. It’s like we don’t understand that people need to think to develop this society. They think that they know. They think that they’ve got a safe percent of people in this country that know which way we should go and they want to go that way. They don’t want to take a chance on anything else happening. What it does is it narrows the scope of thoughts of the people here and it just keeps us more uninformed, which is really a drag because like you said, Fred, every place else in the world, what’s going on with Clinton is a joke. I mean, it is a complete joke. Americans are always considered jokesters anyway. We were always jokes. I used to sit up in this café in Paris and the Americans will walk by and you see the French giggling, ‘Here comes some Americans.’ And they laugh. ‘Those Americans, they don’t even know how important jazz is.’ That is happening because the lack of knowledge of their own music. Just to give you a quick story, Fred, I was coming back from Italy on a plane. On one side of me was this woman with two Ph.D.’s and the other side of me was this guy who was an old Italian baker. So I got to talking with the lady with the Ph.D.’s and I was telling her the same problem and how we are just so uninformed and how we know nothing about the music. I said, ‘For instance, you, with all your degrees has no idea of the culture of America. You know nothing about jazz.’ She goes, ‘Well, I really don’t know anything about it.’ I said, ‘Now watch this. Neither one of us knows this guy. Let me ask this guy next to us, old, Italian guy, what he knows about jazz.’ I just mentioned jazz and this guy started naming records and naming people. He knew all about it. He was telling me about all the records he had. He was coming to the States to visit one of kids, but he was just a random European that knew more about American music than an educated, intellectual American, and it just really embarrassed her and it also illustrated what we’re talking about now.

    JazzUSA: Let’s talk about your new Brass Fantasy album on Atlantic Records, The Odyssey of Funk & Popular Music – Volume 1. Why a Spice Girls tune?

    LB: You see, Fred, I’ve got four daughters (laughing). What we were trying to do with that particular record and with that group, the Brass Fantasy, is to play music that is familiar, but in a completely creative manner, in the way it’s written and in the way it’s presented. The Spice Girls’ song “Two Become One” is really a good song for flugelhorn and brass. It’s in a low key and it’s kind of mellow and it’s really a good song. That’s the main reason that I picked that tune. It really worked perfect for the band. At the same time, it was within the idea of what we were trying to do. We were trying to show, like the record says, it’s the odyssey of funk and popular music, and what a creative approach can do to this music. I’ve played these tunes for kids and these kids go crazy. They’ve never heard a song that they knew, played by a bunch of old men with horns (laughing). It just knocks them out! I tell you, I’ve played at elementary schools and some high schools and it’s unbelievable what happens when people actually hear this music. We’re trying to show kids that we appreciate what they’re doing. We appreciate the songs that they appreciate too, but here’s what we can add to it. This is what can happen when you utilize a creative approach. It can be this way. This song can be a million different ways. That was one of the traditions of jazz. That’s one of the things that made jazz popular. Miles Davis got popular playing songs from “Oklahoma,” you know, “Surrey With the Fringe on Top,” “Bye Bye Blackbird,” “When I Fall in Love.” All these were show tunes and this is what enabled him to reach out and get the popularity. I’m trying to do that same sort of thing with Brass Fantasy. It’s my last reach out saying, ‘Please somebody, please hear this music. Hear what the possibilities are.’ And once you hear the possibilities, we can open this whole new world of creative music.

    JazzUSA: What is jazz to you?

    LB: Jazz is really a creative music. I think it is the best way to really describe what it is. It’s a very creative and innovative music, with the emphasis on creativity, creative compositions, creative instrumentation, creative approaches to the music. I think it’s very important that we listen to this, because being creative and innovative is very important to our lives, very important.

    JazzUSA: What would you say is your musical goal?

    LB: I’m trying to be creative, but I have a very broad scope, a very broad idea of what the possibilities are for this music. The main thing is to be creative, to be innovative.

    JazzUSA: I don’t think many traditionalists and critics have a clue who Notorious B-I-G is.

    LB: I know it (laughing). I know that they’re going to be upset with me, but I don’t care. It’s OK. They can be upset. We’re trying to do that to show that there is so much separation in the music, and jazz is the music that brings everything together. It brings all the people together. I was talking to some group about racism and I said, ‘One thing that I’ve noticed is we don’t have that in jazz.’ Jazz fans seem to be cool. Somehow the music has elevated them above that. The music can elevate us above a lot of things if we just let it. And that’s what we’re trying to do, elevate the people.

    JazzUSA: And the future?

    LB: Hopefully, this record will get heard and if it gets heard here in the States, you can expect a lot from me. I’ve got so many projects in mind. The problem is, we all are getting much older. I am a sixty-year-old, almost sixty-year-old grandfather. I’ve got eight grandkids and two more grandkids on the way. I’m going to have ten grandkids in the next few months and so I hope people will pick up on this quickly, while we’re still around. If they do, we can show them things in music and combinations of music that they haven’t even heard yet. For example, in the States, they’ve never heard the Art Ensemble’s tribute to Chicago blues. We did a tour of that. They’ve never heard the Brass Fantasy, I did a brass/steel tour, which is the Brass Fantasy with a world champion steel band. We’ve done projects that no one here even knows about. If we can get through, if we can get enough attention, we can start to make these things available here. We can make them available. If we can get the people to hear the music, I’m sure there will be no more problems. The problem is only in getting heard. Like you said, you go to Yoshi’s (San Francisco) and there’s a line around the block. That’s because we’ve been going out there and they’ve heard the music. They know what to expect. They know it’s going to be exciting. It used to be a time that you go to a jazz concert and you were excited about the musicianship, excited by the music that they were playing, excited by the way they looked. We want to bring all of that back.

    Bob Mintzer Interview

    Bob Mintzer Bob Mintzer
    Speaks about “Peace ‘Round”
    by Paula Edelstein

    A round begins with the statement of a theme by a single voice. As the theme is passed from one voice to the next, what began as a solitary voice grows into a rich chorus. It is through song that many of our most cherished traditions are passed along. Might it be possible then for a yearning for peace to start with a single melody? It’s heartening to be reminded that there is incredible power in one voice. Let it begin with a song or an idea that is picked up by a neighbor and passed on to a friend. Let that single voice swell into a harmonious chorus that gains strength with each repetition. During this season, rich in tradition, we celebrate the birth of Christ who was the embodiment of peace. We also celebrate the vitality of a single voice joined with that of other’s to reshape our world. We humbly offer Peace Round as our wish for this and every season. – The Yellowjackets – reprinted from the liner notes.

    P.E.: Peace ‘Round is now released worldwide on Heads Up International but had previously been available exclusively from The Yellowjackets’ website. Did recording a Christmas collection pose any unique challenges for the group?

    Bob M: The challenge was in trying to recreate these Christmas songs in a way that reflected the general philosophy of the band. But, it wasn’t all that difficult to be quite honest because Christmas songs in general are some of the greatest songs ever written. They lend themselves to improvisation, the harmonic structures are very interesting and it was a real pleasure to work with these songs.

    P.E.: The Yellowjackets have enjoyed tremendous success over the years and are now offering your first holiday recording? What does the spirit of the holiday season mean to you?

    Bob M: Oh, a time for getting together with family and friends, and as the title suggests, a time for self-reflection, re-evaluating our relationships with people and our life as they apply to the community called Earth.

    P.E.: With Russell Ferrante on piano, Jimmy Haslip on bass and Marcus Baylor on drums, you glow in the lead spotlight on several songs including “Deck The Halls,” “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.” Now that you’ve put your signature stamp on these holiday favorites, how does reworking songs such as these impact your ability to listen to them in their original traditional setting?

    Bob M: Oh, it’s always different to listen to a different point of view.

    P.E.: Did you compare the various jazz saxophone charts that are available for these songs before arriving at your own rendition?

    Bob M: No. I didn’t really do very much research at all; I just kind of took my perception of the original tune and added to it.

    P.E.: What do you do to prepare before a performance – meditate, interact with the audience, rehearse, etc. How do you prepare?

    Bob M: We generally hang out with each other, talk, have a good time, get connected on some sort of emotional and friendship basis. Our playing is an extension of that so we’re kind of being ourselves and we go out there and are lucky enough to be playing music together.

    P.E.: You also lead the Bob Mintzer Big Band and recently released a stellar offering with special guest Kurt Elling. Are you leaning toward more in the big band format than with The Yellowjackets?

    Bob M: I enjoy everything. I like a variety of doing different things. It’s the same musical philosophy that Count Basie’s band – it was a role model for my big band.

    P.E.: It’s so nice to hear the beautiful voice of Jean Baylor on “The First Noel.” Will there be any holiday concerts in support of PEACE ROUND this year and will Jean Baylor be featured in those performances?

    Bob M: Quite possibly.

    P.E.: We appreciate your taking the time to talk with us Bob. Thanks for the great offering Peace ‘Round and we look forward to hearing you over the holiday season with the Yellowjackets.

    Bob M: Thanks Paula.

    P.E.: Keep Up On The Yellowjackets’ happenings at

    An Interview with Alphonse Mouzon – Dancing to a Different Drummer

    Alphonse Mouzon Dancing to a Different Drummer
    An Interview with

    Alphonse Mouzon
    by Paula Edelstein

    Alphonse Mouzon is the founding drummer of the great group, Weather Report, the Chairman and CEO of his own label, Tenacious Records, a composer, arranger, master musician and man for all seasons! It just doesn’t get any better than this. As one of the architects of the “smooth jazz” movement, Alphonse was one of the first to record what was previously known as “quiet storm” music back in the 70s. As many of you know, this sound has gone on to become the trademark of many new artists and has come into its own with the likes of Alphonse Mouzon, Dave Koz, Chuck Loeb, and Warren Hill. Whether composing original smooth jazz, straight-ahead, acid jazz or a classic arrangement for one your many favorites, Alphonse Mouzon is all that and more. Here’s a sneak peek at what’s up with one of jazz’s greatest innovators.

    JazzUSA: Hello Alphonse! So nice to speak to you again. We appreciate having you discuss some of your more recent projects with us. There have been many, many projects since you co-founded the band Weather Report with Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter. Now as the President and CEO of Tenacious Records, the “Mouzon Sound” is quickly being embraced around the world. What new projects have you been working on?

    AM: I currently have six new CDs in production that I plan to release in 2001. There are three “live” CDs with my quintet featuring Sal Marquez on trumpet, Chuck Manning or Doug Webb on tenor saxophone, David Goldblatt or Mitch Forman on acoustic piano, Dave Enos on acoustic bass, and myself on drums. The other three CDs were recorded in the studio. The first studio CD is a smooth jazz production called SMOOTH AS SILK that features Warren Hill, Chuck Loeb, Paul Taylor, Nelson Rangell, Larry Coryell and many more artists to be added. The second studio CD is a straight ahead jazz production called ANGEL FACE that features myself, along with pianist Cedar Walton, trumpeter Shunzo Ono, and many more artists to be added. The 3rd studio production is a fusion/acid jazz CD called THE SEVENTH HOUSE that features myself, along with Shunzo Ono, Larry Coryell, Jeff Richman, Welton Gite and many more artists to be added.

    JazzUSA: WOW! Which format do they feature and if this is a distinct difference from the usual style/formats you work in, why have you chosen to change?

    AM: The three styles (straight ahead jazz, acid jazz and fusion) are completely different from my past recordings. Even the smooth jazz on SMOOTH AS SILK is much more different than the music I’ve released in the past. I think my fans are going to really love it, while my critics and jazz fans are going to love the three “Live” straight ahead CDs with my quintet.

    JazzUSA: I’m sure we will. Is there a favorite multi-cultural ensemble that you like these days?

    AM: I’ve only been listening to smooth jazz and straight ahead jazz music at home and while I’m driving my car. My 4 1/2 years old daughter Princess Emma Alexandra always make sure that I turn on Radio Disney for her but she also loves jazz and classical music.

    JazzUSA: As a drummer, trumpet, pianist, composer, arranger, which aspect of your career brings you the most fulfillment?

    AM: I enjoy each one equally. I also enjoy producing my own recordings and running my label Tenacious Records. Five months ago, I taught myself how to play the alto sax. It was easy because I had been playing the flute for over 10 years. I will feature my trumpet, flute and alto sax playing on some on my upcoming acid jazz and smooth jazz CDs.

    JazzUSA: Has working as a jazz musician ever been more than you imagined it would be? This means has it been more fun than not?

    AM: Working as a jazz musician has been rewarding and fun for me. It’s more than what I had imagined when I was a kid growing up in Charleston, South Carolina. I love being autonomous and free to record whatever I want.

    JazzUSA: Have you signed any new artists to the Tenacious Records label? If so, whom?

    AM: No. I haven’t yet. I have a few group projects (jazz, acid jazz, dance, smooth jazz and straight ahead jazz) that I will produce next year for my label that will feature myself along with guest artists. Information is posted at my website at

    JazzUSA: We’ll be looking forward to it. Alphonse thanks so much for this interview. We appreciate your great sounds and many great achievements. The world could use more innovators such as you. Thanks a lot.

    AM: You’re welcome. Thanks a million Paula!

    Nelson Rangell Interview

    Talking Music With
    Nelson Rangell
    by Baldwin “Smitty” Smith

    One of the hippest sax players in this business and fresh out of the studio with a great new CD that’s called My American Songbook Vol. 1. we take a minute out to talk with Koch Records recording artist, Mr. Nelson Rangell.

    NR: How are you Sir Baldwin Smith?

    Smitty: (laughing) I’m wonderful thank you. You’ve had an amazing career that began as a teenager, how did you become so interested in making music?

    NR: I come from a musical family, my brothers Andrew and Bobby are both professional musicians, as is my sister Paula. Andrew is a Concert Pianist, Paula is a Singer in New Orleans, and my brother Bobby is a Saxophonist and Flautist living in Paris for the past twenty years. When I was 15 my parents got me a flute. I had an interest in becoming a drummer or a flutist, and I can say luckily for my parents it was the latter. And the rest is kind of history as I really took to the instrument.

    Smitty: Well you mastered your craft rather quickly because you received some great awards early on in your career, namely Downbeat Magazine’s National Student Recording Awards competition.

    NR: Yes, I won both the high school soloist and college best soloist award from that magazine. That was a long time ago, but I’m still proud of that. I’m still far from mastering my craft, but I guess I got a little bit of speed out of the gate in any case.

    Smitty: Talk about your early schooling how that effected your skills and knowledge of making music.

    NR: I had attended a summer program at the Interlock and Arts Academy in high school which was very important. And I also want to mention that in the Denver (Colorado) public school system, much like your school system there in Houston Smitty; this was a school system that had a huge emphasis on the arts and on music. That was more than twenty five years ago that I was in high school, and I just hope so much that the kids now are not deprived of the type of high school arts programs that I experienced. Because it made such an enlarging difference in my whole life and perception of the world, and I would hope that all kids get to experience that. That kind of intelligence in many, many ways is just as important as reading, writing, and arithmetic. All of that was a precursor to my going to New York.

    Smitty: Moving to New York, looking back, was that a good move for you?

    NR: Well when I went to college at the New England Conservatory, that proved to be very important. New York was certainly another part of my professional schooling, and I felt that, that experience, both that urban experience and quite frankly that jazz experience was of central importance in my development as a musician and as a person. And I would almost wish for anyone who wants to have some sort of jazz involvement in their own awareness and playing, that they could experience being in an urban center like New York. For me, being in a place like New York, with all of that history, with all of that humanity, to this day, weighs hugely in my own consciousness of music and my own consciousness of just what’s out there. Yes, my experience there was of central importance, and was an excellent move for me.

    Smitty: Yes, so how did you come about on the jazz scene? Because I know that you studied extensively in the arts, how did jazz come into the picture?

    NR: Well, I can tell you that I always loved music. It’s hilarious, I remember taking a box and a half of all of my old and all scratched up rock LPs to the local used record store, and trading all of them for one Miles Davis record.

    Smitty: Wow!

    NR: I don’t remember exactly the record. It was like a Miles Davis live record at some place in San Francisco like the Black Hawk or something like that. It was just kind of funny. My jazz consciousness, on some level, well it was just in my household. My brother Bobby was a jazz musician and just barely ten years older than me. And little by little that genre’ and style of music, while it was not my favorite, listening to it on a consistent basis, it had a profound effect on me. But that was when I really started to turn onto jazz. I remember my first experience listening to the Brecker Brothers. That was like nothing I’d ever heard before and it kind of started it all, to be frank. Just a kind of incredibly compelling sort of thing. As soon as I heard those voices, Michael Brecker and Randy Brecker and David Sanborn playing together and I was like “Wow! What is this?”

    Smitty: (laughing) Trust me, you and a lot more musicians had that response.

    NR: And that was I guess kind of the time when I started playing the flute. I remember when I started playing; I was probably trying to figure out how to make it sound more like a saxophone (laughing).

    Smitty: That’s interesting

    NR: The sax just had so much power.

    Smitty: It remains today my favorite instrument. It always has been I must admit.

    NR: Well the sax has great range of expression, and to this day to me, there’s many more saxophonists in jazz. On the flute I feel a little bit like I have something; it’s more kind of uniquely mine. There is less people doing it. But I feel in playing both instruments, while they both have something to offer that’s very unique, and for that matter from soprano sax to alto sax to tenor sax, those members of the saxophone family are all capable of saying uniquely different things, just because of where their voice range is and their tambour. The saxophone has a huge range of expression. Just look at the alto, you just have everything from a kind of Paul Desmond sound and way of playing, to any number of other extremes, whether it be from David Sanborn or Ornette Coleman and everything in between. It’s incredible just the vocal characteristics, and the huge range of sound that can come out of the same instrument.

    Smitty: I totally agree. I love the sound. So tell me, you’ve worked with some great musicians in your career. I can think of several; Eric Gale, David Sandborn, Jaco Pastorius, and Hiram Bullock. Talk about these musicians as to how they might have enhanced or influenced your career.

    NR: Well, There is a long history of things, back to New York. When I moved to New York as a kid, I met so many people. It was kind of like a movie. I remember meeting Gordon Edwards, who was a very popular session bass player and who, at the time, had a group called “Stuff”. It had Gordon, Steve Gadd and Chris Parker on drums, Cornell Dupree, Richard Tee, and Eric Gale playing. It was a rhythm section that Gordon was involved in. I met him at a jam session. I was a kid going around trying to play and be heard by people. From meeting Gordon, I ended up doing a lot of session work in New York and that was both really exciting and terrifying to me. Every time I’d walk into a room somewhere I’d end up meeting some new heavy guys; whether it was Eddie Daniels, George Marge, Phil Bodner, or Paul Schaffer sitting on piano, Harvey Estren. I got to play with Gil Evans Band several times, and little by little I started playing at clubs around town, guys started to hear my name, and just out of the blue I got a call from David Sanborn. He asked to meet me and if I wanted to practice and that began a little bit of a relationship that I was lucky enough to share with him during my time in New York. Subsequently in all of these years I haven’t had really very much contact with him, but in my time in New York he was quite generous with me and shared some interests with me. That was an interesting relationship and I of course owe him a lot. He was kind to me and I appreciated him as a person and as a musician.

    Smitty: It’s nice to build those types of positive relationships.

    NR: That was something and on any given night there were incredible guys playing. There’s some amazing players in New York that I got to play with. On any given night, you know, if I was playing a crazy Brazilian gig, maybe it would be Jaco Pastorius that just happened to be playing bass or Delmar Brown who was a keyboardist at the time. It just goes on and on and it’s not really name dropping, it’s just that these were kind of the local musicians in New York obviously. And if you were a kid who somehow was able to play and got to sit in, you got to play with THOSE guys, and hang out with THOSE guys. So this was important in my formation and as I got older I still get to play with THOSE guys and it’s a trip because they are still THOSE guys.

    Smitty: And a great bunch of guys.

    NR: I’ve never gotten over that, even though I’ve played with a lot of them quite a few times at this point. They’re still THOSE guys.

    Smitty: Playing for Keeps, I felt like this was your breakthrough album. Where you came on the scene, you had those suspenders on and you were doing your thing, and this was just a killer sound that just placed a signature on your music. Tell me about that album and what changed in your producing and your playing at that time. Because it was totally different up to that point.

    NR: Well you have to keep in mind Smitty that I’d only done one record previous. All I can say is between albums one and two, and hopefully three and four and on and on, there is some sort of progression happening. Even if for no other reason than the artist continues to practice and just gets a little better. I feel that now would be, after all of these years, it’s now that there’s clearer direction. I’ve practiced a long time in terms of both production talent and vision in what I want to say, and actual ability on the instrument. Hopefully it just keeps getting better. Hopefully in four years from now, we’ll look at this record that I’ve done now and compare it with what I’m doing then. I hope that I keep evolving and keep improving.

    Smitty: Yeah. Speaking of that, what’s your favorite part of making music? Is it producing, the infinite concept of the song, or the arranging, what’s the favorite part of making music for you?

    NR: You know, just the playing. I enjoy going downstairs in my basement and practicing an enormous amount. I love feeling prepared, feeling like I’m doing my best. I love feeling like I’ve practiced all day long and now I’m going to the gig, and that I’m at my best. That I’m going to be in a spiritual and technical place and just head space where I’m going to deliver. It’s going to be a meditation. It’s probably my favorite thing, when I get to a gig and I feel totally prepared, I’ve got my mind and my body and my skills and my heart into some place where I really feel good, and it’s good for everybody. Therapeutic for me, therapeutic for the audience, enjoyable. That’s a great feeling for a person to have.

    Smitty: Yeah I love that, it’s totally cool. Well let’s get into this new record.

    NR: Yeah it’s my favorite.

    Smitty: It’s your favorite record?

    NR: Yes

    Smitty: It’s called My American Songbook Volume 1. Talk about the title, and how you arrived at the title. I’m sure there’s a story there.

    NR: Well we’re at a pivotal time. American Songbook is not a unique title. Whether it’s Rod Stewart or several other artists both contemporary or in the past, I’m sure that many people have done a collection of American songs. The reason that I called it “My American Songbook Volume 1” is because these were tunes that for me, have some unique place. For me, as an individual and my experience as an American, they were from a diverse collection of composers, and the idea of American composers and American influences. And the idea of calling it volume 1 implied the fact that there’s only about another 4000 volumes that could come. Volume 1, I wanted to put that in because I wanted people to know that there’s so, so, so many more great, great American compositions than the tiny fraction that appeared on my record. Just a microscopic fraction. There’s only so much you can put on one disc right?

    Smitty: (laughing)Yeah, it’s a great selection of songs on this CD. It took me back I must admit. A lot of reminiscing. And it was nice to do that with song, because all of the memories start to emerge, and there are the great tunes at that. So it was a beautiful experience to do that and to do it with such great music composition. For example, track 3, “Don’t You Worry ‘bout a Thing”, I mean who doesn’t know that song? Stevie Wonder, that’s a great tune. There are memories around every song you know, and I thought that was a beautiful thing.

    NR: I think in this record there is a long text that accompanies the tunes. And I write to people within the CD about why I made these particular song choices, what they mean to me and maybe some experience that I had connected with them. “Don’t You Worry ‘bout a Thing”, I could have picked any number of Stevie Wonder tunes. He wrote a huge amount of Americana pieces that also were social commentary. “Living For the City” and “Superstition”, these were heavy tunes politically as they apply to the American theme, spiritually they’re heavy tunes. “Don’t You Worry ‘bout a Thing”, has quite a bit of social commentary if you read the words to the tune. Quite a little rye commentary about what people place importance on. It’s pretty interesting, what seems like a little happy tune, and it is, but you’ve just got to read it and he’s getting it in there. The meaning of the superficiality of what we’re attracted to. It’s a commentary on what we put a lot of our energy in.

    Smitty: Yeah that’s so true. ” That’s the Way of the World” the Earth Wind and Fire tune. That was a heavy song.

    NR: There again, the words are a little bit of a lament. They’re saying a golden young and childlike heart can be easily turned old and cold, the way of the world.

    Smitty: Yes Indeed. You know what my favorite tune is; I mean I love them all. I love playing this over and over, because there is not a bad tune on this CD so you could just let it ride you know? I love the last track, track 12, “Don’t forget those forgotten”.

    NR: The only original.

    Smitty: Yeah Man I love that song, the title, everything about that song.

    NR: It’s my own little bit of social commentary. It’s a tune that for me, in a very humble way is reminding all of us to try and make an effort to try and remember all of these meek things, all of the little things of God’s creation. I feel very strongly that the last will be first. Always see yourself in your brother; you’re not so very far from anybody on any different corner or any street corner. We think, some of us, by birth we have this house or this or that. It’s interesting how this works. I think we forget as we’re driving in our car, it’s only by grace that we’re driving in our car instead of being that person on the street.

    Smitty: Absolutely! You’re so right. I love what you did with this CD. You not only shared your American Songbook with us, you shared your story too with each song. It’s a cool thing.

    NR: Well, it’s a story. I really believe in this record. If nothing else, I take ownership for it. I can’t always say that about every record. Whatever this record is, it is my ownership. I didn’t have too much imposed on me on this record.

    Smitty: This is a great CD, I just love every tune. This is one of those CDs that you can just let it play.

    NR: I think there’s a lot there within a pop reality, and that’s important to me, this is a CD that might be said to have several layers to it. I don’t think that it operates on the most obvious level all of the time, and at the same time I recognize it’s not the most infinitely deep CD either. It ain’t Bach. (laughing)

    Smitty: You’ve got some great players with you on this project as well. Kip(Kuepper) is there, your mainstay.

    NR: He’s been around a long time. The guy I’ve been working with is a very young man, Alex Nekrasov, he’s a young Russian kid, a really brilliant guy. He’s been my writing partner and my arranging partner and my production partner on this record, and the Christmas record. He is a singularly amazing young musician.

    Smitty: I noticed his talents right away.

    NR: I haven’t met anyone too much more talented than Alex.

    Smitty: He’s a great talent.

    NR: Yeah well his production or the production on this record speaks for itself, and the Christmas record. Then you know we’ve got Jimmy Haslip, Russell Ferrante, and Chuck Loeb on this record.

    Smitty: Some great players. And Brian Monroney.

    NR: Yes, he’s playing with Tom Jones and Paul Taylor these days.

    Smitty: Yeah, you’ve got an excellent collection of great artists to compliment you on this record and to lend their talents. I would be very shocked if radio didn’t embrace this CD.

    NR: Well, Radio embracing it isn’t some sort of final barometer of whether something is good or not. I hope that radio will play it, for obvious reasons but more important I hope that it will get to the listening posts, I think that if people hear it they’re going to like it a lot. I feel like it’s a nice record to listen to through and through.

    Smitty: Yes it is a very nice record. Are you going to be getting out with this record and doing some live performances? What’s happening?

    NR: Yes. I’ll be doing several gigs with Don Grusin

    Smitty: Cool!

    NR: I’m on his Grammy nominated “The Hang” record. And I’m doing dates with Him. Currently in New Orleans at the Jazz Heritage Festival. Playing with Dave Grusin at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colorado – Concert Conference on World Affairs, along with Kevyn Lettau, Michael Shapiro, Bruce Flowers… I’m going to Russia as a guest soloist later this year.

    Smitty: Very cool.

    NR: I’m doing “Smooth Jazz for Scholars” for Jay Rowe, Chuck Loeb, and Marion Meadows, in April.

    Smitty: Sounds like you’ve got a full schedule coming up.

    NR: Well I hope so. These are nice gigs, and I have my fingers crossed that I’ll have about twenty more of them. But this is just what’s on the radar right now.

    Smitty: Very nice, and you have a website.

    NR: Yes, it’s

    Smitty: So what can your fans find there?

    NR:Well it’s a typical home page; I’ll have a forum, all sorts of goodies of information. It should be a very nice website visually.

    Smitty: Yes the cool stuff. Nelson It was so cool of you to share your thoughts and insight with us about this great new CD, and all the great things you’ve done over the years, the great projects and what you have coming in 2005. You’ve had a stellar career to this point and we certainly wish you all the very best with this new CD and this coming year of 2005. We’ve been talking with one of the “High Def” flute and sax players in the business, Koch recording artists Nelson Rangell with his fantastic new CD My American Songbook Vol. 1. It is in stores now and it comes highly recommended. Nelson, thanks again, all the very best on the tour, big ups.

    NR: Thank you Smitty.

    Terence Blanchard: Contemporary Cat: A Biography

    Terence Blanchard Contemporary Cat
    A Biography of Terence Blanchard
    Anthony Magro
    (Scarecrow Press – 2003)
    by Mark Ruffin

    In the new biography of trumpeter Terence Blanchard, a claim is made that he is one of the most important jazz musicians from the last quarter century. Part of the evidence that is laid out in Contemporary Cat, (Scarecrow Press) by Anthony Magro, can be heard this summer as Blanchard tours in support of his Blue Note debut, Bounce. The talented performer and film scorer is playing selected dates with a program titled The Movie Music of Spike Lee and Terence Blanchard. The famed film director and his frequent collaborator will present what promises to be a compelling retrospective of their movie work together.

    In addition to excerpts from original scores and songs from soundtracks of Lee’s movies, the show features specially designed images from movies such as Malcolm X, Jungle Fever, Bamboozled and others on a large screen. Vocalists Angie Stone and Chicago’s own Mavis Staples will also perform.

    On Labor Day weekend, at the Chicago Jazz Festival, Blanchard is part of a mammoth tribute to the late influential drummer, Art Blakey. This show will highlight a number of the great musicians who passed through Blakey’s group, the Jazz Messengers. Among the prestigious alumni are Blanchard and his childhood friend, Branford Marsalis. Finally, Blanchard will be touring with his brand new quintet in late summer and early fall. These three facets of his career alone would make interesting reading for book fans, particularly lovers of musicians’ biographies. Contemporary Cat doesn’t disappoint in covering all of Blanchard’s film work, his years with Blakey and the formation and dissolution of his various groups.

    But Contemporary Cat is more than just a jazz musician’s bio. The book could be called a bio-flick, not only in its unique format, but also in the fact that because of the breadth of Blanchard’s career, this is also a very important movie history book.

    It not only explores how the trumpeter got accepted into Hollywood, but why he didn’t get to work certain movies because he was a friend of Spike Lee. There’s a whole chapter titled, “Absolut-Lee Spike” that in itself makes Contemporary Cat a must-read for any investigators of Lee or of black filmmaking.

    The book resembles a screenplay in that most of the story is told in straight dialogue. The words flow right out of the interviewees mouth and the outspoken film director is quite frank with his assessments of Hollywood, his dogged fight with Warner Brothers to get Malcolm X made and his intimate relationship with the person who scores his movies, among other topics.

    Magro also reveals great insights into how Academy Award-winning actor Denzel Washington prepare for a role.

    Washington worked with Lee and Blanchard on the films, Mo’ Better Blues and Malcolm X, the latter of which garnered him a best actor Oscar nomination.

    Blanchard was Washington’s technical advisor for the role of jazz playing trumpeter Bleek Gilliam in Mo’ Better Blues.

    “I made a videotape of myself playing Bleek’s parts and sent it to Denzel,” Blanchard said in the book. “During rehearsal, he carried a Walkman with a tape of the music.

    “He’s such a perfectionist that he wanted to be precise in each fingering.”

    When Washington kept getting ahead of himself during takes, Blanchard had to assure the actor “don’t worry about it, most musicians aren’t even going to know what you’re playing.”

    The stories on how the spirit of Malcolm X seemingly took Washington and crew members away long after Lee screamed cut is also a priceless story that would only be ruined in any kind of retelling here. In addition to being one of the biggest budgeted Black films ever, the music of Malcolm X was also epic in proportions in how it changed Blanchard personally and professionally.

    The author does a marvelous job of exposing the good natured, humble and defacing personality of Blanchard, as well as the dogged concentrated work ethic that the subject developed early on in his life.

    Born in New Orleans where they raise trumpet players the way Illinois grows corn, Blanchard was in the shadow of Wynton Marsalis almost from the day he decided to pick up the horn as a young boy. Originally a pianist, and still a very good one, Blanchard never felt that presence of Wynton. They were just fellow musicians, the way other kids viewed fellow ballplayers.

    It was the neighborhood at first that started drawing the comparisons. Then, as Blanchard followed Marsalis to New York, into Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and onto the same record company, Columbia, the media and club owners really tried to pit the two against each other.

    Again, everyone involved are quite open and honest in the book, particularly, and as always, Branford Marsalis. Mostly, from childhood on, it’s been one long playful little competitive game between the two.

    At just over 200 pages, the book is a quick read. The brevity may suggest that at the relatively young age of 41, Blanchard still has chapters left to add to an auto-biography.

    But what a jazz life he’s led so far.

    EDITOR’S NOTE – Congratulations to Mr. Ruffin for making the second round of the Sundance Institute’s screenwriting lab invitational- We hope it’s a jazz story. -ed.

    The Marsalis Family – A Jazz Celebration

    The Marsalis FamilyThe Marsalis Family
    A Jazz Celebration
    PBS, Feb. 20, 2003
    by Eugene Holley, Jr.

    Jazz is a family-friendly music, as evidenced by the artistry of the Adderleys of Florida, The Montgomerys of Indiana and the Jones brothers of Michigan. In 1981, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and saxophonist Branford Marsalis burst on the scene as the young lions and started a jazz renaissance. They were followed by their younger brothers, trombonist Delfeayo and drummer Jason.

    Incredible as it sounds, they’ve never recorded together as a family. That oversight was rectified on August 4, 2001, at the University of New Orleans, were the sons performed with their father, the esteemed pianist and educator Ellis Marsalis in a concert that marked his retirement from the school’s jazz department. Supported by bassist Roland Guerin, the event was recorded in many media formats: The CD was released on the Rounder-distributed Marsalis Music label and a DVD is version is forthcoming.

    This hour-long PBS special, produced by the network affiliate Wyes-TV in New Orleans, is the TV version of the concert, and it doesn’t disappoint. It equally appeals to the Marsalis followers who eagerly awaited this date, and to parents and young people who are tired of the decadence on our airways, who happen to like good music made by good people. Thanks to excellent parenting of Ellis and his wife, Dolores, they managed to raise African-American men who have made headlines with art instead of rapsheets, even though Ellis Marsalis said with a deadpen delivery that he “never wanted a family band.”

    With all of the close-cropped, classy-dressed brothers(only Branford is without a tie) on stage, the family delivered a swinging program of standards and original works in trio, quartet, and sextet combinations. The program opened up with a spirited, second line syncopated version of the Crescent City ditty, “Struttin’ with Some Barbeque,” made famous by Louis Armstrong. Jason Marsalis, the baby of the clan and the “most talented” of the brood, delivered an Afro-tinged, talking drum intro on the standard “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top.” On the angular, Ornette Coleman-ish piano-less blues “Cain and Abel” Wynton poked fun at those who feared that he and Branford were fated to become deadly ememies after the older sibling left the trumpter to play with the pop star Sting in the mid-’80s. Delfeayo turned in a mid-tempo, down-home rendition of the rarely-heard “Sultry Serenade,” by the Duke Ellington trombonist Tyree Glenn. The Ellingtonian embers were further stoked by an engaging two piano duet exploration of the Juan Tizol classic, Ellis and his former student, pianist/vocalist/actor Harry Connick, Jr. They took an ebony-and-ivory ride powered by the “Spanish Tinge” that Jelly Roll Morton spoke of in the early 20th century.

    In recounting his years as a student with Ellis, Connick delivered a dead-on imitation of the educator pontificating on the American educational system. On the special’s finale, the modern sounding “Twelve’s It” by the elder Marsalis, Connick joined the patriarch and the keyboard in a reverent four-hands version with the rest of the band. Interviews with Connick and the family are interspersed with the concert footage. Wynton talked about how “there was a lot of volume” growing in the household,.” Delfeayo said that along with their other activities, which included sports, “…music was just the path we had all chosen.”

    Delfeayo also said that the concert was,”… an accurate representation of our family.” Indeed, This document shows jazz in the non-exotic, familial and swinging setting, minus the headline-driven, social-science cliches that bedevil the art form.


    Marcus Miller Interview

    The Ozell Tapes and More
    A Conversation with Marcus Miller
    by Paula Edelstein

    Marcus Miller needs no introduction. The world-class bassist is just about known to everyone who’s into bass players and their music. If they aren’t then they should be! Miller’s amazing bass playing technique is being copied by legions of excited protégé’s and who knows, someone’s son or daughter just might be among the many fans that he has captivated since he burst onto the music scene. As a Who’s Who In Jazz, Marcus Miller is all that. His latest release proves it. The current tour band consists of Dean Brown on guitar, Poogie Bell on drums, Bruce Flowers on keyboards, Roger Byam on saxophones, and Michael “Patches” Stewart on trumpet. Their sound engineer recorded the tour “live” on a mini-tape and after hearing it, put it out so that we could re-live the excitement first hand. And exciting it is. So Listen UP and hear what Marcus had to say about the making of Marcus Miller Live: The Ozell Tapes.

    PE: First of all, thanks so much for the interview. What a dynamic “live” recording Marcus Miller Live: The Ozell Tapes turned out to be…especially since it’s such a “pure” set. I’ve definitely got to have one of those Sharp Model 702 Mini-Disc recorders!

    MM: You’re right…that is a nice recorder. We’d previously used it just to playback the concerts for the musicians to allow them to hear what had worked well or what they needed to work on. But when my engineer played them for me, I told him, “We need to let this music out as it is.”

    PE: Was there any one concert on that Spring 2002 tour that you consider your most special?

    MM: We had a few of them. Paris was great but for the most part, the band stepped up and did a great job throughout the tour.

    PE: Marcus, you have dedicated your high standards to the full range of the jazz, electronica and funk genres with some of the best musicians on the music scene today – the current band included. On this recording, you play your Fender Marcus Miller Signature Bass and 4 different bass guitars. For those novices or non-musician listeners that want to know the whys and hows of choosing the right bass to play, please explain why you’ve chosen to play a particular bass on certain songs?

    MM: On some songs, such as a ballad, I play a fretless bass to give the song a more melodic, lyrical feel. But other than that, I try not to jump around too much because I want my sound to come through as a signature sound that people will remember.

    PE: There are still some of your listeners who don’t realize that your musical versatility extends beyond the bass guitars to the bass clarinet, soprano saxophone and keyboards. Why did you add these particular woodwind instruments and the keyboards to your range of instruments instead of say, other basses such as the double or piccolo?

    MM: I started out playing the clarinet and woodwinds in school but later switched to the bass. However, at times when rehearsing or composing, I found myself automatically assuming the fingering positions for the clarinet and saxophone and realized that I still had a lot of the horn player in me.

    PE: Many of your previous recordings spotlight your amazing skills with several jazz icons including the great Miles Davis. Once again you pay tribute to him in a major way with the 19-minute “Miles/Marcus Medley” of “Hannibal,” “Amandla,” and “Tutu.” What did that original collaboration with Miles Davis back in the 80s represent for you with respect to the mechanics of interplay between a jazz legend and new producer/accompanist?

    MM: It was a beautiful friendship. I called Miles one day and told him that I had some music that I wanted him to hear. I played a lot of the demos on the horn so that he’d know what it would sound like. He encouraged me to keep writing and he basically kept inspiring me throughout our collaborations.

    PE: What are some of your other interests outside of music?

    MM: For a while, I was racing cars, but with four children…that didn’t make much sense! I like basketball and I also read a lot.

    PE: Marcus, in no uncertain terms, you travel a lot. When on the road, or when in other countries, do you ever have to deal with issues that transcend music such as cultural diversity?

    MM: Yes, we all have certain issues and I found that out right away when we played in Italy. When they ask for an encore, you really don’t have a choice whether to play or not. I made the mistake of not coming back and they started throwing bottles and cans at the roadies! So now I know about the cultural requirements of most places where I am scheduled to perform. But most of all, there is an avid appreciation of our music everywhere we go.

    PE: Will you be in concert this Spring or Summer? If so, how and where and when?

    MM: Yes, we’ll be in Europe, Japan and also have some dates in Australia.

    PE: Thanks so much for the interview Marcus. Here’s wishing you the best of luck with the new CD.

    For more about Marcus Miller visit his web site at

    Reprinted with permission of…

    An Interview with Ticklah – Polydemic

    PolydemicA Polydemic Interview with
    by Mark Ruffin

    We reviewed the new Ticklah Album ‘Polydemic‘ in our December, 1998 Issue. Recently our ace reporter, Mark Ruffin was in touch with the multi-talented musician VIA long distance. Here’s what Ticklah had to say. Ed.

    JazzUSA: So, how are you?

    Ticklah: Very good, couldn’t be happier.

    JazzUSA: I don’t know how I got your album. Well actually, I do. I work for a number of different magazines. Somehow my editor at (another magazine) gave me your CD, and usually I get this weird alternative rock kind of stuff from them. I don’t normally listen to their stuff until I have time, so I saved your CD at the bottom of the pile. When I finally put it on I couldn’t believe it, I was stunned! It made my JazzUSA top ten list.

    Ticklah: Thank you very much!

    JazzUSA: Where does the name “Ticklah” come from”

    Ticklah: Many years ago, I was playing in a Ska reggae group, called ‘The Boilers’ and at the time we were submitting a song for a compliation record. As a joke, one of the band leaders did not write down anybody actual given name. He sort of on the fly made up nicknames for them. I think in most cases he made up nicknames that made sense in a sort of reggae sense. So I became Ticklah, a phonectic play on tickling the ivories. It was a nickname that I had people call me a few years later, working with other reggae musicians. I played with a couple group of musicians and these guys were all like from Jamaica or Trinidad and none of them ever referred to to another by their actual name. They just refused to call anybody by their actual name. So, when I started playing with them they were like yeah we love you but we can’t call you Victor, so I said you can call me Ticklah. When I started giving different music to management I actually was using the Tticklah alias only for dub or reggae submission that I give them. Over time they started saying hey, we just think it would be better if you use that name for all the different kinds of music your doing. Originally I only wanted to use that alias only for the reggae stuff.

    JazzUSA: How old are you?

    Ticklah: I’m twenty-seven.

    JazzUSA: And you’re a keyboardist trained from childhood?

    Ticklah: I kind of took lessons on and off starting at around 10 years old. Growing up I always took music very seriously, but when I was in high school I definitely slacked off a lot. I’m not going to say I was a total jerk off in high school, but it’s not like I was coming home from school and practicing every day. Which is what I did a little bit more in junior high. I think that by the time I was finishing up high school, I kind of took a good look at myself and realized that I was wasting a lot of time. If I wanted to be serious about music I had to reprioritize my lifestyle. I not trying to say it like I was an outrageous, partying, nutty high schooler, but just as far as reincorporating some kind of work ethic. Practicing and actually making an effort to find teachers to study with again. I got real serious when I went to college.

    JazzUSA: What college did you attend?

    Ticklah: I went to Sony Purchase, which is in upstate New York. Within the Sony system it’s kind of like the arts focused school within the Sony system. They have a film program, dance program, music program, and visual art.

    JazzUSA: Where is Purchase?

    Ticklah: Purchase is very close to New York City, its about a 45 minute drive north of Manhattan.

    JazzUSA: Are you a born and raised New Yorker.

    Ticklah: Yeah.

    JazzUSA: Now you know there’s this old saying that you can be huge in New York and nothing anywhere else. A lot of New Yorkers’ don’t know that, because you guys are in your own world.

    Ticklah: That’s funny, because I always heard that you can be huge anywhere else in the world and you’re nobody in New York. I always heard the flip side.

    JazzUSA: Well, that’s the way New Yorkers hear it. But you know it works the other way, you have folks making a living in New York, selling records, making big time gigs and never leaving the city. And it does work the other way too, you could be huge all over the world and nothing in the Apple.

    Ticklah: Yeah, nobody knows you in the city.

    JazzUSA: So where are you at?

    Ticklah: In terms of recognition? It’s very hard for me to say, honestly. I don’t even know how many records I’ve sold. As far as recognition, I don’t really think that I’m anywhere, in terms of recognition. People like you giving me a call is definitely something… this is all very new to me.

    JazzUSA: What about the record company, is it a known entity in New York? Or are you the first act.

    Ticklah: Yeah, they’re actually not a record label, in the usual sense. They’re primarily a multi-media company, they’ve really blown up in the past two years. I think that they’ve made a lot of acquisitions and mergers. They’ve blown themselves up.  Their main claim to fame is developing websites and software for other companies. They’ve developed a lot of websites for big corporations, like television companies and other products. I don’t really deal with computers at all. Whenever I talk about it, it’s just what I pick up from those guys.

    JazzUSA: How did you manage to hook up with these guys?

    Ticklah: The president of the Razorfish studios’ multi-media wing is a long time fan of this band that I play in, ‘Cooly’s Hot Box.’  He used to be a lawyer at Polygram and just happened to see us play years ago. He’s always been a real serious fan and used to come out to a lot of shows. He’s always stayed in touch with my manager. As I understand it, when he left Polygram, and he started working for Razorfish and was talking with my manager one the phone one nigbt, and he was telling my manager about this idea that he wanted to put out a record. He was telling him the kind of record he wanted to put out. He had no idea that I’d been working on these recordings in my free time. My manager said ‘Victor’s got a bunch of stuff, let me send you a tape’. So when he heard the music, it was pretty much what he had in mind. Everything worked out really well. This is somebody that I’ve known, not well, but someone whom I’ve seen around. We would always say ‘hello’ to each other. So he was already a familiar face, which was a nice thing.

    JazzUSA: You said in your free time, and you mentioned this band ‘Cooly’s Hot Box’. Is that what takes up your free time?

    Ticklah: What I meant by free time is that during the period of time that I made the bulk of the record, I was just working various nonsense jobs. The creative story behind the album is that I recorded most of the record on an 8-track cassette recorder. I recorded it mostly in my apartment, so it’s the sort of thing that I really hadn’t had much experience recording, or even writing. I’ve been playing music a long time, but I’ve been primarily a side man, or just working with different people on projects. I’ve never really, from a creative standpoint, had the means to have an idea, flush it out and see it through. So when I bought the 8-track, it sort of opened up this whole world to me. All of a sudden I had this little machine where I was able to, if I had an idea I could make it happen, and see it through from beginning to end.

    JazzUSA: Take your time and flush it out.

    Ticklah: Yeah, and believe me I took my time (laughter). Some of those recordings I’m ashamed to tell how long it took.

    JazzUSA: But the record is hot, burnin’!!!

    Ticklah: Well thank you.

    JazzUSA: You were talking earlier, about being in reggae groups. Is that kind of where you were as a younger person.

    Ticklah: Yes, very much so. I’ve actually really shocked myself in the last couple of years. I feel in a lot of ways that I’ve come full circle in terms of the music that really inspires me. When I was growing up in high school, 14-16 years old,  there was a nice little local Ska scene in New York City. I was really into it, I was into, you know, like the two-tone records.

    JazzUSA: Yes, the specials and all that.

    Ticklah: Those English groups, I loved all that stuff. It’s really interesting to me that there’s just something about that music that young teenagers love. I was really all about that and I was fortunate enough to join one of the local bands at that time. When I was in high school I couldn’t see outside that world. I thought ‘Ska and reggae… shoot! I found it! this is it!’  By the time I finished high school and the band broke up, I started checking out some other records. The drummer from the band I was playing with was about 9 years older than I, and he moved and left about 4 crates of records at my place when I was a senior in high school. I started going through them. There were a lot of records in his collection that were difficult to find. He had a lot of Parliament and Sly and the Family Stone, early Sly and the family Stone. What I got out of his collection was my love for Sly and the Family Stone. At that time when you went to the record store, this was the late 80’s, all you could find were the Parliament or Sly and the Family Stone greatest hits. That was a whole area of music, James Brown as well, that I always had a curiosity about, but you couldn’t get those records. I was a young kid, I didn’t know where to go as far as collecting records. Actually, I tell everybody we’re living in a really great time, there is so much music that’s available now that has not been available for a long time. All these records… you can go in any store and get any James Brown record. My mind really opened up towards the end of high school, and then I started checking out some jazz.

    JazzUSA: Now, there you go that’s the missing link, where did the jazz come in. You have a good feel on the keys for a 70’s kind of style jazz.

