Jazz Reviews

Maysa – Blue Velvet Soul

Maysa holds unique status in the world of R&B/Jazz. Her incomparably lush, sensuous vocals have garnered her legions of loyal, loving fans. As featured vocalist of the UK super group Incognito, core member of Stevie Wonder’s Wonderlove and, of course, through her own albums and concerts, Maysa has been thrilling R&B and Jazz audiences for decades.

Blue Velvet Soul is far and away the most sensuous and heartfelt recording of her brilliant career. Maysa thrills us with a stirring rendition of the Mariah Carey classic “I Still Believe” and her version of “Quiet Fire” a loving tribute to her mentor and role model Nancy Wilson that will leave you breathless!

A special highlight is the guest vocal appearance and soulful production by Jean Paul “Bluey” Bluey Maunick , the creator of Incognito, who contribute 3 originals to this. R&B super producer Mike City (Rihanna, Jamie Foxx, Ledisi) contributes several brilliant originals to the mix, and Chris “Big Dog” Davis (Kim Burrell, Will Downing, George Clinton), Maysa’s longtime collaborator and inspiration, round out the inspired supporting cast!

Yellowjackets – A Rise in the Road

2013 release from the veteran Jazz outfit. A Rise In The Road is indeed an appropriate title for a time-honored ensemble that has never been fearful of facing newer musical horizons, not to mention the myriad challenges of life itself. Produced by Ferrante, Mintzer and Kennedy, A Rise In The Road stands shoulder-to-shoulder with their 21 previous efforts.

”It’s about the challenges that people face in their lives and whatever path they are on: It’s not always smooth sailing, it’s not always a level road,” explains Ferrante, with regards to the project’s meaning. ”Certainly, over the 32 years that we’ve been a band, we’ve had things come up, challenges such as musicians that have left the band, business people, relationships that you have built over the years. Things come to an end, and you have to meet the challenge and keep going forward.”

Larry Corban – The Circle Starts Here

Larry Corban’s debut trio recording was created in the company of bassist Harvie S (#1 CD on Billboard Charts 2013, “Witchcraft” duo with Kenny Barron) and drummer Steve Williams (Shirley Horn’s drummer for 25 years). The essence of this band can be described as “the sound of Wes Montgomery playing Countdown in 5/4 with the Miles Davis 60’s quintet rhythm section, Ron Carter and Tony Williams, backing him.” In the guitar trio environment, Larry’s playing has a sharp-edged, metallic chording, stinging single notes, and the seemingly effortless ability to move back and forth between the two modes.

Solo guitar with bass/drums accompaniment is at the centerpiece of this project but the acoustic guitar duets done with overdubbing add another sound texture. Thirteen out of the fourteen songs on this record are penned by Larry with moods ranging from an uptempo 4/4 “burner” (Enjoy the Ride) to a medium tempo “swinger” (Sideswiped) to a moody introspective “bossa” (Roll the Dice) to a gorgeous “ballad” (The Second She Leaves, which features Harvie S bowing the melody). “Seventh Dimension”(in 7/8), “Story Inside My Head” (Countdown changes in 5/4 with a new melody), and “Wolf’s Den” (2 reharmonized chorus of blues ala Joe Henederson) will appeal to jazz fans with an adventurous flair.

“Bossa Barb” is a slow, loose moody bossa with a gorgeous bass solo by Harvie S. “Blink of an Eye” is a “Coltrane/Elvin 3/4” featuring Steve Williams with a solo guitar intro that brings to mind Lenny Breau. The great texture changers are the duets done with overdubs using a steel string acoustic (Seventh Dimension in 7/8), nylon string acoustic (Dreamwheel in 3/4), and Gibson L-5 (3 Hours Late). These acoustic pieces will appeal to John McLaughlin fans of the My Goals Beyond CD and Pat Metheny fans of One Quiet Night. The ballad “Hmm” is a solo guitar piece done with fingers with a relaxed, meditative feel.

“East of the Sun” by Bowman Brooks, the one standard on the CD, is done as a medium tempo with brushes and gets a tour-de-force treatment ala Joe Pass. As interesting as the songs are as musical vehicles, they are written as a way to commemorate and tell the stories of various events that we participate in through life itself.

