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.”

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

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 for more than 70% of records sold in this country. After single handedly saving the record business during World War II, today, almost every musical genre there is outsells jazz. That includes gospel, and for the first time in decades, classical music.

According to the industry group that keeps track of such numbers, jazz accounts for less than three percent of the music marketplace at the turn of the century. The notion that Kenny G alone represents a full percentage of that was the joke that went around at the 28th annual International Association of Jazz Educators convention last month in New York City. Included among the close to 10,000 musicians, students, teachers, journalists and broadcasters attending the four days of seminars, concerts and panel discussions was Burns himself. He probably couldn’t wait to leave.

Many of his critics forecasted a period of gloom and doom for the future of jazz in America, and cited his project as being of little help. Mostly because Jazz gives a fleeting pass to modern jazz, his film was roasted, toasted, analyzed and criticized throughout the whole event.

Among the famous musicians there who did prognosticate a bright outlook for the music was the legendary Quincy Jones and trailblazing guitarist Pat Metheny, who gave the opening keynote address. Jones, in a spirited, wide-ranging interview, answered questions delivered by keyboardist George Duke, and one of the stars of Burns’ movie, journalist Nat Hentoff.

Basically, these multi-Grammy award-winning musicians had faith in the music, with one important proviso. Independently, they concurred that if the majority of the jazz community continues to ignore new music, including hip-hop, urban and world music, the genre’s numbers could be reduced further. “Jazz has to resonate to this era, not play a slightly different version,” a fiercely adamant Metheny said. “Kids under 25 have a pulse that anyone over 25 can never grasp,” he offered to a packed house. “They have a rare and valuable contribution. The sound of their own generation.”

He admonished the young people that keep the flame of jazz purity strong, emphasizing that many want “a safe return to real jazz. “Most of them attempt to recreate the past,” he continued on about the young musicians who are part of what is called the neo-classicism movement. “Young people should be re-inventing the circumstances as only they can do. Each generation has to put in their own voice.” Metheny’s funniest line may have been when he suggested that at the rate the neo-classicists are recording albums dedicated to old masters, soon there would be “tribute records to tribute records.”

Duke and Hentoff focused mostly on Jones’ incredible history. It is a legacy that Jones revealed would be covered in much detail in his forthcoming autobiography, which comes out in October. Jones, as usual, was extremely light-hearted and funny. He only turned deadly serious when the topic turned to rap, race and the future of jazz. The veins in his face visibly swelled when he pointed out the “jazz is only two percent of the market,” and that “98% of music sold by B.B. King and Miles Davis is to White People.”

An audible gasp rose from the audience when Q reported that one of his six daughters was engaged to Tupac Shakur, and that the murdered rapper died in her arms. He also said that he disliked that the rappers he worked with were way more into the jazzmen he worked with rather than vice-versa. “I am living in hip-hop,” he said in one breath, while promoting his new tribute album to Count Basie in the next. “There is a strong correlation between hip-hop and be-bop. Mainly it’s that they blow for themselves, and can care less about the audience, as long as their peers accept it.” “We need more cross pollinate-zation together,” he continued. “We’re so split up that it’s a disservice to the music.”

He did complain that the rappers, and young people in general are so nonchalant about our culture, insisting that they treat music as if it’s “disposable.” “When they say back in the day, they mean 12 o’clock,” he laughed. Like so many great jazzmen who are covered in Burns, movie, Jones lived in Europe for a while. In fact, in the episode covering Count Basie and Kansas City, there’s a couple of quick shots of a young Q. Today, he admits that jazz is an art in Europe and Japan, and a commodity broken into percentages in the United States.

“They make us look like idiots,” he declared. “What America needs is a minister of culture.”

Babatundé Lea – Soul Pools

Summoning the Spirit of Rhythm
Babatundé Lea
by Paula Edelstein

SOUL POOLS is Babatunde Lea’s fourth brilliant recording as a leader and label debut for the brand new Motema Records label. Released this month, this remarkable program features Mr. Lea leading a stellar lineup of jazz and world music luminaries on eleven outstanding songs. Fueling the fires of Lea’s drumming passions are bassist John Benitez, Kevin Jones on percussion, Frank Ku-umba Lacy on horns and vocals, the great Mario Rivera on sax and flute and the phenomenal Hilton Ruiz on piano. Guest appearances by Jana Herzen and Raul Midon round out the set –each adding dynamic vocals and effects. The first pressing of SOUL POOLS also includes an electrifying “live”bonus CD that features the touring quartet of Geoff Brennan, Hilton Ruiz and Ernie Watts.

As a teen in New York, Lea learned congas, made music in church, and recorded his first album. After moving to San Francisco in the 60s, he continued honing his African, Latin and Carribean rhythmic sounds and eventually landed a job with Bill Summers’ Bata Koto in the seventies and recorded with Pharoah Sanders, Stan Getz, Joe Henderson, and Van Morrison, among others! In 1979, he released LEVELS OF CONSCIOUSNESS and LEVEL OF INTENT in 1995 – the latter featured the great pianist Kenny Barron, master trumpeter Jon Faddis, the dynamic Frank Ku-umba Lacy, the brilliant Charnett Moffett and the amazing pianist Hilton Ruiz. These past performances gave rise and explain the tight rhythmic language Babatunde Lea now speaks with band mates Frank Lacy and Hilton Ruiz. On SOUL POOLS, they are explosive, energetic and definitely in the pocket.

As an educator, Mr. Lea has been influenced by his work with Pharoah Sanders, McCoy Tyner, Randy Weston and Leon Thomas who each share his interest in the power of jazz to connect with African roots and transcendent sources. “Music is conversation,” says Lea. “It’s a listening matter: When I’m surrounded by great players, I learn new and valuable things every time I play.” As a new listener to SOUL POOLS, you’re sure to learn and enjoy what you hear from beginning to end on this great program. Toward that moment, we were fortunate to speak to the great Babatunde Lea during a recent break in his busy schedule. So listen up! Here’s what he had to say.

PE: Let’s talk about SOUL POOLS. How did the concept for the CD come about?

BL:: I had a composition called “Soul Pools” – that’s the title track. When I wrote the composition it was my contention that “music is powerful.” It’s like it does the bidding of who controls it. But the power of my music really is the fact that I want it to be played a specific way. And one of those ways is to dip yourself into the music and come up refreshed and energized and be ready to deal with it, whether “it” is the issues that affect your life or the issues of the community, the nation or the world…for that matter.

PE: That’s so deep and so relevant. On the CD, such great musicians as John Benitez and Frank Ku-umba Lacy, Hilton Ruiz and Mario Rivera accompany you. Had you performed with them before?

BL: I’d performed with everyone except for John and Mario. I had just met John for this recording. Hilton has been on the last three records of mine…so he’s like a relative now! Frank was also on one of my previous recordings.

PE: Hilton Ruiz is in the touring group right?

BL: Yes, that’s right. Hilton, Frank…and instead of Mario now, it’s Ernie Watts.

PE: Great. Ernie’s a great saxophone player too. Why do you have a different touring group?

BL: When I performed at the Playboy Jazz Festival last year, I played in The Cos of Good Music (Bill Cosby’s group) and Ernie was in the group. I had a gig coming up at The Jazz Bakery in Los Angeles and another gig in San Francisco. I really loved Ernie’s playing, so I called him… hoping he’d play with us. So he came and we had such fun in San Francisco. By the way, that’s part of the bonus CD that is released with SOUL POOLS. Ernie and I had such great synchronicity and that’s one of the reasons why I decided to keep him in the touring group. And the real blessing is…he felt the same way too.

PE: That’s always a good thing. Babatunde, who were some of your earliest influences with respect to drumming?

BABATUNDE LEA: Well one of my first and biggest influences was Babatunde Olatunji and his Drums of Passion. He opened up my world and placed me firmly in Africa and made me understand about the roots of the rhythm. From there it was Elvin Jones, Billy Hart, Billy Higgins…a friend of mine and whom I was able to play with. Fortunately I was a percussionist before I was a drummer. I played with a lot of the masters as a percussionist. So I was heavily influenced…played with Billy Hart, Eddie Marshall in the Bay Area. I was there with them…up close and personal.

PE: Ah yes, the great Babatunde Olatunji. He was awesome. Is he why you decided to become a drummer?

BL: Yes, that’s part of the reason. But I started out playing in marching band…in the drum lines.

PE: So you were in the drum line? (Smile)

BL: Yes, I was in the drum line! That movie was about my life up until he went to college…because I didn’t get to go to college as desired. I was like that character in so many ways when I was in high school, embellishing the drum charts and making them swing. I was KNOWN for that! So when I saw that scene… when he met the challenge of the teacher in the rehearsal room line, it really brought back a lot of memories. That movie also reminded me of the great drummers at Florida A&M University. That’s where I wanted to go, but I came out to California instead.

PE: And we’re thankful that you did! You’ve become such a great percussionist and drummer. What would you say was the most gratifying experience for you when you were recording SOUL POOLS?

BL: Just being in the room and making music with such great artists and musical luminaries like Frank and Mario. I was explaining on my EPK (electronic press kit) about playing with Mario Rivera. I mean I grew up listening to him with Tito (Puente) and the great Machito. Mario is one of those players that fathered a lot of the Latin players that were getting into jazz. He influenced that whole scene. I mean he was like a heavy innovator. He was on the opposite side of Dizzy Gillespie. So he was bringing the Latin players in…telling them to check out Trane and Miles and so forth. So when I heard his sound, I had to have him on the CD.

PE: What a great opportunity…to have all these great artists on the same session. What a blowing session! When does the tour in support of SOUL POOLS start and where can your fans find your concert schedule?

BL: The tour starts February 8th and then we head to Europe for a concert in Paris. After that, we’ll be touring the West Coast, which begins in April. The concert schedule is on the website at

PE: Fantastic. Thank you so much for the interview and congratulations on your stellar debut for Motema Records. May the spirit of rhythm continue to inspire you.

BL: Thank you.

Reprinted with permission of…

An Interview with Matthew Shipp

Matthew Shipp
The Blue Series and NEW ORBIT
by Paula Edelstein

Matthew Shipp is the curator and Artistic Director of The Blue Series, a stellar artistic endeavor currently available on Thirsty Ear Recordings. Throughout the year 2000, Matt launched and produced the series’ debut, PASTORAL COMPOSURE, and the series’ subsequent releases PAINTER’S SPRING by The William Parker Trio and BLUE DECCO by The Mat Maneri Quartet. All three recordings have been highly praised and lauded for their production excellence, originality, avant-garde expressions and brilliant improvisations by music journalists and appreciative audiences around the globe.

As one of the most daring and original pianists in jazz, Matt Shipp continues to cover a wide spectrum of musical concepts and methods. From avant-garde atonal textures to classical music textures and reams of bebop and free expressionism, Shipp has been positioned in a lineage between Thelonious Monk and Cecil Taylor. The fourth release in the series, NEW ORBIT, finds Shipp at peace with himself in his attempt to unite the many experiences he has had as an Afro-American composer and the “various strands of the modern music world that are relevant to him.” Matt Shipp is joined on NEW ORBIT by a great ensemble that includes Wadada Leo Smith on trumpet, bassist extraordinaire William Parker, and the dynamic Gerald Cleaver on drums.

JazzUSA: Hello Matt, The Blue Series is awesome! Excellent listening opps for unequaled musicianship, atonal textures and great avant-garde jazz! I really like your stylistic approach throughout the entire Series. How do you feel about the Series so far?

Matt: Hey Paula, what’s happening? Thanks. I’m happy with all the different musicians taking on the challenge of trying to do what we’re trying to do. Especially since what we’re trying to do is not easily definable, but I feel that they’ve all really tried to give it the spirit of the whole thing.

JazzUSA: Let’s talk a little about NEW ORBIT, the fourth release in THE BLUE SERIES on Thirsty Ear. You’ve stated that “this is the CD that you’ve always wanted to make, and it’s taken me 17 CDs and over 10 years to get here.” Is this the final release in the series since you feel your many artistic merits have been realized by it?

Matt: Oh no, no! There are three other CDs this year by other people.

JazzUSA: Who are the artists that you plan to record for the next three CDs for THE BLUE SERIES in 2001?

Matt: Well of course, in 2001 we have NEW ORBIT released in January, which is the fourth release in the The Blue Series. The next will be Tim Berne with a band called Lobo; and I’ll have Craig Taborn on electric keyboards and Tom Rainey on drums this time with a psychedelic electric band. The next one will be a Roy Campbell Quartet that will have Roy on trumpet, Khan Jamal on vibes, Wilbur Morris on bass and Guillermo E. Brown. The fourth will be Craig Taborn Trio. That was supposed to happen last year but didn’t. That will have Craig on piano, Chris Lightcap on bass, Gerald Cleaver on drums. So that’s the plan for the Blue Series this year.

JazzUSA: You’ve really conveyed a sense of peace and unity on NEW ORBIT with the four-part suite that includes “New Orbit,” “Orbit 2,” “Orbit 3,” and “Orbit 4.” Were there certain elements of transcendental meditation that influenced this distinctive suite?

Matt: Thanks. I would say a peaceful river of sorts!

JazzUSA: This quartet excels with the inclusion of trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith who has been compared to both Miles Davis and Don Cherry. Did you choose him because he has an ear to the future, so to speak?

Matt: Actually I chose Leo because I’ve known him for years and I’ve always wanted to play with him. He’s kind of timeless to me…there’s something about his sound that to me, when I hear it, it just something very natural about it. So I guess natural and timeless…his sound conveys naturalness and timelessness to me. So I just felt that he fit the idea that I wanted for this particular recording…that he was the person who’d pull this off.

JazzUSA: Cool! Your players have very open minds and grasp the concept of a NEW ORBIT completely. We feel that you’ve accomplished a tremendous goal in making it relevant to the 21st Century -it’s definitely right now and right in time for the new millennium-2001. Have you any aspirations to write an avant-garde jazz symphony for ballet or modern dance?

Matt: (Laughs!) I would have to be commissioned to do that because that’s quite an undertaking. So, things like that, you need some sort of support system and as of now, as we speak, that doesn’t exist…since it’s quite an undertaking.

JazzUSA: You also mentioned that you’ve always viewed yourself as an Afro-American composer and always wanted an opportunity to present a suite like this, i.e., NEW ORBIT, that is a synthesis of the various strands of the modern music world that are relevant to you. Were there other instances within your musical growth when you felt you wanted to pursue such as straight ahead, classical, etc. as opposed to the avant-garde jazz genre?

Matt: I really feel quite at home in the avant-garde jazz genre. That’s basically where I put my feet up on the table. That’s one of the great things about the avant-garde genre, in that it’s kind of free to be a melting pot for everything. That’s what I like about the idiom. I mean there is Albert Ayler playing marches and spirituals and whatever. So I kind of feel that I can take all the various things that I like and melt them down and use them within this idiom that I feel so at home in. Straight ahead is just not where my head’s at these days. I mean I enjoy doing it sometimes, but as far as doing it regularly, it’s just not where I’m at…and classical music doesn’t really give me the chance to be who I am.

JazzUSA: Will you be appearing in concert soon? If so, where?

Matt: I’ve been on the road a lot recently. I’ll be in France in January and on the West Coast in February and hopefully it’ll come together.

JazzUSA: Thank you for this interview. I really appreciate it. Congratulations again on THE BLUE SERIES for Thirsty Ear Recordings. It’s an amazing undertaking and you’re doing an excellent job. Matt, you’re great.

Matt: Thanks Paula. Take care.

JazzUSA: You’re welcome. Matthew Shipp is a genius with a remarkable ear to the future. The Blue Series would be an excellent addition to any collection and is highly recommended. Keep in touch with Matt Shipp at

An Interview with Dave Binney

An Interview with
Dave Binney
by Fred Jung

With so many records being released each year, a small, indie jazz label’s release is not even going to make a ripple. So it’s a noble, often unrewarding task to operate one. I was curious as to why a person would venture into such an uphill battle, and so I asked Dave Binney, a multi-reed virtuoso, who has recently started up Mythology Records ( And he spoke quite candidly about his label, his record, “Free to Dream,” and the state of the music today, all unedited and in his own words.

FJ: Where did it all start?

DB: I grew up in California, in Southern California and played in Ventura and Santa Barbara. When I graduated high school I moved to New York and I’ve been here ever since. I guess I’ve just been pursuing playing interesting music since I’ve been here, either people that I love to play with or music that I love, also and, or my own. That’s pretty much what I’ve been doing. I recently started my own little company to promote music that I like and my own music also.

FJ: Let’s be realistic, Southern California is not really conducive to jazz, how was it you were able to push toward this music?

DB: The only thing that I can ever come up with is that my parents were big jazz fans. They didn’t play but I heard it all of my life. I remember hearing Coltrane and Miles and everybody, including some other people that I loved like Hendrix and all those people that weren’t really jazz musicians. I was exposed to good music all the time and I think it just kind of sunk in and then I somehow got involved in it. What few people were playing it around Ventura and Santa Barbara, I sort of hooked up with and then realized that as soon as I could I needed to get out of there because the scene wasn’t really happening for what I wanted to do, but it was here in New York.

FJ: Must have been rough, moving to New York at such a young age.

<> It definitely was. I think that I had, I had been here as a kid, just to see it, so I knew, sort of, what it was like, I hadn’t spent more than a week here, but my father grew up in the Bronx so I heard about it all my and I had an idea of some things. I came here by myself and I didn’t know one person, so it was definitely a hard time the first couple of years. I was really homesick for a lot of things, and just learning how to deal with people here was different. Everybody on the street where I grew up said “hi” when you walked past them, if you knew them or not. Here, people, sort of, run the other way, or they did. I just learned how to deal with that. It was definitely shellshock, but I like the fact that I’ve had two lives in a way at two opposite ends of the country and two different lifestyles. I think it breeds something that is important in creating music, at least for myself. Knowing two sides of something.

FJ: Does that duality help in your understanding of the continuum?

DB: I don’t know if it’s better, but for me it works because I think that some of my inspiration is still in what I grew up with. It provides inspiration for writing and all of that so I think that it definitely plays a part in what I do still. I know, my friends who were born and raised here, they’re great and creative in their own way but there’s something that they don’t have because they lack the experience of growing up in a different place. I think that I notice in the musicians that are here from California, and there is a hell of a lot of them, they have a little extra thing that I enjoy, that I like, and I understand. I recognize.

FJ: Talk about your studies with Phil Woods and Dave Liebman.

DB: Well, surprisingly enough, I really, I only took a few lessons from Dave Liebman when I first moved here and I only took, I believe it was only one lesson with Phil Woods, but he gave me so much stuff on one sheet of paper and than he said, “If you learn this, you don’t really have to come back. Just learn this and you’ll be fine.” And it was true. He showed me, Phil Woods especially, showed me technically some things that I needed to know, some harmonic things and it was a lot of work. I could, with that one sheet of paper, work on stuff for a year. I really gained a lot, so I didn’t really have to go back. I feel like I studied with him, or at least got more out of one lesson with him than I could have gotten with probably a lot of people in years of study. Liebman was more, just a conceptualist. He talks more about the reasons we play music and everything, the technical aspect of it, which is also something that I realize when I teach I do that. Everybody gets technical information when they study and they rarely get what music should be, the aesthetic of playing music. So I try to provide that when I teach. That’s what Liebman provided for me. So really, I didn’t study for a long time, but I got a lot out of both of them, studying with both of them.

FJ: Continuing with Liebman’s lesson, what is the reason that you play the music?

DB: Well, I don’t know if I can narrow it down that much, but I don’t know if I know. I just know that I really enjoy it. I think the reason that I do certain things within music is clear to me. There’s a reason that I stay clear of doing something that is specifically designed to sell or that sort of thing. I have to be honest about the way I feel about music. Not everybody’s like that and I understand that that’s not, a lot of people are prone to be true to themselves in a way and a lot of other people just play music to make money. It’s just a job for them and they don’t have that deep appreciation for it that a lot of people do, but for me it’s just a passion that I wan to, what I do I want to keep pure in it’s spirit and in it’s purpose. I just try and instill that into students a little bit. If they don’t have that, sometimes it doesn’t last that long for me, because I lose interest in teaching if somebody doesn’t really have that interest in playing music. For me, it’s not about making money or being commercial in any way. I would like to, but I would like to do that doing what I do.

FJ: Does that purity exist anymore in jazz?

DB: The business side of it, I guess it’s sort of an oxymoron. The thing that’s happened in music and this is very clear to me is that there was a time when musicians made the decisions about what happens in music, especially with their music and that day is still there, but it’s not the people that are being recorded for the most part. Now, the business decides what music people are going to play, and that manifests itself by either literally, they’re being told to play a certain kind of thing or they’re influenced to do a certain thing because they want to get a record deal and not starve. Even if they’re not being told, they’re doing something to try to get something sold to Verve or whoever is setting the standard at the time. There’s plenty of people though, at least here that are playing creative music and playing for the love of music. I’m very optimistic. I think it’s sort of winning out anyway. A lot of the people who are gaining in the business are being pretty pure. The big name people that you see on these labels, a lot of the younger guys that are signed really aren’t doing anything and they’re really just about business, but they won’t be around very long. I guess that’s my optimism. I see the people that are lasting a little bit are people that are actually doing something interesting.

FJ: You have a unique perspective on the process because you own and operate a label, you’re a musician, a composer, and a producer, who are some of the artists that are making waves but are not getting their share of the pie?

DB: A lot of the people that I personally know and play with all the time. Scott Colley, I think he’s doing his fourth CD in the last year. He’s doing that in the next couple of weeks. I’m talking mostly players now, because a lot of people aren’t making their own records yet, but Kenny Wollesen, who I play with a lot and Jeff Hirshfield, a lot of people that I play with. There is a lot more that I could say, a lot of other people that are doing it to that I just see, that I don’t even really know. I sat in the other night with Greg Osby down at the Knitting Factory and I think Osby is doing what he really wants to do, and is doing it also on Blue Note, which is sort of unusual. He’s really just playing what he likes to play and that’s really nice to hear. There are plenty of people who are being honest with music.

FJ: How did Mythology Records come about?

DB: I had a record that was recorded for another label. They decided not to release it because they decided not to put out anymore jazz and it just so happened that my record was just about to be released. Then they held it for a long time and I just finally got it back from them and decided that it was an opportunity to start a label. I had this CD and I wanted it to come out. I tried to sell it to some people, you know, people were, “Oh, it’s a great record.” But they didn’t want to put it out. That’s what my first intention was, to try and sell it to, the one person that did want to put it out, eventually went out of business. They didn’t put it out anyway, but most people say, “It’s a great record, but we don’t know what to do with it.” So I figured, it was frustrating. Everybody loves this record, that I played on it. I played it for people that I know. I said, “I’ve got to put it out there myself.” That instigated the whole thing and then we did this “Lan Xang” record. Ed Simon, who is one of my favorite musicians, there’s a guy who is doing what he wants to do on his own. He’s played with Terence Blanchard, but on his own, he’s really doing his own thing. Those are the three records I have so far.

FJ: Has distribution been tough for you?

DB: That’s the hardest thing. Everything else seemed pretty easy because the records were good and so I’ve gotten a lot of press over them, and all good press. That wasn’t really hard. It seems like radio stations are pretty open, at least college radio, and they are pretty open to playing stuff, but the distribution is a whole other thing. Those people really, it’s hard, so I just have minor distribution here. I just have Cadence North Country and I have distribution in Canada. Now I’m just working on Europe, which is a couple things that seem like they may go. It’s really a hard thing to get them into the stores I have to say. I’m trying to get better distribution in the States. Right now, I’m also concentrating on the internet and just even having them on on the internet so that people can get them from anywhere. It’s really the best way to do it right now.

FJ: How have you taken advantage of the internet?

DB: It definitely makes it easier to get known, at least to people that own computers and they’re on the internet, which this country is loaded with them. The rest of the world is catching up. In Europe, where a lot of my records would do really well is still, most of the people don’t have computers, so it’s a little bit harder. It’s definitely helped. It’s hard to get people to order from the internet, I’ve realized. It’s still much better to sell out of the store. I think that’s all changing fast, rapidly and it’s going to even be a faster change in the next coming years because I think it’s an obvious thing. Also, they sell the things cheaper on the internet. Like sells my record for $ 12.98 and in Tower it’s probably sixteen bucks. I think it’s the wave of the future, but right now, it’s sort of hard to sell on there too. I’d really like to get the records into a lot more stores. But there are things in the works that maybe that will be the case soon.

FJ: Let’s talk about “Lan Xang” on Mythology.

DB: Kenny Wollesen is the drummer in that band now. That’s a great band. I really love playing with that band. We came together in Scott Colley’s apartment really. He lived, at that time, right across the street from me and he had a place to play and we would just play every week, maybe sometimes twice a week and we just wrote a lot of music and just played and it sort of became this thing. We decided to do a record on our own and so we just went into the studio and recorded it and then when I started this label, we put it out on the label. Actually, it was the first release on the label. Since then, Jeff has, he left the band for a few different reasons, but everything is totally cool. I played with Jeff last night in my band. Kenny Wollesen is now the drummer in that band. We were out in California last year. It was really great to play in Los Angeles and have a lot of people there, people that really love the music because that’s really open music. Live it’s also a lot different than on the CD, not a lot different, but it’s very open and we get into a lot of stuff spontaneously. It was very well received. It was a good concert. That’s a really fun band. I like that band. I think that band will do well. We’re doing another record in August for another label, Naxos. They get those things out there. Donny McCaslin had a record for them and we just hooked up. We’re going to do that in August, so we’re doing a new record too.

FJ: Does the music that you play typecast you from certain clubs?

DB: If it does, I’m really not aware of it. I haven’t even approached those bigger clubs or anything at this point because I just assumed it’s not going to happen. I assume that mainly because of popularity, not because of the music. If anything is popular it could play anywhere. Bill Frisell is at the Village Vanguard all week, and for years has been playing there, but at one time seeing him at the Knitting Factory when he wasn’t doing much, thinking that he would ever be leading his own band at the Village Vanguard was, I don’t think anybody thought that would be possible, yet now he is. I think it’s just about becoming popular and having clubs want you in there. I don’t know if it’s about categories, which I don’t like either. I noticed categories with being more of a problem with distribution and with record labels than I do with venues to play at. My music, I do a lot of different things and live, I think it’s a lot different than it is on the records. The records at least are pretty accessible, because I think really melodically a lot of the time. I don’t know how avant-garde they would even be considered.

If anything, I’ve noticed a rejection from people that are considered avant-garde of my CD, because it’s more melodic. I don’t think I could play some festivals in Europe where they have featured John Zorn or all those people, if I gave them my CD. They would hear it as being too melodic. Even if they saw me live, I might completely freak out. I play hard a lot of times live. I concentrate, at least on my last couple of records more on the writing aspect of it. That’s important to me. I want people to listen to the record and to make them feel something also. I think it’s a different experience than seeing music live.

FJ: Capturing the energy of a live setting is difficult to translate on record.

DB: I think the live setting, first of all, you’re probably more relaxed because it’s just a gig, whereas in the studio you’re all ready set up to be, not nervous, but the environment is so that there’s nobody watching you and you’re not playing for anybody. You’re worried about a lot of other things, the sound, what’s being recorded, there’s a lot of other things going on in your head that probably get in the way of being able to completely stretch out like you do live, but with that being said, I don’t see that, that can’t be done. I feel like I’ve played well on records where I’ve just been able to blow more. Recording live records is an important thing for jazz. The new Greg Osby record (“Banned in New York”) was recorded at Sweet Basil, where they just did it on a little shitty recorder. they really captured some amazing playing because I don’t think Osby even told the band that he was recording anything.

FJ: Right.

DB: So it comes across to me. I hear that record and I think, “Wow, that’s one of the few records that I’ve heard in a long time that really has that spirit of older jazz, while at the same time still being very fresh. In New York, I hear gigs like that all the time. I played last night with my band. It was completely, it was great. We just got into so much stuff. Every time, and this happens at least once a week, I think, “God, I wish I had that on tape.” There’s some many great things happening, but most of the time it’s not recorded.

FJ: Influences?

DB: Well, definitely all the usual suspects, especially Coltrane. I would say Wayne Shorter was probably my favorite all around guy as far as playing and writing. He encompasses all of that as good as anyone has ever done it. Cannonball Adderley and I have some favorites that are kind of unusual for a lot of people. I went to this Brian Blade gig and Christian McBride was sitting at the piano playing these tunes on an electric piano after the gig, just by himself. I was talking to somebody and I just kept hearing these tunes and I said, “Wow, this is all the stuff that I really loved, that I didn’t think anyone knew about.” So I went over and talked to him, and I had actually never even met him before, but we started talking and I realized he was the only guy that I had ever met that actually had some of the same favorites. Those would be a lot of obscure Bobby Hutcherson stuff. Bobby Hutcherson, I think is just an absolute genius and he made a lot of great records, some that aren’t even in print now and I don’t know if Blue Note has any intention of putting them out again. I also happen to like Bennie Maupin’s solo records a lot. I think he did, his first thing on ECM (“The Jewel in the Lotus”), I though was really interesting and I think I still think of that sound sometimes on my own thing. They used a lot of woodwinds and all that. Herbie Hancock from the ’70s, a lot of stuff from the ’70s, that’s always been put down, like Joe Henderson from the ’70s on Milestone. I think that was, for me, his best period and yet a lot of people think those were his worst records.

FJ: Then they didn’t get a chance to hear his “Porgy and Bess” on Verve.

DB: (Laughing) Yes, exactly. Maybe because he used some electronics or whatever, but I think they were at the height of his playing and I think they’re really great records. I was talking to Christian McBride, who knew all these tunes and could play them on the piano and he knew those records inside out, could even play the solos from anything I was mentioning and I was just thrilled that somebody knew that. I would say those were some of the people that I really enjoyed that are sort of unusual, Bobby Hutcherson, Bennie Maupin, Freddie Hubbard’s ’70s stuff.

FJ: Does that perception come from the fact that the traditionalists refuse to recognize the electronic material with any significance?

DB: Yes, I think with those records especially, those records in the ’70s, that’s almost completely the reason that people think that. There’s some electronics on it. I just go this record that I’ve been looking for, for years, this Joe Henderson record. Well, there’s one they released called “Canyon Lady,” that I’ve really always loved and they finally released that. Then there’s this other one called “Black Miracle” that they released on the box set, but I didn’t have the box set, and it’s like a hundred and sixty dollars, but Chris Potter had it and so I taped that CD from him. I really like it, some of the tune on it, but it has George Duke all over it, who is another guy who I’ve always really, really loved. I know he’s done a lot of stuff in the last few years that isn’t so great. It’s middle of the road, whatever they call it, that easy listening jazz. He’s really a talented guy and he did a lot of great stuff in the ’70s and he plays on that Joe Henderson thing and he plays synthesizer and electric piano. He plays great.

He plays it like, he makes music with it, real music with synth solos, which is very unusual in a way, but I think that’s why the records were panned, and yet it’s a great record. It has a lot of nice tunes on it and some great playing by Joe. Conceptually, I liked it. I liked it. They were sort of strong. They influenced me a lot as a kid. I’ve always had that sound in my head.

FJ: Describe Dave Binney?

DB: I would hope that somebody else might describe me as, like I said, as being honest about what I’m doing. When somebody hears my music or my playing, to know that I mean it and that it’s pure. I’m trying to be honest.

Matt Marshak – This Time Around

Matt MarshakMatt Marshak
This Time Around
(Nuance Music Group – 2004)
by Val Vaccaro

Currently, Long-Island native guitarist, vocalist, composer and producer Matt Marshak is one of the best-kept secrets in smooth jazz and in the music world – but not for long. Matt Marshak was named “Best New Smooth Jazz Artist in New York” when he won the original artist contest conducted by smooth jazz radio station CD101.9 FM and Absolut Vodka last summer. The radio station also interviewed Matt and has aired some of his tunes. Matt Marshak and his band opened for the CD101.9 FM “Guitars & Saxes” concert with Jeff Golub, Peter White, Richard Elliot and Steve Cole at Bryant Park in New York City last July. This June, guitarist Matt Marshak and his band (featuring Chris Marshak on drums, Kenny Harris on bass, and special guest Bill Heller from The Rippingtons on keyboards) was one of the opening acts for headliner Spyro Gyra at the Hilltop Jazz & Blues Fest at the Brookhaven Amphitheater in Long Island.

Matt Marshak’s sophomoric CD This Time Around (released in March) is outstanding – one of the best, freshest, most exciting and creative smooth jazz CDs from a new artist in many years!! This Time Around includes 14 songs that include mainly instrumentals and some vocal tunes featuring upbeat, pop-rock contemporary jazz, funky pop/jazz with background vocals, beautiful smooth jazz ballads, R & B-influenced vocal tunes, and new-age pop songs with sweet scatting.

The production is top-notch and the CD includes many wonderful players: Matt Marshak on electric guitar, acoustic guitar, vocals and scatting; on drums, the multi-talented Chris Marshak; on bass: Bakithi Kumalo (Paul Simon, Chris Botti) and Kenny Harris; on saxophones: David Mann (Chuck Loeb, Wayman Tisdale, Tower of Power), Mario Cruz (Jaco Pastorius) and Mark Gatz; on keyboards and programming: Rob Meeks (Kool and The Gang); also on keys: Dean Kraus and Tim Regusis; on flute: Dwayne Kerr (Erykah Badu); on vocals: Tanya Michelle (lead), Anastasia Rene (lead and background vocals), Arty White on wah-wah guitar (Alicia Keys) and a number of other great musicians.

This Time Around features an enjoyable variety of catchy, memorable original compositions (11 composed by Matt Marshak and 3 are co-written by him), as well as one cover tune. The CD kicks off in high spirits with “Good Evening” – a sure bet for a smooth-jazz radio hit co-produced by Matt Marshak and Robert Meeks. The exuberantly energetic “Good Evening” features Matt’s warm electric guitar tone and some vocals. The song has melodic pop hooks and funky rhythms (programmed by Meeks) that get the audience up and groovin’ to the music, as well as some pretty flute lines by Dwayne Kerr. “Good Evening” has an easy-breezy feel – reminiscent of smooth jazz guitarists such as Chuck Loeb and Joyce Cooling.

On “Tell Me Why” Matt delivers funky rhythms with an urban flair that creatively combine with expansive Wes-Montgomery-inspired chords on electric and rhythm guitar. Robert Meeks co-produced the track with dance-club music production special effects on keyboards, drum loops and bass programming. “Autumn Breeze” is another pretty, funky, soulful track with vocals in the chorus by Matt and features some unusual melodic twists. Matt plays lead guitar and rhythm acoustic guitar riffs that drive the tune, and is backed by Bakithi Kumalo on bass, with drum loops by Robert Meeks.There’s also the sole cover tune, Eric Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight” adeptly produced by David Mann who plays saxophones, keys and did the drum and bass programming. “Wonderful Tonight” is a moving version, with sweet notes that bend and float in the air, an intensified bridge, and upbeat, funky guitar/saxophone interplay.

Several uptempo tracks on This Time Around also have the potential to be popular smooth jazz radio hits and are great fun at concerts. “Shake It Again” was produced and co-written with guitarist/composer Carl Burnett (who has worked with artists such as Larry Carlton, Boney James and Paul Brown). “Shake It Again” is a catchy, upbeat tune with latin-influenced keyboards, and exciting guitar and tenor saxophone lines. “I Will Be With You” and “New Kid,” are accompanied by finger-tapping, hand-clapping, danceable grooves. “I Will Be With You” has upbeat, memorable guitar and saxophone riffs (with Mario Cruz on tenor sax), with guitar sounds inspired by Larry Carlton and The Crusaders. “New Kid” – a tune co-written by Matt and Danny Powers – has received airplay on CD101.9. The song has a bluesy feel, with extended enthusiastic improvisational lines that feature Matt stretching out on guitar, supported by Tim Regusis on soulful organ and keys, Chris Marshak on drums, Bakithi Kumalo on bass, Mario Cruz on tenor sax and flute, and Fred Walcott on percussion.

“Your Name” is a fun, hard-driving, tune – a blast from the past with a modern twist. Matt is on electric guitar and lead vocals in the chorus. There is a catchy, sexy riff played partly with guitar and saxophone in unison. Mark Gatz is on tenor sax and plays a great, dark and mysterious solo. “Your Name” is driven by an exciting, brassy beat with Chris Marshak on drums, and has Robert Meeks on organ. In contrast, “Quietly” is a beautiful, dreamy, melodic instrumental tune that should also be a popular pick for smooth jazz radio with Matt on electric guitar; the song has gorgeous soprano sax solos from Mario Cruz, and includes Dean Kraus on keyboards and Chris Marshak on drums.

There are also two R & B/pop tunes with lead vocals. “Seduction,” has Matt on lead and rhythm guitars and features Tanya Michelle on vocals with David Mann on a pretty soprano sax solo. “Into Darkness” features Anastasia Rene on lead vocals, and has Matt on guitars, Dean Kraus on keys, Bakithi Kumalo on bass and Chris Marshak on drums. (These two tunes are reminiscent of Jeff Golub’s soulful cover with a female lead vocalist on “If I Ever Lose This Heaven” – the Average White Band tune). “Never Let You Go” is a winning smooth jazz tune with Matt on guitar, background vocals by Anastasia Rene, keyboards by Dean Kraus, Kenny Harris on bass and Rodney Harris on drums.

“Smile” and “Nu Day” have cross-cultural appeal, with Matt fusing flowing electric riffs and pop/new-age/world music acoustic sounds with his own sweet, soulful scatting. “Smile” has a pure, innocent, spiritual kind of quality that will touch the child in every listener’s heart. “Nu Day” is similar in nature, but with a more upbeat tempo that is fresh, uplifting and inspirational. Both tunes have Robert Meeks on keys and Chris Marshak on brushes. “Nu Day” also includes Bakithi Kumalo on bass and Arty White on wah wah guitar. These tunes, along with the R& B-flavored songs featuring female vocalists are an indication that Matt Marshak’s music has the potential to crossover into pop, R&B, and world music realms and have universal appeal (perhaps like artists such as Norah Jones). Matt Marshak’s music deserves to be heard by wider audiences who are likely to become enthusiastic new fans around the world.

Without a doubt, guitarist/vocalist/composer Matt Marshak’s new CD This Time Around is a great find to add to your smooth jazz and pop music collection that will bring you listening pleasure for a long time!

The CD is available at;
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Mike Phillips Interview

Mike Phillips
the Uncommon Denominator
by Baldwin “Smitty” Smith

We are welcoming back one of the most prolific and charismatic sax players in the business. He’s got a great new record out called Uncommon Denominator, you know him from his debut album You Have Reached Mike Phillips, please welcome the incomparable sax player, Hidden Beach recording artist, Mr. Mike Phillips.

Smitty: How are you my friend?

Mike Phillips (MP): Most good man, how about yourself?

Smitty: Alright, feeling good, especially after the last couple of nights! (laughing)

MP: Man, it was crazy.

Smitty: Yeah, did we have a great time, or what?

MP: Man, especially times when people were just on their feet, waving their hands, it was awesome, I enjoyed it.

Smitty: Oh yeah, it was cool. We are always happy to have you come back, so it was a great couple of nights of great music, and it’s always that way when Mike Phillips comes in to Houston.

MP: No doubt, no doubt. You know how we like to bring it. We like to bring a lot of energy, a lot of fun and incorporate different things in the music and show people how different things can connect. We can all have fun.

Smitty: We definitely did that! Let’s talk about this new record. When You Have Reached Mike Phillips was released, a lot of fans were able to reach you because of this great album and now you’ve released Uncommon Denominator. Talk to me about how you continue to connect with your fans and with new fans with this new record.

MP: I think that You Have Reached Mike Phillips was just self-explanatory. It’s an introduction, it’s like everybody up here is happy to be a part of this young man, this is my reason, my individuality, you know, and there’s so many different flavors that pertain to this format. I just wanted to make sure that I can look in the mirror and stay true to the flavor I can bring to it, and You Have Reached Mike Phillips was that. It was like, ‘listen everybody, this is me’. Uncommon Denominator, you know, I took about three years between the first and the second record but between that time I’ve done the Musicology tour with Prince and, I’ve toured with Stevie Wonder. When you’re around those icons you have to have the ability to grow as a musician. Just being around Prince, he has a habit of just growing and making sure that musically you’re always changing and everything, growing and morphing into something that isn’t like before. So Uncommon Denominator, it culminates from the spirit of that, which is growth, which is connecting with new things and doing some things a little bit different, but still staying to the fire and emotion that I want people to hear every time I put my lips to the horn.

Smitty: And you were Philly last night, you weren’t Mike Phillips last night, you were Philly!

MP: Oh no doubt, no doubt

Smitty: (Laughing) That was too cool. I think that’s a great statement you just made because I know during the Musicology tour with Prince you can’t help but grow with him, and what a tour that was.

MP: Yeah, it was the number one grossing tour last year and for me to be, you know, a smooth jazz artist and to be a part of that, to see how big things can get, not to stay in the box that has developed and the genre of our music but to see how things can get when you combine different genres and add things and have the music appeal to more people than the box can deliver. It’s beautiful. So to be a sideman next to these great musicians, it helped me in my mindset as to what I want to accomplish as a solo artist.

Smitty: It’s interesting that you made those comments about Prince because he had some pretty strong accolades for you as well after watching you play on his tour, you know, he was amazed by the way you connect with the fans at the live shows, he was amazed at how you were able to peak their emotions by the music you were delivering at each show so, there was sort of an interchange of compliments there with the both of you making it quite a unique collaboration.

MP: Yes and when I read that in Rolling Stone……his compliments came as he was coming back on stage; because I take a 10 minute break’, he takes a 10 minute break and gets changed and I come out then and play my little solo and what he said in Rolling Stone that ‘when I get back out on stage I want to get to the level that Mike Phillips was on’, when that’s quoted, it actually gave me goose bumps, man (laughing), that this dude, not only is he a great artist but he can sit back and appreciate something and give it the most highest compliment and so, from Prince, that’s a scary compliment! (laughing). It’s kind of two-fold, I’m happy he said it but I’m like ummmmm, I don’t know, it scares me! (laughing) But I’m glad that the spirit and the emotion moved him to say that, what a beautiful compliment. Speaking of that I think my threesome is, Art Porter, George Howard and Grover (Washington Jr.), and the big difference is that you felt something when they played, they just weren’t playing pretty notes, you felt the emotion.

Smitty: Yeah, absolutely

MP: Grover, Art Porter and George Howard, if they look down at me and if I make them proud, I know that I’ve accomplished the aspect of giving everything that’s in my soul and in my heart. So people can feel it and that’s what the whole premise of the Mike Phillips experience is.

Smitty: It’s a beautiful thing. I must tell you that, because each time that I’ve seen your live performance, I noticed not just the level of your music but how the fans come to your level as fans in their emotions.

MP: It’s a great thing because I cover the Frankie Beverly song, We Are One. Literally when there’s a concert or where there’s a gig, that’s exactly what it is. I give it to you, they give it to me and we are all co-existing in this one musical umbrella of me giving it to people appreciating it and moving in a circle.

Smitty: It’s truly an amazing experience. You’ve traveled with Stevie Wonder, you’ve collaborated with Rochelle Farrell, Wayman Tisdale, Jonathan Butler, Babyface, Boyz2men, Jill Scott, I mean the list goes on of a who’s who in music, period. No doubt you’ve got to have taken some beautiful elements of life from those experiences as well. Talk to me about how you’ve incorporated those experiences into the Mike Philly thing.

MP: Well, for 100 percent I remember I was one of those guys, like when I was in 10th grade or even younger, we used to hang out on the corner and one guy does the beat box and I would do my rhythmic thing, we’d always think that we would grow up to be Jay Z or something like that (laughing). I think that whole aspect of what hiphop is, what great music is and how it’s done is truly a part of my presentation, not because it sounds cool, because it’s a part of who I am. So when I have a track that’s hiphop oriented, I’m that same type of dude that was out on the corner, I’m battling somebody, you know, I want to have a hiphop freestyle battle (musically), you know. So even when you hear me on a rap, I relate to that stuff because I am that stuff. Now, mind you, I can put on a suit and we can go the wineries and we can play and I can have my linen shirt on and linen pants and blowing in the wind and, that’s cool too because I appreciate the aspect of embracing the fact that you have to attain some level of versatility. However, keep in mind that even when Bird, Trane and all those guys, Dizzy, they started experimenting with Bebop, that stuff came from the ghetto, it came from the inner city, Kansas City and those places like that where Bebop would just pop up out of nowhere. It didn’t start in what you call the high echelon aspect of musical society so, I think even embracing hiphop, embracing other elements that are grass roots and ground breaking, that’s the spirit of what Bebop was from the beginning.

Smitty: Yes, absolutely man, and you’ve really done a unique job of blending those cultures in your music today and I think that’s why it’s embraced so much by your fans because I think many of them remember that era, and then you have some that perhaps have not even experienced that but it’s so cool for them to be, the appreciative newbies of this style of music.