    Ticklah: That’s really what captured my imagination in the following years. When I got to college I definiately started listening to jazz. What I said earlier, about how I took a look at myself…Wow, I really don’t know how to play, I don’t know anything about music. One of the things that made it apparent to me is I remember listening to jazz records, and going over to the keyboard.  When I started playing things came pretty easily to me, but I really slacked off a lot in high school. I remember going over to the piano to try and figure out what the hell was going on, and  I was so lost I could not even…just the chords that people were playing… I couldn’t evern fathom what was going on. In my desire to start understanding what was going on, I started buying a lot of jazz records and listening to jazz. I was fortunate to start studying with somebody, I think it was in my sophomore year, this guy Mike Longo

    JazzUSA: Wow!

    Ticklah: You know Mike Longo?

    JazzUSA: Yeah, man, played with Dizzie and stuff

    Ticklah: Yeah he studied with Oscar Peterson. My roommate at the time was Adam Rapherty, a really talented be-bop guitarist. He turned me on to him. He said ‘you have to go check out this guy Mike’. I studied with him for about 2 and half years, and I really learned a lot of the things from him about jazz. Even just about music. I learned some very profound things through studying with him. I grew a lot, very slowly, but I feel I learned a lot studying with him. That was around the same time that the group ‘Cooly’s Hot Box’ was forming. The nature of that band was varied, pop and R&B…check out track 3 on the CD. Cooly’s Wages.  That’s a tune that I wrote, and we performed that tune live. The drummer (that’s Cooly) his writing is late 70’s, early 80’s with an R&B influence. So, when I joined the band, his writing was very sophisticated and at the time it was very challenging for me. The arrangements were very involved with solid harmonies. He reminds me of (you know Rod Temperton) very much in that vane.

    JazzUSA: Wow, that’s quite the compliment.

    Ticklah: The guy’s got a brilliant sense of melody and counter point. He really knows how to write a good pop tune.

    JazzUSA: Your record is more like an acid jazz record…

    Ticklah: Yeah, I was leading to that. This is sort of like the different things I was really checking out at that time. To me all of these things are sort of related.  I think of my appreciation for things, just for melodies and harmonies. I kind of developed my taste for these things during this period. And ‘Cooly’s Hot Box’ was part of my development in that area. At that time there was the big acid jazz scene in New York. So, I started hanging out at the clubs. I met a lot of musicians. I’m real good friends the bass player from Group Collective, Jonathan Maron.

    JazzUSA: He’s on your record?

    Ticklah: Yeah, he plays on, I don’t know if you have a recent copy or the first pressing. The first pressing omits the credits for Buttermilk. They messed up and left it out.

    JazzUSA: I don’t even have Buttermilk.

    Ticklah: Yeah, so see you have an early pressing. Jonathan plays on that track.

    JazzUSA: So there’s not an extra track, it’s just not listed.

    Ticklah: Right, somehow we all did not know it was missing (laughter).

    JazzUSA: Ah, so it’s listed on the back, but you….aahhh.

    Ticklah: Yeah, we left out the actual music.

    JazzUSA: But the record’s great. I remember being in New York four or five years ago, maybe even longer. I could not believe the acid jazz scene there. In Chicago it’s OK, in San Francisco it’s smoking, but in New York… I couldn’t believe it. It was a whole different vibe. And when I heard your record it made me feel like New York. You guys have a scene. The only scene that’s comparable is in London. With the groove and the amount of people and the clubs, there’s no other scene in the country that’s got that.

    Ticklah: It’s not like that any more I’ll have you know. Those days are long gone. New York is very different right now. In fact I hardly ever go out.

    JazzUSA: So all those great bands Group Collective, there was others…

    Ticklah: That was all very inspirational for me. At the time, honestly, of the groups that were playing Group Collective was the only group that I felt had a really big impact on me. It was definitely cool because there were a lot of things happening. The Giant Step Party was happening every week, there was really nice momentum built up with that.

    JazzUSA: I worked with, at least I worked with a friend who was working with a band called Repercussions.

    Ticklah: Yeah, a lot of the same musicians from Group Collective.

    JazzUSA: So, it’s not the same?

    Ticklah: No, now days, no. Things have changed quite a bit.

    JazzUSA: what about the music vibe, forget about the scene. Are bands still making the kind of music that Ticklah is making.

    Ticklah: Uh, Maybe… I don’t know. Honestly, it’s really hard for me to say.

    JazzUSA: There’s no scene, how can you know.

    Ticklah: There’s not much scene, but also I would say that I feel that I’m pretty ignorant of what’s going on. There are always a million groups at any given time playing in New York. But for me, I work really slow. So basically I need to stay home and work if I ever want to get anything done. And the period before that when I was going out a lot and checking things out, I wasn’t really creating much at the time. I was busy. I was always playing gigs with different people. But now days, since I’ve sort of found a calling, I know the best thing for me to do if I want to get work done is just not really to leave the house.

    JazzUSA: What’s your calling?

    Ticklah: I guess what I mean, as far as the whole creative aspect of writing and production, is that it’s all a very recent development in my life.

    JazzUSA: So there will be another Ticklah album?

    Ticklah: Yeah, I’m actually in the middle of working that out with RazorFish right now. We’re currently trying to work things out so we can get things a little more solidified for the future, so I can make some more records.

    For RealAudio samples and more information visit the Ticklah web site

    Oscar Peterson – Music in the Key of Oscar – DVD

    Oscar Peterson
    Music in the Key of Oscar – DVD
    VIEW Video
    S. H. Watkins, Sr.

    Oscar Peterson is one of the greatest pianists in the history of Jazz. From his early days as Montreal’s teenage boogie-woogie sensation through his meteoric rise to international celebrity, Peterson has wowed audiences far and wide with his mastery of the ivorys. Music in the Key of Oscar chronicles this journey for you through a combination of TV and video clips and commentary from friends, family and the legendary Mr. Peterson himself.

    There’s also a great reunion performance of the Oscar Peterson Trio (bassist Ray Brown and guitarist Herb Ellis) who after a twenty-year hiatus, reunited in order to “prove that it still had the magic.” All in all there is over 100 minutes of classic and contemporary performances, rare film footage and in-depth interviews with a cast of jazz legends and multiple Bonus Features. I’m an Oscar Peterson fan and even I learned a lot that I did not know about Oscar Peterson… he way quite a pioneer in the jazz industry in Canada.

    This is highly recommended viewing both for it’s historical content as well as the sheer pleasure of the performances. This DVD is available at your local movie rental store or online at VIEW Video.

    An Interview with Michael Brecker

    Michael BreckerWe Have A Talk With
    Michael Brecker
    by Mark Ruffin

    Tenor sax legend Michael Brecker has a new album out titled ,”The Nearness of You,´ It is a ballad album featuring gorgeous work by Herbie Hancock and pop vocalist James Taylor. Brecker, of course, is just as good a friend of pop musicians as he is in jazz. His most famous pop collaborations include work with Taylor, Paul Simon and numerous others. Of course funkateers will lionize him as being an original member of George Clinton’s Horny Horns concept (the others included his brother Randy on trumpet and Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker of James Brown fame.) But it is jazz music where Brecker’s heart lies. This month he is doing a limited number of dates celebrating the 75th birthday of John Coltrane by performing with trumpeter Roy Hargrove and piano giant Herbie Hancock playing the music of Miles and Trane. JazzUSA’s Senior Editor, Mark Ruffin, talked to Brecker before embarking on the tour.

    JazzUSA: Why did you decide to do a ballad album at this time?

    MB: Well, the idea had been lingering in the back of my mind for a few years. It had been suggested strongly to me years ago by Charlie Haden, and a few other people. Somehow, this year, Richard Seidel at Verve suggested it again to me, and the idea kind of resonated more strongly. I just felt more like I could do it now, and I had more of an inclination to do it.

    JazzUSA: Why did you include James Taylor?

    MB: Once I decided that I was going to have vocals, my first thought was to call James, because I’m an amazing James Taylor fan. I love his voice and he and I have been friends for years. I’ve recorded six or seven albums with James.

    JazzUSA: Isn’t that you on the original version of “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight?”

    MB: Yes, we did it back in 1970, 71, somewhere in there. We have a good blend, a good chemistry.

    JazzUSA: But you don’t associate James Taylor, one, with jazz, and you don’t associate James Taylor with a group that includes Herbie Hancock and Pat Metheny.

    MB: That to me was the exciting idea of it. I associate James with being an amazingly great musician, and being around him a lot, I know what he can do. He’s a great guitarist, a great composer and he has the ability to be spontaneous, so I knew that that would work. The idea was exciting, to hear him surrounded by Herbie, Pat, Charlie and Jack (De Johnette) I knew that it would work. And it work even beyond what I expected.

    JazzUSA: You know, a lot of people don’t associate James Taylor with spontaneity either. Obviously you know something that people who buy his work, or at least jazz people who know his work, don’ t know.

    MB: Well, yeah. I’ve worked with him a lot and I know his approach. He never sings the same song twice the same way. He’s not a jazz singer, or not coming from the jazz tradition, like Joe Williams, Sarah Vaughan, Ella, Billie Holiday, he’s not coming out of that jazz tradition, but he can be spontaneous and has great ears.

    JazzUSA: Pat’s a big fan of his too, isn’t he?

    MB: In fact, Pat has a song called “James,”

    JazzUSA: Yep, written for James Taylor.

    MB: Yeah, so the idea was pretty natural for us.

    JazzUSA: This record, to me, seems to be a departure from your last couple of Impulse records, in that, well, to, me, there is a broad line between acoustic jazz and contemporary jazz that a number of people like you and Pat seem to straddle effortlessly, and you seemed to have straddled that line on previous records. Whereas this record doesn’t seem to be a contemporary jazz record at all.

    MB: I don’t know, because I don’t quite know what all the labels mean anymore. I’m not quite sure what you mean by contemporary jazz.

    JazzUSA: Well electric jazz. I mean you screaming away on your EWI and Pat wailing away, ain’t exactly acoustic be-bop.

    MB: Well the last three records of mine have been completely acoustic, so it ‘s hard for me to comment on that.

    JazzUSA: I hear what you’re saying Mike, but like that album with you, McCoy Tyner and Pat, (Tales From The Hudson,) sure it was an acoustic record, but it completely has that vibe of a contemporary jazz, or electric album, not a traditional jazz record.

    MB: Okay, okay, I see what you’re saying. That’s just the sort of sensibility I bring to it. I’m a product of my time. I grew up playing electric music as well as acoustic. I am who I am, influenced by a lot of different musical voices and that comes out when I play. It also influences who I play with, et cetera. Even though they are acoustic records, they’re not in the traditional jazz vein.

    JazzUSA: But the new one is right there in the acoustic jazz vein, even with James Taylor’s appearance on it.

    MB: I’d agree with that.

    JazzUSA: I’m a child of the 70’s, so you’re a hero because of your funk escapades. You’re a bona fide funkateer.

    MB: (laughs) Oh, thank you.

    JazzUSA: Is any of that still in your smorgasbord now? Do you go back to your P-Funk roots?

    MB: Well, when I play with my brother, we try to visit those roots.

    JazzUSA: So you and your brother still play together?

    MB: Yes, we just finished a tour of Europe. It was an acoustic group, but it was pretty funky.

    JazzUSA: What does Coltrane mean to you?

    MB: Coltrane was probably my biggest influence. His music is what kind of propelled me into pursing music as a lifetime pursuit.

    JazzUSA: In what way? Can you elaborate?

    MB: Well, it’s just that he and his quartet reached places in me that I didn ‘t know could be reached through music and affected me on a number of levels. Enough so that I wanted to try to play music and see if I could have more of that (laughs)

    JazzUSA: To try to find whatever it was he was looking for?

    MB: Well, in my own way. I’m a different person (laughs) I don’t know how to put it.

    JazzUSA: In a different time,

    MB: Yeah, in a different time and in a whole different set of circumstances. Coltrane’s music for me was extremely exhilarating, powerful, spiritual, intelligent, emotional, technical, non-technical, everything.

    JazzUSA: Did you keep following him after the heyday of the quartet and he moved into “Om,” and…

    MB: Yes, I listened to everything and continued to. He was a brilliant force. I think his music affected all of the arts. He had the ability to move forward and change in a way that I couldn’t even begin to approximate. He was a real musical spirit.

    JazzUSA: You said ‘moved forward and changed,’ has there been times in your career where you’ve said ‘yes, I’ve accomplished something and I’m moving on.’ Have you ever felt that?

    MB: It doesn’t quite come like that. It comes in small steps for me. Changes for me have been gradual and not so fast and big. Coltrane from year to year, but I think if you were to examine it on a day to day basis, it would appear to be smaller, but the overall effect was fast and rapid growth. I’m a much slower learner. It takes me a much longer time. I’m perfect with small changes in small increments.

    JazzUSA: We heard those changes in big steps, but he recorded so much, he was on to something else, by the time we heard a new album,

    MB: That’s true.

    JazzUSA: So to us, it seems like big shit,,,

    MB: Number one, you’re right, he recorded a lot. At a pace that I couldn’t even imagine. They seemed to be in the studio every couple of months. Coltrane played a lot and practiced a lot. If you listen to night to night performances, you can hear them performing the tunes that they recorded, and realize that he was working on that stuff and gradually change. But he played so much, that the overall effect was huge change from record to record, at least from period to period..

    JazzUSA: So this tour, is all this month, and it’s you, Herbie Hancock, Roy Hargrove and who else.

    MB: It’s a tour of 28 dates and it will also feature John Patituci and Brian Blade.

    JazzUSA: Wow, that’s a great group. How did this come together?

    MB: The idea was the brainchild of a guy named Scott Southerd, a friend of mine, who also happens to be a booking agent. He approached us with the idea and we all liked it. It seemed to be a good time to do it, and I knew we were going to have a lot of fun. Also, for me, a chance to learn.

    JazzUSA: In what way?

    MB: Well, for me, anytime I get to play with Herbie, it’s always a learning experience. I mean, he is such a brilliant musician, and we’ll be reinterpreting some of Miles and Coltrane compositions, and of course, Herbie was one of the prime elements in one of the greatest Miles’ bands ever. So that will be interesting.

    JazzUSA: Have you played with Roy Hargrove before?

    MB: I’ve done a teeny-weeny bit of playing with him. So I’m looking forward to hitting with him. I’m a big fan. I think he is so incredibly talented. And I’ve played a lot with John Patituci, and this will be a fine chance to play with Brian Blade as well. I think the group has a great chemistry.

    JazzUSA: Any plans on recording this group?

    MB: None so far, but there’s been some talk. So, I wouldn’t be surprised. It would be a shame not to.

    June Kuromoto (Hiroshima) Interview

    June Kuromoto of Hiroshima
    Talks About The Spirit of the Season
    by Paula Edelstein
    June Kuromoto (Hiroshima)Hiroshima is an award-winning ensemble that has continuously experienced and shared their creativity with the world for the past twenty years. With Spirit of the Season, their second release on Heads Up International, the group offers their perspective on the holiday songs and original music written especially to permeate peace around the world. Hiroshima is Dan Kuromoto, Kimo Cornwell, June Kuromoto, Danny Yamamoto, Dean Cortez, Richie Gajate-Garcia, and Terry Steele with special guests The 54th Street Choir on “Thousand Cranes.” This is one of the most beautiful holiday recordings you’ll ever hear…so listen up!

    P.E.: Congratulations on Spirit of the Season. What does the holiday season mean to you as a musician, mother, provider and educator?

    June K: Actually, it’s a time of year …I feel family, love, caring and sharing.

    P.E.: Successful musicians demonstrate skills unrelated to the creation of music that aren’t taught or learned in a classroom, a music textbook or from performing for that matter. What skills have helped you endure the enormous success of Hiroshima and kept your music interesting to your audiences?

    June K: Wow, thank you. I don’t know how to…I personally trained classically and it’s amazing how during the first half of my life, I learned all the techniques and the different songs. I was taught traditionally. In the second half of my life…you know how you erase everything and go back and try to relearn from the heart, soul and with creativity.

    P.E.: The holiday standards sometimes get over familiar for some, but Hiroshima has come up with several great covers of the traditional music as well as several original holiday songs that capture the SPIRIT OF THE SEASON. How do you inspire yourself to re-write holiday favorites as well as new music?

    June K: I can’t take credit for that. That’s mostly from Dan Kuromoto and Kimo Cornwell. They’re geniuses. They have this really special way of blending and they spend a lot of time with each instrument, such as my koto, and they incorporated it with the creative elements of contemporary sounds. I find them amazing, I’m in awe of them especially with such arrangements as they did for “Little Drummer Boy,” and “Spirit of the Season.” I think it shouldn’t be like this for the holiday but EVERY day.

    P.E.: Terry Steele’s soulful vocals are truly loving on the title track. Wow what a great song. It talks about why we have Christmas in the first place…not about the things you can buy, it’s about the spirit you can share. June, you really deliver a beautiful ambience on koto. It’s very compelling and very refined. Please give us a brief history of how you came to play the koto.

    June K: Thank you. I was born in Japan and moved here when I was about six years old. I always thought I was going back to Japan…not understanding what the move was about. So when we were here in America, I saw my teacher play at this event and when I saw and heard the instrument, I immediately fell in love with the sound. I asked my mom… “Mom, that’s the instrument I want to play. Can I learn?” I believe that was the beginning, it was my connection to Japan.

    P.E.: June, do you teach the koto?

    June K: Yes, I do teach the koto. I try to teach as much as possible…I feel I have an obligation. I am a very strict teacher because I was taught classically and that’s the only way that I know how to teach. That’s my basic background but I try to stay open. But my foremost goal is to teach creativity.

    P.E.: You play the melody line on “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer” and it’s a fine old holiday standard. However, with the koto, bells, and other percussive embellishments this presentation is given a new twist by setting it against the modern day synthesizer and traditional Japanese rhythms. How difficult was it to re-work this holiday standard?

    June K: It wasn’t very difficult. Actually, that song was fun to do because it’s a fun song. Hearing an old traditional instrument play a funny song was great!

    P.E.: What does a day in the life of June Kuramoto involve when preparing for a performance?

    June K: Well, I have to make sure that my koto strings are not dead. My preparation usually starts around two weeks before where I am making sure that my picks and strings are okay. But I have to constantly, like all other musicians, to be informed physically so that you can endure the entire set! So it’s a constant process…being into what I have to do mentally and physically. The hard part of the new show is memorizing the songs…it’s getting more and more difficult. For a new show, with new material, I have to start within a month because I like to be comfortable. Depending on the songs, the koto cannot modulate generally. I have to work it a lot because it’s not the same scale for every song.

    P.E.: Your husband Dan, wrote and arranged many of the songs that we hear on the recording including “Peace On Earth,” “Listen To The Falling Snow,” and of course the title track. However, on SPIRIT OF THE SEASON, you have composed “Thousand Cranes” with Derek Nakamoto. Does sending a thousand cranes represent the ultimate act of love or something spiritual in Japanese philosophy?

    June K: Yes, there are actually many symbolic meanings for the crane in Japan. One of them is happiness because cranes mate for life and so it’s a great wedding present and it’s symbolic of happiness. But in this situation, “A Thousand Cranes” came from this peace memorial that is located in the center of the city of Hiroshima. Within it is this domelike of a little girl on top who was bombed during the war in Hiroshima. There are a thousand cranes laid within the dome for her. She survived the bombing but the radiation affected her, she later developed leukemia and had to be hospitalized. Her friend told her that if she folded a thousand paper cranes, make a wish and wish that her pain would go away. So she began to fold a thousand cranes and around 644, she passed away. So her classmates folded the remaining cranes and buried them with her. So when the word got out, children from all over the world started sending paper cranes and today, they still string the cranes inside. So people from all over the world send a thousand cranes to symbolize peace.

    P.E.: What a wonderful gesture and here’s wishing the whole world peace during the holiday season and for eternity. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts about SPIRIT OF THE SEASON. May you continue to be successful and happy June. We really appreciate your speaking to us here at Sounds of Timeless and look forward to hearing the songs in concert.

    June K: Thank you.

    P.E.: Keep in touch with Hiroshima at

    Carol Duboc Interview

    Talking With All Of
    Carol Duboc
    by Baldwin “Smitty” Smith

    Well it is my pleasure to speak for the first time with this incredible musician and singer. She’s fresh off the hit movie Be Cool, starring John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Cedric The Entertainer, Danny De Vito, and The Rock. A great supporting role for her in this great movie, she has an excellent new record out entitled All of You. I’m talking about Gold Note Music recording artist, the lovely Miss Carol Duboc.

    Smitty: You must be very excited these days, Carol.

    Carol: I am!

    Smitty: And you have so much to be excited about; the movie, and this great record and that fabulous CD release party. What a fun year.

    Carol: Yeah it’s been very busy AND FUN, I tell ya!

    Smitty: So tell me a little bit about how you began your career. Did you start out as a singer or did you have an instrument in your hand? Talk to me about how you discovered yourself as a singer.

    Carol: I played bass and keyboard in my first band, in Jr. High and High School. But I ended up singing in the band. I went to school at USC School of Music and I was an opera major. I doubled in composition and minored in music engineering. I progressed from there to actually do quite a bit of recording, but I ended up writing songs for myself, because I didn’t like the songs that I was getting from other people, as an artist. Apparently people liked my songs and there are always a lot of artists in need of songs, so they ended up using some of my songs for other people or wanting my songs themselves. I wrote “Precious” for Chante’ Moore and songs for Patty LaBelle, Stephanie Mills–I wrote with Teddy Riley for a couple of years. After writing in the R&B world for a while, I kind of wanted something more, especially with a classical background, I was looking for more chord changes. So I came back to Los Angeles and decided to put a trio together after seeing Al Jarreau performing his Tenderness album. And I thought “that looks like a really fun way of approaching music as an instrument,” because I always have written for instruments and done arrangements, but as a singer, it would be interesting to become the instrument and also sing at the same time.

    Listen to clips from
    All Of You
    All of You:

    Smitty: Wow. So who was your inspiration in the beginning to start your career?

    Carol: I’ve had a lot of inspirations and I would say Stevie Wonder was my favorite artist growing up. My older brothers and sisters would listen to him and I kind of grabbed the album and was married to it (laughing).

    Smitty: (laughing) I can see how that could happen.

    Carol: Also many others, some of the people [with songs] on this album, like The Police, Bill Withers, I loved Al Green. You know, I like soulful R&Bish music. I also like Classical music.

    Smitty: That’s a nice mix. Something that I often wonder about with musicians; We all sing from a tender age, even if it’s just humming along, we try to mimic whatever we hear. Some of us advance a little further and some don’t. When did you discover that you had a voice that should be heard from the stage?

    Carol: My parents weren’t all that in favor of me being in the music business, they kind of wanted me to be a lawyer or something, it wasn’t something they were encouraging, but I got accepted to USC in the opera program. It was one of the best schools in the country for performance. And the head of the department said he’d accepted me on the tone of my voice, and that was encouraging. But you know what; you’re never, as an artist, totally confident in yourself. But I will say that some of the reviews that I got from Don Heckman were quite encouraging as I came into being a jazz singer. But you never really know (laughing).

    Smitty: You sound very confident on this new album.

    Carol: I feel pretty comfortable on this album because I’m combining the R&B that I love with the jazz that I also love. And so I do feel very very comfortable now.

    Smitty: Well let’s talk about your first album With All That I Am. How were you feeling then? Because…it’s your first album, you know, it’s usually a very nervous time and there are usually some second guessing and apprehension. How were you feeling when you cut this first CD?

    Carol: I cut that first CD over a couple of years. It was right at the point where I decided I wanted to use a live band and record music; kind of approach R&B as a jazz singer, record more of that R&Bish-feeling songs while improvising. Record it live with a band and keep the mistakes as opposed to recording a pop record. So I was experimenting on that album as I wrote the songs. I wrote quite a few of them with Patrick Moten, who you know, did the first Anita Baker records.

    Smitty: Oh Yeah.

    Carol: He’s very good at following melodies, so I wanted to improvise and record everything to DAT, and whatever I sang, that was the song. Kind of almost as if you were taking on the transcription of a jazz musician, but to do it as a singer and a songwriter. So that’s how that first album was conceived I took down exactly what I did, the day I wrote it. So that album was a lot of fun and it was the first attempt at my vision. It’s still not my favorite, because I love the one I just did, but it’s definitely my second favorite. I like the way it came out and the musicians are wonderful on it. I wasn’t nervous. The thing that was hard for me, because I came from a different world, was convincing people. Jazz wasn’t as popular as it is now, when I did that first album. But we put it out and it did pretty well and it was right after I signed with Maurice White, of Earth Wind and Fire, for a record deal. He got kind of busy with Earth Wind and Fire, so I just went off and finished the album and put it out [myself].

    Smitty: Yeah, I can see how that approach to your first project helped you to just kick it and do it. Now talk about your reaction when you first heard your music on the radio.

    Carol: I first heard my music on the radio as a writer, before I even got credit for it.

    Smitty: (Laughing) How many times does that happen!

    Carol: Now that’s a whole other story. I know, everybody in the business has stories like that.

    Smitty: So true.

    Carol: No but it was exciting. To hear people actually care enough to want to play it and to listen to it.

    Smitty: Talk about what that did for your confidence in your writing.

    Carol: Over the years, I became more confident in my writing, as people seemed to keep wanting the songs that I was writing. That was without me really shopping them or wanting to sell them. There must have been something to what I was doing that people wanted. You know, artists aren’t always terribly confident because, that’s what drives you; you’re always looking for the better song and the better chord. I’m very confident now, because I realize it’s not something that everyone can do. But when you first start writing, you don’t really know that, because it just kind of comes naturally. It’s just something that you’re born to do.

    Smitty: Well it seems like there was a steady progression in not only your writing, but your singing as well. And that’s evident with your rave reviews that you’ve received over the years. That says that you are a great artist. Period.

    Carol: Thanks.

    Smitty: You know, I’m impressed with I Stand For America. I just want to get your thoughts about this music. Apparently this really touched you to the point that you wanted to put your thoughts into song and share them with everyone. Talk a little bit about I Stand For America, your second project.

    Carol: Well it was written in memory of those who lost their lives in the tragic event on September 11. It was written right before the first anniversary. I ended up just kind of improvising with the piano and collaborating with Tony Dumas and came up with that song. I had just met my favorite keyboard player in the world, Tim Carmon. He just plays beautifully. And so I thought this would be nice to put him on the (Fender) Rhodes, we came in the studio and just recorded it.

    Smitty: Well it’s a nice piece, it seems like you really put your heart into that.

    Carol: Thank you. I did. I mean I try to put my heart into everything that I do, but I liked the way that one really came out.

    Smitty: Yes it was really nice. And you know, I was going through and really looking at the way you worked with Tim. You guys seem to really gel when it comes to writing and making music. Talk a little bit about your relationship with Tim and writing and creating this great music that you have.

    Carol: When I wrote with him, I had fallen in love with somebody (laughing) and I could feel that it was tenuous and there was something going on and it wasn’t going to work out. But while I was still in euphoria, I decided to run into the studio and write as quickly as I could. I find that melodies come quicker than the words, so when I’m inspired by an event, I know that the melodies will be there, but then the words will come too. So I called Tim and said “let’s hurry up and get in the studio.” He’s so talented on the keyboard, I knew he could follow the melody and find really beautiful chords underneath the melody I was hearing. So, five of those songs were written that day in a two-hour session. And the same way I wrote the songs on the first album, I’d improvise at the microphone and I’d go home and finish the song. And that’s how they were written. Drowning, Empty, and I Underestimated You were all written about the same person, and in the same two-hour writing session.

    Smitty: Yeah, I tell you, you can feel the inspiration. Those are great songs.

    Carol: Thanks I’m happy with them too. I really am. You struck on something about confidence; I guess I really am the most confident right now, because I do like what I just did.

    Smitty: Well I can feel it. And I’m sure all of your fans can as well as anyone that listens to this album, because of the unique command that you have of your voice and the melodies. I can see that you are a Bill Withers fan too. (laughing)

    Carol: Who isn’t? You know the scary thing about doing a Bill Withers song is that his voice is so big. It’s like “I can’t touch this.” But that’s why I thought if we do it in a really different way and really change the chords up and have the instrumentation be light, and then maybe I can give it a completely different thing. Then maybe I wouldn’t be trying to compete with Bill Withers, because I wouldn’t want to do that.

    Smitty: Yeah, I can remember coughing and catching my breath as a kid, trying to sing and follow along with those songs. It was just unbelievable the command he had of his voice.

    Carol: He just has this huge voice.

    Smitty: Well I must thank you for one thing.

    Carol: What?

    Smitty: The second song on your new album, Sunny. You know, when I was a kid it was one of my all time favorite songs. When I heard that, I thought “Man I can go back so far.” so I sung along with you there (laughing), and that’s a great tract too. A very cool song with a great melody. And you handled it quite well. Very nice.

    Carol: Thank you.

    Smitty: Your third project Duboc (I pronounced it Dubeau)

    Carol: Duboc (pronounced Du-bach)

    Smitty: (laughing) Oh, Duboc.

    Carol: No don’t worry, everyone has a different way of saying it. (laughing)

    Smitty: What is the correct way of saying it?

    Carol: Du-bach

    Smitty: Well you know, we were saying Duboc as a joke. (laughing)

    Carol: You mean like shoo be doo bock?

    Smitty: Yeah

    Carol: Yeah, you know what; I’m going to have to do a song like that on my next album. (singing) shoo be doo bock, with four or five part harmony. That’s what I’m going to do.

    Smitty: (laughing) Yeah! You could scat away with that.

    Carol: I’ll give you a thank you.

    Smitty: That’s so cool. I love your third project too. Your album covers are so striking, you know that?

    Carol: Thank you. I’m liking this last one, and I like the green.

    Smitty: Yeah, a great color scheme. Kudos to your designer for that.

    Carol: He’s very talented, yes. I like it too.

    Smitty: Very nice. And your choice of attire is very nice, that’s for sure.

    Carol: Ooh, thanks.

    Smitty: And I love the pose, when you’re sitting down, I love those shoes. I couldn’t take my eyes off those shoes.

    Carol: It’s funny; a couple of people have said that. That’s interesting. Wow. To be honest with you they were just shoes that I had in my closet; I ought to wear them more often. They’re very comfortable.

    Smitty: You should. Yeah, and I’m not a shoe person, I never give much attention to that. But those are nice shoes. Maybe it’s all in the pose.

    Carol: You know an interesting story about that dress that I’ve never told. I bought that dress to go to the Grammy’s with someone. Actually, somebody that some of these songs were written about. I was just madly in love. And I bought that, and then he cancelled the day of [the show].

    Smitty: No way!

    Carol: And it was like a really expensive dress and I thought “I’ve got to use this.” We used it on the album cover and the back of the album.

    Smitty: (laughing)

    Carol: So that was my Grammy dress that was never worn.

    Smitty: Really?

    Carol: Yeah, and actually you are the first person that I’ve told that to.

    Smitty: Oh my God, I feel so special. Well you’ve got to wear that dress.

    Carol: Yeah you know I do, that’s a good idea, but it’s got to be the right gig, you know The Kennedy Center or something. But I’ll keep it.

    Smitty: Yes, please do. That dress is really striking. It’s nice. Well let’s talk more about this new record, there were a couple of things that I wanted to ask you about. When you did the first song, “All of You,” I thought it was different to see the first track as the title song. I thought that was kind of cool. And I thought that was the right song. Usually when you hear the first song on an album, you think, ok let’s get into the meat of this album. But you kicked it from the beginning to the end on this CD. And that song to me was such an excellent choice for the first song on this album.

    Carol: Well I appreciate that. I spent a lot of time on trying to put together the order of the songs. On the last couple of albums I just went totally based on feeling, just instinct, impulse and feeling. On this one, I actually took my time and kind of crafted the order, took some time with it, came back the next day. I always knew I wanted “All of You” to be first because it was the last song that I wrote; and it’s about my current boyfriend, who I care a lot about. It just seemed like the right choice.

    Smitty: It’s an excellent song, a great vibe. You’re hearts really there, it really is. Let’s talk about some of the great musicians you’ve worked with. I can think of Gerald Albright, Hubert Laws, so many great musicians. Talk about meeting these musicians for the first time, working with them and what it did for your musicality.

    Carol: Well, each one of them is different. I met Gerald Albright when I was still in college. And he use to come over to my home studio and play solos on my demos. Of course he got very popular shortly after that. And Hubert Laws, we’re friends actually. I had him play on the second album. We’ve been working together ever since. What kind of influence they’ve been? Ummm….well also don’t forget Teddy Riley, he was quite an influence. Do you know who he is?

    Smitty: No actually I don’t.

    Carol: Teddy Riley was a big hip hop producer in the 90’s and I worked with him on Patty LaBelle’s projects and various other projects. He was very hot, he did the group Guy and produced Michael Jackson. But anyway, he’s just done a lot of things; he’s an extremely talented guy. So yeah I’ve been influenced by everybody I’ve worked with certainly.

    Smitty: Very cool. Let’s talk about a couple of other guys. You mentioned Teddy Riley, producer…

    Carol: Maurice White

    Smitty: Yes.

    Carol: George Duke

    Smitty: Yes, and Jeff Lorber

    Carol: Jeff Lorber. Jeff and I wrote quite a few songs together. One time we went on a writing spree. We wrote like twelve songs in one week.

    Smitty: (laughing) Jeff is an incredible writer and a great guy. He is just one of the greatest keyboard players; I put him in the same category with people like Joe Kurasz, George Duke, David Benoit. You know just great creative writers with a lot of funk and a great vibe.

    Carol: Yeah he’s definitely talented, no doubt about that.

    Smitty: So you seem to have, in your circle, musician wise, the best of the best. So it’s understandable that you have high standards, and that’s evident in this latest project.

    Carol: Thank you. Maybe that’s a good point, how they have influenced me. I expect nothing but the best. You know, if you’re going to play flute, play like you were Hubert Laws (laughing).

    Smitty: I feel ya. Whenever I hear his name, I think of Romeo and Juliet.

    Carol: Yes. Great album.

    Smitty: That is just an incredible album, it’s old, but it’s one of the great ones.

    Carol: Yeah, he’s talented.

    Smitty: Talk about your band. Darrell Crooks, your guitar player. He is a serious guitar player, I love his style.

    Carol: Yeah, that’s what he is. He’s extremely talented, he has a great feel and makes all the right choices at the right times.

    Smitty: How much fun was it was working with this great band? I can tell that this was a fun record. It was a serious record, but it was a fun record.

    Carol: It was really fun because I liked the musicians so much. Each one of them is so great at what they do. Nobody is just kind of an okay player, everybody is, I think, brilliant at their instrument. And plus the fact, I mean I’ve done every record with Land Richards, the drummer. All of these people have toured with me, Tim and Darryl did a tour with me a couple of years ago, where we went up and down the coast in a van.

    Smitty: Those are always fun trips (laughing).

    Carol: So we got to know each other. And it just really was a lot of fun.

    Smitty: I can imagine. Just looking at your album cover and notes, you can tell that this was just a fun record and everybody just had a great time with it. And that always makes for a great project when you have that element there.

    Carol: Yeah it’s hard to force music, I mean you can do it, but you can tell.

    Smitty: Yes. Lets talk for a minute about this movie. Now you were in the movie Be Cool, starring John Travolta, Uma Thurman and Cedric the Entertainer.

    Carol: And Danny DeVito

    Smitty: Oh yeah, how could I forget Danny DeVito!

    Carol: That’s okay. Also, Vince Vaughn and The Rock.

    Smitty: Yeah, and you seem to have so much fun no matter what you are doing. You are just kickin’ it up in this movie! Now tell me…

    Carol: Did you see it?

    Smitty: Yes I did and I laughed like you wouldn’t believe.

    Carol: (laughing)

    Smitty: How did you get the part in this movie?

    Carol: As you know, I do performances around LA. A friend of mine is also a fan, she’s been around almost everything I’ve done in the past two years. But she’s also a casting agent, so they were looking for that particular person to play that role. At first they were looking for someone who had red hair, so she didn’t call me. But they couldn’t find her so finally on a Friday, at the last minute, she called and said “Can you come and sing “Lady Marmalade”; I said, “Yeah, sure.” So I guess I must have had the right look and attitude and stuff. And I don’t know if that’s a compliment or not (laughing).

    Smitty: I think it is. Well that was something cool. You know I have to ask you, what did you think when you were chosen for this role.

    Carol: I was excited! I had no idea, and they ended up using me twenty days. John Travolta was in nearly every scene, and one scene Vince Vaughn had his arm around me for twelve hours.

    Smitty: (laughing) You didn’t mind did you?

    Carol: I could start a rumor but I won’t. (laughing)

    Smitty: (laughing)

    Carol: No, it was great.

    Smitty: It looked like you were having a great time, a great movie. And your wardrobe, Whew!

    Carol: Wasn’t that a great wardrobe? I almost walked out of the wardrobe department when I saw that. Thinking, what kind of movie IS THIS? (Laughing) But I figured PG, they’d cover me up.

    Smitty: (laughing) Yeah, it was incredible. And of course that was a new experience for you.

    Carol: Oh yeah, I’ve never been in a movie before.

    Smitty: So what were you thinking during all of that, you know, the script reading and the casting. Talk a little bit about that experience.

    Carol: I’d taken a couple of dance lessons, but I’m not a dancer. I’d certainly never done choreographed numbers. And I find it interesting that my first choreographed number was on the MGM set in front of like a hundred people, (laughing). I thought, ‘this is really scary!’

    Smitty: (laughing) I could just see you trying to get through that.

    Carol: But you know the nice thing about singing jazz is that you sing in front of many different types of audiences and it really can prepare you for anything. So I felt somewhat comfortable performing, if that makes sense. In clubs you never know who you’re going to get in front of you. The hardest part was the choreography. I was supposed to be the one that could really act and sing, and I’ve been there, done that, just don’t want to be there you know. And the funny thing is the girl, Manai, the Asian girl, she’s actually a professional dancer. But she’s supposed to look like she’s missing the dances.

    Smitty: Oh she’s a professional?

    Carol: She’s a professional dancer, so she’d actually have to plan her dance misses.

    Smitty: You wouldn’t have known. So, man you have so much to put in your memoirs.

    Carol: That’s what I was thinking, you know grandkids. Look at Grandma!

    Smitty: Grandma used to look like that? (laughing) So lets see now, you have a website?

    Carol: Yes,

    Smitty: Alright! And I must say, this is some website.

    Carol: Thank you! We like it.

    Smitty: And I want to say to everyone, go to the photo gallery!!!!

    Carol: Yes, and we’ll be updating it soon. Things are happening all the time, so we have to update it all the time.

    Smitty: Very good, and your color scheme is just incredible.

    Carol: Yes we love our web designers as well. We’ve been blessed this year.

    Smitty: Yes you have so many great pictures, Hubert Laws is on there and I think Serena Williams …the tennis player is there.

    Carol: Oh Serena, yes I sang the national anthem at that tournament. It used to be the Virginia Slims, but they changed the name to JP Morgan Chase. Yes I’m glad I did that, because I ended up singing it at Dodgers Stadium after that. Just sort of a…

    Smitty: Warm up.

    Carol: Yes a warm up. It went from 5,000 people to 55,000 people.

    Smitty: Striking difference (laughter)

    Carol: Yeah, it was fun.

    Smitty: What about the tour?

    Carol: We’ll be touring the beginning of May until June. We’re on a Borders tour and we have some dates in between at some key venues around the west coast and the Midwest as well.

    Smitty: Oh going home?

    Carol: Going home.

    Smitty: Well that’s too cool, and hopefully I’ll catch you on the road somewhere.

    Carol: Well we’re contemplating Houston as well.

    Smitty: Oh Please!

    Carol: You can check the website soon to find out.

    Smitty: Well I promise you a good time if you come to Houston.

    Carol: Uh oh. I’ll have to look you up.

    Smitty: Carol, it’s been my pleasure to welcome you to the Jazz Nation. Thanks so much for sharing your insights and this wonderful career that you have, and all of the great things that you’ve done recently, the movie and this great new record. Please come back and see us again.

    Carol: Oh I will, thank you.

    Smitty: We’ve been talking with Gold Note Music recording artist Carol Duboc. She has a great new CD out called All of You. I highly recommend this record, it is one to have in your collection. Carol, thanks again and all the very best with everything in 2005.

    Carol: Thank you so much Smitty and see you in Houston!

    Visit the Carol Duboc Web Site

    Nick Colionne Interview 2005

    Nick Colionne
    Jazz Guitar Chicago Style
    by Baldwin “Smitty” Smith

    Joining us is a fantastic guitarist and vocalist who’s got a great new CD out called Just Come On In. I’m talking about Three Keys recording artist, Mr. Nick Colionne.

    What’s up Nick?

    NickC: Nothing’s happening with me…just stayin’ in the groove!

    Smitty: Yes, well you’re staying in the groove because you’ve got a hot new cd out and your hot singles are hitting the charts, you’re really doing some wonderful things out there with your music, and you’ve got to be happy about that.

    NickC: Well yes, I’m really happy about that, and I thank everybody who supported it. It’s a good thing.

    Smitty: Yes, it is. So you started out at an early age playing the guitar and I know your first guitar was a gift to you. Talk about when you received it…what were you thinking? Was it your instrument of choice, or something you happened to receive?

    NickC: It was my instrument of choice. My stepfather played guitar and I loved to hear him playing it. I started messing with it and then they gave me a little kid guitar. I started playing with that and they finally decided to buy me an electric guitar. I had to learn “Bumping on Sunset” by Wes Montgomery before they did, but that was that.

    Smitty: Wow. You’ve been quoted as saying that Jazz was your upbringing. There was music in the air as a kid….

    NickC: My whole family was really into Jazz…my grandmother, my grandfather, and my parents. It’s all we heard. I didn’t get to hear a lot of other music. Not in the house…I heard it in the street but not in the house because they played Jazz. That’s where they were, and they didn’t want to listen to anything else. I listened to Jazz and I was scatting and all that kind of stuff when I was a little kid and learned all the old songs. When I started playing the guitar, I played what I was used to hearing.

    Smitty: I can totally understand that, growing up in Chicago, because it’s so saturated with great musicians and great music up there.

    NickC: Yes, a lot of great people. We’re fortunate to have them here and to be able to go and see them. But some of them are on the road, like Ramsey (Lewis), he’s always on the road.

    Smitty: Yes. So speaking of growing up in Chicago, you turned pro at the age of 15. Man, touring with a rock band at 15 has got to be incredible.

    NickC: It was strange…especially in my case, because everybody was older, like in their mid-twenties and I was just a kid. But it was great because I learned a lot from these older guys; what not to do; how to keep myself in check when I was out there. It was a great experience. If I had it to do again, I’d do it the same way. Well I’d make some other moves, like start the solo career a little earlier.

    Nick jammin’ with Peter White

    Smitty: Yes. Well you were definitely touring with some great bands, just to name a few, the Staple Singers…when they were hot, that was just the group of choice.

    NickC: That was a great group.

    Smitty: Yes, they had so many hit singles, and then there was Curtis Mayfield who was in another orbit in his hay day.

    NickC: I was very fortunate to get on those gigs. I learned a lot from the people working behind the scenes, especially Pop Staples. I learned a lot about how to be a person in the entertainment business, and how not to be corrupt or anything like that. He taught me all kinds of values; he took me under his wing and talked to me a lot. I loved him for that.

    Smitty: You’ve got to love that. So tell me, there’s a story going around about you and mascara. You’ve got to tell that story.

    NickC: (Both laughing) People are always asking me about that. I was playing with a band at a club; I was about 16 or 17 and still playing with the older guys. I didn’t have a mustache or anything and I wanted to look older. They also wanted me to look older, so they got the mascara and made me a mustache and some side burns and stuff. Then one day my Grandmother came to a gig and I walked out there trying to look clever. I walk over to her and she looks at me and says “What is that on your face?” She starts wiping the stuff off my face and the ladies were saying, “He’s just a baby!” AWWW MAN!

    Smitty: (Laughing uncontrollably) Oh man!

    NickC: It’s funny now. But it wasn’t funny when it happened.

    Smitty: When you look back on it, yes. That’s something you’ll never forget…and we’ll probably never let you forget it, either.

    NickC: I know.

    Smitty: That’s too cool. But you know what, we ALL have stories like that, you just happen to be in the spotlight.

    NickC: Yes, I’ve got plenty of weird stories.

    Smitty: I bet you do. You launched your solo career in 1994 with the record It’s My Turn, and it reached #13 on the national charts. Coming out of the box and reaching #13 is quite a successful thing! What were you feeling at that time?

    NickC: It was very scary but something I felt I needed to do, hence the title, “It’s My Turn.” I’ve been in the background long enough looking at people’s backs my whole career. I figured when Nick Colionne left here, he wants to leave a legacy. Nobody’s going to remember me and say, “Oh yeah, there used to be a guy, about 200 years ago, he played behind somebody.” If I made my music and play who I was, in the future they would look back and say “There’s this guy, Nick Colionne and this is what he sounded like.”

    Smitty: Oh yes. Well that’s a wonderful thing. You’ve made quite a splash to this point, that’s for sure.

    NickC: Well I’m still splashing and trying not to drown!

    Smitty: (Laughing) Let me ask you about a couple of things you’re involved in. I know you’re mentoring kids in the schools, which is a very honorable thing. Talk about how you got into that and what motivated you to do that.

    NickC: I basically got started as a favor to a lady who was a fan of mine. One day we got to talking and she told me she was the Principal of a small Catholic school and they were in need of money and asked if I would come and play at a fund raiser. They said they could pay me but I said “You could pay my band but you don’t have to pay me.” They thought I could draw some people because they were playing my first CD on the radio. I said I would and I met the kids after school…I talked to them all day and they asked me to come back again…so I did and did a fund raiser…and the next thing I know it’s ten years later and I’ve been going every week!

    Smitty: Wow.

    NickC: During holiday seasons like Christmas and Easter, I’m there like two or three days a week, helping the kids get their programs together and trying to teach them about music…and teach guitar to kids who can’t really afford to take lessons outside of school. And then I went to my guitar company, Epiphone, and had them donate some guitars to these kids so they can play. Eventually I started teaching them how to use computers to help them to compose and one of the programs that I started was that every 8th grade class had to write their own graduation song.

    Smitty: Oh that’s nice!

    NickC: Yes, and I picked up another school in the inner city, called Florence P. Price School and I’ve been dealing with them for about a year. St. Lawrence is in a suburb of Chicago and I’ve been there for 10 years.

    Smitty: I’m sure they appreciate your time and energy that you’ve put out on their behalf. That’s quite an honorable thing to give of your time and help them to enhance their own abilities in the arts.

    NickC: They give me a lot more than I give them. One thing about kids is that when they love you, they love unconditionally. When I deal with the kids, I get really energetic. I have a lot of fun with the kids.

    Smitty: Tell me a success story of some of the kids that you’ve mentored in the past. Anything you can talk about?

    NickC: There are a couple of kids who have their own bands. One of them is playing Jazz and he’s about to graduate from high school. He’s playing first Jazz guitar in the band. But he’s got his own little band. Chris…I’m so proud of him because when I first met him, he was in 3rd grade!

    Smitty: Oh cool!

    NickC: And now he’s kickin! I told him he can keep going and I’ll retire and he can take care of me!

    Smitty: Well if nothing else, he will continue your legacy.

    NickC: Oh yes. I listen to him and I know he listens to my records because I hear some of my licks coming out of him. It’s like “Hey I know that lick.”

    Smitty: That’s got to be a great feeling to know that you’ve reached out to them and they’re responding and that they’re successful in what they’re doing, as far as your mentoring.

    NickC: Well it’s a great thing, because as I said, I started ten years ago with the 8th graders and so they’re all in their early 20’s now. What makes me most proud is that some of them are now coming out of college and I still have contact with about 50-60% of them. I get emails and calls. I get calls from Afganistan and Iraq. It makes me feel really good that with everything they do in their lives, they still want to keep in contact with me.