Bobby McFerrin – Spirityouall

Bobby McFerrin brings it all back home with his new album, spirityouall, re-imagining Americana with beloved spirituals and original songs. Bobby invites us along on his everyday search for grace, wisdom, and freedom, embracing bluegrass and the baroque, heartfelt lyrics and wordless melodies, joy and sorrow.

He throws some unexpected new ingredients into the melting pot and invites us to sing together through life’s trials and triumphs. Across genres, across boundaries, across generations, spirityouall raises the roof with joyful grooves.

About the Artist:

For decades Bobby McFerrin has broken all the rules. The 10-time Grammy winner has blurred the distinction between pop music and fine art, goofing around barefoot in the world’s finest concert halls, exploring uncharted vocal territory, inspiring a whole new generation of a cappella singers and the beatbox movement. His new album, spirityouall re-imagines Americana with beloved spirituals and original songs, raising the roof with joyful grooves. This bluesy, feel-good recording (featuring an incredible lineup of great musicians including Larry Campbell, Charley Drayton, Gil Goldstein, Larry Grenadier, Ali Jackson, and Esperanza Spalding) is an unexpected move from the music-industry rebel who singlehandedly redefined the role of the human voice with his a cappella hit “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” his collaborations with Yo-Yo Ma, Chick Corea and the Vienna Philharmonic, his improvising choir Voicestra, and his legendary solo vocal performances. All that pioneer spirit and virtuosity has opened up a great big sky, including game-changing experiments in multi-tracking (Don’t Worry, Be Happy has seven separate, over-dubbed vocal tracks; Bobby”s choral album VOCAbuLarieS has thousands). But virtuosity isn’t the point. “I try not to “perform” onstage,” says Bobby. “I try to sing the way I sing in my kitchen, because I just can’t help myself. I want to get people to just sing the way they do when they’re just hanging out waiting for the bus, in their regular “blue-jeans” voice. I want to bring audiences into the incredible feeling of joy and freedom I get when I sing. “Ask him where he went to school, and he just might tell you that he is a graduate of MSU: Making Stuff Up. “Music for me is like a spiritual journey down into the depths of my soul,” says McFerrin. “And I like to think we’re all on a journey into our souls. What’s down there? That’s why I do what I do.”

Brandon Bernstein – But Beautiful

But Beautiful is Brandon Bernstein’s debut CD as a bandleader. The CD features  ten jazz standards performed by Brandon on guitar, legendary bassist Putter Smith (formally with Thelonious Monk) and one of Los Angeles finest drummers, Kendall Kay. On But Beautiful the trio takes standards we all know, and love and reinterpret them, infusing the tracks with their own unique feel.

 

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Mavis Staples – One True Vine

With new song offerings from Alan Sparhawk of Low, Nick Lowe, and three new Jeff Tweedy originals, One True Vine is at once a darker and more uplifting album than its Grammy-winning predecessor, You Are Not Alone.

Anchored by reinventions of two ’70s classics – Funkadelic’s ‘Can You Get To That?’ and the Staple Singer’s ‘I Like The Things About Me’ – producer Jeff Tweedy and Staples have constructed a dense narrative that starts with the soul-searching of Sparhawk’s ‘One Holy Ghost’ and Tweedy’s ‘Jesus Wept,’ and then breaks wide open with Nick Lowe’s soaring ‘Far Celestial Shores.’

UPCOMING TOUR DATES

 Jun
 28
Camden, NJ, US
Dave Matthews Band with Mavis Staples at Susquehanna Bank Center
 Jun
 29
Camden, NJ, US
Dave Matthews Band with Mavis Staples at Susquehanna Bank Center
 Jul
 04
Portland, OR, US
Safeway Waterfront Blues Festival 2013
 Jul
 21
Apple Valley, MN, US
Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue with Mavis Staples at Weesner Amphitheater, Minnesota Zoo
 Aug
 10
Brecon, UK
Mavis Staples at Market Hall
 Aug
 13
Oslo, Norway
Oslo Jazzfestival 2013
 Sep
 06
Chicago, IL, US
Young the Giant with Neko Case, Mavis Staples, The Hold Steady, and 5 more… at Hideout Block Party
 Sep
 07
Chicago, IL, US
Hideout Block Party with Jon Langford, Young the Giant, Neko Case, and 6 more… at Hideout
 Sep
 25
Nashville, TN, US
Mavis Staples with The Blind Boys of Alabama at War Memorial Auditorium, Tennessee Performing Arts Center
 Sep
 27
Seattle, WA, US
Mavis Staples at The Moore Theatre