MP: Oh yeah.

Smitty: So, not only have you pulled those cultures together but you’ve gotten into some pretty high profile events yourself, such as sporting events, the NBA Finals, the US Open, the Ronald MacDonald House charity, you were on tour with the charity tour with Venus and Serena Williams.

MP: With Venus and Serena, which I just recently spoke to, I kind of expressed that, I’m in Houston now and the bad thing about that is now I’m not going to be able to see them play at the US Open, but, you know, I’ve got to hold it down, I’ve got to support the record.

Smitty: When I heard you were on tour with them, I got real jealous (laughing).

MP: Well, you know, I’ll get Serena to send you a picture.

Smitty: Oh please! (laughing)

MP: You see, my thing is, being that sometimes the business of smooth jazz not embracing something different, sometimes I have to take the alternative routes. So, looking at the grass -roots clubs, the fact that I can go on tour with Venus and Serena, and you know, hit and make impressions on 30,000 people when they are playing tennis, and I’ll come out and do the national anthem, and they also have me to play a song when they change sets. Another thing is hooking up with the historically black colleges like FAMU and Tennessee State; when they have the Battle of the Bands, I’ll be there, I’ll be in the middle helping do the battle and then I’ll come out and play a song and that’s 70,000 people in one stadium. Hooking up with the NBA, the NFL and doing the national anthems and all the college the NCAA and all of these different things. It allows me to build a grass-roots foundation without getting on my knees and begging the infrastructure who control what happens to let me in. Now, I’m sure that the record is good enough to be sanctioned for the format, but at the end of the day I think you get more attention by being more pro-active in your career. And then when they sanction it and when BA and all the other smooth jazz stations finally sign off on it, then I’m cool because I’m so excited about being involved with the format. I think we have to find different ways to reach another generation because there’s a whole next level of college kids and younger generation of people that are ready to experiment and get into the format, but the environment right now in this format is not breathing the next generation. So, at the end of the day, we are going to be stuck in the old format if we don’t reach out and do innovative things to get the next wave of people that will support this great format and I’m doing that right now.

Smitty: I totally agree with you, because you’ve got to have creativity, you’ve got to have growth in anything you do. If you don’t grow, then what happens? You eventually wither away.

MP: Exactly and then I want this format to survive so that the next Mike Philly or the next Grover, the next whoever, 35 years after this can have a shot and, not only play some great music but have a built-in fan base that when they do their thing in the format they will be appreciated.

Smitty: Very well stated.

MP: You know, when you talk about the format and the growth of the format, I can’t think about how I’m going get my style, obviously as a musician who has accomplished a little in my small time in the music industry, I’ve never missed a meal. So it’s not about me but it is about making sure that the next generation of musicians are properly set up so that they can enjoy the hard work. You look at John Coltrane and these great musicians who played during his era, after they finished playing a gig, they could not even sit down and eat everyone, they had to go to the back or sit where the garbage was. Then, that made life easier of Quincy (Jones) which made life easier for Grover (Washington Jr.), which made life easier for Wayne (Shorter)… you see what I’m saying, so now, it’s still legacy, whether you want to view it like that or not. What I feel I have to do is truly just stick to my guns of being who I am and maybe an executive will understand how cool that is, and the next dude that’s ready to do what I’m doing but on a whole other high level will be ready to insert himself into the business and give the next generation of listeners great music.

Smitty: We appreciate you for what you’ve done in the music world because you’ve definitely torn down some walls and opened some new doors as well and it’s a wonderful thing. So, let’s talk about this record, man, because I’m really digging it. You already know my favorite track on the whole record is If it takes all Night (laughing)

MP: You’ve been listening to that message! (laughing)

Smitty: I’m a good listener, man. (laughing)

MP: Yeah, that song is for all the brothers, like, if it takes all night, you’ve got to make it happen!

Smitty: That’s right (laughing)

MP: I think it’s one of the sexiest songs on the album. I always tease people and say if you’re not trying to have any babies then you have to listen to track 4! (laughing)

Smitty: That’s cool. You’ve done something else that’s not common, speaking of Uncommon Denominator; you’ve done something that’s not so common. There are 16 tracks on this record. So you’ve given everyone their money’s worth, they’re not only getting quality but they’re getting quantity too.

MP: I feel that’s highly important now. Sometimes we might, how it works is, you get a budget and the less songs you do, you know, the less money you spend. The less money you spend, if you don’t spend you’re budget money then you can get it back. My goal was never to turn around and see how much money I could keep. It was always based around the fans and even delivering 16 tracks is the same thing because you split up all your budget money to make these songs, but at the end of the day, when people have a great choice, they like 80 percent of the album that’s still more songs than what one album would normally have. 80 percent of my album would be 13 songs, so I just wanted to diversify and do some different things but also raise the track amounts so people can have a variety of music that they truly enjoy. Because people are not going to like every single track, but if you can diversify and slip in a little bit of Latin over here, and do hiphop here, and do some fusion with some cool and different changes. Then you get to bounce around and people will overall like the product, because you tried as an artist to do so many different things within the context of the record without it being too confusing. I appreciate the fans so much that, this record, I just had to put it out there and do something that they can truly enjoy and have a choice, a huge amount of track choices.

Smitty: Very Cool! Talk to me a little about some of the cats on this record because you’ve got some great musicians. I see that you mentioned Wayman Tisdale that was cool of you.

MP: Yeah, if it wasn’t for Wayman I wouldn’t even be in this format. He’s one of the guys that, I was playing in the clubs in New York, he picked me up and was like, ‘listen, I want you to play a gig with me’. After I played that gig with him, I kind of looked at what he was doing and said ‘you know what, one day I want to be a part of this community, of this jazz community’ but, without Wayman taking me under his wing and exposing me to what it is to be a part of this, I would never have gotten the opportunity to even deliver the music to people that are now Mike Phillip fans.

Smitty: Yeah, I know. He’s a cool cat.

MP: Yeah, He’s a cool cat. Jeff Lorber, we did the single Heartbeat of the City, and Rex Rideout.

Smitty: Yeah, Mr. Club 1600!

MP: So, it’s a lot of great musicians and producers. The thing on this record, I wanted to keep the guests to a minimum because I didn’t want this record to have a compilation feeling to it. So I had some great producers and musicians, this was solely from start to finish a Mike Phillips record because when you look at it, a typical album sometimes can have like 11 tracks and, you have maybe 5 or 6 featured artists, so now you have 70 percent of your album being done with or by other people. I think it just sends a wrong message in what it means to do your album so people can feel what you do from start to finish. If it’s a compilation concept like Unwrapped, then that’s cool because you have different artists, you’ve got different guests but I think a personal albums need to be so much more of a statement of who and what the person is trying to play.

Smitty: They get Mike Phillips on Mike Phillips record.

MP: Even though my first record was titled You Have Reached Mike Phillips, I want that to always happen. When it’s time for a Mike Phillips record I want you to always reach me.

Smitty: You’ve accomplished that goal with both albums, but it’s nice to have a couple of cats on there that can mix it up a little.

MP: Yeah, and that’s why we put Jeff on Heartbeat of the City and he also did an organ solo on We are one. He killed it! Frankie Beverly heard it and he flipped out! So, I mean, I have great musicians just to add some spice and some life to the record other than what we can do ourselves. It’s a great blessing to have a guy of that caliber on my record.

Smitty: Yes indeed. This is a great album, well constructed with a lot of fire and with a lot of open doors where people can see some different shades and some different sides of music and the creativity of music, I should say. You’ve really mastered this CD quite well and mixed it slick It comes over really well, and I think it’s important to make a record that you can really expand upon in a live setting and I think you accomplish that every night. I think that’s very important.

MP: Yes, yes, it is. I’m just truly happy when I’m out there for all the fans out there that understand that I am different and that embrace me. When you look at the title Uncommon Denominator, I was reading the Miles Davis biography…. and he and his father, they were listening to a Mockingbird so Miles father said to him ‘do you know what that is?’ and Miles was like ‘No’ and his father said ‘what you hear is a Mockingbird’ and a Mockingbird’s responsibility is to listen to every other bird and emulate the sound, and as Miles Davis father said ‘you are not that Mockingbird, I want you to have your own sound’ so, you know, just the whole energy of Uncommon Denominator is being influenced by all the people who influenced me, from Grover, Trane, Sonny Rollins, taking all of these and throwing them in the pot and then looking in the mirror and saying ‘what is my individuality?’ and throwing that in the pot and mixing it up and coming up with something I can truly authentically say is Mike Phillips. Although I’ve been influenced by so many people and I’ve absorbed that influence, but when I’ve sprinkled my little fingerprints on it and mixed it up into something that truly and authentically comes from my heart’. I’m thankful for even having people’s ears to listen and then to appreciate it, that’s nothing but love.

Smitty: Yes it is, and I’m sure you appreciate the love of Hidden Beach. I heard you mentioning it at the show last night, the love of Hidden Beach, to allow you to put this record together, the last record and really let it flourish and let people enjoy it.

MP: Yeah because, I mean, Hidden Beach, what I like to call these albums nowadays is the CCCA, Cheerfully, Corporately, Consulted Albums where the labels will sit you down and say ‘OK, we’ve have to do this because we have to reach this criteria’ ,’we have to do this, no we can’t not this, blah, blah, blah’, Hidden Beach never, from day one did things in the spirit of that. I feel that’s a point because at the end of the day what Steve McKeever told me, He said ‘if you don’t know what you want to do, then I cannot help you’. So that was him signing off on the confidence in my individuality to come up with something that can authentically, truly be a style that I would be proud of and Hidden Beach would be ready to market and promote.

Smitty: Yes, give it up for Hidden Beach.

MP: So, I’m just happy to have a label that allows me to, you know, I can..

Smitty: Do your thing.

MP: Yeah, do my thing and just, just like Ray Charles said in the movie “Ray” ‘Make it do, what it do’ (laughing) and I make it do, what it do! (laughing)

Smitty: Yeah (laughing) I like that. That’s a great example, I like that.

MP: Yeah, I’m going to quote that ‘I’m going to make it do what it do’.

Smitty: Well Mike it’s been real this past weekend and just a beautiful experience to have you back in town and hanging with you and mixing it up with the music, you know, and just doing the overall ‘hang’.

MP: Definitely man, I’d love you to give the inside about what you saw in the show, how the hiphop elements had people flipping out. I think it’s really important for people to understand the energy that they haven’t experienced yet and just having good guys like you within the media to really let people understand where I’m coming from. I’m really glad I have this outlet to speak to you so then you can crunch the information and speak to the people that I’ll never be able to speak to, but you can speak to them, with you being the media. So, thank you so much Smitty, you’re my man for real.

Smitty: Hey,that’s the real about it. I’m just glad you’re out there still creating and making great music. Keep doing your thing my friend.

MP: Well, it’s nothing but love, my brother.

Smitty: Yes, indeed. Alright Mike, and hey. Let’s do it again man, let’s do it again.

MP: Keep in touch with your boy too.

Smitty: Yeah man, you know it. We’ve been talking with the incomparable Mike Phillips, his great new album, Uncommon Denominator, this is one you’ve got to put in your CD changer. I highly recommend this album. Mike, thanks so much, thanks to everyone at Hidden Beach and please come back and visit with us again.

MP: No doubt.

An Interview with Kirk Whalum

Talking With
Kirk Whalum
by Mark Ruffin

Kirk Whalum The titles of both of Kirk Whalum’s new albums, Unconditional and The Staff, say a lot about the make up of the 42 year-old musician. The popular saxophonist is currently touring the country in a package with bassist Waymon Tisdale and the group Kombo.

“I bear witness to Jesus and I honor my wife, Ruby, Whalum said by phone after a performance in Indianapolis. “I am very vocal in both those areas.”

Back when he was 12, Whalum met his wife at a Memphis church where his father was assistant pastor. That same year, at that same church, is where he gave his first public performance, appropriately choosing Amazing Grace for his debut.

Religion and the strong love of both family and music have been constants in the life of the exciting horn player. So it should come as no surprise that at the height of his popularity in the secular contemporary jazz world, Whalum is diving headfirst into mixing gospel and jazz.

Whalum wants to reinvigorate the jazz/gospel scene that had it’s momentum stalled in the late 80’s. He thinks there’s a wide untapped market for spiritually influenced jazz.

“Just like in smooth jazz, or anything else, it takes somebody to plan and identify the audience,” he said emphatically, “someone to tap people on the shoulder and say, ‘you like this, don’t you?’

“People would just need to know the music is anointed, that it comes from the heart of God and a person who has Christ living on the inside.

“From a spiritual standpoint, it’s a beautiful thing,” he continued. “I’m talking about inspirational music that’s supposed to touch a person’s heart with the power of the gospel. Jazz is the perfect venue for that.”

An examination into the making of Whalum’s three gospel albums conjures up the cliché that God does indeed work in mysterious ways.

As a player, the be-bop of the 40’s and 50’s, and contemporary players Ronnie Laws and Wilton Felder heavily influenced him, as did the musical gumbo of his Tennessee hometown. Whalum eventually, quite by chance, went to the same college Laws and Felder attended, Texas Southern University.

He became a top session player in Houston before being discovered by the legendary keyboardist, Bob James. His subsequent deal with Columbia records lasted nine years from 1985, and produced five albums.

“When I got kicked to the curb by Columbia in 1996, my wife and I decided that it was a God thing,” he remembered. “We looked at it as a step forward, as opposed to losing a job.”

One of Whalum’s frustrations with Columbia was their inflexibility in allowing him to step outside of the contemporary jazz world. He said the mega-corporation would only let one sax player experiment with crossing boundaries and that was former Columbia executive Branford Marsalis.

“When I finally got out of there, it was like here’s my chance to play what I want, and I wanted to do a live gospel record and I did.”

That was in 1998, when Whalum made The Gospel According To Jazz. Warner Brothers picked up the album, which included performances from George Duke and Paul Jackson Jr., after he signed with them in 1996.

“I made sure that in my Warner contract, that I had the right to do gospel records on the side, and to pursue a gospel direction, with them getting the first right of refusal. But they turned down the second album three times.”

Sales on Whalum’s secular albums soared, with the release For You spending two years in the top ten of the national jazz sales charts, which is where Unconditional is currently sitting. Despite that, the company balked at the sax man’s second gospel album, leaving him with a huge studio bill.

The album, Hymns: In The Garden, became his first all acoustic record, and with his own money, he started a company and put it out himself. The label is called Top Drawer Records, and the name is derived from the scripture that says ‘if I be lifted up, I’ll draw all men onto me.’

“I put that record out basically on the Internet, and out of the trunk. It eventually got nominated for a Grammy,” he said with a beam. “That is God, because his timing is perfect.”

Warner Brothers did eventually come around and will be releasing Hymns: In The Garden later this year. In the meantime, that album and The Staff are available at

“I really enjoy the freedom I have with gospel jazz because basically I can play whatever I want to play,” Whalum said. “There’s no radio guidelines because we’re creating on the fly, so improvisation takes on a whole new meaning.

“It’s like what (John) Coltrane was getting at,” he concluded. “He went deeper and deeper and got more complex. “He was right in that sense. It’s like a scientist studying science that can’t get to the end, because God created it and it’s infinite. The same thing applies with music.”

Eric Person Interview

The Making of Big Sur and More
Talking with Eric Person
by Paula Edelstein

Eric Person and Meta Four have recorded an astounding set played at the 7th Annual Big Sur Jazz Festival in 2002. The scenic venue not only is one of the most beautiful settings on earth but the music emanating from this outstanding ensemble is just as great. So kick back and relax. This is a laid-back set that just takes you there…just in case you weren’t. We caught up with Eric Person as he prepared for his CD release party at the Blue Note in New York and here’s what he had to say…so listen up!

PE: Hi Eric. Good luck with the new release.

EP: Hi Paula, thank you.

PE: What was the most important aspect of playing at the 7th Annual Big Sur Jazz Festival for you? It’s history, the locale, the creative aesthetic, etc?

EP: Big Sur is really such a fascinating place, spiritual and even mystical. When I found out that we would have the opportunity to record both of our performances at the festival, I had a feeling that we were going to make some special music, and with that, a special recording. And I was ready to document this band in LIVE performance, cause to me that’s where the music really happens.

PE: What are some of the technical difficulties associated with recording “live” at a jazz festival as opposed to recording in a studio session?

EP: The studio is a controlled, sterile environment. A LIVE performance is held under a variety of conditions, so it can be hard to control the situation. Unwanted noise, feedback, and improper miking, could have stopped us in our tracks, so to speak. Thank goodness the weather conditions were perfect. We did get good sounds on all of the instruments despite the short setup time. I tried to be Zen about the whole recording experience, so I could be relaxed to make great music.

PE: As a saxophonist, playing outdoors must be quite an experience especially since you must contend with the natural sound effects as well as those you’re making on stage. Does playing in such a natural setting as Big Sur, California create an added dimension with respect to ambience and inspiration or is it just one of those dimensions you’ve grown accustomed to since you’ve played so many outdoor venues?

EP: Playing at Big Sur ranked as one of my most special performances, period! The fresh air, the sun peeking through the trees to warm my horn, a bird call that becomes a fifth instrument, the hills around us. That’s just too special to take for granted, it’s pure inspiration.

PE: Pure joy…Eric, you’re loved around the world and have performed in such great venues as North Sea Jazz in The Netherlands to sets in Portugal. From the USA to Mexico. You’re on the cover of CADENCE magazine, in Ben Harper’s new video, PLEASURE+PAIN our ARTIST OF THE MONTH at Sounds of Timeless How do you deal with fame?

EP: Oh believe me, I’m far from famous. But I think when people hear this music, they become fans. It’s a challenge for any creative musician to “stay in the game” and produce his music against the odds. I’m building my solo career, one victory at a time, cause I’m in it for the long haul. >

PE: Humility…hmmm! A good thing in my book! How did this particular incarnation of Meta-Four come to be?

EP: This really is a dream band. I feel it’s “pound for pound” my best ensemble. These players really understand the Meta-Four concepts. John Esposito, our pianist has been with the band since 1994, Kenny Davis our bassist, off and on since 1992, and Peter O’Brien on drums since February 2001. Having steady personnel really helps the music grow from gig to gig.

PE: You’ve released the new CD LIVE AT BIG SUR at a CD release party at the Blue Note in NYC. Will you be performing at other Blue Note venues…such as Las Vegas, Japan, Tokyo, etc.?

EP: I can only hope. We are really hyped on this new CD, and the reaction has been great. We have much work to do to get this music heard far and wide, but we believe in what we are doing and it’s fun. It has to be a joy or what’s the point.

PE: Truer words were never spoken. It’s gotta be fun. I understand there’s a little Person in your life experience now! Is there a song on the new CD that relates to him?

EP: Yes! The CD is dedicated to my newborn son, Kadin. And I would say “Special Someone” is also for him.

PE: Very cool. Where can your fans find upcoming concert information and news about your latest recording LIVE AT BIG SUR?

EP: Anyone wanting more info on the CD, me, Meta-Four, performance info and news can go to:

PE: Eric, again, thanks for the interview and good luck with the new CD and all future endeavors.

Reprinted with permission of…

An Interview with Patti Austin

Patti AustinA Moment With
Patti Austin
by Mark Ruffin

“It is such an interesting time for anybody making a record who is 18 or part of boy group,” vocalist Patti Austin deadpanned when discussing ageism in the record business.

Surprisingly, Warner Brothers, one of the worst corporate offenders of ageism in jazz and pop music, has released Austin’s new album, “On The Way To Love.” That bucks the trend of artists who’ve gotten the ax from the AOL/Time-Warner subsidiary that reads like an all-star concert, Al Jarreau, George Benson, Frankie Beverly & Maze, Chaka Khan, Prince, Joe Sample, James Ingram and others.

“The dropping of older artists has been happening for a while,” the very loquacious artist said on the subject, “but the first time the dropping happened was not on the age tip, the first dropping was very much on the racist tip.

“I was at a celebrity party about eight years ago, Earth, Wind and Fire was there, Deniece Williams, Chaka Khan, and everybody had been dropped,” Austin continued, backing up her comment. “The ones who weren’t dropped were talking about the ones who’ve been dropped who weren’t there. It was obvious that all the Black artists who had had pop hits were dropped, which was very interesting to all of us.. Everybody was freaked out at that point.”

Austin didn’t break the age barrier because some Warner exec saw the error of their corporate ways. Not hardly. It happened because one major Warner shareholder, Quincy Jones, also happens to be the singer’s godfather.

By the time Austin was born, her father, Gordon Austin, was preparing to change profession from full-time trombone player to professional therapist. He had worked with many big bands in the 30’s and 40’s, including Earl “Fatha” Hines, Fletcher Henderson and Billy Eckstine. He never severed ties with his many musician friends, two of whom served as his daughter’s godparents; Jones and Dinah Washington.

“When my dad passed away, Q hopped right in on godfather shoes and really helped a lot with getting me through that emotionally,” Austin remembered. “Then one thing led to another and he said ‘you should come back to (the Jones/Warner co-op label) Qwest.’ . “He said he was going to step in and make sure the company happen, and I was like ‘yeah, right, you’re going to be sidetracked by some project,’ and, of course, he was.

Jones was disappointed when he proposed that Austin do a big band jazz record and his corporate partners rejected it outright. The legendary producer kept fighting for the singer while Austin and her producer took matters into their own hands and began funding a smooth jazz recording for her.

Other execs at the company got wind of the sessions, which were produced by Paul Brown, who also did recent albums by Al Jarreau, Boney James, Rick Braun and others.

“People at Warners heard the record and they were flipping out,” Austin remembered. “They absolutely loved it and said, ‘we want your ass over here.'”

The 12-track disc is unabashedly pop and funk oriented, and features three compositions co-written by Austin, and one song has James co-starring on saxophone. Her crystal clear voice is never overshadowed by Brown’s lavish production, in fact, Austin considers “On The Way To Love,” her 15th album, her best. Ironically, she attributes that to age.

“That’s what. 50 is for, to give your best” Austin exclaimed. “I know it ain’t for anything else, and that’s the good news for anybody who’s not there yet. By 50, you’ve got some seasoning, you’re marinated and it shows.”

Austin is currently touring with three different groups. She’s alternating between her own group, Lee Ritenour’s “Twist of Marley,” band and a group co-led by James and Braun. In January, she will be premiering her one-woman show, first at the Sacramento Theatre Company and then at L.A.’s famed Mark Taper Theatre.

“I’ve got so much swirling right now,” Austin said. “And the thing is that I’m having fun, and at 50, discovering that I can still grow and that I can still get better, and there’s always more to learn.”

And that big band jazz project, a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald, is scheduled for release next year. It won’t be on Warner Brothers.

Jazz loses Zachary Breaux and Tony Williams

Jazz Loses Two Great Artists
By Antoine Marx

Two jazz musicians, who both found themselves in the middle of revolutions within the genre, past away due to cardiac arrest almost within a week of each other. The ironies and similarities abound in both the lives and deaths of master drummer Tony Williams and guitarist Zachary Breaux.

Williams, of course, was the most well known of the two. His heart failed as he was recuperating from a gall bladder operation in a Daly City, California hospital on February 21st. He was 51.

The great drummer was born in Chicago, but grew up in musician rich Boston. But he was able to separate himself from the pack of players. After catching the ear of Beantown sax and flute legend, Sam Rivers, he joined Miles Davis at the ripe old age of 17 in 1963.

Miles was going through one of his many transitions when Williams joined the band along with Ron Carter, Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock That group stayed together for over six years, serving as a historical bridge between Miles’ be-bop and modal periods and the fusion years. Williams anchored the rising storm of the change from acoustic to electric. As the subtitle of Miles’ classic album In A Silent Way-New Directions in Music, suggest, times were a-changing. Williams managed to work with all the space that Miles allowed and created some revolutionary rhythms for jazz’ wild ride in the 70’s.

That Williams was the main drum influence in the 60’s can’t be debated, but history seems to have slighted his contribution to the fusion era. Williams was the first of Davis’ famous sidemen to start a fusion band, Lifetime, which was also the title of his very first solo album on Blue Note years earlier. Lifetime never achieved the fusion success of other Miles’ alumni; Chick Corea’s Return To Forever, Joe Zawinul’s Weather Report, John McLaughlin’s Mahavisnu Orchestra or Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters. But, it is to Williams’ credit, that two Lifetime members, Allan Holdsworth and Alan Pasqua, are among the very few musicians today creating challenging electronic jazz music.

Zachary Breaux didn’t have the jazz role models Williams had. In fact, his Texas hometown is famous because of the one musician from there who did make it big.

“They’ve built shrines to Janis Jopin in Port Arthur,” Breaux told this writer in a 1994 interview. “Before my career is over, I want them to build me a shrine.”

Unfortunately, his rising star was snuffed by his bravery and his huge heart. The guitarist’s heart gave out after trying to save 66 year old Eugenia Poleyeff of Brooklyn, New York from an Atlantic Ocean riptide. He was vacationing with his family on the beaches Miami on the 13th of February when he rushed to aid the woman. While on tour of Italy with vibraphonist Roy Ayers nearly ten years earlier, Breaux did successfully save a man from drowning. This time however both swimmers died. Breaux was 36.

His recording career happened almost by accident.

He was touring England as Ayers guitarist when the group played the famous Ronnie Scott Jazz House. Among the uniqueness of that club is that they have their own recording label. Towards the end of the date, Scott had to convince Breaux to try recording a live record. Using Ayers rhythm section, of drummer Dennis Davis, keyboardist Rex Rideout and bassist Donald Nicks, Breaux got together a few originals and unique modern arrangements of jazz standard.

“I was just doing my thing, man. I had no idea I would get caught up in all these movements.”

It was the revolutionary, albeit quite controversial fragments of early 90’s electric jazz that combined to push Zachary Breaux’ debut album Groovin near the top of Billboard’s jazz charts. Call it crossover within crossover, if you will, but the lovers of acid jazz, smooth jazz, ambient jazz ,steppers and quiet storm music all know who Zachary Breaux is.

The swell started in England where acid jazz began. The preferred track was the remake of Roy Ayers’ Red Black & Green with the vibraphonist joining in. But Where Is The Love was also getting airplay. That is what some visiting American, outside the business, heard and brought it back home to New York City, where he convinced the New York smooth jazz station to play it.

Someone in the business had also heard Breaux in England. This person happened upon Mike Manieri, who was producing a guitar tribute to the Beatles, and convinced him his project needed Breaux. Within days, Manieri, owner of NYC Records, found out that the guitar version of that old Roberta Flack song was the same guy.

He found Breaux, recorded a hip-hop ladened funk version of Elanor Rigby on Come Together, Guitar Tribute To The Beatles, and the guitarists acid jazz status was solidified in the states. Manieiri then licensed the Groovin’ album in the states. Smooth jazz stations everywhere started playing Coming Home Baby in heavy rotation in addition to Where Is The Love. The latter song also attracted steppers as did the track Lagos.

But what caught all observers by surprise was when the eclectic new age bunch dubbed the minimalist rhythms of Breaux version of John Coltrane Impressions ambient. Syndicated shows all over America, that played ambient music such as Frank Forest’s Musical Starstreams played the song with regularity.

Breaux’ follow up album Laidback didn’t do as well as the first, but it did crack the Billboard charts.

The new album Uptown Groove on Ricky Shultz’ resurrected Zebra label was doing phenomenal however at the time of his death. Vaulted by his killer version of Café Reggio’s from the film Shaft, it was number fourteen on the contemporary jazz charts.

That’s the final irony in the dual obituary. Williams also had a new album on a new label owned by another record biz rebel. Wilderness features Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Pat Metheny and an orchestra. The label, Ark 21 is owned by Stewart Copeland, co-founder of The Police and I.R.S. Records.

Zachary Breaux

Partial Discography…

Laidback – (NYC) 1994
Groovin’ – (NYC) 1992

Tony Williams

Partial Discography…

The Story Of Neptune – (Blue Note) 1992
Native Heart – (Blue Note) 1990
Angel Street – (Blue Note) 1989
Civilization – (Blue Note) 1987
Foreign Intrigue – (Blue Note) 1986
The Joy Of Flying – (Columbia) 1979
Million Dollar Legs – (Columbia) 1976
Believe It – (Columbia) 1975
The Old Bum’s Rush – (Polydor) 1972
Ego – (Polydor) 1971
Turn It Over – (Polydor) 1970
Emergency – (Polydor) 1969
Spring – (Blue Note) 1966
Lifetime – (Blue Note) 1965

Phil Woods – A Life In E Flat – DVD

Phil Woods
A Life In E Flat – DVD
JazzedMedia – 2005
Ricky Miller

Phil Woods amazing career has spanned over 50 years, during which he has established himself as one of the leading jazz alto saxophone players in the bebop music idiom. Joined by his “Little Big Band” (Brian Lynch, Bill Charlap, Steve Gilmore and Bill Goodwin) Woods is shown in the studio recording several songs for the CD “This is How I Feel About Quincy”. 

Produced in 2005, this 86 minute includes extensive interviews with the man who tells his story from the beginning in a way that reveals anonther side of his talented personality… the storyteller. Between the storyline and the shots and scenes of Woods at work we are offered an amazing opportunity to see Phil’s incredible artistry up close, the creative process of making a jazz recording at work before our eyes.

Phil Woods joined the jazz music scene in New York during the late 1940’s when bebop was gaining popularity as the new direction of American jazz. After graduating from Juilliard Music School Phil quickly gained fame by joining the Birdland All Stars Tour of 1956, and then the Dizzy Gillespie State Department Tour throughout the Middle East. During the late 1950’s Phil worked with jazz luminaries including Quincy Jones and Thelonious Monk. Phil’s partnership with Gene Quill in the late 1950’s established Phil as a major jazz star and led to many exciting recordings during the 1960’s. After moving to Europe in 1968 Phil formed the “European Rhythm Machine” which kept Phil busy during the challenging period for jazz in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Phil returned to the United States in the early 1970’s and had one of the first major “crossover” hits in the popular field by recording the now legendary solo in Billy Joel’s top selling song “Just the Way You Are”. Phil received several Grammy nominations and awards during the 1970’s and formed a 30 year working relationship with Quintet members Bill Goodwin and Steve Gilmore. Phil currently resides in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania and tours the world sharing his gifted interpretations of the Great American Songbook, while continuing to carry the torch of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie in the bebop music idiom.
– Graham Carter, Producer

DVD includes: tunes from the recording session, interviews with the musicians and Phil, and historic photos of Phil’s career.

Bonus material includes: additional interviews with Phil and a Phil Woods CD-ROM Discography (viewable on your computer) courtesy of JAZZ IMPROV MAGAZINE.

Documentary 64:24
Additional Interviews 22:17

An Interview with Lonnie Plaxico

Lonnie PlaxicoAbout Melange and More
Lonnie Plaxico
by Mark Ruffin

If someone were to write a book about the evolution of the bass in contemporary jazz over the last quarter a century, there would have to be a chapter totally devoted to Chicago. A few pages would be devoted to Lonnie Plaxico who has a brand new album on Blue Note titled “Melange.”

Just listing the name of bassists from the Windy City who played with Miles Davis can take up some space- Felton Crews, Angus Thomas, Richard Patterson and Darryl ‘Munch’ Jones, who went on to considerable stardom with Sting and presently the Rolling Stones. Others include Plaxico, Steve Rodby, Larry Kimpel, Kenny Davis, Chuck Webb and others. Because of the supportive nature of their chosen instruments, these names aren’t very well known. However, check the back of a good many contemporary jazz albums, and there they are.

Plaxico is best known for his work with two of the biggest names in jazz history, drummer Art Blakey and vocalist Cassandra Wilson. He made 12 albums with the former and the latter is one of his old friends, who he has seen first hand rise from a woman who “used to wait for me after sets to borrow money,” to one of the most important female vocalist ever to sing jazz.

At 41, the bassist doesn’t hide or deny that being music director for Wilson, one of the most commercially successful artists on Blue Note Records, helped him get a deal with the storied company.

“Without question, my association with Cassandra is the main reason I got a deal,” Plaxico admitted.

:”Most jazz record companies are looking to discover somebody,” Plaxico said, pointing out his age and that he has released five albums on a smaller jazz label. “I’ve been around a while and played with everybody.

“That can work against you sometimes,” he continued. “(Record companies) want younger musicians who are less exposed.”

Both Plaxico and Wilson rose to prominence in jazz through a group of New York based musicians who created a form of music in the mid-80’s called M-Base. The music was a hip-hop and rock influenced kind of avant-garde jazz. It was created out east, but many practitioners were actually from Chicago, including M-Base founder, Steve Coleman.

He first heard of Plaxico in the 70’s, back in Chicago. Then the bassist was one of two bass players from Fenger High School making lots of noise on the local scene, Richard Patterson was the other.

By his senior year, Plaxico had already been playing in jam sessions with the legendary Chicago sax man Von Freeman when Coleman, somewhat of a musical intellectual, gave the young musician a call.

“I was in my last year of high school and he was already in college, which back then seemed like a huge gap, ” Plaxico remembered, “and since a lot of black guys weren’t into Charlie Parker and stuff like that, he wanted to give me a test.”

Coleman found in Plaxico a well-studied musician, who not only knew jazz and r&b history, but was also raised in the warmth of a family where music was learned by osmosis.

At 12, he was enlisted into the family band, the Bilalian Express, a pop/funk band, which gained a degree of popularity on Chicago’s south side three decades ago. In 1976, when he was 16, the group that included his brother Douglas, who played drum and sung and his vocalist sister Paula, released a single.

By then, Plaxico was already abandoning the r&b of B.T. Express and Kool & the Gang for the jazz-fusion of Return to Forever and Weather Report. After he saw RTF’s great bassist, Stanley Clarke, play an acoustic version of the instrument, he did an exhaustive trip backwards through the history of jazz.

College at Northeastern Illinois was a disappointment for Plaxico, despite the number of celebrated classmates, including the late saxophonist Art Porter, Chicago drummer Greg Rockingham, and bassist Kenny Davis, who would later join Plaxico into the New York M-Base group.

“For me that college was just an extension of my high school,” Plaxico explained why he left the school early. “I was already playing with Von Freeman, and he gave me more of the education I needed to know. I didn’t feel like I could learn anything there.”

It was Wynton Marsalis that first called Plaxico to New York to work in 1980. He joined the legendary saxophonist Dexter Gordon in ’82 and the historic Jazz Messengers the following year. All the while his roommate, Coleman, was developing the unique M-Base sound.

“M-Base hadn’t even started when I met Cassandra,” Plaxico said when asked how he met the diva. “It was at a jam session in New York, and I remember we were playing “A Foggy Day, and I became suspicious of this lady with this deep voice, because around that time there were some transvestites hanging in New York.”

With his suspicion alleviated, he developed a lasting friendship with the singer. When Coleman came home raving about a deep-throated singer he had heard, the bassist informed him that he knew all about her.

“It was Steve Coleman who heavily influenced all of us on being original, including Cassandra, and I’ve been so happy for her as she has become so big.”

However, Plaxico feels his seven-year tenure with Wilson will soon becoming to an end. It’s an ironic result of the release of “Melange.” “Once you start playing your own music, it’s pretty hard to go back to a supporting role,” Plaxico reasoned, “especially on the instrument that I play where I usually don’t even get a chance to show what I can do.”

An Interview with Avishai Cohen – 2000

Avishai CohenColors: Hearing is Believing
A Talk with Avishai Cohen
by Paula Edelstein

The aesthetic association between sound and color was first rationalized by the philosopher John Locke in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding sometime in the 1600s and the color hearing of Avishai Cohen on his latest Stretch Records release asserts its authenticity. He unites our individualized and special senses in a myriad of listening opportunities on COLORS, his third release for Chick Corea’s label. Avishai Cohen knows how his bass playing fits into today’s musical world and COLORS offers you all the musical styles inherited from his heritage and through his participation in the study and realization of music that fills his soul and yours. In my humble opinion, the young genius possesses perfect pitch and as a result is able to realize the dual sense of sound and color.

Avishai Cohen wrote thirteen songs that put the 30-year old genius at the forefront of his extremely expressive acoustic and electric bass, piano, Fender Rhodes and vocal instruments. He occupies a very important place because of his experimentation with and arrangements of Latin, Middle Eastern, Russian, and Eastern European rhythms that construct his repertoire on COLORS. From romantic songs inspired by Russian composer Rachmaninoff to technical resources utilized from his transcription of Bach’s cello suites, each bass line is a different color. Cohen also presents Latin bass lines, bass lines in a funk/fusion style, electric bass chops and a rhythmic improvisational language that his listeners have come to know and love. The musical opportunities presented on COLORS for his listeners, as well as for his ensemble are priceless.

COLORS is celebrated by Avishai’s sextet that consists of Jason Lindner on piano, Jimmy Greene on tenor and soprano saxophones and flute, Amos Hoffman on guitar and oud, Avi Lebovich and Steve Davis on trombones, and Jeff Ballard on drums and percussion. Guest vocalist, Claudia Acuña, Yagil Baras on acoustic bass, Antonio Sanchez on drums and a string quartet of Fred Sherry on cello, Tom Chin and Jesse Mills on violin, and Kenji Bunch on viola provide excellent accompaniment for Cohen’s compositions. COLORS has a significant place on the concert stage as well as an enduring work for sextet and will become one of the most celebrated works by Avishai Cohen in this century. With that in mind, I talked to Avishai during a recent break while appearing with the great Chick Corea.

JazzUSA: Hello Avishai. Congratulations on your new release COLORS. It ranks very high among your many virtuoso works and is beautifully combined with the emotional expression of the music from your world travels. I found it very visual and it has made an indelible impression on our musical senses.

AC: Thank you very much.

JazzUSA: You’re welcome. It’s great to hear you leading the ensemble featuring Jeff, Jason, Amos, Jimmy, Steve, and Avi. It’s my understanding that you composed most of the tunes for COLORS after an inspiring week at Sweet Basil in Manhattan and while on the road with Chick Corea’s Origin, but actually formed a piano trio to develop most of the music while you were in Israel. That’s an interesting story in itself. Is there something that you can share with our readers about how this piano trio came about?

AC: Yes, except that story is not totally correct, as you understand it! The order of things is… music is always written and developed as the days go by. So it might be with Chick on the road or my band on the road or me being anywhere that I write. But there was a period of time in Israel that I had like a month and a half that I had to be there. I made the choice to, well I played piano and wrote as always, but I called two friends that were there that are actually in New York now…Israeli players that are great players. We tried my tunes in a piano trio format because there was a little place in Jerusalem that accepted us every night. They didn’t pay us, but we ate some soup. A bunch of people came every night and it developed into a …the music lived and transferred and got the people’s energy and that developed this record. I then took, to New York, the written parts to the band, the band that I’ve been working with. We rehearsed. Then we had a week at Sweet Basil. Then we had the recording. Everything was planned so that we would do all this playing before the recording. So one thing led to the other and by the time we recorded it, I had the whole vision of it pretty much and everybody was comfortable to the point where we could make a record like COLORS — which is an exceptional record.

JazzUSA: It certainly is. Thank you Avishai for correcting me. I appreciate it. In your 30th year, you’ve written 13 selections for COLORS, arranged them, provided vocals, played electric and acoustic bass, and piano. You have really ‘stretched’ out on your third release for the Stretch label. It gives new meaning to the quote – “the third time is a charm.” Did you relate the mystical qualities of the number 3 in this release in much the same way that you relate notes to colors?

AC: No, not at all.

JazzUSA: I mean, it’s your 30th year, there are 13 selections, it’s your 3rd release for Stretch!

AC: That’s your vision. I must say that’s beautiful, but I did not think about it that way at all. And it’s even more beautiful because I discovered it like that because if I’d said… “OK 13 …3…and ….” If I’d planned it, it wouldn’t have the “realness” that it has when someone else picks it out of the fact. So that’s cool, but it wasn’t intentional. The “colors” thing too is something that I do feel and live and one of my spectrums and dimensions that I have in my life, but it’s not something that I think about too much. It’s just a creative thought that I wanted to put on paper to make the colors as realistic as they could be in relation to music.

JazzUSA: Chords, rhythms and entire compositions entail a major part of the aesthetic associations and metaphors used on COLORS. Has an aura surrounding any of your compositions ever caused you to leave it out because it may not exude the unity of senses or feelings that you are trying to convey? I mean, do you just tuck those away somewhere for another project?

AC: I’m not really, exactly sure about the question.

JazzUSA: Well I mean, you basically said that you feel certain colors when they emanate from certain chord progressions, and rhythms, such as a G major chord, for instance, appearing as light green or E minor could be dark red and F major would be light blue.

AC: Oh, of course. But that’s after the thought. These thoughts are fun thoughts after the matter…after the deed. After the music is done, which is the magic of whether it speaks to me or not, that’s the first thing. If it speaks to me then I leave it on tape and that’s what I want. Then I can say, “Yes this resembles this.” Or it’s there always but it’s not something that comes before anything concrete like the music itself.

JazzUSA: I am a true believer that color hearing is a purely subjective impression, similar to color perception by sensitive people…I must say that I’m there. “Shay Ke” is great.

AC: Shay Ke is a good friend in New York. He wrote this…I don’t know if you remember DEVOTION, but I had a poem written on the liner notes by a friend and that friend is Shay Ke. He writes a lot of beautiful songs. He wrote this song and I started writing a melody to it. That is the melody to Shay Ke. I just wanted to credit his spirit in the song. And what’s better than to just call the song by his name!

JazzUSA: You compose a lot of songs for the oud to play with the bass and have mentioned several times that Amos Hoffman’s playing has a one-of-a-kind, Funk-Middle Eastern flavor. On “Shay Ke” the section for his solo is framed by a warm, slow vamp, and background vocals from Claudia Acuña. Does the oud have certain COLORS after the fact for you Avishai?

AC: Yeah. Well, what the oud does to the bass is that it creates this “desert-colored yellow brown” line that I see.

JazzUSA: And then of course, your acoustic bass has all the COLORS of the rainbow. (Smiles)

AC: (Smiles)

JazzUSA: The song “Colors” is orchestrated for string quartet, two trombones and soprano saxophone and plays more from a Eastern European vibe or perspective than from the New York vibe of Smalls and Sweet Basil. The addition of the string quartet is new for this release as opposed to your previous two records, ADAMA and DEVOTION.

AC: Not exactly. Listen well to DEVOTION. There is a bigger and more involved string quartet on DEVOTION. But that’s ok. This is the second time I deal with string quartet, which I love. And what’s true about what you’ve said is that it does have an Eastern European vibe to it because for me it comes from the Russian type of melodic sense that I’ve gotten in me through Israeli songs that are taken from Russian melodies. So that’s definitely there. The music is inspired by people like Rachmaninoff and many other Russian composers.

JazzUSA: I must say that “Emotions” is really touching. Your duo with Avi Lebovich on trombone personifying his trombone voice is amazing. Along with your vocals, those of Claudia Acuña and Jimmy Greene’s flute, this song feels really complete. Was there a special time in your life that inspired this creative process? “Emotions” is a powerful statement in itself.

AC: I’ll tell you why. In the Fall of a year and half ago, we were in England doing some stuff with Chick and I was in a hotel. I was involved in the breakup with a woman I’d been with for a long time and I was in those days when the break up was in the head a lot… and in the feelings. And the head…more the head than the feelings. I was in my room and playing the bass and I came up with this bass line and started singing that top melody on it. I mean, I remember taping it with the tape and trying to sing over it…orchestrating a little studio in my room and coming up with a feeling that was very emotional. It was an emotional moment, so I called it “Emotions.”

JazzUSA: Avishai, your 30th year is stellar and the creative works that you’ve shared on Chick Corea’s Origin, Claudia Acuña’s WIND FROM THE SOUTH, Jason Lindner’s PREMONITION, Tim Garland’s MADE BY WALKING, Steve Davis’ PORTRAIT IN SOUND and now with COLORS is absolutely astonishing. Your aural colors are extremely vivid and especially brilliant! Is this your creative renaissance…I mean you’re playing, producing, arranging, composing in so many styles. Latin, Middle Eastern, Eastern European, Russian, American and it’s all masterful. There’s no cut corners, nothing half-done or unfulfilling. Any “down time” or time for master classes or clinics on this year’s schedule?

AC: There are down times in many ways in life. A lot more than people think about people. But when it comes to music for me, you know, any time with music is precious time, but when you’re talking about recorded music that is for the benefit of a lot of listening ears in the world forever, it is a very precious time. And being that music is so important for me…I don’t know. I always want to be in that place where it’s as high as it can be. Hopefully, from what I hear from you and other people that like the music, it’s what’s happening. It delivers a very strong statement. I don’t want for anything less. It’s a very sad reality for me when it’s anything less than a strong statement.

JazzUSA: Oh, that could NEVER be, Avishai. It’s just you and it’s strong as it can be. That’s from the heart.

AC: Thank you very much for that.