    Smitty: When you’re mentoring and counseling the kids in terms of the music, and how they’re looking forward as far as where they are going with their music, are there some overwhelming things, or some consistent things that you tell your students that others that may be reading this would benefit from?

    NickC: Yes, first I tell them that it’s not easy. You’ve got to work hard. I always tell them my motto is that they can slow you down but they can’t stop you. You’ve got to want to get to where you’re going, and as long as you persevere, you can make it. I don’t care if it takes you until you’re 75 years old, but you’ve got to stay there, stay with it, and keep doing it. You’ve got to work on your craft constantly. I tell kids you can’t sit in a room and practice for three hours. You’ve got to pick up the guitar every chance you have. When you’re watching TV, you pick it up and play. You don’t have to be playing anything, just play. Become one with the instrument. It’s your voice and it’s what you want to say. I always tell them that instrumental music tells stories, so you have to think about it in context of telling a story when you’re taking a solo.

    Smitty: Yes, that’s very motivational. Let’s talk about some of the things you’ve done in terms of your music and your solo career. You’ve really started to get out there and have played some of the major festivals and venues across the country. I know the Bahamas Jazz Festival had to be exciting for you, and I caught up with you at the City of Lights Jazz Festival in Vegas…that was a kickin’ show.

    NickC: Oh yes, a lovely place, and it was nice and WARM!

    Smitty: Oh yes, it was! You’re all over the place and you just returned from Catalina Island, that was a great show. So you’re doing your thing and you’ve got to be excited about your ability to get out there and the fan’s desire to hear your music.

    NickC: That is one of the best feelings. I mean you can make records, but you really want to go out there and play for people and have them see you and know what you’re about when you’re playing, because you can’t play everything on a record. I like to perform and I like to be on the stage. It’s the only place where I’m really comfortable. Well most of the time I’m tense, but I’m comfortable; the stage is like my home. I love being up there and being with people.

    Smitty: Well that shows. You’ve got one high-energy performance after another. It definitely shows when you’re on stage.

    NickC: Oh yes, I love playing. I only get paid for bringing my equipment…I’m playing for free.

    Smitty: (Laughing) That’s a great way to put it! Would you say you’re living out a dream, as far as where you are now musically?

    NickC: Yes, it’s like a dream come true. It really is. I feel blessed that the Creator has blessed me with the ability to do something that I love and to make a living at it, too! It’s the greatest thing.

    Smitty: Yes. Let’s talk about this new record because I really like it, and obviously other people do as well, because you’re really blazing the charts. The CD is doing well and I know I’m not alone when I say this is a kickin’ CD, and its entitled Just Come On In. What does that mean? Where did the title come from?

    NickC: Just Come On In is the Nick Colionne concept of “just come on in and get to know Nick Colionne; the door is wide open; I’m here; come in, find out about me and meet me through the music.” I believe I have something to say and I’m hoping people want to hear it.

    Smitty: Yes. I think people want to, and they are. I can hear that Nick Colionne Chicago sound in there and a little blues, a lot of different styles here. You really mixed it up on this record.

    NickC: Yes, I try to incorporate that sound on everything I play, whether it’s a record or a live performance. I don’t want to be one-dimensional so I kind of stretch out. Of all the things I’ve played over my career, I try to incorporate it all and that’s kind of what makes the Nick Colionne sound. A whole lot of different kinds of music: the jazz, the blues, all those things pulled in together…that’s me…it’s who I am.

    Smitty: So what’s your favorite track on this record?

    NickC: It would probably be “Just Come On In.” I really like that song.

    Smitty: Yes. So you’ve got two singles that hit the charts running…that’s got to be a sweet feeling! They’re still doing well.

    NickC: It’s a blessing and I thank everybody who supported it. Not everyone gets two singles off a record and I was fortunate to be able to do that. Hopefully I can continue to bring music to the masses, that they like. That’s my goal, is to keep making music that they like to hear.

    Smitty: Yes. You’ve been described on stage as charismatic, high-energy, lots of flair. How would you describe a Nick Colionne performance?

    NickC: Nick Colionne being scared to death…(both laughing). I guess I would consider myself high-energy because when I said I’m scared to death, I usually am. It’s always really weird when I come on stage so I try to channel that energy into the performance. All that flair and all that stuff, that’s what they think. I really don’t think about that too much…I just play.

    Smitty: But I think all of those descriptions are accurate of your performance because you do have a charismatic edge, and you can feel the flair and see that in your performance and it’s just a lively show. Everybody can get involved and get their groove on and really get into the music. It’s a really nice mix, your performance.

    NickC: Thank you so much. That’s what I’m trying to get out there. I think a Jazz show should have just as much energy as a Rock show or an R&B show. People don’t want to lay back and rest, they want to move!

    Smitty: Yes, I like that. Do you have some memorable moments of this past year’s performances? Something you’d like to share with the fans?

    NickC: I really enjoyed the Bahamas Jazz Festival. I had a great time playing there and seeing all these other guys play. I got to meet Stanley Clark and that was really great for me. The greatest thing about it to me is meeting all these guys that I hear playing music on the radio and finding out that they’re there! That’s the greatest thing for me…meeting all these other guys playing this music and finding out that they’re such nice cats. That really means a lot to me. These guys like Peter White…especially Peter White, he’s one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. And I just love interacting with the fans!

    Smitty: Tell me a little about how the fans have received you this past year at the shows you’ve played?

    NickC: I’d have to say that the reception has been overwhelming. When you first get out there like I am now, getting around to the different festivals, you kind of wonder how you’re going to be received. It’s really heartwarming; it’s a great feeling.

    Smitty: Nice. So what’s going on for you now? The season is wrapping up a little…what’s coming up on the plate for you?

    NickC: I’m writing and trying to produce some songs for the next record…hopefully we’ll have it done by the first quarter. I’m doing a lot of writing right now.

    Smitty: I heard you have quite a love for fishing.

    NickC: Oh yes, my other passion.

    Smitty: Is there a distinct correlation between music and fishing for you?

    NickC: Well music is basically my livelihood, my fun; it’s been my everything. Fishing is my total relaxation…I get in touch with my spiritual side. You’re out there at 4:30 or 5 in the morning, there’s nobody out there with you most of the time. You’re out there watching the sun come up and you can really get in touch with who you are.

    Smitty: There’s nothing like taking time away from everything to get in touch with who you are.

    NickC: Right…you can get so caught up in the music. Before this record, I was just totally consumed by the music. I have to make a separation and get back to being Nick Colionne. I can’t just think, eat and breathe music 24 hours a day. That makes me a very one-dimensional person. I got back into my fishing routine really hard a few years ago and it helps me to get in touch with me.

    Smitty: Yes, I think that’s a beautiful thing…it keeps you grounded. So are there any other outstanding goals, things you haven’t done that you look forward to? Or a wish list?

    NickC: Well I could say I’m wishing to make another record that is better than this one (both laughing) but no, I don’t really have a wish list. I just hope to stay healthy and that my family stays healthy, and that the world comes together to be a better place. That’s my wish.

    Smitty: Very cool. You have a website?

    NickC: Yes,

    Smitty: Very easy to remember, and you’ve got some informative things on the site, the normal things, pictures, tour schedule, sound tracks…things that help people get an in-depth view of you from the site.

    NickC: Yes, and I try to update it regularly. And for the people who have been to one of my performances, go to my website because you may see yourself on there!

    Smitty: A lot of pictures! Nick this CD is well deserved as far as the accolades it’s received. You should be proud of this record because it’s slammin…you’ve got some great tracks and great production.

    NickC: Thank you, Smitty, it means a lot that you say that.

    Smitty: Well it’s been a pleasure as always. Thank you for taking a break and chating with The Jazz Nation in depth about the record, your life and career. Please come back and talk with us again.

    NickC: Thank you for having me. I’ll be glad to come back whenever you want me to!

    Smitty: We’ve been talking with Three Keys recording artist, the fantastic Nick Colionne, about his latest new record, Just Come On In. This is a highly recommended CD, you’ve got to get it. Lots of energy and great tunes. Nick, thank again and all the very best to you 2005.

    NickC: Well thank you. I look forward to it, too!

    Visit the web site at

    Ralph Ellison – Next

    Ralph Ellison’s
    Visible Century
    by Eugene Holley, Jr.

    In 1952 Ralph Ellison, published his first novel, Invisible Man. The book told the story of a nameless black man’s racist, bewildering and terrifying journey from the south to the north toward self-identity. It moved beyond the black protest fiction of Richard Wright’s 1940 work, Native Son,and it encompassed both the African-American and the overall human experience, and won the National Book Award in 1953. Ellison became one of the celebrated authors of the 20th century. In 1964 and 1988, he published two books of essays, Shadow and Act and Going to the Territory, and was working on his much-anticipated second novel when he died of pancreatic cancer in 1994 at the age of 80. Ellison’s writings have always been in print, translated into many languages and his works and views are the subjects of several hundred books. The megaseries, Ken Burns Jazz, featured Ellison’s writings and his influence on writers and musicians, from Stanley Crouch to Wynton Marsalis, is as strong as ever.

    2002 marks the 50th anniversary of the 1952 publication with several high-profile releases and projects. Random House has released a commemorative edition, with the original book jacket. Last February WNEW/PBS aired the spectacular, 84-minute American Masters documentary, Ralph Ellison: An American Journey, produced, written and directed by filmmaker Avon Kirkland. The film features rare archival footage and Avon Kirklandnever-before-seen private photographs. There’s also astute commentary and analysis by several leading scholars and critics including O’Meally and Farah Griffin also from Columbia University, Stanley Crouch, Harvard University’s Cornel West, Amiri Baraka and Ellison biographer, Lawrence Jackson, author of the forthcoming book, Ralph Ellison: The Emergence of Genius.

    Kirkland presents a compelling and complex overview of Ellison’s astounding literary and cultural achievements to a wider audience. “In a 1999 poll by some leading scholars and writers regarding the most influential works of fiction written in the 20th century, Ellison was in the top twenty,” Kirkland says from his Berkeley, California office. Shadow and Act was included in the non-fiction list. Ellison was the only writer of any race or nationality writing in the English language to make both lists. So his achievement was quite extraordinary.” As Cornel West puts it in the film, “It is impossible to be a student of American culture and Afro-American culture without working through Ellison. He’s the brook of fire through which one must pass.”

    With permission from the Ellison Estate, Kirkland’s film also features the first dramatic adaptations from IM, “The Princeton educated actor, Jacque C. Smith, recently seen on the HBO series Oz, plays the nameless hero. He’s forced to fight other black men for the entertainment of wealthy whites. The Uncle Tom, Booker T. Washington-type black college president of a southern black college is brilliantly portrayed by John Amos (Good Times, Roots), and Paul Benjamin plays the hero’s dying grandfather who encourages the protagonist to “yes ” white people “to death.”

    Kirkland also chronicles the legacy of Ellison’s ill-fated second novel about a mixed-race U.S. Senator who was raised by black jazzman-turned-preacher. The manuscript was destroyed in a fire in a summer home, Ellison and his wife, Fanny, owned in the Berkshires. He worked for three decades, rewriting and revising the manuscript. There is invaluable footage of Ellison dictating passages from those pages into a tape recorder and playing them back. After he died, the book was posthumously released in 1999 as Juneteenth. The documentary concludes with an impassioned reading from the novel by the Nobel Prize-winning author, Toni Morrison.

    Anyone who has ever read Ellison’s novels, speeches and essays knows that music — specifically African-American music — was a major influence on his literature. The best sonic illustration of Ellison’s debt to jazz is the forthcoming CD, Living With Music, produced by Robert G. O’Meally, the author of the companion book, Living with Music: Ralph Ellison’s Jazz Writings (Modern Library). The recording is a compilation of Ellison’s favorite jazz and blues selections, which were featured in his fiction and non-fiction. There’s Louis Armstrong’s rendition of the Andy Razaf/Fats Waller classic “(What Did I Do To Be So) Black and Blue?” Duke Ellington’s ragtime-ish and dirge-like numbers, “East St. Louis Toodle-Oo” and “Black And Tan Fantasy” show the multi-hued American democracy Ellison championed. Count Basie’s “Moten Swing” and Jimmy Rushing’s “Harvard Blues” recall Ellison’s driving, wide-open Oklahoma City musical heritage, as does the down-home, spiritual vocals of Billie Holiday and Mahalia Jackson. The addition of the flamenco selection, “La Farruca Vincente Escudero” sung by Vincente Escudero, shows the wide berth of Ellison’s interest in blues-paralleled music. The lone spoken word on this collection is a 1964 tape of Ellison reading from his essay, “Hidden Name and Complex Fate.” As Mr. O’Meally writes in his liner notes, “This collection echoes the work of Ellison the trumpet player and composer-in-training who became a writer, and offers Ellisonian equipment for those deciding not only to shun the noise but to live with the momentum implied in jazz music.”

    O’Meally’s book, Living With Music includes excerpts from Ellison’s novels, short stories, letters to his lifelong friend and literary kindred spirit Albert Murray, and his treatises on the blues, bebop, the spirituals and flamenco from Shadow and Act, to Going to the Territory, along with three interviews. For O’Meally, Ellison, a former trumpeter who studied classical music at Tuskegee University who turned down an offer by Duke Ellington to join his band, was nonpareil in applying the techniques of jazz to fiction. “Some people define jazz in terms of improvisation, rhythm, call-and-response … one hears that all through Ellison,” O’Meally says at an Upper West Side restaurant near Columbia. ” If you read the speech that [the nameless protagonist] gives at Tod Clifton’s funeral in Invisible Man, he’s riffing when he says ‘we’re here standing in the sun and there’s nothing to say … The man is dead. His red blood ran down, it ran down the street that we’re standing on now.’ You see Ellison playing a phrase like Louis Armstrong would do. Anytime one of the character’s Ellison loves stands up to speak, It’s almost like you feel the presence of Ben Webster coming to the microphone.” Ellison’s writings about jazz and the blues include his immortal essays “The “Charlie Christian Story.” “The Golden Age, Time Past,” recalls the chaotic creative atmosphere at Minton’s Playhouse, Harlem’s legendary birthplace of bebop. “On Bird, Bird Watching, and Jazz” is a poetic look at the brilliant and tragic alto saxophonist Charlie Parker, whom Ellison described as “a sacrificial figure whose struggles against personal chaos, onstage and off, served as entertainment for a ravenous, sensation-starved, culturally disoriented public…”

    Ellison’s prose visually swings with the same sense of cultural comprehension and sense of surprise, which surfaces in his admiration for Duke Ellington, Mahalia Jackson and his Oklahoma homeboys Christian and vocalist Jimmy Rushing, along with his apprehension of bebop. “That was true of many people of his generation,” O’Meally said. “He loved that blues based, danceable southwestern music. There’s a scratch in Jimmy Rushing’s voice that gives it a sense tragedy that he’s always writing about. As much as he wants that tragic note, there’s that southwestern sense of promise that’s also there.”

    Ellison had no time for the misapplication of social science to black music, as evidenced by “Richard Wright’s Blues” and his scathing review of Amiri Baraka’s book, Blues People, which according to Ellison, “is enough to give even the blues the blues.” The collection also cites the influence of Tuskegee’s William L. Dawson, the African-American composer/conductor and Hazel Harrison, a respected classical pianist. What emerges from these pages is the lucid and lyrical jazz voice of an African-American writer, who hears the black, brown and beige cultural notes that signify our civilization. “He hears jazz as an African-American celebration music,” O’Meally said. “There’s a sense of communion … black folks getting together, saying we are ourselves. We created this style; it’s rocking, telling the truth through the lyrics of the blues. And out of that ceremonious celebration, he hears a great affirmation, not only of the African-American spirit, but the human spirit.”

    Ellison’s swing-tinged affirmations resonate throughout the book Jazz Country: Ralph Ellison in America by Horace A. Porter (University of Iowa Press). Like O’Meally, Porter, the Chair of African-American World Studies and Professor of English at the University of Iowa, is a formidable Ellisonian literary and cultural critic. He writes that “Ellison celebrates the cultural variety within the United States — the seemingly random blending of styles, values, and ways of living. The definitive element that is ‘American’ is the improvisational process of cultural development.” Ellison voices his themes through his “major chords: unity, ambiguity, possibility, discipline and transcendence,” terms which also describe jazz. Porter also cites Ellison’s view of Ellington and Armstrong as cultural heroes who embody the best American values.

    There’s more Ellison material to come. In 2003 Biographer Arnold Rampersad will publish a major biography on Ellison, and 2004, Ellison’s 90th birthday, will feature more conferences, papers and essays on this pivotal African-American intellectual, who proved that genius swings.

    Nestor Torres Interview 2004

    Nestor TorresNestor Torres Lets The Music Speak
    by Paula Edelstein

    Jazz flautist and Latin Grammy Award winner Nestor Torres has been captivating audiences with his sexy, sensual mix of Latin, jazz, and pop sounds for more than 15 years. With SIN PALABRAS, the handsome, charismatic Torres is well on his way to claim another major share of the music market with this exceptional debut for Heads Up. With the addition of label mates James Lloyd of Pieces of A Dream and Jimmy Haslip of The Yellowjackets, co-writing several songs, Torres’ fresh, positive, sound and major talent is sure to come to the attention of his peers but better yet, just about anyone headed for the dance floor. Also on board are Richie Bravo whose impressive percussion work for Ricky Martin and Christina Aguilera have garnered him major recognition, and Italy’s Carlo Pennisi, who co-wrote “Piper Dance” and “Maybe Tonight” with Nestor, Daniel Sembello and Baby Boy, among other special guests.

    Born in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, Nestor Torres took flute lessons at age 12 and began formal studies at the Escuela Libre de Musica, eventually attending Puerto Rico’s Inter-American University. At 18, he moved to New York with his family and that is where he first developed his improvisational skills as a charanga flutist. In charanga, the flutist improvises a great deal – the focus of his solos is to make people dance. Even when he plays today, his approach is still very rhythmic and melodic.

    Let’s just tell it like it is. SIN PALABRAS is wonderful! Eleven great songs keep you in tune with all of your musical needs. Whether Nestor’s flute is dancing over a hip-hop beat on “Labios Dulzes” or beautifully asking you to “Stop Staring,” Nestor Torres is at the top of his game – with or without words. We caught up with the musical genius recently and had a great conversation about SIN PALABRAS, jazz education and much more!

    P.E.: Congratulations on SIN PALABRAS your debut for Heads Up. It is being lauded as an instrumental pop masterpiece and we agree! At what point did you feel compelled to write the songs for this new CD?

    Nestor: When the association and the opportunity to work with the likes of James Lloyd and Jimmy Haslip came about. But actually working with them is really what got things started. It’s what I call the “Da Muse.” Sometimes the muse will pick up the momentum of the songs and I think you can really say that this is something that really happened that way. We started trying new ideas and things took its course. Also, once when I worked with James, and got to spend time together then he’d come up with some kind of groove and I’d start to play on top of that to give him an idea of what my style and my approach was. So he came up with some other idea. It was back and forth…building upon each other. Something I brought in and he built on it so it was a very symbiotic thing.

    P.E.: From the sound of the CD, it seems as if you had a lot of fun!

    Nestor: Oh yeah, we certainly did.

    P.E.: There’s James Lloyd from Pieces of A Dream, and Jimmy Haslip of The Yellowjackets wearing a few different hats themselves and of course your sensitive inspired flute playing. What was it about the flute that made it your instrument of choice?

    Nestor: Oh, simply put, it was different. See my father is a musician so the whole aspect of being around music is very natural for me from the beginning ever since I can remember. So when I had a chance to study music, they asked me what instrument what I wanted to play. So I was looking around and I saw the picture of a flute and thought, “Oh, you know that’s different, I want to try that.” Needless to say with my father being a musician he wasn’t very excited. (Smiles) Flute player??? (Smiles) Oh man!! But he supported me and turned me on to the great musicians like Herbie Hancock and the like…so that’s how I got started.

    P.E.: Great, fabulous. Nestor, you’ve included such Latin classics as “Contigo Aprendi,” and “Regalame La Silla Donde Te Espere,” and nine original tunes. This CD will definitely have a long life.

    Nestor: I certainly hope so!

    P.E.: You guys are “killing” on SIN PALABRAS. This CD is as beautiful as it is hot! What do you want your listeners to gain from your music?

    Nestor: Well that’s interesting … the way you asked me that! What do I want them to gain? (Smiles) Okay, the official answer… the light-hearted one. I want them to enjoy and have a good time and make it the soundtrack of their daily lives. And the REAL answer is that I want them to be empowered. To be inspired. Yes, I want them to use this music as the soundtrack of their daily lives whereas they can actually feel that they are actually on a great musical adventure…feeling a great story.

    P.E.: What a great way to say it…con palabras! There is a lot of great music on SIN PALABRAS. Who were some of your early supporters along your road to fame?

    Nestor: Well I have to start with my family of course. After living in Miami for over 20 years, little by little I started playing in little places here and there and developed a wonderfully devoted following. There is a gentleman named Jeff Fisher who was the music director of a radio station there and he said, “Nestor, please give us a record.” And when he said that, I thought, “Gee, how many recording artists are knocking on the doors of this radio station and here he is asking ME for it.” So that brought about yet another supporter and later a gentleman by the name of Richard Siedel, who was at Polygram at the time, signed me. That’s how is all started.

    P.E.: And good for us that they were open minded, reached out and tapped your potential and drew from your vast well of creativity. Nestor, there are so many great songs from around the world. How did you choose which songs would be included on SIN PALABRAS?

    Nestor: Well, I wanted…there were two things that I wanted to accomplish. One was to expand my range a bit…to delve more into the R&B, hip-hop language. I specifically use the word “language” because sometimes when a musician is expanding or trying to become more relevant or current, there is a danger or perception that “this is not my style, this is not where I come from” or “if I need to do something other than what I have done up until now, then I guess I’m not really being myself.” And I’ve had to confront those fears myself. But what I discovered through this process of this record was that once I started working with James Lloyd and Jimmy Haslip, it was not so much about my doing some other music that is not who I am, or doing something different, but rather learning a new “language.” It’s very much like me speaking with you in English, but if need be, we can engage in a conversation in Spanish. I’m still the same person; I’m still conveying the same ideas with the same intent. It’s simply a different language. With “Sin Palabras” with that word, I really felt that it was like learning a new language and expanding my range. But on the other side of the spectrum, I did want to bring something of the essence of who I am in terms of my culture and in terms of being Latino. So with “Contigo Aprendi” we decided that we wanted to do something that is very much a Latin standard but that is not necessary known to non-Latin audiences. That way it brings a sense of freshness and originality to non-Hispanic audiences but at the same time, giving the Latin folks a sense of familiarity and a sense of recognition with a song that is loved by many. On the other hand, “Regalame La Silla Donde Te Espere” is a song that I wanted to do to pay homage to one of my favorite artists, Alejando Sanz. He is really such an important artist, very real, very legitimate and during the time that I was in production of the record, his new CD came out. So I got it, listened to it and I loved it. And this song, “Regalame La Silla Donde Te Espere” really inspired me and I wanted to do it. It was just like when I first heard Janet Jackson’s song “Doesn’t Really Matter,” and just had to do it. I included her song on my Grammy winning CD THIS SIDE OF PARADISE and that same feeling happened when I heard Alejandro Sanz’s “Regalame La Silla Donde Te Espere.” I just had to do it.

    P.E.: That’s cool, very cool. In terms of inspiration and education, you’ve studied at some of the best music colleges in the world including Berklee College of Music, The Mannes College of Music, and the New England Conservatory of Music. You have really honed your skills and craft over the years and your music is better than ever. Is there one educator/flautist that stands out more so than others with respect to their influence on you to continue playing the flute?

    Nestor: Hmmmm, that is a good question. There were really a number of professors but there was this one professor named David Org and he was really a good teacher. Academically it was a combination of factors. But the one that I would have to say – even though I never studied with him but his example was my guiding light throughout my process– is that of Hubert Laws. He has set a standard that is yet to be attained by anyone.

    P.E.: Wow! You’re absolutely on it. Hubert Laws is an amazing flautist and teacher. I was reminded of his great flute playing after seeing him duet with Chick Corea at a club called Platinum Live in Studio City, CA where Chick was demonstrating the SACD. Hubert was in the audience and Chick invited him onstage to play a couple of songs including “Spain.” It was totally improvised and they were absolutely amazing. So your choice of influences and jazz educators couldn’t be more profound. On another note, I’m sure that you realize had you considered mining another genre other than contemporary Latin jazz – i.e., R&B, Pop, Hard Rock, etc. — that the commercial success may have been much more advantageous than most jazz artists realize. I’ve noticed you’ve included Richie Bravo who has worked with Ricky Martin and Christina Aguilera on the CD. Having his pop influence on the CD is probably going to bring in another audience for your music and it’s a brilliant way to introduce your music to another generation. Was this a marketing plan?

    Nestor: No, it just so happens that he’s a good friend and has worked with me before. He just said, “Hey man, when you’re doing another record, let me know.” He is a very well versed musician and has his own studio. He was very generous. Richie Bravo understands everything – the hard-core Latin approach, he understands my music well…and having worked with Christina, Ricky and other folks, he has that understanding of where Latin percussion fits within a pop sensibility.

    P.E.: He sure does. Nestor, I’m going to change the subject a bit and this question is not to pull you into some political debate about jazz radio, but today, very few jazz stations come close to airing the vast amount of new releases on the market. Give us your strongest argument for jazz radio including new releases and fresher material on their play lists as opposed to just playing oldies or having consultants determine what the consumer will hear. I mean many folks have to turn to satellite radio or Internet radio to find out what’s new out there or to hear the new releases.

    Nestor: I am going to be honest. It’s really a mute point because the purpose of radio today is the commercials. But once radio stations realize that their listeners are no longer listening and are going to satellite radio…that a significant portion of the market or the consumer is no longer listening, that will be the day that they make the changes.

    P.E.: Hopefully that day will be soon because we all have our favorite radio stations and personalities but sometimes that’s just not enough. Well, Nestor, I’ll tell you, it’s been a real pleasure talking to you. I wish you all the success you’ve ever had and more with SIN PALABRAS. Your music definitely says it all. We really appreciate the interview and thank you so much for all the great music over the years.

    Nestor: Thank you, my pleasure.

    Reprinted with permission of…

    Live – Kirk Whalum Interview

    Kirk WhalumRoundtrip, Family and The Future

    Visit the Kirk Whalum web site.

    We caught up with the prolific saxman while he was on tour in California. He agreed to spend a few minures talking about his great new CD “Roundtrip“, his musical history, the Whalum family and the future. by S.H. Watkins, Sr.

    Realmedia Windows Media

    An Interview with Branford Marsalis

    A taste of the truth from
    Branford Marsalis
    by Mark Ruffin

    JazzUSA: How did it start and why did you want to start a record company?

    Branford: That was some shit that I was thinking about for a long time. Kevin Eubanks and I used to discuss it all the time. Kevin was really not cool with the fact that these people get to own your music. I was a little more pragmatic than he was at the time, I was making records between 40 and 60 thousand dollars a pop and I just didn’t happen to have a spare 40 thousand dollars in my pocket. So it’s a trade off. They give you the money to make your record, but it’s something that I often thought of, that it would be great to have a record label. Kevin was really into that self-ownership. I would read up on it.

    Mingus started his own label, my dad started his own label, and I used to think about I was keen to all the ways it could be successful and that it could fail. Working with my dad was eye opening, because my dad was of the old school belief that , he was going to start a record company, and Wynton and I were going to get involved, and my thing was the marketing, I would go do all his research at Tower Records and Strawberries Records, at the time. And I went off to college, he couldn’t wait to do the record, so he got it done and brought this old stock album cover, a horrible looking thing, puts it out and I’m really angry at him, and his whole thing was that he was strictly about the music. The music is the most important thing. I’m like man, the point that never occurred to you is that the people who like you would by the record if there was turd on the cover. What about the people who’ve never heard of you? People don’t recognize you. That really influenced my decisions even when I went to Columbia and I would notice that when it comes to jazz how unimaginative major labels, or anybody, small labels, major labels, they’re all the same.

    On my first record, we had this big fight because I didn’t want to have my saxophone on the cover. So, the guys are like, how are people going to know you play saxophone, if you don’t hold a saxophone. I’m like, well why should they know that I play saxophone. What difference does it make? Supposed I sang, what would you do, put a mic in my mouth. Y’all got singers on the label all over the place, they don’t put shit in their face, nothing. Well, that’s different. Tell me how it’s different and I’ll consider your request. But they couldn’t tell me how it’s different. This is just the way shit has been done forever. Any small jazz label, any label, guy plays a guitar, he’s got a guitar. Guy plays saxophone, he’s got a saxophone. It’s almost like you’re limiting the audience, cause they’re some people who are just turned off by the idea of a jazz record and they just won’t even pick the shit up if they see it. Oh, a jazz record, ugh. If you can have covers that are at least a little bit interesting, people might be inclined to pick the shit up.

    JazzUSA: What a great cover to Scenes In The City too?

    Branford: I got it from this Led Zeppelin record, Physical Graffiti. I used to love that cover.

    JazzUSA: It’s ironic that the title track is a Mingus tune. And it was adventurous that you tried some spoken word and not just straight ahead blowing.

    Branford:My records have always been like that. I consider my records eclectic. Other people consider them scattered shots, lacking focus. It’s all a matter of perspective, a matter of what you’re used to. In a lot of ways jazz has become like pop music, because if you listen to a lot of musicians who are out now and you put on five of their records, and there is like no growth from record to record. When I hear a lot of guys, when they make records, they treat the record like product, so they only play to their strengths. So the record becomes like a pop product, and all the records have the tendency to sound exactly the same. You hear the same type of solos, the same types of forms, and people get comfortable with that. They like hearing the shit they’re used to hearing. The whole jazz radio, post be-bop mentality. Everybody wants to hear the shit they want to hear.

    JazzUSA: The bad thing about that, especially at Verve, is that they try to get the young folks to conform to that, and then they drop them.

    Branford: That’s a whole other situation. Anytime you have a company like Verve, where Verve is not really Verve. Verve is a subsidiary of a very, very large company. They’re not really in control of their own destiny. They’re kind of powerless. They have to go the way the wind blow

    JazzUSA: When did your father start a label and what was the name of it.

    Branford: I don’t know. It was called the Bran-Wyn Music Corporation, part of my name and part of Wynton’s name.

    JazzUSA: Don’t you think that this is a strange time in the music business to be thinking about starting a record company?

    Branford: That depends on the kind of record company you’re trying to start. If you’re trying to start a record company that going to hire jazz people who are going to sing pop tunes and become huge sensations. If you’re trying to get a Diana Krall, yeah, I think it would be a very strange time. But if you’re trying to start a small label with small budgets, that makes budgets, and allowed musicians to make the music that they want to make, the consideration is not well we’ve got to get a concept record. Or if you had a song that people really liked on the radio, so now you have to do another song just like that on your new record. None of that is a consideration. None of that will ever come. That’s not an issue. When that’s not an issue, and the musicians understand that they’re not going to get first class tickets and they’re not going to be hanging out in the studio spending gargantuan amounts of money, as long as everybody understands that I don’t really see where the risk is really.

    JazzUSA: So you’re planning on keeping it small scale?

    Branford: Yeah, everything else is a mistake. If it’s going to be large scale, then you’re going end up like the majors. I don’t wanna be put in the situation where I have to depend on shareholders who really don’t have a vested interest in music. They only have a vested interest in their return, and I don’t blame them. That’s their job. They’re investors. That’s what they do. So when you get to a situation where you go public, the moment you try to go public with something, it’s not yours anymore. From the moment it’s not mine, the music will be tertiary, even less than secondary. And that’s what’s been going on in all these jazz departments and all these labels. You know Columbia is owned by Sony. Sony has big investors. They don’t care how great Miles Davis is, and I’m not saying that they should. I’m just stating that they don’t. I’m not really interested in the moral argument. I’ll leave that to those other guys. The guys who are still bitching about Ken Burns. I’ll leave it to them. I don’t want to get into the moral ramifications of it, it just that current environment is not conducive to creative music on any level, any kind of creative music, jazz, pop, it don’t matter. If creative music seeps in, it’s a mistake.

    JazzUSA: How are you trying to change that?

    Branford: I’m not trying to change it. That’s not my interest. I’m not a crusader. I want to surround myself with musicians that I think are great, and not just great instrumentalists, great musicians, which is different. It’s not really about people who play their instruments well, but people who have really interesting concept for their music to me. And can play their instrument well. Both. I’m not going to try to have one over the other, and just align myself with these people and let’s just make records.

    JazzUSA: You had a position at Columbia. How did that happen and what was your title?

    Branford: My title was creative consultant, which didn’t mean shit to me. I don’t care about titles. I think titles are important for people who don’t have anything else. When you don’t have any other way of defining yourself to yourself, then you need a title.

    JazzUSA: So did they come to you and say, we need help?

    Branford: Yeah.

    JazzUSA: But just like a big company, I don’t know the story, but they come to you and then they seemed not to heed what you were saying.

    Branford: That’s their choice. That’s their options. It’s like dealing with human beings. A person says something, you can either say yeah, well they mean what they say, or they’re saying it because they like the sound of it, but it doesn’t really matter what they say. We’ll know what they mean by their actions.

    JazzUSA: So you did a David Sanchez record, two David S. Ware records, Tain, Buckshot LeFonque, and then there’s Frank McComb.

    Branford: What happened to Frank is just a goddamned shame. That was one of the most disappointing things in my career, to watch a musician that talented to be just dismissed so cavalier like. It became really clear to me that for whatever the reasons, the people who were in positions of influence at Columbia were only interested in Black music as a money making venture at Columbia. And an artist with the caliber of talent as Frank, and those wonderful songs, they weren’t really interested in investing any time and energy into something for a black artist that did not return an immediate dividend. I felt really, really bad for him. That shit, was like the worse experience ever. Jazz musicians, we’re used to that. But I think Frank would’ve been an artist that could’ve done really really well for the company. In jazz, we can make a record and make a living. With the stuff he’s doing.

    That’s one of the things that have always troubled me about black musicians who embrace popular culture, black musicians who go into r&b. Is that the environment, is it such that they’re only as good as they’re next hit record? So like this year, when the Rolling Stones go out on tour and they haven’t had a hit in 15 years, people still come and hear them. When the Eagles go on tour, people still come and hear them, because they actually have a fan base.

    Black music has never really had a fan base. It’s a very, very illusionary, elusive fan base that is only based on the song that you have on the radio, which is why Earth, Wind & Fire is playing in jazz clubs and casinos. I felt that with an artist like Frank, it would be really possible to have one of the first black artists to actually create a fan base, because his music is that good. Like to have a grass roots kind of thing, where people are coming to hear him, kind of like they come to hear me.

    One of the bad things that hip-hop did, in addition to all the good things that it presented, one of the bad things that it did is that it killed the whole idea of black bands. That shit was like destroyed. So all the shit that it took, and all the money that companies would spend putting bands on the road, all that stuff that they still do white bands, that shit just disappeared. So, when you have a situation where a guy can take some samples and make an entire record on a 16 track machine, for 40 thousand dollars, and go out on tour, only after the song has been played on the radio, talk about a return on an investment. It takes 40 thousand dollars to make a record and they make 20 million dollars off it

    JazzUSA: And even when it tours, its just him and the machines

    BM; Everything is cost effective. So, you’re talking about spending money to put a musician on the road with a band. They’re just not going to put that kind of money out there for a black artist.

    JazzUSA: So did all that discourage you from trying more pop?

    Branford: No, it’s just a matter of me. It wasn’t that I was discouraged, because like I said, having done all of the things that I have done, particularly understanding the entertainment business much better being on the Tonight Show, different situations that I’ve been in, playing with Sting and people like that, I’m not really drawn in by what people say anymore. I’m only interested in what they do. If they say something, it sound intriguing and I give it a shot, and then I stand back and see what it is they actually do, and if they do what they say they were going to do, then it’ll be a great relationship, if they don’t do what they say they’d do, then I understand and its time to move on. So it wasn’t like I was disappointed. It was time to move on. It was just time to move on.

    JazzUSA: So wItH Marsalis Music, just great jazz music, no pop?

    Branford: That depends on what you mean by pop. That’s why it’s called Marsalis Music, if it was just going to be jazz, it would be called Marsalis Jazz. The whole idea is that I’m not really interested in anything radio friendly. If an artist gets played on the radio, that’s great. But the intent will never be to get a song played on the radio. The intent is to make music. If a by-product of that is radio play, that’s a caveat, that’s extra. So, I would never put myself in the situation where I’m spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, having pimp and hustler running around trying to hustle radio stations to play my record. That’s not something I’m interested in.

    JazzUSA: Were you surprised when Columbia started cutting people and just started getting rid of jazz?

    Branford: Like I said earlier, it’s what they do, not what they say. Is it a surprise? No. Nothing in this business surprises me anymore. Nothing.

    JazzUSA: So, you weren’t surprised when your brother and Columbia parted ways?

    Branford: No. It didn’t surprise me at all.

    JazzUSA: Can you tell me what you learned as a Creative Consultant at Columbia that is going to help you at Marsalis Music?

    Branford: Nothing really. I made great records. I know that I can make good records. David Ware records are great. David Samchez’ records are great. Tain record is great. Tain passed that same demo tape with all those songs on it to every major label and they all passed on it. All those songs on Citizen Tain, were passed to Verve and all of them passed on it. As I recall that one of the more talked about records when it came out. Tain’s a great musician. He writes good songs. He writes pretty melodies, and it’s rare for a drummer to write good melodies. I’m waiting for the opportunity for me to get Tain to come over to my label when they let him go. If Tain gets to stay at Columbia and Columbia does what a company like Columbia is capable of doing for an artist, that’s good for Tain. If they decide to let Tain go, that’s great for me. I’m happy either way.

    JazzUSA: Every year, it seems the chemistry between the two of you improves.

    Branford: We’re older, we get better every year. We’re trying to improve. We’re practicing, trying to get our shit together.

    JazzUSA: Can you see that he’s one of the greatest living drummers out there now?

    Branford: I’ve been saying that shit for 20 years and making people mad. I know. I like my ears, before I trust most. I’ve heard few musicians who I heard five years later and go wow, I had no idea they had it in them. We’re in this good place personally where we just understand each other. We understand what we bring to each other. I know how to write songs that challenges him. He knows how to write songs that can challenge me. A lot of guys want to work with Tain and they just hire him and they don’t write any tunes. So it’s him just playing his Tain-y shit, which is what they want so they can put a sticker on the record and say that Tain’s on it, like that ‘s suddenly going to sell their record. The whole idea of the sticker is just such a sticker to me. It’s funny to me. It would’ve never occurred to me to just buy a record because I saw a dude’s name on it. That doesn’t mean the record’s going to be good. That’s like a funny thing to me. I’ve always found that humorous when people say we want to put a sticker on. For what?

    JazzUSA: So, I heard the record. It’s high quality, uncompromising music. And I’m thinking. How is that going to sell?

    Branford: Who gives a fuck? It’s jazz, what do you expect it to sell? So it might sell five thousand records instead of ten thousand records. The only two records that I was ever affiliated with that ever really sold in large numbers were Mo’ Better Blues, and that was because it was with a movie and the music wasn’t particularly challenging, and I Heard You Twice The First Time, because it had a bunch of blues musicians on it. My jazz records have never sold. It’s like this is what I do for a living, I’m trying to challenge myself. I’ve always believeD that jazz is one of those music that you play for yourself, not for the audience. That why I stopped playing funk music, which I’d went to Berklee to learn how to do better and become a producer and started playing jazz. That is what appealed to me, to do my own shit. So the idea of playing jazz and pandering to the audience is bizarre to me, because it’s not that kind of music in the first place. It’d be one thing if you pandered to the audience and you sell five million records, oh I’m all for that. But to do that shit to sell 40 thousand records, what the hell is that? What is 40 thousand records.

    I remember I was talking to a guy at Columbia who was like grilling me about all the stuff that was wrong with my tenure. How can it be, you signed these artists, and our biggest selling record is still Kind Of Blue, you’re not doing a good job, and I say man, don’t tell me how many records Kind Of Blue is selling in the year 2000, tell me how many records Kind Of Blue sold in 1961. Now go get that sheet out, and let’s use that. Now the artists I have, their records came out in 2000, so if it’s selling 5000 copies a week since 1998, which is the year Miles died, then you have to give me at least that much time from 61 to when he died, before you can even make a validation like that. This is jazz you know. So’ I’m not really understanding the question. Are we talking about pop music, or are we talking about jazz? And then he would say well, guys out on the street say you are just hiring your friends. I’m like, if I’m a book publisher, and my friends happen to be H.G. Wells, fucking William Shakespeare, should I not sign them? If Langston Hughes is my boy, you’re saying well man, I can’t sign you because it might seem improper. All my friends are bad mother fuckers , that’s not my fault. I also have plenty of friends who don’t play instruments and I have not signed them. And I have friends who do play instruments and I haven’t signed them. Just because my closest friends are great musicians, that not my fucking fault. Who am I suppose to sign instead of Tain, a lesser musician just because I don’t know them? I don’t get this. He was just playing Devil’s advocate, he didn’t really have a response to the shit I was saying, he was just throwing it out there, people are saying this, people are saying that and how do you respond to it, and that’s how I respond to it.

    Jazz is a long term venture, either you’re committed to the shit or you ain’t, Now if people at Columbia thought that I was going to bring in a bunch of smooth instrumental pop musicians, under the guise of jazz, they were wrong. That was not my intent. I did an interview and they asked me about Peter White, and I said Peter White’s great, he’s important. His kind of music subsidized jazz, and Peter White got mad and his manager got mad. What was I supposed to say? This is the new jazz, this is the legacy of the future. It’s just one of those things. Did they think that just because I took a position like that, that I was suddenly going to compromise my values? That’s why I don’t work in corporate. I don’t believe in compromising my values.

    JazzUSA: Even when you do funk music, you don’t compromise your values.

    Branford: Because I don’t do it for them. I’ve watched people who play pop music sit around listening to the radio all day, and they got all the hits and they’re trying to write songs like the hits, because they’re trying to write what the people want. That’s not music. That’s commerce, that’s product, that’s entertainment. I’m not in entertainment. I play the shit I like. I’m the only person I’m interested in when I make my records, me and the guys in the group. When they start asking me , look do you think that’s radio ? I say man, do you like the shit? Frank, do you like that shit? Then it’s good enough for me. Radio ain’t going to play it, and, what do you want me to do. I play music for a living this is what I do. I’m old school. I’m not in that other thing. More power to them that can do that. Because not everybody can be a musician. Most people, it’s probably easier for them to be entertainers, because that is probably where their musicianship lay anyway.

    I’m not saying everybody in the world is a bastard. Like all those people who jump on poor Kenny G, I am not in that group. I ain’t jealous of Kenny. I don’t want his audience, would love to have his money. I would love to spend as much time playing golf as he does. But, I don’t want his audience. I don’t want to sound like him. I’m not jealous of him. I know that if he played like me, he wouldn’t sell that many records, and he knows it too. I’m not mad at Kenny. More power to him and more power to anybody that wants to pursue shit and find out where their talent is, and pursue that and it makes them money, more power to them, I don’t have to deal with that.

    JazzUSA: Record companies usually are of little help with jazz artists who want to make money outside the record business.

    Branford: The reality of any kind of black music is that, there’s a book by a guy named Goldberg. I can’t remember his first name right now, called Biased, it’s about bias in the television industry, and he makes this unbelievable point that I don’t think black people understand. Black people watch one type of show and white people watch another type of show. So if you go to the average black person who watches the WB and you start asking them about the characters on Friends, they don’t know who these people are. You go to the people who watch Friends and ask them about the characters on the Steve Harvey Show, they don’t even know who Steve Harvey is. The most important point you have to remember is that the most watched show in American on the WB by black people, isn’t even one per cent of the viewer ship of America. So, if 90 per cent in America watch Steve Harvey and that’s all that watches it, it can’t even crack the top 100 of what white viewers watch. That’s the reality of being black when you want to play music that’s probably is not going to be particularly popular.

    So to blame the record company is not really fair. Why should a record company give you four hundred thousand dollars to go on tour and they know they’re not going to see the money? There is not going to be a return on their investment, unless they hear a song that they think they can bring over to the white audience so that they can make their dollars. I understand their point of view. I ain’t got no beef with Sony. I understand their point of view. That’s not the business I’m in, and I happen to be a black person, so I can’t abide by that shit. I ain’t got no beef with them. I’m not going to sign Ramsey Lewis and send him on tour, and pay for this shit. I can’t do that. I understand why they don’t do it. Is it racist? Kind of, yeah. It’s racist, but not like they’re being racist. The situation is an unfortunate situation. I just show you for all of the athletes that make money and how we all like to delude ourselves about how much better the shit is, how much further it has to go. White America is essentially comfortable with black people like me. I speak well. I ain’t like Allen Iverson. I don’t have any tattoos on. Even as an unfamiliar face, I speak the language like they speak the language. I don’t speak the language the way Allen speak the language. They just can’t deal with Allen. Even though, it’s historically American society that begot that mentality. That’s the great irony of it. That’s just some shit you have to make some peace with. Like I said, there are cats, the Ken Burns people, standing on the side bitching and complaining, when the average person who watched Ken Burns was not a jazz fan, first of all, which was the whole point of the documentary, not to make a documentary for jazz fans. That’s shit. That’s a fingernail in the population.

    The whole point was to get people who had never heard of jazz and would have never had an interest in it, to watch it. And if you got all these jazz musicians bitching about it on the Internet, and dogging my brother, if you got any of them to talk about jazz 80 per cent of the people who watched it, wouldn’t watch it. They would turn that shit off. That’s the reality of the situation. All of these guys talking about who should’ve been the spokesperson, who shouldn’t have been a spokesperson, anybody they name as a spokesperson would not have appealed to the audience that Ken Burns was looking for more than my brother would. Because my brother not only can play the fuck out the trumpet, he can talk about it too. I had a lady talking to me about this on the plane, she just brought it up. The thing I loved about your brother was that he could actually play the shit. He could say one guy plays this way and plays, and that Louis Armstrong play that way. And she said and I’m not musical and I could hear the difference. Now please give me the name of the trumpet player that we have today that is going to do that besides him. All of these people complaining about who it should’ve been. My brother has the talent for making complex shit very simple. He tells it in a very folksy kind of way, and people who don’t care shit about music can relate to that. He’s perfect for the job. A lot more perfect for the job than me.

    JazzUSA: Do you have any plans to pursue movies again, rather it’s scoring or acting?

    Branford: Scoring. The hardest part of scoring is that you’re talking to directors who want to be right and they don’t know anything about music. And then it becomes like this political kind of game that I’m not real good at it. I had a meeting with one cat for this movie. He said, I want an acoustic soundtrack like Sade. Like if I’m going to be in the movie, yes, okay, I can give you that. But what I said was, that shit is not acoustic. Which it isn’t. He said Yes it it. I said please tell me how. Well, they have acoustic piano. I said what about everything else? The guitar is electric, the bass is electric, her voice is not acoustic, it’s not an acoustic record. And the classic shit was he wanted to use a Stevie Wonder song in his movie. He wanted to use As, and he goes on the piano solo, now he’s not only a great composer but a great musician. I said, that’s not Stevie, that’s Herbie. He’s like yes that is, that’s Stevie. This is where the great disconnect is. Here’ s a cat who makes film for a living. Now if he told me who the director of photography was on an Eisenstein film, I’d say okay, because that’s his shit. Here’s this motherfucker telling me what the shit is when I know what it is. This is what I do for a living. And when you do movies, especially when the budget gets big. That’s the reality of it. The only way I could imagine is if people that I respect as artist respect me as artist and they hire me to write the music, like the situation John Williams has with Spielberg, write your shit man, it’s all good. In terms of going to Hollywood and doing those meeting and kissing all that ass , that’s not me.

    JazzUSA: What about acting.?

    Branford: They don’t need me. For what? Some of those roles they have for black people, I would never play those roles. I find them demeaning. All those roles that those rappers do, I ain’t going to that, and the stuff that I like, I don’t think I really have the skill to do it, so why? There are limited roles of any real substance for black people and I had an option and I didn’t want to do Beverly Hills Cop.