Christian McBride and Inside Straight – People Music

Any time that Grammy winning bassist, composer,arranger and bandleader Christian McBride steps into the studio or onto a stage he plays what could be called “people music,” but it’s a particularly apt title for the second release by his hard-swinging acoustic quintet Inside Straight. Four years after Kind of Brown, the band’s acclaimed debut album, People Music delivers a more road- tested, “lived-in” Inside Straight, able to dig deep while projecting that ebullient vigor that has become McBride’s trademark.“People Music is my personal mantra as a musician,” McBride says of the title.

“Sometimes jazz musicians can get too caught up in their own heads; they get so serious and so caught up in their creativity that they’re not bringing the people in. So I figure the best way to communicate is to let the people navigate where you should go.” The melody of the new album’s opening track, “Listen to the Heroes Cry,” evokes a modern spiritual, and was inspired by the parade of vapid performances on a music awards show McBride watched one night, which he described as all garish spectacle and absolutely no substance. Six of the album’s eight tracks feature the core lineup of McBride, saxophonist Steve Wilson, vibraphonist Warren Wolf, pianist Peter Martin and drummer Carl Allen.

The other two tracks substitute pianist Christian Sands and drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr., who have performed extensively with the band when Martin’s touring schedule with Dianne Reeves or Allen’s duties as Artistic Director of Jazz Studies at Juilliard keep them away from the bandstand. Sands and Owens also comprise McBride’s new trio, which will make its recording debut later this year. While Christian McBride wrote most of the compositions, Wolf provides “Gang Gang,” the name that a dancer (like Wolf’s wife) would use in place of a musician’s “Afro- Cuban” or “12/8” to refer to the song’s surging rhythm.

Sands brings the bright-hued “Dream Train,” while Martin offers the stealth funk of “Unusual Suspects” which recalls the groove of “Used ‘Ta Could” from Kind of Brown. Wilson’s entrancing ballad “Ms. Angelou” draws inspiration from the words and rhythms of the great poet while also exemplifying the saxophonist’s own unique approach. Overall, this recording swings and swings hard.

Reprinted with permission of…
Sounds of Timeless Jazz

Glenn Cashman’s Southland Nonet – Music Without Borders

Getting to the Downbeat…

” Why produce a Jazz recording with the Muck? The answer is the inertia of a chance meeting. More than ten years ago, when relocating to California to head the jazz program at CSU, Fullerton, Glenn Cashman and I were simultaneously out and about viewing dwelling spaces. We arrived at the same place at the same time, struck up a conversation and became fast friends. I began to invite Glenn to play on industrial, commercial and demo recordings I was writing, composing and producing. What a brilliant player he was/is! At the time I was on a kick to get to know Fullerton in a more social way. Since I had raised my children there, I decided it was time for some payback.

I began attending charitable events and discovered the Muck. I found the facility to be charming, unique and special. They had an intimate amphitheater perfectly suited to Jazz performances. And all of that was the stunning gift the Muckenthaler family had given to the local citizenry. After the idea germinated, I proposed to Glenn that we create and produce a Jazz Festival there. He agreed and we asked jazz venue pioneer, and former Stan Kenton Orchestra member, Howard Rumsey to advise us. Eight now-sold-out seasons later, we asked ourselves what was next. With the concerts, we have strived not only to host a more Straight Ahead genre but also to honor the quality and spirit of the Muckenthalers’ gift by inviting only the highest possible caliber of players to concertize there. Following that mission and purpose we now wish to distribute the goods news farther afield. The actual music recorded here represents Glenn Cashman’s composing and arranging abilities to be of the highest possible order.