JazzUSA: You’re welcome. It’s true. As a master bass player, you’ve mastered many techniques on the acoustic and electric bass. What do you feel are the best exercises for mastering the finger-crossing techniques or two-hand techniques for acoustic bass?

AC: I can’t say that there is one thing that would work for everybody; it’s a personal thing. But I can say that a very important thing to do, for anybody, is to play the scales…from bottom to end, slow and in time and as perfect as possible. Work on the intonation. Work on anything slow and really hear what you’re playing.

JazzUSA: Thank you. What new projects are approaching fulfillment from your great musical mind?

AC: In the last 2 and one half years, I’ve been…little by little, going to little studios in Jerusalem…going with my mom and recording Sephardic Jewish songs that are very deep to me or it seems to a lot of people. The songs include, piano, guitar, bass and percussion that I’ve dealt with some friends and oud with Amos. It became eleven tunes, a half-hour of pretty, pretty songs that we put on a CD and it’s not…it’s just ours. That’s a very precious piece of work that I’ve been working on and I’m very happy with it. It’s very deep music and she sings great.

JazzUSA: I can imagine…something that we would cherish.

AC: Thank you. That’s one of the things. I’m also going to do some composing for a little classical group…for two pieces for some young classical music composers in Israel and that’s going to include my mom also. We’re also doing a trio record with Chick…and he’s kicking my butt with the bass lines!

JazzUSA: I can’t wait to hear those. Of all the songs you’ve written, do you have a favorite?

AC: I really believe in this record, not that I didn’t with all the others. But I really like “Voices,” the last track on COLORS.

JazzUSA: Will you be touring soon and if so, who is in the working group this time?

AC: With my sextet, yes. I’m going to Columbia for a clinic and a concert with my band. That’s not anywhere near anyone that wants to see the concert! But then I’m playing in New York for a week at Sweet Basil from November 7th to November 12th; later at Blues Alley in Washington, D.C and we might have something in Boston too. Hopefully some West Coast dates also.

JazzUSA: We certainly hope so Avishai. Who’s in the working group?

AC: Jimmy, Jason, Jeff, Amos, myself and either Avi Lebovich or Steve Davis.

JazzUSA: That’s great. Thank you so much for this interview Avishai, and again, congratulations on COLORS, your new release on Stretch Records. We wish you tremendous success. It’s great! Love and peace, Avishai.

AC: Thank you, Paula. So long, love and peace.

For tour and related information, keep in touch
with Avishai Cohen at
Visit the web site to hear audio samples.

Wayne Shorter – An Interview

Wayne Shorter A Conversation With
Wayne Shorter
by S. H. Watkins, Sr.

JazzUSA: Hi Wayne, how are you?

WS: Ok how you doing?

JazzUSA: Great, and congratulations on the CD ‘Footprints Live‘, I understand this is your first live recording ever?

WS: Yeah… well, the only other live recording I was involved in was when we Wayne Shorterhad Weather Report, that was called 8:30. You know as a group, that was the only other live, marketed album that I was involved with. The only thing that was still floating around was this video of us with Miles, we had tuxedos on. It’s Tony Williams and Herbie and Ron, and I think it was Miles in Sweden, or something. But I don’t know it that was a saleable item, it was just floating around so much it might as well have been for sale.

JazzUSA: I also notice that this is your first recording as a band leader in some years.

WS: Yes

JazzUSA: So why did you take three prominent band leaders with you?

WS: Actually they chose to do this. We refer to ourselves as “The Family”. It’s not “Wayne Shorter this and that” it’s just the family. Like Crazy Eddy used to say in his commercials “for union members and their faaaaamilies.”

JazzUSA: This CD seems to be a throwback to the days of “Real Jazz” we were listening to 10-15 years ago. Now days some of the jazz folks seem to be trying very hard to incorporate the ‘new’ sounds into the music, abandoning the roots, sort of. What do you think of this ‘new sound’?

WS: I think that the spirit of jazz is almost like the real diamond and the Zircon, you take your monocle and you see … “Uh oh, this is trying to pass AS……. I’m trying to stay away from the word fake because I think everything has some value, even if the value is dormant, and the value depends on the human being handling the merchandise or the sound. I would say that modern music in America is sorely needed…. Everything stopped with the modern music. Some people say ‘pure this or pure that’ but I say modern music needs the spirit of jazz, that word jazz means to me ‘no category’, but you know when you hear the real thing in whatever… Copeland, Gershwin, Charlie Parker and all the guys we know, Bud Powell, all the guys… Bill Evans from my state, New Joisey. I surprised some people when I was going to N.Y.U., I said ‘Beethoven, Motzart had the spirit of jazz, even though the word wasn’t born yet.’ They had that jazz spirit, or that going on… Stravinsky had it, certain people all over the place… Mali. That’s not advertised worldwide, wherever that spirit appears.

JazzUSA: What else is coming up?

WS: We’re going to do something May the 20th with the Monk Institute in Washington D.C.. It’s going to be a concert and I don’t know how many people but it’s gonna be Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin and people like that. And were going to be playing for the Members of Congress, and Members of the Supreme Court!

JazzUSA: Wow…

WS: Not to get up there and start carrying posters, but it’s actually kind of been spearheaded by the Monk Institute jointly with Orrin Hatch and some of his comrades in government. Orrin Hatch is a songwriter, you know. I met Colin Powell again recently at the State Department and he said to me “Surprisingly, some Republicans DO have rhythm”… (laughing.) So the spirit which the Monk Institute, Tom Carter President and Thelonious Monk, Jr., we’re all together, Herbie, we’re in concert trying to keep this spirit of jazz moving forward, past the Ken Burns thing. (Laughing)

JazzUSA: What’s your opinion of that? Was it beneficial for Jazz?

WS: Yeah, yeah… we ran into Aaron Spelling and some other people at a farewell speech Al Gore was doing in Bel Air. Herbie and I walked into this magnificent house, Aaron Spelling and some other guys zoomed in on us and asked “What do you think about the Ken Burns Thing?” I’m thinking in my head “What about you guys not putting that stuff on TV.” During the conversation, they arrived at the conclusion that the upside was that the Burns thing exposed jazz to generations that thought Jazz was maybe, ‘march music’ (doing a Miles Davis Voice). I know some felicity has been thought of as ‘when it’s simple, you can communicate’ and all that, but life is not simple! I think the complexity of life is a great adventure. With the right attitude toward it you can be like a magnet to the benefits of life.

JazzUSA: We live in a world where N’Sync sells more copies of one CD in a year than all the combined jazz sales, don’t we need to think about targeting the youngsters?

WS: There is hope! We just came back from playing in Minnesota at the Mann theater. There were four groups in town. Wynton Marsalis, and a couple of other groups that were there for spring break, and N’Sync was in town as well. Years ago they would have cancelled some of the jazz groups when a major act hit town, but nothing was cancelled! We went, we played, the place was sold out! They ranged from 15-16 to the 40’s and 50’s and up. Somebody yelled ‘it’s filled to the rafters!

JazzUSA: What do you think people should know about Wayne Shorter?

WS: I think that music, or a song, in a very real sense … a piece of music can never actually be finished. Getting to the thing about beginnings and all that, for instance I hardly ever buy short stories. That’s a marketing thing and life itself…well we use the words ‘beginning’ and ‘end’ to comprehend, to keep our sanity. And in actually the notion that there is a borning and a growth and an expansion and a decay and then a continuation of this borning thing, the notion that space is not only continuous but space can born. Stephen Hawking talked about the fact that the universe moves in time and creates space.

JazzUSA: I recall reading about that in his book “In the Matter of Time and Space”

WS: The other one I have of his is the new one, “Universe in a Nutshell”. It’s a nice big one, large size with a lot of pictures and illustrations, goes right to the meat of the theories.

JazzUSA: Speaking of science, I understand you also have some type of tie to another artistic genre, fantasy comics…

WS: I like science fiction and all that, but I also like biographies and autobiographies. I did create a comic book in 1949, 56 pages, science fiction entitled “other Worlds”. I had two copies made and had one fully laminated. I was about 15 years old at the time.

JazzUSA: Maybe we’ll see that in print some day..

WS: (Laughing……)

JazzUSA: Well congratulations again on your new CD and thanks for the time out.

WS: No problem.

Head’s Up International

Seeing is Believing
multi-media zone #1
Heads Up International, Ltd.

Upon loading this CD, my first thought was that this was going to be another boring promotional multimedia CD. I was almost right..It was promotional, but definitely not boring. In addition to the usual marketing hype, this CD demonstrates a new and exciting medium for delivering music, one which I believe will be taking off in the near future…enhanced CD’s.

So, for those of you that like to keep it simple I present to you the Hype and the Hoopla

The Hype
One of the enticecments (and menu items) associated with this CD is a free gift. But…to get the free gift, you have to enter a password. To get the password, you must first visit the Heads Up website and enter your name, address, etc. into their database, no doubt to become part of their mailing list.

The letter from the C.E.O of Heads Up is a nice touch, but the letter was presented using a scroll box. It would have been a better idea to put a multimedia message from the C.E.O. on this multimedia CD. The scroll box looks like an afterthought in comparison with the richness of the other musical and artistic renderings.

I popped the CD in a PC with no sound card and it sent the hard drive into overdrive! Because the CD is constantly shuffling between the seven song clips, the program kept trying to go to the next song immediately after trying to load the current one which (of course) didn’t play. I guess no one ever expected some dummy to put a multimedia CD into a PC with no sound card, but it happens…

There is also a link to the Heads-Up website and, of course, the ever present on-line catalog.

The Hoopla
With it’s avant-garde design, simple-to-navigate interface and rich, full sound erupting from the multimedia speakers, this enhanced CD sampler is a feast for the eyes and ears. With a single click you can sample new releases from Gerald Veasley, Joe McBride, The Caribbean Jazz Project, Eric “Scortch” Scortia, Roberto Perera, Kenny Blake and Joyce Cooling. And all of the samples are rich and full. You are also given a screen of individual information about the sample that is selected.

This is a nice way to get to hear samples of artists you may never haave heard before. But, more importantly it sets the stage for the next generation of Music CD offerings…enhanced CD’s. With enhanced CD’s you get a CD filled with regular audio music as well as a multimedia track that contains other content like interviews, videos, MIDI files and song lyrics. All on one CD!

In the introduction to this CD sampler, Heads Up commits itself to being in the forefront of the multimedia revolution in the music industry, and promises to come out with enhanced CD offerings from some of it’s artists in the future. If this CD sampler is any indication of things to come, the music consumer will be getting a better product and recording artists will have new avenues of expression available to explore. The consumer wins both ways.

Overall Rating:

For More Information Contact

Heads Up International

13th annual St. Lucia Jazz Festival

St. Lucia jazzBET Jazz Presents the
13th annual St. Lucia Jazz Festival
May 7th -16th, 2004

Kenny ‘Babyface’ Edmonds, Kenny G, Ashanti, Joe, Billy Taylor, James Carter, Maynard Ferguson, Marlena Shaw, Floetry and Others Scheduled to Perform.

BET Jazz, The Jazz Channel and the St. Lucia Tourist Board will present a stellar and diversified lineup for the 13th annual St. Lucia Jazz Festival scheduled for May 7th -16th, 2004. Considered one of the premier music festivals in the Caribbean, St. Lucia Jazz features more than a dozen acts in a variety of venues around the island known as the ‘Helen of the West Indies’ for its natural beauty.

St. Lucia Jazz features multiple shows daily, including acoustical, new age and straight-ahead jazz, soul, fusion and R&B. Unlike other Caribbean music festivals, St. Lucia Jazz features ‘fringe’ events, which are held in a variety of small villages all across the island. The ‘fringe’ activities provide the opportunity for travelers to experience the entire island and its people, as well as the fine music. ‘Fringe’ events take place in small village parks, casual open-air venues, and charming retail complexes.

The confirmed lineup to date for St. Lucia Jazz 2004 includes: R&B artists Kenny ‘Babyface’ Edmonds, Ashanti, and Joe, jazz greats Kenny G, Billy Taylor, James Carter, Maynard Ferguson, Marlena Shaw and newcomer Floetry. Also performing will be Cuban band Charanga Habanera, Blue Mango and The Yellowjackets.

Peter Hilary Modeste, the St. Lucia Tourist Board¹s director of tourism, hopes to take the festival to new heights this year. ‘We now need to look to more mainstream performers as a source of headliners for St. Lucia Jazz fest,’ says Modeste. By booking more internationally known acts, the St. Lucia Tourist Board hopes to broaden its audience and in the process expose St. Lucia to new and more diversified travelers.

For more information and tickets, visit the official St. Lucia Jazz Web site at, or contact the St. Lucia Tourist Board toll-free (888) 4-ST-LUCIA. Information on St. Lucia is also available online at, the official site of the St. Lucia Tourist Board.

About St. Lucia Jazz Since its establishment in 1992, the St. Lucia Jazz Festival has grown in magnitude and stature to become one of the preeminent Jazz Festivals in the world. World-class artists such as R&B legends Smokey Robinson, Gladys Knight, Santana, Patti Labelle and jazz greats Wynton Marsalis, Branford Marsalis, Herbie Hancock, Stanley Jordan, Roy Hargrove and George Benson have all played before an audience of St. Lucian locals and international tourists. For more information about the St. Lucia Jazz Festival, please visit

BET Jazz: The 24 Hour Jazz Channel, a subsidiary of BET and Viacom, Inc. (NYSE: VIA and VIA.B), is the principle location for the fulfillment of all jazz interests. The network is the first and only 24-hour television programming service dedicated exclusively to jazz music and culture. BET Jazz features many of the finest names in jazz through in-studio performances, festivals, concert coverage, and celebrity interviews. Many of the shows feature original programming as well as historic footage unavailable on any other television network.

An Interview with Matthias Lupri

Deep Vibes…
An Interview with Matthias Lupri
by Paula Edelstein

Matthias Lupri Chartmaker Jazz is currently distributing the eclectic sounds of Matthias Lupri on Birdleg Records and no jazz mind-set is spared on his second release entitled, SHADOW OF THE VIBE. Matthias reaches deep to the soul and strokes many of the moods that we usually reserve for those wee hours of solitude after getting rid of the day’s vibe…so to speak. The young master, and protégé of Gary Burton, delivers on eleven compositions filled with great thoughts, imagery and musical excellence. Helping to round out his musical visions are the great George Garzone on saxophones, John Lockwood on acoustic bass and the exciting Sebastian deKrom on drums. What a concert! We caught up with Matthias just as Summer 2000 was winding down and talked about a couple of things that you should know!

JazzUSA: Hello Matthias. First off, congratulations on the success of WINDOW UP, WINDOW DOWN. That CD said a lot about your direct articulation and character on the vibraphone. Now with SHADOW OF THE VIBE, you have impressed many of your followers with your tremendous growth. Let’s talk about the quartet members. George Garzone on tenor and soprano saxophone, John Lockwood on acoustic bass, drummer Sebastian DeKrom, all play with that great first take energy. How do you get them to pick up on the direct reflections of your life, which is what a few of the compositions on SHADOW OF THE VIBE are about?

Matthias LupriML: Thanks Paula. Since I wrote the tunes, the tunes somewhat automatically dictate the direction and feel of what I was trying to express via the composition. For the players to pick up on it, it’s a combination of what they see on the chart, hear, feel and react to. I also talk about the tunes a bit before pushing the record button. Like what is the title, and how it relates to the music, and the mood that it suggests. But, you can only talk about it so much though, and then you have to just let it happen and hope for the best. Garzone, Lockwood and deKrom are all really great players and I already new it was going to be fine. It’s also just a matter of myself letting go of to many preconceived ideas of where the tune should go. That’s something I’m still always battling with. I think it’s something from my Rock N’ Roll days as a drummer where it was considered a good thing to do exactly the same way night after night and you and the band knew exactly what was going to happen with each tune.

JazzUSA: Spontaneity is the lifeblood of improvisation and is often the difference between a good and great jazz performance. Your quartet is really spontaneous and in the pocket on the title track, “Shadow of the Vibe” which I understand correlates to that whole first take thing we just discussed. Is tapping into your quartet’s mental rhythms a vital part of this spontaneity and shadowing?

ML: Definitely. Every take is different but usually the 1st take is always the freshest. It is where the conversation first starts. If you do another take right away, it is somewhat of a repeat. You tend to remember what you just said and repeat it if you like it. If you try not to say what you just said in the previous take, then your thinking about it too much and not really reacting, like you did in the first take. Of course this is all very subconscious to a degree, and the listener may or may not pickup on this, especially because they don’t know what take it usually is, and they hear the final version as it is. You also try to make the studio situation as comfortable as possible so the only thing on the players mind is the music at hand. If there are to many obstacles, it can really change the player’s attitude on a tune. If everyone’s mental state is 100% on the music, group interaction and shadowing is at its peak. Sometimes you may have mistakes in the 1st take, and you still go with it because it has a “fresher life” to it. Also Garzone and Lockwood play in a trio called the Fringe, which has been a big thing in Boston for the past 28 years. They play every week at a club and the music is 100% improvised, no charts what so ever. So having them bring this kind influence over to my music brought everything to a different space, which was very cool.

JazzUSA: It is so very important to remain true to yourself because you want your soul and spirit to come through the music but many times we need a master educator to influence those aspects of our talents that we don’t realize are lurking beneath ourselves! How did the great Gary Burton help you attain that level of awareness of your internal sound?

ML: When I studied with Gary Burton, he talked a lot about that in relation to a tune. Not theory, or what notes to play, but more about the character of each tune and finding the essence of what makes the tune what it is, what it means to you, and what separates it from so many others. The title and the mood it suggests, certain phrasings of the melody, the harmonic structure and how it feels, the tempo and rhythmic feel etc. I try to always remember that and make every tune as personalized as possible. Since I like to write my own tunes too, it becomes even more so. To me it’s also about listening to one note and finding the beauty of it from your instrument and internalizing it. If you listen to the space before and after it, and how it molds from and back into silence, you can internalize the sound and make it your own. There’s so much beauty in one note, and it’s something I’m still working on and searching for. When I can, I love sitting at a huge grand piano and just playing one note and just catch the vibe from it, before you move onto another note. It’s great for writing tunes too.

JazzUSA: The true giants of jazz often know that the dynamic range of soft, medium and hard will allow you to play as naturally and freely as you can. Have you found that different musical settings require different dynamic ranges? How do you have to adjust your level of relaxation and concentration for those ranges?

ML: Ya, different musical settings do require different dynamic ranges. I do tend to play on the louder side though, because the vibes need to cut through the band and it can be tricky sometimes. It’s easy for vibes to get drowned out by a band if they’re not always sympathetic to the nature of the instrument. I also play with pick-ups on my vibes, which give it a bit more of a modern sound and can increase the volume when needed. Even up to eleven sometimes! Naturally, ballads tend to be quieter, and up-tempo burners are louder. The level of relaxation and concentration is always an issue. If you’re totally “in the zone” of the music, your mind doesn’t really think any more – it just happens. As soon as you say to yourself while your playing, “Am I relaxed, am I concentrating, etc?” your out of the zone and not playing to your potential. It’s a tricky place to be sometimes. But when you’re there, it’s like no place else.

JazzUSA: “Intrusion” is so pensive. What is it about?

ML: I asked a friend of mine (Boris Weidenfeld, a great pianist and also producer of my 1st CD) to write a dark solo piece for me, and that’s what he came up with. He sent me two different tunes, and after playing them I chose “Intrusion.” The title and feel really represented what I was looking for as a solo piece for this project. I was able to let a lot of notes breathe and capture a quality of the vibes that I find to be really cool, in a dark kind of way. The title suggests the need to be alone – hence a solo piece.

JazzUSA: I really enjoyed “Moonlamps,” especially the imagery of the call-and- response between you and Garzone. The concept is very visual and meditative. I could really feel it. What inspiration do you find most useful when creating such great music? Imagination, inspiration from some other source, etc.

ML: Thanks a lot. I write mainly from a piano that I have looking over my window, which views on to the street and park below. The imagery and inspiration comes a lot from just watching the people and the everyday occurrences of life. The moon always casts a great beam of shadowing light in the late after hours on to the piano also. A moonlamp you could say, and it’s cool to write/play music in the wee hours with just this shadowing light. The call and response kind of came from gazing up at the moon and then back to the piano, gazing up at the moon, back again, etc. I think these kinds of every day life things just work their way into the music, sometimes very subconsciously.

JazzUSA: Well, we’re definitely on the same vibe! One conclusion that I’ve come to is that we all possess inner strength but need a creative outlet for giving off some of that good energy. What is it about playing the vibes that satisfies your creative needs more so than playing the drums? Does the “steel” say it better than the “skin” for you?

ML: I guess I really was eventually drawn to melody and needed to express that side of me more. Playing drums is great, and you can play melodically there also, but it’s not the same, at least for me. Plus, I love harmony and that side of music, which is pretty hard on the drums. I still play sometimes, but not like I used to. Mainly, I think I can express myself more as an individual through the vibes than I could with the drums. I initially thought I would continue to do both, but I guess I really needed to focus on the vibes and writing, and the time just isn’t there like I wish it were to do both. Check out Brian Blade! There’s a good example of drummer who is writing a lot and playing drums and sounding great with his own melodic sound.

JazzUSA: When composing, do you write the sections for the vibraphone before the other instruments or do you write your compositions as a whole?

ML: I write the compositions mainly as a whole. I have lately been going for a very simple approach to writing, where the tunes are shorter and simpler, with much more room for creative expression by each individual. There are certain parts for each instrument, but it’s basically a guideline with a lot of room for ad lib. I used to write more complex charts, and still do sometimes, but right now “blowing type” tunes are great for the smaller band settings that I’m writing and playing for.

JazzUSA: Where can we see you in concert this year?

ML: Always call ahead because things change, but as of this writing I’ll be at the Regatta Bar in Cambridge, MA – November 14, 2000 and at the Acton Jazz Cafe, in Acton, MA – January 5, 2001. Probably at the Knitting Factory in New York City in early 2001, and Toronto, Canada at the Senator Feb 27th – March 4th, 2001. There are also more gigs in between that always just crop up. So please go to my website for updates:

JazzUSA: You bet we will. Congratulations to you and here’s wishing you continued success with WINDOW UP, WINDOW DOWN and SHADOW OF THE VIBE. They are among the premier works this year. Matt, thank you so much for this interview.

ML: Thanks a lot Paula, and for having me here.

JazzUSA: Our pleasure!

Click Here to hear audio samples or to purchase a copy of the new CD.

An Interview with Dave Holland

An Interview with
Dave Holland
By Fred Jung

4 cornersHaling from England, Dave Holland has become one of the premier bassists of our time. Having worked as the replacement to Ron Carter in Miles Davis’s group (Holland recorded Bitches Brew with Davis), Holland has a liberal pliability to his music and his playing, seemingly able to fit comfortably in any setting. Recording for ECM for almost three decades, Holland releases his eleventh studio recording for the European label entitled Points of View, a quintet session featuring trombonist Robin Eubanks, saxophonist Steve Wilson, vibraphonist Steve Nelson, and drummer Billy Kilson. I had an opportunity to sit down with Holland on one of his few days off to talk about his new release, his life, and his music.

JazzUSA: What drew you to play jazz music?

DH: I came to jazz through popular music. I grew up in the Midlands area of England in a town called Wolverhampton. I started learning music by accompanying things I heard on the radio. I played a little bit of piano, string instruments, ukulele and guitar. I moved to electric bass when I was thirteen and we started a band, myself and a few other musicians, and played bass guitar in that when I was thirteen and turned professional when I was fifteen. During that period, I started listening to all kinds of different music. My ears were opening up. I guess the turning point for me was when I noticed in Downbeat, that Ray Brown was the number one bass player in its poll. I went out and bought a couple Ray Brown records. At the same time, I found a couple of records with the great Leroy Vinnegar on them too, and these four records I took home, and within a week I went out and bought myself an acoustic and started playing it because I was just completely inspired by what I heard. The sound that these gentlemen made and the music that they got out of the instrument. I have been influenced by lots of people, not just bass players. In my teenage years I investigated lots of different players and learned as much as I could from everybody that I came across. Obviously, I listened to some of the innovators on the instrument like Mingus, Jimmy Garrison, Scott LaFaro, Ron Carter with the Miles Davis group, I was listening to them. All these people I listened to as a bass player, but I was helped and influenced by the people I got to work with too. In London, I got to work with Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, and Joe Henderson, and other great players, as well as some great English musicians. I lived in London for four years and moved to the States and joined Miles Davis in 1968 and Miles had a great influence on me in terms of understanding the process of making music and different approaches that can be used to create a musical environment, within which great improvisers can work.

JazzUSA: Tell me about how you met Miles Davis.

DH: I was living in London in 1968 and I had been living there for about four years and working in all kinds of different areas on the music scene in London, particularly a lot of work playing jazz and that was my music of choice and what I found myself getting more and more involved in emotionally and I had planned that year to come to America in the fall probably, buy a ticket and just come to New York. I had met a number of people in New York and they encouraged me to come. In late July of that year, I was working at the Ronnie Scott Club in London and I was in the support band which featured a vocalist and a rhythm trio of piano, bass, drums, and we were the support band for the Bill Evans Trio, with Bill Evans on piano, Jack DeJohnette on drums, and Eddie Gomez on bass. During that engagement, Miles came to London and one night came into the club. I knew he was in the club, but I didn’t think very much of it, except I was honored that he would come to the club and thrilled that he was there, but I didn’t expect him to be listening to me very much. I thought he’d come to see Bill. I just got on with the job and as I was going on for my last set of the night, Philly Joe Jones, the drummer, who was living in London at the time, came up to the bandstand and said, ‘Dave, come over here. I have something to tell you. Miles wants you to join his band.’ Of course, I was quite, well, first of all, incredulous because I thought Philly was pulling my leg. I realized he was serious and so that’s how I got offered the job. I got a call about three weeks later from Miles’s agent saying if I could be in New York in three days and start working with Miles.

JazzUSA: What is your personal assessment of Miles Davis?

DH: I would say that Miles is a person of great focus and courage, who was not afraid to change and develop his music. He was always looking for new ways of expressing himself. He was a great leader in the sense that he led in a way of creating an environment and a vehicle for the musicians that he chose to be in his group to work in. At the same time, leading them in certain directions, and also gave them a lot of freedom to express themselves. So it was a leadership that was something where he enabled people to rise to the best that they could do. He was also very generous as a musician. The band was not about Miles only. It was his group and his concept, but you never had the feeling that he ever played a note that was purely for effect. It always had a musical purpose. He was very direct in his musical statement. He was happy to play his part and then step back and let everybody else in the group have a chance to develop their ideas. It was tremendously inspiring and an opportunity giving concert situation.

JazzUSA: You spoke of how Miles developed and changed his music, is it important at this stage in your career to explore new avenues?

DH: I would say it was important, but it is more just a matter of how I perceive with what I do. I think anybody that’s involved in something in the way that we’re involved with music, it’s a continuing kind of discovery that’s going on for yourself as well, and that process is one of the things that keeps it interesting and inspiring to the musician after many years of doing it. It’s one of the things that I saw with Miles. He always had this enthusiasm and he always had something on his mind, listening to it. It might not be jazz, it could be any kind of music that he heard that was interesting. This kind of openness and interest that he had is what fed his music and what kept it vital and relevant, not just to the music and the history of music, but to himself personally. To me, I don’t think of it as concentrating on just developing it. It just becomes a way of how you approach your music. That each day is a day of discovery. That you try to move a little further along then the day before and develop the ideas that you had worked on and try to move them along. The thing that I remember hearing that sort of stuck with me was Coltrane in an interview once said that he would be happy if he could play one new thing a day, or have a new idea each day, and after a year he would have 365 new ideas, which would really help and develop his music. I think of incremental development, not just large, huge leaps. I don’t think it works that way for most people. Even in Miles’s music, you see the records as they appear. They represent also between the records, a period of development, and having spent some time in the band, and anybody that worked with Miles would probably say the same thing. That every night was a constant picking up from the night before and moving the music along, and as that happens, consequently over time, you have these changes. But, if you sit at home trying to think, ‘Well, my goodness, how can I make change happen in my music?’ You will get swamped by the big picture. It’s really about just investigating, day by day, working on the music, developing it.

JazzUSA: Let’s talk about your new ECM release, Points of View.

DH: I’ll start with Robin Eubanks. Robin and I have probably known each other for the longest time out of all the people in the group. Robin was in a group of mine in 1987, a quintet, and we worked together for a period of time then. We’ve done a few things on and off in the subsequent years and when I put this new group together in the summer of ’97. I wanted to move on from the quartet project that I had done prior to this and I wanted to go back and have the opportunity to write for two horns and develop that aspect of the composition, as well as increase the dialogue and the interaction that happens when you have two horns in a band. Robin is a great player. He has got a wonderful, wonderful sound on the trombone, big and has many different colors that he can draw on. But, he’s also a musician whose battled a wide range of music, from funk to jazz and a lot of other points in between. And he brings also a great tone in composition so we were able to feature one of his songs on the recent album.

Steve Wilson, the alto player, is somebody that I met a few years ago and I had heard him play in a number of situations. We actually recorded an album with Billy Childs, the piano player together. Billy did a very nice album. Steve appeared on it. It’s called a child within. I really love Steve’s sound and his musicianship and his abilities and again, his range. Something I look for in musicians is a broad range of expression, so we can explore a lot of different areas in music. And I think at the root of it all has a lot to do with the jazz traditions, so I’m looking for musicians who have that as a sort of foundation.

Steve Nelson, who was in my last group, great vibraphone player. He has an economist style which is very nice because it keeps the harmonic aspects of the music. He gets a great sound, is a very powerful player, but at the same time very thoughtful and he’s a great thinker in the music. He comes up with some great thoughts and ways to deal with compositions and things which is always interesting. And the instrument itself, the vibraphone, I like very much for its texture and the percussion quality of the vibraphone. The way it can interact in the rhythm section and the sparseness of its harmonic voicing because the limitations of mallets. So you never have a harmonic voicing of more than four notes, so it keeps a very open sounding harmonic basis for the music.

Finally, Billy Kilson, that I met about ten years ago in Boston, in the big band project that I was doing up there. I always loved Billy’s playing. He’s another musician who has a very wide range of sound and dynamics. He always keeps things cooking when he’s playing too, which is great. There’s always motion happening. He keeps moving the music along. I’ve really gotten to love playing with Billy. He’s really fun to play with and a great musical personality.

That’s the kind of band I’m looking for. We now have Chris Potter in the band, who has now taken over for Steve Wilson. Chris is a tenor player, who plays also alto and soprano, so we now have a tenor voice in the group as well, which is giving us some new opportunities.

That’s the group I will be touring with on the West Coast.

JazzUSA: Being of English decent, you have a unique perspective to the music that is being generated outside of the States. Describe to me the difference that you see in the jazz scene domestically and overseas.

DH: I would say the audience itself does not change very much other than some slight cultural variations and how they express themselves at concerts. I think that the fans, the people that love this music, who have truly been moved by this music are very similar wherever you go. The audiences in Japan respond differently than audiences in Italy in terms of the ways of showing their enjoyment. But there is something fundamentally, I feel it is the same. It is one of the reassuring things that you have traveling around. You come to realize that in essence all people have similar emotional ways of expressing and are looking for the same thing, in a sense from our music, which is a sense of being transported into something. Something which takes them on a journey. Something that takes them outside of themselves and to another world. So, I find in a lot of ways those things are similar. Now what is different is the business and the cultural way of relating to it in terms of the institutions. I would say there is more support coming from the governments and municipal authorities in Europe and different places, I think than you find in America. It’s very much competing in the marketplace in America. There’s not as much support, not just in jazz, but for the arts in general coming from public money. And that’s rather unfortunate in many ways because it means that only certain areas of the country get the music. It is not taken to the people. We find ourselves in Italy sometimes in a very small town playing to practically the whole town, old people, young people coming to hear the music and this is sponsored by the town. It’s something they have pride in doing. They feel that they’re doing the community a service, bringing the music there. I would like to see a little bit more of it moving in that direction in America. The other thing I would say is the educational aspect. I think we really need to think about what musical education will be in the country. I think there is a lot of good teachers. I think there are people really trying hard to make the best of what they have to work with. As I heard one musician say, that we talk about it as musical appreciation when you go to school and take music, but you don’t talk about math appreciation or English appreciation. In other words, we need an active music involvement from people, not to necessarily make them into professional musicians, but to have them share in the experience of making music.

JazzUSA: If there were something else you could do to help get the music to the people, what would that contribution be?

DH: I would like to see centers in cities that are created as a meeting place for musicians to get together with their ideas. That would be my sort of idea because I know how much of a difference one place makes in a community where that can happen. Where there’s a place, a safe place where you could go to work out your ideas and share them with other people and to pull the resources. So much comes out of that when that happens. You see in the history of this music, time and time again, when there’s been a place that have focused the musicians and focused the music and that’s when we find these extraordinary things.

JazzUSA: What can audiences expect from Dave Holland in the future?

DH: More work with my group at this point. I have really made a priority of it at this time. It’s something that I am very enthusiastic about this particular group. I want to take whatever opportunities I have to work with it and at the moment we seem to be getting quite a few. We’re going to China right after the tour finishes for four concerts in mainland China, which is a very exciting prospect. We have more touring in the States and in Europe next year. I have a couple of other projects that I’m doing, one is with an Arabic musician from Tunisa and another English musician. We have a trio that recorded a record on ECM. I’m getting ready to leave Wednesday for a ten-day tour of Europe with that group. So that’s a very interesting project for me because it leads me to some other areas of music. They are both fantastic musicians. That’s a very special project that I would like to make some time for.

JazzUSA: Are you interested in doing a world music project or a classical music project?

DH: I’m interested in it as much as there’s a meeting place for it to happen. I’m not so interested in situations where there is a way of forcing these things together. The genres are being put together in a way that neither one really fulfills its promise. On the other hand, at the moment, I am working on a project that will involve a commission that’s been given to Billy Childs to write a piece for bass and chamber orchestra, to celebrate the chamber orchestra. So I’m hoping to do something like that, but that involves Billy’s writing which is very expressional. He has a way of uniting the traditional orchestral setting with an improvisational spirit and setting for a jazz musician to work in. I am very concentrated on doing work with my group. One of things about being a composer/improviser is that you find an interaction happening between your writing and your playing, which is very stimulating. You try to write compositions which will take your playing into certain areas that you try to develop. As you develop those areas, then new ideas come up, which you can then write into new compositions. So there is a symbiotic relationship between those two things which I find very interesting.

JazzUSA: What inspires you?

DH: Humanity, I think most of all, I don’t mean to sound glib, but I think in the grand scale of things, the things that inspire me is the nobleness of the human spirit and nature and the continuity of that. I look for inspiration, obviously from musical sources, but I think as I get older, more and more I see music and life being connected. In the end, as I was told by senior musicians when I was a young musician, music needs to tell a story of some kind. You need to have a story to tell. You need experiences in your life which you can bring forth in the music. That whole process is one that I think most creative artists draw from in the long term.

JazzUSA: What would you like audiences to take away from your music?

DH: I would like them to have fun because I think music is entirely about that. I want their experience to be emotional as well as cerebral. I would like to have music that could be in jazz on many different levels, so that the novice listener could come in and enjoy it, enjoy the melodies and the rhythm. And the more sophisticated and experienced listener, perhaps a musician can enjoy it also for the interest of the workings of the music and the way the language is developed. My example I take inspiration from is for that is Duke Ellington. Duke’s music always had those elements going on simultaneously, complexity and simplicity. And that’s why it reached so many people and moved so many people. So if I could do just a fraction of that, I would be very happy.

Visit the Dave Holland Website

A Word With David Benoit – The Benoit/Freeman Project

David BenoitInside the Benoit/Freeman Project
A Word With David Benoit
by Paula Edelstein

P.E.: Congratulations and best wishes on The Benoit Freeman Project 2 and your signing with Peak Records! You and Russ Freeman have a lot of history together – most notably you’re great friends, you were a charter member of The Rippingtons, and your reunion on the 1994 hit, The Benoit/Freeman Project. Now ten years later, you’re at it again and it seems logical that your debut for Peak would be collaborating with Russ. Was your signing with the label the impetus for this second collaboration?

D.B.: It was just the other way around! (Smiles) Russ approached me and said he wanted to do another Benoit/Freeman Project and he had a budget and was ready to go wanted to do it on his label. I didn’t know much about his label but I knew a lot about Concord, which does their distribution so I was like… “Yeah sure!” I had just completed my contract with GRP records and I was like a “free agent” so I was able to do that. I was talking to several labels at the time that were interested in having me as an artist and Russ made his pitch at the same time so I said… “Well, let’s see how this goes.”

Benoit / Freeman Project 2The Benoit Freeman Project 2 is a beautiful, stylistically diverse recording written primarily by David Benoit and Russ Freeman. These two architects of the smooth jazz genre take a “live” in the studio approach to this great music and the results are creative and captivating. Guest accompaniment from the Nashville String Machine, Vince Gill, David Pack, Chris Botti add further lusture to these brilliant compositions. With a core unit of Benoit on piano, Fender Rhodes and Yamaha Motif 8, Russ Freeman on acoustic, classical and electric guitars, synth and guitar synth, Vinnie Colaiuta and Peter Erskine on drums, Luis Conte on percussion, Dave Carpenter and Byron House on acoustic basses, listeners are in for a real treat on such songs as “Moon Through The Window” “Montecito,” “Club Havana,” and “Waiting For The Stars To Fall.” Although all of the songs have ‘hit’ potential, these songs linger in your mind long after the songs are over because of their diverse musical interests and appeal.

“Our fans had been wanting a follow-up for years, and we finally found some opportune openings in our schedule, which allowed for incredible bursts of energy when we got together to write,” says Freeman. “The idea was to do anything but our typical music. We wrote a lot of songs together from scratch, which added to the organic nature of the sessions. The first BENOIT/FREEMAN PROJECT was very anthemic, with big production values, but here, we’re going deeper and creating a real intimacy,” he adds.

That intimacy, instinct, and introspection is truly an integral part of this great recording. From the sizzling Latinesque feel on “Club Havana” and the straight-ahead segments on “Struttin'” to the classical artistry on “Waiting For The Stars To Fall,” David Benoit and Russ Freeman have proven their great musicianship once more. They have come full circle as a musical team and fortunately for their listeners, they’re together again at the height of their creative powers. We caught up with David Benoit preparing for their upcoming concert tour across the USA.

So I really liked the experience and had a great experience making the record. Then when I had the big meeting at Concord, all the staff was there and that was it. I really felt like that of all the people I had talked to, Peak was motivated and creative. They are kind of what the old GRP Records used to be…they have that kind of artist driven excitement about working with an artist. I’m happy!

P.E.: Fabulous! Dave, this second project has a more laid-back romantic feeling that really sets a mood that you can groove to, explore deeper aspects of the music or just kick back and relax to. David Pack adds a nice vocalese to “Montecito,” while Chris Botti’s sizzling Latin trumpeting on “Club Havana,” and his muted blue funk on “Struttin'” take listeners on another type of musical journey. What was the ambience like in the studio when you were recording “Club Havana?”

D.B.: It was very relaxed. We had Vinnie Colaiuta, Alex Al, Chris Botti, and Luis Conte and recorded it “live.” The approach to this record was “Let’s try to do as much as we can “live” with all the players here so that listeners can experience that “live” feeling.

P.E.: Sort of like actually being in a “Club Havana,” (laughs)…

D.B.: (Laughs) Yes, except we weren’t smoking Cuban cigars!!

P.E.: (Laughs) “Moon Through The Window” is such a beautiful song. Russ’ lyrical answers to your melodic statements are truly romantic. Did you write it at a full moon…or what was the true inspiration for this lovely song?

D.B.: Yes! As a matter of fact, the inspiration came during the time my wife and I were building our dream home! One of the many surprises after it was finished was seeing the moon set right over the ocean. The house has a lot of windows and that picture stuck in my head…the moon glimmering over the ocean. I’d never seen anything like it before…. I’d seen sunsets but never a moon set at about 3:00 in the morning! The first time, it woke me out of bed because the moon was so bright and I had to write a song about it.

P.E.: I can imagine the beauty of it all. In addition to the sizzle of “Club Havana,” the CD takes a different direction with stunning arrangements, classical feelings as well as spontaneous smooth jazz energy on several more songs. You’ve mentioned that writing for strings comes very easy for you and you’ve done a marvelous job with the Nashville String Machine on “Via Nueve,” “Two Survivors,” “Moon Through The Window,” and “Waiting For The Stars To Fall.” Had you worked with the Nashville String Machine previously?

D.B.: Yes, on several occasions. They’re great guys. We recorded the strings in Nashville and overdubbed to the tracks that were done in Los Angeles.

P.E.: Your string orchestration is euphonious in its colorful harmony! Vince Gill does a great job with the symbolism inherent in “Two Survivors.” Do you have any suggestions for novices embarking on a new musical career and how to avoid some of the obstacles that seem to present themselves at the most inopportune moments?

D.B.: Well, there is no way to avoid all of them but the main thing is to stay fresh and try new things. I don’t think it’s a good idea to get stuck in one format especially if that format isn’t popular anymore.

P.E.: Dave, you’ve mastered many musical genres including smooth jazz, straight-ahead jazz recordings, television and film scoring, have written a Broadway musical, classical compositions, and have conducted such eminent orchestras as the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the symphonies of London, Nuremberg, San Francisco, Atlanta, San Antonio, and San Jose! Right now you’re the musical director for the Asia America Symphony in Palos Verdes, California. What genius! With such a vast array of musical styles and genres in your repertoire, is there a favorite at this juncture of your career?

D.B.: Wow, let me think about that. Recently I was conducting Mendelssohn’s Italian (no.4 op. 90) and then later on playing Dave Brubeck.

P.E.: That’s quite a contrast!

D.B.: It’s so funny because sometimes I’ll sit down a play a groove on the piano and just get real funky, and then at other times when conducting the Fourth Movement of Mendelssohn’s Italian and keeping the strings in a mental forte with the brass…. It’s like thinking classical and getting the same kind of emotional high from hearing that incredible music and having a great orchestra play for you, it’s really hard to say … of that which is more comfortable. I’m probably more comfortable in smooth jazz since I’ve been doing that for so long, but with all the other things, I get such a thrill out of it. That is what I like most about my career, the variety of it all!

P.E.: Variety, dedicated genius, possessing music in its purest form, whatever you want to call it, Dave you have it all and we appreciate you! Will there be a tour to support the new CD and if so, where can your fans find the concert schedule?

D.B.: Yes there will be and they can find the concert schedule on my website at I think it’s also on Russ’ website at

P.E.: Great! Thank you so much for the interview and here’s wishing you and Russ the best of luck with The Benoit Freeman Project 2! It’s awesome!

D.B.: Thanks Paula.

Reprinted with permission of…

An Interview with Mike Stern

Mike Stern - PLAYA Few Words with
Mike Stern
by Fred Jung

George Costanza used to scream and moan on SEINFELD that when the two Georges (commitment and independent) should meet, commitment George would kill independent George. In some ways, I have felt that if an artist crosses between genres of music, he or she is tempting fate. Take for example, Michael Bolton and Phil Collins. Who convinced Michael that it was a swell idea to release an album of opera arias? That had train wreck written all over it. And what has the world come to when Phil Collins has to release a big band album? But there are always exceptions to the rule and Mike Stern is the definition of exception. The guitarist has effortlessly made the transition from the rock medium to that of improvised music and made me a believer along the way. He attracted the interests of Miles Davis, befriended Jaco Pastorius, and is one of only a handful of band leaders strong enough to hire the monster drummer (and one of my personal favorites), Dennis Chambers. So when Mike was set to release his new Atlantic recording, PLAY, he and I sat down from his home in New York to talk about his career, Jaco, and how he managed to score John Scofield and Bill Frisell to guest on his latest (PLAY).

FJ: Where does your ‘story’ begin?

Mike SternMS: Well, in music in general, I was kind of a, my mom used to be an avid piano player. She almost was a professional classical player, but she had a bunch of kids, so that was that. It took a lot of her time. She used to listen to a lot of music around the house, so I was always very much into music and I kind of got into, started playing the piano for a little bit and then I just decided I kind of wanted to choose my own instrument and started playing guitar. I was way into it and it felt great. For the next bunch of years, I was kind of taking some lessons but more self-taught and playing along with more rock kind of stuff and blues players, Hendrix and B. B. King were early influences, players like that. Then a few years after that, like seven or eight years, I started when I was about twelve, so by the time that I was eighteen, I was much more into jazz. I hate the label “jazz,” but I think you know what I’m talking about, Fred. I was listening to more Wes Montgomery and Jim Hall, those kind of players. Then I got more and more into that genre and just fell in love with it. My style, I guess, is a kind of both worlds. And I don’t try to fight it. I don’t try to compartmentalize my style. Even if I’m playing standards, I think you can sometimes hear some kind of influence from some of the other stuff. “Body and Soul” with a stack of amplifiers, it’s not like that. But certainly, there some of the influences from blues and from rock as part of my style and certainly a lot of traditionals in jazz too, of course.