    JazzUSA: Was that stuff getting in the way of music?

    Branford: Yeah, but that was cool, I was a kid. How could it not get in the way of music? Every minute not spent playing music is a minute you don’t get better. The older I get, the less likely it becomes.

    JazzUSA: Let’s talk about the band, I know you and Tain have been together 20 years, but about Joey Calderazzo and Eric Reavis

    Branford: Calderazzo has been in the band for three years, and Reavis for five.

    JazzUSA: So this particular quartet?

    Branford: Three years.

    JazzUSA: There was a huge difference in the two shows I saw, and it wasn’t just because Calderazzo wasn’t on the gig in St. Lucia. You and Tain were even different.

    Branford: That’s because Tain and I are very similar. Some musicians can play their shit, no matter who’s playing with them, ala Sonny Rollins. No matter how good or bad the band is, Sonny can get to his shit. I can’t play like that and neither can Tain. There has to be a certain kind of thing with the musicians where we’re all communicating, or it just becomes stock, Blue Note Records 101. Also, down in St. Lucia, you’ve got 60% of the audience had never been to a jazz concert, the only reason they’re there is because India Arie is there, Lauryn Hill is there and they come because they know my name and a lot of them may have heard Wynton once, and they think we’re going to play some Duke Ellington shit, and we come out there blasting and they’re just staring at us like we’re from outer space. It really puts you in a situation where you say well man, let’s just survive this shit. Let’s just finish the show, take our bow and split. They’re not jazz fans, like when you go to a club like the Blue Note. The Blue Note is not a jazz club. The Blue Note is not a jazz club. The Blue Note is an entertainment club and they play jazz there. That’s why they have golf balls and t-shirts and when you go to hear most musicians, people are talking through the shit, loudly. Phones are ringing, cash registers, that’s just the jazz tradition.

    Miles Davis, Live at The Plugged Nickel, mother fuckers talking. Bill Evans, Live At The Vanguard, mother fuckers are talking. Sonny Rollins Live At The Vanguard, mother fuckers are talking. Trane, they didn’t talk through his shit, because he just terrified them, so they just didn’t come to the gig. Trane finishes a song there’s about five people clapping. But when you hear, like, Charlie Parker, Live At Royal Roost, all you hear is talking. So, the jazz club has always been, a place where people can come get their drink on, and there was music playing in the background. The only part of the equation that didn’t really fit was us, because we didn’t play the kind of music that easily allowed them to talk through the shit. Songs are coming up and going down, and stopping and starting and it’s soft, then it’s loud. They just want to hear some shit that’ s like a drone. Like the shit you hear on jazz radio. The song starts, and it sounds the same from the beginning to the end, that way they can just ignore it with some easy listening movement.

    JazzUSA: There is a movement in public radio, I call it smooth jazz acoustic.

    Branford: They’re trying to get listeners.

    JazzUSA: I happen to think that’s the wrong way of going about it.

    Branford: It’s the option of every person. You can stand on a personal philosophy, or you can say, man we’ve got to get people to listen. What do the people want? It’s the creeping scope of populism. I remember when I was doing Jazz Set for NPR, they were trying to put pressure on me to include instrumental pop groups. No, I’m not going to do it. That was my personal choice. They could always just take me off the show, and then put on whoever they want, and they could put that shit on anytime they want. Me, I’m not going to do it. It’s not that I don’t like some of that stuff. It’s just that there’s a million forums for that, and very few forums for jazz. So, I just said, this is not something I want. I don’t want to have my name giving endorsement to stuff I didn’t think needed to be on the show.

    JazzUSA: Hey, I love the new record. But there’s something missing from it.

    Branford: What?

    JazzUSA: The romanticism of Branford Marsalis.

    Branford: It’s coming. It’s next time.

    JazzUSA: Paying homage to your forefathers is obviously very important to you. I remember even on The Tonight Show, I’d hear references, musically or otherwise, to Bird or Sonny Rollins.

    Branford: Man, that’s the vocabulary of the language. I’m amazed the number of people who don’t believe in the vocabulary. There are cats out there, working musicians, who are like we need to develop new shit. It has to be new, It has to be new. As though, God plays no role. I’m just going to mandate that my shit be new, and I’m going to do it, and it’s going to be new. That’s like anybody saying, I’m just going to write the Theory of Relativity. Fuck it, I’m just going to do it. I’m going to write some real new mathematical shit and it doesn’t have to have any basis on old math. We’re just going to do this shit, and it’s going to rock the world. Whatever man. Ain’t nobody going to pay attention to that shit. In math, you have to justify shit. In music, you don’t. Especially to lay people. The just want to feel like they’re in on something. So you’ve got musicians and lay people saying, some guy just wrote on my website. What’s with all this learning solos of the past and all this imitation shit? What’s with all these imitators?

    All these piano players sound like Herbie Hancock. That’s funny, I haven’t heard too many piano players sound like Herbie actually. A couple, but not many. I’ve heard them try, but I haven’t heard them sound like Herbie. We need innovation. I didn’t realize that it was some shit that could be that easily acquired. You see, that’s the whole quandary. You take a cat like Coltrane, or Ornette Coleman, and these cats are steeped in the blues tradition, they’re steeped in be-bop tradition, the swing tradition. But since people can’t directly hear the lineage, they just assume that it’s just a complete disconnect. You’ve got to break off the branch and start a new thing, so everybody’s trying to break off a branch and start a new thing. They don’t know the tradition. You have all these cats, they call them Coltrane clones. Play all these damn changes. They play a million changes. Play Giant Steps, play Countdown. If the shit is so profound, how come they can’t play A Love Supreme? How come they can’t play a song with one chord? And the X factor is the blues. If you’ve ain’t checked out the blues, you can’t play that one chord shit.

    The thing that a lot of people don’t get, is that what I think is just fine for me. When they want to have these arguments and shit and say I’m full of shit, I’m pompous. Maybe I am. Maybe I am pompous. But you know what, feel free to do it your way, see if it works for you. My shit works for me. I ain’t trying to impress anybody. I ain’t trying to get in an argument with these people. If they want to have a dialogue, let’s have a dialogue, two people talking, not two people yelling opinions. The shit works for me. If it don’t work for you, get your own shit. But I don’t have a sect, my music ain’t got a name, I don’t have a sect, a cadre of musicians. I just play music. I’m not trying to embrace any form of populism when I play music.

    JazzUSA: Even when you play so called popular music.

    Branford: No. I’m not interested in populism.

    An Interview with Anthony Wilson

    A Word With
    Anthony Wilson
    by Fred Jung

    Adult ThemesI consider Anthony Wilson to be a friend by virtue of the fact that he is a gentle soul. Anyone who has met the guitarist can vouch to that. But his composer hand is also very strong and he is certain to be a force. All that aside, I can relate to Anthony because I too know what it’s like to be my father’s son, as Anthony is the son of legendary composer/bandleader Gerald Wilson. We spoke from his home in So Cal to talk about his love of Kiss, how winning the Monk Competition changed the course of his life. Also his new release for MAMA Records, “Adult Themes” (which has the catchiest cover of any album this year), all unedited and in his own. – FJ.

    JazzUSA: Let’s start from the beginning.

    AW: Well, I think I got started by virtue of the fact that I loved music so much when I was a kid, meaning like three years old, four years old. Music was filling my head. I would go around singing songs and kind of like a sponge absorbed a lot of things and then when I was old enough to take an instrument, the first one that came along was guitar. That was when I was about seven years old. That was perfect for me because I wanted to be like, I loved Jimi Hendrix and I loved the Beatles and all these guys, and Kiss. Kiss was my favorite band. So that was the perfect instrument for me to play, so I just sort of took to it and started taking guitar lessons after school and joined the choir. I joined the boy’s choir when I was about eight or nine. Since that time, I’ve been doing it ever since.

    JazzUSA: Kiss was your favorite band.

    AW: Oh, yeah, without a doubt. I loved those guys, probably more for the theatrics than the music, but I just loved everything about them, Beatles and Bob Dylan and anything rock. I was too young to like jazz.

    JazzUSA: So when did you begin to explore jazz?

    AW: That would be like towards the end of junior high school, around fourteen or so. Eighth to ninth grade, I started to hear jazz and be able to appreciate it. When I was say seven, eight, nine, I would hear jazz or I’d go to my father’s concerts or hear jazz records around the house, so I at least I had ears that were open enough to not say well this music is terrible, which some kids do. They hear jazz or classical and to them it’s the worst thing in the world. I, at least, was able to appreciate it, thinking that it was good and these guys were good. About fourteen or fifteen, so then when I started to listen to it, I actually started to get something from it. I started to feel something and it was something that I wanted to join in. I liked the spirit of improvisation, that things were always different. I liked to hear a solo go from beginning to end. I thought that was really interesting. About that time, which is maybe the time that a lot of people start to get interested in it, now a days.

    JazzUSA: What were you listening to?

    AW: A lot of Miles Davis, what else, Dexter Gordon records, I liked the Dexter Gordon things on Blue Note, Eric Dolphy, none of the really old stuff and not much big band, mostly kind of bop. I liked Charlie Parker at that time and Coltrane. Coltrane has a way of really getting into you right away. I liked Coltrane at that time a lot.

    JazzUSA: A lot of horn players.

    AW: Yeah, I didn’t know really who to listen to on guitar as I was first starting to listen to jazz and it was mostly horn players that I heard, saxophone players mostly. Then my mom told me to listen to Wes Montgomery, so I did. It was about that time that I started to listen to some Wes Montgomery and that was a big eye opener. I didn’t even know you could do that on the guitar. I heard some Larry Coryell, I think I went to hear him live when I was first getting into jazz. He was all I knew about jazz guitar. I didn’t really know about people like Barney Kessel. I knew about Joe Pass but I hadn’t listened to him very much. So that stuff started to filter in as I got more into it to find out who the people were.

    JazzUSA: What was so appealing about Wes Montgomery’s playing?

    AW: It was just the fluidity. The way that ideas just rolled, one after the other, in a very logical and easy going fashion. It was nothing forced and it’s always swinging. It was a good feeling. It was a nice rhythmic feel and just that easy going effortless thing that he has that there have been hardly any guitar players who have had that certain thing, that effortlessness that he’s got. I don’t hear anybody with that particular thing. It’s just special to him.

    JazzUSA: Let’s touch on the impact that winning the Thelonious Monk competition has had on your career (Wilson won the best composition category with his “Karaoke”)?

    AW: Before that competition, I had kind of been concentrating on other forms of music. I was playing in a pretty rock band, pretty hard rock band. I wasn’t doing much jazz, just a little bit. My mother in her inevitable way of always looking for opportunities and things for me, saw that that year for the Monk competition, they were having a guitar competition and the composition part of it. She told me about it. She cut out the article. And I kept this thing for months and months, for like eight months. There was a little article thing for when the deadline is and I kept it posted in the bulletin board and did nothing about it. And then about a month before, I thought about doing the guitar part of the thing, but I didn’t like the guidelines. The guidelines were these really strict guidelines about what tunes you had to play and how many choruses and what tempo. It didn’t interest me that much. I also was maybe a little scared. Composition, I knew I had something. I can write good tunes, so I just said, “OK, I’ve got about a month here. I better write something and record it.” So I wrote that piece. I spent every day on it for a couple of weeks, but not that much time you know. I wrote it, sent it in and the great thing about winning the thing was it sort of suddenly hit home for me that I had kind of forgotten about jazz and I wasn’t really doing it that much. Why not? It got me thinking, why am I not doing this? This is something that I have a real talent for and I do it and it’s natural for me and why not do something that’s natural to me. In that sense, it kind of was a wake up. Oh, you forgot about this thing. It got me thinking about what kinds of things would I like to do, maybe start a band. Now, I’ve got some money to live on for a while so maybe start a band and start writing some charts and see what I can do on my own. For that, I probably wouldn’t, what I would be doing now would be a lot different even if that thing hadn’t come along to kind of wake me up and say, “Hey, there’s something to pay attention to.”

    JazzUSA: You were in a rock band?

    AW: (Laughing) Yeah. Oh, yeah, I was into it, Fred. For several years, I kind of was in like a the lost weekend phase. It’s great to be able to play music that you don’t have to, you don’t really have to know much to be able to play. It’s basic. It’s just loud. And it was fun, but I’m glad that I’m doing what I’m doing now, rather than that. I think there’s a lot more longevity that you can have playing jazz.

    Adult ThemesJazzUSA: Let’s talk about your three albums on MAMA Records, your self-titled debut, “Goat Hill Junket,” and lastly your latest installment, “Adult Themes.”

    AW: They’re all the same format of band, which is kind of the instrumentation that I settled on during this phase, when I was trying to think what kind of band I would want to have. I thought it would be nice to have a band with a horn section and not exactly a big band, but just have some horns and have that ability to kind of have a nice, full, rich sound, but also have a lot of room for improvisation. I kind of settled on that format and we did all three records with this instrumentation. The first record was my attempt really. I just wrote a lot of tunes for that over a period of about a year. Before I even had a chance to record, I was writing stuff for the band and I would have rehearsals. So it was my kind of getting my feet wet and finding out what kind of things were possible for this instrumentation. How would my guitar fit into something like this? I think in the beginning, I kind of envisioned it as like more of a blues based kind of a band than a real serious jazz composition vehicle, which is what it turned into after I did the first record, I started to see that there were so many possibilities. I got all these players. They double on different instruments. I can have flute. I can have bass clarinet. I can have clarinet, soprano saxophone, flugelhorn, different combinations of things and so after my first record, I began to work more on my compositions, see what other things I could find for the next record, some other novel approaches to writing and did it in New York. So the first record was with my band, here in Los Angeles and then through going to New York several times and putting a band together, I met all these guys and I just didn’t want to let the opportunity pass to be able to record with them. That was a great experience, playing in New York and recording with these guys like Joe Temperley and Jerry Dodgion and Mike Ledonne, Jeff Ballard on drums. That was just another step in trying to explore this instrumentation. I’d say those first records are really just exploratory. Let me just see what’s possible here. So from bebop type of things to real bluesy things, more exploring the feel of different tunes and what’s possible with the instrumentation. And then when I did this album that’s just coming out, “Adult Themes,” I decided that it would be much more about, it would be less about exploring things purely musically and more with trying to delve into what personal feelings I could express through the music. It seems to be more of a dark sounding album. There’s a lot more spooky emotions that I got into. I think I’m exploring more emotional terrain rather than instrumentation and type of feels this band is good at and where my guitar fits in. I’m just sort of, I’m now trying to go inside and see what I can really pull out of myself.

    JazzUSA: Do you feel that you have progressed significantly during that period?

    AW: I’m definitely growing all the time. I tend to be hard on myself so I always think that I should be growing more and I should be better as a leader. In a way, I always feel that I have not grown enough, but I do know this, that I’ve grown a lot as a person in the last year and I think that that’s effected the music in a way that, even constant practicing can’t do. I’m a little bit more, I’m starting to be more comfortable in my skin as a person and see who I am and not be afraid to show that aspect. That also has a big effect on the music. I think it rubs off.

    JazzUSA: I like the cover of “Adult Themes.”

    AW: (Laughing) Most guys like it. We wanted to have a lady on the cover. We wanted to evoke something. We didn’t want it to be like a lady who looks all breezy and fun. We wanted it to be almost an evening type of a scene, kind of like some of my friends from college. God, this is so evocative of days that we spent every night in clubs, going out trying to pick up girls. It’s just that kind of almost seedy, but not exactly because she’s pretty. She maybe looks a little tired or something. I thought it would be a good play on the whole title of “Adult Themes.” People probably expect it to have something pornographic about it. So I thought it was nice to have a picture of a scantily clad woman. It was my idea and the guy from the MAMA Foundation and we said let’s do this. It’s an eye catcher.

    JazzUSA: I will give you that. She looks like she is on ruffies.

    AW: Yeah, yeah. She’s got that heavy eye make-up on and her thick heavy lids. It’s kind of a play because when I called it that, I kind of meant to evoke some other things, but the first thing that people usually think of when you say “adult themes” is sex and sexuality, so even though none of the tunes or their titles are really exactly evocative of that, your mind goes there anyway so why not let it be a part of the whole thing.

    JazzUSA: Bennie Wallace is absent from this one.

    AW: I miss Bennie anyway because we just don’t have enough chances to play together since he moved back East. It was nice to concentrate on the voices that I have in the band and not distract myself by writing any special features for some other person as an auxiliary to the band. We’ve been working now for like three years, so I’ve got a real good sense of who these people are in the band, Pete Chistlieb and Jack Nimitz and I just tried to really work, it’s a nice feeling to say, “God, I’ve got a full pallet here. I don’t have to add anything to it. Let me try to bring out as many things as possible in this self-contained unit.” In a way it was nice to not be bringing in a strong outside personality like that.

    JazzUSA: The majority of the compositions on “Adult Themes” were penned by you, as were most of the tracks on your previous two releases, how have you progressed as a composer?

    AW: I definitely see that there is a big development. I’m definitely trying to explore things and I’m less and less afraid to be confined by some kind of idea of what jazz is supposed to sound like or what straight ahead jazz is supposed to sound like. Every record that I’ve done, I can hear myself trying some different things, trying to open up the improvisational areas of the pieces that I write so that it starts to become really integrated with the rhythm sections and they’re seamless things that go on and I can hear that that’s getting much stronger, whereas when I was starting more long form tunes and I really considered them as tunes. Now I consider the whole thing as a composition, the orchestration, how the choruses are voiced, and where the improvisation comes in, where it goes out, who is soloing when, what the instrumentation is on a piece, all of that is part of the composition. I think, before I didn’t realize how essential that stuff was. I think I thought it or I knew it intellectually, but now I’m putting it a little bit more into practice. So that’s a big development.

    JazzUSA: Your relationship with MAMA Foundation.

    AW: Oh, it’s been great. Who knows how long I will be with MAMA? I may not be there forever, but I will tell you this, Fred, from the stories that I have heard from other people and what they have to go through to be on other labels, to be on major labels, there can be a lot of headaches involved and there can be a lot of people that are trying to tell you what kind of project would suit you at this particular time, usually that’s cause of some kind of marketing concern that they have, so they tell people to do tribute albums or do a Jobim record or do an album of such and such or do an album of this. Verve is a classic example of this. It’s all about theme records, or it was. I think it’s changing a little bit because of the change over, and choice of producer and sometimes artists from the same label get lumped together even though they wouldn’t necessarily be the right people to be playing together because it’s a label thing. MAMA Foundation has really said to me, “Look, OK, each record, make it something that you want to make.” I’ve never even walked into the studio on any of these records having had lengthy, lengthy, lengthy conversations about what songs are going to be on them and how long they’re going to be. I just do my work at home and when it’s time to be ready to do the thing, they’ve been good enough to trust that I have some kind of vision that’s important to me, that they want to support. So that’s very rare actually. I’d say it’s a good relationship and I’m lucky to have it.

    JazzUSA: Are you still playing the regular trio gig at that club in Hollywood?

    AW: That ended, unfortunately because that place Lucky 7 changed their format. They’re still owned by the same guys, but the guys who owned the place thought that jazz wasn’t doing well there, which is some kind of weird, unexplainable thing, some unexplainable fixation that these guys had that jazz wasn’t working in their club and so they changed it to a jukebox and DJ and just a straight bar. They stopped serving food there. But we do have our trio and we went up north to Yoshi’s in San Francisco this summer and we went down to San Diego and probably over the next year, that trio is going to be playing around the country a little bit.

    JazzUSA: Let’s talk about the trio.

    AW: Both the other two points in the triangle are on this record that I just did. It’s a Hammond B-3 organ, guitar, and drums trio and Joe Bagg plays the organ and Mark Ferber plays the drums. Mark is working with everybody right now around here. He’s just a great drummer. We started that band in order to play at Lucky 7 every week. That was back in February, I think. We played there for four months. It was just so great because for me, I had been concentrating so much on writing and writing and writing that this was one place I could go and not have to care about that. You could do a gig without having anything written, just play. So playing with Mark and Joe has put me back in touch with my instrument, which is great. Sometimes it’s great and sometimes it’s bad because I see how many things that I have to accomplish on the instrument that I am nowhere near. We’ve got a good relationship, very compact. It’s all about improvising and communication with none of the trappings of that large band, where there are specific arrangements and things go down in a certain way to the written sound and the kind of tunes that we do because I do all of the arrangements. It’s a little more democratic. It’s much more spontaneous in certain ways and I really like that.

    JazzUSA: Are you planning on recording the band?

    AW: Yeah, I hope so. I hope it’s the next thing I do. That will be just a breathe of fresh air to walk into the studio with just two other people. It will be a breeze. One thing I’ve learned is that to be the leader of nine or ten guys at one time, it can be really intense. It can be pretty intense.

    JazzUSA: Tour plans for the new album?

    AW: We’ll be playing the USC (University of Southern California) in April. So some various things, in combination with the trio, which also plays music from this album, most of the gigs that I do, people will be able to hear music from my albums.

    JazzUSA: When you play at my alma mater, will it be with your large ensemble or trio?

    AW: That’s with the big band.

    JazzUSA: And the future?

    AW: Always writing. I can’t say for sure, but I think that we’re going to have a special gust on that USC gig. I’ll probably write some special things for that. I can’t really say who yet. I’m just going to keep trying to go deeper into this realm that I am in right now of trying to write something that’s personal and develop my own sound, so that when you turn on one of my records, you get the sense that you are finding out about me as a person. I get a little frustrated sometimes when I hear a lot of the new that comes out by younger musicians, not all of them of course, but some of them, you get a sense that no matter how many records you hear by this guy or these guys, that you will never find out anything more about them. It’s frustrating to me because they don’t have their own, it’s not you turn on that record and you say, “That’s that guy and I have a sense of him from his music.” Like my big example would be Wynton Marsalis, who I like and dislike for different reasons. Here’s a guy who has seven album this year out or something and I have heard many sections of all of them and I’ve been hearing him for years and I still don’t feel that he has decided to take the reigns and say, “This is what I am and this is who I am as a person and I feel strong enough to show that to you.” I don’t know anything about him except that he cares about kids, but who is this person? When you listen to Duke Ellington, you really get a sense of a real complex character and a person with different kinds of concerns. The title of his tunes talks about his concerns and the way he writes for the members of his bands talks about his concerns. It’s a very personal thing you get from him or Gil Evans or whoever. I just think that’s missing a little bit in today’s world so that’s something that I want to do and that’s give you a sense of who I am.

    JazzUSA: Who do you think are the individual voices?

    AW: The whole world of improvised music, jazz is kind of divided. You’ve got the major labels in general that kind of basically promote and record certain kinds of artists, some of whom I think are doing incredible things, like Brad Mehldau does incredible things no matter what the nature of each album that he does. It’s something special. It’s something unique. And it is. He’s one of those guys that does something personal with his playing and I respond to that. Then there’s people like Dave Douglas. He also does it. This is a guy who just loves to explore things, different sounds, different kinds of instrumentations, and he’s kind of fearless in that way. I think he’s great. I love Mark Turner. He’s one of the tenor players that I really like. I think that guy is just a monster. Peter Bernstein is my favorite guitarist around now to listen to of the younger guys. It’s just a great pleasure to hear how his solos evolve and how he gets better every time you hear him on a record. I like Larry Goldings. I love that whole trio, the Larry Goldings Trio. Then there’s people like William Parker, the bass player who plays with Matthew Shipp. That’s a guy who is doing something totally from another angle. Joey Baron or Ellery Eskelin, some of these guys who are on the more downtown New York scene. They do great things. There’s a lot of creative people out there. They may not always be the people that you are hearing about in terms of like major, major label hype.

    Be sure to visit the Anthony Wilson home page at MAMA records

    An Interview with Regina Carter

    A Conversation with violinist
    Regina Carter
    by Mark Ruffin

    Regina CarterThe hottest jazz violinist to come along since Jean Luc-Ponty is a classically trained young woman from Detroit whose career is on the rise with her second solo album and her first for Verve Records, “Rhythms Of The Heart.” Since leaving the all-female quintet Straight Ahead, Carter has had to fight battles with the jazz police and with her first record company Atlantic. Since arriving in New York she has also picked up some pretty impressive notices playing in some exciting groups including that of Oliver Lake, Steve Turre, Quartette Indigo and Cassandra Wilson’s Traveling Miles group. Miss Carter is currently represented on Turre’s new album “Lotus Flower” and Miss Wilson’s number one smash “Taveling Miles.” “Rhythm of The Heart,” comes out this month.

    JazzUSA: Tell me about the new record.

    RC: The concept of this record is a rhythmic concept, all the different rhythms that I like to play. That’s more how I approach music, more from a rhythmic concept than a melodic concept. I chose composers whose music I really enjoy. I didn’t write any of the tunes on this record. But I have an Afro-Cuban tune by Steve Turre, a West African piece by Richard` Bona. I did a ballad that Betty Carter made famous “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most.” I did a tune in the style of “Poinciana” that Kenny Barron wrote, “Cook’s Bay,” and a swing tune, “Lady Be Good,” and I did one of my favorites from Motown, Detroit, “Papa Was A Rolling Stone.”

    JazzUSA: Let’s not forget Tadd Dameron please.

    RC: No, no there’s also some Tadd Dameron and also another Kenny Barron tune. So that covered the hard bop and the be-bop.

    JazzUSA: You know judging from your musical past with Atlantic Records, our readers who know your history may not know exactly where you’re coming from musically on an album as important as your first one for Verve. Is the record straight ahead?

    RC: It’s acoustic. It’s music. It’s jazz, and all these people need to get over that. It’s not smooth jazz, if that’s what you’re thinking. It’s acoustic music and it’s very valid music.

    JazzUSA: Can you do a valid “Papa Was A Rolling Stone?”

    RC: It’s a raggae tune, but I improvise on it. So that’s the element from jazz is the improvisation on it. But it’s a classic tune from Motown. The thing is that when people look at a lot of jazz hits from say, even Coltrane, “My Favorite Things,” what was that? We know it as a jazz tune, but lets look at where it really came from.

    JazzUSA: Absolutely, and jazz musicians have been playing?

    RC: Popular music forever.

    JazzUSA: And I do like the movement of people in our generation exposing, even the older heads, with songs we grew up with like, “Papa Was A Rolling Stone,” and different rhythms.

    RC: It’s a classic Motown piece that people instantly recognize. I played Sweet Basil’s in New York and I had my first chance to play there with an acoustic group. Before they wouldn’t let me play there because they thought I was too electric and doing the smooth jazz thing. So I was doing the Eddie Harris tune, “Listen Here,” and in the solo one day, that tune “Papa Was A Rolling Stone,” popped into my head, so I played a piece of the melody in the solo and people recognized it and responded. And supposedly only the jazz police come to Sweet Basil’s and they responded to it. So I tried it again. I purposely did it somewhere else and people responded and that’s what made me say, ‘you know what, I love that tune. I’m going to record it.’ I think when people can get past all those barriers that they put up for themselves, people will like that tune, because it was a great tune in it’s day. They aren’t going to look at it and say, well that’s not jazz or that is jazz. And the thing is that jazz is in so much trouble these days, especially acoustic jazz, that we need to get people anyway that we can. Even when I was doing smooth jazz, I did Billie Holliday’s “Don’t Explain” and I had a lot of people come up to me that had never heard of Billie Holliday that said my favorite tune on that record was “Don’t Explain” and I say to them, you need to go check out Billie Holliday. Who knows how many people went and checked her out and from there and checked out some other music. In jazz I find that people don’t really do that. They don’t go out and research. What music I have found interesting in that regard is the blues. People of all ages, whether they started with Robert Johnson or somebody extremely new to the music, whatever they pick up and hear, it makes them want to go out and research other types of blues. Whereas, in jazz, people don’t do that, and I think a lot of that comes from the industry, and a lot of it comes from the musicians, because we’re dividing our music and therefore dividing our audience. That’s hurting us. That’s hurting the music.

    JazzUSA: You know I find that a lot of musicians are open, and it’s the industry putting up standards and barriers.

    RC: Well some musicians, when they start talking about this is jazz, or this is traditional jazz and that’s not jazz. We as musicians need to be careful of that.

    JazzUSA: Well you have to fight that battle within a record company too, don’t you?

    RC: Oh yeah, of course. But I just believe now in doing honest music and I let them fight that battle. I quit trying to take on that crusade. And if a radio station will play me, thank you. If they won’t, I’m sorry for them, because their listeners are missing out on something. Not saying that my music is all that, but I think that they’re missing out.

    JazzUSA: Are you originally from Detroit?

    RC: Yes.

    JazzUSA: So Detroit is a big part of everything.

    RC: Yes (laughs)

    JazzUSA: Detroit’s history is so rich, not only the Motown thing, but the thing in the 50’s was just incredible. I mean Kenny Burrell, Paul Chambers?

    RC: Donald Byrd, Tommy Flanagan, Ron Carter?

    JazzUSA: Betty Carter, The Jones Boys. It’s a long list. How did you incorporate all of that into who Regina Carter is?

    RC: At the time when I was growing up in Detroit, and I think a lot of people come up and say, ‘at my house, we listened to jazz, or we listened to this.’ In my house, we listened to everything. First of all, I was studying European classical music, so I had to bring home stacks of that music and listen to it every day. My day was listening to, I guess, easy listening radio, which is where I first heard Wes Montgomery (laughs). And my brothers were listening to Motown, Stylistics, Parliament-Funkadelic, and we all went to the symphony. Plus we lived near an area where I heard a lot of Arabic music and we had a big Latino population, so I heard a lot of Latin music. When you growing up like that you don’t say, ‘oh, this is this kind of music, and that is that.’ And one radio station used to play some of all of it, WJZZ.

    JazzUSA: Yep, the late great ‘JZZ (Ed. Note-Check our back issue on the death of America’s last great commercial jazz station)

    RC: Yeah, right. So you grow up with all those influences and you don’t sift through those, they just all become a part of who you are, and they’re all part of who I am and what comes out of me. I don’t police myself.

    JazzUSA: A lot of folks from Detroit don’t police themselves. What is it about Detroit?

    RC: I think it’s because we have all those influences in such a close range. It’s not like we have to drive so far. It’s just right there and you just hear it. So you don’t even think of it as separate music. You just think of it all as music. And if it’s in you, it’s just in you. I think it’s until you go other places where they don’t have maybe all those influences or it’s so sectioned off that they look at it us with a question mark.

    JazzUSA: I know a classical violinist who is a friend of yours, Sylvia Morris,

    RC: Oh yeah, that’s my girl. We came up together in Detroit. We both started at age four. There’s a whole group of us, there’s a couple of more that are in the Chicago Symphony, we all started together and Sylvia kept up with the classical music while I switched over to jazz.

    JazzUSA: Did your high school have a jazz band?

    RC: Yeah, I sat in and read the alto parts. Sometimes they would write out a chart specifically for violin, and in college I did the same thing.

    JazzUSA: What college?

    RC: It was the New England Conservatory of Music.

    JazzUSA: Oh yeah, that’s right, (keyboardist) Rachel Z was your roommate. RC Yeah.

    JazzUSA: How did all women jazz group Straight Ahead happen?

    RC: Well they had been together for some years and then they had broken up and I had just moved back to Detroit from Europe and they were looking for a sax player and they couldn’t find one. So Miki (Braden), the vocalist that had put that band together called me up and asked me if I wanted to join. And I did and it was a great way for all of us to work on whatever musically we needed to work on without having to feel pressure of, you know, we only have this many hours to rehearse, or being uptight that we have to work on this part of our playing. It was a great forum to work on a lot of things and we were all really good friends and I think that added a lot to the music as well.

    JazzUSA: Were you well know in Detroit? How did Miki know you? Were you playing in bands, playing in clubs?

    RC: Not then, I think I had just come back. I don’t know. Maybe they knew of me before I left. I think actually Miki had seen me in a program before I left for Europe. Plus she knew a cousin of mine and she heard I was back in town, and the bass player, our parents go way back.

    JazzUSA: What were you doing in Europe?

    RC: Trying to find myself. (laughs) I’m still looking for her.

    JazzUSA: No matter what town you in.

    RC: Yeah, they always say, she just left. (laughs)

    JazzUSA: Straight Ahead fought that same battle, that record company battle. Some records were pretty even and some you didn’t know where you guys were coming from?

    RC: That was the record company, because when we first got there (Atlantic Records), we were doing acoustic music and then they hired Lenny White to produce the records. I think he felt that we weren’t strong enough to be a traditional acoustic group. So he had us to the most electric, almost like 70’s stuff. Then the second record, one of the people in the record company wanted us to do some traditional stuff, but of course we had been signed into the Black music department, not the jazz. So we had to satisfy everybody. So that’s the one where we did the traditional and?

    JazzUSA: That was the album “In The Tradition?”

    RC: Yeah, in the tradition, out of the tradition, left of the tradition. (laughs)

    JazzUSA: So what spurred the decision to separate from the band and go solo?

    RC: I just wanted to do a solo project before I even joined the band, and when I moved to New York they were supposed to move to New York and they never did. So it was very difficult for me to maintain the gigs with them. As a group, I think it was easier for them because they were working so much in Detroit, so I think that everybody would have to had come together.

    JazzUSA: En masse like all those folks did from Detroit in the 50’s.

    RC: Yeah, but I waited and waited and nobody ever came. So I was there and I was starting to get calls from people that I have always wanted to work with and I wasn’t going to turn those gigs down after I had gotten them. So it was becoming a bit of a sticky situation. I figured after a couple of years, since I wanted to do a solo career, I figured it was the perfect time- I had done two records- they weren’t coming to New York and I wasn’t going back to Detroit. I figured it was the best time to just sever the ties.

    JazzUSA: So you did an album with Atlantic, produced by Victor Bailey. Why did you leave Atlantic and what led to the record? I mean did you go to Atlantic and say ‘hey, I can’t wait for them, I want to do a record.’

    RC: No they came to me early on and kept asking me to do a solo record, to which I kept saying no, until after the second group record and I said okay, I’ll do this. I felt it was time and I felt like it was time for me leave the band and Atlantic had first option. I couldn’t just leave.

    JazzUSA: Now how did you get to be with what used to be the best jazz record company in the world, although they still have a chance to be?

    RC: They better be. JuazzUSA: Well, with this merger, there are some bad apples.

    RC: Isn’t that the record business? I went through a lot to get to Verve (laughs). There was some interest from both sides and I felt like I had done all that I could do at Atlantic, because they had fired so many people at Atlantic, including all the people who knew anything about me and my music. And the people that they started assigning didn’t know anything about jazz or me, and I just felt like a step-child. So I moved on over to Verve and it took us a awhile. I basically signed and they said ‘here do the record.’ I thought dang let the ink dry, but it was fun. JazzUSA: Then you get to Verve, they’re sold and you’re in the middle of another record company political upheaval,

    RC: Yeah, I’m starting to feel like it’s my karma (laughs). Here we go again. Why me?

    JazzUSA: Well if it makes you feel any better, they made you a priority when all the shifts and takeover started. In fact in January, you were pretty much all you could get out of anybody at Verve or GRP. Aren’t you a part of Quartette Indigo?

    RC: Yep. I took John Blake’s place. He was in Steve Turre’s group as well and John introduced me, because I studied with John for some time. He introduced me to Steve when I went to Boston to hear one of their gigs. Then John decided he wanted to take time to do more with his own group. So he left Steve and Akua (Dixon, cellist and Mrs. Steve Turre) and they hired me. Actually in Steve’s group I took his place and he stayed a little longer in Akua’s quartet and I took her sister Gayle’s place, and after awhile, another woman from Detroit, Marlene Weiss moved to New York and actually she took John’s place.

    JazzUSA: Well it sounds like you guys had a lot of fun making Steve’s last two records but the Cassandra Wilson tour last year sounds like it was too incredible, and you got some real big hands.

    RC: Oh yeah, we had a blast. And that’s the thing about Cassandra, she’s not afraid to share that space. She will push you out there. Some people are really funny if you get a little bit of attention. She has never been like that. In fact, she would school me and take me aside and say ‘you need to do more of this or that.’ So I really have a lot of respect for her.

    JazzUSA: How did she help to shape the track that she’s on, on the album, ‘Papa Was A Rolling Stone?’

    RC: It’s really funny, because I had planned on her for another tune, the gospel tune “Precious Memory.” I was going to do it just with bass, guitar, voice and violin. And at the last minute, we didn’t have time to do that track and “Papa Was A Rolling Stone,” was already done as an instrumental. And (co-producer Richard) Seidel kept saying ‘I think you should just use her on that,’ and I said okay. I went to her house two days before the session and dropped off the tape and just said, ‘here you go. You got it, just do what you do.’ We had done the tune and not even ask her if it was in her key because it wasn’t the tune she was supposed to be doing. Now the tune is in a reggae form and the tune is so wordy. It has a lot of words.

    JazzUSA: It was the Third of September?.

    RC: Right, and trying to fit all of that in there, I told her don’t even try to sing it like the original. I just wanted her to do what she does. I told her don’t even think about talking it. That was the only thing I said to her. And Cassandra just did what Cassandra does.

    JazzUSA: Are you going to tour in support of the record?

    RC: Yeah. Right after May, because I’ve got some European dates and Canadian and West Coast dates.

    For more information on Regina Carter’s new album
    “Rhythms of the Heart”
    Regina Carter
    visit the
    Verve Interactive Website.

    Cyrus Chestnut Discusses: You Are My Sunshine

    Cyrus ChestnutCyrus Chestnut Discusses:
    You Are My Sunshine
    by Paula Edelstein

    “…I believe music is about life. It is not about theories, or devices, it’s not about doing something to cross over. I hope those who listen can experience the feelings of hope, love and joy that have gone into it.” – Cyrus Chestnut He’s been called “a highly intelligent improviser with one of the surest senses of swing in jazz” by the New York Times. If you were familiar with his chart-topping debut for Warner Brothers titled SOUL FOOD, then you would most likely agree. However, in addition to his ability to improvise and swing, Chestnut has expressed his musical preferences in many other musical genres including gospel, R&B, soul and as a soloist in big bands with such world-class orchestras as the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Dizzy Gillespie Big Band and Carnegie Hall Jazz Orchestra. On his sophomore release for Warner Brothers Jazz, Chestnut explores another aspect of his spiritual inspiration with YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE. This excellent recording celebrates his understanding of the blues, gospel AND jazz traditions. It’s about transformation, feeling, about going beyond the notes to the very essence of music and sharing that experience. When asked several questions about YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE, here’s what he told us:

    PE: What are some of the differences between the songs on YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE and the songs on SOUL FOOD?

    Cyrus: The songs in this collection YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE dig deeper into the blues, gospel, and jazz traditions. I also try in this collection to use my influences in a collective rather than each influence separately.

    PE: When a person hears this recording, what would they expect to hear?

    Cyrus: First, joy and inspiration. Second, a different approach to some classic material.

    PE: There are a couple of titles including “Errolling” and “Flipper” that conjure up several images. What or who was the inspiration for these songs?

    Cyrus: For “Errolling,” I pay homage to the legendary pianist Erroll Garner. “Flipper” was a melody that came to me one day. There was no direct inspiration. It simply is a fun composition to play.

    PE: How did the great jazz vocalist Betty Carter influence you?

    Cyrus: Betty Carter encouraged me to always find a different angle than the usual. She also wanted me to win audiences over with skill, not gimmicks or tricks.

    PE: You mentioned that you attended a church in Maryland where there was a lot of foot stomping, hand clapping, tambourine playing and joy all over the place! Would you agree that this background provided the foundation for your gospel performances later on in life or was there some other form of inspiration, gospel artists, or teachers, etc. that impacted your music?

    Cyrus: The gospel influence is definitely at the foundation. Being in church was joyful. For me just having the opportunity to play gives me great joy and I like to share that joy as much as possible.

    PE: Would you be so kind as to explain, briefly, how the rhythmic, harmonic and melodic elements of “Precious Lord Take My Hand,” as a gospel piece were altered to form the New Orleans sound that you’ve given to your new interpretation?

    Cyrus: Instead of the meditative tempo it is known for, I gave it tempo for a different approach. Melodically, there is no change in melody. The song is blues based so improvisation had to follow suit. This arrangement adds a Stevie Wonder harmonic influence on the interlude after the bass and piano to take the predictability out of the picture. The usual thing would be to go right back to the melody. (A Betty Carterism).

    PE: Cyrus, your virtuosity, talent and desire to please your listeners are what keep us listening! Congratulations on YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE and thank you so much for the interview.

    Cyrus: My pleasure.

    PE: Keep in touch with Cyrus Chestnut’s happening at

    Reprinted with permission of…

    Al Jarreau – Talking about the Future

    Al JarreauTalking about the Future
    Al Jarreau
    by Mark Ruffin

    Just days before five-time Grammy-award winning singer Al Jarreau was scheduled to begin his world tour, he had to have emergency back surgery. The interruption of his musical activities was widely reported, if not somewhat sensationalized, in the national media, but the medical procedure performed is actually quite common, and most of his dates have been reschedule and listed on his website,

    On September 12th, the 62 year-old singer went under the knife at the USC Medical Center in Los Angeles to have compression relieved on his spinal cord. Less than a week later, Jarreau was doing telephone interviews and tour planning from his hospital bed promoting his new album All I Got.

    “I had to do that,” Jarreau said, with a laugh, three weeks later in rehab. “There are kids hearing me on the radio who only know me from their mothers and fathers.

    “I have to work even harder to stay current with this new culture of singers like D’Angelo, Boys II Men, Brian McKnight.” he continued. “This is a very important period of time when you have a new record out and it’s not a good time for me to be off my feet.”

    Jarreau’s illness not only temporarily halted his tour in support of his new eleven-song disc, but the singer also had another message to deliver on the road. He is the official spokesman for the national literary campaign sponsored by the telecommunication giant, Verizon.

    So, in addition to singing lyrics from his album on tour, he’ll also be out creating public awareness of the need to increase funding for organizations dedicated to improving the literacy level in America.

    “I’ve always been a great proponent of schools and education and working on scholarship projects. So, when Verizon let it be known that they were looking for somebody to help them to get people reading, writing and communicating with each other in a more literate kind of fashion, I was like a little boy, ‘hey, here, pick me, choose me.’

    “I am about that,” he declared.

    “There are too many people in America who aren’t reading,” he went on, warming to the subject. “It’s creeping up to 50%.of people who can’t follow directions on a prescription bottle and they hide it, who can’t get beyond the headlines of a newspaper. It’s scary and destructive to the very fiber of this country.

    “I spent two weeks in the hospital and 90% of the staff was foreign born,” he ranted. “It’s getting funky and ugly like that because American college graduates are reading at high school levels.”

    The singer sighed in despair as he related that a big part of the problem is rooted in what he called “Center City.” He couldn’t cite specific numbers, but he claimed that the rate of black literacy in urban America is costing more than just the billions of dollars the government spends in public programs, but lack people’s standing in the economic, political and social structure of our country.

    “It will effect the fiber of what we’re going to become,” the former social worker predicted. “I need to stand up as a guy from Center City who share a lot of stuff from Center City, including the color of my skin, and say, ‘come on y’all, let’s stop dancing.'”

    Jarreau, who has a masters degree in psychology from the University of Iowa, admitted to not having as much time to read as he used to, preferring educational videos when he’s touring. He lists his favorite books as The Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and The Old Man And The Sea by Ernest Hemingway.

    “My role is to encourage everyone to get involved,” Jarreau said. “Whether people become a tutor, read to a child, donate a book or encourage someone to seek help, they can make a difference in other people lives.

    “Verizon just want me to just promote this theme of ‘hey, let’s start reading.'”

    In exchange for his promotional support, the sponsoring corporation is strengthening its public charity, Verizon Reads, which will distribute funds to existing national and local community based literacy programs. They’re also asking customers to donate a dollar a month by checking a box on their phone bills.

    Jarreau’s record company, GRP Records, is also donating some proceeds from the sales of All I Got to the effort.

    “Yeah, they’re giving a big part of it away,” he said laughing, “and it’s not my share, it’s all theirs.”

    Marilyn Scott Interview 2004

    Marilyn ScottA Nightcap Conversation
    With Marilyn Scott
    by S.H. Watkins, Sr.

    Marilyn Scott is a classic song stylist with a deep love for jazz, blues, soul, timeless melodies and lyrics. Over the course of seven previous recordings Marilyn Scott has established herself as one of contemporary music’s premiere singer/songwriters. She’s carried on this tradition with her new release. We got a chance to speak with Marilyn one afternoon in November…

    JazzUSA: What is it like working with George Duke?

    Marilyn: He makes the opportunity of creating new music a complete adventure. Just fun and he gets so excited. It’s just so sweet to work with him. He brings out the very best in you. I remember when I went to him the first time and asked him if he would take on a couple of tunes as part of a CD project that I was doing. I totally expected him to say look I don’t have the time, but maybe I can suggest a few people. This would have been nice of him as well. But he didn’t, I couldn’t get it through my head that he accepted working with me.

    As soon as he said “oh yeah Maril come on that would be great.” He has his desk right next to his wife, who has a desk. Corinne does all the business, calls all the players, and interviews for George and coordinates the business with him. So when you walk in that room, it’s like walking into a little den in their house. Because it is in there house everybody looks at each and says yeah come will have a good time. Everyone’s trying to create a party in a way. But very dignified at the same time, and very classy he is.

    JazzUSA: Did he have any say so in the selection of the songs on NightCap or is that all you?

    Marilyn: I did go to him with a list of things that I definitely had been thinking about. If I could every get this opportunity in my career where I thought it would be a good thing to do. Then these are some of the songs that I wanted to do. We ended up doing those things, but also what he wanted to do is to make sure that each song sort of laid into the next one. So that the project didn’t jump from one to the other. A lot of the albums that people make including myself sometimes we make the mistake of making things a little bit to eclectic and it doesn’t fit so well and it doesn’t flow. So he was suggesting what about this or what about that, but they were all tunes that he’s done as well.

    He was very interested in seeing what we could do about making them different. Cause when you want to do “Smile”, all the people that have done Smile before. We wanted to be able to lay something a little bit different on it. So we made some interesting intro, and when getting out of the tune, he did the arrangement so that there would be a horn thing. I could grab on to the horn thing and write a little bit to it. He had a great deal to say about what we should do and what we shouldn’t do.

    JazzUSA: The musicians on the album, you’ve got Vinny on there, Brian Bromberg from A-440, Ray Fuller and a few other people. Once again who decided who the musicians would be.

    Marilyn: We did it together and he said to me who do you want to play. First of all we both play with Ray Fuller a lot, a lot of my sound is a lot of what Ray plays. I like incorporating some of that too. And I got George to play which I thought would be the hardest hurdle. Because often he says, on some of the other tunes that he’s produced that he’s gotten someone else to play. He said I’ll put a little sweetening on it or something like that. But this time he agreed to play, and I hadn’t played with anyone upright before, upright bass playing. I said that I had wanted to work with Brian before, and he does play upright. So we checked him out and it worked out great.

    Vinny, I’ve worked with Vinny for years and years. Well it was George who said what do you guys think about Vinny. Which I thought was a great idea but I thought well straight ahead. Vinny is so like ‘up’ some times. I mean he can do the wall jazz crazy thing or he can do the Blues thing or the R&B thing is so good. The quiet type of vibe thing he wouldn’t have to come to mind right away for me. But George was right on about it and Vinny put this little hitting the cymbals a certain way just going around the set in a certain way. It was really exciting and very nicely done.

    JazzUSA: It sure can out nice. You mentioned Russell Ferrante?, you should tell us a little bit about your history with the Yellow Jackets.

    Marilyn: I met Russell in the San Francisco Bay Area back in the 70’s. That’s where he was raised he and Robin Ford I met up there. He moved to Los Angeles, I moved back to Los Angeles and Robin came to LA. That’s how I met Jimmy was through Russell and their first Yellow Jacket record. We had already started our writing experience together by that time, so that was 79-80. I think I met Jimmy about 80-81, and their like my family. Anything that I have asked of them or bring an idea, was always really embraced and thought about how to make it different. We’ve always written about a lot of issues things, like life and in the times that surround us all. About hate, difficult things, when you feel the worst in your life how to do you hold yourself up. We’ve always been heavy issue people, the wilderness and stuff like that.