And as a bandleader and player, combined with the brilliance of the full band represented herein, I believe this recording fulfills that requirement. Also, please understand this recording was funded with donations from those who have become believers in our cause through concert attendance! We wish to thank them, honor their generous spirits, and multiply their gifts by sharing the proceeds from this recording with the Muckenthaler Cultural Center and with Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières). We also wish to thank you for your support. We believe in the universal appeal of having given your best effort and sharing it. Combining all of the above thoughts with the international interest in Jazz Music we entitled this recording  Music Without Borders. We hope you will love this recording and recommend it to your friends.”

– Eric Futterer (Guitar)

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Robin Bessier – Other Side of Forever

Robin Bessier’s debut album, Other Side of Forever is a musical journey — a kaleidoscope of musical influences and philosophical perspectives, including five never-before recorded originals, and fresh takes on a few select jazz standards.

Bessier’s crystalline vocals are met with lush arrangements that include all six members of the band on-deck; small combos that dig deep into the groove of each song; and stripped-down impromptu pieces with piano and voice alone. The album interweaves toe-tapping swing tunes, with cool and swaying bossas, haunting ballads and effervescent sambas.

The album begins with one of Bessier’s originals, a swinging “Don’t Worry, We’ve Got You.” Reminiscent of Freddy Green, guitarist Dan Sales does serious justice with his back-up and solo.

“Jubilee” is a joy-infused piece that drops you into a Caribbean street parade. Percussionist Jeff Busch brings out all his toys on this piece, and Jay Thomas clones himself, playing both trumpet and saxophone in a call and response solo. Producer/arranger Barney McClure adds his voice to the chorus vocals here.

“God Bless the Child” is a simple, soulful rendition, featuring Barney McClure on piano (the only song he plays on in this album, that otherwise features the phenomenal Darin Clendenin on piano). Barney is a monster player in his own right, and this song is just a hint of what he is capable of. A consummate accompanist, he lays back and gives Bessier room to move.

“Right Here, Right Now” is another Bessier original, written the morning after she sang for the first time with Barney at the renowned Upstage Theater and Restaurant in Port Townsend. It should be noted that Barney had shared the title song “Other Side of Forever” with Robin during rehearsal that previous afternoon. These initial steps began the journey that became this album.

“Prelude to a Kiss” is inspired by, and dedicated to, the extraordinary jazz singer, Jan Stentz, who passed out of this physical realm much too young. Her consummate musicianship and beautiful spirit remain a constant influence.

Barney’s Latin song “Too Nice” was too fun not to include in this album. And listen for the solo section. Jay Thomas and Darin Clendenin smoke.

“Whisper” is one of Bessier’s first compositions, written before the turn of the century (sadly yes, this is true…). To hear this piece come to life under the skilled hands of these world class musicians was a dream come true.

“Better Than Anything” poses a philosophical question that has been debated for several years, but there is no debating that this version, which features the masterful Mark Ivester on drums, offers up more than your average waltz.

Daren Clendenin arranged the beautiful Herbie Hancock song “Harvest Time” in a way that honors the original instrumental version, with a seamless blending of the vocal that includes words by Herbie’s sister Jean. Darin’s sensitive playing, that manages to be light yet full of substance at the same time is exquisite, allowing Bessier the freedom to be introspective and to soar.

“The Very Thought of You,” typically done as a ballad, takes on new energy with this swinging version. The brilliant bassist Clipper Anderson, who shines throughout this album, is featured on the solo section.

“On the other side of forever…” The words and haunting melody of the title track of this album evoke a yearning for what was, for what could have been; the bittersweet impermanence of life here in the this physical plane; the illusion and fleeting nature of time; and ultimately, the value of living in and appreciating the simplicity of each moment.