FJ: Do you recall your first guitar?

MS: I guess the very first one was a nylon string guitar. I forget what the make was. It was state of the art (laughing). It was good enough. It sounded cool. And then I got a, actually, I got a really great guitar a few years later. I got an ES175, which is a Gibson. And then I also was into, I had a Fender guitar too. I’ve kind of settled on this Telecaster, or Telecaster style guitar, which is what I use. I use two now. One is a Tele that was made for Tele style like a Fender, but it’s not a Fender. It’s a custom guitar made for me. Somebody in Boston who used to see me play a lot when I was using a Telecaster, which was Danny Gatton’s old guitar. Danny Gatton and Roy Buchanan. Danny got it from Roy and I got it from Danny. It was an amazing guitar, but it got ripped off. When I was in Boston, some kid pulled a gun on me so, he had a persuasive argument and I let it go, which is a drag. But this guy who builds guitars used to see me play with that guitar all the time and so he made me some kind of guitar that looks like a Tele, but it’s really not.

FJ: Who knew that Boston was such a high crime area?

MS: Well, every city can be. I just got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. But since then, Yamaha has also made a signature model for me, which I was certainly delighted about. They designed it after this custom guitar that I use, so I use this custom guitar and I use the Yamaha guitar. They’re very similar.

FJ: Getting back to Boston for a moment, you studied at Berklee and it was during that time that you met Pat Metheny during that time.

MS: Well, it’s hard to say. I wasn’t really studying with Pat. We, kind of, he was teaching there and he was about twelve at the time (laughing). He was like nineteen of something. I was about twenty. I heard him play and I heard his reputation and stuff and I said, “Well, I’d really love to study with him.” And I went in and we played a standard tune and I hit all the wrong notes and he said, “Man, sounds great.” So after that, we just played. He would just come in with whatever he was writing or whatever we was working on or some tunes that he taught would be fun for us to play and we would just play. He would suggest a couple of things, so it wasn’t teaching in a formal sense.

FJ: So it was more like an instrumental think tank?

MS: We were just playing to tell you the truth, Fred. It was really just playing and he’d say, “Yeah, sounds cool.” It wasn’t so specific. He was more supportive. I think of him, he was just very supportive in helping me to gain my confidence or something in some ways. I tend to be self-critical in a lot of ways, which is useful to me. That was the deal with him. He was just really supportive. And like I said, I tend to be, and certainly was then, very self-critical in some ways, which is a good thing, a positive things in some ways because it keeps you growing. In some ways, it’s not so great because it can get you really insecure. He used to say that I had some stuff going on that he seemed to hear and it took a minute for me to kind of relax about it and get some confidence in playing. He just suggested that I play more and just push past whatever doubts I had and all that stuff and play as many real situations as possible, so he got this audition with Blood, Sweat, and Tears and they were looking for a guitar player and so he recommended me for the audition. I went and I got the gig, all the while trying to talk myself out of doing it. But then, I went ahead and did it and it was great. It was a really good learning experience and a fantastic band actually.

FJ: Let’s talk about your days with the before mentioned Blood, Sweat, and Tears.

MS: That was great for me. First of all, Jaco Pastorius was in the band for about three months, right before he joined Weather Report. He played with Blood, Sweat, and Tears. And he was killing, Fred. Larry Willis was the piano player, who is amazing. I think he is playing with Roy Hargrove. He’s played with Cannonball, with everybody. He’s an amazing piano player. The bass player, when I first joined the band, right before Jaco joined, was Ronald McClure for a while, another fantastic player. The horn section was amazing. Different cats came in and out, but they were all fantastic players. For me, it was great, but I was terrified. I was a little bit nervous to do it. After about six months or so, I settled into it and I learned a lot from that gig. David Clayton-Thomas was singing and I think he’s still got that band together. And at that time, Bobby Colomby was still the drummer and then they changed up. I was there for about two years and they changed it to Roy McCurdy was the drummer after that. He’s a fantastic drummer. Don Alias played drums for a while. He’s actually a percussionist, but he also plays great drums. He played drums there for a while and played percussion for a while. It was a bunch of fantastic players. I played rock and blues gigs in DC, where I grew up before then and then all of the sudden I was in this situation of playing a lot bigger venues and playing with that band. It can focus the brain a little bit. It got me in a very real situation where I had to deal with whatever you have to deal with in a real live situation. It was fun. I learned a lot just from the players and the whole experience.

FJ: Let’s touch on your tenure in Miles Davis’s band.

MS: After Blood, Sweat, and Tears, I went back to Boston and I was playing just a lot of more straight-ahead bebop gigs. I had been playing some before Blood, Sweat, and Tears in Boston, but much more when I went back to Boston. I started playing with this guy, Jerry Bergonzi.

FJ: Very good tenor player.

MS: Yes, he’s one of the great tenor players. He’s an amazing tenor saxophone player. The cat is killing. So I played with him a bunch and also with this guy Tiger Okoshi in a kind of more electric jazz kind of setting.

FJ: Good trumpet player.

MS: Great trumpet player. I played with him for years. Actually, Fred, me and Bill Frisell used to play in the same band. Sometimes we’d play gigs together with Tiger. We were in Tiger’s band. He played before me. I played in that band for a while. And then after that, I got a call to play with Billy Cobham about another year, just after Blood, Sweat, and Tears. I spent a year in Boston just playing with those two guys, mainly, and then some other gigs that were pretty much straight-ahead. Then I got a call to play with Billy Cobham and I played with him for about a year. I had played at this one little place in Boston. I played a gig with Bill Evans, the saxophone player, playing just some standards. Bill really liked my playing and he said, “You know, I’m working with Miles Davis now. We’re recording. We’re actually getting ready to go on the road and if some reason it doesn’t work out with the guitar player he already has, I’ll let Miles know about you and see if that works out.” I said, “Gee, that would be nice.” But I didn’t think anything of it. I thought, “That’s not going to ever happen.” So I was playing with Billy Cobham in this tour that I did close to a year and I was playing in New York City and Bill Evans called me up and actually, we were taking a break. We were at the Bottom Line in New York and Bill Evans called me and said, “Guess who I’m bringing to the gig to check you out?” I went, “Oh shit!” I guess he liked what he heard because he hired me and I played with the band, with his band for about three years. It was a fantastic experience with Al Foster playing drums, Marcus Miller on bass, and Mino Cinelu on percussion, and Bill Evans on saxophone, and Miles.

FJ: As one of the legends of this music, Miles’s persona has been subject to so much speculation. Having spent such a prolonged residency with him, you have first hand knowledge of his demeanor.

MS: He’s a great cat in a lot of ways. I mean, difficult, a little nuts, but not as crazy or as mysterious as people perceive. People write all kinds of stuff just from first impressions, but if you talked to him, he was a lot more down home then some people realized and also could be incredibly supportive. I did a gig where he got so much attention because he had been in retirement for like seven or eight years and all of the sudden he came back and he was like a superstar. I’m playing with him and playing in New York. I moved to New York because of that gig. It was an exciting time and some kind of pressure also to play with Miles. He was great. He just said, “Just play and have a ball. You play your ass off.” He was always just very supportive, the kind of thing that people don’t realize about Miles. He could be really very sensitive in a lot of ways. Obviously, I think that was his gift and also the price he had to pay for whatever his gift was. He was very sensitive. Once again, it was like starting over. It was such a special situation that I was nervous about it, and he was just really supportive about it. In general, Miles was much more sensitive and much more compassionate. He certainly had a side like that, that people never knew. If you knew him, you got that sense. And then of course, he had a more difficult side to him when he’d get pissed off about stuff, kind of like everyone else I know (laughing). That’s kind of a normal thing, but with Miles, maybe it was a little bit more extreme. He was a lot warmer than a lot of people think. Sometimes, I think, people characterize him as kind of more mysterious and a bad motherf—er, you know, this and that, but he was a lot more sensitive and warmer than people gave him credit for, at least that was the vibe I got. I always hear that in his playing, for sure. I feel like you can’t hide who you really are. If you play long enough and a chance to develop your own voice, it comes out. You can hear the gentle Miles, you know what I mean, Fred? The essence of his soul definitely came through in his playing and that’s the way he was.

FJ: The same trappings that Miles’s persona fell prey to occurred with another musician you have played with, Jaco Pastorius.

MS: He was like a really good friend of mine, an amazingly good friend of mine and we just hung out all the time, played all the time, and were kind of crazy together all the time, which was the way some of those years were. I worked with him with Word of Mouth and we used to play together constantly, just jam together, standards. He’d come over and stay in my place in New York and we’d just play a lot. I played with Jaco, as I already said, with Blood, Sweat, and Tears and when he was with Blood, Sweat, and Tears, he was just coming out of Florida. People knew about him in Florida, but a lot of people hadn’t heard him. No one ever heard a groove played that hard. He was killing. I played with his band, like I said, and it was a great experience. We were just real tight and I really miss him, obviously. He left a lot of really great music behind, but I wish he was still around because he was a sweetheart, a really great cat. Just to know him personally was great, also the same kinds of things as Miles, very difficult in a lot of ways sometimes, but he was a really great cat and an amazing musician.

FJ: Is Jaco’s life tragic in that his mark on the music may have been something much more heavier had it not been for his untimely death?

MS: I think he could have done more, most certainly more people would have heard about him if he were still around, but more than that, just knowing him as a friend, even if he decided to put down the bass, I’d still want to hang with him a lot. We were just really close friends, so on that level it’s really just a tragedy. It’s always a tragedy when someone dies at such a young age. It was a tragedy for his family and all his close friends. I think musically, there was a lot more in him and a lot more people would have heard of him. But the other side of it, Fred, is that he did leave a lot of great music behind, which is forever.

FJ: In his day, was he the best bass player in the world?

MS: It’s hard to say best or worst with anybody I think because people have their own, after a certain point, if you do stuff enough, I think you kind of have your own voice and your own heart comes out in music and it’s like up for grabs. It’s just a taste kind of a thing. Certainly, I have played with amazing players and to me on some nights, I hear them do what they do better than anybody. They’ve got their own voice so it’s really hard to say best or worst. But he was amazing. He was really amazing. One of the things that I loved about him could play the electric bass and make it sound like an upright. He definitely had that kind of a concept. When he was swinging, it was swinging. And that’s hard to do on the electric bass. I think Lincoln Goines does that amazingly well. It’s a hard thing to do, to make it sound like that and that kind of legato. He was swinging.

FJ: Throughout your career you have frequently collaborated with Michael Brecker, you were in a group with him called Steps Ahead.

MS: He has been on a bunch of my records with Atlantic Records, which I am happy about because it’s been a long stay at the same label and they’ve been cool with me. They’ve kind of let me do what I want to do. They have suggestions but no one forces my hand in terms of if I want to try something new. So that’s been great. Brecker is on about three, maybe four of mine and we’ve played together a lot. He’s a very close friend and a fantastic musician and a great writer as well. I worked with him in Steps Ahead, originally, with Mike Mainieri, Darryl Jones, the bass player, and Steve Smith. It was a really fun band. And then I worked with Mike in his band right after that. That was also a great experience. He’s like the most, in some ways, the most, of all the guys that I’ve gotten a chance to work with, he includes all the musicians in shaping the sound of the band. He definitely has his own ideas and his own concepts, but he asks everybody their opinions. If anybody has an idea he is down to try it. He is open that way. In some ways, I think I’ve learned more, if not as much, than from anybody else I’ve ever worked with. He’s just an amazing musician.

FJ: Let’s touch on your last album GIVE AND TAKE and your latest Atlantic release PLAY.

MS: That one was really, just the whole album was really fun to make because like it was with DeJohnette, who I played with a little bit, but not much. And boy, is he a special drummer, Fred. Because he plays great piano also, he’s just got a sense for hearing everything that’s going on and kind of playing around it. I guess the more, from what people have told me that have worked with him a lot, the more he feels comfortable, when he feels like the time is taken care of by all the players, he feels like he doesn’t have to play time so much. He can just color the music in certain ways and do like amazingly unpredictable things, which he does a lot of, certainly on that CD, I think. I loved the way it came out because of that, because of his playing and John Patitucci’s playing and they’ve played together some and so he felt really comfortable with John, and of course Mike is on there too. And he just plays great on that CD. But the trio stuff was in some ways the most fun that we did. So when we did the trio stuff, we did a bunch of trio stuff. I couldn’t use it all on the CD. A lot of stuff came out that was pretty good but I had to pick and choose. One of the things that we did was “Giant Steps” and we did it playing ahead and in front and then playing solos. Some of the trio stuff, I just called the tunes, some tunes that I had in mind that I knew everybody knew. Sometimes we just started playing the stuff and the tape was rolling. So with “Giant Steps,” we did two or three versions, one that was even faster then the one on the album. Actually, Jack suggested, “Just start on it and don’t play the head until the end.” So I did. We did that. We just started right from the blowing and we played the melody at the end and the vibe was really cool and Patitucci, of course, is an amazing player. That was a fun, just that whole couple of days of doing that, that record was really fun.

FJ: And that leads us to PLAY, which has the three most phenomenal guitarists of my generation, John Scofield, Bill Frisell, and yourself.

MS: Thank you, Fred. Thank you. I guess you have heard the record.

FJ: It’s is a kick ass record.

MS: Oh, man, Fred, I appreciate that a lot. Well, that was really fun for me. It was the same kind of idea that I had in min with GIVE AND TAKE. It was like, since I’ve made now, GIVE AND TAKE was the eighth record for Atlantic and this is the ninth, PLAY, I want to try to do different things. In the past, I have used so of the same people on records, and it still has got different stuff, I’m always trying to change stuff, but it was a little bit, these last to for me were a little bit more adventurous. I was using people more at the last minute and maybe it’s not the band that I have been touring with so much, that kind of thing. I still wanted to get the band that I had been touring with on this record as well, so I kind of wanted, same thing with GIVE AND TAKE, I kind of like went for it in some ways without trying to arrange everything. Just keep it kind of loose. I wanted to, it was kind of last minute, I had some tunes and I thought maybe this is the record to do one of those things that I’ve always said I want to do eventually, which is to record with John Scofield and Bill Frisell, who were friends of mine for years. I have never had another guitar player on anyone of mine. I just felt that this was the time to do that and I called Bill and Sco and they both said that they would be into it. We just kind of went for it. I had some music that I kind of tweaked a little bit and a couple new tunes that I wrote with those guys in mind and thinking, “This would fit Sco’s style great and this would fit Frisell.” It seemed like it worked out. And then I did this stuff with them and then I wanted to do some stuff with my own band, with Bob Malach on tenor saxophone and Dennis Chambers on drums and Lincoln Goines on bass. Lincoln plays on this whole CD, but the other drummer that plays with the other guitar players is Ben Perowsky, a drummer that I’ve played with a lot. He’s a great, great player. With my band, I just kind of did it on, it was one day with Frisell or a day and a half with Frisell and then a day with John Scofield and then a day with my own band. At the end of it, I tried to sequence it and it was no problem. I thought it was going to take it out of the thing of just being guitarists and maybe I should get another guitar player in addition to Frisell and Sco and keep it all in that kind of thing because it might be too defused as a record if all of the sudden there is a saxophone and not two guitars. It seemed like it worked out great. I like it better in regards to that in some ways. It’s just that it is not a guitar kind of record. I don’t really think of those guys as, I know they are guitarists, of course, but Sco and Frisell, I think of them as such complete musicians, who happen to play guitar. They are a couple of my favorite musicians too. They are just fantastic overall musicians. They are great writers and have really strong concepts on where they want to go musically and that kind of thing.

FJ: If this were a pop album, what would the first single from PLAY be?

MS: I’d say maybe the second tune or “Small World” or maybe that tune, “All Heart.” Bill Frisell plays acoustic guitar on it.

FJ: Let’s talk about someone whom you have worked with for an extensive period, a monster drummer, Dennis Chambers.

MS: (Laughing) He really is. He’s, all these guys are such good friends. That really, to me that’s so important in the music, the whole vibe. That’s as important as anything else in some ways. If there is a guys who is an absolute motherf—er and you don’t get along that well on a personal level, for me, that wouldn’t work. I couldn’t tour with somebody like that. Sometimes you hear about stuff like that where people don’t even talk to each other but they play. I couldn’t hang with that. I am certainly lucky to be playing with all these guys and they’re all such really good friends too. Dennis, I’ve known him for years. We’ve been working together for years in different kind of situations. He was in a band with me and Bob Berg. Lincoln and Dennis were the rhythm section. But Dennis, man, he keeps getting better and better, which is kind of amazing because when I first heard him, I was completely blown away. He’s got some really unique stuff happening. He’s rock solid. He’s got amazing time. His groove is really deep. It’s phenomenal. But the more he plays in this setting, he plays a lot more straight-ahead, a lot more swinging stuff. He’s really getting strong at that and what he is doing solo-wise is just incredible. Sometimes we’d play a vamp and we’d just kind of play over this static kind of vamp on a couple of tunes that I kind of wrote. I wrote them with Dennis in mind and just, kind of, a drum, a feature for the drummer, whoever the drummer is and most of the time, it’s Dennis, to kind of play over this vamp, and Dennis takes it out. It’s literally like playing a different tune over this vamp, so it’s really hard to keep the time. I feel like at the end of one of Dennis’s solos in this kind of context, I feel like taking a bow just for keeping the time. He really played like either like right behind the beat or right on top of it or in a totally different time feel and it’s so strong, so it sounds almost Charles Ives-y. It’s like two things happening at once. It’s really kind of deep. The way Dennis thinks of it, it’s so home grown. It’s so underground. It’s nothing like I’m doing this over that or metric modulation. It’s just, “Oh yeah, that’s the way I’m feeling.” It’s just like this straight-ahead kind of way of coming up with some amazingly complex shit. It’s really cool. He’s great. He’s an amazing player.

FJ: I would never have believed it if I had not seen it with my own eyes, but I have seen Dennis take a twenty-five minute drum solo. I know because I timed him. Does he take those extended solos while he is on tour with you?

MS: Oh yeah, and sometimes I want him to and then at certain time, logistically, it’s kind of a drag because you want to play longer and sometimes you just can’t. The club says that it’s an hour and fifteen for the whole thing. That’s like about a solo for Dennis (laughing). But a lot of times, we get to stretch and everybody kind of stretches out in a live setting, especially with that band. Bob Malach also is just a ridiculously great player. I’m really fortunate to have that group together and I hope to be keeping that band together for a while. There is another guy that I play with a lot who also is I think a fantastic drummer that sometimes does a gig, Richie Morales, who used to play with Brecker Brothers. He played with Spyro Gyra for a while when they were actually at the top of their commercial success, which was, he was great at that gig too, but he’s real strong suit is actually more about really playing and swinging and he can go in a whole bunch of different directions, similar to Dennis and all those guys. He’s got a lot of depth to his musicality so he’s another cat that I love working with. I’ve really been lucky to get some great musicians. I don’t know how they put up with me. Thank God they do.

FJ: Tour plans?

MS: A lot of stuff is in Europe. I’ve been doing some stuff in the States, in Los Angeles, DC, and in New York. Now I’m going to Europe with a special project actually, this bass player, Chris Minh Doky (Doky Brothers), who is from Denmark and we’re playing in Denmark and Ben Perowsky, who plays on PLAY and this tenor player, this fantastic tenor player who I’ve been working with a lot lately. That’s kind of a special project in the middle of, at the end of October, beginning of November. And then I’m going to Brazil with the group I was just talking about, with Dennis. And then it’s December. I know I will be doing some stuff at the Blue Note with that same band in February in New York. There is some stuff in the middle before that. Then we’re going to Europe in the middle of March, end of April. I’ll post all that stuff on the home page.

FJ: What’s the home page address?

MS: It’s, and by the way, I’m the only guy in the world left that doesn’t have a computer. I can’t even turn one of those f—ing things on so. I’m a caveman at heart. ( I usually post all the dates. Usually they are all posted a couple of weeks before that.

An Interview with Kirk Whalum – Dancing to a Different Drummer

The ‘Unconditional’ Essence of
Kirk Whalum
by Paula Edelstein

The world fell in love with Kirk Whalum when he wailed his trademark saxophone stylings on Whitney Houston’s smash hit, “I Will Always Love You,” and his legions of fans still hold their breath when he picks up his Guardala and takes center stage. The heartfelt UNCONDITIONAL love of Kirk Whalum is the highest ideal for his beloved fans and this Autumn, his young and not so young fans will experience some of his most inspired works. Whalum’s brand new release on Warner Brothers is a collection of ten great songs that present the essence of Kirk Whalum in an UNCONDITIONAL elevation of his musical spirit.

The tenor sax master kicks off his set with a performance of the passionate “Now ‘Til Forever,” followed by a tribute to one of America’s jazz treasures, Grover Washington, Jr. As composer, arranger, saxophonist and producer, Kirk Whalum presents seven original compositions that the Grammy-nominated artist collaborated on with Paul Brown. Combining funk grooves and powerful jazz chops, the duo is the same team that produced the slammin’ hit FOR YOU, the smash success that topped the charts for nearly two years! The genre-spanning compositions include great alto saxophone improvisations from Kirk on “Real Love,” a sax voice Whalum set aside after his GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JAZZ, in addition to his excellent tenor’s emotional range. Whalum is a man that is playing stronger and the listening gets better and better. Great arrangements, superior tonality, and excellent compositional integrity make this one a winner for the comprehensive smooth saxman.

Kirk Whalum is joined by Paul Jackson, Jr. and Tony Maiden on guitar, Luis Conte and Lenny Castro on percussion, Alex Al on bass, new label mate John Stoddart on backing vocals and Wendy Moten on the sizzler, “Real Love.” We were fortunate to attend a session for the press and talked about UNCONDITIONAL with the gifted sax innovator:

JazzUSA: Hello Kirk! Congratulations on your brand new release for Warner Brothers UNCONDITIONAL!

KW: Thank you very much!

JazzUSA: The loving, spiritual and fun sides of your musical relationships all unfold on UNCONDITIONAL, a brilliant collection of original compositions crafted to reveal the feelings and essence of Kirk Whalum. This is certainly a new way to enjoy your masterful work and there’s nearly always a story behind a story! What’s the story behind the story with respect to the period of woodshedding that you did after the smash success FOR YOU? Why you chose to primarily focus on your duties as a writer, producer, and arranger?

KW: For me, it was kind of a step back to the past. When I first got signed as a recording artist, I had already been performing on the local level in Houston, Texas. I’m originally from Memphis, Tennessee but went to Texas Southern University and right away got involved in the music scene. For almost three years I had been performing with my own band and 90% original music…songs that I was writing and arranging. For me, that was my comfort zone. Then, all of a sudden, I was in the recording world where it’s like a different ballgame. So, for me to go back to a record that is centered around my own compositions really is putting back on the hat that just fits so well.

JazzUSA: The very first song just melted me! I mean, opening with “Now ‘Til Forever,” has an immediate emotional impact and really sets the mood for a great program. Did you sequence the UNCONDITIONAL this way so that your listeners could re-discover this side of the Whalum essence first…that is, so that the love and inspired beauty comes shining through from the very first song?

KW: Well thank you! I really have to say for that part of things, I totally take my hat off to Paul Brown, who produced this record. It was primarily his sequencing that seemed to work. He has so many great instincts along these lines that I am just very much grateful for that connection. He and Matt Pierson were the driving forces behind FOR YOU, which for me was an incredible serendipity…as they say, never thinking that it would go to the heights that it did. Now, it’s hard to find yourself rebounding off something that was that successful. But yet, again it’s great to be working with Paul, especially for the reasons that you mentioned…where you know exactly what song to open with and what song to close with and those are instincts that I certainly appreciate from him.

JazzUSA: Your respect for Grover Washington, Jr. is also included on UNCONDITIONAL, through your original composition, “Grover Worked & Underpaid.” For us, it has three very profound elements in it — sometimes sad, mostly magical, but always funky! How did this song come to be written?

KW: Always funky! That was right behind an experience where I played at a tribute to him in Philadelphia alongside Gerald Albright, Najee and some other really fine musicians paying tribute to the master of this particular genre. Definitely when I got home, I was inspired to do something to capture the spirit of that “go-go DC” groove type thing that “Mister Magic” was. By the way, when I was a senior in high school, I competed for the “Mr. Melrose” crown, at Melrose High School in Memphis, Tennessee. I won the contest and the song that I played was “Mr. Magic!” The cute thing is that I went to my son’s talent show, he’s a bass player at the Nashville School of the Arts, and what song did they play…”Mr. Magic!” I thought that was so cute. But definitely, I have elements, at least the essence of “Mister Magic” in that song, “Grover Worked and Underpaid.”

JazzUSA: You’ve also included a great song for saxophonist David Sanborn…”Waltz for David,” and one about your son with “Song For Evan.” This says a lot about your inspirations and how you can take that inspiration to another level of musical personification. Do you have a basic ritual that you go through before sitting down to compose or were these songs just there, “floating on the wind” and came right to you?

KW: Yeah and just grab one out! Well my ritual is simple. I pray and I ask God to give me the kind of songs that will affect people. Songs that speak of Him and not me, you know in a sense that melody is something that really…in the real, deep, corners of this thing called music; it really all comes from Him. It has to be something that He inspires. When I sit down, many times what I start working on right away doesn’t amount to much of anything! But having prayed that prayer, ultimately I get around to something, like some kind of idea will come out the song that I was working on. That idea is its own little seed…kind of like how a seed falls out of a tree, it’s already gone. But that little seed forms its own tree and many times that tree gives birth and overtakes the other tree. That happens to me a lot.

JazzUSA: What a great metaphor Kirk! Even though you’ve included three covers on UNCONDITIONAL, your brand new approach to the influential music of respected contemporary composers, Paul Brown, Shai, Evan Rogers, and Carl Sturken on such hits as “Can’t Stop The Rain,” N’Sync’s hit, “God Must Have Spent A Little More Time on You,” and Macy Gray’s award-winner, “I Try,” is great! Your spiritual side really comes through on “God Must Have Spent A Little More Time On You,” because your saxophone is speaking in a pure, immaculate voice of its own. Did you feel really close to these songs for any particular reason?

KW: Definitely. For me it was a real blessing for me to interpret those melodies. I think of Miles Davis and I think of other artists who take melodies from another world. In other words, jazz is one world and definitely Alanis Morrisette is another world, you know. But there are melodies that can be shared if you interpret them in the right way you can bring a whole different light to them. So “God Must Have Spent A Little More Time” and “I Try” really seemed to work and there is a very commercial side of that. When you play songs that people already know, they appreciate your doing that. They say, “Oh that’s my favorite song. I just appreciate your doing that!” That’s something that works. FOR YOU was just that…us playing songs that people love.

JazzUSA: And we certainly did love that Kirk. It’s still wonderful. The title track, “Unconditional,” is also beautiful, rich and resonant. Your sax voice clearly explores and brings to life the roots of true love…love that is unconditional and from the source that started it all. Would you say this was a direct delivery to your heart also?

KW: Oh, absolutely!

JazzUSA: “Real Love,” is great and is so funky with Wendy Moten’s vocals. Together you express a fun and loving side of this urban sizzler through your melodic lyricism, soulful sounds and emotional power that has become your trademark. In fact, you set your musical senses free on this one. Is there one key that truly affects you more so than any other in order to get that great harmony, melody and rhythm all working just right?

KW: No, actually but given a context, there are keys that work better in a given context. I think this song is in C and I guess this worked for that particular context. Another thing is that I am playing alto on that song and I very seldom play alto saxophone. This is the first CD besides THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JAZZ, where I played any alto at all.

JazzUSA: Well that explains why I heard it in a different key. Kirk, what is your preferred saxophone and do you have a favorite reed that helps to deliver just the right signature sound your fans have come to know and love?

KW: The tenor is my favorite instrument. I play Guardala and Keilwerth saxophones, and play Rico Reeds with Guardala mouthpieces.

JazzUSA: I must say, our online universe comes out of cyberspace from time to time to witness your great shows in person! (Smile) Will you be appearing in concert live anytime soon and if so, where can we see you?

KW: (Laughs) Yes as a matter of fact. On the 23rd we’ll be at the Seattle Center in Seattle, Washington; on September 24th we’ll be playing the San Diego Jazz Festival in San Diego, CA; on September 29th we’ll be at the Hyatt Newporter in Newport Beach, CA; October 6th we’re playing the Millennium Theatre in Robinsonville, Mississippi and on October 22nd, we’ll be appearing at the Catalina Jazz Festival on Catalina Island, CA!

JazzUSA: We can’t wait! Well folks, there you have it. The great Kirk Whalum. Congratulations on your great new release UNCONDITIONAL and we’re looking forward to seeing you in concert. Thank you so much for this interview. Keep in touch.

KW: Thank you Paula. I really appreciate it.

JazzUSA: Our pleasure! Keep in touch with Kirk Whalum’s happenings at and

An Interview with Eric Reed

Eric ReedA Conversation with
Eric Reed

by Fred Jung

If Mulgrew Miller is one of the walk-ons in jazz, Eric Reed is one of the blue chippers. But whereas Miller’s playing is legendary among his peers, Reed has had more than his share of bumps in his road of life. He spoke candidly with me about his shortcomings as a young musician, his development since then, and his outlook on his future, which seems bright indeed. It is a very telling portrait painted by the artist himself of what it takes to be a musician these days, all unedited and in his own words.

FJ: Let’s start from the beginning.

ER: I first started hearing jazz when I was about six years old. I heard three records by Horace Silver, Dave Brubeck, and Ramsey Lewis. And I was immediately bitten by the jazz bug and I knew that that’s what I wanted to play. I moved to Los Angeles from Philadelphia with my family and I gained access to more jazz recordings through a public library and I hooked up with John Clayton and Gerald Wilson, all when I was about sixteen or seventeen years old, fifteen actually, fifteen or sixteen. I had met Wynton around that time as well. So my name was getting put out there quite a bit and that was it. I was on the jazz scene officially.

FJ: At such a young age, did you feel the pressure to exceed people’s expectations?

ER: Oh, no. At that age, being as impetuous and cocky as I was, I thought that’s exactly where I should be. I figured I was ready to tackle it and if anything, I felt those people should be overwhelmed by me (laughing). Again, that’s what being that young is really about. People allow that room for that type of pretentiousness, for a while anyway and then when you hit twenty-five, it’s no longer really all that cool.

FJ: Reality bites then.

ER: Well, it’s time to really prove yourself. And then you do prove yourself and then you get to the point where you no longer have to prove yourself. It’s just a bunch of stages really.

FJ: What stage are you at now?

ER: The stage I am at right now is a very content and very comfortable stage. I’ve gotten past the point that I feel I have to prove anything. I’m very comfortable in terms of the type of environment in which I find myself playing live. I like where my musical conception is going. It’s constantly growing. It’s becoming more and more open everyday. I’m learning new things everyday. I’ve gotten a lot of young musicians around me that keep me in touch with things that are going on in their age group and in their generation, the things that they’re listening to. I’m pretty cool where I am.

FJ: I’m sure that most people have seen you on TV with Wynton, you guys are both big TV stars now, how did you come to meet Wynton and how have you seen your relationship mature over the years?

ER: I first met Wynton when I was about sixteen. I joined his group when I was nineteen. I was there for about three years. I left his group and I joined Freddie Hubbard and I played with Joe Henderson and those were all wonderful experiences for some reason or another. There was always something very, very different and very wonderful about what I was doing at the time. I was always able to find the most positive thing. From playing with Wynton, I really got a good sense of the importance of traveling frequently with a band. It’s very important. It’s very important to be on the road with musicians in order to really try to execute your musical vision. If there is no venue for which you can do this, then it just makes what you do that much harder. You can’t really do it at home in jam sessions. You have to be up there in the thick of it, traveling a lot.

FJ: Is that a necessary learning experience?

ER: Absolutely. I’ve known quite a few musicians who are traveling with bands and they’ve seen some pretty decent fortunes and have been very, very successful traveling with different bands and traveling in different situations. Most musicians that I know are working.

FJ: How long did you work with Joe?

ER: I worked with Joe for a year.

FJ: Joe is a musician who languished in relative obscurity early on in his musical career, but in his latter years he has had great commercial success.

ER: Well, it’s kind of like a bunch of different pieces in a puzzle. Joe Henderson has had the good fortune of getting older. A lot of jazz musicians have not really had that good fortune, but Joe is one of the few that has been fortunate, or is one of, actually, quite a handful of great jazz musicians who have been able to reach the age of fifty. What happens in this industry is either you are too old or you’re too young. If you get caught in that fatal middle age for about ten or fifteen years, then they don’t want to hear about you. But if you’re under 25 or if you’re over fifty, they’re ready to write about you a lot. But you get forty-five and the press doesn’t really pay a whole lot of attention to you. That’s really kind of sad for the industry because that leaves a whole middle period of musicians who have then had to fend for themselves. While all of these musical changes are taking place, they are at the center of the innovation, but again, it’s being overlooked because the press and just whatever, the powers that be or that shouldn’t be rather, are the ones that are dictating what’s going on.

FJ: And you would think that this music is above such petty forms of age discrimination.

ER: I really, honestly, do think that that’s just the way of the world. As far as the star, if the cats under twenty-five, or under thirty, or forty, or whatever, it’s like out with the old and in with the new. And then you hit fifty and the it’s like, “They maybe have twenty years left, maybe, so we better start paying attention to them before they drop dead.”

FJ: How much of an adverse effect do you think that that will have on the music?

ER: That’s always a negative thing because you cancel out a whole mid-section of the music, of the people who are responsible for making change in the music when they were twenty-five and thirty. So that’s only a negative effect. That can only be negative. That can’t be positive.

FJ: I was at the Vanguard for your performance with your large ensemble and one thing I took away from that set was how much your leadership skills have improved on the bandstand.

ER: Oh, thank you very much, Fred.

FJ: But so have your marketing skills, isn’t that essential for an artist in a commercial society to be able to market themselves effectively?

ER: Absolutely. It’s the only way that you can have a career these days. Obviously it wasn’t like that back in 1945, although, Dizzy Gillespie was certainly one of my predecessors when it comes to that whole thing about personality and being on stage and being lively and having accessibility and having appeal and all that kind of stuff. Louis Armstrong was the same way. You have to be, you’ve got to have aspects of an entertainer as well because you are asking a lot to expect people to just sit and listen to a performance for two hours like a lot of musicians have their audiences do and you don’t say anything or you just announce songs and then there’s really no life. I’m not saying that those people are bad for doing that, but all I’m saying is that it wouldn’t hurt to develop those skills as well as being able to stand up behind the trumpet or behind a saxophone and sit down at the piano and play. You look at somebody like Duke Ellington. He was just personality personified and of course I said Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong and then there was Fats Waller. It’s all about having a look and having a certain type of sophistication and being somewhat verbose on the microphone and really engaging your audience. Let them feel as though you’re glad that they’re there, which I really am. You see, Fred, the thing is, it also has to be genuine. That’s the most important thing. It has to be genuine. You can’t have people think that you are just up there trying to sell records. It has to be genuine and the thing that I can definitely say about me unabashedly is that I’m a genuine person and when I’m on stage, I’m genuinely glad to be there. I am thanking God for every second that I am on stage being able to perform music live and with such wonderful musicians that I had at the Vanguard. I mean, those guys are monsters, every last one of them. I was very fortunate and blessed to have them on the bandstand with me.

FJ: There is a unmistakable loyalty amongst former members of Wynton’s band, Marcus Printup, Wycliffe Gordon, and yourself, where does that devotion to one another stem from?

ER: That comes directly from my family structure. My family is very, very tight. I have a brother and two sisters. One of my sisters has three daughters and another one of my sisters has one daughter. My three nieces, well, two of my nieces also have children. They have their own families and husbands and everything. Every last one of us is very tight. We’re very close. We talk on the phone every other day. We write and visit each other. That’s where I come from. I know Wycliffe comes from that as well. So I think if anything, I was a stoke of luck for Wynton that he could get musicians like that in his band that were already coming from that type of loyalty, that type of code and that type of environment. That didn’t come from being in his band. Marcus Printup, most of us, Victor Goines, all of us have very, very strong ties to our family. We have a sense of loyalty all our own. To see us around town with other people, it’s never even a question of loyalty more than the musicality of each one of these musicians. That’s the most important thing. Wycliffe could be my best friend in the whole wide world but if he couldn’t play worth a damn, he wouldn’t be on my bandstand. That’s basically it. Carl Allen, Carl Allen is not out of the Wynton Marsalis group at all, but we play together a lot. He calls me for his gigs. I call him for my gigs. We’ll play together with other people. There’s quite a few musicians that I’ve gotten this camaraderie with and we’ll just, you’ll see us around town hanging out with each other. That’s just simply how I was brought up.

FJ: Let’s talk about your last two recordings, “Pure Imagination” and “Manhattan Melodies.”

ER: I’m very proud of both of those records, specifically with “Pure Imagination” because what they did was they helped to solidify my place among the piano trios. With “Pure Imagination,” I was able to gain a certain level of exposure to a wider jazz audience and a wider listening audience in general and that’s very important as you’re trying to build a career. That’s what “Pure Imagination” did and then with “Manhattan Melodies,” I think that pretty much just made it definite. It’s like, “OK, this record is letting us know exactly who Eric Reed is and who he has been, actually, all of this time. We’re just paying more attention.” With this “Manhattan Melodies,” it just gives more insight into my writing and my arranging and my playing skills. That’s really what each record is supposed to do. As far as I’m concerned, each record is supposed to document some type of progress in one’s development, if that makes sense.

FJ: And how is Eric Reed progressing so far?

ER: I think I’m progressing nicely. I think there were some moments where there were lulls and I kind of wasted some time simply for reasons of laziness or again, back to the old youthful impetuousness. The more I work with my own group, the more I will strengthen the sound of my identity.

FJ: Give a recap of your trio.

ER: Barak Mori is my bass player and my drummer is Rodney Green. I’ve worked with Rodney a year and a half and with Barak, over a year, no wait, has it been a whole year? No, it hasn’t been a whole year.

FJ: Do you feel you three are jelling together well?

ER: Oh, absolutely. The difference is they like playing with each other and I like playing with them. This is definitely the best combination that I’ve had, ever.

FJ: Are you going to record them?

ER: Absolutely, they’re going to be on the next record for sure.

FJ: You are one of the best interpreters of the music of Gershwin and Rodgers and Hammerstein, what is it about their melodies that lends itself to your playing and approach?

ER: Well, first of all, thank you for saying that, Fred. I appreciate that. That’s a real honor. I think the thing with Rodgers and Hammerstein and Gershwin and Cole Porter, they come from that whole tin-pan alley school and that style of writing, even though they were all uniquely individual, there is still a spirit of tin-pan alley. That whole style of writing is very attractive and it’s very appealing. It makes my job of arranging easier, but it also teaches me about writing in the process. When you take something like “Love for Sale” (playing the intro to “Love for Sale” on the piano), that’s just one section and that was like, just that little progression that I played by Cole Porter, that’s like, it’s just a stroke of genius. He didn’t voice those chords that way, but they leave themselves open for a great deal of interpretation. As the music progressed and time moved on, so did harmony. From them taking the basic chords of Cole Porter’s music, if you use your imagination, then anything can happen. What I can do is I can make up my own arrangement or even my own song based on a small portion of the progression that I just played. You can listen to somebody like Art Tatum and he would do something like this (playing the intro to “Love for Sale” on the piano, this time with a Tatum twist). Again, the possibilities are endless. They’re really endless. So that gives me a great deal more to go on then even some jazz compositions. Jazz compositions are self-contained. It’s already jazz to begin with, but these pop songs, they’re pop songs. And they were never meant, at least I don’t think, they were really never meant to be interpreted by jazz musicians. From what I understand, I read somewhere that Jerome Kerns hated jazz and he hated jazz interpretations of his music. I’m sure, even Ahmad Jamal told me, he said that, nowhere in the back of these composers minds was it ever possible that jazz musicians would do what they did with it. He said it really went beyond the composer’s wildest dreams.

FJ: How’s your writing chops?

ER: It’s coming along just fine. I’ve always, always worked on that. I’ve become more involved with this whole electronics things, with keyboards, and MIDI, and computers and all that kind of stuff. Now, it’s easier because I’m able to hear all of these voices without the luxury of a band, without the luxury of having horn player sitting in my living room because you don’t always have that luxury. Even being on the road, I can’t just say, “Well guys, let’s have a quick rehearsal because I want to try out some new music.” I can’t do that, but if I’ve got a keyboard or some type of thing that produces sound, some type of tone generator, then I can hear all the voices. It’s hard to play most things on the piano. It’s hard to play that stuff that you heard at the Vanguard, stuff that’s real fast, it’s impossible to play all four of those parts from the horns on the keyboard. I can get the keyboard to play it back for me at whatever tempo I choose. It’s really great. It’s really just supposed to be an assistance tool. It’s not supposed to replace actual music. That’s what I use it for anyway. It’s really just to help me out in terms of trying to hear things. I can hear things in my head, but it’s a lot easier to hear it actually being put out.

FJ: What is essential for something to be swinging?

ER: It’s got to feel good. It’s got to feel good. If your music doesn’t make people feel good, and they don’t really have that type of connection to it, you see, Fred, people have to connect to music because their only appreciation for it is something aesthetic and that’s basically the appreciation of the beauty in art. That’s where people come in, people who are not musicians I’m saying. They have to have some kind of connection that is indirectly related to their world or their environment or something that they’ve experienced. If you are playing something that’s super-cerebral or super-intellectual, then you know, how do you really expect people to enjoy it. I’m not saying that they can’t, but more often then not, they won’t. I know what works for me. There is no formula. There is no correct or incorrect answer, but when I see people clapping their hands, bobbing their heads, or patting their feet, then I know that I’m doing something right. If they are not doing that, then I’m getting a little nervous. I’m wondering if I’m playing in a cemetery or what? Am I at a funeral and nobody told me?

FJ: And the future?

ER: I’m pretty much moving beyond just trios. I’m really starting to develop my writing for more pieces.

An Interview with Miriam Makeba

Miriam Makeba A Conversation With
Miriam Makeba
by Struan Douglas

This month one of the great women, songstresses and mothers of Africa – Miriam Makeba releases her first album in many years – Homelands.

Like a snake evoking the passion of the ancestors, like a spiritual guru possessed with the beauty of her own voice – the launch begins with the dramatic and rhythmical breathing ‘ha ha haa – shhh ha’ – those subtle sounds that portray such a vivid expression to the depth and meaning of African culture, those wild sounds that represent the anger and beauty of Mama Africa in the seventies.

HomelandBut, time has moved on and so too has Miriam. Where Homelands may have lost that raw and emotive imagery, or that fresh African articulation, it has gained a universal sound – a sound that Miriam through a life of change learning and experience has incorporated, and a sound that may appeal to a far greater audience.

“You find a strand of love in this album – love for ones country in Masekane, love for ones country in Homeland – how I miss my home how happy I am to be back,” she sings. “Love for ones continent for the song Africa is where it lies, love for ones great grandson in the song Lindelani and in the song In Time – I feel like I am talking about myself. “In time you get older, in time you get married, I never once change my mind about the things I wanted in my life. I’ve been through changes like everybody else – my heart has been broken, but now the light shines on, the wounded heart will heal in time – god always answers ones prayer no matter how hard you will fall,” she sings in a beautifully sincere and quietly expressive tone. A tone that takes her mind rushing back into the nostalgia of a life lived fast, free and courageously – a life that suffered all the frustrations and heartbreaks and took on much responsibility, importance and influence in raising awareness for what was essentially right.

Miriam Makeba In 1958 Miriam contributed two songs to the anti-apartheid film ‘Come Back Africa’. Later that decade she travelled abroad with the famous and fabulous King Kong opera and then to the awards ceremony at the Venice film festival. When she arrived at the airport to come back home, her citizenship had been revoked, and she had become an exile.

What was a major disappointment and inconvenience quickly turned into the formative years of her career – as she landed amongst many amazing and influential people. In ’62 she performed at JFK’s birthday on the same bill as Marilyn Monroe, in ’65 she won a Grammy Award for ‘An evening with Harry Belafonte’ and in ’67 Pata Pata became a top 10 world-wide hit.

Yet, throughout this blossoming fame and fortune – it wasn’t who Miriam Makeba was – as she writes in her autobiography – “my life, my career, every song I sing and every appearance I make, are bound up with my people.”

In ’63 she approached the UN suggesting they impose heavy sanctions on Pretoria, she approached them again in ’70 and again in the eighties but to no immediate avail, instead her records were heavily banned in South Africa. And as a result the music developed a strong symbolism and through underground means like Radio Freedom and record sales they found a strong audience. Caught listening to this or caught listening to any such music was a jail sentence and hence even more people were united in the struggle merely through listening to these records.

Miriam Makeba After her marriage to American Black Panther Stokey Carmichael in the mid-sixties, America presented a very racist side too – so they left and went to Guinea where Miriam enjoyed honouree citizenship from president Sekou Toure, and continued a very active life of performing all over the world.