    JazzUSA: It’s a nice album for what it’s worth, I like it but no one cares what I like.

    Marilyn: Thank you, I appreciate that.

    JazzUSA: Are you touring ?

    Marilyn: Not at this moment, we’re looking to grab onto the train somehow, that’s what we’re doing. We’re looking to do just that.

    JazzUSA: You are performing down in California.

    Marilyn: Oh Yeah we play here.

    JazzUSA: They can go to your website and find out where you’ll be.

    Marilyn: Definitely, thank you .

    JazzUSA: What’s next?

    Marilyn: Hopefully getting out there and playing.

    JazzUSA: No, I mean your next album. Have you thought that far down the road yet.

    Marilyn: Yes I did. Hopefully I’d like to work with George again. There are a lot of things that I’ve written that I would like to put on the new projects.

    JazzUSA: That was my next question, what about some original compositions?

    Marilyn: I definitely will be going back to that.

    JazzUSA: I know that you have a well documented history with Tower of Power. Are they in your future anywhere, musically I mean.

    Marilyn: Yeah, wouldn’t it be great, but you know it hasn’t gotten to that place again. It seems like my section has gotten smaller and smaller and smaller. When we use horns on this project, we used jazz players. So we didn’t get to do the funk thing or the R&B type of vibe or the Blues thing. That would have been great on “The Last Thing I Do” that would have been great to have some horns. We just didn’t have the money power to pass around. They are always in mind about working again. We do a Christmas show too, that the horn section comes and plays on. So one way or the other I get some jones with them. I see Greg Adams all the time too.

    JazzUSA: Are you doing a Christmas show this year.

    Marilyn: Yes I think so.

    JazzUSA: Do you know where?

    Marilyn: No, I don’t it’s between a couple of clubs.

    JazzUSA: When you know make sure you let us know, so that we can put a little blurb in there. To get some people out there for you. I want them to be able to find you.

    Marilyn: Thank you so much.

    JazzUSA: Is there anything that you want people to know about Marilyn Scott. Obviously you have the Piranha Institute, which I will mention at the end of this interview.

    Marilyn: Well the success of any artist one way or the other really helps any kind of charity or anything that is part of your soul. That you want others to be interested in or try to considered. The best thing that I can do for myself is what I can turn around and give to other people. I only hope that my music and the people that I play with and are involved with, will be enough of an interest where they would want to buy the music. Or come to a gig and that will only enable me to do some things for children, on behalf of the homeless and others. All types of things that I would really love to be involved with even on a deeper scale.

    JazzUSA: Maybe we can get you more hits out there, more million selling albums.

    Marilyn: Yeah, you know.

    JazzUSA: Well Marilyn it’s been great talking to you, and keep making good music.

    Marilyn: Thanks for helping bring it to the people, I appreciate it. And I’ll let you guys know when I tour.

    An Interview with T.K. Blue

    T. K. BLUE
    Unique Sounds and Ideas
    by Paula Edelstein

    Multi-instrumentalist, composer and arranger, T.K. Blue (Talib Kibwe) has gathered together an ensemble to perform five original compositions and great covers of compositions by Denzel Best, Charles Mingus, Benny Carter and John Coltrane on his second release for Arkadia Jazz entitled EYES OF THE ELDERS. The CD has so many great feels to it; it really stretches one’s senses…similar to absorbing the many dimensions of a musical painting. Blue is blowing on this one and releases such brilliant illustrations of his compositional integrity, setting his sax and flute voices within a collage of shades and colors that incorporate the jazz tradition of the elders with 21st Century concepts. His extended instrumental techniques, idioms and musical concepts are compelling, powered by surging improvisation, and positioned stylistically at the nexus of old and new. With pianist Eric Reed we get this great sense of Monk recast in a new millennium. Randy Brecker gives off a fresh Miles Davis vibe. Lonnie Plaxico’s bass playing extends his range from a seductive whisper to the power of an express train in some of the same ways Charlie Mingus used to play. Then there’s the inimitable Joanne Brackeen, and of course some mighty drumming from Jeff “Tain” Watts. Together they all provide the frameworks that are exquisite in their simplicity yet they contain all that is necessary to stimulate performance with a sure reference to the initial concepts of the elders. Just as a visit to Africa is a journey for the senses, with her majestic mountains to the magnificent sound of elephants trumpeting, from endless savannas to ancient forests, so is EYES OF THE ELDERS! Having said that, we had a great time talking with T.K. Blue about his new release on Arkadia Jazz.

    JazzUSA: Congratulations on EYES OF THE ELDERS. It is a triumph of unpretentious yet ambitious jazz repertory, not to mention the great ensemble you’ve gotten together. You obviously love the full breadth of “the elders” and what better way to salute them than with a new generation of jazz musicians. Let’s start with the spirit that moved you to make this CD. How did the project come about?

    T.K. BLUE: I really feel blessed to have gotten all those wonderful artists who just happened to be in town and available at that time. Bob (Bob Karcy is President of Arkadia Jazz) and I had been talking about my next recording and I wanted to do something that paid respect to a lot of people that had influenced my life and shaped my future. But at the same time, I wanted to make my own statement as a leader and to propel myself forward as a leader with ideas and compositions that express my experiences. I’ve had a tremendous amount of experience as far as traveling throughout Africa and living in Europe for a number of years. So I wanted to share a lot of that public.

    JazzUSA: You represent some great elders on this CD with the inclusion of compositions by Denzel Best, Charles Mingus, Benny Carter and John Coltrane. Their innovative, exuberant, and sometimes controversial jazz has influenced many players with an invaluable repertoire of songs. How did you pare down their extensive list of compositions to these four songs? T.K. BLUE: Yeah! That’s interesting. Take Coltrane for example, “Wise One.” The whole title of that song is kind of…is in the same spirit of what I’m trying to convey with EYES OF THE ELDER, i.e., the wise ones who blessed us with their knowledge and their wisdom and allowed us to grow and give us the different avenues and paths that we can travel on. Coltrane is somebody that is responsible for me playing saxophone! Because when I first heard Coltrane, I went out and immediately got a soprano saxophone. I wanted to play soprano; I’d heard MY FAVORITE THINGS. Up until now, I’d never recorded a Coltrane composition on any of my recordings and I thought it was about time.

    JazzUSA: Absolutely!

    T.K. BLUE: You know, all my cats. Mingus is one of the first cats that I checked out when I got into jazz and I had the opportunity to see him “live” many times. I loved his writing, his compositions and musicianship. Benny Carter is one of our true, true elders. Benny’s like what… 92 now? This is a tune of his that I’d heard him play in public and I’d asked him about getting the lead sheet. I said, “I’d love to get that lead sheet.” Benny said, “Oh yeah, I’m going to send it to you.” But you know, Benny Carter is so busy. But I wound up getting it vicariously through other means and I said, “I want to record this song.” So that was another tribute to the elders. And then there is also another song on the EYES OF THE ELDERS by Hale Smith. He may not be well known in jazz circles but he’s an elder and he’s a definite giant. Hale wrote the song “Frozen Mist,” the ballad. Hale is one of our foremost African-American classical composers. He composes for symphony orchestras and then he also does jazz, jazz arrangements and compositions. He did a lot of stuff for Chico Hamilton; Eric Dolphy was one of his students. Very heavy cat and I wanted to do one of his songs because he’s been such an influence on me.

    JazzUSA: That’s excellent T.K. Thank you so much for that history. Your debut for Arkadia Jazz, ANOTHER BLUE was really well received and now, EYES OF THE ELDERS is sure to raise your profile among a new generation of jazz lovers with these very interpretative arrangements. As a saxophonist, you are highly ambitious and very serious about your music, as evidenced by your homage to John Coltrane, “Wise One.” You really play this song! It’s awesome.

    T.K. BLUE: Wow! Thank you. By the way that song was the last song recorded on the date. That song…was recorded last and I just told the cats…you know when you’re making a record…there’s the spiritual aspect and then there is the business or practical aspect. You want your song played on the radio, so you can’t have it 15 or 20 minutes! (Smile) So you have to just pare it down…cut all the fat off and get to the meat and do it in a good time! But this song… when we did “Wise One” I just told them to play!

    JazzUSA: And play you do! Man! Well, T.K., studying with “elders” such as Billy Mitchell and with Jimmy Heath at Jazzmobile really impacted your style as a saxophonist. It has been written that this period in your musical growth played a major part in developing your saxophone voices; soprano, alto and tenor. But your fans want to know whether you consider the saxophone or the flute your main musical voice, since they both are so expressive?

    T.K. BLUE: I’m asked that question a lot and the only thing that I can tell you is that they both represent a different voice and it’s a mood. There are certain times when the only thing that can get me off is my flute. You know what I’m saying? You can give me a saxophone, a cigar, some good cognac…it’s not going to work. Only the flute at that moment. And there’s other moments when it’s the alto. And that’s it. And there are other moments when I hear the soprano. The tenor, I haven’t really busted out in public yet with…but I plan to. I’ve been practicing my tenor and I love the sound of the tenor saxophone. It’s different moods. All I can say is that they all have a certain time of when they take the forefront.

    JazzUSA: You have a sax voice that is beyond velvet on “Dance of The Nile.” What is the inspiration behind this song?

    T.K. BLUE: Oooo!!! Yeah! That tune evolved for this project because I recorded that tune several years ago with Benny Powell. He had a record date here in New York with a whole lot of heavy cats…Kenny Barron, Carl Allen, John Stubblefield. Oh man…another brother that just passed away recently. But we recorded “Dance of the Nile,” on that record and it was more in a 6/8 feel the whole way through. It had more of that kind of Arabic, kind of North African desert kind of vibe. But I was feeling of keeping the same impression but changing the rhythm and giving it more of that today kind of nouveau swing, funk kind of beat and it just worked out perfect.

    JazzUSA: It sure did…it’s really happening. The music expressed through the flute touches some very deep truths in our humanity. The way you’ve shaped its air has produced some great expressions on “Matriarch” that seems to bring its own characteristics to your music-kind of like another elder, James Moody. Did you write this song expressively for the flute repertoire because of its implicit sounds that reach back to the very origin of culture – to the matriarchal elders as it were?

    T.K. BLUE: To be honest, I wrote that song from the piano. I didn’t particularly have a specific instrument in mind when I wrote it. But after I wrote the composition, I started playing around with my instruments and found the flute to be perfect for the vibration of that tune. You know, songs are like flowers…they grow. That particular song was actually scaled down a lot more than what had been recorded. When I knew I had Stefon Harris, I wrote a part for him because I wanted his spirit on it.

    JazzUSA: On “Matriarch” you use the kalimba and Stefon Harris on marimba to recall its African roots, set against the warm sound of your flute. This is another instance where the flute universe does not start or stop in Western culture or in the last four centuries of European tradition but where it goes back to early mankind. This is a great combination of sounds — the flute and the kalimba together.

    T.K. BLUE: Yeah, I love it man! Well you know, the kalimba is really the predecessor to the piano. The kalimba goes back thousands and thousands of years…even back to Egypt. There were depictions of instruments of that kind in their civilization. And you can tune it. There are guys that can tune it and play on the kalimba the same way you play on the piano. They play chords and changes and everything.

    JazzUSA: I had no idea! That’s excellent. “Rites of Passage” has all of those great changes during Harris’ great improvisation for your kalimba. I really enjoyed that.

    T.K. BLUE: Yeah! So the kalimba is an instrument that I love very much. I’ve had the opportunity to travel a lot in Africa and I brought back several kalimbas. The name changes from various countries. Some places it’s known as a mbira, sanza, or a lukembi. Depending on where you are. In Zimbabwe, it’s very rich in the use of this instrument and they call it sanza, lukembi or mbira.

    JazzUSA: Man, that’s great. I have a really different question and it pertains to jazz clubs and ambience. You and I know that The Blue Note has made its reputation presenting some of music’s biggest established stars but Sweet Basil could mine its roster of great musicians that have been presented there. As the former musical director for the Spirit of Life Ensemble, you used to perform at Sweet Basil on a weekly basis and really have come into your own as a respected musical director. How would describe the ambiance of the room if one had to imagine you presenting a showcase there?

    T.K. BLUE: Yeah, I used to perform there every Monday night for four years, but I left the Spirit of Life Ensemble about a year ago. If I had to do a showcase or whatever, I would prefer Sweet Basil because it is a little more down to Earth and also the sound. You have those great wood floors…you have a good acoustic sound. With Sweet Basil, it’s more personal.

    JazzUSA: Yes, that’s a great downtown scene. Will you be presenting any concerts soon? If so, where?

    T.K. BLUE: I will perform with my band in Baltimore on January 19th and 20th at the New Haven Lounge in the Northwood Shopping Plaza. Doing three sets with the first starting at 9pm; in NewYork City at the-UP OVER JAZZ CAFE, 7th Ave and Flatbush Ave in Brooklyn on Jan 26th and 27th I’ll be doing three sets with the first starting at 9pm; in Washington DC—Feb 7th(my birthday!) at Blues Alley in Georgetown, three sets starting at 9pm. These are just a few of the gigs I have coming up. I’ll keep you posted on other things as well. Take good care and stay in touch.

    JazzUSA: That’s a great line up. Well T.K. once again, congratulations on EYES OF THE ELDERS and thank you so much for this interview.

    For more information on T.K. Blue, visit his website at

    Ahmad Jamal – Then and Now – DVD

    Ahmad Jamal
    Then and Now – DVD
    Eugene Holley, Jr.

    Ever since he burst on the scene in Chicago when he formed his first trio in 1951, the Pittsburgh-born, 74 year-old pianist/bandleader Ahmad Jamal has, in Duke Ellington’s terms been, “beyond category.” His spare and surprising piano style — once described as “syncopated silence” — is an incredible amalgam of Errol Garner, Nat King Cole, Bud Powell, and Franz Liszt; His small ensemble arrangements are orchestrally oriented, and his versions of standards became the definitive way to play them. His influence is not limited to piano players, from Ramsey Lewis, and Keith Jarrett to Eric Reed, but to all musicians. Miles Davis, for example, was heavily influenced by Jamal and recorded several songs associated with him, including “Surrey with the Fringe on Top,” and “A Gal in Calico.” The most direct evidence of Jamal’s influence on Davis can be heard on his Latin-tinged original composition “New Rumba,” and his elegant “Medley,” which included “I Don’t Wanna be Kissed,” from the newly reissued 1955 Argo recording Chamber Music of the New Jazz (Verve), with bassist Israel Crosby and guitarist Ray Crawford — who’s percussive plucking of the guitar frets produced an infectious conga effect — were transcribed, note-for-note by arranger Gil Evans on Miles Davis’s 1957 big band recording Miles Ahead.

    Chamber Music of the New Jazz was produced by Dave Usher, a Detroit businessman who Ahmad Jamalalso worked with Dizzy Gillespie. It was the last recording to feature Jamal in his drumless trio format. In 1958 Jamal formed a new trio with Crosby and the legendary New Orleans drummer Vernel Fournier. That unit recorded Ahmad Jamal at the Pershing: But Not for Me, a popular LP, which stayed at the top of the charts for an astounding 108 weeks, and featured Jamal’s famous interpretation of “Poinciana,” which was sampled by the rapper KRS-ONE and showcased in Clint Eastwood’s movie, The Bridges of Madison County. From the ’60s to the ’90s, Jamal released a number of multifaceted recordings including Extensions, Digital Works, The Essence, Parts I-III, and Olympia 2000.

    Compare Jamal’s rendition of “Spring is Here” from Chamber Music of the New Jazz with an updated version of the song on his new DVD, Live in Baalbeck (Dreyfus) featuring long-time band mates bassist James Cammack and another New Orleans drummer Idris Muhammad, and you’ll hear an amazing evolution of his pianistic prowess and melodic conception. Shot over a two-day period in a beautiful red-hued backdrop in the ancient Phoenician/Roman temple in Lebanon, which was built in 100 B.C., the DVD features concert footage, rehearsals, and concert interviews.

    Anchored by Muhammads’s peppery, Crescent City cadences and Cammack’s buoyant, rock-steady basslines, Jamal performs several standards, including “Young and Foolish,” and his signature crowd-pleaser “Poinciana.” Early in his career, Jamal’s band book consisted of 80% standards and 20% original compositions. Today, that percentage has reversed. Jamal’s complex works on the DVD range from the Monkish, avant-garde leaning, angular rhythms of “Topsy Turvy” and “Devil’s in my Den,” to the Ravelian impressionism of “Acorn” and the anthemic aura of “The Aftermath.” They all display his astonishing mastery European and American classical music Jamal learned in his hometown. Four years after Jamal started playing piano at the age of three, he studied the European tradition with the famed Mary Cardwell Dawson, the first black women to run an opera company, and with James Miller, an accomplished pianist and organist. By the time he was 14 he was a professional musician. When he graduated from Westinghouse High School, he went on the road with bandleader George Hudson and with the R&B group, The Caldwells before he made a name for himself in Chicago.

    In May, 2005 Ahmad Jamal turns 75. Very few musicians in any idiom have been as consistent, or as compelling as him.

    Michael Manson Interview


    Bass-ic Jazz with
    Michael Manson
    by Mark Ruffin


    Over the last 40 years, bass players from Chicago have had incredible success at reaching national and international status. This is true in pop music, but especially in jazz. No matter if it’s smooth, contemporary, avant-garde or straight-ahead jazz, improvised music seems to be best served in Chicago from the bottom.

    Mike Manson is the latest entry.

    Seemingly, he exploded onto the scene, from out of nowhere last month when he debuted his album release party at Chicago’s Park West with his super-star friends George Duke and Kirk Whalum. His debut album, “The Bottom Line,” is one of the hottest records at smooth jazz stations across the country.  Manson knows all the bassists who have made it big from Chicago, and the list in formidable. Most of them, naturally became famous backing up others, but eventually found their own niches.

    Eldee Young, who became internationally known with Ramsey Lewis in the 60’s, today is a major singing star in the Far East, though he still resides in Chicago. Another is Steve Rodby, who has been the bassist for the Pat Metheny Group for over 20 years, and is today a Grammy-winning producer. If you want to talk acoustic bassists, there’s Richard Davis, Malachi Favors, Cleveland Eaton, Lonnie Plaxico, Kenny Davis and Larry Gray. Among the well known electric bassists are Billy Dickens and Larry Kimpel, whose name seems to be on every other smooth jazz record out of Los Angeles.

    There’s a whole slew of examples, but no bigger endorsement of Chicago’s impact on jazz bass playing can be made than the tribute the late Miles Davis made to that city’s musicians. Chicagoans, including a succession of bass players, heavily dominated the last decade of the great trumpeter’s life. These were the Chicago bassists who influenced Manson the most.

    Felton Crews began the Chicago era with Miles on his 1981 comeback album, The Man With The Horn, and it ended with Richard Patterson, who was in his band in 1991 when Miles died. In between there was Angus Thomas and Daryl “Munch” Jones, who now plays with the Rolling Stones and was written about extensively in Davis’ autobiography.  All four hung out at a legendary Chicago nightclub called the Bulls, that was the Windy City’s hotbed of contemporary jazz during the 80’s and 90’s.

    Patterson, who now plays with David Sanborn, is remembered fondly by Manson and many Chicagoans because he played with, arguably, the two hottest bands of that era, Insight and keyboardist/vocalist, Ghalib Ghallab, who now performs daily at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

    Manson knows all this history, he just didn’t always have the time to check it out first hand. He was either in church or at school.  “I did, on the q.t., go into the clubs, like the Bulls, and I was influenced so heavily by all the bass players I saw. But my heart was in the church.  “It is oxymoronic,” the bassist said with a laugh. “I played gospel for over 13 years, but I never felt like that was my calling,

    My calling was to remain true to who and what I believe in, but to be out there in the world performing music with excellence that will bring glory to His name. “It wasn’t until 1995, when I played my first club. Of course, it was the Bulls , and that night, I had a revelation.

    “Not to sound too spiritual, but I found my calling to be a witness to (other jazz musicians) and show them that there’s alternatives to the immoral life that’s associated with being a jazz musician.” Manson is hardly one of those smooth jazz musicians with no grasp of the jazz tradition. The bassist said 90% of what he knows about improvisation came from one of the legendary Chicago jazz professors, Bunky Green, who is now head of the music department at the University of Northern Florida.

    By the time Manson got his undergraduate degree in music from Chicago State University and his masters in music from Northwestern, the jazz scene had evolved to where there were a number of very successful national musicians who were deep into church too. Among them, Manson’s guests at his album release party last month, Duke and Whalum.  It was Whalum who gave Manson his first big break in the music business, in 1997, two years after his first club gig, and the year the Bulls closed.

    In those two years, Manson had hooked up with two of Chicago’s biggest smooth jazz stars, saxophonist Steve Cole, and keyboardist, Brian Culbertson. Meanwhile, a gospel pianist friend of Manson’s took a job at the church in Nashville where Whalum began researching the genesis of his Grammy nominated album, “The Gospel According To Jazz. Call it an act of God, but Whalum couldn’t find the right bass player with the right attitude, until the pianist mentioned that he knew a jazz and gospel bassist.

    The rest is Chicago bass history.

    Manson has been Whalum’s bassist ever since, but he’s made other connections too. “It was through Kirk that I met George (Duke), Paul Jackason Jr., Larry Carlton, and other Christian musicians who play jazz and lead a good clean positive life.”

    An Interview with Karrin Allyson

    A Moment with
    Karrin Allyson
    by Paula Edelstein

    Feeling blue is truly one of the great human equalizers—it’s an undeniable element of life that everyone either has, or will, experience at some point in time. Choosing to embrace that fact head-on, critically acclaimed jazz vocalist Karrin Allyson decided not only to celebrate, but also revel in, every facet of having the blues on IN BLUE (CCD-2106), her newest release from Concord Records. This much-anticipated follow-up to 2001’s double Grammy nominated BALLADS–REMEMBERING JOHN COLTRANE (CCD-4950), features Allyson mastering yet another unexplored musical territory. Selecting an imaginative and eclectic collection of tunes ranging from soul jazz classics, ballads, modern blues and timeless pop, each song is in itself, a story that illustrates a different emotional state. Hurt, loneliness, regret, unbridled anger, sadness and even bitterness are all given their due, running the full gamut of sentiments that make up the blues. The concept for the release is one that appealed to Allyson on several different levels. “The blues are so universal, it’s hard not to respond to them,” she explains. Illustrating that very point herself, she notes, “It’s cathartic for me to perform them and to listen to them as well.”

    When compiling material for the album, Allyson chose songs by some of music’s most admired composers and lyricists, including Mose Allison, Joni Mitchell, George and Ira Gershwin, Blossom Dearie, Abbey Lincoln, Oscar Brown Jr. and Bonnie Raitt, among others. Mixing together tunes that she has performed for years with a few that were very new to her resulted in a diverse set that provides a magnificent showcase for Allyson’s vocal range and remarkable gift for interpreting lyrics. Here’s what she told us about IN BLUE during her recent tour of the USA, So Listen UP!

    Paula E: IN BLUE shows another side of your musical nature…this time it’s the blues. You’ve mentioned that the songs are not exactly what music aficionados perceive as a blues form, but songs that have to do with the blues. These titles reflect such great options that are available about the form. Had you sung many of these songs in concert prior to recording them?

    Karrin A: Probably about half. There are tunes that I’ve known for years and heard for years, such as “Moanin'” but never performed it. So that’s one of the tunes that I had not performed “live” before. But most of them were tunes that I loved that I’ve been doing “live” for a while.

    Paula E: There are several elements of surprise on the new CD – such as Steve Wilson, Mulgrew Miller, Lewis Nash and Peter Washington. Danny Embrey! Wow! We know you’ve been performing with Danny for a while but how did you hook up with– Steve, Mulgrew, Lewis and Peter? They’re such great jazz musicians!

    Karrin A: Well Lewis had performed with me before…he was also on my CD titled BALLADS: A TRIBUTE TO JOHN COLTRANE. I’ve long admired his drumming and his great sense of a song. It’s great when a drummer knows lyrics and cares about the song and the mood and the attitude of a song. There’s a lot less to explain and to describe. They always know and they’re kind of expecting what you need. It’s the same with my Kansas City drummer Todd Strait or with Joe LaBarbera. With Peter–I’d never performed with him before but I loved his bass playing. I knew that Peter, Mulgrew and Lewis were pretty much a wonderful piano trio since each one is a leader in their own right. But I just knew it would be a good mix. After adding Danny and Steve Wilson—we ended up with a really solid, soulful group.

    Paula E: Both Art Blakey’s and Benny Golson’s instrumental versions of “Moanin'” became quite famous and were recorded hundreds of times by other artists. But now you’ve brought Jon Hendricks’ vocal version to the forefront. Do you think other vocalists will pick up on the momentum now that you’ve given this song a new beginning?

    Karrin A: I don’t know, I certainly hope so. I love this tune very much. My reference to this song was Art Blakey’s instrumental version with Bobby Timmons’ playing. I love the energy behind that version. But when I heard the Lambert, Hendricks and Ross version – I was familiar with that version as well. So it’s kind of a melding of the two. But now that you mention it, I don’t think I’ve heard that song done by a vocalist since…I don’t know when! But it turned out to be a good opener because the blues evokes a sort of feeling like…let me just get through this day or whatever it is!

    Paula E: I definitely know what you mean! It’s been said, “The blues is the mother of jazz.” Would you agree or do you feel it’s just another musical cousin?

    Karrin A: I’m really not a scholar, so it’s hard for me to say those things. I think they both have quite a bit to do with one another. I am particularly fond of songs when you can hear both genres within each other. I’m a jazzer not a blueser, so when we do blues it’s going to have a lot of jazz in it because of the players you have. And the players I play with are definitely jazz musicians and there’s definitely no question about that.

    Paula E: You’ve mentioned, “You love the way the blues lets you testify.” Did you grow up listening to blues artists as well as jazz artists?

    Karrin A: I would say more Rhythm & Blues (R&B) artists like Aretha Franklin, Al Green and a little bit of James Brown.

    Paula E: Well they can definitely testify!

    Karrin A: Also, let’s say Anita Baker…she’s not exactly a blues artist but more a pop artist….

    Paula E: Yes, she can definitely sing. We love her.

    Karrin A: I’m not saying that I’ve listened to Muddy Waters all my life. Louis Armstrong had a lot of blues in his playing and I listened to a lot of his recordings. Also there was Coco Taylor, W.C. Handy, etc. … and I could take their kind of blues thing and do something with it.

    Paula E: Well Karrin, you REALLY have done something with it on IN BLUE! Do you plan to finish up your tour with this particular ensemble? If not, who are the members of your touring group?

    Karrin A: Well, I always bring Danny and I’m mostly traveling with my Kansas City players these days– Todd Strait, Bob Bowman – both played with me on FROM PARIS TO RIO. But in some of the West Coast cities, I’ll have different players.

    Paula E: I’ll tell you, I’m really enjoying your musical growth Karrin and here’s to your continued success with IN BLUE. Thank you so much for the interview.

    Karrin A: Thank you.

    Keep in touch with Karrin Allyson’s happenings at

    Interview courtesy of Sounds of Timeless Jazz

    An Interview with Eric Alexander

    A Moment with
    Eric Alexander
    by Fred Jung

    Eric Alexander might be better known for his second placing to Joshua Redman in the Thelonious Monk Competition, but that should soon change as soon as the public gets wind of his new Milestone debut, “Man With a Horn.” I sat down with Eric and we spoke about his new record and that infamous Monk Competition when we went one on one. It is one of today’s brightest talents talking unedited, from the hip, and in his own words.

    JazzUSA: Where does it all begin?

    EA: My first exposure to music of any kind, in terms of playing it, was through piano lessons, which my mother, sort of, forced me into when I was about five or six, like many mothers do. I continued with that through my teenage years, but I started playing clarinet also in the fourth grade. That just continued as a little sideshow hobby until I was about twelve years old. At that point, I was terrible on the clarinet and I had been demoted to bass clarinet in the junior high band and I was thinking about giving it up. Then I decided to see if I could get lessons on the bass clarinet and the woodwind teacher in my town said that that’s ridiculous but I’ll give you saxophone lessons instead, so that’s when that started. It turned out that most of my friends were playing saxophone anyway and so we developed a friendly rivalry and there was some inspiration to practice and improve. That’s how I really got started on the saxophone.

    JazzUSA: Did you continue to advance your pursuit of learning the saxophone?

    EA: I studied privately on the saxophone throughout high school and played in all of the important ensembles, the band and the jazz band. I wasn’t real serious about it until college. I was more serious than your average person in high school, but I certainly wasn’t devoting hours at a time to practice, which in retrospect I wish I would have.

    JazzUSA: What do you attribute to the transition of going from a hobby player to one that made this his work?

    EA: My first year away from home when I was in school at Indiana University, I was trying to get a double major in political science and music and I just realized, just about half way through that year, I guess I was just bitten by the bug, so to speak. First of all, I realized that that was what was coming most easily to me, was music and second of all, I think being around a lot of musicians who were at a much higher level than me and who were also exposing me to a lot of different types of, or more interesting and different types of music, particularly jazz music, just, sort of, really influenced me and pushed me in that direction.

    JazzUSA: Who gave you your first break?

    EA: Well, I don’t know if this would be a big break, but my first break, in terms of working professionally, was through a singer in Chicago named Lennie Lynn. He heard me playing at some jazz session. I guess this was the early part of 1991. He said, “I want you to join my band. I have three nights a week.” And so that was it. That was my first break.

    JazzUSA: What are the subtle differences between playing alongside a vocalist to that of an instrumentalist?

    EA: Actually, Fred, the nice thing about this gig was that the first half of every set, he would just have the group, which consisted of organs, drums, and myself play organ trio. And then he would come up and sing the second half of the set, so I got to do both. It was great learning because the musicians were much older than me and they had very developed repertoires and I had to learn a lot of tunes, especially for Lennie, for the singer, I mean, a lot of tunes that I probably never would have learned. In addition to all that, every gig we did, usually by the last set, he would be having other people come up and sing and or play, sitting in. They all had another group of tunes that they were doing or each person would come up and they’d have their own set of tunes that they liked to do so I had to learn to “A”, play by ear a lot of times and “B”, I learned a lot of those tunes also.

    JazzUSA: Let’s touch on your time with Charles Earland.

    EA: Charles, actually, Charles drummer at that time, heard me warming up in some house in Michigan, at this small jazz festival that they used to have there during the summer. I was up there playing with a local Chicago band. Charles group was up there as well and like I said, his drummer heard me warming up and said, “Oh, I’m going to tell Charles about you.” I just thought that was sort of ridiculous. Apparently he did and a few months later, after Charles had actually had a heart attack and had been not touring and just re-cooperating. He decided to start fresh with a new group. He called me to join and that was that.

    JazzUSA: I’m always bewildered as to why you are prefaced by your second placing to Joshua Redman in the Thelonious Monk Competition.

    EA: Well, that’s probably the most prestigious, at least in terms of press coverage, of any so-called jazz competition. In 1991, they held the competition for saxophonists, I believe, it was for the first time. I’m almost a hundred percent sure. And I wasn’t really considering entering it, but the head of the jazz department at William Patterson College suggested that I do so, so I went ahead and entered. It turned out to be a really good thing for me because, at the time, I was living in Chicago and I didn’t have a lot of contact with the other young musicians who ended up going to Washington D.C. and participating. First of all, I just got to make a lot of acquaintances and second of all, I think it probably really helped my confidence. Although I felt that I was a good player, I didn’t really have a perspective of how I stood up against the other young people that were coming up in the jazz world. When I realized that I could hold my own, I think it really helped.

    JazzUSA: Although Joshua has gone on to a much higher profile career, you’re no slouch, and in your own right, you have paved a formidable path of your own. How has not winning the Monk Competition helped you?

    EA: I think it’s forced me to deal with a lot of things that maybe I, personally, wouldn’t have dealt with. I’m not saying that this is the case for Joshua, but in my case, if I would have been thrust to the forefront immediately, I probably would have overlooked a lot elements and areas of this music that I’ve been forced to deal with. Just doing all the trench gigs that I’ve had to do over the years. It makes you become a very comprehensive musician, because you have to be prepared for every type of situation rather than leading your own group, in which, maybe you can play off of your strengths at all times. Many times, I’ve had to play off of my weaknesses. I’ve been forced into situations where I wasn’t really comfortable or didn’t think that that was necessarily my cup of tea, but I’ve had to adapt. It’s made me more of a well-rounded player, certainly, than I would have been.

    JazzUSA: Let’s talk about your new album on Milestone, “Man With a Horn.”

    EA: It was actually recorded two years ago. It was released in Japan, very early in 1998. I have Cedar Walton on the album. On a scale of one to ten, Cedar, as a pianist and composer gets an eleven. He’s just a no-brainer. Anytime you can have anybody of that caliber, no explanation is needed. He is one of the truly, he’s one of the very, most important voices out there. I’ve loved his music for years and years and I was just so happy to be able to have him. I think it turned out great. It’s sort of a miracle that it did because the week before we recorded, I was actually stranded in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, skiing. They had a big snowstorm and I couldn’t get out. I didn’t have my horn with me and I couldn’t practice. I only had my mouthpiece. I was sitting around snowed in, in a cabin, buzzing on a mouthpiece. I was just praying that I was going to get back to New York and being able to have my chops ready for this record. When I got back, I was practicing absolutely all day, trying to get my lip back to health, because it had been well over, I usually consider I have about three or four days that I can take off and get it back. In this case, because of the snowstorm, I had taken off something like nine or ten days. I just beat my lip into raw hamburger. I didn’t think that I would be able to do it, but I was too afraid to tell the record company. I just went into the studio anyway and it worked out really well.

    JazzUSA: Any tour plans?

    EA: Don’t have any plans as of yet. This summer, I’m going to be touring in Europe with a tribute to the Jazz at the Philharmonic series that was organized by a prominent Spanish promoter. It’s going to be a very interesting group because it’s going to contain Nicholas Payton, Jessie Davis, and myself, Pete Bernstein, Mulgrew Miller, Lewis Nash, and Peter Washington, Terrell Stafford, and Harry Allen, sort of a giant traveling show for about a month. That’s my next big priority focus. I’m sure we’re going to find ways to have one or two songs per set where not everyone is on stage. We better or else it’s going to be year long sets. But it should be very fun.

    JazzUSA: Are you looking to put something together when you return?

    EA: Well, we’re planning some things with One For All for next year. I’m pretty much booked through the summer, but not with, no, I’m wrong about that. One For All is going to be playing at the Jazz Standard in New York City from August 11 to the 16 or 17. In the early part of September, I’ll be at the Blue Note with Pat Martino, whom I’ve been working with.

    JazzUSA: How has that been?

    EA: Oh, that’s incredible. That’s one of the best things I’ve done in the last few years, without a doubt. I just want to work more with him because every time I do it’s like a learning experience. He’s playing so much music on the guitar, it’s ridiculous.

    JazzUSA: Let’s talk about your work with your group, One For All.

    EA: That’s really, I don’t know how to put it. I want to say my pride and joy, but that sounds ridiculous. That’s really, how should I put it? It’s really one of the most important aspects of my career right now. That’s a group that was formed about four years ago now with some of my closest contemporaries here in New York. Three of them appear on this new release, Jim Rotondi on trumpet, Steve Davis, trombone, Dave Hazeltine on piano, Joe Farnsworth on drums, and Peter Washington on the bass. Forming that group has really given my playing and everyone in the groups playing, a new direction. We were very close to doing this all along. We played together virtually every weekend at a club in New York, either as an entire group or fragments of the group. Just by sitting down and coming to the conclusion that we need to record this band. We need to write for this band, et cetera, et cetera. It really motivated all of us to start writing for that group and to start trying to think of ways to use that ensemble sound and still have interesting solo sections. We’ve all really progressed and contributed a tremendous amount of material for that sextet. We have two records out. We’ve documented some of that, but we really have a whole wealth of material that is constantly growing and expanding. In the future, all of us really hope that we can make that group the most important element of each of our careers. We would like to make that the primary unit that we work with.

    JazzUSA: You are all around the same age and have been stapled with the “young lion” label, is that tiresome?

    EA: I don’t mind it because, well I don’t know if you consider that bad press, but they say bad press is better than no press. I don’t really mind, as long as they are talking about you, it’s fine. With regard to the young lions thing, I did a tour in Japan a couple of years ago with Bob Berg and they were calling him a young lion and I think he’s about forty-six years old. I don’t know what young lion means anymore. I think, basically, it means didn’t rise to prominence in the late fifties. It’s a pretty irrelevant term.

    JazzUSA: And the future?

    EA: It’s too soon to tell. I really don’t know what’s going to happen. I have a couple doors that have opened to me and I’m just trying to figure out what to do, primarily because I spent, as you know, the last seven years or so, sort of, jumping around from small label to small label and now that I’ve got some options in terms of bigger labels, I just want to make sure that I do everything correctly and at a little slower of a pace. I’m not exactly sure what I’m going to do, but I’m trying not to be too hasty about the decisions.

    JazzUSA: You were initially contemplating a major in political science, are you still interested in politics?

    EA: Oh, God, no. I have a casual interest like most people, but no, I’m not at home reading the New Republic every week like I used to. Not even close, absolutely not, I would say I’m more interested in Yankee baseball than the New York Senate race at this point.

    JazzUSA: Finish this, I am.

    EA: I am very pleased with this new release on Milestone Records and I think it is representative of my playing at this current stage and I’m very proud to have performed with the legendary Cedar Walton and my fellow musicians on

    Norman Brown Interview

    Norman Brown Chillin’ with Norman Brown
    by Mark Ruffin

    When the smooth jazz super group, BWB, tour this spring, guitarist Norman Brown will send more than a few females readers of swooning. In addition to highlighting tunes from the group’s debut, Groovin’ the guitarist performs tracks from his Grammy-award winning album, Just Chillin. The nearly two hour show is highly entertaining, and in addition to featuring trumpeter Rick Braun and saxophonist Kirk Whalum, bassist Michael Manson anchors the group and is given a chance to play a tune from his debut album, The Bottom Line.

    But many women will be drawn to the guitarist. Brown, who just turned 40, is very aware of his status as a smooth jazz sex symbol. “A lot of women come at me hard, and always have, ” Brown said as humbly as a nice, down-to-earth guy can. “From ten years old, when I started playing talent shows, I’ve noticed it.

    JazzUSA became aware of Brown’s magnetism after a picture Will Downing elicited responses from female readers. More than half the letters mentioned Brown. One woman even knew details of his personal life.

    “It’s something more than just me,” he insisted. “God gave me a good package, plus with the great music Sometimes it does overwhelm people.

    “It’s a compliment, but I don’t get into it,” Brown continued, equating the way some entertainers chase women to the way others get hooked on drugs.

    “I know people like that and they just can’t stop,” he said. “Life’s too complicated for that. I don’t need that adulation to feel whole. I’ve got enough.”

    Actually Brown has been in a long term relationship with a delightful woman that this writer just happened to have met on a cold Chicago December night late last year. Brown said they’re practically married, plus the man has six children.

    “As you can imagine, that keeps me pretty busy,” the guitarist understated. “Between them, my woman and my guitar that takes up most of my time”

    Brown obviously was grounded well in what he said was a typical Midwestern family. Growing up in musically rich Kansas City, he was raised by parents who appreciated classic jazz music.

    “I had a lot of brothers and sisters who were listening to Jimi Hendrix and Ernie Isley,” he remembered. “But my father was listening to Wes Montgomery and Kenny Burrell.

    “Guitar music was always around, so I picked up the instrument when I was about eight years old.”

    Most young guitarists usually have a Wes Montgomery epiphany at the high school or college levels, after a few years of learning simple pop chord changes. Brown was a bit advanced.

    “I was nine when my father realized I was serious about the guitar,” Brown related. “He said, ‘you should really sit and listen to this.’ He put Wes Montgomery on and it changed everything for me. I had to learn how to play like that.”

    It was during his high school years that Brown developed the full robust sound he’s known for today. The style is an obvious extension of Wes Montgomery with a dash of George Benson.

    With his be-bop influence established, Brown headed to Los Angeles to that city’s famous Guitar Institute of Technology. He eventually became an instructor at the school. At this time, he knew he had the playing ability to make it, but he wasn’t making the right connection.

    “I tried to get out there and play local gigs, but I just wasn’t fitting in with other musicians as a rhythm guitar player.”

    So Brown began working on the highly individualistic playing and writing sound that he’s famous for today.

    “I didn’t have any gigs playing live, so I started writing all these tunes. Eventually I practically begged these little restaurants to let me come play for the door.”

    By the time he was signed to Motown Records in &&&&, Brown had written over a hundred songs that complemented his bright octave-laden playing. The then president of the company, Chicago native Steve McKeever, now the head of Michael Jordan’s Hidden Beach Records, heard Brown at one of those small restaurants in Southern California.

    “It was actually producer Norman Connors who first dug what I was doing,” Brown explained.

    “He took my demo tape around for two years trying to get people interested.

    “He was the one who brought Steve McKeever down to this tiny gig I was doing. The rest is history.”

    Brown’s debut, Just Between Us, which features Stevie Wonder and Gerald Albright among others, was a huge success.

    He did two more records before Motown gave up on jazz. His next records were with the monolith Warner Brothers.

    Just Chillin’ represents Brown first recognition from the Grammy people. He feels no slight at all winning in the pop instrumental category rather than jazz.

    “For sake of identification, I guess they have to put some title on it, so I’ll take that one,” he said.

    “I think it’s appropriate,” he said. “A lot of time people don’t consider our music jazz. I’m just part of the music business, so I just roll with it and don’t put too much energy into categories.

    “But, at the same time,” the guitarist continued, “sometimes I think maybe I should do something that gives me that credibility, like a more traditional jazz record, so there would be no question about where I come from.

    “I study be-bop all the time. That’s how I learned to play and it’s my daily practice regimen. But this is a business and the music that I make shows that I’m also a child of Earth, Wind & Fire and all of that (70’s) music.”

    Brown also knows that his attraction to women is part of his business. He purposely puts a romantic edge to a lot of his music. His even plays the game with his production company, titled Normantic Entertainment, and the guitarist is quite aware that his good looks account for a number of record sales and concert tickets.

    “I’ll be (at shows) pulling for the women,” he said laughing. “I’ve been working out and playing my butt off. Tell them I’ll fulfill their every need.”

    Ray McCarty – Mood swing

    Mood Swing Ray McCarty
    and his six-string Mood Swing
    by Paula Edelstein

    When Ray McCarty and Russ Ferrante of The Yellowjackets were touring and recording together in Northern California, Ray’s musicality and his ability to play a diversity of styles on his guitar, came together in full view of his musical peers. His playing inspired Russ to exclaim his respect and support for Ray McCarty as a musician and as a man. Thankfully those well-deserved commendations didn’t fall on deaf ears because today, Viewpoint Records of Austin, Texas and Ray McCarty are taking major steps in solidifying a great future and jazz career. MOOD SWING debuted in October 1999 with Ray McCarty on guitar, Kyle Brock and Chris Maresh on bass, Robert Skiles on piano, John Mills on sax, Kevi Conway on drums, James Fenner on percussion and Riley Osborne on keyboards and Hammond B-3 and Wurlitzer. Ray wrote four of the ten songs including the title track, “We’re Still Here,” a swinging blues party, “Verbena Way,” “Tidal Wave,” and one of my favorite sayings, “What’s Up With That?” Ray plays some full-blooded tones and textures on chords that swing, rock, smooth and shoulder the blues with his remarkable array of MOOD SWING.

    Although McCarty didn’t seriously consider a career as a musician until his 20s, his early guitar influences, B.B. King and Jimi Hendrix had an impact on the young McCarty. Today, he’s more influenced by pianists Herbie Hancock, the mantras of soul-jazzer Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder and sax players like John Coltrane and the bright trumpet of Lee Morgan. MOOD SWING captures the essence of those influential mentors and will no doubt establish a loyal fan base for Ray McCarty.

    In an interview for JazzUSA, we talked to Ray about his new career at Viewpoint Records and his debut MOOD SWING.

    JAZZUSA: Hello Ray, Congratulations on MOOD SWING and your new deal at VIEWPOINT RECORDS. Thank you very much for the interview.

    RM: Hello. Glad to be here!!

    JAZZUSA: This must be quite an exciting time for you especially with the launch of VIEWPOINT RECORDS and your debut, MOOD SWING. The music industry is a challenge and has inspired many a change in ambitious persons. I’m sure it’s been worth the wait to find a groovy home for your musical talent. How did your association with Viewpoint Records happen? (Please don’t think I’m prying…just for openers something like, I was walking my dog and ran into the president or he heard me play…something like that. Nothing personal!!)

    RM: This all began with a recommendation to Viewpoint by a mutual friend in the music industry. I was hired to work on pre-production planning with a great blues singer who used to work with Frank Zappa. We had jammed together on a couple of tunes for the label owner, but then the product was put on hold because of scheduling conflicts with the singer. VIEWPOINT liked my work and asked me to consider an instrumental project of my own. They brought in Kevin Conway on drums and Kyle Brock on bass to work up the first three tunes as a trial balloon. We all had a great time and VIEWPOINT liked the direction we had taken. They gave the go ahead for the rest of the album and added several more really find players plus engineering and producing talent to wrap up the CD.

    JAZZUSA: MOOD SWING is ripe for the many marketing techniques available to musicians as a result of the Internet having drastically altered the landscape. No chance for getting lost in the exhaust fumes because of the fanbase that exists as a result of a few of the covers you do, especially Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man.” Did you compose the four originals on guitar or do you write on the piano?

    RM: I wrote them on guitar. But a lot of my early influence was Ray Charles. I adopted those type of piano comp styles and voicings. I guess I am an unusual guitar player because I don’t listen much to guitar players, I just happen to be one who hears piano lines I guess….When I first started to play, I would play the other instrumental parts like horns and strings, like the whole Motown arrangement of The Supremes. I really liked all the gospel, bluesy, chord, vocal stuff. During the time when most guitar players were learning Clapton and Hendrix licks, I was into transposing the complex R&B arrangements onto guitar to learn those colorful chord voicings with third and fifths in the bass, etc. I came out of a totally different schooling. I always looked at rhythm playing as a real challenge, and I played like a piano player would comp. I guess that’s why I’ve been told my playing is pretty unique.

    JAZZUSA: Many artists have a favorite studio for recording in order to get just the right MOOD SWING. What is the ambiance like in Two Coves Studios?

    RM: Relaxed, inspiring….It’s not sterile like most studio cubicles are…. There are big windows and great views overlooking all of Austin. At other studios, it’s hard to remember you are playing music when you have headphones on and are in a cinderblock bunker out of sight of the other musicians. I guess the “live” gig feel is lost, and I love to play “live.” When we were cutting the last two tunes, “Tidal Wave” and “We’re Still Here,” I was sick as a dog, but I was still having fun with all the guys. The overall vibe was happening and we were all flying. I thought the day was going to be a write-off. I couldn’t believe we could get anything down, but on playback the stuff was great. It was a good session despite my feeling awful physically. Also early in the project, the label owner did most of the engineering, so it was often just us. He was very supportive and encouraging on a one-on-one basis, so the project got off to a great start. Usually you have to have a whole crew, and that somehow takes away the personal connection and the fun. Since the studio is nearly dedicated to VIEWPOINT artists, there is also the feeling of unlimited time to work — not the normal “clock is running and we have to produce” thing in your head. Technically the facility is tops with all the great vintage gear along with the best modern stuff, too. You really just feel like you can get on tape anything you hear in your head.

    JAZZUSA: Why did you settle on a solo career as opposed to playing in a group?

    RM: I wanted to see what I could do on my own. While I’ve enjoyed playing in groups, as I do even now, I had a lot of ideas that were forming over the years, and I felt it was time to give them a try. VIEWPOINT let me do just that. The result is MOOD SWING, and I’m really proud of it. While a lot of talented people helped me out in a number of important ways, I still think it came together pretty much as I heard it in my head.