  • Robin Bessier – Voice
    (Pronounced: Robin Bess-­‐ee-­‐ay’)
  • Darin Clendenin – Piano
    (Pronounced: Darin Clen-­‐den’-­‐in)
  • Clipper Anderson – Bass
  • Mark Ivester – Drums
    (Pronounced: Mark I’-­‐ves-­‐ter)
  • Jay Thomas –Trumpet, Flugelhorn, Tenor & Soprano Sax
  • Jeff Busch – Percussion
  • Dan Sales – Guitar & Banjo
  • *Mike McKinley – hand percussion on Jubilee
  • *David Lange – hand percussion on Jubilee
    (Pronounced David LANG)
  • *Barney McClure – piano on God Bless the Child; background vocals and hand percussion on Jubilee

George Duke – Dreamweaver

The scope of keyboardist-composer-producer George Duke’s imprint on jazz and pop music over the past forty years is almost impossible to calculate. He has collaborated with some of the most prominent figures in the industry. A producer since the 1980s, he has crafted scores of fine recordings – many of them GRAMMY? winners – for artists representing almost every corner of the contemporary American music landscape.

Duke was born in San Rafael, California, in January 1946. When he was four, his mother took him to a performance by that other Duke of jazz, Duke Ellington. He admits that he doesn’t remember much of the performance, but his mother told him years later that he spent the next several days demanding a piano.

Duke began his formal training on the instrument at age seven, his earliest influence being the culturally and historically rich black music of his local Baptist church. By his teen years, his universe of musical influences had expanded to include the more secular sounds of young jazz mavericks like Miles Davis, Les McCann and Cal Tjader – all of whom inspired him to play in numerous high school jazz groups. After high school, he attended the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and received a bachelors degree in 1967.

But perhaps the most important lessons came after college, when Duke joined Al Jarreau in forming the house band at the Half Note, the popular San Francisco club, in the late ‘60s. He also played with Sonny Rollins and Dexter Gordon in other San Francisco clubs around the same time.

For the next several years, Duke experimented with jazz and fusion by collaborating and performing with artists as diverse as Jean Luc-Ponty, Frank Zappa, Cannonball Adderley, Nancy Wilson, Dizzy Gillespie, Billy Cobham and Stanley Clarke. He launched his solo recording career at age 20, and shortly thereafter began cutting LPs for the MPS label in the ‘70s. As the decade progressed, he veered more toward fusion, R&B and funk with albums like From Me To You (1976) and Reach For It(1978).

During this period he recorded what is possibly his best known album, Brazilian Love Affair. Released in 1980, the album included vocals by Flora Purim and Milton Nascimento, and percussion by Airto Moreira. Love Affair stood in marked contrast to the other jazz/funk styled albums he was cutting at the time.

Duke’s reputation as a skilled producer was also gathering steam. By the end of the ‘80s, he had made his mark as a versatile producer by helping to craft recordings by a broad cross section of jazz, R&B and pop artists: Raoul de Souza, Dee Dee Bridgewater, A Taste of Honey, Jeffrey Osborne, Deniece Williams, Melissa Manchester, Al Jarreau, Barry Manilow, Smokey Robinson, The Pointer Sisters, Take 6, Gladys Knight, Anita Baker and many others. Several of these projects scored GRAMMY? Awards.

During this time, Duke was just as busy outside the studio as inside. He worked as musical director for numerous large-scale events, including the Nelson Mandela tribute concert at Wembley Stadium in London in 1988. The following year, along with Marcus Miller, he served as musical director of NBC’s acclaimed late-night music performance program, Sunday Night.

The ‘90s were no less hectic. He toured Europe and Japan with Dianne Reeves and Najee in 1991, and joined the Warner Brothers label the following year with the release of Snapshot, an album that stayed at the top of the jazz charts for five weeks and generated the top 10 R&B single, “No Rhyme, No Reason.”

Other noteworthy albums in the ‘90s included the orchestral tour de force Muir Woods Suite (1993) and the eclecticIllusions (1995), in addition to the numerous records Duke produced for a variety of other artists: Najee, George Howard, the Winans, and Natalie Cole (Duke produced 1/3 of the material on Cole’s GRAMMY?-winning 1996 release, Stardust).