“There was one leader that told me – you should never refuse to go any where in Africa because when you sing your song, you sing to people all people and maybe you can change a lot of peoples way of thinking – just by your song. When you are invited, go and sing. So I have been to many many different countries – in fact there are only six countries I have never been to.”

She left Guinea in ’86 after the death of her daughter. That same year she was awarded the Dag Hammarskild peace prize and the following year participated in the controversial Graceland Tour and published her autobiography – Makeba: My Story. Then in 1991 after 31 years abroad she, with the other exiles, returned.

“I had mixed feelings – I was happy I was sad, I didn’t know what to expect. I usually sleep on the plane but I never slept – I was scared – it was a long time. But, as soon as I got out of the airport and saw all of the people who were there, all the artists and my family – I felt quite at home. I just jumped into the rhythm right there. It was like I never left.”

“I always say I was away physically but mentally and otherwise I have always been home. I never forgot the languages – I could just still picture home the whole time.”

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.

Paul Taylor Interview

Paul TaylorA Word With
Paul Taylor
by Paula Edelstein

I first heard Paul Taylor play at the Old Pasadena Jazz Festival some years ago on a hot summer day when his debut for Peak Records was ruling the charts. He played a very smooth set and had the audience in the palm of his hands. At first glance, Paul Taylor seemed rather shy and unassuming, not nearly the image you’d have of a chart-topping smooth sax star! But when he started playing his soprano and alto saxophones, that image soon disappeared. Today, after clearly establishing himself as a force to be reckoned because of his latest contemporary hit titled STEPPIN’ OUT, Paul Taylor is still putting his instrumental and composing skills to good use in a major way. This is one smooth saxman. With 10 new songs that just take you there such as “On The Move,” “Steppin’ Out” “Night Rider,” and “Enchanted Garden” to name a few, Paul Taylor, Rex Rideout and Barry Eastmond have definitely pulled off one great set.

Born in Denver, Paul Taylor was first given major recognition when Keiko Matsui asked him to join her band. After 2 years with them, he “stepped out” out as a leader and hasn’t looked back since. The sexy star plays soprano and alto saxophones, writes, arranges and if you put it out in the world properly, makes people very happy! We spoke to Paul about STEPPIN’ OUT and some of his other interests and here’s what he had to say!

P.E.: Hi Paul, what a great way to speak to your fans…through the most universal of all languages – music! How did you develop an interest in the saxophone and why did you choose the soprano and alto saxophones to express your musical thoughts?

Paul: It goes back a long way. I got into music a long time ago when I was 7. My parents got me and my younger brother into music just to kind of keep us off the street and out of trouble. That turned into marching bands, concert bands in junior high school and high school – garage bands and that kinda got me into jazz.

P.E.: On STEPPIN’ OUT you’ve teamed up with Rex Rideout and Barry Eastmond to give your listeners one very smooth set. Can you share a few of the highlights from the studio sessions with your readers?

Paul: Wow! When I worked with Rex Rideout, we were in Los Angeles and Barry Eastmond was in New York so I did a bi-coastal thing for a second there and that was cool. But when I was in L.A., one of the top moments for me was working with Luis Conte. He’s a really great guy, great to hang out with…just a really great guy. So I would say that was one of the better moments for me. When I was in New York, I worked with Barry Eastmond. He has this great backyard with deer, swans and stuff…ground hogs! That was really cool.

P.E.: Sounds like a great ambience. You know that many of your fans didn’t realize that you had worked as a very successful sideman with The Rippingtons and others before being ‘discovered’ by Keiko Matsui at the Catalina Jazz Festival. Do you have any plans for a reunion with either of them?

Paul: Well it’s been about six months since I played with The Rippingtons but it’s been a little longer since playing with Keiko. We get together every now and then so it kind of takes care of itself. I definitely would like to do a song with her in the studio.

P.E.: You are both artistically sincere and commercially viable …and that’s definitely a duality that is uncommon among some musicians. How much of your artistic integrity do you attribute to your training and mentorship?

Paul: I’d say a lot of it. Because I just like to do the stuff I like to feel. If it sounds good to me and I’m digging it, hopefully it will sound good to someone else.

P.E.: For you, who are some of the important voices in contemporary jazz?

Paul: When I was first getting started it was Grover Washington, Jr., Ronnie Laws, David Sanborn. Later it was Michael Brecker, John Coltrane. Nowadays, it’s Seal. I just like the vibe.

P.E.: Do you plan to collaborate with other artists outside the smooth style of jazz such as straight-ahead jazz legends, jazzbeat poets, jazz choreographers, etc?

Paul: You know, it never crossed my mind but something like that would be great.

P.E.: After months of being on the road, what are some of your other interests that allow you to just get away from it all?

Paul: Just creating a nice little comfort zone at home, kicking back and relaxing. Making it comfortable with my wife of 15 years. She’s the stable side of the relationship. In the early days, she kinda pulled me along and so now it’s nice to be able to give back to her.

P.E.: Have you returned to Denver since breaking outside its boundaries as a smooth sax star? Is there a contemporary jazz scene in Denver?

Paul: Oh yes, almost every year. I get to spend a couple of days at home in Denver. They have a couple of smooth jazz stations there so there is somewhat of a scene.

P.E.: Can you share any sneak previews about what’s next for Paul Taylor?

Paul: My labelmate Cassandra Reed is guesting on my West Coast dates, and now we have a few more dates around the USA.

P.E.: That’s great for both of you. Thanks so much for the interview and once again, congratulations on STEPPIN’OUT! Keep in touch with Paul Taylor at

Reprinted with permission of…

David Liebman – The Elements: Water

The Elements: WaterDavid Liebman
The Elements: Water
by J. Barrett

It’s an old idea with new ambition. In 1973, Joe Henderson made an album called THE ELEMENTS. With a varied palette and impressive density, Henderson took 40 minutes to paint the sounds of earth, air, fire, and water. A quarter century later, Dave Liebman has the same idea, only his story is told in 4 CDs! This is the first in this long-term endeavor, showing water in all its faces (“Storm Surge”, “Reflecting Pool”, “Baptismal Font”), with detail Henderson didn’t have time to explore. And the sound is different: Liebman’s group is a quartet, with Pat Metheny bringing variety on his many guitars. The sound crashes, boils, and flies, but it also flows – and this is very fitting for what Liebman calls “The Giver of Life.”

The whole suite is based on the opening theme, stated by Metheny. It’s a simple ascending line, with gentle strums and a hint of dissonance – and the source of all which follows. Liebman now restates the theme, and Metheny joins Cecil McBee in some tangy comping. Billy Hart shines the cymbals; maybe it’s spray hitting the rocks. Liebman wails a bit at the end, which is a sign of the storm to come.

McBee opens “White Caps” with some ominous sliding, which keeps getting faster. Metheny, on guitar-synth, keeps the riff going with a nasty tone. Liebman rushes in with a honking tenor, screaming it up as the dirty-toned synth gets louder and harder. At times Metheny becomes a second horn, shouting in unison with Liebman. The tone subsides, and we’re in a fusion vein for “Heaven’s Gift”, a feature for Metheny’s clean electric. Liebman is slightly raucous when he comes in; he’s celebrating the gift. A hint of the “Water Theme” comes in a great unison bit at the end.

A pensive bass solo suddenly gets an edge; McBee runs up the stairs and looks around corners before the calm returns. This sets stage for the deep bliss of “Reflecting Pool”. Hart rings bells, Metheny strums a 48-string guitar (sounds like an autoharp) while Liebman plays wooden flute with a touch of Japan. Metheny then makes like a koto, and the echo makes ripples in the pool. Liebman’s soprano makes a different impression; it’s light and hopeful as guitar tinkles behind him.

A good-natured Liebman starts “Storm Surge” alone. Hart gets soft and intense (a little of that Elvin Jones feeling), and the theme comes high and cheerful. Not the storm you expected; Metheny is subdued in what is Liebman’s show. Hart gets a long solo; when the cymbals arrive, there is thunderation!

Metheny begins a gentle theme turning into “Baptismal Font”, and here Liebman gains muscle. Taking the tenor, going full-bore, Liebman shouts to the sky as Metheny rings pretty. “Ebb and Flow” is the loudest, with wailing and skronking, Metheny again on the synth. Most of the way it’s a two-horn section part, McBee putting vigorous strum on the bottom. The bass/drums duet works better for me than the two stars – their part is too noisy. The “Water Theme” returns, helped by much echo – making it warmer. This is my favorite version: perhaps this should been the opener. There’s also an interview with Dave, talking about the creation of this piece. It’s a neat tidbit to have, but not essential to your enjoyment.

Rating: *** ¼. It meanders in points, but it’s an enjoyable mood piece. Metheny is at his best when gentle, as in “Reflecting Pool”; Liebman shines when he’s forceful, as in “Baptismal Font.” The scope is ambitious, and the tunes do a good job of showing the aspects of water. I’m looking forward to the others.

Songs: Water: Giver of Life; White Caps; Heaven’s Gift; Bass Interlude; Reflecting Pool; Storm Surge; Guitar Interlude; Baptismal Font; Ebb and Flow; Water Theme (reprise); Dave Liebman’s Reflections on “Water”.

Musicians: David Liebman (soprano and tenor saxes, wood flute); Pat Metheny (guitars); Cecil McBee (bass); Billy Hart (drums).


For more info visit the David Liebman home page at Arkadia Records.

Norman Connors – Eternity

Norman Conners
(Right Stuff – 2000)
by Stephen H. Watkins, Sr.

I’m a Norman Connors fan from way-back, and producer/drummer Connors has not had an album since his 1996 ‘Easy Livin’, so it was with some excitement that I put this CD on. Happily, this is a strong comeback featuring an all-star cast including Peabo Bryson, Angela Bofill, Gerald Albright, Norman Brown, Bobby Lyle, Ray Parker, Jr., Paul Jackson, Jr., Michael Henderson, Gary Bartz, Marion Meadows and Lisa Fischer. Whew… an all star cast indeed!.

Norman has always tread back and forth across the R&B/Jazz line, often trampling it down entirely and this time is no different. There are a couple of R&B remakes, the Delfonics “Didn’t I Blow Your Mind”, Connors’ own “You are my Starship” and the Donny Hathaway Classic “We’re Stil Friends”. “Didn’t I” is slated to be the first single released, and rightly so!. It is beautifully done with Fischer’s strong vocals carrying the tune. “Still Friends” is as emotional as ever, with newcomer Donald Tavie standing in for Donny with strength and feeling, backed by the guitar solos of Paul Jackson, Jr.

“Starship” is pretty (anything Peabo sings usually is) but it did not touch me like the first version. Connors states that he “couldn’t think of anyone else who could sing it”, before he chose Peabo. No offense Norman, but why not have Michael do it again? Be that as it may, this is a great Jazz/R&B release. I also would like to give special mention to “Can’t Say No” which features the vocals of newcomer Denise Stewart, a classic ballad in the Norman Connors tradition.

He may have fallen a little short on his remake of “Starship”, but the new tunes on this CD are to today what Starship was to those days. I thoroughly enjoyed the CD and recommend it to anyone that is a fan of any of the artists named above.

  • Be sure to check out the Norman Connors Interview from last month’s JazzUSA.
  • An Interview with Jeff Lorber

    An Interview With
    Jeff Lorber
    by S. H. Watkins, Sr.

    Jeff Lorber Jeff Lorber is unquestionably one of the architects of the jazz-fusion sound. His bands spawned such future stars as saxman Kenny G. and songstress Karyn White. The directions taken by Lorber and his music influenced the fusion jazz movement; at a time when jazz music was primed for change, Lorber lit that fuse and the rest is history.

    Since Jeff started out his career playing the Portland and Seattle jazz scene (with an ocassional foray down into the San Francisco scene), we couldn’t do a series on Northwest Jazz artists without talking to Jeff. We caught up with him in his California home one afternoon last month for a short talk.

    JazzUSA: Let’s start with a topic that’s dear to our heart… Northwest jazz. Is there such a thing?

    JL: Well… (laughing) Sure! It’s the musicians and the scene… I don’t know if it’s necessarily a completely different kind of sound than something else, I think it describes a certain scene and style, an experience.

    JazzUSA: Would you say that N.W. jazz had a great influence on the development of the new age sound?

    JL: To be honest with you, I think that everybody really listens to the same stuff all over the country and, to some extent, all over the world. So, it’s really hard to say. It’s not like we’re living in a little village in Nairobi somewhere where it’s completely cut off. Everybody is listening to more or less the same stuff in popular culture, popular music. I think when I first moved to Portland from Boston there was definitely a scene, a style that was pretty heavily influenced by R&B, by blues, by a lot of the really exciting stuff that was going on with fusion music, Weather Report, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock. There was a little bit of cross-pollination with the San Francisco scene. I remember when I used to play at the Helm in the late 70’s, people like Jim Pepper, Wes Ferrante and other ‘Frisco musicians would come up and play in Portland. The Portland Jazz scene was definitely influenced by the San Francisco vibe, and some Portland musicians like Tom Grant would play with Joe Henderson, who was living in San Francisco at the time. Then there was the influence of Tower of Power and some of the funky stuff coming out of Oakland was a pretty big influence in Portland back in those days.

    JazzUSA: So Northwest Jazz is more the result of a kind of synergy than anything else?

    JL: I think it’s that and, well to me Portland and Seattle are really different; at least they were back in those days. There was just a more lively music scene in Portland, at least from what I could tell, more was happening on the jazz tip; although there were also some good Seattle musicians. Portland always had more of a soulful, bluesy kind of thing going on. Also, there were a lot of places to play. There was a lot of support from the hometown both from the standpoint of the club owners and the people coming out and supporting local talent. When you think about Northwest Jazz that’s the real key element, even though it’s a city that’s really small, it’s got a lot of talent for the size. It’s got a lot of opportunity for that talent to grow and develop.

    That’s the value of it as compared to a place like L.A., you can’t really, bands here if they want to play somewhere, usually they play for practically no money. It’s just a very different kind of scene, like studio musicians that want to play in clubs, play basically for free because of the love of it. It’s not a live music environment, it’s more about the industry. This is like a company town, it’s all about the recording industry, the film industry and people are making music in recording studios for films, movies and records and it’s just a different dynamic. I mean there’s tons of talent here, its fantastic that way.

    JazzUSA: Let me ask you about the old days for a minute, I remember back in the days when you were down here, I can’t remember the name of the place, it use to be on Glisan right by the 405, they’ve changed the name a few times. You actually made a song about it, you named one of your songs after it.

    JL: Delevan’s?

    JazzUSA: Yeah, back in those days.

    JL: Yeah!

    JazzUSA: I was wondering about your early beginnings in Portland…

    JL: Basically, I played with Thera (Memory) and his band. No, actually there was another band that Thera was in, there was this trombone player named “Jim McKirscher”. And Thera just kind of did his thing some of time, but… I started my group, but I didn’t want to be a bandleader. I never wanted to do that. I did it because I was working with other people, and saw that there were some really great opportunities, and nobody was taking advantages of it. The first incarnation of the band consisted of Lester McFarland on bass, Dennis Bradford on drums and there was this guy named Ron Young that played congas, and the reason he was in the band was because he had a van and we needed transportation. That was a major selling point, right there (laughing). Eventually I had to fire Lester because he would show up late, one time he had pawned his bass, eventually he wasn’t making it to gigs. And then I hired Danny Wilson, and there were a couple of different sax players. There was a guy named Benny Goodfew that was from Seattle, there was… I can’t even remember all the guys that I played with.

    JazzUSA: So where did Kenny G. come in?

    JL: Yeah… after I went through a few different sax players, including… well… Dennis Springer played with us quite a bit and he was wonderful. Unfortunately ‘Pleasure’ was kind of doing there thing at the same time and I guess at some point Springer had to sort of decide whether he was going to play with me or stick with Pleasure. He had been with Pleasure for sort of a long time so he went that way. So I was looking for a sax player and Michael Hepburn from Pleasure, who was living in Seattle back in those days recommended Kenny. Kenny came down and he auditioned, he was actually in town because he was doing a lot of contracting. You know, things that would come through town and needed a woodwind player, somehow even though he was so young he got in there to be a contractor. So he played things like the ice show or anything that needed union musicians to fill out an orchestra for some production.

    Like Barry White, I guess he played for him in that kind of capacity. He actually happened to be coming to Portland to do a Liberace show when I called him. And the thing about Kenny when I first met him was he really had a great attitude. He was enthusiastic and he immediately, sort of knew that this was a good opportunity for him, whereas a lot of the musicians in town… they just weren’t that interested, they didn’t care. They were good players but they weren’t motivated or they weren’t that ambitious, and Kenny was ambitious and motivated with a real positive attitude. So that’s how it happened. He auditioned, and I kind of hired him on the spot.

    JazzUSA: In your band, right?

    JL: Yes. We worked together for four or five years.

    JazzUSA: Did you ever play in Mel brown’s band in Portland?

    JL: Mel played around town, and he would sometimes hire me. I don’t think I was particularly in his band, I think he played with a lot of different guys like we all did in those days. I sort of remember one time that we played a place called Parchment Farm, where Kenny and I sat in with Mel because Kenny was in town.

    JazzUSA: I’m sure you’re aware that you had a lot to do with the direction that fusion music took, if you look back at turning points in music history you guys were right there creating change.

    JL: The musical community in Portland at that time was really nurturing and inspiring and wonderful for me as a musician. Before I moved to Portland I had decided not to be a musician…

    JazzUSA: Oh really?

    JL: Yeah. After two years at music school I moved to Portland and had given up my whole idea of being a musician. I was at Clark College in my third year, going for a degree in chemistry. The only reason why I got back into music was that I went down to some jam sessions and started playing with some musicians in Portland and I got a lot of encouragement from those musicians, people like Thera (Memory), people like Mel Brown, people like Ron Steen, and like hearing Tom Grant and his band and being excited by that. Thinking ‘This guys great and his band’s great and the scene’s great’ and all of a sudden there was a lot going on… There were good players, there were places to play. I kind of really took the bull by the horns and put the band together, and basically took the guys that were in Jim McKirscher’s band or Thera, you know back then the gigs were so sporadic it wasn’t like anybody had like a band, it was just sort of get whatever gig you could get with whatever musicians you could get at the time. It wasn’t anything that well organized. Although I gotta say Tom had a pretty solid gig, at the Helm. The big gig to get was the Helm. You could play like five nights a week for a month or three weeks. That was a chance to really tighten up the band and rehearse.

    JazzUSA: Jeff, what are you doing now? What can we expect from Jeff Lorber?

    JL: Well I’m working on a new album and I’m talking with a couple of different labels. Arista is putting out a ‘Best Of’ this month that will include a lot of the old stuff. I’m working with Herb Alpert, I produced one of his albums and I’m working on some new stuff with him. I’m working with Maurice White, I’m producing a track on the new Earth, Wind and Fire album with him, and I might do some more work with him. I was the musical director for the ‘Smooth Jazz awards’ in Texas. I’ve got some gigs, gonna do some touring of Southeast Asia. Producing different artists…I produced three tracks on the Dave Koz album which has been #1 on the radio charts for the last two or three months in a row.

    JazzUSA: So, you’re staying out there.

    JL: I’m trying to stay in it. (Laughing) You know, I love making music and I’ve got a studio in my house and it’s pretty state of the art. I really enjoy all the technical stuff, arranging and recording and engineering, which I do.

    JazzUSA: Any timeframes for the new album?

    JL: I’m hoping it’ll come out in spring or summer.

    JazzUSA: Any of the personnel lined up yet?

    JL: Well, I work a lot with a guy named Gary Meek, who plays saxophone, that’s been featured on my last four records. I’ll probably use a lot of the usual suspects, like John Robinson on drums and Mike Landau and Paul Jackson, Paul Pesco, and I’m playing some more guitar these days.

    JazzUSA: Is thete anybody you idolized, looked up to coming up?

    JL: I really studied the history of jazz piano, especially Horace Silver, McCoy, Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea were influential. Joe Zawinul, Bill Evans… I think Herbie’s probably my biggest influence because he’s so funky and so musical and his whole concept of chord voicings and rhythm and soloing is so incredible, you know. I was very, very influenced by him. I really love the music of Miles Davis and Coltrane. That’s kind of where I’m really at. I listen to the more substantial kind of jazz stuff for inspiration. All this new smooth-jazz stuff, you know, some of it’s good but it doesn’t have the same emotion…

    JazzUSA: What do you listen to when you’re just laying around the house?

    JL: I listen to a really wide variety of things. I listen to the radio, and MTV and BET and try to stay current, and try to, you know, learn, hear new ideas that are exciting that I can incorporate into what I’m doing. Generally I’m listening to stuff I’m working on and often some of those old records that I really love. Not just old jazz, but old rock and roll and pop.

    JazzUSA: I appreciate your time and we’ll be keeping track of your upcoming projects.

    JL: Ok Thanks.

    An Interview with Ben Allison

    Fred Jung Interviews
    Ben Allison

    I am always humbled by the courage of musicians in our music. The sheer amount of energy they put into practicing and mastering their respective instruments has me in awe on most days. So it is always a personal honor for me to be a spectator as they fight valiantly in their arena. The words Robert Kennedy shared, “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly,” come to mind. Ben Allison is one of many musicians that fit this description to a tee. From his home in New York, we spoke of his band Medicine Wheel, the Jazz Composers Collective, an organization that he helped found, and his new Palmetto record, as always, unedited and in his own words.

    JazzUSA: Let’s start from the beginning. When did you first begin to take music seriously?

    BA: In high school. I started on guitar and conga drums, actually, is mostly what I played in high school. Got into jazz because I was looking for something a little different, I actually was searching for some different sounds. Hadn’t been exposed to much as a kid. I was raised mostly on European classical music and folk music. Mostly folk music, actually. That’s what my parents listened to. Then I took up the bass in, I guess it was my senior year. Played in mostly salsa bands around New Haven, because that’s pretty much was happening. That’s where I grew up, in New Haven. Then I came to New York, NYU. Studied there with a lot of different people. I think that my main inspiration probably comes from my mom, who was an amateur singer. She sang renaissance music, mostly, some late Gregorian chant-style stuff and early Renaissance.

    JazzUSA: As an educator, what is the most important lesson for a young student to grasp?

    BA: There are a couple of things that I usually stress. First of all, I feel like, a lot of times, especially in the jazz education tradition, they’re trying to, in education, what they do is, they try to compartmentalize groups of knowledge and break them down into little packets that. When you start to make jazz into an academic art form, you run the risk of losing its vitality. So, I think sometimes, musician students get far away from the basic concepts of musicality. In other words, they get too concerned with specifics about what note to play with what scale, and all this kind of stuff. One of the things that I deal with is getting back to the fundamental musical concepts that you can apply to any particular style that students would understand. A more basic thing is, the most important thing to do as a musician, I think, is to find your individual voice. And if you look at the greatest, the great musical pioneers, some of the things that made them great were their ability to take their influences and disguise them. In other words, somehow obscuring the path. I mean, everybody has people that have influenced them. And they, to a certain extent, copy the work of their idols. And I think the key in coming up with an original sound is to somehow obscure those influences, make a particular mixture that doesn’t sound derivative. You know what I mean? I mean, I think that’s the big difference between musicians that are, what we call traditionalists, and musicians that are forward thinking, or non-traditionalist. And that is that the non-traditionalists just cover their tracks better.

    We’ve all listened to a lot of different types of music, we’re all influenced by a lot of different types of music, and not to get to Biblical, but there’s nothing new under the sun. In that respect, it just comes down to someone’s individual way of putting together all those pieces. Taking what’s inspired them and coming up with something that has a particular flavor that is only theirs. So that’s like the road that a lot of musicians have to travel down, in making marks for themselves, finding their individual voice. And being conscious of that, I think it’s important. That’s where kind of I’m coming out of, and that’s what I try to work on. In the process of learning jazz, there’s a huge tradition there. There’s a huge lexicon, a huge bunch of information that you have to know. You don’t really have to know everything, but in other words, you’re force fed a lot of stuff, and you’re told who’s the great guy to listen to, and you go to transcribe this solo, and you got to transcribe this solo, and that’s part of the process. But, often lost in the process is, how are you not going to sound like that? How are you not going to sound like Coltrane when you graduated from college? You know? You’re not going to sound like him, but how are you not going to sound like you’re trying to sound like him? So, those are the two biggest things I focus on.

    JazzUSA: Do you find that young musicians are not doing that?

    BA: Well, I came up in the eighties, when the New York traditionalist movement was in full swing. By that I mean, people were trying to not only recapture a certain flavor of classic jazz, but trying to almost define what jazz was. The word had gotten so broad in its definition. You had anything from Jeff Lorber and Miles was kind of one of the people that started this, but the whole idea of fusion and branching off into other things. And the word became so broad, the definition became so broad that I think there was a backlash where people tried to define it. Spearheaded by institutions. Jazz education, Wynton Marsalis’ Jazz at Lincoln Center, things like that. Whether he admits that or not, I think that that’s a part of what went down in the eighties. So a lot of the stuff that I and my contemporaries were reacting to was that. And lost in that was the idea, was the original intent, in my opinion, of a lot of the jazz musicians they were emulating. And that was to really develop individual sounds. In order to do that, you have to be constantly expanding the language. And that, to me, right there is the definition of jazz. More so than, even than the lexicon, even than the things people actually played. I think it has more to do with an evolution than a particular period in time, the spirit of that. That’s another thing that I try to instill in students and myself on a daily basis, is that spirit of adventure, discovery. And one of the best ways to get to that is to find like-minded musicians and play with them. That’s one of the inspirations behind the Collective.

    JazzUSA: Let’s talk about the Jazz Composers Collective.

    BA: The Jazz Composers Collective is a musician run, non-profit organization that’s dedicated towards presenting original music by forward thinking composers. We have an annual concert series that we present and a newsletter that we publish and a web site that we maintain.

    JazzUSA: And the web site address?

    BA: It’s basically a, well, there’s a bunch of reasons why we started it. I think as I was saying before, I was feeling a little disillusioned with the scene in the eighties. I was feeling a little disconnected with the industry, quote, unquote. In other words, with what we were hearing on the radio, what we were hearing that was being produced on records and CD, what we were hearing in clubs. We felt a little disconnected. A lot of the music we were writing at that point, we didn’t feel worked in clubs for example. We were writing music with extreme dynamic range and that doesn’t work in a lot of jazz club settings. And just this feeling that we were a little disconnected and rather than gripe and moan about it, which is what I did for the first few years that I got out of school, was to take that energy and direct it, and to really just create a framework for us to direct our energy in, and that’s what the Collective became. It is what we make it, so whatever project we want to do, we have a framework in which to do it.

    Whatever kind of music we come up with, and people like to pigeonhole you and should, but the beauty of the collective is that hopefully, we can create our own pigeonhole. We can create our own hole and define what it is. It’s just a name that we call ourselves on occasion to describe what we’re doing. A lot of musicians are involved. We’ve probably presented over seventy concerts since our formation in ninety-two, and premièred over three hundred compositions. There been, probably, a hundred and twenty-five plus musicians involved and close to forty composers. It’s really grown to be a New York creative arena. We’re currently in residence at the New School, so we do our concerts there. It’s basically what it’s come down to. Now, we all have, I mean, there’s five composers in residence, what we call composers in residence. They’re just central figures that help to define what the Collective is, in terms of the Board and the officers of the corporation. Each concert is dedicated to one of the composers in residence. We keep a core group of guys developing projects over the long term, and each concert has someone who has never done a concert with us before. We’re constantly broadening it and inviting new people into the fold.

    JazzUSA: Does New York have a distinctive sound?

    BA: Well, I don’t know that there is a New York sound. There’s certainly sounds that I would associate with New York. Some of my contemporaries are, kind of, seem to be feeding off of each other’s energy. Michael Blake, Steven Bernstein in Sex Mob, Matt Wilson, these guys, we kind of have a similar approach. We share a lot of things in common, in terms of our sensibilities. That’s one, kind of, New York school, if you want to call it. There’s other ones to. There’s obviously a large klezmer-type downtown scene or whatever. There’s a lot of other scenes too. I don’t know too much about the Chicago music scene. The only thing that I have had more exposure to is European musicians. We go over there and play a lot. I would say that there’s a certain European sound. This is a very broad generalization, of course. There’s a certain thing about Europe, in my opinion, they tend less, in general, of course, they tend to be less groove oriented. They have a certain, what I hear to be, kind of, reminiscent of a nineteen sixties avant-garde sound. That’s something that goes over real well there. When you play like that people flip. Whereas in New York, if I heard that music, it would seem nostalgic. There they feel like it’s cutting edge. Here, to me something very modern would be somebody playing a free-form groove oriented version of a Carpenters tune. That would have a modern feel to me, by taking music that you would never associate with jazz and doing things like that with it, and certain kinds of techniques we do, like needle-drop techniques, where we suddenly change into a completely different texture, working with a lot of different textures that have recognizable sounds. You can’t put your finger on exactly what it is, but there’s something organic about it. I don’t know how to describe too much of what we’re doing, but that’s some of the things that we’re trying to approach. I don’t hear that in Europe. I hear a more, what to me, feels like a traditional avant-garde sound. Avant-garde music is close to, it’s thirty-five years old, or older. A lot of that stuff was before I was born, so it’s old style music. I hear that a lot in Europe. It’s still very popular.

    JazzUSA: What fostered your interest in the music of Herbie Nichols?

    BA: Well, Frank Kimbrough, one of the composers in the Collective, a great pianist and composer, introduced to his music for the first time, probably about six years ago, towards the beginning of the Collective’s run. I was immediately intrigued by the music because it has a quirkiness and a really individual, original sound that I hadn’t heard in a lot of other composers of his period. He really only made a few records and at that time, they were all out of print. The only thing that I had ever heard was the flip side to this Thelonious Monk record. It’s actually a record, I believe, it’s by a bass player, but in the eighties, it’s on Savoy, they had credited it to Herbie, because I guess he’s the only one on that session who is at all famous. For some reason, they credited the session to Herbie. It was cheesy music and so I never really thought much about him. Kimbrough brought in some tunes that he had transcribed and it flipped me out. It was just great, great stuff. It just became, kind of, the more I got into it, the more I realized what a wealth of material there was there. Kimbrough was way into it at the time and between the two of us and one of the founding members of the Collective, who has since moved out West, we started transcribing all of his music. The more we transcribed, the more we were amazed at the depth and originality of what he had left. It felt as the Collective was defining itself.

    One of the things that we were concerned with is the idea of presenting original, new music as being one of our missions, defining character. Herbie’s music, to do a concert of his music seemed a little strange, but at the same time, the music was undiscovered, so to me, it felt new. I had never heard it before. Most of the people that I knew had heard of him but had never heard his music before. It had that feeling of being new music. We, certainly, were immersing ourselves in it to the point where we felt like we could bring something new to it. For instance, all of his recording were made in a trio context and when we started flushing it out, flushing them out with horns, a lot of the hidden character of the tunes started to emerge. So that was the first step and since then we’ve undergone many and really done a lot more with it. It was that thrill of discovery, of finding somebody new and a bunch of material that was interesting and struck a chord, no pun intended, with all of us.

    JazzUSA: Let’s touch on your group collaboration, Medicine Wheel.

    BA: There’s a core group of musicians, a quintet. That’s the original concept of the group, which actually doesn’t include Frank. It’s Ted Nash on saxophones, Michael Blake on saxophones, Tomas Ulrich on cello, and at that time, it was Jeff Ballard on drums and myself on bass. The first record I did with that group, which was self-titled, “Medicine Wheel,” used Frank on a couple of tunes, Ron Horton, the trumpeter on a couple of tunes, but the main focus of the thing was supposed to be the quintet that I mentioned before. It’s been broadened and shortened and I currently play with a trio version of the group. It is logistically easier to move around. We play every week at this club done in the East Village. The music itself came from, originally was something that I was commission to write through the Collective from an organization called the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust. They’re a great organization in New York that funds non-profits and we’ve gotten great support for them over the years. The basic premise for me, well, I used it as a chance, as an excuse to do some things that I’ve always wanted to do but never felt comfortable doing. They’d give me some money so I could clear my calendar and sit down and try some wacky stuff. One of the ideas was to take sounds that are traditionally associated with totally out, avant-garde music or twentieth century classical music, like prepared piano and multi-phonics on saxophones and prepared bass and put them in a context of tunes that were in some way accessible, quirky, yet accessible.

    By that, I mean, melodies that, hopefully, are evocative and maybe you can remember or think you can remember. I’m really intrigued by composers who can write very simple, but beautiful melodies, Neil Young and Paul McCartney, these guys can write melodies that, when you analyze them are extremely simple, but somehow, there’s something about them, for lack of a better word, are catchy. It’s something that I felt a little bit about jazz through the years, is sometimes it can be a little esoteric and complex. I saw a lot of musicians who were creating sounds that, in my opinion, were needlessly complex. They were trying to, what they thought they were doing was adding interest to a tune by making it more complex. In my opinion, that’s not what happens when you make something more complex. It’s just becomes more complex. It doesn’t become more interesting. I like the idea of creating melodies and working with those grooves. I love grooves. I love interesting rhythms and putting it all together, and yet having that flavor of extended techniques for instruments. That was roughly the concept in my mind when I started writing for the band and started creating the idea, having the cello adds a certain orchestral element to it. Having it be non-chordal with no piano, added a certain bow to the avant-garde set, the avant-garde, Ornette type of thing, no piano, no chordal instruments, working in three part harmony or four part. Jeff Ballard was instrumental in that. He’s an extremely creative musician and a lot of the music came out of us just getting together and getting a little recording device and pressing record and just playing for four hours, all kinds of stuff, whatever we could think of. Then we came back to my house and picked out things that came up well and used them as nuggets to start from, little building blocks. That was the original part of the band. It was a suite entitled “Medicine Wheel” that turned into the band called Medicine Wheel. We premiered that music in ’95, at a Collective concert, and since then I’ve gotten another grant to record the work and that recording turned into the first Medicine Wheel record. Other grants turned into the music for the second Medicine Wheel album, which is “Third Eye.”

    JazzUSA: Does utilizing grants help fund your music?

    BA: Well, I don’t have to use grants to get my music out there, but it sure helps. It’s not difficult. It makes things much easier to have access to funding. There’s certain projects, for instance, as an example, Ted Nash recently completed a project he calls “The Double Quartet Plus One,” and that’s a standard jazz quartet, what we would call piano, bass, drums, and saxophone, he plays saxophone, and a string quartet, two violins, a viola, cello, plus one, which in this case is a vibraphone player/percussion player. He was commissioned to write this music and got a recording grant. We had every intention of recording it for a label, it’s just that with their funds, it augments the budget, to the point where we can go into the right studio. We can get the right engineer and really take it to another level sound-wise and production-wise. I design all of our CD covers, artwork and stuff like that on the computer. It’s something that I do on the side. The look of it was always cool. It was just making sure that the recording quality was up to snuff and that’s a lot of money. For new, for emerging artists like ourselves, there’s lots of opportunities to do things in a quick, low budget way, but I think that we all feel, at this point in our careers, that it’s important to, it’s not a question of volume, it’s a question of putting out records that hopefully have a certain amount of integrity and at least has been the result of hard work and forethought.

    There’s something about a grant that coalesces the project in your mind because it relieves one of the major stumbling blocks. As I said before, if I get a commissioned grant, I just clear my calendar, for however long it takes, maybe it’s a month or two, I don’t even have to think about doing anything else. And maybe I do, maybe I don’t, but at least I don’t have to hunt down stuff or feel like I have to take a gig that I don’t want to take and expend energy in that direction. I can really focus and someone is waiting for something. There’s a Board of Directors over there and at the Collective and these foundations that are waiting for a project, and a final report, and a CD, and a financial statement, and everything like that. There’s nothing like having deadline. That’s really what the Collective is, is the framework, as I’ve said before, to organize, and to inspire, and to kind of kick your ass in gear. It’s been very beneficial to have that.

    JazzUSA: Does the music that your play, lend well to a major label?

    BA: I have no question. It’s not even about the music with a lot of major labels. They’re more concerned with marketability. If for some reason, as we prod away and we develop fan basis and if our music turned into the kind of thing where there’s a bunch of screaming Dead-Heads at our concerts, you better believe that Atlantic would be calling us. That’s not even the issue, they have David Ware, that’s not really it. It comes down to marketability. In my opinion, this funny to say, but I’m not really interested in larger labels. I love working with medium size labels, not labels that have no resources, but the beauty of Palmetto is that when I call their office, I talk to the president. We talk directly about what’s going on. I know exactly where my CD is being played on the radio. When I go into a town to do a gig, and I ask them to set up a radio interview, it’s set up. It’s very easy for somebody on a big label to be swept under the carpet and unless they’re in the top one percent of stars. I know a lot of guys that are contemporaries of mine, my same age, great musicians surely, but on larger labels. Their number one complaint is that they feel ignored. They feel disconnected.

    The fact of the matter is, is jazz is a very small percentile of the market. We’re all quibbling about a really, really small amount of money in the big picture of things. What’s important to me is that jazz, I think a lot of music and hopefully some of the music that we’re doing now has the potential to reach a larger audience and the only way it’s going to do that with the sheer amount of music that’s being pumped out every day, way too much information and entertainment in this country and in the world. The only way anything’s going to emerge significantly is if musicians and labels really work together in a grassroots sort of way by enlisting fans one at a time. I think with a small label, you stand a much better chance of doing that. There’s the Diana Kralls and then there’s everybody else. For the rest of us, I feel like I’d rather have “A”, control over the rest of my career, and “B”, a certain sense of everybody working together towards a common goal like the Collective. I like being with the people at Palmetto. I would hate to be in a situation where I’m calling somebody at a label and they’re not even calling me back. I have so many friends that are on major labels and that’s exactly how they, they’re like, they got fifty thousand dollar budgets to do their records, but I’ll be sitting here and I’ll get a call from Palmetto, “We took out an ad here,” and my friends are like, “Wow, they do that kind of stuff for you?” I like the small stuff. I like keeping it personal.

    Lester Bowie Retrospective

    Lester Bowie
    A Retrospective
    [ Based on an Interview conducted in New York, 1988 ]
    by Phyllis A. Lodge

    Trumpeter/composer Lester Bowie was born in Frederick, Maryland on October 11, 1941, and was raised in St. Louis, Missouri. Bowie was five years old when he discovered the trumpet. Bowie very firmly informed me that: “I was influenced by a lot of people; you have to understand that. A lot of people did different things.”

    First was his father who played trumpet and was a high school band and choral director. Bowie also studied under Mr. Carionne who was a specialist in European classics. Another one of his teachers, Mr. Marshall Penn, was a brass instructor at Lincoln University.

    Bowie includes among his trumpet influences Louis Armstrong, Clyde McCoy, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and Freddie Hubbard. It was Kenny Dorham, however, who became pivotal in Bowie’s decision to make music his life’s work. In Bowie’s words: “When I heard Kenny Dorham, it turned me out. I listened to him a few times, and that’s when I decided.”

    There were several groups that inspired Bowie, simply because he liked the way they sounded. The classic groups led by Art Blakey, Horace Silver and Miles Davis largely influenced much of the way Bowie heard music.

    Bowie developed his charming and sometimes uproariously humorous musical style by listening to artists like pianists Art Tatum and Cecil Taylor, as well as saxophonists Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane. Johnny Coles and Marcus Belgrave were personal influences who were there to help him and support his efforts. Ultimately, Coles, Belgrave and Bowie made up the trumpet section in a number of rhythm and blues groups during Bowie’s early music days in St. Louis. Trumpeter Bobby Danzie, another St. Louis musician whose style was much like Miles Davis’, also encouraged and helped the younger Bowie when he was still learning his instrument.

    Lester Bowie had a hand in initiating a number of musical groups in St. Louis, Chicago and New York and his educational experience is primarily a culmination of these experiences. While still in St. Louis, Bowie assumed the role of musical director for vocalist, Fontella Bass. Bowie also helped to form BAG (Black Artists Group), as well as the Great Black Music Orchestra.

    After relocating to Chicago in 1965, Delbert Hill took Bowie to what he described as an “experimental band” run by pianist/innovator Muhal Richard Abrams. Bowie liked the group because it enabled him to become involved in many of the forms involving different types of musics. This began Lester Bowie’s affiliation with the internationally acclaimed Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). It was through the AACM that Bowie met Malachi Favors, Chico Freeman, Joseph Jarman, Roscoe Mitchell. Bowie subsequently met percussionist Famoudou Don Moye a few years later during a European tour of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, comprised of Favors, Freeman, Jarman and Mitchell, which Bowie launched while working with AACM. Bowie considered Sound (1966) with the Art Ensemble his recording debut as a leader, although he considers each of the musicians involved with that recording to be leaders in their own right.

    Upon relocating to New York, Bowie had the opportunity to meet and learn from Kenny Dorham and Blue Mitchell. Dorham and Mitchell provided Bowie with support when he first arrived in the “Apple”, sometimes by just hanging out with the younger newcomer to the city. “They were ‘just nice guys…” Bowie recalled in acknowledgment of his indebtedness to the two musicians.

    In 1984, Bowie was extended an invitation by a German Festival to put together a group of his choice to perform for that one particular event. It was during this time that Brass Fantasy, one of Bowie’s favorite brainchildren, was born. Bowie had always had a fantasy envisioning an entire brass ensemble, so he seized upon this opportunity to bring the vision to life. Brass Fantasy, the result of that vision, was a tremendous success at that time; and that music continues to delight listeners to this day.

    The group of musicians Bowie assembled for Brass Fantasy literally sparkled with creativity and enthusiasm. Stanton Davis, Gerald Brezel & E.J. Allen joined Bowie in the trumpet section; Vincent Chancey was on french horn; Steve Turre and Frank Lacy were on trombone; Bob Stewart on tuba; Famoudou Don Moye on percussion; and Phillip Wilson on drums. At the time of this interview, Brass Fantasy had recorded three albums: Avant Pop and I Only Have Eyes for You, both on the ECM label, and later Twillight Dreams, was recorded on the Virgin/Ventura label. [NOTE: I went out and discovered a much later Brass Fantasy release that retained Chancey on french horn and Bob Stewart on tuba. It was entitled The Odyssey of Funk & Popular Music, and Bowie goes all out to indulge his creative fantasies by including the music of Puccini, Cole Porter, the Spice Girls, Notorious B.I.B. and Marilyn Manson. Odyssey… was released in 1998. Other personnel included Joseph “Mac” Gollehon, Ravi Best and Gerald Brazel joining Bowie on trumpet; Luis Bonilla, Joshua Roseman and Gary Valente on trombone; Vince Johnson on drums and Victor See Yuen on percussion. He even includes vocals by Dean Bowman and Joseph Bowie. There was also a variation in trumpet personnel from Avant Pop. Along with Stanton Davis there was Malachi Thompson and Rasul Siddik.]

    In 1967, Bowie recorded Numbers One and Two. Bowie also mentioned several of what he referred to as “Italian records”, under the Black Saint and Horo labels between the mid-to-late 1970’s. Much of this material was done with a quartet. One of them was entitled 5th Power (1978), and includes Arthur Blythe on alto saxophone, Amina Claudine Myers on piano and vocals, Malachi Favors on bass, and Phillip Wilson on drums. Other Bowie recordings include Fast Last and Rope-A-Dope (Muse, 1974); All the Magic, a double album set, and an ECM release, Great Pretender (1979).

    In addition to his work with Brass Fantasy, Bowie recorded and toured with the LEADERS composed of alto saxophonist, Arthur Blythe, tenor saxophonist, bass clarinetist and producer, Chico Freeman, pianist Kirk Lightsey, bassist Cecil McBee, and percussionist Famoudou Don Moye. At the time of this writing, the LEADERS had released two recordings: Mudfoot which is a particular favorite of mine, (Blackhawk, 1986) and Out There Like This (Polygram, 1988).

    Bowie truly enjoyed working with the LEADERS, because he enjoyed the musicians and the musicianship equally. In the trumpeter’s own words: “It (the work with the LEADERS) is involved with traditional jazz. “It’s fun and challenging to produce the sound, and the energy.” Having fun while in the pursuit and practice of his music is essential for Lester Bowie. The trumpeter would otherwise simply have tired of it. A highly innovative leader, Lester Bowie, felt that it was necessary to maintain an interest in the music, which he accomplished “…by consistently playing with interesting musicians and completely different sounds.”

    The wild, zany and miraculous sounds Lester Bowie could “push through a horn” could be hilarious while maintaining a highly virtuoso quality. Every time I have ever heard Bowie perform, whether live or recorded, his music was enlightening, highly individualistic and filled with delightful surprises. Like one of my other favorite musicians, Thelonious Monk, Bowie could bend rules and play in the “free” style without losing the integrity of a number (or his listener) because he knew the rules so well. I picked up Avant Pop to create a spirit of his music around this piece. My expectations of his work were met and surpassed by the wit and beauty he brought to this project. Each and every selection on Avant Pop will have the listener laughing out loud on one hand, and voicing absolute awe for the genius of Bowie’s music.