    JAZZUSA: What are some of the peculiarities of establishing a personal style and sound that you’ve run across during your musical career and when fleshing out ideas?

    RM: Back when I wasn’t even considering jazz, I was a rock and roll, R&B player!! But because of my learning guitar from orchestral arrangements, I had a broad foundation that went beyond R&B forms. After doing R&B and Rock for years, it was a kind of natural evolution to want to explore new forms. I found jazz was different and challenging, and I liked to include jazz modes in my natural playing style.

    JAZZUSA: MOOD SWING is a great metaphor for the CD as well as the feeling the listener gets when getting into it. The contrast from “Tidal Wave,” to “Mr. Magic” is a prime example of this “mood swing.” Did you sequence the songs this way in order to impact your listeners with a wide array of moods?

    RM: We talked about my learning from arrangements instead of typical solo lines. That formed a lot of what is unique in my comping style. Also, when I was playing with Albert Collins, I saw first-hand how he had that special attack and unusual sound!! That inspired me to pursue more of my solo style development. One added part of my sound is that I use big strings and a heavy pick and try to beat my guitar into submission!! That aggressive technique results in a lot of harmonic overtones which provide most of the unusual color in my playing.

    JAZZUSA: MOOD SWING is a great metaphor for the CD as well as the feelings the listener gets when getting into it. The contrast from “Tidal Wave” to “Mr. Magic” is a prime example of this “mood swing.” Did you sequence the songs this way in order to impact your listeners with a wide array of moods?

    RM: Absolutely. We tried a number of sequences and felt the one on the CD was closest to the overall feeling I wanted to create for the listener.

    JAZZUSA: Has living in the Southwest rooted you more in a “blues flavored jazz” as opposed to a West Coast jazz sound?

    RM: I really played that way before I got here. However, being in Austin, I play a lot more blues than before. That influenced my selection of tunes and the arrangement approach. For instance, I would probably not have chosen a “shuffle,” but it worked with the other tunes and I liked the way it got to tape. I have to recognize that I owe it to Austin and to Texas for getting my blues chops to really came together since I’ve been here.

    JAZZUSA: Any tours or webcasts in the near future?

    RM: I think webcasts are an exciting new venue for live performance which I love to do. We are looking at webcast schedules and working up a number of tour plans, but since I have to leave for a short tour early tomorrow morning, I am trying to forget about that for a moment!!!!

    JAZZUSA: Thanks for the great interview Ray. Congratulations on MOOD SWING and good luck with the tour. – Paula Edelstein, JAZZUSA

    Live – Ledisi Interview

    Visit the Ledisi web site.

    LedisiBeen Here All The Time
    While travelling from coast to coast performing and promoting her new CD “Lost and Found“, the lovely and talented Ledisi took time to talk to us about her career and her music. by S.H. Watkins, Sr.

    Realmedia Windows Media

    An Interview with Arturo Sandoval

    Arturo SandovalA Moment With
    Arturo Sandoval
    by Mark Ruffin

    On the early morning that JazzUSA bothered Arturo Sandoval for this month’s interview, the man was hard at work. From the moment his wife picked up the phone at their Miami home, the receiver was filled with lush symphonic music with Arturo’s trumpet piercing the top range. When she got his attention, the trumpet stopped, the strings faded out and the 50 year-old trumpeter came to the phone.

    JazzUSA: How are you this morning?

    AS: I’m doing fine. I’m working already

    JazzUSA: Working already? What are you doing this early in the morning?

    AS: I’m working on the score of a HBO movie.

    JazzUSA: Is that the HBO movie on your life?

    AS: Yes it is.

    JazzUSA: So, you’re scoring the movie too?

    AS: Yes sir.

    JazzUSA: How did that all come about?

    AS: It was HBO’s idea. They came up with the idea, they talked to my manager. That started like two or three years ago when they started to write the first script and then they wrote another one, and then another one, and then finally they came out with something every body was happy about.

    JazzUSA: Before HBO came to you, did you think your life was worthy of a movie?

    AS: (Laughs) What a question, man. I prefer if someone else would answer that question. I don’t want to talk about myself, it’s embarrassing, you know.

    JazzUSA: Well, it’s a hell of a life.

    AS: The thing that I can tell you for 40 years I dedicated all my life to the music with a lot of passion, very seriously, a lot of dedication, a lot for the music, a lot of respect for the music.

    JazzUSA: What’s the name of the movie?

    AS: “Havana Nocturne.”

    JazzUSA: How do you feel about Andy Garcia playing you? A lot of guys would like Andy Garcia to play them in their lives.

    AS: Especially when you’re Cuban. He’s Cuban you know. I think he was the best choice, because he’s Cuban, number one. Number two, he’s a hell of an actor, and number three, he’s very musical. He plays music himself and he’s written a lot of music. Sometimes he’s said he’s the kind of frustrated musician who has made a living acting. He loves music very much. And I think he did a hell of a job. He’s a great actor.

    JazzUSA: So he’s a musician?

    AS: Yeah, he plays percussion, he plays a little bit of piano, he’s a producer, he has been producing records. He has a good ear.

    JazzUSA: So, did you have to show him fingering and all of that?

    AS: That’s correct. And he looks good, man. He looks good. He looks really convincing. He looks like a trumpet player.

    JazzUSA: Who else is in the movie?

    AS: Charles Dutton.

    JazzUSA: Does he play Dizzy?

    AS: Yes sir, and he’s great, man. Wait until you see it.

    JazzUSA: And when does the movie come out?

    AS: Is going to air November 18th.

    JazzUSA: Your current record is called “Americana,”

    AS: Yeah, the record has been out about seven months already.

    JazzUSA: Why did you do an album like that, of American pop songs? You could have done Americana, and you could have done be-bop.

    AS: You know what, man, I love music, period. I enjoy all kinds of music. Whatever sounds good, if it’s well done, I love it. American pop music is very popular and has a lot of recognition all over the world, and I want to pay my tribute and respect to that.

    JazzUSA: A lot of folks in the jazz world don’t know that you’re just as respected in the classical world. How long have you the playing classical music?

    AS: Before jazz, long before. I was playing music almost 10 years, and never heard any jazz. The first thing I did was play the traditional Cuban music, and then I got a scholarship for three years to get some classical training at the school of arts in Havana, and started playing classical music right away, and I was, for one year in the national symphony orchestra there in Havana. What I was playing for almost 10 years, somebody played a record of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, that was it. It changed my life, and I started to listen to that as much as I could. And later on, less than 10 years later, I was so lucky, I met Dizzy when he was there for the first time.

    JazzUSA: And did you go up to him and introduce yourself?

    AS: Oh yeah. This is what I did, unfortunately, at that time, I couldn’t speak any English, but we communicated somehow.

    JazzUSA: So he knew you were a great trumpet player?

    AS: When we met? No, he didn’t have any idea. I drove him all over the city and we talked all day long. I showed him many places in Cuba. In the evening, we had a jam session together, that was the very first-time that he found out that I was a musician. I never told him I was a musician, I wasn’ t about to tell him I was a trumpet player.

    JazzUSA: How many gigs do you play per year now?

    AS: 370. (laughs) I don’t know, man, but sometimes it feels like it.

    JazzUSA: And, Arturo, you are teaching too?

    AS: I teach full-time at Florida International University.

    JazzUSA: So you teach full-time and you play 370 gigs a year?

    AS: At least. (Laughs)

    JazzUSA: And you love it, don’t you?

    AS: I have no choice, that’s my life and that’s what is keeping me alive. It keeps me awake and doing things. I’ve got my little studio here in Miami where I do all my things and my records, and I’m producing something else, and I also do all my compositions. I am working now on three different things. Debbie Allen, are you familiar with Debbie? We did a ballet together, and then we did a musical. It’s going to be in the whole month of August in Atlanta at the Performing Arts Center. Debbie wrote the book, she’ s a very talented lady. We got along very well. And now she’s putting together 10 shows for television. I think it’s going to be on A and E. (Arts and Entertainment,) and I’m writing the music for that too, I am working on two of those shows right now, and also they gave me another two projects for movies, I’m working on those scores too, besides the HBO ones.

    JazzUSA: Back to the movie, there’s a couple of things I want to know. I heard this story about how your wife got away and defected from Cuba while she was in Italy.

    AS: She was in London, I was in Italy.

    JazzUSA: Is that episode depicted in the movie?

    AS: Yeah, the whole thing. Actually, the movie concentrates on the defections. It starts with that, and it ends with that, and there is a lot of flash backs with my days in Cuba and stuff with different bands, with Irakere, with the big bands. And there are various depictions in the movie, the whole defection thing, and with Dizzy, and the American embassy in Italy.

    JazzUSA: What about you getting your citizenship, is that depicted in the movie?

    AS: Not really, because the movie ends when I get here.

    JazzUSA: How did you feel getting your citizenship?

    AS: Oh, I think it was very unfair, the problem with immigration in Miami. Actually, it’s a guy who is in jail now. He’s in prison now. He was a kind of spy for Castro. And his job in Immigration in Miami was actually deciding who became a citizen and who didn’t. He dealt with asylum in all kinds of things. And everybody has a suspicion that he had a lot to do with my case.

    JazzUSA: You’re talking about the guy that was just in the news a few weeks ago.

    AS: Yeah, his name is Fajes.

    JazzUSA: What was with your case? Did he try to hold up your case?

    AS: Yes! He accused me of being a member of the Communist Party, which is ridiculous, every body in Cuba is a member of the party. It’s nothing special to be a member of the party. It’s very common and absolutely necessary for doing anything. Actually, it wasn’t even true. There was never any proof, I never got any kind of ID from them, or got involved at all with any party. I am a musician, man, and that’s what I’ve been doing all my life. I don’t need that kind of trash.

    JazzUSA: So, how did you feel about the politics that went on with Elian Gonzales?

    AS: It was kind of disgusting. Especially, because a lot of people to do things, and I tell you, we were very disappointed with the whole process. The kid was used to do politics on both sides, and that was very unfair. The worst thing is his mother and stepfather, who really was raising him, died in the ocean to give him the opportunity to come here as the free and have a decent life. Elian’s father, this guy, for me, is a guy who doesn’t deserve any respect at all.

    JazzUSA: On the other hand, how do you feel about the Buena Vista Social Club, and how much success those folks are having?

    AS: That’s very beautiful. Those people were retired and they were nobody in Cuba. They were really starving and doing nothing, and it’s so beautiful to see them come out of nowhere and have wonderful recognition all over the world. The only thing that really concerns me is I don’t really want people to believe that that is the best example of Cuban music, because it’s not.

    Regina Carter Interview – Queen Of The Jazz Violin 2006

    Regina Carter has explored the world with music. Her virtuosic performances and standard of excellence has captured the hearts and minds of thousands of fans around the world whether in a jazz ensemble, orchestra or individual setting. With her keen intelligence, strong social conscience and her phenomenal success as the first African American to ever play Paganini’s 300-year old violin, the first ever Artist-In-Residence at the Monterey Jazz Festival and a host of other “firsts” she has become THE inspiration for legions of aspiring young jazz violinists. With a long list of awards and accolades to her credit in both the classical and jazz idioms Carter, who recently became the recipient of an Honorary Doctorate from Michigan’s Albion College, can now add this distinction to her list of great accomplishments. From any perspective, these are brilliant achievements.

    June 2006 marked yet another milestone in Regina Carter’s amazing career as a recording artist. I’ll BE SEEING YOU: A SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY became Carter’s fifth release as a leader on the Verve Music Group label. This excellent recording pays tribute to her late mother with an array of songs from the Great American Songbook, a Carter original titled “How Ruth Felt,” and several others including “Sentimental Journey,” “St. Louis Blues,” “A-Tisket, A-Tasket,” and “I’ll Be Seeing You.” With solid gold playing by Dr. Carter and her core group of Xavier Davis, Matthew Parrish, Alvester Garnett and with special guests Dee Dee Bridgewater, Carla Cook, Paquito D’Rivera, Gil Goldstein and stellar arrangements by John Clayton, Carter and Goldstein, I’LL BE SEEING YOU: A SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY promises to be among her best releases to date. As it hits the top spot on several of the jazz charts around the world, Dr. Carter is sure to garner a whole new legion of fans. Sounds of Timeless spoke to Dr. Carter about the release of her new CD, her appearance at the Playboy Jazz Festival with Eddie Palmieri’s Afro Caribbean Jazz All Stars.

    Regina CarterRegina Carter Interview
    Queen Of The Jazz Violin
    by Paula Edelstein
    P.E.: Hello Regina, it’s so nice speaking to you again! Here’s hoping you are feeling’ good. I’d like to congratulate on your new CD called I’LL BE SEEING YOU: A SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY and also on your appearance at the Playboy Jazz Festival with Eddie Palmieri’s Afro-Caribbean Jazz All Stars and David Sanchez. How is playing with this particular genre of band different from some of the other jazz ensembles that you’ve played with?

    Regina: It’s really not, because I’ve played with so many different types of bands, orchestras and aggregations of musicians and styles, it wasn’t different for me. It wasn’t that far from the norm because I used to play in a charanga band in New York and I used to play in a big band called Earth Island in Detroit and there were like eleven of us! I know most of the guys in Eddie’s group. But it was a huge honor to finally meet Mr. Palmieri and to be able to play with him and record with him. He’s such a sweet, gentle soul. That always helps!

    P.E.: This CD is a 360-degree turn from your PAGANINI: AFTER A DREAM recording. How did the concept for this particular CD come about?

    Regina: Well, I knew I had to do a CD. It was time. It’s always such an arduous task for me to figure out what I’m going to record. This year was really difficult for me because I lost my mother last year.

    P.E.: I’m sorry.

    Regina: Thank you. And when I lost her, my whole love for music seemed to diminish. We were able to spend her last days together but I really thought about quitting the business. Later, I went out on the road, talked to John Clayton, who produced this record and thought about some things that John talked about. I told myself, “This is what I’ve done my whole life and my mother had put so much into me and in helping me get here….” I really wanted to do something to honor her. So I started thinking about songs that I was already playing like “Five O’Clock Whistle” and “A-Tisket, A-Tasket,” were tunes that she knew. I put on ELLA AT HOME and she’d sing along with Ella. And it was good. So from that, people started making suggestions and I listened to tons and tons of music and just picked out stuff that touched me or that she would like.

    P.E.: I’m sorry to hear about her passing. As one of your primary influences – life, music, and career – she must have been truly remarkable. You’ve created some beautiful music in her memory. “Blue Rose” is a gorgeous song and one of Duke Ellington’s rare gems that he composed for Rosemary Clooney. Your band – Xavier Davis on piano, Matthew Parrish on bass and Alvester Garnett on drums really give the song an update. How has digital technology affected the way you record and the way you’re making records today?

    Regina: Well, that is such a world that I am so ignorant of…the whole recording process!

    P.E.: Well, are the tones clearer and sounds are crisper because those are among the accolades that I’ve heard from other musicians with respect to the updated technology.

    Regina: Well, some things are clearer. My husband is a big audiophile and sometimes he hears stuff that I swear I can’t hear! (Smile) He’s gotten re-issues of the old records and sometimes he’ll say that these don’t sound as good as the original did. It just depends on what they’re using because every recording is not done the same way. It also depends on what they press the CDs on. Like this master was pressed on a gold disc. But when we got the test copy back, it didn’t sound as good. So my engineer and my husband explained that the difference was because the master was on a gold CD and the CDs are not pressed on gold and there is really a huge difference.

    P.E.: I would imagine. So hopefully being mastered on a gold disc is portentous of things to come and here’s hoping the CD will reach GOLD status in sales…even platinum. Regardless of the commercial outcome, it’s already gold in your heart and mine! You’ve done such a great job and it’s a beautiful tribute to your mother.

    Regina: Thank you.

    P.E.: You’re also written a tender ballad called “How Ruth Felt.” It’s a waltz by definition but you’ve certainly added your jazz signature to it. How difficult is it to reconcile the spontaneity of jazz with the structured tempo and beats of a waltz?

    Regina: That’s kind of an analytical way of thinking about it. My right brain totally shuts down and it just flows. I wrote that piece and it just came to me like that. I have my ideas and will say, “Here’s the piece,” to which the band may say, “Why don’t we put this here, leave this dynamic here, etc.” I’ll take their suggestions in and as the band breathes life into it, it starts to get a personality of its own before it becomes an actual tune, so to speak. But when playing tunes that already exist, first of all, just because I like a tune doesn’t mean it’s going to work for me on my instrument or with the band because there have been many tunes – vocal tunes especially – that I’ve tried and they’ve sounded really corny. So I’ll just leave that one alone! (Smile) Even when recording or playing a tune a year or two later, it’s forever changing because of whatever experience we’ve had. It comes through the music.

    P.E.: With all of the bowing that you do, I can imagine bowing (on the violin) takes its toll on your wrists, joints, etc. What do you do to reduce the risk of injury to your hands, wrists, etc?

    Regina: I have physical therapy. I make sure that I’m really stretched and work out a lot with a personal trainer to strengthen my muscles and I must always be aware of my posture.

    P.E.: You’ve invited three very special guests to share in this special occasion. Dee Dee Bridgewater, who is an amazing singer; Carla Cook, who is by far one of the more innovative vocalists around; and Paquito D’Rivera on clarinet. How did these collaborations come about?

    Regina: When I finally picked the tunes, I knew I wanted the both of them and it just happened to work out. But when thinking of the arrangements, the label wanted to know whether I’d have a guitar player because everyone thought, at first, that this was a Swing record. Actually a lot of the tunes were written for the Swing Era and a lot of the big bands made these songs famous, so people think of them as Swing tunes. But I didn’t want people to think this is just another Le Hot Jazz type of CD or to make the comparison to Stephen Grappelli or Django Reinhardt’s sound. So I tried to another chordal instrument…an accordion! It’s funny when you think of the accordion, clarinet and violin – you immediately think of a lot of French music that was happening during that whole Le Hot Jazz Club era.

    P.E.: Is this one of your first CDs to feature vocalists?

    Regina: RHYTHM OF THE HEART featured Cassandra Wilson and Richard Bona.

    P.E.: “This Can’t Be Love,” features Dee Dee’s amazing imitation of horns as well as her scatting technique in a great call-and-response section with you.

    Regina: Both Carla and Dee Dee can. They both respected that early tradition and really took the time to learn it. They’re not singers, they’re truly great musicians.

    P.E.: I must agree! Regina, you recently played at Lincoln Center with Barry Harris at the Rose Theater, you have thousands of amazing credits to your name and have played with such diverse artists as Carmen Lundy, Kenny Barron, Wynton Marsalis. Besides being the first African-American violinist to play Paganini’s beloved 300-year old violin, what do you consider the coup de grace of your career at this point?

    Regina: I received an Honorary Doctorate in May 2006!

    P.E.: That’s great. Congratulations! Where was it conferred?

    Regina: At Albion College in Albion, Michigan. It was a total surprise.

    P.E.: This is fantastic news. Congratulations Dr. Carter!! You have an upcoming appearance at the Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl with Eddie Palmieri Afro-Caribbean Jazz All Stars and David Sanchez. What can we expect from this hot, HOT, ensemble? Will you be playing music from his repertoire or playing any music from yours?

    Regina: No, I’m just going to be playing music from the record—I recorded two tunes with him. I probably won’t know until we get there, but I’m hoping that he’ll have me playing on some of the other tunes.

    P.E.: Wonderful! Regina, I certainly appreciate the opportunity to speak to you about your new CD, your upcoming appearances and all of the great news in your life. Thanks so much for your great music and take care! We love you!

    Regina: Thank you.

    P.E.: Keep in touch with the violin master Dr. Regina Carter at ReginaCarter.Com.

    Reprinted with permission of…

    Speaking with Darrell Grant

    Darrell Grant
    A Word With Pianist
    Darrell Grant
    by S. H. Watkins, Sr.

    10:00 a.m. at Portland State University is a time filled with hubbub and motion. Students scamper to and from and around their daily classes and lives. I cross campus and descend to the basement level of Lincoln Hall. Less commotion here, mostly groups of students gathered around tables or lounging in chairs. This is the basement of the music department, so many have instrument cases. Here I find the office of Darrell Grant, Assistant Professor of Music Studies and Jazz pianist extraordanaire. His air is casual and friendly, as always. His office is organized and neat. After a few miscues with the recorder, we talk about his past, present and future…

    JazzUSA: Okay let’s start at the beginning. I know that you moved here from the Manhattan/New York area, where everyone goes to get into the music scene, but where are you from originally?

    DG: I was born in Pittsburgh, we moved to Colorado to Denver where I grew up, then I went to school in Rochester New York, did my undergraduate there, then mastered at the University of Miami. Then… I moved to New York City.

    JazzUSA: What did you master in?

    DG: I did my masters in jazz, and I did my undergraduate in classical piano at Eastman school of music.

    JazzUSA: Piano all the way, huh?

    DG: Yeah, it’s always going to be music.

    JazzUSA: when did you start playing music?

    DG: I guess I started taking lessons when I was seven, but I probably started playing before that… at three or four I guess.

    JazzUSA: Did you have a piano at home?

    DG: “Well, we didn’t… I had a toy piano. At my senior recital at Eastman, on the program I have a little picture of me, I had this little plaid suit on and bow tie and I’m standing beside the toy piano looking like Nat Cole.

    JazzUSA: Did anybody else in your family play?

    DG: Yes, my mother was a gospel singer and played piano growing up. My sister played piano, brother played guitar, my father was more the literary inspiration, he did a lot of poetry. We did a lot of family concerts, we actually had a radio program when I was growing up, on the religious station we did a 10-minute radio broadcast. ” Moments of inspiration” or something like that it was called.

    JazzUSA: What type of music did you play when you first turned pro?

    DG: traditional jazz, Dixieland with this band called the “Pearl Street jazz band”. It was actually a bunch of kid’s, led by the Trombone player was the son of a University music professor. He just had a fascination with this music, so he had all these old Louis Armstrong 78’s and you know “Hot Five”, “Hot Seven” Fletcher Henderson and, he was transcribing this stuff! Fletcher Henderson arrangements, you know, I was doing this stuff when I was 15 years old. We had a steady weekend gate, we did balls and parties, and it was my first real professional job. We also played for my mother, and in nursing homes and stuff like that.

    JazzUSA: then you went to Manhattan and got into that the music scene…

    DG: Yeah, after all that school I said “okay, let’s see if I can make it in New York”, so I went there and the first really major gate I got was playing a while with Woody Shaw before he died, and that kind of introduced me to Manhattan. Then Steve Scott left Betty Carter. The drummer that was with her was Troy Davis, who I think still plays for Terence Blanchard, and so he recommended me to Betty. She came by and heard me in a little club I was playing in Brooklyn and said “OK, lets take this young man on…” and she took me into the band and that was it!

    JazzUSA: Any anecdotes from the Betty Carter years?

    DG: (laughing) She had a very strong personality, but she always liked me, I think… I never got yelled at that much. And it was an incredible experience, my first time going to Europe, to Japan, playing for standing room audiences, she had just won the grammy for Look what I got records. So she was on top of her game and really feeling and enjoying her success. That she worked so hard for, I feel that I like I followed in her footsteps a lot because she was all about giving young people an opportunity for music, a mentor. So I try to do that hiring by students to do gigs with me. The first time was the Mount Hood Festival I had a trio with my students, they were good they were on that caliber they could have gotten a gig with someone like that. So I feel that passing on that musical information that’s what’s really important, and really going out of your way, just doing any thing to communicate with the audiences.

    JazzUSA: Just keeping the jazz rollin’. OK Manhattan to Portland, obviously you left the hot bed of commercial jazz and came out here to the home of jazz.

    DG: Well you know Portland, it’s a great place to live, it’s got an incredible amount of musicians. It’s just like that here, there’s just so many great musicians, just doing different things, interesting things. That’s the thing that I found when I came out here from New York, New York is great there’s all these players but the scenes are pretty separate. When your kind in of in one or not in the other, where here you have these players who have kind of different styles. Who in New York wouldn’t necessarily be playing together, but out here it’s so limited, so there styles come together and I think that’s what makes the Northwest style. I mean they swing, they’ve all played with everybody, Carmen McCrae or whoever, good world class players. But their sort of bringing their own sound into this mix, so that you get this music that’s really wild and great.

    JazzUSA: So your saying that, it would be safe to say, that’s kind of been echoed by what Jeff Lorber said that this whole Northwest jazz thing that we’re trying to claim that their is. Maybe it isn’t so much that there’s a northwest jazz sound, but that there’s a scene that allows jazz musicians to play in a more open environment.

    DG: I think that’s true, and I think that what people don’t know is that the quality is so high. Now that I don’t live in New York, I’m amazed that when I was in New York, I held the view that nothing of significance could happen outside of New York City. I mean how could, I mean WHY. What is there! And now that I don’t live there, I can’t believe that I thought that. It’s how could I think that I mean it’s any creative thing it’s not just music. I mean Will Vinton the King of Animation lives here in Portland. Gus Zandt auteur of cinema lives here. So it’s like all this stuff about New York being the center of the universe, is something that people in New York made up to allow them to suffer and feel like they were doing it for some good reason. But there is so much creativity and more opportunity out here.

    JazzUSA: Speaking of creativity and opportunity your new release “Smokin’ Java” is very creative and I guess it was an opportunity for you seeing how it’s on your own record company, Lair Hill records?.

    DG: That’s true, I kind of been thinking about it for a while, I have a lot of people that I know in New York and my musical peers and we’ve been talking about this every since we’ve been recording artist, how difficult it is with jazz to get your music out there. The major label thing doesn’t necessarily work because it’s such a small percentage of their revenue is that they don’t put a lot of attention on it, they have other things to think about. Independent labels have to struggle with distribution and sometimes it’s spotty. I think that it’s more taking charge of your own music means, taking charge of the recording and distribution of it as well. So it’s been really satisfying, it’s an incredible experience to bring a product to market. Because you see all the things that businesses deal with every day, people missing deadlines, trucks not showing up, you know things, little bitty mistakes, that means you have to go all the way back to the drawing board with your products! Musicians don’t think about that kind of stuff, but that’s what when you’re in the business and you’re trying to bring a product out and you’re putting something out into the world like that, all those things become important.

    JazzUSA: And you did a regional release!

    DG: I decided that I really wanted to take advantage of the holidays here in Portland. You know, because people buy a lot of stuff, and this CD was kind of special that way. So I released it regionally at the end of November. It will be released nationally in May, May 16th.

    JazzUSA: May 16th! You’ve got some bookings back east I understand to promote this.

    DG: Yeah I have a gig at “Blues Alley” in DC on the 24th. I’m working at this club in New York, called “Smoke” on the 26th and 27th of May. I’ll be touring throughout the summer trying to get the music out.

    JazzUSA: You working on your next one already?

    DG: I’m not working on it yet, I’m trying to figure out how to get it done. I have the music picked out and I know who I’m going to use and everything. Now it’s just a matter of figuring out how and when to do it. I’m looking forward to some upcoming projects.

    JazzUSA: Now that you have your own record company, are looking to bring any other musicians into the fold to help then do production work or to help them get out?

    DG: I would like to, I sort of been keeping to this Northwest I think that it really makes sense to use the talents that we have here. There’s a lot of world class talent here. I have no visions of being this multinational recording conglomerate, but I think that I could do justice to some releases of some artists here.

    JazzUSA: Let’s talk about the “Smokin’ Java” for a moment. Which I think was inspired by the whole coffee clatch culture.

    DG: Well somewhat, the whole coffee thing was a way to tie in to make the cd relevant to me. The band was from New York and I was from New York and I moved out here and I was going to release it on my own label out here. The title has this whole coffee connotation, so I was looking for a way to bridge that gap between east coast and west coast. It seemed like a good thing to tie it all together especially with the story.

    JazzUSA: Of Pop Langston

    DG: Yeah I love that name, anyway, sort of way to bring that journey into perspective my journey from New York to Portland. My life from out there to here.

    JazzUSA: Well it’s a great release Darrell. We like it, I hope you pick up lots of national attention and maybe you’ll sell a billion copies and you can do spend all your time doing this. Well thank you for your time and good luck to you.

    DG: Hey great, OK, all right.

    You can Listen to this entire interview in
    RealAudio Format (635k).

    Art Ported Dies in Freak Accident

    Art Porter Dies in Freak Accident
    By Mark Ruffin –

    Today guitarist Alan Burroughs returns home to Chicago after a long Thanksgiving holiday weekend, one for which he will forever give thanks. He was the lone survivor in the tragic boating accident last weekend in Thailand that claimed the life of saxophonist Art Porter.

    “I do feel joyful and happy to be alive,” Burroughs said Thanksgiving Day morning by phone from New York where he recently moved. “But I also feel sad and horrified at losing Art.”

    For the past ten days the 39 year-old musician has led a movie like existence. He fought for his life in an Asian jungle and had a sudden heartfelt meeting with the President of the United States. The really sad parts of the story include a nasty bout he had with the Thai press and of course attending the burial of one of his best friends this past Saturday morning in Little Rock.

    Burroughs thought perhaps it was the odd coincidence of the President arriving in Bangkok two days after Porter died that led to some busy major Thai newspapers quoting him without even bothering to call for an interview. “They fabricated a story that said Art was dead because of his friends. There was a list of reasons for the accident that was credited to me and there were other erroneous quotes.” Burroughs also considered the irony that the Porter and Clinton families have been friends for two decades before complaining about rumors and televised reports he heard about in Chicago. He said the two embassies involved were very busy and that may have aided in some misinformation. He still cites as irresponsible the locally televised report that said Porter couldn’t swim. Part of the reason he’s home is to get the story straight. He starts with this exclusive interview, his first since the accident.

    This story really begins ten years ago back when Porter was just beginning to build his career by prowling the clubs in Chicago. Chances are that back then Porter could’ve met the young Thai guitarist he was fated to die with. Burroughs, who joined Porter’s band in 1992, remembers him only as Arnon. Arnon was an exchange student at the now closed American Conservatory of Music on South Michigan Avenue where he made a lot of friends studying jazz. After graduation, he went home to get involved in the Bangkok music scene and was no doubt pleased to see Art Porter’s group performing for three nights at this year’s Golden Jubilee Jazz Festival where over 40 bands from all over the world perform in Thailand. Though he was living in Nashville at the time of his death, everybody in Porter’s band was from Chicago. Joining Kenwood Academy grad Burroughs was Porter’s long time bassist Ted Brewer, keyboardist Brian Danzy, and Arnon’s classmate, drummer Toby Williams. “Toby and I went to a club to see this fellow perform. We had Saturday and Sunday off before going to Malaysia, and Arnon asked Toby what he wanted to do. Toby said go fishing out in the country. We didn’t know we’d be so far away and we were not supposed to get into any boat.”

    They concocted a plan that included libations, fishing and guitar playing that was so enticing that the rest of the band wanted to join in. They loaded into a van with Arnon, his wife and two other Thai friends. It was around seven o’clock Saturday when about 100 miles outside of Bangkok, they were warned that the road to the place where Arnon’s friend lived was flooded. The only alternative was a small local ferry across a nearby man-made lake dubbed Kwae.

    Including the driver, only five passengers could get into the boat at a time, and it was a tight fit for the first ones to ferry, Porter, Burroughs, Arnon and his wife. As dusk settled and the full moon began to rise, Burroughs recalled jokingly saying, “what’s the worse that could happen? Everybody knows how to swim, right?” That when they found out that Arnon’s wife couldn’t. “I was quiet after that,” Burroughs said. With his legs wrapped around Porter, Burroughs felt the sax man’s body become tense and nervous after it took the driver about ten pulls on the starter cord to get the motor running. Even more so as the boat wobbled a bit. He massaged his shoulders and Porter said he appreciated it. The voyage was about ten minutes old when it was Burroughs body that became taut. “I felt water rushing in, hitting me in my lower back. I yelled out ‘water is coming into the boat.’ Then everybody started to squeeze into the back of the boat. It started to fill and there was all this yelling and screaming, mainly from Arnon’s wife. The boat never capsized, it kind of held steady until it was sunk.”

    The boat resurfaced upside down and the quintet held on until it went under again. By the light of the moon, they spotted the nearest shoreline. Amidst cries of help, they tried to keep verbal and visual contact and move towards it. But Arnon was only treading water with his wife hanging on, he wasn’t moving. “We screamed, ‘Come on Arnon, you can make it,’ but he didn’t. “After a couple of minutes, Art was getting tired and he said ‘can you help me A.B.?’ So I swam closer to him and put my arms under his shoulders. But that certainly didn’t work because I just got pushed down into the water. “On my second attempt,” Burroughs continued, ” I tried to put my arms around him like I’ve seen in the movies. But that didn’t work because Art just kept dog peddling going nowhere, and I could barely stay up myself with the weight of my clothes. Then he started swimming, and we were going fine for a minute or so when I said ‘Art, we have to take our shoes off. “We stopped swimming and I went under to kick one shoe off. Then after I went under to get the other shoe, I came up and I didn’t see Art. I looked at how far I was from the shore, and I didn’t think that I could make it, but I also knew that I couldn’t dive under water to see where Art was.”

    Burroughs kept swimming and screaming the names of Porter and Arnon. About twenty-five feet from land he saw a piece of wood sticking out of the water. It was the remains of an old dock. He swam there and rested. Safely perched, Burroughs attracted the attention of his mates, who had heard the commotion but saw little on the darkened body of water. Danzy and both Thai men immediately jumped into the water. The American and one of the Asian rescuers returned soon afterwards. The other, obviously a good swimmer, came back later and said he spotted only the boat.

    Once ashore, Burroughs said he must’ve been in shock for ten or twenty minutes because he couldn’t talk and remembers little until the fear of their remoteness shook him out of it. “I mean we were deep in the jungle. I became angry because of the lack of the response. It was so obvious that we were not in the States.” The first villagers with searchlights arrived after ten. The police showed up at midnight. The press helicopters that showed America the ghastly pictures of Porter’s body being removed from Lake Kwae were there at six the next morning. By that time, the sleep-deprived band had marched through miles of deep underbrush and filed long, extensive police reports. Burroughs found himself in another boat trying to show the police where it all happened.

    After the fabricated stories in the papers came out on Monday, band members thought of asking the very busy American embassy to get in touch with the President. By Tuesday morning, he beat them to it. Unbeknownst to the band, the President was aware of what had happened while he was still in the Philippines. Reportedly, his involvement helped with initial problems with the Thai authorities concerning the removal of Porter’s body.

    He’s a very special cat,” Burroughs said of our jazz loving leader. “He gave recollections of the days he used to play saxophone duets with Art when he was (Arkansas) Attorney General and Art was a teen-ager, and how he knew Art had something really special. He talked about Art’s late father, and asked if we were going to stay together as a band. Clinton then singled Burroughs out and tried to bolster his spirits. “He told me that I shouldn’t feel responsible or guilty and that I did the best I could. He was quite comforting and showed some very serious remorse. He brightened us all up.”

    An Interview with Marion Meadows

    Finding Pleasure
    An Interview With
    Marion Meadows
    by Mark Ruffin

    So you’re tired of your local smooth jazz station applying the same old aural wallpaper? Well, according to saxophonist Marion Meadows, so are most contemporary jazz musicians. After four albums on RCA, Marion Meadows has signed with Discovery records and comes forth with his new album Pleasure. In a sweeping interview with JazzUSA’s Mark Ruffin, Meadows talks about why he’s finding new ways to get around being ignored by smooth jazz radio, cycling, his surprising avant-garde background and hanging out in Grand Central Station after midnight.

    JazzUSA: So you moved to Arizona, right?

    MM: Yeah, my wife and I come out here during the winter. The last couple of years we’ve come out here and built a house. My thing is cycling. I’ve gotten heavily into it the last few years, so I came out here to work on my “Body Rhythm,” and I found this a cool place to cycle year round.

    JazzUSA: So have you left Connecticut totally?

    MM: No we go back and forth.

    JazzUSA: So what’s up with Phoenix, is there a scene happening there and are you concerned with that?

    MM: For sure. There’s an up and coming scene here. They have an excellent jazz series put on by the Coyote, the jazz station out here. They have a lot of artists coming through here and the town is growing like crazy.

    JazzUSA: Are you establishing yourself there?

    MM: We’re just testing the water out here. We’re having a good time. It’s not a permanent situation.

    JazzUSA: Is there anybody else out there?

    MM: Well Waymon Tisdale was here when he was with the (NBA Phoenix) Suns. He and I know each other. We have a musical association, as a matter of fact, he’s on my new album. He was my neighbor. He lived right down the street from me. There are a lot of (musicians) people here and I met a lot of really neat people and it seems like everybody is always eventually coming through Phoenix.

    JazzUSA: Is Waymon Tisdale still playing ball?

    MM: He took a year off. He calls himself retiring, but I think he’ll be back.

    JazzUSA: Yeah, how can you give that up when you’re young and got the talent?

    MM: Exactly, and with that kind of money. He’s just enjoying this year off and making music. He signed a new record deal with Atlantic. He’s just having a good time. I just told him the other day, it must be nice being a millionaire bass playing ball player. (laughing) I said, as a matter of fact, I’m not even speaking to you anymore.

    JazzUSA: Not to offend you or anything, but I must tell you your new record, “Pleasure,” is head and shoulders above your other albums?

    MM: Other people have pretty much said the same thing. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that I picked one producer and he and I really concentrated on this record. We put a lot into it as opposed to a lot of people going out and getting this producer and that producer.

    JazzUSA: Did your other records have multiple producers?

    Marion MeadowsMM: Look, I’m not blaming the producers. But there’s such a thing as being too eclectic. I’m not saying that I’m guilty of that, it’s just that I’ve grown and I certainly can go back and fix some of my favorites from records like “Forbidden Fruit” and “Keep It Right There” but as a collective and one record that I think is my favorite as a whole, it would be this one.

    JazzUSA: You said you’ve grown, in what ways?

    MM: I think I’ve grown in the combination of what I feel is a maturity in my music, my playing, and also a maturity in understanding what my audience is vibing off of. And they have kind of been my barometer as to the kind of music that I feel they like to hear. Also I’m an advocate of keeping the music scene lively and happening and interesting as opposed to becoming schmaltzy, clone-ish and uninteresting. With the wave of smooth jazz, they have to be very careful, the musicians themselves, they’re all great musicians but they tend to want to make these guys get into this smooth jazz format and all that schmaltzy crap. People don’t want to hear that stuff. After a while, they’re going what is that stuff? It’s the same old sound. Everybody wants to sound like David Sanborn or Kenny G. You just can’t treat the music like that because people are not that dumb. Musically people want more, and radio stations and the people who design that stuff, they might want you to think that, but that’s not the case at all. The listeners that I talk to are up in arms with some of the smooth jazz stations in their cities to get off that cloned computerized approach to what is otherwise a new form of jazz. These straight ahead cats are losing their radio homes because of this kind of format. That’s just the sign of the times, you can’t argue with that point, but still you’ve got a lot of great musicians who could offer a lot more musically than just the same old formula. Somebody at radio has to step up to the plate and say look we’ve got to go two or three (tracks) deep into these records and search for the vibrant stuff.

    JazzUSA: Hearing you say that, and after hearing your record, while it is undeniably a NAC (New Adult Contemporary or smooth jazz) record, it is definitely a touch above the normal stuff you hear on NAC stations. Don’t you wonder if they’re going to be attracted to it?

    MM: That is my mild protest. I’m saying, this is my music and this is what you get. I have a history at NAC radio. I’m a true artist. If you guys feel like you need to penalize me because of the music I play, my fans are going to buy my record anyway. So if I sell a hundred thousand less records, I’m going to carry the banner and I’m one of the people who’s going to step up to the plate and speak out against this bull. I was on the phone with (saxophonist) Warren Hill for two hours a couple of days ago talking about this very thing. And everybody says the same stuff, Chieli (Minucci), Chuck Loeb, all the musicians have the same complaints.

    JazzUSA: Anyway once you’re an established NAC artist, like you said your fans are going to buy your records, and as long as you’re performing you’re going to be all right and anything NAC does for you will be a bonus.

    Marion MeadowsMM: Right, and I don’t want to put all my eggs in one basket anyway. In as much as sometimes I sit around and think that I need those guys, then I find more creative ways not to need them. Now, I’m not speaking from a racist point of view, but it’s hard to be a black artist and to compromise what I do as a black writer. I came from the Stevie Wonder school, I came from the Temptations school, I came from the John Coltrane school- we’re black and we’re funky. Forget all that other stuff. The California guys that do that stuff and they do the California sound, I dig it, but that’s why they’re different from us, than the guys who come from New York. Those guys came up listening to Paul Desmond, we came up listening to John Coltrane.

    JazzUSA: What’s unusual about you is not only do you have the be-bop chops, and the NAC success but you dabble in new age music too.

    MM: Oh yeah. I think that’s a very important part of it too. That’s a style of music that has evolved. It was John Klemmer who really started that style of horn playing.

    JazzUSA: Some folks say it was Paul Winter.

    MM: Well, Paul Winter and Paul Horn would be the ultimate.

    JazzUSA: Now you’re from the east coast, and went to Berklee. You also had an early association with Norman Connors and Jean Carne, right?

    MM: Norman was really the guy who discovered me as an artist, the man who gave me my shot. I met Norman when he was playing with Pharoah Sanders. That was when I was at Berklee, and then after I got out of school and I was looking for a gig, I knew a guy who was playing with Norman and he said ‘oh yeah, I remember you, you set in with us when you were at school.’ And my buddy said ‘you know he’s gotta couple of songs.” I gave Norman a couple of songs that I had written and recorded. They ended up being on his “Invitation” album, and a few months after that he invited me to join his band. That was really the start of my career. After that I met Jean Carne, Phyliss Hyman. I wrote for Glenn Jones, you know, that whole Norman Connors family. I also worked with Angela Bofill, in fact Angie and I are doing some shows together right now with Ollie Woodson and Norman as well. That was a nice graduate school, sort of speak.

    JazzUSA: What’s the Jay Chattaway connection?

    MM: Jay Chattaway is the guy who brought me over to Bob James. I met Jay Chattaway in Grand Central Station one night. I lived in Connecticut. I was in New York working with a bass player at the time. I was working with an avant-garde band with Rashid Ali and we had just played Avery Fisher Hall and I was waiting for the train late at night. That’s when Grand Central used to be open late and there was hardly anybody in the station, and that big domed ceiling in there, so?. I took my horn out and I started blowing, and this guy comes running up to me and says ‘man, that was beautiful.’ I thought the guy was like security. (laughing) It ended up being Jay Chattaway on his way back home to Connecticut. He took my number and said I’ll give you a call. About a month later, he called me and said Bob James wanted to meet me. We got together and did some recording. Bob had Tappan Zee Records at the time. And we were going to put a record together but his record company didn’t make it. It folded up. But that was the start of a whole other wonderful friendship which lasted through the years.

    JazzUSA: So, there was another album before you signed with RCA.

    MM: Yeah, that one, but it never came out. It was after that that I did sign with RCA and went on to do the four records with them.

    JazzUSA: What’s the connection with the avant-garde band, the Aboriginal Music Society.

    MM: That’s the group I was working with that night in Grand Central. That group was where I met a sax player at a train station up in White Plains. He was walking had his horn and we got to talking, and he said, I play with a group out of Brooklyn. It’s kind of a free group, avant-garde. The guitar player was James “Blood” Ulmer. Cats like David Murray had been through this band, Oliver Lake too. And I was very hip to the World Saxophone Quartet and I said I definitely want to check this out. It ended up being one of the heaviest bands I ever joined. The music is way over most people heads, but it was some of the hardest music I’ve ever played and some of the most enjoyable musical experiences I’ve ever had. I used to go to Brooklyn and jam with these guys. They play drums for two or three hours and play the most amazing music. These cats were deep.

    View the Marion Meadows Pleasure press release for more information.

    Toni Redd Interview

    Toni Redd
    Coming Straight From The Heart
    by Baldwin “Smitty” Smith

    It is my pleasure to welcome a friend and one of my favorite singers on this planet. She has such a great voice; a wonderful new cd called Straight From The Heart and let me assure you that it is just that.

    Smitty: Hi Toni, how are you?

    Toni: I am so great, so blessed!

    Smitty: Yes you are. It has been so long since you and I have seen each other so this is sort of a reunion in a way.

    Toni: Yes it is.

    Smitty: I can go back to the first time we heard you on Maui, and we all just melted on the ground, we were on the beach (both laughing), and we said who is this young person! And then we just lost contact, so it’s nice to visit with you after so much time has past and talk about this great record that I’m excited about, and your great career.

    Toni: Thank you.

    Smitty: How did singing become such a passion for you?

    Toni: It’s been a passion since I was a young child; of course it’s a God-given gift. Because I didn’t have anything to do with it, God blessed me. At an early age, in elementary school, my teachers used to call home and complain, they said that all I would do is sing. That was an indication then, of how much I love to sing. Of course, growing up, in high school, doing talent shows and all of that. I won a city-wide talent show in Atlanta, Ga. at age 15. I eventually moved to Texas and won a Coors Light sponsored competition. It was a lot of years later so it was like wow; God is telling me to keep going. So that’s what I’ve been doing.

    Smitty: Yes you have. When did you decide that you wanted to do this professionally or that this was your calling?

    Toni: I knew that it was my calling when I was invited on stage to sing on a open mic thing and people were going WOW, and I was going WOW where did that voice come from (both laughing). And when people started paying me, I said ok, they are crazy (laughing). So to me you are professional when you start to get paid for whatever it is that you do. So that’s how it began.

    Smitty: Cool. Isn’t it so nice to do something that you truly love?

    Toni: Oh my God, I mean it is such a blessing! Each time I have an opportunity to perform, it’s such a blessing. It doesn’t matter whether there are 5 people or 5,000 people. Because I know that God has given me another opportunity to share my gift with people to make them smile. If I can make just one person happy, to cheer them up through my music, that is such a reward.

    Smitty: Speaking of such blessings, talk about some of the highlights of your career from your perspective. Things that has enhanced your career and your craft.

    Toni: When I went back to Maui for the “Tour de Chef” where they had chefs from around the world converge on Maui and serve this seven course meal, and they each served their own respective specialty. I had the opportunity to perform for this wonderful experience. It just so happen that Quincy Jones was there celebrating his birthday. So they pulled me from my gig and ask me if I would sing happy birthday for Quincy Jones and I was like Oh my God! I will never forget that and he was so nice. I was blown away by that. So that sticks in my mind.

    Smitty: I can just imagine. Talk about your experience working with Fatburger.

    Toni: I love Fatburger! When I moved to California, I lived there about 3 years and became really good friends with the guys in Fatburger. I also had the opportunity to be on the same bill with them many times, and they ask me to sing background on one of their projects, And Carl (Evans) and I did little project together, a little solo thing that he recorded, and had some of the guys from Fatburger on there too. It was never released but that was great. Later, they came to Atlanta through a promoter friend of mine and I got to open for them, that was real cool. I love those guys, they are THE best.

    Smitty: Let’s talk about this new record because the world needs to hear this record. It’s called Straight From the Heart. I can tell you now that my favorite track #2 Open Your Love Boy. That is my song!

    Toni: Oh wow! That means a lot to me. That’s cool. I entitled my CD Straight From the Heart because truly it’s easy for me to share my feelings and my life. I don’t get embarrassed real easy, and I’m not ashamed of stuff. Because we’re all living this life and stuff happens and people have things that happen to them. So when I wrote that song and all the other songs that I wrote on this CD, it’s really about things that happened to me in my life. For example track #5 (Footsteps In The Dark) was about a relationship that I had just gotten out of. Really, truly, when you listen to the words of that song, it tells a story (laughing). That was real! The song I wrote on track #6, Talk About It, I was performing in Dallas this one particular night at this club, and all of my girlfriends were there. I had a lot of female friends when I lived in Texas. The next day I got phone calls from all of them and they were saying things like “Did you see what she had on”? “Girl did you hear what she said to me”? “She makes me sick!” I was like, all of my friends, they can’t get along, what is everybody talking about (laughing)! So that’s how that song came about.

    Smitty: That is too funny.

    Toni: I know, it’s funny. I write about all of my life experiences.