In 2000, Duke severed his ties with Warner Records and launched his own record label, BPM (Big Piano Music). “I spent thirty years at other labels as a recording artist,” he says. “I felt it was time for me to step up to the next level of challenge and form a company that would give me and other artists the opportunity to create quality music and push back the musical restraints that dominate most record labels these days.”

But even with the new responsibilities and challenges associated with running a record label, Duke has continued to juggle the multiple career tracks of recording solo albums, international touring and producing records for other artists. In addition to his own Face the Music (2002), he also produced recent records for Wayman Tisdale, Dianne Reeves, Kelly Price, Regina Belle and Marilyn Scott.

For the better part of 25 years, Duke has also composed and recorded numerous scores for film and television. In addition to nine years as the musical director for the Soul Train Music Awards, he also wrote music – either individual songs or entire soundtracks – for a number of films, including The Five Heartbeats, Karate Kid III, Leap of Faith, Never Die Alone andMeteor Man.

With more than thirty solo recordings in his canon and a resume that spans more than 40 years, Duke joins forces with the Heads Up label with the August 26, 2008, release of Dukey Treats, a return to the old-school funk sensibilities of icons like James Brown, Sly and the Family Stone and Parliament/Funkadelic. A careful balance of rhythmic energy and simmering balladry, Dukey Treats recalls the golden age of funk and soul, while at the same time maintaining a fresh sound and addressing issues that are relevant to the global culture of the 21st century.

“I feel a responsibility to carry positive messages in my music,” says Duke. “I think music is meant to lift people up. I don’t think you can push things under the rug and not address them. Those who have the ability and the opportunity to let people know what’s going on musically and socially should not be afraid to say it and do it and play about it and sing about it.”

Pablo Ablanedo Octet – ReContraDoble

Pablo Ablanedo was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He is a composer, pianist and music educator. In 1996, he graduated with a diploma in Jazz Composition from Berklee College of Music, where he took part in the last courses taught by the legendary trumpet player Herb Pomeroy. Pablo’s artistic development owes much to the Argentinian classical pianist Susana Bonora, with who he has been working since the 80’s. In 1999, he joined forces with a diverse group of jazz players to form the Pablo Ablanedo Octet.

In the decade since, Pablo has recorded three albums on Fresh Sound New Talent Records. From Down There (2001) and Alegría (2004) received 4 and 4½ stars, respectively, in Down Beat Magazine, and JazzMan Magazine (France) gave the multi-artist project The Sound of New York Underground (2004) its highest rating CHOC. Pablo’s work has also been commissioned by Paquito D’Rivera to be performed by Germany’s NDR Big Band.

His current release is Recontradoble, a new album recorded with his Octet after a successful fund rising project on Kickstarter.com. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts with his wife, the french painter Lucile Chaurin Ablanedo and their basset hound Tosca.

Booker T – Sound The Alarm

A plethora of captivating artists join Booker on his upcoming celebratory return to Stax Records, including Anthony Hamilton, Raphael Saadiq, Mayer Hawthorne, Estelle, Vintage Trouble, Luke James and James Jay Picton among many others. Gary Clark Jr., Poncho Sanchez, and Sheila E. also contribute their singular instrumental prowess to the soulful tracks among this highly anticipated release.

Booker T Jones is a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, Musicians Hall of Fame inductee and Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient. Arguably, as the leader of the legendary Memphis soul icons, Booker T and the MG’s, he single-handedly set the cast for modern soul on classic Stax tunes like “Green Onions” and “Time is Tight.”

Matt Herskowitz – Upstairs

Matt Herskowitz blends jazz and classical influences on his new solo piano recording titled Upstairs. Released on Justin Time Records, the CD was recorded live at Upstairs Jazz Bar & Grill in Montreal, Quebec, Canada on November 6, 2011. Upstairs is Mr. Herskowitz’s follow up to his 2010 acclaimed Jerusalem Trilogy and features songs composed by Dave Brubeck (“Dziekuje”), Michel Petrucciani (“Cantabile”), J.S. Bach (“Bach A La Jazz) and George & Ira Gershwin (“But Not For Me,” and “I’ve Got Rhythm”).