    The arrangements on each and every number are mesmerizing. I can see the pomp and even the robe of the Emperor in that number. In Saving All My Love for You, Bowie does his famous singing horn. I could barely contain my excitement over his interpretation. (I know the folks on the train where I was listening to the CD thought I was ‘crackin-up’. Did I care?) And B Funk will simply lay you out! Blueberry Hill was brimming with the power of that old New Orleans Funeral music. And I can see Willie Nelson with tears in his eyes listening to Brass Fantasy’s interpretation of Crazy. Steve Turre is one of my very favorite performer/trombonists and composers, and his composition Macho would do Machito proud. The next number on the CD, another hilarious Bowie parody on whatever it is he’s laughing at is No Shit. (Ain’t it the truth!) The ensemble winds the CD up with Oh, What A Night and brings the house down, wherever you happen to be listening to it at the time. Avant Pop is an experience that will do you good. It is also a typical example of how Bowie encouraged ‘leadership’ in all his musical associations, and this quality is crystal clear in Avant Pop. The other quality that is perfectly clear is that Lester Bowie was simply a beautiful cat!

    Among Lester Bowie’s numerous awards: he was a three time winner of the Downbeat Critics Poll; Downbeat Talent Deserving Wider recognition; various polls in countries such as Japan, Austria and Poland. And Bowie also was a recipient of the Deutschgrammohpon Award and the Grand Prix du Disque.

    It is obvious that Lester Bowie also gave back in numerous ways. Aside from the leadership-oriented groups he initiated, Bowie also lectured periodically at Harvard, Yale and Dartmouth Universities.

    Up through the end of his brief stay on this planet (in November of 1999 at age 58), Bowie continually generated joy and beauty through his music. He left enough of that joy with us to the degree that if we listen to his music enough, we should never be sad again – at least not for long. And when at the time of this interview he was asked to share an insight with his reader on the music as a serious pursuit, he simply responded:

    All’s fair in love and war; and music is BOTH.

    Enjoy life a little more – become a collector of Lester Bowie’s music.

    Mercy, Mercy, Me

    Razz radio host Yugen Rashad's topics and insights tend to be controversial, entertaining, and to the point... so caveat emptor! - edMercy, Mercy, Me
    The Art, Loves and Demons of Marvin Gaye
    – Michael Eric Dyson (Basic Civitas Books)

    by Yugen Fardan Rashad

    He left behind a legion of fans. An adoring public. A family to mourn the loss. Questions about his personal demons and spiritual life linger to this day. Self destructive drug use and philandering ways with women. A dichotomous body of music that shifted from secular decadence to spiritual reconciliation. And it was the music of Marvin Pentz Gaye, Jr. that captures the episodic and, sonic vacillations of one of soul music’s most virulent artists. A body of sustained melody that also validates his humanity during his too short sojourn among us that ended tragically on April 1st, 1984.

    A number of books that range from well to poorly written chronicle aspects of his life, love, and loathsome artistic odyssey that took Gaye to the top of the R&B and pop charts, with Motown Records in tow. He paid a tremendous price to be crowned Prince of Motown; Battles with record executives, family, and drugs; all handled with candor, and outright grandiloquence, that marked Gaye‘s private and professional life.

    Three of the books are: Ben Edmonds – What‘s Going On? Marvin Gaye And The Last Days Of The Motown Sound; Frankie Gays w/Fred E. Basten – Marvin Gaye, My Brother, and Michael Eric Dyson – Mercy, Mercy Me – The Art, Loves & Demons of Marvin Gaye. The latter provides a witness account of Gaye’s life.

    Mr. Dyson uses interviews, anecdote, and the scholarship he’s known for to configure the life and times of an artist that came and went to abruptly. Dyson’s intellect guides the reader down the alleys of Gaye’s descent, to the heights of his greatest triumphs, and ultimately to that fateful day when tempers flared between father and son: “…Father, father, father – there’s far to many of us dying…” (A lyric from his greatest single that sadly became a self-fulfilling prophecy).

    Fans will love reading juxtaposition between recording dates and anecdote, during the creative process in the studio for albums like What’s Going On, Let’s Get It On, and I Want You. Here you get the artist at his absolute rawest, and surreal moments when the line blurs between the personal and the musician. For example, how the recording session of Let’s Get It On became a public courtship that found him singing to his future bride, Janice Hunter. This was a time when Gaye’s eroticism took center stage in contrast to the more political, social prose of What‘s Going On. “Let’s Get It On” also marked a return to the stage image groomed of him by Motown as sex god. In addition, Dyson‘s book snapshots Gaye’s roller coaster ride marriage to his first wife, Anna Gordy.

    This episode is adroitly captured by Gaye’s most intimate and salient recording, Here, My Dear. An album he reluctantly made as alimony payment in his divorce from Anna Gaye-Gordy, sister of Motown mogul Berry Gordy, Jr.

    There are a number of dark secrets, and surprises, too. The two other books also provide pieces of the puzzle that was Marvin Gaye. However, from Dyson’s perch, we obtain historical relevance and depth he’s known to produce with his writings.

    But not to give too much away, be encouraged to buy the book MERCY, MERCY ME, by Michael Eric Dyson, available online at or in the Portland, Oregon area at Talking Drum Coffee Shop and Book Store (Call Gloria at 503 288-4070.)

    Terry Callier – Reluctant Musician

    By Mark Ruffin, Jazz Editor

    Five years ago, in the U.S., you couldn’t find an album by Terry Callier on vinyl, let alone cd and that was fine with Terry Callier, he could take it or leave it. Since that time there’s been two import releases and an unearthed concert from the early 80’s. And next month Verve Record releases TimePeace, the first album of new material from Terry Callier in almost 20 years, and Terry Callier could take it or leave it.

    Call him the reluctant musician, but success in the entertainment business is not a high priority even though the singer/songwriter is on the verge of a major breakthrough. He feels he had his shot in the 70’s when he had a number of national and regional hits on the Elektra and Chess labels . Stardom didn’t happen and his daughter needed him, so the man retired in 1983. The problem was the record companies kept calling. Club owners in Philadelphia, Detroit, Washington D.C. and his hometown of Chicago kept trying to coax him out, sometimes successfully.

    Reticence be damned, whatever force it is that works to shape a musician’s career literally continued on without him. He was sampled on a huge pop hit in England. The English label This Is Acid Jazz, unearthed a rare Callier single and legally sold tens of thousands of copies. A specialty European label was brought down by a huge American corporation when it illegally released old Terry Callier masters. Then English club owners started trying to coax him to perform. When he accepted, a v.p. of a major American record label was in the audience the night of his performance. That label, Verve, signed him, only to fight with him because Callier still had other priorities in life.

    Like Chicagoan Chuck Mitchell, the Verve v.p. who saw him in London, this writer grew up knowing all about Terry Callier. To us, it was nothing to see his name on Lincoln Park bills with Pete Seeger, downtown gigs with Gil Scott-Heron and on the south side working with soul crooner Jerry Butler. He wrote The Love We Had Stays On My Mind, one of the biggest hits by the Dells. He was a celebrity at every folk club in town and you’ve never heard Duke Ellington’s Satin Doll until you hear his mid ’70’s version. He also was very popular in other cities as Terry’s other new album “T.C. in D.C.” on Premonition Records attests to.

    Without lifting a finger to help his cause, Terry Callier, or that force, has engineered an amazing comeback from an amazingly diverse musician. That comeback culminates with a new album that features the rhythms of folk, r&b, rock, even county and of course jazz. The legendary sax man Pharoah Sanders joins Caller on one track..

    Interestingly, this interview was recorded earlier this year when Terry really didn’t know if he was going to have an album on Verve. The contract was signed, tunes recorded. The two just didn’t see eye to eye and Terry, frankly didn’t care..

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: What do you think of the current unique situation you find yourself in, being on the verge of the kind of music comebacks that most acts from the 70’s would die to have.

    TC: It’s a gift from God, I never really had to scuffle in the classical sense. I went from living at home to playing in New York, then had to come back home and home was there. I got myself together, got into music full-time. I did that for maybe 12 or 15 years. All I did was music. When I got custody of my daughter, I had to switch gears again. And it wasn’t a problem because there were things that she needed, support that she needed from me. She may have gotten it anywhere but she really needed it from me. So it was no problem to step out of music for a minute and it wasn’t the first time. The first time I saw Coltrane live, the next day I went out and started looking for a job, because number one, that quartet scared me with John Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones and Jimmy Garrison. I had never seen people literally hurl themselves into music that way. It was an emotional experience. I knew that I didn’t tend to do what they were doing but I knew that even in relative stuff, I wasn’t into my music like they were into their’s. I also realized that if you weren’t that much into it, then you were just threading water, not wasting time but just threading water. When my daughter told me that she wanted to go to school in Chicago, the first thing I did was go to Control Data Institute, which had a computer programming course. I went through that and thought that I would be able to find a programmer position but I was just a little bit too late, a day late and a dollar short. This was in ’83. If I had gone to Control Data in maybe ’79 or ’80, I could have stepped right from that instruction program into a pretty decent position. But in ’83, things were tightening up. By then almost all the companies wanted their people to have some kind of degree. So I managed to get a position at the University of Chicago as a temporary employee in January of ’84 and I worked there for a year.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: What was the job you held at U of C?

    TC: It was called data coding. I thought it was going to be kind of an automated position. Later on it was but initially it was working with paper and pencil, correcting surveys conducted by the National Pen And Research Center which was an still is part of the University of Chicago. Then they asked me if I would accept a staff position in February 1985 and I said yes because that meant benefits, paid vacations and certain other advantages. So I took the position and I’ve been there ever since.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: You said your daughter chose Chicago, did she have a choice?

    TC: Yeah, she was living with her mom in San Diego. We separated when she was about five. I was really way off into music at that time and I thought that letting her stay with her mother was a good thing because that would allow me to work on the music while she had a safe and sound shelter.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: It is really against our editorial policy to pry into an artist personal life, but even you can see how your daughter is part of this story. How old was she when you got custody?

    TC: She was 12, just going in to high school and she had been in Chicago all that summer. Then as the summer ended, she started moping around until she finally came up to me and said ‘Daddy I don’t want to go back to San Diego.’ I told her she didn’t have to.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: And her mom was cool with that?

    TC: I never did press her on that. She said she didn’t want to go back and I didn’t want to press her on that. She and her mom have a very cool relationship I know, and they had a good relationship then. It’s just that something wasn’t right for her.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: Or maybe something was right with her father.

    TC: That could be too.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: What did her mother do for a living at the time?

    TC: A teacher. She’s from D.C. but I met her in Chicago.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: How did you let the world know you quit the music business and how did you do it? As passionate as you are, how could you just walk away?

    TC: I didn’t, because there was no way to say goodbye. I believe that everything happens for a reason and at the time the most important thing for me was to make sure was that my daughter got through her adolescent years in reasonable shape because a lot of people run aground emotionally and physically and psychologically during that time. It’s a very sensitive time. It was a different kind of music. I look at sending her through life as kind of a symphony. I don’t know if it wasn’t for my own good, because a lot of musicians run aground when they’re at the stage where I was, where you’re almost making it. So that may have been God’s way of moving me out of harm’s way. It might have been a test. At that point, not only do you have to take the bitter with the sweet, but you have to be wise enough to know where your priorities really are. Like me being out of music wasn’t important as me taking care of this child.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: What’s her name?

    TC: Sundiata. She’s 25 and doing student teaching now.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: So when you walked away, did musicians call?

    TC: For a while. That may have lasted about six months. But after it kept being no, people eventually stopped calling.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: Did any record companies call?

    TC: Warner Brothers called about two or three times, but they had already shot me some grease so I really wasn’t interested.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: Did Warner call or did Elektra call?.

    TC: I did two two albums for Elektra, but this was someone else from within Warners.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: And you ignore them.

    TC: Big time.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: Tell me if any of this is wrong; You chilled from the business, in the meantime that unscrupulous record company in England called Charley start bootlegging all the Chess/Cadet stuff.

    TC: That’s a little bit out of sequence. What happened was that towards the end of 1989, I got a call from a guy named Eddie Pilar and he asked me if I had the rights and the master tapes to the stuff I did just before I backed out. I had done a twelve inch for a little company in Indiana ran by Jim Porter called Erect Records. Not much happened with it except I sold ten or twelve copies and I got a little airplay in Chicago, but nothing happened that made me change my mind when I wanted to get out. So Eddie Pilar calls from England and says he owned a label called This Is Acid Jazz and that I had a composition that they’ve been playing on the dance circuit and that people really like it and that he would like to use it.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine:What was the name of it?

    TC: One side was I Can’t See Myself Without You and the other side was If I Could Make You Change Your Mind. So I told him I didn’t know where Jim Porter was and I still don’t. So they submitted their contract and there wasn’t any up front money but it was decent enough. They seemed to have and outlet for distribution, so I said oh fine. So they released this thing in the spring of 1990 and it jumped off like gangbusters in England. So by the time I around February of ’91 they were calling me asking me if I wanted to come over and do some gigs. So I said that sounds nice, but I have to bring my daughter with me. So we went over to England and we played at a place called the Jazz 100 Club. We played at a huge outdoor festival and a few other things. The response was incredible. My daughter didn’t want to leave. But it wasn’t set up for us to stay there, so we came back home to the States and Sunni kept going to school and I kept going to NPRC everyday. Then I guess in 1992, I started getting calls from other people in England about coming over to do gigs and other things. So my daughter and I have been over there about four or five times in the last four years and they set up a band over there and these guys know the music and play like demons. We were just there this past August but I never tried to actively get back into it.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: Did all that activity in England excite you?

    TC: It’s hard to describe. Music has a place in my heart, but it’s not the supreme thing. If things had happened a bit different maybe I’d feel different.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: So what’s the thing about Charly Records.

    TC: Okay, so I guess in 1992, the other tune began to pick up so much airplay that people started looking around for other stuff. So about the third time that I went over the U.K., people were telling me they had rumors that some of the Chess stuff was going to be re-released. Charly music is a company over there that specialized in older music and anthologies. But, from what I understand, they ran a little afoul with this one because MCA actually owns those tapes, so they sued them and made it kind of unpleasant for Charly Records. Plus for me they owe me writer’s royalties and I’m still trying to collect that. It was out almost a whole year before I knew it. The next time I went over there, some friends said they had copies and sure enough, there it was Terry Callier On Cadet. I was just as surprised, as my friends were when it came out. They had it out on the market for two years before MCA sued them.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine:Did you try any legal action?

    TC: No,(laughing) I didn’t care.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: Did you get royalties from This Is Acid Jazz?

    TC: Oh yeah, they were totally straight. As a matter of fact I thought we were going to do something over here because the tune did so well and they gave me so much money, not millions, but relatively speaking. I had submitted a budget and they just let it drop. So did I. I didn’t care. I thought for sure we had an understanding, but when they stopped calling, so did I.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: Again not to get personal, but was it in the tens or hundreds of thousands.

    TC: I’ll tell you. It was about ten (laughing) I figured if they gave me ten, they owed me forty. I didn’t get too deep off into it, because I thought we were going to do some more work together. Then when it turned out that that wasn’t what they were interested in, I just let it go.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: What was your motivation to do more work with them, were you just going to milk that cow for as much as you can get? Or were you actually excited about doing it?

    TC: At that time, I was about as excited as I get over the music industry. I had some new things in mind and I had some things I wanted to do and I thought we could have put together a very interesting package of new material and a couple of other things I wanted to do.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: So what did the British acid-jazz label Talkin’ Loud have to do with any of this?

    TC: Now that’s a whole other issue. The time before last when we went over to England, we had been talking to Chuck Mitchell at Verve Records. As a youngster in Chicago, he used to come by this club called the Barbarossa when I was just playing with a percussionist and he remembered a lot of the stuff that I used to do. He’s v.p. and a ceo over at Verve. He came over because the people at Talkin’ Loud were interested in doing something. So Chuck Mitchell came over to a place called the Brand where the band was playing. He caught a pretty fair show. We didn’t have our usual saxophone/flute man. We had a sax player who was good, and a flute player who was good. But the reed player that we usually use is outstanding. When Chuck saw us he said, look, you’re an American artist and you should be signed to an American record company. That’s how I happened to sign with Verve. Now the original deal was that Verve was going to handle the release and distribution in North and South America, and Talkin’ Loud was going to do Europe and the rest of the world. But then he said that there had been a lot of disagreements about what music is going to be on the album. What type of tunes it was going to be and the general philosophy of the tune.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: Do you mean between you and them or between Talkin’ Loud and Verve?

    TC: I mean between me and them, between them and Talkin’ Loud and between me and Talkin’ Loud and Verve. I did a four song demo for them before I signed the contract and they said well we want to hear some more material so I didn’t see too much wrong with that. So I used the musicians that I normally use in Chicago. We recorded nine or ten things.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine:Who paid for it?

    TC: Verve. No I take that back. I paid for the first one because at that time it was just a speculation. But they paid for a pretty decent ten song demo. Then they started going into the commercial versus artistic merit bag. One of the guys from Talkin’ Loud objected to one of the songs because he said it was too country. Well it was a country song. In addition to that, there’s a couple of things that were fairly straight to the point. (laughs)

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: I know how you can be.

    TC: So Chuck Mitchell wasn’t very happy with those songs. So out of the thirteen songs that we’d done for them, he decided eight of them were worth doing. I figured if he got the call on eight, I should get the call on the other four or five. For a while he didn’t call me back and it was okay too. In the meantime, I was getting more closely associated with the Chicago musicians. I went by the bass player’s house one day and he had something for me to listen to. He put it into the cassette and I said it sounded familiar. It turned out that this was a concert that we did back in 1983 and I was amazed on two counts. One that I had no idea that he saving this kind of stuff, because he had never mentioned it. And then two, I was amazed at how tight we were as a group. There’s just three of us, the bassist Eric Hochberg and Penn McGhee doing percussion and vocals. I was floored by the intensity and the communication and the freedom of the thing. He told me that he was going to try to get it released and I told him to go ahead. I was just marking time with Verve, I didn’t know what was on their mind. I thought they were trying to wait me out, and it might have worked had I not had a job. But by the same token, if my daughter’s next tuition payment, or my next rent payment was dependent on my signing with Verve, I’d would have been back at Verve quickly. That why I say God is in all this because I didn’t have to jump when they wanted me to.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: If the contract was signed with Verve, weren’t you worry about legal action with that release?

    TC: No, because it came out in 83 and I didn’t sign anything. That album is a presentation of the bass player’s production company. I’d listened to it, but I didn’t add anything to it. I could have if we wanted to play it that way. We could have made it sound really good. We could have done some cheating if that’s what we really wanted to do. But I’m not into that because I believe that even though people don’t play straight with you, you should still be straight.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: How do you view all of this, as a comeback? Are you officially out of retirement?

    TC: Since I walked out of the music business, I have not been knocking on too many doors trying to get back in. So it’s as much a surprise to me as it is to anybody, except that if God has planned something for you, you can run from that thing for a long as you have breath and in the end it will still be there for you.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: Well why do you keep running from it?

    TC: I’m not running from it. I’m just not running towards it. I’m through with that.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: Isn’t ironic that it seems to be running towards you now?

    TC: That’s what it says in the Koran and a lot of scriptures. If God intends something good for you, nobody can keep it from you, and if God intends for you not to have something, there’s nothing you can do to get it. That’s the way I look at music. If God has intended this for me, it doesn’t matter what I do, it’s going to be what it’s going to be. There are things I can do to inhibit it, like going around spitting on people, that might impede it a bit.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: How has Terry Callier’s music evolved since the last time you made an album in the U.S.?

    TC: One of the songs on the demo called Changing Of The Guard is one of the ones that Chuck doesn’t particularly favor. (EDITOR NOTE:It didn’t make the album) and the chorus goes Lord ain’t it hard at the changing of the guard when you realize something isn’t quite right but you throw it out your mind because you just don’t have the time and it gets you and hits you like a bullet in the night. And there’s another song that goes. And there’s another song called Step Into The Night (ditto) that’s about a friend of mine. I’ve never done an album about people. I take that back, I guess Occasional Rain was as much about people I knew as this new stuff is. The problem I have with writing is I just can’t sit down and say, okay I’m going to right a song. It’s going to be about this. This is going to be the title. This is going to be the chorus. This stuff just comes to me out of the air and I have to wait on it. That’s one of the signs that something’s about happen. When it starts falling on me pretty regularly, I know that something’s up. Sure enough when this last batch of things fell on me, it wasn’t but a minute after that, that I signed with Verve.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: Does your music still have political overtones?

    TC: (He laughs) Some of it I think is more than Verve thinks is necessary.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: Again here Terry, stop me if I’m wrong. You were part of the great Don Mizell purge at Elektra in the 70’s and you were at the tail end, being there when Patrice Rushen got cut and Lenny White got cut. It was right when things were about to happen for the jazz department at that company.

    TC: You’re right, except Patrice was the last to get cut. I was the first.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: Did that piss you off? I mean you still had some hope then.

    TC: I did after a fashion because what happened was we did Fire On Ice and they thought it was too political. They even thought that Holding On (To Your Love) was too political. That album also had African Violet and Martin St. Martin on it and it was just strong medicine. So when time came to work on Turn You To Love, Don Mizell said “it would be if you could give us something for radio.” And I said yes that’s true. I thought that some of the things on Fire On Ice were good enough for radio. He said “We played it for some fm disc jockeys and they said that it was too political. Too strong.” And I said why didn’t you play it for some black fm disc jockeys? And he said it was black fm disc jockeys that said that. So I said, okay cool. That didn’t dim my focus, but it let me know if I was on the right track. So we started recording Turn You To Love. My partner Larry Wade and I had been working on a song call A Sign Of The Times. We did the best job we thought we could with it and they through it out there and it entered the Billboard charts at number 75, and I thought yes Lord here we go. Frankie Crocker was using it as a theme song in New York and it was the first time in a long time I heard myself on the radio, even in my hometown of Chicago.. I thought that that was going to be the start of something big and I don’t know if they were going to drop Don Mizell’s people regardless of the potential they had, they didn’t do any promotion.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine:Did that you make you mad?

    TC: No, because I could tell that things there were kind of winding down. That was like the last hurrah, the bright flash before things go dim.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: Did it help in the decision to get out of the music business?

    TC:, No, because if it had jumped off strong enough, I’d probably would have tried to make other arrangements for my daughter. Now this was 79 or 80 and I didn’t get custody of my daughter until ’83. If it had jumped off, that would have made that decision harder for me to make.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: You were also at Chess when that corporation went wacky, at it’s last hurrah.

    TC: That’s true, but that was a little less painful because I was working with Charles Stepney. He was a very creative, very supportive, very technically accomplished pianist, and of course the world knows about him and Earth Wind and Fire.

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: So not only are you having political battles with Verve, you have to worry about them trying to market you. Back in the Elektra years you were a folk singer, an r&b ballad singer, a progressive jazz singer, people didn’t know where to put Terry Callier.

    TC: That’s still part of the problem because Verve’s idea is that I should be doing the smoother more ballad type things. And sure that is part of it but I sure couldn’t make that a big focus. Like Miles Davis use to say, ‘that ain’t none of me.’

    JazzUSA ‘Zine: Wouldn’t hitting the big time be nice?

    TC: It wouldn’t be anywhere near as important as if my mom was still alive. She passed in January of this year. It would be nice because I could do more for my daughter. If it broke as big as the Beatles tomorrow, it still wouldn’t mean as much because my mom’s not here.


      Terry Callier Discography  The New Folk Sound-Prestige 1969  Occasional Rain-Cadet 1971  What Color Is Love-Cadet 1972  I Just Can't Help Myself-Cadet 1974  Fire On Ice-Elektra 1978  Turn Me To Love-Elektra 1979  I Don't Wanna See Myself Without You/If I Can Just Change Your Mind-Erect 1983  This Is Acid Jazz 1991  On Cadet-Charly 1992  T.C. In D.C.-Premonition 1997  Time Peace-Verve January 1998



    An Interview with McCoy Tyner

    An Interview with
    McCoy Tyner
    by Mark Ruffin

    McCoy TymerSimply put, McCoy Tyner is one of the best piano players in the world. His new album, “McCoy Tyner And The Latin All-Star” features Dave Valentin, Steve Turre, Giovanni Hildalgo and a host of musicians.

    JazzUSA: McCoy, why did you choose a Latin theme for your latest album?

    MT: Well, the first time I did a record like this, I think was in 1982. That was “La Layenda De La Hora( Legend Of The Hour)

    JazzUSA: Yeah, it was just re-issued last year.

    MT: Yeah, I did that a long time ago. Paquito D’Rivera had just defected from Cuba and I thought wow, what a great opportunity to do a Latin album. I’ve been interested in this music, because of the ethnicity of it, I mean there are common roots between Afro-Cuban music and American jazz.

    JazzUSA: “Legend Of The Hour” was big band, strings, this album is pared down with a much smaller group, which gives you more room to explore, is that right?

    MT: That’s right. That’s very important. That’s one thing about small groups. Basically, the groups are different and the way you deal with each situation. You can still keep your character and your inventiveness, but it’s different when you have like 15 or 16 people to deal with.

    JazzUSA: So it’s even easier with just a trio?

    MT: Oh yeah, and even easier playing solo (laughs).

    JazzUSA: Your current trio is Avery Sharpe on bass and Aaron Scott on drums and how long have you guys been together?

    MT: Avery has been with me 17 and Aaron for ten.

    JazzUSA: The album is really wonderful and your version of “Poinciana” is so you, despite the stamp that Ahmad Jamal has perpetually put on that song, usually no matter who does it.

    MT: I loved Ahmad’s version of it so much that for a long time I wouldn’t even consider recording it, because I held it in so much reverence. It was just so beautiful with that trio he had and they way they recorded it. So it took me a while but I thought now was a good time to do it.

    JazzUSA: McCoy you have such a long history, but that period with John Coltrane must’ve been very special.

    MT: It was unbelievable. I couldn’t wait to go to work at night. He was like family. See, I met John when I was like 17. He was kind of like a big brother to me. I used to sit and talk to him on his mother’s porch. I kind of grew up playing in his band. It was wonderful just to talk to him and play music every night. And he was so serious about his music.

    JazzUSA: I think a lot of people don’t know that you actually knew John Coltrane a few years before you joined the band.

    MT: About three years before I joined the band.

    JazzUSA: In fact, correct me if I’m wrong, you made your recording debut with the Art Farmer/Benny Golson Jazztet?

    MT: Well there was a record I did before, a Curtis Fuller record and then we did “Meet The Jazztet,”

    JazzUSA: Which included the original version of “Killer Joe,” and you were 19.

    MT: Something like that.

    JazzUSA: And there’s this story about how you were with this band, but actually you were on call waiting for John Coltrane to call you.

    MT: That’s very true. What happened was John would come around when Miles wasn’t working and if he got a gig in Philadelphia, I would play with him. He told me when I form my band, I want you to join the band. But every time he wanted to leave, Miles would give him more money to encourage him to stay. So he stayed for a little while. But I decided I couldn’t wait. I was working in the daytime and playing at night, and it was just too much. So when Benny (Golson) came through and the Jazztet was formed. But I told them whenever John leaves Miles, I’m gone. After about two months after he left Miles, I joined the quartet.

    JazzUSA: When Coltrane formed the group, were a lot of people surprised at the difference in Coltrane’s groups as opposed to Miles’ group?

    MT: He was headed in that direction even when he was with Miles, at least the latter part of his stay with Miles, he was working on those things. In his solos you could hear him changing. But, like you said, when the band happened, it really did have it’s own identity. He had his own music and it was different.

    JazzUSA: And Atlantic Records, the company he first recorded the quartet with, made a lot of recordings real fast.

    MT: Yeah, we went in and we did “My Favorite Things” and “Coltrane Plays The Blues” and there was something else, and we did those in the same week.

    JazzUSA: And the result was that by the time some of those records came out, Coltrane was in a whole different place as a live performer.

    MT: Yeah, he was moving quickly, constantly developing (laughs) evolving. He was an amazing individual, a major force in our music.

    JazzUSA: And you said you couldn’t wait to go to work every night. Was it different every night?

    MT: Yes it was. You didn’t know what to expect. It was very exciting.

    JazzUSA: Yeah, but when folk who were expecting to hear the famous version of “My Favorite Things,” and it was a big success at the time, heard something different when they heard Coltrane live.

    MT: Well, we tried to keep that in character in terms of the melody, because we knew a lot of people really wanted to hear it. I mean we were getting three and four request a night for that song. We’d say ‘we just played it last set,” and they’d say ‘well we want to hear it.” (laughs) But within the solo context, it would be different every time we played it back, but we tried to keep some semblance of it.

    JazzUSA: By the time it came out, he was on his way to Impulse Records and took music to another place. But also during that time, you got a chance to start making your own solo records on Impulse. After that you did time with Blue Note, then spent most of the 70’s with Milestone. But then something happened where you became like this ultimate free agent. I admire the way you handle them and I think it’s your stature in music that allows you not to let record companies dictate to McCoy Tyner.

    MT: There’s nothing wrong with having a home. I had a home with those record companies you just mentioned but the thing is I feel now I have to be encouraged to sign a long term contract. But it’s really not something I look forward to right at the moment. I like to free-lance. But there’s nothing wrong, if things were proper, I’d sign a long term deal, as long as it’s not too long.

    JazzUSA: But there are some advantages in being that free agent.

    MT: Yes there are many advantages, because what you do is have a project and you see who’s interested and you see whether or not they can meet the demands of the project in terms of budget. So there are a few concerns but the main thing is if someone is willing to rise to the occasion and take care of everything that needs to be taking care of, then it can happen.

    JazzUSA: And like I said, it’s your stature that pretty much allows that to happen, because you tour whether or not a record company has something new on you out or not. How many dates do you do a year?

    MT: That’s hard to figure out (laughs).

    JazzUSA: At least 200.

    MT: I do travel a lot. I enjoy what I do and people like it and that’s wonderful. I’m here to play for the people and me.

    JazzUSA: I love the wide variety of formats that you use including the two pop records you’ve done. The first one, “Looking Out,” is one of the greatest mixtures of jazz and pop I’ve ever heard. I mean, Phyliss Hyman, Stanley Clarke?

    MT: Don’t forget Carlos Santana.

    JazzUSA: How can you? Then the Burt Bacharach record, I mean, it was okay for what it was, but nowhere near “Looking Out,” but now I hear there’s a chance you might doing a big Brazilian record, is that right?

    MT: Well, I’ve talked to Gilberto Gil, but he’s into politics down in Bahia. I”ve been trying to reach him and I’m going to talk to him some more about it and we’ll see what happens.

    JazzUSA: Anything else in the future, you can mention?

    MT: There’s always something new, but I learned a long time ago that you don’t talk too much about your future project because then it’s out there and those ideas float around and…you know. I like to get it done, but I don’t like to talk about it.

    For more information on McCoy Tyner’s new album
    with the Latin All Stars
    McCoy Tyner and the Latin All Stars
    our review from the April 1999 JazzUSA.

    An Interview with David Samuels

    David Samuels
    Talks about Caribbean Jazz Project
    by Mark Ruffin
    David Samuels

    Mallet player David Samuels has settled comfortably into life after Spyro-Gyra. He’s released sterling solo albums and formed the group Caribbean Jazz Project. The fourth album from the group, Paraiso, is easily their best, according to JazzUSA’s Mark Ruffin, who sat down with Samuels for a jazzy conversation.

    JazzUSA: Why did you quit Spyro-Gyra?

    DS: It was time to move on. Twelve years on the road and all those records, it was time for me to move on. It was time for me to re-connect with things I’d done, way before working with Spryo, and start new connections with new players and new kinds of music. I had kind of run up against a wall.

    JazzUSA: Kind of like the band itself, huh? When you did quit did you envision starting something like the Caribbean Jazz Project, or did you quit to relax and do all of what you just said?

    DS: My leaving to relax was never an alternative. I had actually started the original version of the Caribbean Jazz Project in ’93 and I quit in ’94. The way things kind of worked out was a seamless working transition from working with Spyro to working with the Caribbean Jazz Project. In a matter of six months after leaving Spyro, we were working like crazy, and we did that for about two or three years and then the personnel changed. I waited for a year and did that Cal Tjader tribute records, and eventually put it back together, and sort of re-formulated it in its current state, and then recorded for Concord and now here’s the second record. It was pretty much of a seamless transition for me. The Caribbean Jazz Project was an idea and I thought it was going to be a fun and challenging group to play in with totally different players and totally different mentalities, different kind of tunes, a different kind of genre. It was a lot of interest at that time. It was just at the explosion of interest in Latin music. We were kind of the first thing out there, and by the time that group came to an end, the market was flooded.

    JazzUSA: When the band was first put together, it seemed to be such a cool paring…

    DS: You know, when you have ideas, sometimes they click, sometimes they don’t, sometimes, it’s in the middle. For this one, everything just kind of lined up at the right time and clicked. I think it was surprising to all of us that we were able to get as much opportunity as we did to go out and perform.

    JazzUSA: How many albums did the original group do?

    DS: Two. The first one was called The Caribbean Jazz Project and the second one, Island Stories.

    JazzUSA: Wasn’t it more of a co-op between you, Pacquito D’Rivera and Andy Narell?

    DS: Yes, the three names are up front, just like they are in this band. I was the one who put this thing together originally, but it was always meant as a Three Musketeers kind of thing.

    JazzUSA: So, you were definitely the impetus?

    DS: Yeah, I was the one that actually got the first opportunity to put a special project together. There was a promoter in New York, who has a series at the Central Park Zoo. He called me and said, “look, I have a budget, how would you like to put a band together?” I had met Pacquito, but I had never worked with him. I just called him out of the blue, and called Andy, who I had worked with. We got a rhythm section together, rehearsed for a day and a half and then we went in a played the gig for the people and the seals. It was pretty wild. There was like the pond for seals right in front of the stage. Then we met about six months after that. We enjoyed the process, of not only playing the music, but of learning the music, and playing someone else’s music and also getting to know each other on a personal level. Then we did another gig in Louisville, Kentucky about six months later, and after that we decided that maybe we should seriously look for some kind of recording deal and an agent. We got that lined up and by August of ’94, we were at the Blue Note in Japan, and then started to roll after that.

    JazzUSA: Why did the first group dissolve?

    DS: Well, one of the reasons was that we were working so much that Pacquito felt that he needed more time himself to pursue his other interest which are numerous. And so he kind of wanted to put the brakes on. That was one of the issues. The other issue was that we found that as other bands started to arrive in this genre, that our position of being kind of anointed was lost. The amount of work that was available started to change, the whole complexions started to change. Then Andy decided he wanted to go back to his solo career, and the natural progression of things just slowed down to where the three of us were no longer committed to playing with each other. Everybody kind of went his own way. Since I had originally put the thing together, I kind of retained ownership of the name. I then did the Cal Tjader record and then went on tour with that band for a year, and decided after making that record to see if there was some was of re-formulating another group that had no relationship whatsoever to what the original band was, except the name alone, different sound, different instrumentation, different musical orientation, and that’s how this new group got together.

    JazzUSA: Tell me a bit about that Cal Tjader tribute record, Tjader-ized,

    DS: It was with Eddie Palmieri and a whole lot of people who actually worked with Cal played on the record or contributed. Eddie had worked with Cal, and Ray Barretto. A piano player named Michael Wolff, who had worked with Cal in the 70’s was on it, and Carl Perazza, who had worked with Cal was on it.

    JazzUSA: Was Cal, your main influence?

    DS: No, but he is an influence. I think he’s an influence more in terms of the direction that he took and the instrumentation that he used at the time, more than him as a player.

    JazzUSA: Who are some of your other influences?

    DS: You know there are not very many of us. I think if one becomes a student of this instrument, and that’s not just the vibes, but the marimba as well, there is not a long roster that you can choose from. I certainly listened to all the players that I have been able to find records of. Some of them you probably know, some you probably don’t know. It’s only been within the last few years that we lost one of the original players of vibes, and Lionel Hampton is still alive, so it’s a relatively young instrument, in terms of it’s history. You know, we lost Milt(Jackson) last year. We lost Tito (Puente). I guess I can say, with all these guys, in one sense of another, have impacted me, some very specifically , in terms of stuff that they’ve done. Others, in terms of the fact, of the style of music that they play in, and others because of their composition, others in terms of relationships I had with other vibes players, you know, playing together. It varies from individuals to individuals. I tried to connect myself somehow.

    JazzUSA: It’s an instrument that I just love and admire, and my all time favorite player is Bobby Hutcherson, and you were talking about those specific things you’re influenced by, you are the only one, other that Bobby that I like to hear play marimba. Is that something you picked up from him, because I don’t know anyone who plays it as frequently as you and him?

    DS: Well, I don’t know if I got it specifically from him. He’s the only one besides another guy, who is a partner of mine. We’ve had a vibes and marimba duo for over 25 years, and that’s David Friedman. That’s where I really started playing marimba, which was back in 1972, which is….

    JazzUSA: Yeah, Double Image.

    DS: Yeah, that’s right. We’re still playing today. So that’s where I really started to hear marimba. And Bobby, who at that time, I don’t think started playing marimba until a little bit later than that. He is the only other guy that actually been out there doing it. David, myself and Bobby. The irony of it is that the two original vibes players, Red Norvo and Lionel Hampton, both played xylophone, because that was the instrument that was available, until vibes were invented.

    JazzUSA: You know, with one note, I know you, Bobby, Milt, Gary Burton, everybody is so individualistic on the instrument, except the younger crop. I can hardly tell Steve Nelson from Bobby. And when Stefon Harris isn’t sounding like Bobby, he slips into his Milt mode. Although, I’m starting to hear him better, but Steve Nelson is like a Bobby Hutcherson clone.

    DS: I think part of the problem is, truly in the case of Stefon, I think it takes time to develop a style. It takes time creating your own voice. I think, in his particular case, the image was created before there was a voice. It’s just kind of the way the cards fell. I’m sure that he’s going to have a long and fruitful recording career, and a strong voice will appear. But it hasn’t happened yet. Everybody comes to it in their own way. I think it’s the record companies and other elements in our society that’s fighting against that.

    JazzUSA: Paraiso, isn’t the first album with this new group, right?

    DS: The first one was called New Horizons.

    JazzUSA: The one thread that I hear in this group that I heard in the first group is Dizzy Gillespie.

    DS: Right.

    JazzUSA: Was he an influence on you, or this particular group in someway?

    DS: I don’t think you can talk, play or be involved in Latin jazz, Afro-Cuban jazz, whatever umbrella you want to put it under, without his influence. At the same time, I don’t think you can talk about Afro-Cuban music or Latin jazz in a small ensemble without horns, without talking about Cal Tjader. One of his strongest influences on me was his creating small Latin jazz ensembles without horns. They weren’t dance bands. It had this kind of hybrid percussion section with no drum set, but two percussionists, and had piano, vibes and flute. He brought that sound to the small ensemble and exposed a whole bunch of people to music that they had never heard before. Dizzy did it with the big band initially, and then Cal did it with the small group. I think both those elements are strong on this record.

    JazzUSA: How did you pick these two guys, Steve Khan and Dave Valentin? I know you’ve been friends with them for a long time, but why them?

    DS: I guess there were a couple of things. One, I knew, just from a sonic standpoint, that I wanted to get away from what we had done. I didn’t want a traditional rhythm section, and I certainly didn’t want to look for another saxophone player who played clarinet. And I couldn’t even begin to look for another pan player. I’d only end up with bad imitations. That wasn’t even a thought.

    JazzUSA: Yeah, you couldn’t get better clarinet playing or steel pan playing.

    DS: Right, and I wanted to try something completely different. I had known Valentin for like years and years and years. He also played on the Cal tribute record and I knew that that combination was great, flute and vibes, absolutely killer. Steve Khan, played on that record too, and he actually played another one of my solo records in the early 90’s called Ten Degrees North. And I knew he work with Eye Witness. Jimmy Haslip, bass player from the group Yellowjackets, told me once, “you want to do some Latin music, you ‘ve got to get in touch with Steve Khan. He is deep into this music.” I had known Steve. I hadn’t seen him in a few years, but I didn’t know that. So I called up Steve and we started talking and it turned out that he was a huge Cal Tjader fan. Not only Cal, but he was heavy into (Tjader’s pianist and arranger) Clare Fischer, not just his music, but him as a person. He knows him. So he’s kind of pushed me in the direction of a different kind of rhythm section, one not having drums. It turned out that when we got together and played, that sonically it was something really open. The music had this intensity with two percussionists, but it wasn’t so thick sounding. There was a lot of space. Whether people like this group or not, they’re not going to confuse it with anything.

    Denise Jordan Walker – Candid Jazz and Conversations

    Denise Jordan WalkerDenise Jordan Walker
    Candid Jazz and Conversations

    Recently we had a chance to speak with former Smooth Jazz radio announcer from WNUA radio in Chicago Denise Jordan Walker. Denise has launched a new national jazz entertainment series called “Candid Jazz and Conversations with Denise Jordan Walker”. We tracked her down and got her to sit still and give us an inside look at her very hip series.

    JazzUSA: Denise, what is Candid Jazz and Conversations?

    DJW: Well, Candid Jazz and Conversations is a promotional entertainment series for national jazz artists. This series is designed to help publicize the artist and move their product.

    JazzUSA: Is this on television?

    DJW: No not yet.

    JazzUSA: How does it work?

    DJW: Our format is similar to the Bravo Channels “The Actors Studio” TV show. This series is designed to bring jazz fans up close and personal with jazz stars of today and yesterday in an intimate setting. Through this guest list only series, group discussions are facilitated on a one on one basis providing “VIP” pass interaction with these Jazz artist. At each event we keep our audience base to 100-150 attendees.

    JazzUSA: How do Jazz Fans get on your guest list?

    DJW: We publicize each event, which is another plus for the artist. People have to call or email us to have their names added to the guest list.

    JazzUSA: So, is this a free event for Jazz fans?

    DJW: Yes it is!

    JazzUSA: The record labels and their artists must be thrilled with your Entertainment Series?

    DJW: yes they are, especially since we’re based in Chicago an important market to any Jazz artist. When an artist agrees to be our special guest. We do a full marketing campaign, promoting the artist and their upcoming appearance at the event. We arrange TV, print and radio interviews prior to their arrival. Plus we market through our target email database of Jazz lovers. Over 7,000 names in Chicago alone. And now that JAZZUSA.COM is our partner on the web, our marketing base has increased 10 fold.

    JazzUSA: And we believe in the series, it’s such a winning concept, what made you create it?

    DJW: When I left WNUA, I became an entertainment publicist for lots of celebrities and motion picture companies. Some of my clients included: comedian Bernie Mac, Billy Dee Williams, Paramount Pictures, Showtime, The Food Network and artist like TLC, The Temptations, and Kool and the Gang. But I missed my Jazz, Then one day I was recommended to Blue Note Records and received a phone call from Tom Everette The general manager of Blue Note. They wanted to hire me to promote jazz legend Ronnie Laws. I did and it was a huge success. I began to receive other referrals from Labels, artists etc and I’ve been a Jazz Publicist since.

    So as a Jazz radio host turned Jazz publicist, I saw the need for more promotional opportunities for jazz artist. Oh, I had no problem getting PR for my other entertainment clients on the big shows, Letterman, The View, Good Morning America etc. Just try to book a jazz artist and see what they tell you! I created this series from a selfish standpoint, to promote my National artist, but it has since become a great marketing tool to promote all Jazz artist.

    JazzUSA: WOW!… Who are you representing in smooth jazz now?

    DJW: I’m Publicist for Smooth Jazz Guitarists Paul Jackson Jr, and Nick Colionne. I also represent Bass player Mike Manson.

    JazzUSA: How should labels and managers reach you to book their artist on your series?

    DJW: They can email their request to, or they can phone my office at 708-798-4652.

    JazzUSA: What future guests do you have on the Horizon?

    DJW: Well, February it’s Nick Colionne, March it’s Paul Jackson Jr, and a tentative Herbie Hancock, April it’s Mike Manson and a Tentative Will Downing. These Are confirmed guests… We’re still booking artist as we speak!

    JazzUSA: Thank you Denise, and we wish you much success with Candid Jazz and Conversations.

    DJW: Thank you, and I look forward to our partnership with this series as well.

    An Interview with Miki Howard

    A Word With Songstress
    Miki Howard
    by S. H. Watkins, Sr.

    Miki Howard is probably best known for her stint with the pop/R&B group Side Effect, but jazz runs deep in her blood. Raised in Chicago, her mother was a member of the renowned gospel group ‘The Caravans’ and her father a member of ‘The Pilgrim Jubilees’. The home was often visited by the likes of James Cleveland, Fats Domino and Aretha Franklin… music was all around and she naturally wanted to become a professional singer.