    Smitty: Yes, and we get a closer look at Toni Redd through the music, you know?

    Toni: Right.

    Smitty: You’ve really got some great musicians on this record. I really love your keyboard player William Green.

    Toni: Oh yes, he’s the bomb. He has his own CD also, and he’s been a really good friend of mine for a lot of years and we still do a lot of work together. Also Phil Davis (keyboards), who also plays with Rachelle Ferrell and he’s Will Downing’s music director, he’s on Children of The World. Sean Michael Ray (bass) who plays with a lot of people in the industry. Also Sam Sims who was Janet Jackson’s bassist for a lot of years, and the bassist for Mariah Carey, and now he’s out with Bette Midler. He’s also one of the producers on this project and a good friend. The drummer, Melvin Baldwin has been my music director, and he’s SOS’s drummer and he goes out with a lot of national acts. Derek Scott my guitar player has played with everybody.

    Smitty: And he’s bad.

    Toni: Yes he is. He’s a bad boy.

    Smitty: And don’t forget my boy Kelley O’Neal now.

    Toni: Oh my lord, I love Kelley O’Neal. I did a gig with Kelley O’Neal last Saturday. He called me for a date and we did a gig. It was the bomb, it was awesome. All these guys, they are the best, that’s why I had them on my CD (laughing).

    Smitty: Yes indeed. You are really stacked up. You really opened your heart in your liner notes because you thanked everybody! That’s so cool because you thanked everybody from the neighbor dog to ……..(both laughing).

    Toni: That’s because I wanted those people to know that I don’t take life for granted and I don’t take people in my life for granted. These people are special to me. They are my musicians, my friends, and my support team. I just wanted them to know, you might do this a hundred times, but this means so much to me.

    Smitty: I love that, very cool. Because before you were ever anything, you are a human being, and so are they.

    Toni: Exactly!

    Smitty: And you didn’t forget that.

    Toni: Nooo.

    Smitty: So what’s up with Toni Redd now? I know you’re out performing this great record and promoting it.

    Toni: I’m performing every chance I get. I just found out that I’m getting great airplay in Melbourne, Australia.

    Smitty: Go Girl!

    Toni: And I told you about the European stations that are playing it. I’ve received some great reviews in Germany, London, and other parts of Europe. I’m just trying to get it out there as much as possible.

    Smitty: Yes because this is a great project.

    Toni: Thank you so much Smitty, that means a lot coming from you.

    Smitty: Well thank you very much, because I mean it. It’s straight from the heart. This is the kind of music that inspires people, that people identify with because it’s personal, it’s everyday, and it’s got some juice! You have such a great vibe and you really know how to put together, great mix.

    Toni: Thank you so much.

    Smitty: What about a tour schedule, are you working on that?

    Toni: Since a lot of my sales are in Europe, I’m definitely going there.

    Smitty: Very nice! I am so honored to have this record, knowing that not everyone have this great music. I certainly recommend this record to everyone. I mean it and it brought back so many great memories. When I first heard it, I called Michael (Kellerher). And said “Get her to me”.

    Toni: Oh you are so kind to me. I was so shocked that you even remembered me. I really was, I was like WOW!

    Smitty: See, now you know the effect of your music.

    Toni: And that’s very important to me, very, very important. When I first sat down and thought about my project, I really wanted it to inspire people, encourage people, and uplift people. When I wrote Children of the World, I had a personal experience; something that I went through that really effected me very, very, deeply.

    Smitty: Yes, I can dig it. You have website…….

    Toni: Yes, it’s

    Smitty: Is red your favorite color?

    Toni: Yes, red is my favorite color from so many years ago. My mom told me that I used to chase cardinals (birds) when I was a little girl (both laughing). My Grandmother used to say “Toni there goes a redbird”, and I used to run, thinking that one day I’m going to actually catch this redbird. I told them later on “you all just made a little fool of me”, had me chasing birds. And they were on the porch just laughing (both laughing). So I have always love red, that is my favorite color.

    Smitty: Your CD and website reflects that as well, it’s very nice. It is so cool with what you’ve done with this great project and your career. And to know that you are truly inspired and still making great music. Let’s have you back again later in the year perhaps after the European tour.

    Toni: Yes, I would love that.

    Smitty: Toni thanks so much, it was so nice to talk with you and to see that you are still doing your thing. You haven’t slowed down at all, if anything you’ve gathered momentum with this latest project. We’ve been talking with the great Toni Redd, her latest CD is awesome, one that I certainly recommend! Toni, congratulations, thanks again, all the very best in 2005, and please come back for a visit.

    Toni: I certainly will and thank you so much. All of your encouragement and what you do is very important to people like me and thank you so much and God bless you.

    The Idea of North – The Sum of Us

    The Idea of North
    The Sum of Us

    (Magnetic Records – 2001)
    by S.H. Watkins, Sr.

    The first thing you notice is that there are NO instruments. The Idea of North’s 2nd CD, The Sum of Us contains 11 tracks of the group’s unique and memorable a cappella sound, highlighted with some very funky and intricate vocal and body percussion. My Foolish Heart is saucy and crisp… and you’d SWEAR there are some instruments in there… somewhere. Their rendition of Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror is very melodic and simple. The harmonies are practised and their timing is tight.

    The classic It’s Alright With Me is sprightly. Idea of North is on a par with other a capella groups like the Persuasions and (to a lesser degree) Take 6. The groovin’ Mas Que Nada shows a lot of improvisation in their creation of the various percussive elements that make up the track, and it’s one of the few places that there are actual instruments (James Morrison’s quick Trombone licks). Based in Australia, I first heard these youngsters during a break at the I.A.J.E. convention in New York last year and they impressed me. We’ll be interviewing Idea of North in an upcoming issue of JazzUSA so stay tuned!

    An Interview with Michael Wolff

    Flexing His Creative Thoughts…
    Michael Wolff
    by Paula Edelstein

    “I use my head for the science, my hands for the craft and my heart for the emotion, to create the music of IMPURE THOUGHTS.”~ Michael Wolff

    When my colleague, John Barrett of JazzUSA.Com reviewed Michael Wolff’s Impure Thoughts back in October 2000, I thought to myself, “This is smokin’!” The well-deserved praise kept pouring in and we played it several more times because of its great improvisations, its bop syntheses and fresh grooves. As only Michael could, he captivated us with his blend of some of the most adventurous musical elements from around the world and captured them on eight great songs. With a heritage rich in several distinct styles culled from growing up in such culturally rich cities as New Orleans, Memphis, and Berkeley, CA, Micheal Wolff releases an implosion of musical colors and textures that is mysterious, yet bright, sexy yet serene. His musical thoughts are captured with long-time band members, Alex Foster on saxophones and bass clarinet, John B. Williams on bass, Victor Jones on drums, Frank Colon on percussion and Badal Roy on tablas. They are collectively known as Impure Thoughts. We caught up with Michael and got the inside scoop on his new CD, Impure Thoughts! Here’s what he had to say!

    JazzUSA: Congratulations on your latest CD Impure Thoughts. We have received a lot of interest from our readers, and as you know, John Barrett, Jr. was the first to bring it to our attention here at How did the concept for the project come about?

    MW: To tell you the truth, there were two reasons. First of all, I just grew up listening to all kinds of music and I always loved music from Africa and South America and that kind of music. Being a jazz lover, I love music by Miles Davis and Cannonball Adderley who both had experimented with those different kinds of music. Second, my first gigs were with Cal Tjader, who is the Latin jazz vibist, and the second was with Airto Moriera and Flora Purim from Brazil — so I was always drawn to that kind of music. After doing a lot of straight-ahead music for the last five or six years, I thought I’d do something different. I hear a lot of World music, in addition to spending a lot of time in Europe – particularly in Paris — so I just wanted to put that music into what I was playing…especially those beats.

    JazzUSA: It sounds great. I’d like to focus on a few aspects of the music from the three components of music: rhythm, harmony and melody. First, in the harmonic sense, you’ve based the music more on Middle Eastern scales, which is a big change in the harmonic sense of your playing. Why did you choose this particular approach for Impure Thoughts?

    MW: I’d just been listening to…particularly working with the tabla, Badal Roy and the tabla,and that instrument just has that feeling (harmonic) to it for me. The way that the tabla is played is a swinging kind of jazz instrument in that way and yet I think that the tones that I hear out of it just seem to fit. You know in Indian music, it’s all based on one major tone; they don’t modulate. They just have everything in one key so they have many more notes. We have 12 notes in our chromatic scale and they have a lot more. Just having those scales (Middle Eastern) just seemed to me that they would feel like there would be more colors going on within a root.

    JazzUSA: The band is playing a lot of music around drone tones and as a result, the tone colors we hear from you are constantly developing and lay the groundwork for the next theme or subject of the improvisation. This is especially strong on the opening track, “Eritrea” and on “Euphoria.”

    MW: Right.

    JazzUSA: The mix of African and Indian beats and sounds is especially intriguing and mystical. I really like the compositional synthesis of Badal Roy’s tablas with John B. Williams’ bass and your piano underlining the musical centers of the songs. Was there a particular circumstance or event that shaped “Eritrea?”

    MW: Yes, actually my mother and stepfather took a trip to Eritrea and Ethiopia about five years ago. They travel all over the world and usually bring back music from all these places. This particular CD had Arabic writing and I had no idea what it was! So I listened to it, and I heard this mix of Indian and African music so that was really the inspiration for that. Also there was a guy named John Cartwright who worked for many years with Harry Belafonte who had traveled a lot in Africa. He had some different sample beats on a drum machine. So I put those two things together again and came up with that tune. That was the whole basis for the concept for the whole band and the CD.

    JazzUSA: That’s cool! The title track, “Impure Thoughts” features Alex Foster out front on the saxophone stating the melody. He seems to abandon himself to the flow of music, immersing himself in the magic of the musical thought, so to speak…sort of like a Sonny Rollins kind of vibe! Had you been playing together a lot?

    MW: Alex and I have known each other for over 20 years! He and I moved from the San Francisco area so we’ve had many bands together. He and I breathe together. He and I and John B. Williams have been playing together for years. Whatever we do together, it’s always in sync…neither has to move a muscle. It just goes. It’s amazing how it works.

    JazzUSA: It sure does work! You’ve had some pretty intense associations with some of the greatest jazz musicians of all time, and have played a variety of jazz styles, i.e., Airto’s style, Sonny Rollin’s style, Christian McBride’s style, Thad Jones/Mel Lewis’, style, etc. They all have quite different styles and make up a really nice gumbo of jazz! How would you compare “Impure Thoughts” to the mixture of jazz giants that you’ve worked with?

    MW: Well I think that Impure Thoughts is kind of a step forward in that it’s blending the jazz background that I have with more World Music and funk. Cannonball Adderley always said he was trying to get that last foot out of Birdland and he was trying to keep it moving forward. I’m not the kind of person that wants to go recreate music from the 50s, although I like what other people do, I want to try to come up with something new. Knowing where I’m coming from and utilizing the past but pairing what’s going on in the present and projecting into the future…that’s where I’m coming from.

    JazzUSA: “On Papa Was A Rolling Stone,” and “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” you elaborate further on their original funky melodic concepts by adding some great homophonic textures. These are both outstanding songs but you approach the piano with total harmonic, rhythmic and melodic freedom.

    MW: Right and as you know, most of our music is based around a very simple chord center as is most of folk music. I feel that jazz and the music that I play is a combination of folk music and our music. It’s not one or the other. That’s what makes the folks like it! And then again, as a piano player, I see myself not only as a soloist but also as an orchestrator. So when the bass is thumping on songs like “Papa Was A Rolling Stone,” I have complete freedom to play any color I want.

    JazzUSA: Your rendition of “In A Silent Way” is classic! There is such a cerebral aspect to it as well as your skill in arranging the melody for saxophone, the addition of exotic percussive instruments and your piano solo really capturing the listener with its manipulation of musical motives, your varying them and elaborating on them. This song is still a catalyst that ignites one to put together another remarkable body of work that is serene but explosive. You’ve done a great job with this one.

    MW: Thanks. That’s a tune that I’ve always loved and I recorded once before. I just can’t get enough of it. It’s magic. When it came out in ’69, it blew my mind! It blew everybody’s mind. It’s a whole different direction. Joe Zawinul, who’s responsible for the tune, really laid the groundwork for Miles’ electric fusion days with this one. Alex Foster also doubled on bass clarinet on the melody to give it a little more bottom and richness. I played it in a totally different mode than what the tune is…I played my piano solo in a major 7th different scale.

    JazzUSA: Do you plan to feature any of the songs in concert this year? If so, where can your fans see and hear you?

    MW: Absolutely. We’re playing the whole CD in concert this year. We’ll be at the Kennedy Center on January 11th at the Terrace Theater for the Art Tatum Piano Series. Benny Green, Ellis Marsalis, Cyrus Chestnut will be there. On the 12th, I’ll be in New York City playing at The Friends Seminary School, which is a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Celebration and Fundraiser and I will be a part of the International Association of Jazz Educators Panel on the 13th. Also on the 13th, we’re playing at The West Bank Café, which is where we started the band. And on the 14th we’ll be at Miami Jazz Festival with Pancho Sanchez, David Sanborn, Jonathan Butler.We have a U.S. Tour starting in February 2001 so check out the schedule at our website

    JazzUSA: We sure will. Thank you so much for this interview, Michael. We really are enjoying Impure Thoughts and wish you continued success with it.

    MW: Thank you Paula.

    An Interview with Ken Burns

    An Interview with filmmaker
    Ken Burns
    by Dick Bogle

    African-Americans, the only people to be enslaved in the history of our ostensibly free nation, turned their frustrations into the freest music on the planet,” so says the esteemed film maker, Ken Burns. “Jazz,” the latest Burns film exploration of the American fabric is a 17 1/2 hour, ten part documentary series on the history of jazz. Check your local Public Broadcasting listings for the time and date in your area. I had the pleasure of engaging in the following one on one conversation with Burns during his recent visit to Portland.

    D.B.: What was the biggest challenge in putting together this series?

    K.B.: It was figuring out what stories to tell. You can’t tell every story and you are always going to make somebody who is a jazz expert unhappy. How to take something that is traditionally background music and make it foreground. And to push the social things just back a little bit so that you have the opportunity to let the most important thing, the extraordinary music, the 497 pieces of music we have in this film, let them shine.

    D.B.: Did you have a problem or dilemma between dealing with the sociology of jazz and the art of jazz?

    K.B.: No, because I think this more than any subject and why I think this is my best film is because jazz is such a perfect reflection of the country. It was much easier to integrate the sociology and the politics and the race questions and all the other things like geography. This is also a film about great cities.

    D.B.: Did you touch on the Black revolution or civil rights struggles in the fifties and sixties and the jazz music that came out of the movement?

    K.B.: Oh yes, tremendously so. In fact one of the proudest sections I have is a set of four or five chapters at the beginning of the last episode. That is Mingus, Abbey Lincoln, Archie Shepp, John Coltrane, The Art Ensemble of Chicago and the way jazz music really came to symbolize a new militancy and a new political importance to the music.

    D.B.: Your selection of narrators reflects a great divergence of opinions with folks like Wynton Marsalis and Gary Giddins. Is there debate?

    K.B.: I think so. We’ve got Cecil Taylor saying as he prepares for his concerts, so should his audience. We’ve got Branford Marsalis saying that is a bunch of self indulgent b.s. Somebody else comes on saying “I Love Cecil Taylor.” Someone else says ,”I respect his right to play what he wants, but I don’t have to listen to it.” These are the same kinds of arguments that go on, so we celebrate that. We have 75 people who are interview subjects. We had another two dozen consultants. We could never put them around a table because they’d be flying at each other with fist fights cause they would disagree about everything except—-that Louis Armstrong is most important person in music in the 20th century.

    D.B.: Who is your target audience?

    K.B.: I’m speaking to a general audience that is ignorant but curious about this music that is our national soundtrack. That is why we have to tell a coherent story and why we have so many great things. We have this music coming out on all these CDs, the book. General Motors, our underwriter, has an educational outreach program that is reaching six million , I repeat six million kids at the middle and high school levels. They are taking music classes so we get them before the pop junk ruins their lives and they get to understand the strength of this music.

    D.B.: Has rap and hip hop hurt the future of jazz?

    K.B.: Nothing has hurt the future of jazz. What’s happened is since world war II,when bebop came up and the music lost its’ relationship with a mass audience that wanted to dance, it’s now been seen primarily as an art music. It sort of fragments into a lot of different genres like hardbop, cool, modal, free, avant garde, fusion and hip hop. All of these forms, rock, r&b, soul, hip hop and rap are outgrowths of this music. But they are sort of pale versions of it.

    D.B.: Do you think this series will increase the acceptability of jazz?

    K.B.: I hope America will re-embrace jazz in all its’ forms whether New Orleans, and Louis Armstrong, or Chicago style, swing or bebop. Somebody is going to find something they like that is going to give them a much more sumptuous meal than the pop music that’s crowded jazz out of our main visibility.

    D.B.: Are there enough youngsters to carry on?

    K.B.: No question about it. They are artists struggling to express themselves in the ultimate American genius of improvisation. I see them everywhere.

    Story and photo reprinted courtesy of

    An Interview with Eric Essix

    Eric Essix Eric Essix is Southbound
    by Paula Edelstein

    SOUTHBOUND by guitarist Eric Essix is ever so smooth! Eleven great songs that Eric plays take you through the essence of the South. Songs which represent the birth of the blues to the sound of soul convey the feelings, the flavors, and the glorious beauty of the Southern landscape that Essix experienced when putting his musical visions all together. And together it is! From the love ballads, “Wichita Lineman,” to “A Rainy Night In Georgia,” Eric’s guitar tugs at your heartstrings. His “moodstrings” take you through a great stretch of musical emotions touching you deeply on “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child” while the gospel-filled “People Get Ready,” takes you straight to church. The beautiful “Camellia” and “For Four” are laid-back sonnets that evoke a quiet mood. Backed by a very soulful Hammond B-3 organ played by Kelvin Wooten, (he cooks!) bassist Sean Micheal Ray, Lil John Roberts on drums and guest musicians, Melvin Butler on saxophone and flutes and Darrell Tibbs on percussion, Eric Essix turns in one soulful, gospel groove that his fans are sure to love. We caught up with Eric during a recent stop on the West coast and here’s what he had to say!

    JazzUSA: Hello Eric. Congratulations on your new Zebra Records release SOUTHBOUND! It’s happening!

    Eric: Hi Paula! Thanks.

    JazzUSA: You’ve stated that SOUTHBOUND is a collection of some of your own songs and covers of your favorite musical stories told by southerners in their own inimitable way and that each of these compositions have a connection to your homeland. I can imagine the task of sorting out so many of your favorites must have been a mighty one since the roots of many jazz artists stem from the South. Did you use any special criteria when you began the selection process?

    Eric: That’s a good question, because I really didn’t. The only criteria that I had for each one of the songs that I picked that were covers was that they spoke to me in some way and that I had a really, really, intimate connection with them. Such is the case with all of the songs. Every one of the covers that I picked were songs that spoke to me even as a kid growing up in the South. And of course, the original compositions are all heartfelt compositions; things that I wrote and have or were inspired in some way by the South.

    JazzUSA: The new approach that you give to the influential music of many legendary artists including Brook Benton’s big hit “Rainy Night In Georgia” and Glen Campbell’s huge hit “Wichita Lineman” instantly gives the listener an experience that transports them from wherever you are to that particular place or situation. What kind of reaction have you been getting to these favorites in concert?

    Eric: The reaction to every one of the cover tunes, with these two in particular, has been very positive. It seems like everyone that is pretty close to my age has some kind of connection to these songs. Not necessarily Southerners…the songs were just so popular. I think another thing that makes a lot of the songs that I pick really popular with listeners is the fact that the imagery is so strong to each one of the songs. On “Wichita Lineman” for instance, the whole text in that song, to me, tells a story and I have a really strong visual image from the beginning of the song to the end of what’s going on with this guy that is singing about the woman that he loves. The same thing with “Rainy Night In Georgia.” Strong imagery once again and I think that’s one of the reasons why people have connected with both of those particular pieces. I know that for me, the imagery is one of the things that really got me going with those songs. They just spoke to me when I was very young. I think they both came out around the 60s and that was a time when I was really into listening to songs on the radio and those were two that were powerful for me.

    JazzUSA: Great! Great! From the birth of the blues to the sound of soul, SOUTHBOUND approaches an inner consciousness that is associated with living in the South. When touring, does this “southern sound” translate well overseas?

    Eric: I hope so! (Smiles) My bass player and I were having this conversation. …We usually play in the Southeast region; we’ve done some East coast stuff and some stuff up North, but have never played the West Coast. So, I was telling the guys that the only thing I want to get across to the listeners and to the audiences when we perform is a sense of honesty. We’re from where we’re from and the people that we are and the music that makes up who we are should come out in what we do. And that’s the only thing I want to do is present that honesty to the people that come out to listen because that’s what I tried to portray on the record. We recorded in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. We mixed in Birmingham, Alabama. We mastered in Nashville, Tennessee. There are Southerners who participated in the making of this record from beginning to end, all the way to the performers. So why change now? Let’s continue that whole vibe with the listeners…let’s show them what we’re made of in the South and what we’re all about. Besides, people have always had a fascination and an interest in Southerners and what goes on in the South whether it is from a negative or positive perspective. We want to present that positive perspective. Hopefully that gets across to the people that come out to hear us play and for those that buy SOUTHBOUND.

    JazzUSA: Well Eric, from the sound of the CD, I don’t think you’ll have any problem with that! What is the “energy” and ambience like at the legendary Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals?

    Eric: Oh my God! I was there to play with another artist and I stopped by Fame. I just love to look at all of the gold records on the wall and the pictures of all the artists as they were making records there. I’ll tell you, if you’re into soul music or if you’re into music at all, because everybody who has recorded there are all legendary artists. Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Al Green, Little Richard, Otis Redding, etc. are all pictured on the walls at Fame. And to just go in there and realize that Aretha Franklin actually played this piano when she was recording and that Al Green was here on this Hammond B-3 organ; I mean, you know, for me as a true lover of soul music it’s an experience! When I was making the trip there, the whole time I was thinking, “Man. I’m getting ready to go into this room where all this legendary music was recorded.” The vibe there is just so strong. When we were recording, I called the guys into a meeting to talk about the history of this studio. I told them to just be aware of this energy and put it on our recording! Everybody kind of caught the vibe and did just what I wanted for SOUTHBOUND.

    JazzUSA: As mentioned earlier, I really liked your arrangement of “Wichita Lineman.” I mean I’ve always loved the melody to that song and with the addition of the Hammond B-3 and the keyboards swirling in the mix, it really takes on another dimension. But your guitar playing is so right! Since the song had been associated with Glen Campbell for so long, did you take a lot of time to put the finishes touches on this one when you were traveling around so that you could get the “mood” of the project just right?

    Eric: That’s a good question because I didn’t spend a lot of time conceptually with each song in particular. I took the approach that I wanted the whole project to have a certain feel, which is why I used the Hammond B-3. I wanted it to have a pretty strong gospel vibe. So I used the Hammond B-3 on just about every song on SOUTHBOUND. The original recording that Glen did has mostly orchestra in the background and no real sense of keyboards or organ. So I really wanted to take it in a different direction but stay pretty true to the original arrangement, and arrangement of the song and the melody…except at the end, I went off a little bit! But with everything else, I wanted to give it a different feel. So I played acoustic guitar on it to keep a little of the “country” thing going on because I thought that was a very important aspect of the song. But I didn’t really, conceptually, try to do anything different with it. If you listen to it, you get a sense of continuity with the instrumentation. I just wanted the whole record to have a sense of continuity.

    JazzUSA: Well you certainly accomplished your objective. It sounds soooo good! You guys really go to church on “People Get Ready.” This is a fascinating story itself since Kelvin Wooten has an extensive gospel background and has the Hammond B-3 essence down! What’s the story behind the vocal chorus on this song…in other words, is this a choir that performs regularly or did you assemble them for this recording only? Their voices are awesome!

    Eric: Well a lot of churches in the South have what they call a praise and worship team that precludes the service and the congregation sings along. Instead of using a big choir, which initially I wanted to use, it was more practical to use a small choir and just overdub their voices to get a big sound. The minute that I decided to do “People Get Ready,” and I was going over the arrangement in my head, I knew I wanted to use a choir on this song. They are actually a part of my bass player’s church…the church he attends. They are the GLC Praise and Worship Team directed by Valerie Harris who is a phenomenal musician in her own right. So yes, this is a group that sings together all the time and I taught them the vocal arrangement and in about 30 minutes, they were ready to knock it out! They did a fantastic job.

    JazzUSA: Brilliant! Please explain to our “non-Southern” readers and listeners what a blues harp is! (Smile)

    Eric: A harmonica!!

    JazzUSA: (Smile) Thanks Eric! “Creole Strut” rhythm is based on a “second line” groove but still has a funk jazz feel to it. Did you spend any time jamming in the Crescent City with some of the great blues and jazzmen there before you started on SOUTHBOUND?

    Eric: Well, I played in a band with Charles Neville and that’s where I got the idea to do this tune. So I said, “Man you’ve got to show me what the authentic New Orleans second line groove sounds like.” He went into so many variations of it that my mind was blown and he was just playing on some wood blocks. He was going through all these variations and that’s what inspired “Creole Strut” …just spending some time with Charles.

    JazzUSA: How technically difficult was it to give SOUTHBOUND such a retro vintage feel in order to create that down home flavor? I mean it must have taken some time to prepare the studio for recording on 2″ 24 track analog tape since that is rarely used now with all of the of the year 2000 technology available. Was this a big task…the setup?

    Eric: In some ways it was. I always compare this to the film producers in Hollywood…the way they always like to do things in an authentic way. For instance, the movie “Gandhi,” everything was exactly right, authentic…costumes, locations, etc. to the story. So I said, “if I’m going to do this, if I want to have this sound and this vibe, I have to try to be as authentic as I can. So I’m going to Muscle Shoals, I’m going to use the same piano that Aretha Franklin played. I’m going to use the same tape machine that they made all these hits on.” So I think, as a result of trying to stay as authentic with the sound as possible…it came out right. And fortunately I am with a record label and the president of a record label who understands and was supportive from the very beginning just said, “Go for it. Just do, and do it well.”

    JazzUSA: It’s fantastic! You use two different guitars to obtain the sound on SOUTHBOUND. Why have you chosen these particular guitars?

    Eric: I’ve developed a relationship with this guitar over time and it’s like an extension of who you are. I can articulate on it and can always get my sound on it.

    JazzUSA: Do you have a favorite song on SOUTHBOUND and if so, which one?

    Eric: It changes every two weeks!! Right now, it’s Camellia. Of the covers, “Wichita Lineman” is my favorite.

    JazzUSA: Eric, thanks so much for this interview. We wish you continued success with SOUTHBOUND. It’s so fresh! So smooth and has just the right mix of soul, blues and jazz.

    Eric: Thanks Paula.

    Keep in touch with Eric Essix’s tour and other happenings at Visit Eric at his website:

    An Interview with Norman Conners

    Speaking with
    Norman Conners
    by Mark Ruffin.

    Drummer Norman Connors is enjoying his biggest hit album in nearly 20 years, with the star-studded release “Eternity,” which features Norman Brown and Marion Meadows, both of whom were discovered by Connors. The man has built a career discovering musicians, but in the 70’s her was on a particularly incredible roll, bringing to the forefront, Michael Henderson, Phyliss Hyman, Eleanor Mills and others. He sat down with our Senior Writer Mark Ruffin, for a talk about his long illustrious career.

    JazzUSA: I happen to think that “Love From the Sun” is one of the most underrated albums of the 70’s. My first question is when is “Love From The Sun” coming out on cd?

    NC: (laughs) Of that series with “Dark of Light” and “Love From The Sun,” that was my favorite from that period. Though I was close to the first one, “Dance of Magic.” Those were some great days. But once I got to my “Starship” period, that was one of my favoirtes. And then “This Is Your Life.”

    JazzUSA: What was cool before your “Starship” period as you called it, was, from the beginning with “Dance of Magic,” a star studded affair. You always had huge names on your records.

    NC: Yeah, I had some great people, but I was like the baby with some of those guys like Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Buster Williams and all those people. I was like the youngblood.

    JazzUSA: How’d you manage to get all those people on your very first album? Norman Conners

    NC: When I was a teen-ager in Philadelphia, I used to go to the clubs and I became friends with Max Roach and Art Blakey and Rahsaan Roland Kirk and all those different people and McCoy Tyner who is from Philly. I used to go to his rehearsals before he became the big time McCoy Tyner, I used to go to rehearsals when I was like seven or eight or nine years old. They used to rehearse at a bass player’s house by the name of Spanky DeBrest, who eventually played with Art Blakey and a few other people. Spanky DeBrest had some very young brothers my age and I used to go around their and just watch them. Guys like Lee Morgan, McCoy, Lex Humphries on drums. Half the time I didn’t know what I was listening to. The music was way over my head, but I felt it. And then as I got older, it started coming to me. Luckily, I met all these great people who used to come to these two clubs. A club called Pep’s which used to be at Broad and South, and one block away, another club called the Showboat.

    Miles Davis would be at the Showboat for one week. They’d come in on a Monday and stay through Saturday, and they had a Saturday matinee. I used to go to the matinees, which started at maybe four or five in the afternoon and go to about seven or eight, and then they come back at night. I used to watch Miles Davis at the Showboat, and down the street would be John Coltrane for a week at Pep’s. The best of everybody used to rotate through those two clubs every week. They got to know me because I was so young, and I was so into the music, and I got a chance to sit in at a young age with a lot of these guys. So, by the time I got to New York, when I was 18 or 19, I knew a lot of these guys, a lot of the heavyweights. They knew me as this young guy coming up.

    JazzUSA: That was about the time you hooked up with Pharoah Sanders.

    NC: I met Pharoah Sanders when Elvin Jones missed a gig at Pep’s, and I got a chance to play with John Coltrane. That’s when I met Pharoah. Everybody was telling Trane, get this young guy, he reminds us of Elvin. They called me and I got the gig and I was scared to death. We played “My Favorite Things,” and all kinds of things. I was scared to death, but I got through it.

    JazzUSA: Did you go to Julliard?

    NC: Yes

    JazzUSA: Is that why you went to New York?

    NC: I actually went to New York to make it, to learn how to make it, and to go to Julliard. I called myself trying to follow in the footsteps of Miles and Lee Morgan and some of these other people. So, I went to Julliard for a couple of years, but at the same time I was like going down to the Village sitting in. I already knew Pharoah and Archie Shepp. Archie Shepp got to know me through Marion Brown and all those kind of guys. I was playing with Sun Ra, those guys at first.

    JazzUSA: That’s something about your career that a lot of people don’t know about, but you actually began and started in the avant-garde space.

    NC: Yep. Well, like in Philly, I was playing straight-ahead bebop, then I played with (pop singer)Billy Paul for a minute. You know, we played everything in Philly, and I was very highly influenced by Max Roach. But also influenced by Philly Joe Jones and Art Blakey, Roy Haynes and Donald Bailey, who used to play with Jimmy Smith. Those are my biggest influences and Max Roach is my biggest influence. I used to play him note for note at one point. I was into this thing of trying to dress like him, and trying to walk like him. That’s how influenced I was. When I got to New York, I was much stronger and ahead of everything, much more than I thought. You know, when you think of New York, it’s like, ‘wow, I’ve got to get myself together.’ But I was a little more ahead than I thought I was. So, when I went to Julliard, I was very advanced, they felt. But I would study classical only, but then I would go down to the clubs, cause I was such a jazz musician. But, in school, I was just really studying classical. It all helped.

    JazzUSA: Even the avant-garde.

    NC: Yeah, playing with Marion Brown, Archie Shepp, Sun Ra?(laughs) I used to play with Sun Ra at a club called Slug’s, and we would play like one set and it would last about three hours. They had some great musicians in that group, and I was all around those avant-garde guys, because I was avant-garde, a part of that community, and they loved me and I loved them. But I loved a lot of other things too, which I didn’t talk about. But deep down inside, I was into Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Temptations and the Delfonics.

    JazzUSA: You got to show a little of that on your fourth album in the 70’s, “Saturday Night Special,” it was the first time that you came out of the avant-garde and post-bop modes.

    NC: Exactly, on “Saturday Night Special,” I started to get into these other things. But I had all those kind of things in me anyway. Because, deep down inside, I used to feel, if I wasn’t a jazz musician, I wanted to be a Delfonic. They were my idols, I loved the Delfonics, and still do. That’s why I still do their songs, including “Didn’t I Blow Your Mind,” which is on my new album.

    JazzUSA: You know they have a new album?

    NC: Really.

    JazzUSA: Well, if you read in April, you would’ve found out that the jazz label Fantasy, reactivated the Volt label and signed some acts from the 70’s, including the Delfonics.

    NC: I will get it.

    JazzUSA: In fact, Preston Glass, co-produced the Delfonics album.

    NC: Preston Glass is one of my associates now and a real wonderful guy. He’s on my new album with Angela Bofill. In fact we’re getting ready to do a film score together. JazzUSA; Ask him about the Delfonics.

    NC: Now that I think about it, he did play me some things he was doing for the Delfonics, something I think Thom Bell wrote.

    JazzUSA: Right, Thom Bell did have one tune on the album. So if you’re a fan, you’re going to love hearing William Hart’s voice.

    NC: I love William Hart. That’s my man.

    JazzUSA: Back to “Saturday Night Special,” that’s where you first start letting the public know that you had some pop leanings, then you had a hit. I know we’re way back there in time, but were you surprised that “Valentine’s Love” became such a big hit.

    NC: No. I was the only one who knew what was happening. Even when we did “You Are My Starship,” I knew it was going to be gigantic. Michael Henderson didn’t know. I remember I went to Michael’s basement in Detroit, after we got the Top 10 r&b hit with “Valentine’s Love,” and I said Michael, ‘let’s get this thing together.” Michael said, ‘oh, I’ve got something for you,’ and he started messing around with this “Starship” thing He said, ‘you like Miles, you like that spacey stuff.’ He said, ‘I’m gonna keep the real commercial things for myself.’ So he kept things like “Be My Girl” I said, ‘okay Mike, you save what you want to save, but this “Starship” is it.’ And I knew what I had. And when they put that record out, it just wouldn’t stop, and it still hasn’t.

    JazzUSA: Okay, let’s clear up a rumor. Now everybody knows how bad Michael Henderson was, I mean playing bass with Stevie to Miles to Aretha to the Rolling Stones. The rumor was that you guys were working on the “Saturday Night Special” album and you needed one more song and he went out in the hallway and wrote “Valentine’s Love” in 20 minutes.

    NC: He wrote “Valentine’s Love” and he told me to get a singer to sing it. He did a demo on it, and I said, at least put your voice on it so the singer can hear how it goes. He did that demo and I kept it, because Michael didn’t think he could sing. And then we brought Jean Carn in for the female part. That’s how that went.

    JazzUSA: After “You Are My Starship,” you had quite a career going?.

    NC: I had a good career going before “Starship.” Actually, I’ve had different elements of great careers. The first two or three years, I had Dee Dee Bridgewater and we were playing like really out there, and you still heard a lot of the avant-garde in me somewhat, but we stretched. Then I got Jean Carn, and then the thing started coming more together with Jean’s angelic voice doing all kinds of acrobatics with her voice. She has that beautiful voice and can do so many things technically. So that was like a whole other program. Then when I got Phyliss (Hyman,) that just put the top on it. When I had Phyliss and Michael, that was the ultimate situation.

    JazzUSA: Phyliss debuted with you, right?

    NC: I found Phyliss in a club called Russ Brown’s, when she first got to New York, out of Florida, and I heard her sing five songs and that was enough for me to take her to the studio, and we did “Betcha By Golly Wow,” and the rest was history.

    JazzUSA: Yes, and “We Both Need Each Other.” Who else have you discovered? Norman Brown is on that list, right?

    NC: Yeah, Norman Brown, Glenn Jones. Glenn was all gospel. My lawyer knew Glenn and introduced me to him. He was real gospel and I loved his voice. I felt he was something like a Peabo Bryson, who I love, and we smoothed him out, and he was with us for a couple of years. And then he went on to RCA. We started with Dee Dee and then Jean and then Phyliss, and then Eleanor Mills, that was on the woman side. Then of course, Michael Henderson, and then there was Prince Phillip Mitchell, after Michael and then Glenn Jones. Then we had this other guy, who used to sing with Change. His name was James Robinson. He was with us for a little while. And then I got this guy, Spencer Harrison, out of Philadelphia. He died a few years ago, but he was just great. He was like a male version of Phyliss Hyman.

    JazzUSA: You named vocalists there, but you’ve had some?.

    NC: Oh, I’ve had some great instrumentalists too. This guy named Shunzo Ono, who played trumpet, Onaje Allen Gumbs, who did the arrangement on “Betcha By Golly Wow” and “Didn’t I Blow Your Mind This Time.”

    JazzUSA: He wrote and arranged on “Love From The Sun” too right?

    NC: Right. Then there’s Gary Bartz. He’s not a discovery of mine, but he used to play the solos on all my tunes.

    JazzUSA: What you do with Gary is so different than what he does away from you. I first caught his sound when he had that NTU Troop in the early 70’s, and when I first heard “You Are My Starship,” I knew it was him immediately. And he sounds so good on the new album.

    NC: I try not to go into the studio without Gary Bartz and Bobby Lyle, and back in those old days, I used to not go into the studio without Stanley Clarke. I was thinking of trying to get Stanley on this one, maybe on the next one. But those were the guys. We called it the Brotherhood. Those are my boys.

    JazzUSA: Are you credited with discovering Marion Meadows too?

    NC: Yeah. I found Marion in 1979, and he’s part of the Starship family. He does his own thing, but he’s been with us since 1979.

    JazzUSA: Let’s talk about the new album. This is your first album in a few years.

    NC: Let’s see, I did two albums for MoJazz, “Remember Who You Are” and “Easy Living.” “Easy Living” was about three and a half years ago. So this is my first album since then.

    JazzUSA: So it was you who first brought Norman Brown to MoJazz?

    NC: Norman couldn’t get a deal for about two or three years. He was teaching at the Guitar Institute and came over to my house and had Thanksgiving dinner. He was with his girlfriend, and she was a friend of a friend of my wife’s at the time. He came over with his guitar and a tape, and I was kind of rude. We were listening to his tape and we had all this company, and I listened to his tape, and he played the guitar for me. And I was like, ‘damn, this boy is bad.’ Time went by. I was on the road a lot, and he was teaching, and we kept in touch. He kept telling me he couldn’t get a deal and I’d go hear him in these little places where he was like playing for the door at this little club in Westwood. Playing for the door at a club in Burbank and all of that. Finally, I said ‘let me go get this guy a deal.’ When I came off the road, I was speaking to (former MoJazz president and current president of Michael Jordan’s newly formed record company Hidden Beach) Steve McKeever, who was starting MoJazz. He didn’t even have the job yet, but he had the concept, and he was saying, ‘yeah, I’m going to start this label, and we want you.’ I said, ‘well, I’ve got a guitar player.’ I was pushing Norman Brown and he was talking about me. I knew I was getting in, but I made sure he got to hear Norman Brown in Westwood. I think I even rented a limousine to get him there. He came and stayed all night and eventually signed him. I pushed Norman Brown in front of myself. I produced that first album and Norman went number two, right behind Kenny G. He was number- one in a lot of markets.

    JazzUSA: And rightfully so. That record is a 90’s contemporary jazz classic. For a veteran, that would have been a strong record. It was just stunning for a debut.

    NC: Yeah, that was a very strong record. Norman outsold a lot of veteran acts. He was a bit thing, right from the start. So I felt pretty good about that. Then he went on and now he’s a big smooth jazz star.

    JazzUSA: Speaking of big time smooth jazz stars, I love the opening track of the album, written and performed by Gerald Albright.

    NC: We’ve become friends over the last six years. I used to always see him. I used to do all my productions (in Los Angeles), and I would see him doing studio work here and there. And I watched him and I noticed that he was really growing. He’s got such a great sound and he’s such a nice guy.

    JazzUSA: Yes he is.

    NC: Yes, a beautiful guy. Now we’re friends and I use him all the time.

    JazzUSA: Yes, that’s a strong opening track.

    NC: He always writes some nice things for me.

    JazzUSA: I know you expect smooth jazz radio to jump all over that.

    NC: Eventually. Unfortunately, the way smooth jazz is now with (consultants) Broadcast Architecture and everything, they usually don’t take tunes with background vocal.

    JazzUSA: You know when I worked at WNUA in Chicago, I worked with a guy, Alan Kepler, who became an executive at Broadcast Architecture, and he went to high school in Kansas with Norman Brown.

    NC: Really. You know now that I think about it, I think Norman did tell me he went to school with one of the guys at Broadcast Architecture.

    JazzUSA: You know it’s amazing what you’ve done with all these people without sacrificing your art, and your name. How do you do that?

    NC: I have no idea. I think it just comes from having such great appreciation for the art itself, and so much appreciation for great music and great people. I’ve been around great people all my life, so I think it’s just imbedded and it comes out that way. I’ve always liked all music, ever since I was three years old, up to now. It’s been nothing but music, music,music.

    JazzUSA: Yeah man, if you analyze it, you might mess it up.

    NC: I’m not even trying to analyze it. I’m just doing what I love, and I love everything from Whitney Houston and Toni Braxton to Archie Shepp and John Coltrane. I have a deep passion for all of that, and have another kind of passion, even when I hear someone like Barbra Striesand.

    JazzUSA: So what do you think of the smooth jazz movement?

    NC: (hearty laughter) Well, what they call the smooth jazz movement, Herbie Hancock and Ramsey Lewis has been playing that stuff for years.

    JazzUSA: No, don’t put them down like that.

    NC: What I’m saying, those people they’re calling smooth jazz, I heard that music back then with Herbie and Ramsey.

    JazzUSA: I think now there’s a line between a contemporary jazz sound and a smooth jazz sound

    NC: Oh, you’re drawing a line between that. When you say smooth jazz, I’m thinking about contemporary period. When you say smooth jazz, or commercial jazz, I just go straight to Herbie, Miles?

    JazzUSA: Well right now there are 20-somethings out there and when they think of jazz, they think of Kenny G, they think of Boney James, so I think there has to be a line drawn between what Kenny Garrett and Marcus Miller does as opposed to?

    NC: Oh, Kenny Garrett., I don’t call him smooth jazz

    JazzUSA: Have you heard his new record?

    NC: Of course. Look, when you say smooth jazz, you can’t get no smoother than John Coltrane playing ballads, all those beautiful notes that he chooses. You can’t get no smoother than that. So, that smooth jazz thing was confusing me for a while, but I understand where they’re coming from, and I understand the language, so it’s cool. What I think about smooth jazz? Boney James, he does some things I like. And you have to check the whole thing out, because as far as Kenny G is concern, millions of people love this guy, and there’s a reason for that. Kenny plays pretty and he does some things that I like, but Kenny Garrett does too. So does Gary Bartz and a whole lot of other people I know. It’s all relative.

    JazzUSA: I hear some things on “Eternity” that are very smooth jazz, but there are also some things that are very black. How you thought how this would be received and accepted at radio, or do you even care?

    NC: (laughs) They made me think about it. Most of the time I do what’s in my heart and I just do it. But then I started getting these things where certain people in the record company would say ‘wow, we took this to this organization and they said they wouldn’t put it on the play list because it had too much feeling,’ and things like that. I was like ‘wow, I can’t take the feeling out of it.’ When we came up, you couldn’t get enough feeling. When you hear Miles and John Coltrane, and Ornette Coleman and Sonny Rollins and Cannonball Adderley, that’s what they were striving for, to go deep into our feelings. How can you grow up and play a lot of music throughout the years, reaching deep down inside yourself and feeling, how can you get to the point of taking the feeling away? There’s no such thing. So, if we play too much for certain formats, what can I say.

    Be sure to check the next issue of JazzUSA for a review of Norman Connor’s smoking new release ‘Eternity’ – Ed.

    Editorial – Reclaiming the Spirit of Jazz

    EditorialReclaiming the Spirit of Jazz
    by Phyllis Lodge

    For those of you who may think this piece is too long, go and talk to bassist Percy Heath. He lit this fire back in January at the IAJE Conference in Long Beach, California. I simply took my cue from it and ran. As I confessed back then, I did not get to take notes, so I am unable to quote Doctor Heath directly, but I can sure speak on the issue he raised. I made reference to it in an earlier piece so I will get to the point. Point is, do you know where this music came from?

    To begin at the beginning, my dad, Melvin Lodge, was a local Chicago musician in his younger days. His first instrument was a guitar before he switched to the bass. On the evenings he had a gig, he would come in from work, take a short nap after dinner, then get up, shower and get sharp. Still wearing his stocking cap and his Old Spice, he would buff his shoes to a spit-shine before getting into his jacket, grabbing his instrument and heading for 63rd Street. Chicago’s southside was definitely the place for the music in the 1950’s.

    My mom, Rose Lodge, could really sing. She, her sister, my Aunt Pauline and our cousin Genie, all worked as ushers at a place called the Oriental Theater in downtown Chicago. The Oriental featured entertainers like Frank Sinatra, Frank Fontaine and others. Mom and them had friends who ushered over at the Regal near 47th Street who would get them into the shows there that included Miles Davis, Sammy Davis, Jr. Joe Williams, Redd Foxx, Pigmeat Markham and Moms Mabley. There was one guy whose name they forgot, but his act was unforgettable. He did this routine where he would just bring a ladder onstage and play the role of a man who was totally drunk. He would balance this ladder upright in the middle of the stage and begin to climb up one side of it with the ladder being held upright simply by his uncanny mastery of gravity and balance. He would literally climb up one side of the ladder and down the other side, a little at a time, teetering in the air as he rambled on in an intoxicated babble while the audience would all be holding their breath in unison. Talk about a sobering experience.

    Many a night my parents along with my mom’s siblings who would come and sit around in our kitchen, singing All The Things You Are, or Get Your Kicks on Route 66 in all the parts. Mom and Aunt Pauline sang the soprano and alto parts while Dad and Uncle Emmett and Uncle Alex sang tenor. Uncle Bob and Uncle Leon would handle the bass parts. Sometimes they would sing spirituals all night. Those were our lullabies.

    Members of our extended family were also musicians. Penny Pendleton, christened Uncle Penny was actually my dad’s best friend from DuSable High School, but he and dad were close enough to be brothers. The circle also included a very brilliant, yet laid-back guitarist from Evanston named Bobby Robinson, a highly personable drummer named Chante and occasionally a vibes player named Joe. Uncle Penny was a premier bassist who tutored music for years and coached many of the Chicago vocalists back then. He also played trumpet, piano and was a composer. All three of Uncle Penny and Auntie Myrel’s children were creative, gifted folks. He even named his youngest after Thad Jones! Many a day Uncle Penny would slide through with a new album he wanted us to hear. Everybody would pile into the living room to check it out, because Uncle Penny knew which way the music was going. Pianist Oscar Peterson, especially during the days of the trio with Ray Brown on bass and Ed Thigpen on drums, was always a prime choice. As I began to grow in to the music, I would trot down the street to Uncle Penny’s to sit in his basement where he had all his music, and at his feet where I received at an early age, my primary education in the music known as jazz.

    No one could throw a jam session better than my folks could. The whole neighborhood would join the set. Live music and everything! This was beautiful, since the music generally lasted throughout the night, so no one was left at home crying the blues about the music being too loud. Although my sisters (there were five of us by now) and I were generally sent to bed early in the evening, we would secretly sit up and listen to the grown folks clown. Finally we would drift off to sleep, the music filling our dreams. Holidays like the 4th of July would have been inconceivable unless somebody’s stero on the block was blaring Jimmy Smith or Jack McDuff; Ella Fitzgerald, Joe Williams and the Count Basie Band, the Modern Jazz Quartet or Ray Charles or Nancy Wilson . All day long the folks would take turns, starting at typically 11:30 a.m. An unidentified neighbor would spin for awhile. A few hours later, somebody else would don the dee-jay hat, and on and on deep into the night until folks just started falling asleep. My sisters called jazz “holiday music”. The culture was a source of pride and enjoyment. The music was one of the things that made the community what it was. And the community, in turn did the same for the music.