    Miki first began to spread her jazz roots while signed for Wayne Henderson’s record label, performing with the likes of Roy Ayers, Chico Hamilton, Willie Bobo, Ronnie Laws and Esther Phillips. Her 1986 debut album Come Share My Love was notable in that one of the 5 billboard hits generated by that release was the Glen Miller remake “Imagination”, making it one of the first Jazz standards to be played on R&B radio. Miki also released an album on Giant records titled “Miki Sings Billie Holiday”, another obvious indication of her love of jazz. We got a moment to talk to Miki about her life and the new CD, “Three Wishes”…

    JazzUSA: Hi Miki, how are you doing?

    MH: Pretty Good!

    JazzUSA: A little history first. I know you’re a native Chicagoan, and I was wondering if you ever get a chance to go back?

    MH: I did go back! You know I had a house in Chicago for a while, and I plan on going back again. There’s something about it, every time I go there I want to stay… I never want to leave. I love Chicago!

    JazzUSA: Let’s talk about the new album, “Three Wishes”. I notice that it’s mostly ballad stuff… you saved the funk for the last tune.

    MH: (laughing) It’s the only one!

    JazzUSA: Was that planned? Is there a reason for that?

    MH: I believe it probably just worked out that way. I’ve never really been known for up-tempo songs. I just do whatever… just do whatever fits.

    JazzUSA: There’s a lot of Gospel influence in your style.

    MH: You know why! My Mom and Dad were both Gospel singers. I was heavily influenced by singers like James Cleveland, Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, Shirley Bassey, Lena Horn, Pearl Bailey, on and on and on… I guess that’s why.

    JazzUSA: This release is being marketed to both the R&B and the smooth jazz audiences. Historically, you are not known as a jazz performer, but you’ve actually done a lot of jazz over the years.

    MH: Really, truly. I think I was more popularly exposed and accepted by the R&B audience. I think I have never been 100% exposed to the Jazz population, you know? But I really love jazz, it’s really what I love to do…

    JazzUSA: Right… you did an entire album of….


    JazzUSA: Exactly… you also played Billie Holiday in the Spike Lee movie “Malcolm X”. Any other plans to go on the silver screen?

    MH: I would love to, maybe once or twice if it’s something really, really great that I think I could really do, but it’s not my career direction to go into acting, uh uh.

    JazzUSA: But if it happens, fine?

    MH: Yeah, you know everybody wants to be in the movies! It’s the best feeling in the world to see yourself on that screen.

    JazzUSA: What’s your favorite track on the new album?

    MH: “Kiss of a Stranger”.

    JazzUSA: Why?

    MH: Because it exemplifies who I am and what I do, right now.

    JazzUSA: You write music, but none on this CD…

    MH: No… This record… well I had several years off. And in some cases I had time to pick the tunes, and I just did whatever I thought I liked, then the record company… we all had to agree, and these are the songs we all agreed on.

    JazzUSA: Let’s see… you put out three CD’s in three years, took three years off, put out two more releases in two years, took three more years off, put out two MORE releases in two years, then took another three years off, and now “Three Wishes”.

    MH: (Laughing) yes, that’s me!

    JazzUSA: Based on your track record, we should expect another record next year, right?

    MH: Hopefully…

    JazzUSA: Are you planning to tour at all for this CD?

    MH: Oh DEFINITELY! I LOVE to tour…I can’t WAIT to tour this summer!

    JazzUSA: So there IS a tour planned?

    MH: (Laughing) Yes… come see me! Tell everybody to buy tickets and come see me. Purchase the record.. because ALL artists need audience support. It’s not good enough to just say “I LOVE so-and-so”…

    JazzUSA: They need to BUY so-and-so….

    MH: Yes, or we won’t be able to continue making records.

    JazzUSA: Where can our readers go to find out more about your upcoming tour and latest CD information?

    MH: To the Peak Records web site. I’m supposed to do my own web site, but I’ve yet to get around to it.

    JazzUSA: It’s a great album and It’s nice to hear you back on the air. Any last words for our readers?

    MH: I’d just like to say that everyone should consider other people’s feelings, try to be more loving and patient. That’s the only thing I want to say to everybody.

    JazzUSA: That’s a wonderful thing, and you say it in your music too.

    MH: Thank you.

    For more information visit the Visit Miki’s Page at the Peak Records web site.

    Kirk Whalum Interview – 08-2007

    Kirk Whalum
    Roundtrip, Family and The Future
    by S.H. Watkins, Sr.

    We caught up with Kirk while he was on tour and got him to talk about his great new CD “Roundtrip”, his musical history, the Whalum family and the future. Have a Listen as Kirk Whalum talks.

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    An Interview with Ernie Watts

    Poncho SanchezA Conversation with
    Ernie Watts
    Fred Jung

    I first met Ernie Watts at the House of Blues during the ’97 Verve Jazzfest tour. He was playing with Charlie Haden’s Quartet West, of which Watts has been a part of since the mid-’80s. Through the years, I have had the privilege of seeing Watts in a variety of contexts, from working with Mark Isham, to his time with the Tenor Trio, to his own quartet. The one constant has been Watts, who often was criticized unfairly for his “commercial projects” (whatever that means). One of the true gentlemen in jazz, Watts sat down with me to speak about his beginnings, his musical goals, and his new album on JVC “Classic Moods”.

    JazzUSA: How is it that you started playing the tenor saxophone?

    EW: I started playing the saxophone when I was thirteen, in grade seven, and it just, sort of, started as a fluke. I was with a friend of mine. He knew he wanted to play the saxophone. The music department at the school had instruments to lend for kids to start on, so he knew he wanted to play the saxophone. I didn’t really know, so I was just hanging out with him. So I figured, well, maybe I’ll try the trombone because it looked like it was an interesting instrument and I think I might have seen “The Glen Miller Story” or Tommy Dorsey or something like that on TV or a movie, so I had the trombone in my mind. We went to the music department at the school and my friend got his saxophone. They were all out of trombones in the school music department so I got a baritone saxophone, that was what they had left. I was given a baritone saxophone because I was tall for my age and the teacher figured that I’d be able to carry in marching band. That’s really how I started. It was, like, one of those kind of things you really can’t explain. We have a lot of those as we go through our lives, one of those little things. I liked it. I practiced.

    JazzUSA: At that early stage in your development, how crucial was practicing to you and did your parents play an important role in your direction?

    EW: I’ve always been self-motivated as a person. My parents never had to force me to practice. My parents were very, very supportive of me doing what I wanted to do, but they were no musically oriented people, so they didn’t really know how to direct my energy. They listened to whatever was on AM radio. But, they were very supportive, as far as, my practicing, not complaining about the noise and that general kind of thing.

    JazzUSA: Did you formally take lessons?

    EW: Well, Fred, I was studying in the school with the school music teacher. This is early. This is when I was about fourteen, and practicing at home and learning how to play. I wanted to hear people playing the saxophone so I could get an idea of the sound. And there wasn’t a lot of saxophone players on the radio at the time. I think one of the few saxophone players during that period of time that had hit records was a guy named Earl Bostic (alto saxophonist with Lionel Hampton) and I would hear him now and then on the radio. But mainly, there wasn’t any, so I started listening and looking around and found that my neighbor, my next door neighbor had this wonderful jazz collection. He started to lend me records and I remember the first saxophone player that heard that influenced me, that was a positive influence was Paul Desmond, who played with Dave Brubeck and they were very popular at the time. They had, you know, “Take Five” and “Blue Rondo A La Turk,” and they had a lot of successful albums during that period of time. This was the late fifties, I think. I think I started playing around 1958, maybe I was thirteen around then.

    So I heard Paul Desmond and that encouraged me. I could hear what he was playing because he played so clearly. He played very melodically and very simply. I could hear what he was playing and I could play some of those things as I practiced. So it was very encouraging to me. It was like, ‘Well, maybe I can do this jazz thing.’ I’m thinking to myself, because I can hear some of these things and I can play them on my horn. So that was very encouraging and I went on from there. My neighbor kept lending me different players so I got a chance to hear Sonny Rollins, Charlie Parker, Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, all of these great musicians, my neighbor was introducing me to, through these records. So, after I’d been doing that for about a year or so, studying in school. I always took lessons. I always studied, so at the same time I was learning how to improvise, I was also learning how to read music and studying music and playing in bands. So it has always been a combination of the study of, the science of music, and the study and the practice of the art of music too. It’s always been together for me, all of it at the same time.

    JazzUSA: But there must have been a turning point, where the music evolved?

    EW: Well, after I’d been playing for about a year or so, a couple of different things happened. The school got an alto saxophone and so I switched from baritone to alto. Also, I started studying privately. I started studying the classical saxophone repertoire privately because there were no jazz programs in my school system at the time. So I started studying with a classical teacher. Also, my mother bought me a little record player because she realized that I was fairly serious about this music and borrowing portable record players and listening to records from my neighbor, so she bought me a little record player from Sears and she joined the Columbia Record Club. I think it’s pretty much the same, when you join one of these record clubs, the first one is free and then you get into the program and you order from there. She joined the Columbia Record Club and she ordered the free-be and the free- be at that time, because like I was saying, Fred, this was 1958, ’59. The free record at that time was a Miles Davis album called “Kind of Blue”, because it had just come out. That was, sort of, the turning point for me because I had been listening to all of the different saxophone player’s records that me neighbor had been lending me and then I heard Charlie Parker. I really liked Charlie Parker. I got this “Kind of Blue” album and I heard Cannonball Adderley. He was on this and Miles, of course, Jimmy Cobb played drums, and Paul Chambers played bass, and it was Wynton Kelly on piano and Bill Evans too. The tenor player on this album was John Coltrane. I heard Coltrane play and it just totally captivated me. I had never heard anything like that before and it blew my mind. So, from that point on I was just really focused on Coltrane.

    There was something about the way he played that really connected with me. I’ve sort of been a student and aspiring to that level of playing all my life, since then. As far as sounds on the saxophone go, I really loved the way Coltrane played tenor and I really loved the sound that Cannonball got on alto, so as I continued to play alto through the school system, studying and learning, and playing with different bands. I was listening to a lot of Cannonball for sound, the sound quality of the horn. And I was listening to a lot of Coltrane because of what he was doing melodically and harmonically. I was a young kid, so I really didn’t understand what he was doing on a technical level until later, but there was something about what he was doing melodically that really captured me. So that’s how I really got interested in jazz, was through that music, through the bands of some small groups, through the bands of Miles Davis especially, later on, John Coltrane’s quartet. Miles had several great bands, so his band in the ’60s, I was very, very attached to, too. The band with Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock and Tony Williams, who was just about my age, so it was very inspiring to me at the time to hear an eighteen year old kid playing so incredibly with Miles. So all of that kind of stuff, kind of, inspired me along the way. That was the beginning, beginning, beginning.

    JazzUSA: Why do you feel the groups of John Coltrane and Miles Davis have had such a continued impact through the years?

    EW: I think mainly with the intent of the music, at that particular time, I would say that both of those groups, Miles’s group in the ’50s and the ’60’s, Coltrane with Miles in the ’50s, and then Coltrane with his group in the ’60s, the intent of that music was to create music. The intent of that music was to create a particular, or a special, or an elevated level of music. And so, I think musicians are attracted to that music because it is unpretentious music. It’s pure music. When these guys got up and played, there was no posturing. It was music. They were there and they were doing music. It was music for music and that’s why it was so beautiful. That’s why it’s so clear. That’s why it was so strong and that’s why it effected us the way it effected us, because it was the energy of the music. That’s the way I feel about it.

    JazzUSA: Is that attitude lacking in musicians today?

    EW: Well, young musicians are young musicians. The implications of that are in the word young, so, I mean, when Miles Davis was eighteen or nineteen- years-old, he was dealing with his ego and dealing with various things, and learning how to play music, and being competitive. I’m sure that when everybody is nineteen or twenty or twenty-two-years-old or whatever, they’re still dealing with themselves. They’re still trying to work out who they are, so no matter how well they play the instrument, no matter how many notes they can play, or how proficient they are on an instrument, they still have to get through certain aspects of growing up, of maturing emotionally, of going through life. So it takes a certain amount of time for a person to get to the point where he’s really involved in doing this music, and some people as you know, Fred, never get through their egos. Those specific bands were very special because of that. They got through a lot of ego shit. Miles always had his stuff. Miles had his Miles mystic, but in those particular bands, when the music was going on, the music was really what it was about. It takes a while to get to that. Young performers have to get through all their personal stuff. They’re still young people. Now a days, there a lot of young, incredible instrumentalists. I call it like, the way I think of myself is, I’m a really good saxophone player, aspiring to be a really good musician. It’s one thing to be a really good instrumentalist. It’s one thing to play a horn. It’s another thing to be a musician. You can play all the notes in the world, but what you bring to it, and what you hear when you play, and the substance of what you play, and the substance of what you write, that’s what makes a musician. You can be a horn player or you can be a musician.

    JazzUSA: Give me an example of a musician?

    EW: Now, Wayne Shorter is a prime example of just a wonderful, wonderful, evolved musician, because everything he plays is unique. It’s personally him. It’s on a very high level technically and it’s on a very high level musical substance wise. He’s one of the best composers in this music and has been for thirty years. That’s a musician. It takes a while to get to that.

    JazzUSA: Is the current environment in music, the marketing and the hype, allowing young “players” to develop into “musicians”?

    EW: No one allows or no one disallows anyone to learn anything. That’s up to them. That’s up to their personal consciousness. That’s up to their personal energy. That’s up to their personal aspirations. All of the information is there. I think there are a lot of great, young musicians that are growing and learning and all of the information is there, so nobody is holding the information back from us. It’s just a matter of when we are individually ready to assimilate the information and that happens for different people at different times. It’s not a matter of anybody allowing it or not allowing it, because if it was that, there wouldn’t be any jazz. Jazz has never been allowed.

    JazzUSA: Reflecting back on your musical education, what are your feelings towards the jazz education that is being presented to young students today in school?

    EW: There are a lot more opportunities, but there’s not enough music programs. I don’t know if it’s a government responsibility or it’s a personal responsibility of families. It used to be a part of our culture that part of a child growing up and learning about math and science and that kind of stuff in school, their parents had them in some sort of music program, so it didn’t really matter if the school had a music program or not. These kids studied music or there was a piano in the house. All the kids took some kind of piano lessons or something. In our culture, at one time, that was thought of, music education and music training was thought of as part of a well rounded, cultural education. So, I mean, that’s just, kind of, drained out of our culture, probably, mainly because of economics. So, I don’t know if it’s our responsibility. I don’t know if we can put personal responsibilities onto the government.

    JazzUSA: You honed a great deal of your playing “chops” in big bands, Gerald Wilson, Buddy Rich, and Oliver Nelson, how did the larger ensemble setting aid in your development?

    EW: I think, mainly, the craft of music, learning to play my instrument consistently well. With Buddy, we were working every night. With Oliver Nelson, we did tours and we worked every day. It’s very important to be consistent and I think playing in big bands, playing in ensembles puts that importance on consistency of performances and that’s very good for a young player. It’s a discipline. Every time you play, it’s a discipline. Whether it’s a small band and whether it’s a large band, every time you play, it’s a discipline. It’s another opportunity to get better. They were very good bands. All the musicians were very good and the music was good. The writing was good. Oliver Nelson was an incredible composer and arranger. So listening to his music, playing his music, being in the ensemble and hearing how his harmony worked did a lot for me as far as learning about chords and learning about harmony. The same thing with playing with Gerald Wilson, because he’s such a wonderful writer. And then playing with Buddy Rich, we played very good arrangements and so it was a matter of that day to day consistency of performing your best or aspiring to perform your best every time you pick up your instrument. That sets up patterns for your whole life. There’s a lot of discipline and there’s a lot of things you learn in discipline to, sort of, follow through in other aspects of your life too.

    JazzUSA: How important is discipline to becoming a good musician?

    EW: I think it’s personal. I think it’s really personal, because I know musicians that are incredible musicians and they’re not disciplined people. It doesn’t really necessarily have a lot to do with that. I think what we have to find out for ourselves, individually is who are, and what we want, and how it works. For me, I’m not a naturally talented, gifted, out-of-the-egg musician. I didn’t wake up with all of this music coming out of me. I wasn’t born with all this music jumping out of me. I’m a person that heard music, that loved music, and loved the things I heard, loved particular aspects of the things that I heard, then I learned about it. I studied it and I disciplined it. So, for me personally, I’m a product of discipline. I’m a product of will, aspiration. I’ve always wanted to do this, so I’ve always worked at it. For me, that’s the way it worked for me, but for somebody else, I know people that can just get up and they can play anything they hear. The only reason that they have to practice is to just have the physical endurance on their instrument to play the things they hear. So, everybody is coming from a different place. It’s a matter of figuring out, I know I have to practice so I do. That’s the difference. It’s not like I know that I have this magic stuff and I don’t have to do anything but let it come through. I know I have to practice in order to do the things that I want to do. Then the magic happens too and it all works together.

    JazzUSA: You have been a member of Charlie Haden’s Quartet West for quite some time now, how instrumental has that time been to your development as a musician?

    EW: We’re getting ready to record again in February. There’s a few things that we’ve done, that I’m never sure when they’re going to come out, especially the way record companies come and go and get bought and sold (Verve, the label of Haden’s Quartet West has been sold as part of the Seagrams/Universal/Polygram mega-deal and is being combined with Impulse/GRP as one unit called The Verve Group) and everything. For me, with Charlie, and Lawrence Marable, and Alan Broadbent, we all have the same values as far as music goes. We have a similar picture. We have similar aspirations, so when we play together it’s very, very natural. We don’t have to talk about what we’re going to do because we already have an inner picture. That’s the mark of a band that really works together, you know, and I think Charlie had that vision when he put together the group. He had played with all of us and he could hear that we’re all coming from the same place, and because of that, the music really flows. It’s a very beautiful concept and it really works. It’s not like a lot of all-star bands where it’s, like, four band leaders on the stage slugging it out. It’s a band.

    JazzUSA: Let’s talk about your new album on JVC “Classic Moods”.

    EW: The players are people that I’ve always respected and Jimmy Cobb, the drummer, was the drummer for that incredible quintet in the ’50s with Miles Davis and Coltrane. He replaced Philly Joe Jones, so I grew up listening to Cobb, so it was part of my concept of time, it’s really related to the way that he played with Miles on those records. When I was learning about what jazz is and when I was learning how to play, he was the drummer. It was just a real big honor and treat to have Jimmy Cobb on the project. George Mraz, we went to Berklee at the same time, and so did Alan Broadbent and I. Alan Broadbent and I were at Berklee at the same time, in Boston, so we’ve known each other forever. Getting back to George Mraz, we did a tour a couple of years ago with Charlie and the band. We did this Verve jazz tour (’97 Verve Jazzfest). It was Charlie’s band, and it was Joe Henderson’s trio, and it was the big band made up of musicians that had played on that movie “Kansas City” (Robert Altman film). I heard George play every night with Joe Henderson and he just sounded so great. We, kind of, renewed our relationship again and he’s a good friend, a good person.

    So when I did this project I wanted George to be on it because he’s such a beautiful player. The other player on it is Mulgrew Miller. Mulgrew has played on a couple of my other projects too (“Reaching Up”). He’s a wonderful player, a great player. He’s, I think, for me, one of the most natural players for me to play with because we have the same values. We grew up listening to same people. We grew up with those same aspirations and you can hear that in people’s music, and we all get along well personally too. That’s a big part of it, if you get along, and you can be relaxed, and you can enjoy each other’s company. And really, the concept of the record was classic tunes that I’ve always loved that I grew listening to that I’ve never really got a chance to play. They’re really beautiful tunes and as we put it together and started doing the music, it’s basically a ballad project, which I hadn’t really thought about it when I started putting it together, really it was tunes that I wanted to play because it was tunes that I had grown up listening to like “On Green Dolphin Street.” Miles, I grew up listening to Miles play that. I grew up listening to Miles play “‘Round Midnight” and a lot of these tunes. Coltrane with the “Lush Life” album, it was a trio thing on most of that particular album, and then this particular tune was a quartet on that album “Lush Life.” I grew up listening to all that stuff on Prestige, with Miles on Prestige and Coltrane on Prestige. It was, sort of like, getting in touch with my background and tunes that I’ve always wanted to play and never really had a chance to. I’m very happy with it. It’s a beautiful, beautiful CD.

    JazzUSA: You seem to have an affinity towards ballads, is there a strings album in the near future for you?

    EW: I don’t really know. We’ve been talking about a lot of things, I mean, I wouldn’t mind doing a string album, but I don’t think string albums are magic or anything. I used to until I started working with orchestras. Now I’ve played with a lot of orchestras, with a lot of string ensembles and it’s a beautiful sound, but I think musically you can do just as much with a really great piano player too or a guitar player. So really for me, the format, the surroundings, the environment that I’m in doesn’t really matter as much as the substance of music that I bring to the situation. So I am very involved in practicing. I’m very involved in studying harmony and hearing things, so that whenever I play, if it’s just with two people or it’s with a symphony orchestra or whatever, there is substance in what I do, that I just don’t play some kind of silly shit because I’ve got a lot of chops. That’s what I’m getting very involved in now is that everything I play has some substance and is of melodic content. You know? And then whatever situation that I’m in, it doesn’t really make a whole lot of difference because you bring the knowledge and the substance with you. So that’s what I’m, sort of, dealing with right now, is getting deeper into myself.

    JazzUSA: Are you comfortable with where you are at musically, now?

    EW: It’s an on going process, Fred. You never really look back. You’re always going forward because you’re always aspiring to something, just like we were talking about, Fred, more substance, more knowledge, more clarity, and you’re always going forward, so looking back, I don’t really know.

    JazzUSA: If Ernie Watts had a mission statement, what would that be?

    EW: Just to create something beautiful. To bring something beautiful to the world. To help people feel a little better than they normally do. To elevate people’s consciousness a bit. I would say that’s about it.

    JazzUSA: From a musician’s perspective, is jazz music in the United States declining or growing?

    EW: I really don’t know because I’m really not in touch with the scene. I’m in and out of town. I travel a lot. I do my own projects. I play with Charlie, so I’m not really here all the time to pick up a gig here, or pick up a gig there, or hear the general comments of the musicians that are here all the time. I’m, sort of, in my own little orbit (laughing), so I really don’t know. I would say off hand though it’s like any place else. There’s always musicians that are working on the music, so the music will always be because it’s stimulating and because it keeps musicians alive. The music will always be. Clubs come and clubs go and all of those kinds of situations, sort of, ebb and flow. Things pick up and things slow down, but basically the music will always be. The music will be in all of its forms, even back to Dixieland. There’s guys playing that. There’s guys playing everything from traditional music to whatever you want to call it these days. I don’t know if acid jazz is an old term now because terminology, and fashions, and fads come and go, so people change the names of things, but still it’s the same basic concepts. It’s the same basic essence. The music always goes on. That’s a part of what we are.

    JazzUSA: What can we expect from Ernie Watts in the future?

    EW: Probably more focused, more intense music. Probably more and more music that is higher and higher evolved as I learn more about music and continue to study. I see, I see myself as continuing to go on, to continue to grow, because that’s the way I’m made up. That’s my nature. My nature is to learn and to grow, so I try to learn something, well, I do, I try to learn something every day.

    JazzUSA: At the close of your career, what would you like your legacy to be?

    EW: Looking back, I would hope there was some substance in what I’ve done and it had touched some people’s lives, and it had brought some beauty into some people’s lives, and it had brought some joy to some people’s lives. I would say that would be it.

    An Interview with Moses Molelekwa

    An Interview with Moses Molelekwa Moses Molelekwa – An Interview
    by Struan Douglas

    South African music is hot. It’s always been hot. And yet where are the compilation albums that capture the passion and depth of contemporary South african sounds in an honest, authentic and representative way? Right now there is a wealth of brilliant South African music avilable. And has put together an album, focusing on jazz, acousti c and world music styles, that captures the intensity, diversity and power of this creative pulse.

    Moses Molelekwa is one of South Africa’s most innovative and progressive jazz musicians, a visionary who’s revitalising the genre, mixing in the old with the new, respecting the traditional sounds, yet taking risks and pushing jazz into a contemporary and refreshing space. As with any great and passionate musician, he composes furiously and prolifically, dynamic and reflexive in an ever changing society, developing his sound into something that is retrospective and progressive, eclectic and representative, rhythmical and harmonic, sensitive and tolerant – a step in the direction of a universal sound.

    Moses has recorded two albums on the Melt label and has taken his beautiful sounds to numerous national and international festivals. Rosskilder with TKZee and most recently the North Sea Jazz Festival in Den Haige.

    “It was one of the best festivals I’ve ever played at, it was like a new beginning. I grew up listening to and playing Herbie Hancok’s music – he is one of my greatest inspirations. When we hooked up, we didn’t swap chords or talk music, we ended up meditating for an hour. It was just an amazing beautiful connection.”

    A meeting of heightened awareness and harmony between two musical greats, combining various movements of jazz – past, present and progressive – into a spiritual connection of sharing and developing. Their vision is musical – eclectic, diverse and unselfish- revelling in the unity of sound and rhythm. “I love all music, and all the similarities. I think there’s just something special about music, and you got to appreciate that.” And its this passion for the inclusivity of sound and commitment to expanding his music, combined with his instinctive desire for discovering the voice of harmony, that has fine-tuned his ear to the little details, the beauty of jazz and its great embrace.

    His latest album transcends the jazz idiom. He mixes in straight ahead jazz, beautiful piano melodies and reggae or contemporary drum and base beats, into an album that is a visual journey through the landscape of his youth, the colour and diversity of his influences and his deep spirituality.

    Interview with Moses Molelekwa
    North Sea Jazz festival Den Haige
    16 July 2000, shortly after midnight – Moses is relaxed and sociable after a fabulous performance the night before and a day at the festival catching some of the big acts, we drink a couple of beers together high up in his hotel room.

    SD: Playing at the North Sea Jazz festival amongst a line up of the greatest of stars, how do you feel?

    MM: It is inspiring and exciting because South Africa is another world. Though jazz is loved there, the North Sea Cape Town earlier this year was the first of its kind to attract so many people, so to come to the North Sea here and see that every year you have serious jazz appreciators is great. The jazz market in Europe is so huge – it is inspiring to be among such great musicians. It gives me time and space to reflect on what I’m going to do next, and encouragement that I am definitely on the right track.

    SD: There’s a lot of variety, funk, r&b, hip-hop. Do you find it is pulling you in different directions?

    MM: I’m naturally like that – I listen to everything. That is sort of manifested in the way I play as well – all those different styles. It’s exciting to see a jazz festival with so much variety, which shows that jazz is so huge. One’s role in this is to confirm South African jazz to this market.

    SD: Being an ambassador for South African music, there are only three African acts at this festival – how do you feel you guys can go about showing these people that there is a wealth of music in Africa?

    MM: By our performances, the feeling we put in our music – that is what it is at the end of the day. It is an eye opener as well watching American musicians. There is a certain culture that already exists. The South African market is still taking baby steps compared to the States who are way ahead of us in terms of the structuring of the music business. Watching them represent their musical heritage inspires us as well to want to do more. We represent South African music and the now generation of music. We have all these different influences from the South African music scene and we bring out each and every one of them.

    SD: Having recently travelled West Africa, I feel that African music has a lot more to say than international music – do you feel that African music is richer in expression?

    MM: Not really, everywhere in the world there are those musicians who will express at a certain level – especially when you are doing something original. The music you play is also a medium in which you can express yourself best – like a language that is developed and that is growing and changing. So each artist when they start composing there own music and they play it – the way they feel it and it is real to them and then they can touch other people and perform it with a real spirit. In South Africa now it is an exciting time and also a testing time where we are reconfirming the root we have chosen. The richness comes from within and also opening your ears to other peoples music. And that’s why it is always changing. We (South Africans) are new and bringing in other musical elements, styles and feelings into the feelings of the world, but it happens everywhere with all musicians. Music is the most powerful force in providing the thing that will unite the world. It is a connecting force that can come from every country.

    SD: Talking about all these influences and similarities, having collaborated with kwaito group Tkzee and recently classical pianist Johanne Mcgregor, where are you going now with your sound?

    MM: It was exciting working with TKZee, it was a great experience and even today we are still continuing to collaborate. I have been in the studio with Tokolo on his album. There are things that I hear in kwaito and there are things that I have written that bring out the African element and the jazzy element more stronger in kwaito. As far as my musical career is concerned, at the moment I see a lot of possibilities. I think that for the next album it is going to be big. I can feel it because now I am aware of the importance of being global. I have always had those influences and that kind of perception but now I have experienced it and seen how it happens and how it can affect. I see possibilities of doing concerts with orchestras, I would like to develop my band. It can almost be like a school but also a band which allows young people to come and grow in it and be free to leave when they need to move on – a constantly developing ensemble. But at the end of the day, my next album will be all these influences put together, to present a new style, a new approach to music which is my personal approach. I have been listening to a lot of music – there is a lot of great music in the world which is not being heard as often as it should be – but in bringing all those elements together, I will be able to do that. Now it is a period of reflections and I like what I see so far, but I can see where it can go as well. I need time to put it together and take it into the world.

    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 Philip Bailey

    A Conversation With
    Philip Bailey
    by Mark Ruffin

    Thirty years ago, when the Ramsey Lewis Trio was one of the hottest jazz acts in the country, the drummer gave Lewis the news that he was leaving. “He told me he was going to start a band with his brother that mixed magic and inspirational messages with jazz r&b and rock,” Lewis said laughing at the memory. “I told him to take two aspirin, lie down and call me in the morning.”

    The drummer, Maurice White, went on to form Earth, Wind & Fire; one of the largest selling musical acts of the 70’s, and arguably, “the” most influential black band of all time.

    Three decades later, Phillip Bailey, EW&F’s most recognizable voice and one of three members left from the celebrated group’s heyday, the others are drummer/vocalist Ralph Johnson, and the only original member, Verdine White, has comes full circle with his very first solo jazz album,”Dreams.”

    Bailey recorded his first solo album, “Continuation,” back in 1982. He followed that with two more pop albums and the worldwide hit duet with Phil Collins “Easy Lover,” plus four gospel albums including 1986’s “Triumph,” which earned him a Grammy award that sits with the six others, four American Music awards and 50 gold and platinum albums earned with Earth, Wind & Fire.

    While EW&F has always done very jazzy tunes, Bailey didn’t start getting notice singing jazz until earlier this decade when he was part of two one-shot groups that exquisitely displayed what his four-octave voice can do with the great American song. The first group, Pride of Lions, was assembled in Chicago in ’92 by James Mack, head of the music department at that city’s Harold Washington College.

    The group included, among others, trumpeter Roy Hargrove, the late drummer Tony Williams, pianist Billy Childs, saxophonist Bobby Watson, Chicago guitarist Fareed Haque and their self-titled album is still available on Sony. However, the other group, Night On The Town, only toured, but the group was just as formidable featuring Chicago superstar Chaka Khan, South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela, Japanese keyboardist Keiko Matsui and smooth jazz sax star Gerald Albright.

    “Dreams” is decidedly more in the direction of smooth jazz than either of those specially assembled groups were, to wit, Bailey makes no apologies. The list of musicians who absolutely, positively overnighted Bailey music for his album include jazz stars Grover Washington Jr., Pat Metheny, George Duke, Peter White, Kirk Whalum and many others.

    Bailey was on tour with Earth, Wind & Fire in Las Vegas when we talked last month. Bailey, an avid golfer was watching the U.S. Open and was easily distracted at first. But eventually, he settled in for a nice chat that proved the man’s positive and bright on-stage demeanor is no act.

    JazzUSA: When I heard you had a jazz record coming out, all I could think of was this band that I saw that you were in…

    PB: With Keiko Matsui and all of them?

    JazzUSA: Yes, it was Keiko,

    PB: Keiko, Chaka (Khan), Hugh Masekela and Gerald Albright. It was called Night On The Town.

    JazzUSA: That’s right. It was incredible.

    PB: Yeah, that was a nice thing.

    JazzUSA: Yeah, and I was already hip to the James Mack recording with you singing “The Nearness Of You,” to hear you do it live was just awesome. Had you aspired to be a jazz singer before Earth, Wind & Fire happened?

    PB: That was my first love. Jazz…ooh, nice putt…. Jazz was the very first love, really. That’s been the real inspiration for all the stuff that I do musically. The fact that there’s those people that went before me that I still look up to.

    JazzUSA: But you have such a unique voice, I can’t hear who has influenced you as a jazz singer.

    PB: Miles Davis and Coltrane and Sarah Vaughan, Nancy Wilson and really people do not know what an influence Dionne Warwick was on me. Just her vibrato, just her phrasing had me into Dionne Warwick like a champ when I was a kid. But basically, I think of my voice as a vehicle by which the creator does whatever he wants to do and then I just try to stay yielded in that way. And that way I don’t put a limit on what can happen. I’m always exploring and discovering new things about my voice.

    JazzUSA: Are you still discovering new things about your voice?

    PB: Heck yes. I’m forevermore discovering something new.

    JazzUSA: Why do a jazz album now?

    PB: Because that’s the supreme expression of freedom and fluidity and flexibility. That’s where it all comes together and you begin to fly. As a singer and an instrumentalist, you’re not thinking about what you’re doing. It’s just free flow, like astral traveling.

    JazzUSA: Actually Earth, Wind & Fire has performed jazz from the beginning.

    PB: That’s our inspiration. That’s always been our inspiration, and while we’ve talked about it for a while now, I still look forward to the day when Earth, Wind & Fire does a jazz record. A record where you don’t have to deal with commerciality at all. It can be whatever it is.

    JazzUSA: Phillip, you guys have threatened to do that for years now, and man what great jazz tunes you’ve done already, “Zanzibar,” “Power,” “Sun Goddess,” the Milton Nascimento Brazilian stuff.

    PB: Oh yeah, we go there, but doing a whole record of it would be a different thing.

    JazzUSA: This new record, “Dreams,” I mean “Head To The Sky” is a jazzy as this record, but it’s interesting that you’re competing with yourself on a couple of tracks like re-doing “Make It With You.” It’s very cool how you did it, and you re-invented the first time you did it, and now you’ve kind of re-invented it again…Was that hard to do?

    PB: No that was one take, and actually I had forgotten that we had done that song before.

    JazzUSA: (big laugh)

    PB: I did, until you said it right now. Which record did we sing that on?

    JazzUSA: Are you kidding? “Last Days And Times.”

    PB: Damn, I forgot. I knew that song felt close to me some kind of way, but I forgot that we did it before.

    JazzUSA: And you re-invented it last time, do you recall it now?

    PB: Yeah, now I do.

    JazzUSA: So my question is null and void, that’s the answer, you didn’t even think about the old version.

    PB: (laughs) Right, I didn’t even think about it.

    JazzUSA: What about “Sail Away?”

    PB: “Sail Away,” I thought we were going to do a stripped down acoustic version of it and then when Erik sent it to me, it was a hip-hop version with the chords changes changed up, with a slight twist on the melody. So I just sang it and sent it back to him. This record was put together very interestingly.

    JazzUSA: You know, I noticed that.

    PB: It was all FedEx and Adats. Ohhh..get out.

    JazzUSA: You’re watching the U.S. Open aren’t you?

    PB: Yeah man, Tiger just hit a shot out of the sand and the ball went up and then came back into the sand. I thought that was only me.

    JazzUSA: Are you a golfer?

    PB: Yes.

    JazzUSA: I noticed on the record, it was like whomever you wanted you sent a tape to them. You can tell by looking at the studio credits, all of those personalized studios listed. Is that what you did, went after people for specific sounds?

    PB: Yep, it was like, okay, who would be cool on this or that, and just send them a tape, (laughs) and then they put their stuff on there and send it back. (laughs) I didn’t even see anybody. I haven’t even seen Erik Huber. I’ve never met him.

    JazzUSA: You never met him?

    PB: Nope. We did the vocals at my house, at my studio. The only person I saw was Robert Brookins.

    JazzUSA: What about Grover Washington?

    PB: I didn’t see anybody.

    JazzUSA: Man, on “Make It With You,” you and Grover sound like you’re right there.

    PB: I haven’t seen ne’er a soul, which is really cool, because it so crazy, so on par with today and technology and everything.

    JazzUSA: Right, including the album coming with a video.

    PB: (big laugh) Yeah, right, plus it comes with a video.

    JazzUSA: Yeah, technology has come a long way since you guys were in Earth, Wind & Fire almost 30 years ago.

    PB: Yeah, all this stuff could have never been thought of. We were never able to do something like this.

    JazzUSA: The Pat Metheny tune, “Something To Remind Me,” did you call Pat, because you wanted Pat on a tune.

    PB: Yeah I told him about the project and he said, ‘listen to this song, because I was inspired to write it by you guys.’ And I talked to my son and he wrote the lyrics.

    JazzUSA: Did he say specifically what Earth, Wind & Fire tune, or what era, or what about Earth, Wind & Fire inspired him?

    PB: No, he didn’t elaborate, he just said that he and Lyle Mays were inspired to write it by us.

    JazzUSA: How old is your son, Sir Bailey?

    PB: 27.

    JazzUSA: Does he play? Does he sing like you?

    PB: He writes. He’s a really, really good lyricist. He works for a television company, for Carsey & Werner, on “Third Rock From The Sun.” His aspiration is to direct and to write and produce on TV. He’s got quite the mind. So he can just take the stuff and just hook me up.

    JazzUSA: You’re already so hooked up.

    PB: But the thing about it is you’ve got to know your limitation. And I know, kind of what I want to say, but then, it’s important to say stuff the way it should be said for today. I think people get in trouble when they don’t acknowledge it’s a different day and find out what their contribution should be now, for today. They get too stuck in yesterday. So while they’re not trying to move on, they actually get left behind. (laugh)

    JazzUSA: You guys are currently touring, did you think, when you guys were in the glory days, that you’d still be doing it 20 years later.

    PB: You really don’t think about it, because you’re in motion. So you’re not really thinking about it. Plus your whole aim when you first start out is to build a career. You’re looking at Miles Davis. You’re looking at the fact that when you go into a record store, you’ve got three rows of records, of music history. You’re looking at that and you’re going, ‘I’m not there yet.’ You’re just marching. And then you look back 20 years and you go, ‘wow, I’m still marching.’ So the journey’s not over until it’s over. And you let other people credit you for whatever you leave behind. But you’ve got to stay in motion, that’s my philosophy.

    JazzUSA: Why not just opt for a solo career? Why keep the band and the solo career all this time? Now you’ve been doing the solo thing for getting close to 20 years. Why keep in motion with both of them?

    PB: I want to have something to bring back to Earth, Wind & Fire, and I want to have a reason to have a solo career. (laughs) It all makes sense.

    JazzUSA: Yes, and you put it very succinctly, like you’ve really thought about it.

    PB: (laughs) Of course. Look with Earth, Wind & Fire, before Maurice (White) left, I’m a role player. I knew what my responsibilities were and all of that, but it didn’t encapsulate all the potential in everything I could do. So I had to have a solo career to have an outlet to continue to grow. But then as I grow and come back to Earth, Wind & Fire, I’m more of an asset. So, it’s one hand washes the other.

    JazzUSA: Now who’s in the band? Verdine White is still in the band?

    PB: The originals are myself, Ralph (Johnson) and Verdine.

    JazzUSA: Is Sonny Emory still with you guys?

    PB: Sonny’s doing his solo stuff. Gordon Campbell’s playing now. He used to play with Mary J. Blige.

    JazzUSA: Doesn’t Robert Brookins have something to do with the band?

    PB: Robert is like my son. (laughs) He lived with me when he was a kid and of course you know he’s in the industry. Robert is a really good producer, songwriter. He plays with us now and he was totally the man on my record. He produced all the vocals for me and the new show that we’re doing now; he’s largely responsible for.

    JazzUSA: Who is this Erik Huber guy who produced “Dreams?”

    PB: He’s the producer and I’ve never seen him.

    JazzUSA: So why pick him to trust with something so valuable.

    PB: The music speaks for itself. You send me some stuff and it’s happening, it’s happening.

    JazzUSA: And it is a happening record. No doubt, you didn’t even think about the fact that you could lose some audience by doing a jazzier record?

    PB: (laughs)

    JazzUSA: Some people worry about that and you laugh.

    PB: (laughs harder) whoa, man.

    JazzUSA: Why is it funny?

    PB: Heck no, I don’t think about that. That never would enter into my mind. I’m honest and true about what I do and why I’m doing it. You can’t go through life second-guessing yourself thinking about what if somebody doesn’t like stuff. You’ll never arrive at your destiny that way.

    JazzUSA: What about a new Earth, Wind & Fire recording?

    PB: We’re doing that with Wyclef, and Eric Benet and Dee-Lite in between touring this year, we’re going into the studio and doing those.

    JazzUSA: Is there a record deal? PN: Yeah, we’re on Wyclef’s label. We’re signed to him. We’re going to do this record with release for 2000.

    JazzUSA: Which is the 30th anniversary of the release of the very first Earth, Wind & Fire album. Now, you weren’t with the band yet, now correct me if I’m wrong, even before “Last Days & Times,” the band third record, but your first, you had known the band before.

    PB: Yeah, I knew the band. Actually, we used to perform their songs.

    JazzUSA: What songs?

    PB: Earth, Wind & Fire songs in my band.

    JazzUSA: No kidding. You mean early Earth, Wind & Fire songs.

    PB: Yes. We did “I Think About Loving You,” and (starts to sing) “where you’re gonna run, starts to get higher, better come down…

    JazzUSA: Gonna be a fire. Right. That’s “Moment Of Truth,”

    PB: Yeah, we did all that stuff.

    JazzUSA: So how did you meet?

    PB: Well their band did a promotional show in Colorado and our band opened the show and that’s how we met. Obviously, we didn’t play their songs when we saw them. But, I caught their attention, me and (keyboardist) Larry Dunn; we were in the other band. That’s how it happened.

    JazzUSA: So they just swept you out of Denver?

    PB: That next year, a mutual friend of both bands moved out to Los Angeles to work for Warner Brothers, (the record company Earth, Wind & Fire was originally signed to.) And he brought me out there and then when they started to reform, that’s how I got into the band.

    JazzUSA: Did you ever feel like it was fate, after you had been in the band for a while?

    PB: Oh definitely, there were no accidents. It was just totally the way God wanted to do something.

    JazzUSA: My favorite solo record of yours is “The Wonders Of His Love,” Although it’s a gospel album, you and George Duke are just kicking throughout that album. How is your gospel career going? Are you going to continue that?

    PB: I’ve gotta find a writer/producer to help me out, the right person.

    JazzUSA: But it’s something you definitely want to do?

    PB: I’m definitely am going to do it.

    Matt Savage – Welcome Home

    Matt Savage
    Welcome Home
    2010 – Savage Records

    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.”

    Al Jarreau – Accentuate The Positive

    Al JarreauAl Jarreau
    Accentuate The Positive
    (GRP – 2004)
    by Carmen Miller

    Al says that this CD “is quite different than any other that I have recorded.” After listening to Accentuate the Positive I think that you’ll agree that this is a fresh CD by the old vocal master. All of the songs were recorded in the studio (live) with a quartet. There are no string arrangements, no background arrangements, background vocals or overdue. There were “only two solo’s by harmonica and tenor sax were added after the original sessions where

    Listen to Cold Duck using RealAudio.

    I sang along with the quartet.” With Accentuate The Positive Jarreau has mixed some classic standards, some jazz standards and added two original pieces to create an simple but effective CD.

    You’ll hear the effort on tracks like the snazzy Cold Duck. Dedicated to the memory and music of the late Eddie Harris, Jarreau took the famous instrumental and added lyrics… and some WICKED guitar work by Anthony Wilson, son of jazz pioneer Gerald Wilson. The title track is light and full of humor, much like Johnny Mercer, the writer. Betty is delivered in a soft and gentle vein, testament to jazz diva Betty Carter. Groovin’ High starts out with the trademark Jarreau scatting with the percussion … Dizzy would jump to hear it. Scootcha-Booty is another gem, full of Jarreau style and piano riffing, and there’s an interesting background behind the name. Check back next issue and see our Al Jarreau interview to hear the story.

    For more information visit the Al Jarreau Web Site.

    An Interview with Joe Lovano

    An Interview with
    Joe Lovano
    by Fred Jung

    Joe LovanoNever comfortable with standing still or retreating backwards, reedman Joe Lovano has been in constant pursuit to develop and perfect his own voice and his own music, to give the audience variety and to avoid stereotypes and conventional categories. He has become the tenor saxophonist of our time and has proven to be a success both critically and commercially, while still maintaining his high standards of integrity. I had a chance to sit down with this innovator to discuss his music, his life, and his future…

    JazzUSA: How did you come to play jazz?

    JL: My dad was a saxophone player. He grew up in the bebop generation and heard Charlie Parker play live and heard Lester Young, and was a beautiful musician in his own right, around the Cleveland, Ohio area. I’ve just seen hi laying my whole life. I hard the music from the very beginning. By the time I was a teenager, I was able to go to rehearsals with him and hear his group play, and before I knew it, I was starting to learn the same tunes I was hearing them play, and was able to start to sit in and I gained experience playing with musicians from his generation. That’s who really taught me how to play.

    JazzUSA: You have worked with John Scofield. How much of an influence was he on your career and how did playing with him aid in you development?

    JL: John and I are the same generation and we kind of grew up together. We first met in Boston at the Berklee School of Music in the early seventies. We started playing together, back then, experiencing music at the same time. Through the years, we both really have grown in concepts and different directions. It was a beautiful meeting when we got back together in the late eighties. Through the years, from the early seventies, we’ve played a lot together in different musical situations. When we came together in John’s quartet, I mean, John had had such vast experiences playing with Miles [Davis] and others and I’ve had a lot of experience playing with Charlie Haden and Paul Motian, in freer concepts, and our concept really fused together so to speak, and the quartet really had a direction.

    JazzUSA: You have been such a prolific performer and recorder in the nineties, and yet you have maintained a very high level of consistency. What do you attribute to that?

    JL: I think from early on it was a real conceptual development about learning how to play with freedom and expression, and trying to be the kind of musician that comes from an egoless place and try to shape music with who you play with at the moment. Whatever situation you’re in. That’s what improvisation really is. If you can come from that place, then the challenge is to relax and focus. I try. The thing for me that’s always been the kind of music that I had inspiration from hearing others play and putting myself in situations that were creative, not stifling. A lot of bands that you play in you just have to play your part and go home. I’ve never played in too many bands like that. I’ve been very fortunate to go for the kinds of gigs that were open, to be creative, and to try to develop my own sound and voice. Learning from the masters on the stand is a lot different than learning from the masters off a record. I’ve had a chance to play with really the greatest players in history and it’s really taught me a lot about empathy and concepts.

    JazzUSA: How do you feel about the critical acclaim and recognition you have been receiving?

    JL: Proud that the people are taking notice of some creative music and gives me a lot of confidence for the future.

    JazzUSA: You are an advocate of developing and playing original music. It actually seems to have rubbed off on former students of yours, like Dave Douglas. How important is composing to you at this stage of your career?

    JL: Dave came to my studio and studied for a short time. We both studied together. I feel that I’m a student myself and it’s about sharing ideas. At the time when Dave came, he was going to NYU, it was in the mid-eighties, like eight- four, eighty-five, and he was the first non-saxophone player to come to my pad for lessons I was giving at NYU. His very first day there, he was very deep into the music and into the trumpet and we had beautiful communication right from the start. So I treat each student or each encounter with someone like that as a special time and try to nurture what you already have and explore the future. Dave’s a really beautiful musician and very expressive and a lot of direction and we’ve studied in a lot of directions when we’re together.

    JazzUSA: Influences?

    JL: Of course, my dad was my first major influence, because of his sound and I heard him playing in the house. He shook the walls when he took his horn out. He was playing in a lot of clubs around Cleveland, some of the same clubs where Sonny Stitt would come or James Moody, Roland Kirk, Jimmy Smith, Dizzy Gillespie. I had a chance to go and hear all of them while I was still in high school. I would say they were my major influences that I heard live. Sonny Stitt. Moody, the way he played alto and flute. Rashaan, switching horns, just the whole presentation was just incredible. I would say they were my first major influences live. Of ocurse, I loved [John] Coltrane’s music and Sonny Rollins, Ornette Coleman’s music, before I ever heard them. I never got a chance to hear Coltrane, but my dad heard him though.

    JazzUSA: What is your musical philosophy?

    JL: To be relaxed and free to explore material and to try to be creative with the personnel, who I’m playing with. The other day I played with Ron Carter and Billy Higgins on a recording of Cyrus Chestnut’s next record, and I mean the rhythm section was so beautiful and magical in a certain way, in a certain direction that you have to be into. Now, if Jack DeJohnette was on drums with Ron, that same tune, the same session would have been a whole other attitude. I would have had a totally different approach to the same tune because of who’s playing. I’m trying to live in that world, so each time I play with specific, different personnel, I can shape the music in a free way that is special to moment.

    lovanorubalcaba.gif (7413 bytes)JazzUSA: Let’s talk about your latest release on Blue Note, a duo album with Gonzalo Rubalcaba entitled “Flying Colors.” Perfect case in point about being creative when playing the music together, not so much what to play, but more how to play.

    JL: Gonzalo and I first met when I went to Havana with Charlie Haden and the Liberation Music Orchestra, back in eighty-six or eighty-seven. That’s when I first met Gonzalo and through the years I have been hearing him, he’s been recording on Blue Note Records as well. We were both nominated for a Grammy, his for I think “Rapsodia,” and mine for “Tenor Legacy.” We were hanging out together out in California and started talking about playing a quartet. Something that would be special to both of us and we decided the duet situation would be great, and we played four nights at Yoshi’s club in California and that kind of sparked the music for us. We start touring in April.

    JazzUSA: You play a straight tenor saxophone on the album. For those who are not familiar with the new instrument, describe the sound and the difference from a regular tenor saxophone

    JL: I am helping design the new instrument. It’s a new instrument and without the bell, without the curved bell, there’s no resistance in the horn, so it takes all the air you can put through it. Sound just pours out of all the keys. There’s a lot of power and a real different tonal color. it’s not as bright and edgy as a regular curved tenor. It has a thick sound and it’s in new stages. It’s just developing now. I’m having a lot of fun with it. I’ve been recording on it a little bit. I did record all the tenor tracks on “Flying Colors” with a straight tenor.

    JazzUSA: As an educator, what is the most important aspect or value you try and instill on your students?

    JL: I was on the faculty at NYU and William Patterson College, eighty-three and ninety, ninety-one, and since then I have mainly been doing master classes. I think the most important think for all musicians, whatever instrument you play, is to try and tackle and master it. To really explore all of the other instruments around you. As a saxophone player, please study piano players, bass players, study drummers, study trumpet players. It’s how I learned how to fit in with all those musicians, whatever instrument they’re on, to study musicians on other instruments so they could know how to play with somebody. You just don’t play by yourself. Too many cats today practice out of pattern books and they just play by themselves, and then all of a sudden then they’re trying to play with other people when they get in a group and all they’re doing is repeating what they practiced, but you have to really get inside all these other sounds around you and get into the music. You have to know what the drummer’s playing. You got to know which piano player, just by hearing a sound.

    JazzUSA: What would you like audiences to take away from your music?

    JL: I would like them to come into the music with an open mind and to be able to come into a concert wanting to experience something, instead of just being played at. I would like for them to come into the music with a real free attitude saying, “Yeah. Play for us! Let me hear something I haven’t heard before.” Then I would like them to walk away, hopefully with a reaction of joy. A joyous feeling. I know when I go hear cats play that really turn me on, I’m inspired to go and practice, groove, and go outside and dig the vibe. I can only speak about what music does to me when I hear jazz, and what turns me on.

    JazzUSA: How much of an asset is it being married to a musician, your wife, vocalist Judi Silvano?

    JL: With her in particular, she is like an incredible musician and really deeply into so many kinds of music, it’s great. It ‘s really inspiring ’cause we’re turning each other on to all kinds of different concepts in music all the time. Plus, we’re playing together in some situations and actually exploring music together. It’s beautiful. It’s a rare thing to be able to come together like that with your mate and be creative in a creative role, not just in a commercial role.

    JazzUSA: What do you do to wind down?

    JL: I love to go for walks. I’m really into nature and I love being outdoors. I play golf. I love the ocean and lakes. You’ve got to get out there. The music is a gift and a release of all the inspiration that comes from nature.

    JazzUSA: At this stage in your career, do you prefer playing in intimate clubs or in larger concert venues?

    JL: I just like to play. Every venue has its own attributes. Every venue has its own sound and feeling so I want to try to not walk into a room and say, “I don’t like this. I don’t want to play here.” I want to play the music that we’re playing wherever we are. My favorite places to play are opera houses in Italy or in France or in Spain.

    JazzUSA: Why an opera house?

    JL: Because it’s the most amazing sound. You walk on that stage, and the way the balconies are and the whole feeling of an opera house style room, like Carnegie Hall, is except it’s a little bigger. Some opera houses are maybe seven hundred or eight hundred seaters.

    JazzUSA: Are there any musicians that you would like to work with?

    JL: I would like to play with cats I’ve played with, more. Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette, Elvin Jones. I just did a trio record with Dave and Elvin, actually, that’s coming out in September, my next record. I’d love to play something with Steve Lacy sometime. I’d like to play with Keith Jarrett.

    JazzUSA: What’s next for you?

    JL: The trio album with Dave and Elvin. That’s going to be coming out. I’ll be doing trio concerts this fall, and into next year, hopefully with them a couple of special nights. This year, I’ve done a couple of real interesting things. One little tour with the String Trio of New York with James Emery on guitar, John Lindberg on bass. I’m going to tour in Japan with Ray Brown as a guest with his trio in the fall. I going be touring with Gonzalo. I want to explore the music I’ve been recording and try to develop on it more, instead of just making a record and moving on to the next. I’ve been really trying to present the music from my recordings. I have an ensemble that features Judi and Erik Friedlander on cello. We’re touring, we have some gigs coming up. I have a quartet with Kenny Werner on piano, Dennis Irwin on bass, and Yoron Israel on drums. We’ve been playing a lot too. We’re doing quartet gigs. I have a couple different groups with different repertoire that I’m focusing on. It’s beautiful.

    JazzUSA: If you were not playing jazz, what would you be doing?

    JL: Landscaping.

    JazzUSA: If you were not playing woodwind instruments, what would you like to play?

    JL: Probably the drums. I would focus totally on the drums. I’ve been playing drums all my life. I feel a total connection with playing the drums.

    JazzUSA: Favorite standards?

    JL: “How High Is the Moon.” “Body and Soul.” “Stella By Starlight.” “What Is This Thing Called Love.”

    JazzUSA: How is the state of jazz to you today?

    JL: In the educational world, it’s at the highest level it’s ever been. It’s an open, international scene today for performance. Jazz today is the total of the history of jazz. We live today among our peers. We play on the scene with our peers. We live with the whole history of the music. Especially today, with all the reissues that are coming out, the box sets, the classic recordings of Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young, John Coltrane, Jackie McLean, everybody that’s recorded and had a voice that was in the history of jazz. New releases are coming out today of all the masters right along with us. I think that’s kind of a bizarre, wild period right now. We’re not dealing with our peers the way they only dealt with their peers. They didn’t have to deal with all these reissues coming back. We not only have to deal with all of our peers on the level of everyone today, but we have to deal the history and the classic music of the past. There’s a lot of challenge there to find your own music and on your own, stand tall among all this history of jazz. It’s a very big, challenging point here for these young artists.

    Visit the ! Web Site.

    An Interview with Benny Golson

    An Interview with Benny Golson A Conversation with the Great
    Benny Golson
    by Paula Edelstein

    One of the most successful talents on the Arkadia Jazz label is without doubt the phenomenal Dr. Benny Golson. The tenor saxophonist, composer, lyricist, arranger, educator and jazz icon, holds the distinction of being the only living jazz legend to have written eight standards for jazz repertoire! “Killer Joe,” “Along Came Betty,” “Whisper Not” “Step Lightly,” “I Remember Clifford,” “Stablemates” “Blues March,” and “Out of the Past” are among his major contributions to the world of jazz standards. The multi-talented legend has performed throughout the world with such noted musicians as Benny Goodman, Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton, Earl Bostic and Art Blakey. His CD on Arkadia Jazz, THAT’S FUNKY! topped the jazz charts in 2000 and with the release of ONE DAY, FOREVER, his many fans around the world will now have one more chance to experience the greatness of Golson.

    With over 300 compositions to his credit, two symphonies, countless scores to feature films and television series, the artistic depth and breadth of Dr. Benny Golson is immeasurable. He has received the prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship, the American Jazz Master Awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, Grammy nominations and two honorary doctorates from the prestigious Berklee School of Music in Boston. To commemorate his 50-year career, Dr. Golson will be honored on March 1st and 3rd at the Lincoln Center in New York City with a jazz extravaganza of his compositions. Entitled THE MAGIC OF BENNY GOLSON, these concerts will serve as a retrospective of Benny’s brilliant career as a composer and jazz performer. He has written a commissioned work for the occasion and will perform in a small format and with a jazz orchestra.

    During a recent appearance at The Jazz Bakery in Los Angeles, CA, I met with Dr. Golson to discuss a few subjects that interest his fans around the world. Ladies and Gentlemen, the great Dr. Benny Golson!

    JazzUSA: When envisioning the music for your CDs, what are the decisive factors that influence your selections? That is do musicians send you demos or do you meet with producers to decide which songs make the cut?

    Benny: Sometimes I hear things that are sent to me by other people. Sometimes they are musicians and sometimes they are not. But mainly I decide on the things that appeal to me and obviously some of those things are my own. The producer might have something in mind also and of course my mind is always working, trying to come up with melodies that I like first of all, and with the hope that others like it too.

    JazzUSA: How would you describe yourself as a composer of jazz standards?

    Benny: Well, I like melodies. That’s one thing that appeals to me. Ditties are okay. Thelonius Monk wrote many fine ditties. But I like melodies in the vein of Chopin and Brahms. I’m not writing those kinds of things, but strong melodic content…songs that one can remember and hum or whistle at some other time.

    JazzUSA: Whom have you most enjoyed working with throughout your career?

    Benny: There have been many but strangely enough, the first two that I think of are singers! One is Diana Ross who is a consummate professional and the other is Peggy Lee. Diana Ross is remarkable. She is the same woman today that I met 30 years ago.

    JazzUSA: Do you have any plans for a new CD?

    Benny: There’s one in the works as we speak. It’s titled, ONE DAY, FOREVER. We started on it about 3 years ago! The reason it has taken so long is that we got the material from “live” concerts that I did at various places throughout Europe. But what we’ve added is a couple of songs that I composed and happened to write the lyrics to also, that Shirley Horn agreed to record. Also, there is a classical piano piece that I wrote about a year ago that Lara Downes, a classical artist, recorded. That’s also going to be on the new CD. What gives us license to do that is this CD will be a reflective kind of thing …looking back over 50 years of my career. Besides writing jazz standards, I’ve written classical compositions. I’ve written a symphony, (“The Breath of Life”) that we premiered at Lincoln Center back in 1994. I’ve done a violin piece with Itzhak Perlman and currently I’m working on my third symphony. No jazz, just a straight classical approach that I hope to finish in 2001.

    JazzUSA: Fantastic! We are surely looking forward to ONE DAY, FOREVER, and of course the new symphony Dr. Golson. As you know, contemporary gospel music has stepped out of the shadows and onto the global jazz scene. What are your thoughts on this new gospel jazz popularity since you’ve survived so many musical trends that often make or break a jazz musician’s career?

    Benny: You know, the musical tastes of people go through phases. Just like television; dramas are popular sometimes, mysteries, love triangles, etc. Music is no different. Right now, hip hop is very popular and gospel music is popular. Sometimes gospel is so close to some of the rhythm and blues things that the only thing that is different are the words! And although I don’t pursue that style, I know what it is because I grew up in the Baptist church where we’d have the visiting quartets and groups like that. However, I like some of the things that I hear coming from that element.

    JazzUSA: You have stayed in vogue all over the world while constantly updating your music for over 50 years! Wow! Dr. Golson, how do you control what some artists call “creative restlessness” and avoid negative controversy with your music?

    Benny: Creative restlessness? Well if you can fulfill that creative urge that you have and it turns out to be consequential – which means that there are some things that you aren’t going to use. You don’t use everything that you’ve ever thought of in the world. Some things you reject, even though they’re your own. So, that in itself gives you a certain control over what you do. And as far as what you play, it’s a matter of choice. You either play what you like or don’t play what you don’t like.

    JazzUSA: Well, “funk” has maintained a strong influence on your jazz style. Is there another style that you would play if you had to do it all over again?

    Benny: Actually I do play other styles. Funk is a smaller part of it…believe it or not! I’m sort of a straight-ahead jazzman. I’m an old bebopper I guess! I don’t play the hip hop, and I don’t play rhythm & blues even though I used to early in my career before I became a straight-out jazz saxophonist. But I prefer to play the jazz repertoire.

    JazzUSA: What types of moments lead you to write a romantic ballad? A visit to a romantic city, a tune from a gondolier, etc…that type of inspiration so to speak.

    Benny: There are many things. It can be a beautiful sunset; it can be a beautiful scene with beautiful trees and mountains and a lake or things like that! But I think that 50% of what I write is inspired by just looking at, being with, and loving my wife, Bobbi.

    JazzUSA: That’s great. Absolutely fantastic! The softer side of your music is often fused with the funky edge on many of your songs. Is there one song that you feel exemplifies a “funky love” ballad? (Smile)

    Benny: Yes, there is one! There’s one and no one has heard it yet because I think I wrote it about a year and a half or two ago, called “I Love You.” There is an old standard already out called “I Love You,” (you can’t copyright titles) and it’s this “funky” kind of love ballad that you’re talking about with my lyrics which tells a story. It’s not just Moon in June or anything like that. It’s something that I plan to give to Luther Vandross and Al Jarreau and other vocalists and you’ll hear my one ‘funky’ love ballad! (Smile)

    JazzUSA: Well thank you. We’re looking forward to it! As with your music, you have exercised great care in your selection of musicians that accompany you. Which producer would you say reflects the “Golson Sound” more?

    Benny: Well, actually none of them…per se reflect the Golson sound. The Golson sound emanates from Golson…and that’s the way it should be. But there is a certain direction that they give in the studio and I feel that is necessary when I’m recording. When they’re on the other side of the window there in the recording booth, sometimes they can hear things that I can’t since I’m so close to it. They give suggestions here and there and many times they are right. And that makes for a successful marriage.

    JazzUSA: What would you describe as the brightest ray of light in your musical career?

    Benny: I’d have to say that would be Art Blakey. Art Blakey was a teacher. He was didactic. He was a teacher and didn’t know that he was a teacher. Just by the things that he said, the things that he did, and the way that he played the drums. Just by being with him for just about a year was like being enrolled in a college of higher education. He taught us all things because he had vast experience. He had such a penchant for swinging. He didn’t know how not to swing and that really left a mark on me. So much so, that when I left him, I found I had great difficulty in playing with other drummers for a while.

    JazzUSA: I would imagine so. Your musical journeys have crossed the Atlantic to Europe where an alliance of European jazz masters have entrenched you as an icon of jazz. How do European audiences differ from American audiences in their appreciation of your style?

    Benny: There seems to be more of an appreciation of American artists and that is easy to explain… the audiences there seem to have a greater appreciation. I think the Americans seem to be more blasé about it because it’s always been here in America.

    JazzUSA: These trans-Atlantic alliances are well established. Have you given any thought to doing an electronica version of some of your standards in order to give a new generation a dose of your great sax melodies?

    Benny: Actually, I used a synthesizer a few times…not many times. But I didn’t use it electronically. I used it as a synthesizer to synthesize the sound of other instruments. I remember on one session I had the synthesizer sounding like three trombones. Another time, it was like extra trumpets in a trumpet section. It was cheaper too! (Smile) But yes, I thought about electronic music but soon after, I forgot about it! (Smiles)

    JazzUSA: Your walk of fame has taken you all over the world. By last count, how many performances have you done?

    Benny: Paula, no has ever asked me that question. But I would venture to say, thousands! It goes back 50 years or so!

    JazzUSA: WOW! What an honor the world has been privy to. Congratulations Dr. Golson. We certainly appreciate this great interview and wish you continued success in all of your endeavors. The world is a better place because of you and the great musical visions you’ve shared throughout the world.

    Benny: Thank you.

    For more great listening, check out these great CDs by Benny Golson: “That’s Funky” “Tenor Legacy” and “Up Jumped Benny” and stay in touch with the great Benny Golson at

    Ari Brown – Live At The Green Mill – DVD

    Ari Brown
    Live At The Green Mill – DVD
    Delmark – 2007

    In reviews of Ari’s first two Delmark albums, Ultimate Frontier and Venus, writers often used phrases like “overwhelming emotional immediacy” (Down Beat), “rare depth of feeling” (Jazziz) and “raw emotion and ferocity” (JazzTimes).

    Chicago based saxophonist and composer Ari Brown performs here at the legendary Green Mill. Accompanied by Kirk Brown on piano, Yosef Ben Israel on bass, and Avreeyal Ra on drums, the quartet produces a modern sound that merges a variety of jazz styles. Ari has performed with some of the all time greats and here’s a chance to catch him on his own terms.

    Ari  melds the Chicago tenor sax and the AACM traditions into his own voice and no matter how far out he takes the music it still remains accessible and enjoyable.

    Live at The Green Mill features the same rhythm section Ari’s been working with for over ten years: brother Kirk Brown, piano; Yosef Ben Israel, bass; Avreeayl Ra, drums.

    Also featured on a few tracks are Pharez Whitted, trumpet and Dr. Cuz, percussion.

    The DVD also features commentary/interview track. .




    How to Draw a Bunny

    How to Draw a BunnyHow to Draw a Bunny
    The Ray Johnson Story

    (Boston Museum of Fine Arts – April 2, 2004)
    by Matthew Robinson

    The late Ray Johnson has been hailed as New York’s most famous unknown artist. A friend and colleague of Andy Warhol, John Cage, Jasper Johns, and many others, Johnson died mysteriously, both in form and function. Despite his years of “correspondence” with hundreds of willing and unsuspecting cohorts, Johnson died as distant from and unknown to many as he ends up being to those who view this intricate and mystifying film.

    Directed by John Walter and produced by John Malkovich’s company, Mr. Mudd, this film is as enigmatic and benignly unsettling as its creators. Propelled by the intermittent snare slaps of Max Roach (who is also never fully revealed throughout the film), this mysterious tale of a subversive subterranean hero moves along at a quick-cut clip of intertwined interviews and portraits of an artist as a young and not-so-young man. And though the interview subjects range from long-time lovers to the local postman, nobody seems able to put their finger on this prolific performer.

    Nor do they seem able to advise how to create the titular character that, for reasons unexplained, became Johnson’s signature and creative calling card. Making a great deal out of Johnson’s “Nothing” and posing more questions than it answers, “How to Draw a Bunny” is an intriguing and provocative perspective on one man’s confluence of communication, commerce, correspondence, and confusion.
    © 2004, M. S. Robinson, ARR

    Mercy, Mercy, Me – The Art, Loves and Demons of Marvin Gaye

    Mercy, Mercy, Me
    The Art, Loves and Demons of Marvin Gaye
    Michael Eric Dyson – (Basic Civitas Books)
    Yugen Fardan Rashad

    He left behind a legion of fans. An adoring public. A family to mourn the loss. Questions about his personal demons and spiritual life linger to this day. Self destructive drug use and philandering ways with women. A dichotomous body of music that shifted from secular decadence to spiritual reconciliation. And it was the music of Marvin Pentz Gaye, Jr. that captures the episodic and, sonic vacillations of one of soul music’s most virulent artists. A body of sustained melody that also validates his humanity during his too short sojourn among us that ended tragically on April 1st, 1984.

    A number of books that range from well to poorly written chronicle aspects of his life, love, and loathsome artistic odyssey that took Gaye to the top of the R&B and pop charts, with Motown Records in tow. He paid a tremendous price to be crowned Prince of Motown; Battles with record executives, family, and drugs; all handled with candor, and outright grandiloquence, that marked Gaye’s private and professional life.

    Three of the books are: Ben Edmonds – What’s Going On? Marvin Gaye And The Last Days Of The Motown Sound; Frankie Gays w/Fred E. Basten – Marvin Gaye, My Brother, and Michael Eric Dyson – Mercy, Mercy Me – The Art, Loves & Demons of Marvin Gaye. The latter provides a witness account of Gaye’s life.

    Mr. Dyson uses interviews, anecdote, and the scholarship he’s known for to configure the life and times of an artist that came and went to abruptly. Dyson’s intellect guides the reader down the alleys of Gaye’s descent, to the heights of his greatest triumphs, and ultimately to that fateful day when tempers flared between father and son: “…Father, father, father – there’s far to many of us dying…” (A lyric from his greatest single that sadly became a self-fulfilling prophecy).

    Fans will love reading juxtaposition between recording dates and anecdote, during the creative process in the studio for albums like What’s Going On, Let’s Get It On, and I Want You. Here you get the artist at his absolute rawest, and surreal moments when the line blurs between the personal and the musician. For example, how the recording session of Let’s Get It On became a public courtship that found him singing to his future bride, Janice Hunter. This was a time when Gaye’s eroticism took center stage in contrast to the more political, social prose of What’s Going On. “Let’s Get It On” also marked a return to the stage image groomed of him by Motown as sex god. In addition, Dyson’s book snapshots Gaye’s roller coaster ride marriage to his first wife, Anna Gordy.

    This episode is adroitly captured by Gaye’s most intimate and salient recording, Here, My Dear. An album he reluctantly made as alimony payment in his divorce from Anna Gaye-Gordy, sister of Motown mogul Berry Gordy, Jr.

    There are a number of dark secrets, and surprises, too. The two other books also provide pieces of the puzzle that was Marvin Gaye. However, from Dyson’s perch, we obtain historical relevance and depth he’s known to produce with his writings.

    But not to give too much away, be encouraged to buy the book MERCY, MERCY ME, by Michael Eric Dyson, available online at or in the Portland, Oregon area at Talking Drum Coffee Shop and Book Store (Call Gloria at 503 288-4070.)

    Kirk Whalum Interview 2002

    From smooth jazz to bebop
    Kickin’ it with Kirk Whalum
    by Mark Ruffin

    There are certain smooth jazz musicians who’ve never thought about playing straight ahead jazz, or what is also known as bebop. Then there are some smooth jazzers like guitarist Norman Brown, saxophonist Kirk Whalum and trumpeter Rick Braun, who, at the start of their careers thought they were going to be be-bop players.

    “The three of us really came out of the be-bop thing,” said Whalum, who, with the aforementioned artists, have a new album called Groovin’ under the name BWB.

    Brown/Whalum/Braun“In terms of our education and where we saw ourselves when we got started, we were definitely be-bop players.

    “I was trying to learn Sonny Rollins and James Moody solos, ” he continued listing the influences of the newly formed smooth jazz super group. “Norman was trying to learn (George) Benson and Wes Montgomery while Rick was working on his Freddie Hubbard.”

    Purists from both the bebop and smooth jazz camps are going to be a bit surprised at BWB’s debut album. The quality and quantity of the improvisation contained on Groovin’ is certainly as step-up from the individual solo albums by the trio. The group is backed up by bassist Christian McBride and drummer Gregory Hutchinson, two musicians who are very well known in the bebop world.

    The associate producer of the album is keyboard wizard Ricky Peterson, whose musical family is to Minneapolis what the Freeman, Heath and Marsalis families are to Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans respectively. His long list of credits includes George Benson, David Sanborn and Prince.

    Producing is Matt Pierson who is also the vice-president of jazz at Warner Brothers Records.

    “The way this record came about,” the sax man explained, “was when we were backstage, on more than three occasions, especially at the Montreux festival when we were doing nothing but bebopping, cause quiet as its kept, we don’t get to do that on our gigs.”

    At the Montreux Jazz Festival of 1999, Warner Brothers had its whole jazz roster there, including this trio, plus George Duke, Bob James, Boney James and many others. The next year, the company put that performance of smooth jazz stars blowing hard bebop oriented contemporary jazz out on an excellent record called Casino Lights ’99.

    Whalum said that is the kind of album that record companies call “documentation records.” It’s the kind of album where a normally very commercial artist makes a highly artistic record to show his peers and the record buying public that that musician can make a heavier or meatier album than what he/she normally does.

    “Because of the economy, record companies are scared to death and feel like they have to cover their behinds,” exclaimed the 43 year-old musician.. “They feel like they really don’t have the time for us to be making documentation records to be prove that we can really play.

    “But, after Montreux, I went to Matt, and I’m sure other musicians did too, and said ‘man we have to do something to preserve the spontaneity of (the Casino Lights record.)”

    What the producer did was try to make progressive electric jazz music that was throwback to the late 70’s and early 80’s where fusion was dying and smooth jazz wasn’t around yet. The company that best exemplifies this period was called CTI, a company that made stars out of George Benson, Deodato, Bob James Freddie Hubbard, Stanley Turrentine, and a then unknown named Grover Washington Jr.

    “We all revere the whole CTI school of recording and Groovin’ is not a subtle tribute to that,” Whalum said. “We were trying to get back to that space.

    “CTI was on to something and where the music was heading was very cool. But then the smooth jazz thing happened and I think smooth jazz is more like a bastard child of that music.”

    More musicians like Whalum, Braun and Brown have been reacting to what many see as a stagnation in smooth jazz, mostly because of broadcasting consultants who are telling smooth jazz stations to play more pop and restrict their play lists. He feels that stations and record companies are underestimating the intelligence and musical acumen of the audience.

    “What BWB can do potentially is perhaps facilitate this environment where people are wanting to hear musicians play again,” he emphasized. “Just really play.

    “This is a very smart record and I feel like this is an opportunity to get the public attention with songs they all know. But we really anticipate stretching this into other directions, but still keeping it in a way that people can put it on at a party. That’s really the vibe and general idea of BWB.”

    The ten songs on Groovin are all very well known cover tunes by D’Angelo, Donald Fagen, Booker T. & the M.G.’s, Alicia Keys, Cannonball Adderley, the Isley Brothers, Parliament-Funkadelic, Freddie Hubbard, the Staple Singers (with sultry Dee Dee Bridgewater as Mavis Staples) and the title Young Rascals chestnut.

    It was Whalum who came up with the title of the band. He said he thought of AWB and their very creative graphic logo and the irony of their initials, plus they could be thought of as the Black White Band. He said he never thought about the coincidence that this band records for the WB.

    “Warner Brothers wanted to call the band Triple Threat, and I was like ‘a threat to do what?’

    “If they wanted a threat, they could get Kenny Garrett, Wallace Roney and Mark Whitfield, and that would be a threat,” he said of the three highly regarded bebop musicians who play the same instruments as BWB.

    “There’s already enough weirdness and enmity between these two camps of musicians,” Whalum concluded. ‘Plus this music is beautiful, it shouldn’t be a threat.”

    An Interview with David Liebman

    In His Own Words… A conversation with
    David Liebman
    by Fred Jung

    I always lament about the fact that society as a whole is so prone to labeling and categorizing everything and everyone. And jazz is not exempt from such things. So it has been a wonderful journey to walk alongside one of the heavies of this music, Dave Liebman, through his musical progression. Liebman, who has shunned the glamour and glitz for a more modest goal, pursuing his music. I sat down with Liebman during his most recent tour through California. We spoke about views on recording, his time with Miles Davis, his love of Coltrane, his tenor playing, and his current and future projects. It is Liebman, uncut and in his own words.

    David LiebmanJazzUSA: Let’s start from the beginning.

    DL: I grew up in Brooklyn, New York. I started music in general at about nine years old playing classical piano with a neighborhood teacher. At about eleven, twelve years old, I always wanted to play the saxophone and my first inspiration really came from rock and roll music in the fifties, where the saxophone was a very dominant instrument. Slowly, I studied at a local neighborhood school and learned how to play dance music. So I was already working gigs at resorts, weddings, and so forth by the time I was fourteen years old. Of course, I started to meet other musicians who were young guys in high school who were into jazz and then began going to the clubs. For me, it was a subway ride to go to Birdland, and the Half Note, and the Village Vanguard. I guess the turning point was hearing Coltrane many times live during those years, the sixties, and just really getting turned on to, I didn’t have any idea what it was, but getting turned on to that energy and that power in the music. That remained with me and I went to school, New York University, majored in history. I thought I would be interested in doing music on the side. And when I got out, I worked my way, eventually, to Elvin Jones and Miles Davis, for a four year period between the two of them. Then I began as a leader in 1974. My first band was called Lookout Farms. Since that time, it’s been a career as a bandleader and recording with other people and so forth.

    JazzUSA: Is Coltrane your main influence?

    DL: It was always Coltrane and Sonny Rollins. That’s the major contributors. I have a lot of Sonny Rollins influence in my playing and right under that wing, Wayne Shorter and Joe Henderson, the four main voices of the sixties and they were my main saxophone influences. There were other influences, Miles, Bill Evans, of course, the pianist, and again Elvin, who was a drummer, Tony Williams, McCoy, and Herbie. The saxophone was definitely Coltrane and Sonny Rollins. And they do represent the two major ways of approaching playing the saxophone for last fifty years.

    JazzUSA: And your experience with Miles and Elvin?

    DL: Well, it’s interesting, Fred. Today, I was at Half Moon Bay in the morning. We played there yesterday with Pete Douglas. I stayed in his beach house. We woke up in the morning and we had some time to talk and I was talking to him about it. The main thing that I got out of them, outside of the specifics, in Miles’s case there was certainly some specific musical things about phrasing and space and using the band, how to get a rhythm section going and timing and things like that. And of course with Elvin, time itself, rhythm. But outside of that, more important, which supersedes that really, is the intensity of which they did their job. It was very much like what I found about Coltrane. The group on the stage is one thing. I saw Coltrane. But it’s another thing to be in the storm itself, especially in my case, to be with Elvin after having seen him and after having him be the main inspiration, the partner of the main inspiring act that made me want to play, being on the stage with him was just incredible. Then of course with Miles, you knew who he was. The music was different, a different stage of band development and so on, but when they got on the stage, when they closed their eyes and started playing, it was a job to do and they did it. It was like the intensity that you would see, they would address the issue of playing, which I had never felt because I was a kid. I was in my twenties and I certainly had played with good guys, who now some of them are well known, of course, but we were all young. To be with a master, who you know has a legacy because it’s been on tape and record. You’ve heard it, seen it, and then to be right next to them and feel that energy, it’s something you can’t learn any other way. That really made me see that it was a much more serious business than I thought it was to play this music, to try and excel in it, and to try to improve. It’s a very serious affair, at least for those fifty minutes that you are on the stage.

    JazzUSA: Do you recall your first Coltrane experience?

    DL: Absolutely, Fred. It was Birdland. I was fifteen. It was 1961. I was taking a date for a big night. It was a Saturday night. I had really no idea who was playing. I knew Birdland because I would go out with some of the older guys from the high school. We got in and it was Bill Evans Trio and John Coltrane. I really didn’t know much about any of them. I remember it was pretty crowded and if you were under age at that time, Birdland allowed you to sit in what was called a Peanut Gallery, like at the last row. There was about four, five tables there and whoever got there first could stay all night. So we were back there and the Bill Evans Trio, well, I remember it was very noisy and you couldn’t really hear. The piano player had his head down and it looked like he was playing in his home, very introverted music so it didn’t leave much of an impression. And then, Coltrane came on and it was with Eric Dolphy. It ended up being that it’s the tapes from the Vanguard, the Village Vanguard sessions. It was that, I don’t know if it was that specific night, but it was period in the fall of ’61. It was incredible. They started playing a tune and she said it was “My Favorite Things” and I said, “Naw, it couldn’t be. How would he play something like that?” And of course, it was “My Favorite Things.” From then on, every time he played in New York, which was at least two or three times a year for a week or two at a time, I was there. It became something that was like a thing that I had to go to. And I would go to see him every Friday and Saturday night of the week that he was there and I wasn’t in school. I would take the subway and go with a friend of mine and sit from nine until three and watch him. It was unbelievable, the energy they played with, long tunes, sometimes an hour and a half, two hour tunes. Coltrane and Elvin could play a duet for forty-five minutes or over an hour, just the two of them. It was hypnotic and I kept saying, “Look, I play saxophone and that’s a saxophone and whatever that is, I’ve got to find it.” I was just completely turned on and it remains with me today.

    JazzUSA: What was it about Coltrane’s playing?

    DL: It was the, certainty, it wasn’t purely a musical thing because at that point, I wasn’t sophisticated enough to know about it. I’m still trying to understand it. It was the intensity, the energy, and just the complete devotion and concentration and sincerity of which this group, four guys, Elvin, McCoy, and Jimmy Garrison, and Trane, played that was just compelling. It was so mysterious. It was so strong. It was so powerful and it was so understated in a certain way. There was no show about it. There was no talking. There was no announcements. It was just four guys who just got up to the bandstand like waking up in the morning and brushing their teeth. They were just doing it like it was commonplace, which it was for them because they worked a lot. I was just impressed by that, that whole imagine was getting me. The way they played, the power and the energy, which you can hear now of course on record and in videos and so forth, a little bit was so much more live that it was unbelievable. You really could sit very close, comparatively, so you could really, almost, physically feel it.

    JazzUSA: The intensity that you refer to is very evident when you play live.

    DL: That happens most of the time (laughing).

    JazzUSA: The buzz among members of the media is that you are not nearly as proficient on record as you are live, is there an album in your discography that reaches that plateau of powerful playing?

    DL: I wouldn’t say, there’s some live stuff and there’s some stuff in Europe. It’s a different thing for recording. I look at that as another laboratory. Live is one laboratory and recording is another one. I’ve learned how to record. I think pretty well. Recording is a different, it’s a real art to record. That kind of intensity can’t be captured on tape. It wasn’t captured either with Coltrane, although it’s amazingly intense, when you hear various recordings. It’s only a glimpse of what it was like. It’s a different medium. It’s a different field. You’re in there in a different way and trying to make a different kind of impression, let’s put it that way. When you’re playing live, the whole idea is to get the musicians completely engulfed and involved in it. Hopefully, the audience comes along. Whether or not they do is not really my, I don’t really care about that. My job is to get the guys into it and that’s what I do. Recording is a different thing. Off hand, there are some records, probably more in the free jazz aspect of my recording, of which there are some things. In Europe, there’s a little trio that I have and it’s on a label called Label Blue from France. It’s a French bass player and an Austrian drummer. That’s a little more in the freer vain. I don’t think a recording as something that I’ve really thought about too much.

    JazzUSA: Your recording legacy is mostly devoted to the soprano saxophone, and yet you’re no slouch on tenor.

    DL: Well, I’ve gotten back on it. I gave it up for fifteen years.

    JazzUSA: Why put it down in the first place?

    DL: I had to go through a little bit of thinking about it. I’m enjoying it. One of the reasons that I stopped it was I just felt that the Coltrane influence was so strong and I had absorbed so much of it, thankfully, that’s what I wanted, that it was impossible for me to get away from it and I didn’t want to be forever identified, not so much by outside critics or something because I don’t really care what they think, but by myself. My mind was always chasing that Trane and that’s why I went to soprano because I thought there was more room to be individual on it. I felt I had something on it, naturally. It seemed to just fall right for me. I never really practiced it the way I practiced tenor. It wasn’t my instrument of development. It was a chance to do something, I thought, if I just put my energies into one. So that happened. Then around the mid-nineties, I was getting fifty years old in ’96 and I was using that year a couple of different ways, redoing one of my books, doing a solo record, etc., and one of things I was thinking about was it’s time to get back to the roots. Face this issue that I have not solved. I had just put it on a back shelf, which was what to do about the tenor and also bring it back into the repertoire, in the sense that the power of the tenor, you can’t get it on soprano. There’s no way you can. I’ve enjoyed it, having taken it upon myself and using it in this particular group on certain kinds of tunes. I think I’ll forever be, I’ll feel that the soprano is my real true voice as far as an identity goes and as far as what I believe in the music, whatever I believe. It’s legacy will be on the soprano and the tenor will be a different thing. Also, the field is so much more crowded on tenor. There’s so many great players and there have been. On soprano, there are more and more, but it’s not quite like that.

    JazzUSA: Let’s touch on your two latest albums on Arkadia, “John Coltrane’s Meditations” and “Elements: Water.”

    DL: First of all, I have always felt that the late period of Coltrane was a neglected period, from the standpoint of listener and musicians alike. It was a little off putting, that music, when you saw it live. It definitely was not easy to listen to live, in those last two years of his life and the critics, everybody, have just related to Coltrane’s “Impressions” and “A Love Supreme” and earlier with Miles. That music was so powerful that it was almost too much. There was some faults in it, I think, organizational and so forth. There were a lot of other people playing that weren’t on that level, I felt sometimes. And there was a lot playing around because it was a discovery kind of thing, but the tribal atmosphere, the ritualistic atmosphere and spiritual thing that Trane himself was after was just so evident. On top of that, the way he played the saxophone was even further advanced than it was up to ’65. For that reason, I’ve always admired the late music, and free jazz was a part of my life. In fact, when I came into playing, I started after Coltrane died in ’67, it was really the way I played. I wanted to play free energy jazz and that was really what we did in New York in the late sixties. I had a loft and we would play five saxophones together. Eight people were playing everything free, just no talking about what to play, no time, no tune, no changes, nothing like that. It remained with me. We all got conservative. We all did our things and so forth over the years, but it was something that I felt I wanted to get back to and address the issue. Now “Meditations” itself, of all the late Coltrane records, it’s the first one of the free jazz period, ’65. It’s just a really great record. It falls together fantastically. It has wonderful melodies and very free playing. So I was always attracted to it and then in ’86, ’87 there was something in France where they invited me to do something. Would I do something Coltrane? And I decided to do that. My wife is a oboist/composer and she’s got a great ear and she took off the whole record. I have the whole music transcribed. She took off all the melodies, or what I considered to be the melodies, I’m not even sure. Then I did a little bit of work on it in the sense that I wasn’t going to just play it the way Coltrane played it, I couldn’t. Very much like I’ve handled standards over the years, I tried to put my own spin on it. For better or worse. People might feel put off by it, like for example, using guitar and synthesizer on “Meditations,” but on the other hand I think I gave it a little bit of a spin that makes it contemporary and individual. Also, I added some harmonies to the melodies, which he did not do. Those definitely were not on the record. It was an adaptation, yet in the spirit. Now, that particular recording was a live version. I didn’t know it would come out. I taped it on my own and eventually, when I got together with Arkadia, we got it out. It was during that year, ’95, I played it all over the world and using musicians in whatever city I would go to, students of mine or whomever. They always enlarged the group. One time, we did it with twenty saxophones in France on his birthday in ’97. So every five years I would do it, ’87, ’92, ’97, and ’95 because that was exactly thirty years from its original recording. That was the event that we did that became the recording. I’m happy with the results. My tenor playing wasn’t like it is now, I was just getting back into it. The sound is not great because I had to be budget conscience at that time. We only did eight tracks, but the spirit is there and I’m very proud of it in that respect. With “Water,” I had talked to Pat (Metheny) over the years and he always enjoyed me and he’s one of my fans. He’s always had very kind words to say about me. He likes my books about harmonies. He thinks it’s a milestone and so forth. We’ve always had a very respectful relationship and I’ve played a little bit with him during the eighties in various settings. So with Arkadia, I knew there would be an opportunity to do something like this and do all the elements eventually, water, fire, earth, and air. And although I’m not with the label anymore, we had a little falling out, this project had come off. I wrote very specifically for Pat, with his guitars in mind, with him in mind. Billy (Hart) and Cecil (McBee) were a team that I had had on another record I had done on Soul Note, a pretty free recording called “The Seasons,” based on summer, winter, fall, and so forth. And I liked that kind of way of trying to paint pictures, especially nature. These days, it’s kind of what I’ve been doing. It was pretty composed, tunes all based on one major melody that you hear in the beginning and I’m very happy with the results. Pat is very well known. He’s one of the most famous jazz musicians around in a certain way. For me to have him was an honor and of course a plus in a lot of ways. It was a challenge and I think, well, I know he really enjoyed it. I feel it was a pretty artistic record. It puts him in a situation that he’s never in. I want him to do things that he didn’t do on other people’s records, with Joshua Redman, or Michael Brecker, or whomever he’s played with, especially saxophonists. I thought about it and that was kind of how I painted the picture.

    JazzUSA: But you were one of the first artist signed to the Arkadia label.

    DL: Business is business and what happens is unfortunately, in this day and age more than ever, mom and pop operations, a one man type of show, are pretty much impossible to pull off anymore. And he, this guy who runs it, and who was producing it, doing everything, had big eyes and big ears and was very enthusiastic and things looked very, very promising, but unfortunately, he tried to do too much, so things start happening. You don’t get paid on time, and this and that and this. And with any new label, and I’ve been with a lot of new labels, because a lot of guys like me and they say, “Let’s record.” I’ve never been really signed to anybody, so I’ve been there before. It often happens that in the beginning, there’s an organizational period, there’s a little bit of a leeway for a year or two, but then if things don’t settle down, you can see the writing on the wall. Things didn’t work out. We have another record in the can that will come out next year, which is a, I’m not sure what the name will be, but probably “The Puccini Project.” What I did was I took about eleven arias from various Puccini operas and played them in various settings, with strings, with this and that. Phil Woods is on a few tracks, you know, oboe, blah-blah-blah. It’s a very beautiful record with, obviously, very beautiful melodies that I’m not responsible for, but I put them in various settings, synthesizers with different instrumentation. I changed the chords a little bit. So he has one more record that will come out. But I also have a new record coming out on Double Time within a few months