    These days the kitchen sets have faded. Dad, Uncle Penny, Uncle Bob, Uncle Leon and Uncle Emmett are all ancestors. Mom rarely sings anymore. Days when she seemed a bit blue, I would slip downstairs at our old house and put on some Coltrane, and she would perk right up. She would come and sit at the top of the basement stairs and listen to “John” blow, You Leave Me Breathless or Lush Life. Sometimes she would bring a beer, and listen, her head tilted slightly toward the sound with a quiet smile. Listening and perhaps reminiscing. And times like this I could recall how my dad used to exclaim in amazement: You used to hate jazz when you were a child – and now look at you! My father predicted that I would someday write about jazz and keep the flame alive. This was years before I knew I was in love with the art form. Nobody knows you better than your parents, I suppose.

    Jazz – the one true part of ourselves that is more effectively hidden from us than our Divinity.

    I think of how many of the great masters like Max Roach and McCoy Tyner and even Duke and more, viewed the term “jazz” as inappropriate. In a very early interview Frank London Brown conducted with Thelonius Monk, Brown asked Monk where he thought the music was going. Monk promptly responded that he thought it was going to hell. Back then it sounded outrageous, but I suspect Uncle Bubba saw something happening even then. Just the term jazz is such a restriction on the personality of the music that encompasses a broad spectrum of African-American expression. It includes spirituals, gospel, work songs, and blues. This is the gist of what Percy Heath reminded us of in his remarks at the NEA JazzMasters Endowment Concert and it brought folks either to their feet, or tears to their eyes. I experienced both responses. While the term “jazz” may not quite make the grade, fortunately the name itself has not stifled the creative powers of those active custodians who have kept it alive and flowering for the better part of the past century.

    Legend has it that the term “jazz” became popular during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s when a trio of black musicians took their talent on the road. They used to travel and perform numerous places throughout the South with their makeshift instruments. Actually they were a washtub turned upside-down with a two-by-four and a string attached to make a bass; a washboard and stick that would keep rhythm and a comb that could be played like a kazoo. The musicians were quite inventive, but that didn’t save them from being a source of amusement to their audiences, earning them the title of the “jack-asses”. The name stuck. Gradually the term evolved into “jassacks” and finally as a result of the natural evolutionary process of language became shortened to jass. Somewhere along the line, “jass” became “jazz”. This story may account for the etymology of the term, but the art form itself has an origin independent of the legend.

    Whether you call it “jazz” or “holiday music” like my sisters did, the music itself is an historical marker. I paraphrase Quincy Jones, who once observed that in his day, our history was not found in history books. The great composer/arranger went on to say that the only black people they learned about in school were people like George Washington Carver and Booker T. Washington. Jones reminded us that the history was locked up in the music. To quote the great Bill Smokey Robinson: “I second that emotion”. Today there is an abundance of books on African descendants in this country. Yet it is still the case that the majority of our living history is locked up in this music. It is time to break out the key and open the treasure chest, and the only ocean it sits at the bottom of is the one in our souls. The music known as jazz evolved gracefully out of our bitter experiences here, or as poet and historian Amiri Baraka so aptly describes it in his text Blues People, the music was created “…when African captives became American captives.” Baraka explains to us that the music resulting from slavery became what we now call the blues, which is the “…parent of all legitimate jazz [which] could not exist if the African captives had not become American captives..” (Baraka; African Slaves/American Slaves: Their Music. P17).

    The hardship of our ancestors’ collective experience in early America led to the birth of the blues, which led to layers of a series of unique expressions including gospel, spirituals and a wide variety of soul music. I borrow the term layers of… expression from Steve Adegoke and Iqua Colson, two more of our very great music educators. The emergence of jazz is one of the pearls formed as a direct result of our struggle for our true selves. We sang the blues and spirituals to keep from breaking entirely under the dehumanizing strains of being enslaved. The story of the African holocaust and slaver as it existed in this country has yet to be told, but it is forever memorialized in our music. The tragedy of it all is that jazz, as one of the few remaining art forms with its masters still among us, is being revered by people practically throughout the globe. It is, however, retreating in imperceptible degrees from the everyday fabric of African-American life.

    The bottom line is this: jazz is synonymous with African American creative expression and culture. It is more than a source of entertainment. It is actually the spirit of a people, specifically black people, and the experiences we have incorporated from the sights and sounds and feelings around us as they manifest on this continent. It is our response to this life here. It is no less African-American than River Dance is Irish, Flamenco is Castillian or Pansori, Korean. Some will insist that it should be called jazz, which means that some of the real music that has grown out of it may not always fit a misperception of what the music really is about. Take for example the term “cool jazz”. What does that really mean? Well, whatever it means, Miles Davis was responsible for the birth of “cool”, but he never called it that. He simply played it.

    I can recall one particular journalist who coined the term for John Coltrane of “angry tenor player”. Coltrane’s music was sensitive and beautiful, just like the man. It practically raised him to the status of sainthood. John Coltrane could sound like the sunrise. His saxophone could capture the cleansing fragrance of a summer day, After the Rain. He could echo the anguished wail of millions of black people when four, young black girls were killed by a bomb as they sat in Sunday school during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s. Coltrane’s music reflected his experiences on this continent, and those experiences were not limited to anger.

    Trumpet genius Louis Armstrong was one of the parents of jazz. He was influenced by an earlier trumpet personality out of New Orleans named Buddy Bolden. Louis Armstrong, or Satchmo, as he was affectionately called, cultivated a style that was a carry over of New Orleans funeral music, to put it briefly. Respected South African ethnomusicologist, Elkin Sithole taught us at the Center for Inner City Studies in Chicago that Armstrong’s nickname, Satchmo, was a shortened version of the term satchel mouth, referring to the corn that forms on the mouth when one plays an instrument such as the trumpet. I might also mention that funeral music during that time was lively, sprightly and jubilant, since most black folks back then celebrated death as a release from this life. Satchmo (or Pops, which was another nickname of his) fostered a sound that countless people grew to love and appreciate because it was alive and his musicianship was impeccable.

    Alto saxophone genius Charlie Parker, the Bird, was so far ahead of himself at 34 years of age when he died, that there are musicians even today who continue to revere the playing style he mastered so early in his tumultuous life. During the height of his career, Parker played like a bird swift in flight. Cuthbert O. Simpkins, MD in his book, Coltrane: A Biography, tells us that a young John Coltrane sat listening to Bird one time with his mouth agape, eyes glazed over in a trance and paralyzed in amazement. Coltrane finally snapped out of his revelry when the cigarette he forgot he was holding, burned his fingers. Another thing Pops, Bird and Trane had in common besides their firm mastery of their art, was that each heralded a new epoch in jazz, and each was a warrior in his own way. Yet, they represent the a slender percentage of the countless giants whose styles created other branches of learning in this musical tree.

    Let us talk about Sun Ra for a moment. Rumor has it that Sun Ra once claimed that he was from Saturn. Or he at least felt a great affinity for the planet that takes 33 years to orbit the sun. That is a pretty wide orbit. Sun Ra’s music was as magical as he was. My Aunt Pauline once told me that each part Sun Ra composed and arranged was specifically tailored for each musician in his Space Archestra. Sun Ra wore these incredible, Khemetic (or Egyptian) garments and headpiece whenever he and the Archestra performed. One time when he was performing at the Jazz Showcase in Chicago when I went to hear him, he even sat out in the lobby on the sofa there at the Blackstone, and lectured us front porch style. Unfortunately, I was so absorbed in the talk, I failed to jot any notes. That great wisdom just sits now in the ethers. Sun Ra was very serious about what he created, and his music was an entire chapter of an entire age of existence.

    There is also much in a name in this music. The nicknames of many of the musicians are historically significant. Hawk. Dizzy. Prez (or Porkpie Hat). Lady. Rahsaan. The Lion. Uncle Bubba. Fatha’. The Count. Little Esther. Leadbelly. Sassy. Again, Trane, Pops and Bird. Ella, the Queen. Tootie. Fat Girl. These are actual titles that mean something within the context of that individual artist’s musical persona. Even the mere shortening of the name like Trane or Hawk designates a term of endearment. When we say “jazz” to many of our young people, what is it we are really saying to them? They get this fuzzy, hodgepodge of images that prevents them from connecting to the source of this artistic expression unless they have parents or grandparents who listened to it at home. The music itself is still there, and the term is okay for conversation, perhaps. Yet the music goes far beyond this. How do we begin to reclaim it for them as one of the real artistic legacies exquisitely carved for them from our ancient family tree.

    Help Was On the Way, for A While Anyway.

    One rather lamentable trend today is that so many great musicians are teaching today simply because performance venues are evaporating faster than an evening sun on the horizon. A disproportionate percentage of the progenitors of this music are standing in front of a multicultural classroom, compelled to translate this experience into academic terms. To quote Arsenio Hall: “Hmmm.” Today jazz is primarily played on college campuses or on Public Radio. One interesting rationalization for the limited airplay was that it is “intellectual” music. So why is it used to sell cars? Do you need a degree to drive a car. No, you only need a driver’s license. The music was plucked out of the clubs and transplanted to the universities. Yet the lifeblood of the inspiration of it came from within the black community. McCoy Tyner tells us that that is one of the places he really learned to play, because in the day, black folks would definitely get on you if your chops were flimsy. Our children should be growing up with it within our communities, with fond memories of holiday music. It is in their community that they and the music can nurture one another. It is in their community that they should be able to consume their greens and blues and grow up big and strong. Should our children have to leave the community in order to experience it? What happens if the children are unable to get financial aid? Why can’t Jamal or Shirelle read?

    This music was born from within our community life. In Chicago, (and I’m sure that folks in Philly, or St. Louis or Detroit or Brooklyn or the Bronx or Seattle can attest to this type of experience) at 11 p.m every night, most of the teenagers in the city who listened to Herb Kent were all singing the same prayer. This was during the early 1960’s after The Cool Gent’s show of popular rhythm and blues was going off. We knew every word, every note, every nuance and every twist and turn in the melody. Perhaps that was part of the reason we rarely killed one another. It was called Open Our Eyes and it was our ritual, and it worked. This is the reason why it is imperative that we begin teaching the children this music, and teaching them about these musicians. To glance back to the previous paragraph, you do not need to be an intellectual to listen to this music. You only need to hear it. That means somebody has to be playing it on the radio.

    The eye and ear opening Betty Carter is no longer here with here her fantastic Jazz Ahead program that she launched in Brooklyn. Ms. Carter cared about whether we learned this music and she groomed a host of trios onstage. The calist/composer/arranger initiated workshops teaching improvisational skills. She was sharing knowledge and you could sit in and learn. There was just one rule, if you had a question and you were a vocalist, you had to sing your answer, in key and in the proper time signature with the trio onstage. T.S. Monk cared enough to have annual percussion competitions. Whether he is still doing this or not matters less than the fact that if he sent five young people to college, that is five more percussionists than we had before. As fate would have it, Archie Shepp has been living abroad. Here is a man whose scholarly acumen in the fine arts, including jazz, will have you feeling as though you should be sitting in a high chair when he begins to teach. Wynton Marsalis is still doing his Jazz at Lincoln Center. The only tragedy here is when I was downtown this past summer when he came to Orchestra Hall in Chicago. The folks were brining their children in droves and buckets. Guess what? I think I counted the black youngsters on one hand.

    If all of this sounds like belly-aching to you, then I can tell you were not sitting there in the same row where I was sitting when I attended the IAJE that I have referred to a couple of times during the course of this piece. I had the privilege of sitting with Frank and Cecilia Foster on one side of me, and McCoy Tyner and Percy Heath on the other. To top it all off, Jimmy and Tootie Heath were seated right in back of us with a friend or family member. And of course there was music. There was the Dave Brubeck Quartet and the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra with Dee Dee Bridgewater along with a couple of groups of young people. Suffice it to say that when the music was really “on”, Heath Brothers contributed some verbal asides that were as creative as the music. Woe be unto whomever if they were a little shaky, the ‘Brothers’ had me holding my sides to keep them from splitting. That was how my folks used to listen. That was how a lot of our folks used to listen, because the musician with integrity would have something to say, or he would be run off the stage. Before ‘Bird’ became ‘Bird’, he got onstage and tried to jam with folks over his head and guess what – it was Jo Jones, I believe, who got so angry at him he threw one of his symbols right at his head. Fortunately he missed. You did not fool around when you got up there with the folks.

    So this was one of those rare instances where you heard the Brothers responding to what heard, because they know where the music came from, especially when they were cutting their teeth on it. They would grunt with approval if someone on stage really knew how to tell their story, as Von Freeman would put it. They listened with more than their ears. They listened with their hearts and their souls. It is a toss up as to whom I enjoyed listening to most that evening — the musicians onstage, or the musicians sitting behind me listening along with us. All I can say is, without this kind of seasoning from within the true spirit of the listeners, call the music whatever you will – but it won’t mean a thang…

    Maybe next time, we’ll say a little bit about tap dancing….

    Peace and blessings to ya’…

    Live – Will Downing Interview – 11/2007

    Will DowningBack In The Groove
    Most people know that for nearly two decades Will Downing has been laying down an ultra smooth sound, first as a backup singer (for almost everyone in the business) then later as a solo artist. What they don’t know is that in January 2007 the smooth crooner came down with Polymyositis, a debilitating disease that

    Visit Will Downing’s web site.

    took away his ability to function on his own. His new album After Tonight was primarily recorded from a wheelchair at home. This is Will Downing’s 13th album as a solo artist, and I think it may be one of his best. Will called to update us on his progress, his new CD and his future. by S.H. Watkins, Sr.

    Realmedia Windows Media

    An Interview with Avishai Cohen

    We talk basics with
    Avishai Cohen
    by Fred Jung

    There comes a time in every man’s life and I’ve had many of them, but I’m sure Avishai Cohen has not. Another fine product of the Smalls breeding ground, Cohen has slowly been getting his share of the love, as he should because his modest character is almost retro. On a recent tour through Los Angeles, I sat down with the bassist to talk about his time in the Israeli army, his new release on Concord, “Devotion,” and his influences. Maturely grounded by all standards, Cohen speaks with us candidly.

    Avishai CohenJazzUSA: How did you get started in music?

    AC: Basically, of course, I grew up in Israel and as a kid, I was, like, nine when I started being interested in piano. I was always into music, just listening to what my parents would put on, which would be from Beethoven, Mozart, and Bach, to Middle Eastern sounds of Israeli music, or to Euro-pop music, anything. Then when I was nine or ten, I started checking out the piano that we had at home for my sister that was taking lessons. I started up messing around with it in my own way and finding little melodies and actually having my own little approach to it before anything. I started taking lessons when I was ten, studying some classical. We moved to St. Louis when I was fourteen, for two years. My mother had a job there. There, I started getting interested in rock and roll and jazz. I started playing bass when I was fifteen and still played piano. I started taking lessons with jazz teachers. From then on, I just became an electric bass player for a few years. That’s what I did when I came back to Israel in ’86, I started working as a bassist for jazz gigs. At a certain point when I was twenty, about twenty, I was into jazz to the point where I understood that the upright bass would be the right sound. I bought a bass, a very cheap one and started taking classical lessons. I actually was very serious about it and got pretty good, faster than I thought. The next step was to move to New York in ’92. I took my bass and moved to New York and kept practicing a lot. The first year that I was there, I wasn’t feeling ready yet. I practiced and started getting together with some people to play. I started doing sessions and doing little gigs and meeting more and more people. Then I started playing with Danilo Perez in ’95. From then on, it just happened. I hooked up with Chick and did my first record and recorded with him.

    JazzUSA: Any influences at that time?

    AC: I was lucky, my teacher in St. Louis hipped me to Stanley Clarke and Jaco Pastorius and Ray Brown too. I loved Ray and that made a lot of sense to me. But mainly Jaco turned my whole, Jaco was the main force. I got into it as I started playing electric and his musicality and his sound and his approach totally took me by storm. It was a force for me. It was a very big source of inspiration.

    JazzUSA: What was your first jazz record?

    AC: You know, Fred, I would say it was probably, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. I don’t remember the name of the record, but it was one of their many records and an Oscar Peterson Trio with Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen and then right after that, “Light as a Feather,” Chick.

    JazzUSA: And your time with Danilo?

    AC: That was actually a very good turn in my career. When I started playing with Danilo, it was actually the beginning of the exposure, rather outside of the New York scene, which could be Smalls or any place that I was playing, which is great, but it’s still a certain scene. Being with Danilo, we started going around the world and playing. It broadened an awareness of me to the people, which helped a lot. A lot of musicians got to know me and through being on the record, “Panamonk,” that did really well and was one of the records that stuck out as a very innovative record, I was lucky just to be a part of it. I got a lot of attention by it. Playing with Danilo was great because he’s a very, very good player, musician. I learned a lot and got a lot of stuff from him.

    JazzUSA: What about your association with Chick Corea?

    AC: It started when I played, I remember doing a week long at Sweet Basil with Danilo, maybe four, three, four years ago, with him and Lenny White. Chick was in town with the Bud Powell thing, that band. He came to Sweet Basil when we were playing and that’s the first time I got to meet him. It was more, like, just meeting him. We didn’t get to play or anything. He heard us play a very few notes. But then, the next thing was, I played with Danilo at one of the jazz conventions that was in Chicago three years ago. It was very successful. We played a great show. Some of Chick Corea’s crew or assistant manager was there. He heard me play and really loved it, so he came up to me after the show and introduced himself. I had a tape of my band that we just got going into the studio in New York. I spent my own money on a little demo tape of, actually, “Adama” (Cohen’s debut on Stretch/Concord), that record. We recorded it at a little studio in New York, where we recorded all the tunes and it came out really great. I had that with me so when he said Chick Corea, I said, “Man, I’ve loved Chick Corea for years. I really love his compositions and everything. If you can give him that just as a gesture, I would love for him to hear it. Maybe, he will like it.” I didn’t even know that he had a record company (Stretch). And then, two weeks later I got a call from Ron Moss, who manages Chick for years and is a co-partner with Stretch Records and he was asking a lot of questions about my music. He said that he had heard it and he loved it. Chick hadn’t heard it yet, but Ron heard it and really loved it. He said that he would like to sign me, and I said, “Wow, that’s beautiful!” He said, “Man, I have to play it for Chick first, I don’t know if he will like it. But if he likes it, we definitely want to sign you. I don’t know what his response will be.” So then a few days later, I got a call from Chick, which was really exciting, to get a call from Chick, certainly. And he was totally enthusiastic and really excited about the music. We talked about the tunes and from then on we made it work. We set the time in studio. I went in and Chick was there, co-producing it, actually producing it, and we did the record “Adama,” which was very successful.

    JazzUSA: What made you switch from piano to bass?

    AC: I remember having a hard time reading music with a piano. That was a little frustrating. I don’t think it’s actually the main reason why I switched. I switched because I was young and I wanted to try something else and it appealed to me. The electric bass appealed as something that could be interesting. For some kind of reason I picked it up. I don’t know, even today, fully why. It happened and it stayed.

    JazzUSA: Do you still play the piano?

    AC: Oh, man, I even play on the gigs. There’s a tune that is on the record, the record is a little messed up with the credits so it doesn’t say that I’m playing piano, but I’m playing, “Angels of Peace” is me playing piano. I do that on the gigs too sometimes. I spend a lot of time with the piano, especially in New York in my apartment. I play it a lot more than the bass because un the road I don’t get to do it.

    JazzUSA: Let’s talk about your time in the Israeli army.

    AC: A part of it was a lot of fun because I was lucky. I was in the army band that played rock and roll. I got to be on stage everyday for months and months, which was good for me, playing alright music with good musicians. At a point, it started not being so great because I was already playing professionally as a jazz bassist and getting calls for gigs and festivals and stuff and it didn’t work anymore to be in the army band. After two years, I quit and that’s when I got the upright. I picked up the upright and started that, but the army was good. I learned a lot by playing there.

    JazzUSA: How is the jazz scene in Israel?

    AC: I know there’s very talented young musicians, always. There’s always more than a few that are into the tradition and doing what needs to be done to really study the music and what happens is they either end up in New York or there’s not a lot to do. There’s not many gigs, but there are a few things. There is a movement of young people to play the music.

    JazzUSA: Were you shell-shocked when you moved to New York?

    AC: Well, Fred, when I moved to New York, I remember just getting to know, well, I went to the New School for a few months. It wasn’t a persisting type of thing. I mainly did it for my papers and my visa. I met incredible players like Brad Mehldau and Pete Bernstein and Adam Cruz and got to play with them. That was when I realized why I move there when I was playing with people my age that were so mature and so serious about what they were doing like I was. But more, just being in New York and being exposed to all the great players, and it just came to me that that’s the main reason why people go there. It’s just full of so many great players that are so dedicated and so serious about the music.

    JazzUSA: How has the Smalls scene grown over the years?

    AC: Smalls has been great because it gave a chance for young people to put together projects that they believed in and maybe get a gig here and there. The thing about Smalls is it attracts a young crowd and there’s always people in there. It’s a chance for you to play your music and get a sense of how it effects people. A lot of young musicians go there so there’s always a boiling type of feeling of the scene. It’s a lot of what’s going on. It’s a good place for growing and to meet a lot of great musicians. I was lucky to be a part of it. I still am a part of it. I’m on the road so much that I don’t get to go there that much, but when I am in New York, I go there and my friends are playing and I check out the music and if I have time I play. It’s a great place. That’s where I started my band and I will always have the respect for that.

    JazzUSA: You just finished a gig at my alma mater, the University of Southern California, at their free jazz festival, what did you think of the crowd turnout?

    AC: The crowd, surprisingly, the turnout was not good. It’s a free festival and it wasn’t us specifically, it was all the acts (Dave Douglas, Mark Turner, David Sanchez, and McCoy Tyner). There wasn’t a good turnout and they can’t really explain it, but I’m pretty sure that they didn’t do what they needed to do for it to be a good turnout. There’s a lot of people in Los Angeles.

    JazzUSA: I have to apologize for Los Angeles. If the cast from Buffy or Ally McBeal isn’t there, there’s very little interest, although we were the first in line for the new Star Wars.

    AC: That’s what I hear. I mean, it’s a shame because great people come to play here and it’s free, man. All you’ve got to do is go. They must have not done something, but the people that were there, and there were some people there, loved it. They stood up when we were done and we gave a great show and it was beautiful.

    JazzUSA: You like to use instruments that are not the traditional horn, piano, bass, and drum, like an oud and bells.

    AC: The oud definitely adds a texture that I, sometimes it’s hard to explain exactly. I can say it brings a Middle Eastern vibe, but it’s not exactly that. What it is, in the context of what I write for the bass, I double it with the oud a lot of times and it just gives this crisp touch to the whole mix of the band. The ground of what you hear from the rhythm section has a special little touch that you wouldn’t think makes such a difference, but really puts a whole thing in the mix. It’s just a beautiful addition to a regular rhythm section. For me, it makes a big difference. It’s heard I think. It’s heard in recordings too.

    JazzUSA: And because you utilize those instruments, you are typecast as fusion, is that a fair assessment?

    AC: No. I don’t use any terms for any music. I think it makes the music smaller. For any kind of art form, I try not to put names and definitions to it because it just makes it smaller for me. Fusion, if you want to call what happened in the seventies with the electric music and everything and that style, that’s totally not what I do. Yet, what’s fusion? For me, what I do is what I do.

    JazzUSA: Let’s touch on your latest album, “Devotion.”

    AC: I don’t go to do a record with a concept. I haven’t yet. What happened with “Adama,” first is that I had a bunch of tunes that were piling up. I write a lot. I’ve always been writing all the time. There was a bunch of tunes already and I was doing them with the band every once and a while when we had a gig in New York. When I was asked to do a record, I totally had a record already. There wasn’t a concept. The concept was to put the tunes on a record. What happened was, it made so much sense as it was that it seems, if it seems like a concept, it’s a good sign, but it wasn’t approached that way. That’s what I’m saying. It made sense as a record. It starts and ends and it connects. With “Devotion,” it was kind of the same. Another year went by. I wrote more music and I still had tunes from years back that I wanted to do. So between a few old tunes and mostly new tunes, I had another record. My only wish, what I wanted for this record, “Devotion,” was to put all these ideas that I had that were a little different than the first one that required other things and to just be successful with putting it on tape and doing it. I have a string quartet in there. I have a flute, and I have this and that and different concepts that required a lot of work and concentration and belief for this to come out. It just worked. I put on tape, again, exactly what I wanted. For me, that’s the concept, to be able to put all the ideas that I have come up with in the past year or two and put them on tape so I can move on because I keep writing. I already have about a half a record for the next record.

    JazzUSA: Did you approach your career from the outset with that in mind?

    AC: It was never a thing where I said that you have to do your own thing and your identity. It’s actually a natural thing where I have been lucky to be creating these things. These things come out of me and when they come out, when there’s a tune there, it’s very precious to me. I’m attached to it. I put a lot of emotion into it and it’s a part of me that I feel I have to put out there. It doesn’t belong to me, but it’s a part of my emotions. I’m so attached to it that I want to do it. I feel closer to that than any other tune that I would love, there’s so many. I know a lot of standards and I’ve been playing them since I came to New York and I grew up on that in a way. I love it but the music that comes out of me always has a special place where I’m so attached that that’s the first thing that I want to do. I do give a lot of respect for the beautiful songs that Gershwin or Cole Porter or some of my favorite composers have composed. They’re in me too. They are the inspiration for a lot of the music that I write.

    JazzUSA: And your touring plans?

    AC: We’re going to La Jolla (San Diego County, CA) today to do a show there. It should be fun. We’re coming back tomorrow and we’re doing the Baked Potato (Hollywood) for two nights. We have some kind of TV, cable TV thing (Direct TV), one of these days that we have to do a taping to. We go to Tucson (Arizona) and then we’re out of here, back home.

    JazzUSA: Home is New York.

    AC: Home is Israel, but I’m based in New York now.

    JazzUSA: You have been on the road with Danilo, Chick, and your own band, how is New York compared to Paris, Tokyo, or San Francisco?

    AC: Well, New York, you know, Fred, how in New York there’s that roaring, boiling feeling of constant movement and constant action. It’s not even the music. It’s that city lives. There’s so much energy in it, that the music is effected too. When you go to hear a concert, or when you do a concert, it’s just there’s that excitement, that natural excitement that the city has is transferred to whatever you do. In the most simple way, that is a lot of it. Aside from that, it’s a legend. For years it has been the home base of where a lot of stuff started and was created. All the greats were there and I think they put a vibe and an energy that is still there. Obviously, it is still happening and great musicians come out of there. I just like the fact that I can go any night and pick a few places when I know that I’m going to hear great music.

    JazzUSA: Would you want to play another instrument?

    AC: I love the trumpet. I even bought one and I started messing around with it. I never have the time to get, I still don’t have the time to get as serious about it as much as I want to, but I will. I love the trumpet. I love many other instruments too. I play guitar too. I love the drums.

    JazzUSA: What is it about the trumpet?

    AC: I like the force of it. I like the statement. It’s a very rhythmic instrument and I love rhythmic playing, like horn, like playing salsa stuff, but mainly, I love the trumpet because of Lee Morgan, which I love so much, and Freddie Hubbard too, and Miles, but Lee Morgan was always such an inspiration, a voice to me. It became a passion to play trumpet in that sense.

    JazzUSA: Did you stay for Dave Douglas (Cohen opened for Douglas)?

    AC: Yes, I saw a little. We just had breakfast together before I came here for this interview and he’s, man, he’s a motherfucker. He’s great. It was great doing a double bill with him and I hope it happens again. He’s a serious cat.

    JazzUSA: Is there a city or venue that is near and dear for you?

    AC: Wow, you got me, Fred. Well, there’s many places that would fit, but let me think now. There’s a place in Israel that’s very cool that is called the Sultan’s Pool in Jerusalem. It is a beautiful place to play and I would love to play one time with my band. I don’t know if it will ever happen, but it might. That would be nice. Other than that, Big Sur, we played, which is great! I would love to play there again, Big Sur Jazz Festival. It’s such a beautiful place.

    JazzUSA: A good turnout?

    AC: Pretty good. Pretty good. People loved it and it was very, very nice.

    JazzUSA: I hear it was your birthday yesterday.

    AC: Yes.

    JazzUSA: Did you get a birthday wish?

    AC: No, I didn’t actually.

    JazzUSA: I don’t have any candles to blow out, but indulge me.

    AC: Well, my birthday wish is to keep doing what I’m doing and getting such a joy from having such a great band with me that carries and delivers every night, such beautiful stuff. It’s such a feeling. It’s one of the best things that can happen to someone writing music. If that could keep going and grow, that’s my wish.

    For more information on Avishai Cohen’s new album
    Avishai Cohen - Devotion
    The Avishai Cohen Website at Concord Records.

    An Interview with Von Freeman

    The Philosophy and Life Work of
    Earl LeVon (Von) Freeman
    as told to Phyllis A. Lodge August 22, 1988

    Von Freeman The Interview begins in the middle of the conversation with Von speaking. Von refers to any of the local musicians who frequent his sessions as his “horses”. It is a term of endearment…

    VF: One of my ‘horses’ is with Johnny Griffin, when and if his bass player leaves. And I told you that Stevie Coleman and Dwayne Armstrong (both are saxophonists from Chicago) had moved on to New York. I was proud of them. And that I had seen this trumpeter – Steve Schmidt – who had formed a state band in Nice, France. I had also seen the guitar player whom I’m so crazy about, Pope Paul, with McCoy [Tyner]. And I know he loves playing with McCoy. I thought it was so nice [that] McCoy’s giving some of the young cats a chance, you know, because this fellow is very young.

    JazzUSA: How old is he?

    VF: Oh, he looks to be in his early 20’s to me. Came up with Stevie (Coleman) and all of them, you know. And that’s just a few of the fellows whom I predict great futures for.

    Of course, I think I’m entering a frame of mind where I think I would go back into writing again, which I had given up for 30 years just about. Even reading music. It had gotten to the point where I stopped reading music; no more than some lines, you know. And I think I may go back into that.

    JazzUSA: Actually reading notes, because a lot of musicians are trying to get away from that now, aren’t they?

    VF: Yeah, well, it’s always a good… [ponders briefly] …option; put it that way. And then you can be creative in writing too, if you try. Actually, I’ve been doing this spontaneous playing for so long until maybe I’m getting tired of that now, I don’t know. You know you go through phrases [corrects himself], phases, I’m trying to say and uh…

    JazzUSA: Laughing, “Phrases and phases”. Von laughs too]

    VF: Yeah, well alright. I heard that. Right, right, right. But that may be where I’m coming to now, because I know, over in Europe this last time, I sat down and wrote four or five pieces. I hadn’t done that in years. And I had been going to Europe for the last seven years, and I had never gone there and done that. And this time I found myself [interrupts himself]… of course, Nice is like that sort of, because – Nice, France – because it is so quiet; and it’s conducive to creative writing. It’s on the Riviera in France.

    JazzUSA: Ah, I don’t know that much about Nice…

    VF: Well, Nice is worldwide famous. That’s where they have the nude beach.

    JazzUSA: Oh-h-h” … laughter here. “…Okay”

    VF: And then Cannes is down the road a bit. And they’re world famous for the film festivals where they give the “greatest” films, you know. And it’s very authoritative…. [Here Von inquires very diplomatically]. Well, listen, are you getting this? [After we confirm that the tape is picking up okay, Von resumes …]

    I think I’m getting closer with my brother, George, musically. And maybe even when I go to Europe next time, I’ll take him with me. We do have a problem with that. It doesn’t leave anyone back here with mother, you know. We can work that out, I’m certain, because it wouldn’t be for any more than a week or two; or maybe four weeks at the most, which is about all I go for anyway. And perhaps if I took him [George] I wouldn’t even stay that long. [NOTE: The beautiful Mrs. Freeman has, since this interview, joined the ranks of the Ancestors.]

    Everybody, I think, or every musician should get a chance to travel one time at least. It’s really broadening to go abroad, you know. It’s really broadening [he affirms] inasmuch as you get such recognition from the people there, from the masses, until it’s really heart-warming, for example, to go and be photographed on the street. And praised. So it is just a shot in the arm to the average musician who has never been there, because most of our musicians are not, in most cases, accustomed to the type of royal treatment the Europeans give you.

    JazzUSA: I was reading something Cecil (Taylor) said about how the pianos, even in the places where jazz performers play, are superior to many the places they have to perform on here in the United States].

    VF: Aw yeah [Von chimes right in]. Those Bosendorfers and things. The Steinways. You have the best pianos. And of course, that Bosdendorfer! That thing has a sound that, my goodness! I think it has more than 88 keys, too. And they’re very long, like a concert grand. And the average piano player [here] has never played on one. Well, a lot of piano players never played on Steinways [either]. And of course these pianos just help your playing so much because it is a good instrument. It’s like a violinist playing on a Stradivarius. Naturally, he’s going to get the most out of his talent playing on a great instrument.

    JazzUSA: Another thing Cecil commented on was how he sometimes felt like half a musician, because he always only had “half pianos” to play on. Not his exact words, of course, but you know what I mean.]

    VF: Yeah. And then too, most of the time the pianos are out-of-tune, and this is bad too, to a sensitive musician. Not so much the malfunction of the keys,* you understand, as the thing being out-of-tune. And this can really wreck havoc with you, with your ear, you know.> *[McCoy Tyner has remarked on more than one occasion how he suffered for years playing on pianos with chipped keys. The older pianos were made of ivory rather than plastic, and they would cut his fingers pretty badly after prolonged playing. “When are you gonna get this thing fixed?” he often wondered silently.]

    JazzUSA: You don’t have that problem with a horn, though…

    VF: Well, see, you have a problem when you have to play with them. [

    JazzUSA: Yes, of course]

    VF: See, because when you play with an out-of-tune piano, it’s almost impossible to tune up with it, and you find yourself altering … [shifts his thoughts here]. Like, I came up with out-of-tune pianos. Consequently, it helped to wreck me. [Von laughs this off half-heartedly] And a lot of guys, they come up with that stuff because you have a tendency… well, all you’ve ever heard was something out-of-tune. And it’s not… [here he elevates his mood…] but, all things being equal, that’s just another barrier you have to jump across. Or climb over – let’s put it that way – one of the many.

    JazzUSA: I don’t even remember this guy’s name, but I ran into him up on the North side. I told you about the one that time who was talking about how great you were and who was saying that you play in a different kind of pitch anyway…

    VF: Yeah. Well most people just say it’s out-of-tune and let it go at that [he laughs].

    JazzUSA: He didn’t describe it that way, though. He said that you have your own pitch. Von acquiesces. Yeah, well remember what I’m doing is playing very sophisticated harmonically. That’s really all it is, because I sit up and study harmony day and night. And of course, when you play that way, the average person can’t find the little “ditties” and things he hears in what most people play. And if he can’t identify or be familiar with certain things, most people really don’t dig it. You see, people are not [muses a bit] …people are not that happy with things they are not familiar with.

    JazzUSA: There’s the catch, trying to make them familiar. But if they’re not exposed, then I guess it wouldn’t be familiar to them.

    VF: Things that people are not familiar with they just have a tendency not to dig. And that’s just people in general. Even dealing with other people, most people, if they’re not familiar with something … you call it prejudice, really. But it’s not…I don’t think it’s that so much as people are just not comfortable with things they’re unfamiliar with. Especially if a certain thing is great [musically]; and you come out with something different. Or you’re doing it, not necessarily [here Von qualifies]… you’re innovative with it, but you’re in [or a part of] that trend. And people have a tendency not to really accept anything they’re not familiar with. And that’s in music and life in general.

    So like, I’m rarely accepted because I must be “happy” with myself which … [hastily] I’m not that happy with myself, but the times that I am happy with myself it is always because I’m doing something I was trying to do; that I heard, or that I believed in.

    And since I’m “poor” anyway [in his trademark comic relief], it doesn’t really make any difference. I’m not going to get any poorer, you know. Or any richer. So you just, well… I think this is the way all musicians should view life: you just do what you think you can do. And then, I think the artist does what he has to do, really. And I think most musicians do what they want to do – or what the people want them to do. [Von seems to be speaking in “either/or” terms here] These [latter] are generally the commercially successful musicians…

    JazzUSA: But are they really doing what they want to do, that’s the thing. I’ve always wondered about the ones who really are “making it”.

    VF: Well, they’re doing what the public wants them to do, as a rule. Of course, then you can occasionally find a genius who can do what the public wants him to do and still do what he has to do, too. Or, what he wants to do and what he has to do. I’ve always tried to do, and in fact, I’ve always done what I had to do. And that’s just what I’m doing – whatever that is [Laughs in spite of himself]. And I’ve been criticized roundly for it. Then, I’ve been praised for it. So…

    JazzUSA: You’ve certainly been praised. That much I know.

    VF: Well, there you go. You can’t get involved with the public opinion of yourself, you know. Of course, you would like to have your peers…you would like for them to dig you, of course. Even if they don’t, though, you really can’t get [too caught up in, or be] too concerned with that. A man or woman has to do what they have to do. And I think that’s the epitome of being an artist. And I don’t think you can take any credit for it anyway, because something you have to do, you have to do it anyway. I’ve seen people fight that, but I don’t think that works out either.

    Just like you. You have to write, so you write. There are probably some other things that you probably could do to be commercially successful – quicker. Like you could always apply for the Post Office or something like that…

    JazzUSA: Yeah, Hah! Right.

    VF: …or get into some Civil Service, or something. You have a college education and what not. Certainly you would be accepted before a lot of people who didn’t have it. Or there are any number of things you could go into to make money, but probably these are not the things that you have to do. You’re probably doing what you have to do.

    JazzUSA: And when you’re doing the things you’re supposed to, and you start finding the right direction, stuff starts coming around anyway; or at least the things to help you develop, I think.

    VF: Oh sure. Well, you know, all these ideas have lives of their own, you understand, or at least substance of their own — put it that way. And, of course, the more you deal with the substance (or substances) that benefit you, your brain… [here Von shifts to a portion of his own philosophy].

    See, I’m into the brain, you know. A lot of folks are into the mind. I’m not into that, because I found out that if somebody hits you on the head hard enough and takes away your brain, [more comic relief here] the mind ceases to operate. [We both have to laugh ] I’m into the brain because the brain is right here. And the brain has got to deal with man, and woman, and child and this Earth – and all these nuts out here. See? And I’ve found that if you can’t deal with them, the first thing you know, they’ll put you away.
    JazzUSA – NOTE: Here Von embarks on a lengthy treatise befitting a philosophical work which one day he might give us permission to publish. He transitions it effortlessly back to the music.]

    VF: See, music is ethereal to a great extent. And I think a lot of people who play music get on “cloud nine”. And I think that is why they think they can abuse their bodies and the brain, and still make it. And you if notice, what happens is, they are soon a memory. I don’t know where you go when you leave this planet, but they certainly make their transition. See? So if you don’t take care of yourself, through [the correct use of] your brain; or even learn to use your brain, where it [enables] you to take care of yourself — and stay away from excesses and things — they’ll one day be saying how beautiful you used to play. So I’ve learned that you’ve got to keep that brain in good, good working order. See the brain, I’ve read we only use, what is it, about 1/8 of the brain?

    JazzUSA: Some people say maybe 10%, or even less than that.

    VF: Yeah. And then they’re generally a genius, if they use 10%, aren’t they? I mean, they’re like a genius to us, right?

    JazzUSA: I believe you’re right. Okay, so how do you develop the brain?

    VF: Well, I think you develop the brain through Love. See, if you love – and I mean, truly with your heart…see the heart and the brain work hand-in-hand. You have to temper the brain with your heart. Now you can’t really do anything with the mind with your heart, for the simple reason that the mind is like a Spirit. It’s out there. It can go anywhere. And it seems to be jealous of the rest of your body if you ask me, because it always wants to be on cloud nine somewhere, floatin’ around with all these thoughts. And a lot of times they have nothing to do with paying the rent, or eating, or doing the things that are necessary for you to live and be healthy.

    So I think that when you love, this tempers the brain…because the things that really get the brain “off”, in my opinion are things like gluttony (like eating too much); envy, jealousy, hate, all those types of things, because, see, these are like what I call ‘highs’ anyway.

    Like, you’ll see somebody who doesn’t drink nor smoke and they’ll tell you – like they’ll see a drunk and they’ll say: [Von does this using his hilarious falsetto that will have you cracking up!] “Ooooh, shute. Isn’t that awful?” Or they see somebody on dope: “Oooo – isn’t that awful.” But by the same token, they may be jealous of you when you walk in the door. Or they may have an ego that’s out of sight.

    Now that’s one of the worst ‘highs’ I’ve seen, is an egoist. So, there are a whole lot of ways to get high that ain’t got nothin’ to do with drugs or whiskey or refer. Like some people get high by stealing. Some get high by goin’ with another man’s wife or another woman’s husband. Some get high by gamblin’. Some get high by staying up all night long. Like they don’t feel mellow until they stay up all night and hang out.

    JazzUSA: [Laughing]

    VF: So see, I’ve witnessed, oh, a whole bunch of highs in different people since I’ve been in music that had nothing to do with whiskey or dope. And man, they’d be so high. And like I say, the worst one I’ve seen yet is ego. Of course sometimes whiskey brings that out; sometimes dope does; sometimes having a beautiful woman does. Wherever it comes from, that ego is something else, man! I’ve seen people almost destroy themselves because of that ego; so that’s a terrible high. Sure, I’ve seen some musicians who could play – I mean really play, like, almost geniuses. Or, I haven’t seen that many geniuses, but say they were right on the verge of being a genius.

    And when they got through playing, they didn’t want anyone else to play, because they felt like the next person wasn’t on the their level and would destroy what they had put out there. Well, that’s ego. See, they got so mellow, and so beautiful into thinking about what they were playing. Then, you hear them ten years from then, and the music has turned all around – and they’re called ‘old hat’. See? Then they almost can’t stand it because whereas they once were considered innovative, now their music is called ‘old hat’. Well, if their ego had remained intact and say, like on a level from zero to ten their egos had stayed somewhere between four and six where egos should be — instead of up there on twelve somewhere — then they’d be cool.

    You see what I’m saying? After all, when your time passes, or when time passes you by, you’ll be able to accept that. And you’ll be able to learn from the people who are currently doing whatever the time is [dictating]. Everything has its time, after all, and you can’t be a man or a woman for all seasons. Nobody is.

    JazzUSA: But you can learn from the times, as well as from others…

    VF: Sure. But you can learn and then you can make an attempt…and praise that which is. Like say when Bird (Charlie Parker) came up. You can tell where the saxophone players were who “thought forward”, because all of them tried to ‘cop’ on the Bird. Whereas the dudes who didn’t, would sit back and try to put down Bird – but how could you put down the truth, man. So, forty years later, you can really see, because all those who put down Bird, well, Bird is still light years ahead of them.

    And so, it took forty years for people to even catch up to what Bird was doing. Then they’re going to be another forty [years] catching up with Trane [John Coltrane], see? Then there’s always going to be somebody else new. It will take them another forty generations or so to catch up with the next guy, or the next. There will always be somebody. They just have different names, but innovation is innovation.

    There will always be somebody to progress the music. Or, the way I think and the way I’ve seen it in the past, if the past is indicative of the future – there will always be somebody to progress the music, give somebody something to shoot for. Then they will leave this [plane] … make the transition, of course, [their body will leave] but their brain waves will live on and somebody else will pick them up, because brain waves go out into the air. Every time you play an idea, that is [a by-product of] your brain, and part of that goes out there into the air. And somebody who is able to assimilate it, picks it up.

    Maybe it is through heredity. I don’t know – I’m not that wise. Always somebody to pick it up. It may be somebody young or somebody… one day it’s going to probably be (turn the whole world around, too) … but it will probably be an innovator [who] is a cat 90 years old or so. And he’ll be playing some stuff and everybody will say: [Von uses his falsetto again] “What!” You know. “Wha…. How in the world… Where’d he get this stuff from?” [Chuckles in spite of himself]. And he’s 90! He might be past a hundred, and playing some stuff and turn everybody around. Currently it’s always some younger guy who does it, but one day, it may get to that just to show us that the assimilation of ideas can come into anybody’s head.

    I think that’s where the Creator comes in. He can put it in a baby; He can put it in a person past a hundred. That’s His prerogative. I think he puts it, (or places it) into a young person because there you have the body to go along with your thinking. You’re strong enough, physically, to execute your ideas because all these instruments require physical prowess to play. And writing, you’ve got to be able to see and assimilate. Youth. The Creator, being perfect I imagine He does it that way, He gives these thing to youth, because they’re strong. He could very well turn it around, though, and maybe one day He will – just to show people, because a lot of people don’t believe that the Creator is doing this.

    JazzUSA: Yeah, I know what you’re saying; that creative drive…

    VF: Yeah, well the Creator is All-Powerful so He can [here Von suddenly changes his progression of thought] but I say He usually does things in a way that’s very easy to see His train of thought. Then sometimes, it’s very mysterious, because they’re way beyond us anyway. I was just making a wild guess though, that one day He may well do it that way, just to show youth that it’s nothing special because they’re young. It’s just that when you’re given a gift, you have a gift. And it comes from the Creator.{Here Von tries to lighten up the mood] I don’t know what kind of conversation this is I’m holding [laughing].

    JazzUSA: Well, I always enjoy listening to you because I learn a lot of things that I can think about…

    VF: Well, the whole thing is, you’ve been trained to use your brain, I hope. And this is a beautiful thing, because people are getting further and further away from that. That’s the reason why you we see so much strife in the world today. People are off into some other stuff where you can tell they’re not using their brain. You wouldn’t have all these wars and kidnappings and guerrilla warfare and terrorists. And folks murdering one another and rape – and all that. Like to me, the silliest thing is this rape. You wouldn’t have all this stuff if people used their brain.

    JazzUSA: Von speaks more on the multitude of social ills plaguing the world, before ending up back on one of his favorite subjects involving the relationship between art, the heart and the brain.

    VF: Real art, true art, comes from the heart. And the heart is master of the brain. And whenever you put out true art, you get people to feeling as though they want to use their brain. Whenever you see great, great, art, this comes from the heart and this immediately triggers the brain. And this makes you immediately want to do what. To think. And this makes you want to be a better person; and to stand up and be counted and blah, blah and then [pauses in dead silence for a few seconds and the starts laughing] — you have created a problem.

    Well, let’s not go any further with that. But listen, I’ve gotten tired now, but you haven’t asked me any questions…

    JazzUSA: Well, because I just prefer letting you go with your own thoughts on things. I was going to do some more things on your sessions…

    VF: Well, you know where I was born. And you know how hold I am. So, 1922, October 3rd. And you know how many children I have – four. [Two sons Chico and Mark, and two daughters Denise and Brenda]. You know Chico plays and you know we just completed a trip to the “Continent”. And you know we just cut an album, Father and Sons with the Marsalis clan on one side and the Freeman clan on the other. And you know my brothers: George Freeman plays guitar, and Bruz Freeman plays drums. And you know that I run the sessions at the El Matador and the Enterprise* and try to give all the musicians a chance to play – young old and amateurs, to give everybody a chance to express themselves. And that’s the password of the set: “Express yourself”.

    And that I’ve dedicated my life to trying to help the young guy – the youngsters. And – that’s it….

    JazzUSA: That’s it?

    VF: That’s it….

    *Later Von began holding sessions at the New Apartment Lounge on 75th Street on Chicago’s southside. This is one of his institutions, and like Barry Harris’s Jazz Cultural Theater activities, Von Freeman’s Tuesday night sessions remain one of the saving graces of this music.

    The Future of Jazz? – Gloom and Doom…

    Duke, Q and Metheny – Voices from the IAJE
    Regarding the Future of Jazz…
    by Mark Ruffin

    Anyone who watched Ken Burns’ massive documentary Jazz last month knows that at one point in our history, jazz music accounted