Herskowitz also wrote and arranged several originals for the program. The night opened with Mr. Herskowitz’s interpretation of Dave Brubeck’s rhapsodic homage to Chopin titled “Dziekuje.” His performance got raves from the late pianist himself and Herskowitz’s tribute to his friend is certainly one of the most inspired performances on the recording. Further inspiration came from Mr. Herskowitz’s visit to Moscow as a competitor in the Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition.

“Waltz In Moscow” is a refined piece that emphasizes Herskowitz’s classical influences and calls attention to his fluid pianism. He further accentuates his classical flair in “Traumerei” by Robert Schumann. His stellar arrangement makes this masterwork accessible to a new generation of pianists who may excel in the classical/jazz genre by adding it to their repertoire. The entire recording underlines Mr. Herskowitz’s virtuosity and finesse as a pianist and ranks among his finest works

Reprinted with permission of…
Sounds of Timeless Jazz

Dave Koz and Friends – Summer Horns

Dave Koz is joined by a front line of top-notch horn players (Mindi Abair, Richard Elliot & Gerald Albright) to re-interpret an array of powerhouse horn-heavy songs made famous by Tower of Power, Chicago, EW&F, James Brown, Sly & The Family Stone, Ronnie Laws, Blood Sweat & Tears and others.

Three of the world’s best horn arrangers are contributing their talents: Greg Adams (Tower of Power) and Tom Scott. Topping it off is a sax-only rendition of “Take Five” with Gordon Goodwin offering his arrangement to the quartet.

An Interview with Chico Freeman

Chico FreemanJazzUSA talks to
Chico Freeman
by Mark Ruffin

1999 is starting to shape up as quite a notable year for the Freeman jazz family. Last month, George Freeman’s album George Burns, came out, and in this month Von and Chico Freeman will put out Von Freeman’s 75th Anniversary with Diane Reeves.

Von and George Freeman, Chico’s father and uncle respectively, live in Chicago. Chico lives in New York, but he brought his new band Gattaca, featuring Hilton Ruiz to Chicago’s Symphony Center last month. It gave Chicagoans a rare chance to see all three members of Chicago’s first family of jazz. His uncle George also had a big record release party at a local club for his new album “George Burns.”

“It’s kind of ironic, but there are people who still think I live in Chicago,” the sax star said by phone from his New York home. “I never quite understand it, since I’ve been in New York for 20 some odd years, but there’s always someone who thinks I live in Chicago.”

Also last month, Chico was at Lincoln Center attending the premiere of a movie he scored called Andre’s Lies. In June, he’ll be performing with comedian and drummer Bill Cosby, in anticipation of their new live album coming out later this year. Plus Freeman is the producer and music director of the stage show of actor singer Keith David (Armageddeon, Dead Presidents, Clockers, Platoon), but it’s his new band that has him raving.

“Guataca is the name of the band. We play Afro-Cuban music with a twist,” Freeman explained. “That is, we play the rhythms that are from Africa and from Cuba. The compositions are mine and some of the harmonies, as well as the tunes and structures are atypical.”

It comes as no surprise that Freeman is coming home playing a different kind of jazz. He’s been crossing genres since he was a kid growing up on 69th and Calumet, on Chicago’s south side.

“I’ve always liked different kinds of music,” he said. “I just really try to express myself, whatever I honestly feel.”

Jazz wasn’t always what inspired Freeman. For that matter, music wasn’t always a priority for this Northwestern graduate, just a constant. As a youngster, he remembers watching his father’s band, The Freeman Brothers, rehearse at his house. Along with Von and George on sax and guitar, was the now retired Bruz Freeman on drums, David Shipp on drums and either Andrew Hill or Don Baltazar on piano.

“We had a lot of kids on our block, and I remember, especially during summertime when it was hot, a lot of kids would come sit on the porch and listen a lot. All of my friends were all excited because there were all these instruments in my house.”

Many of Freeman’s classmates at Parker High School went on to become musicians including brothers Verdine and Fred White of Earth, Wind & Fire, and the Hutchinson sisters who became the Emotions. While excelling at math, Freeman too was part of a vocal group called the Rotations.

When the rest of the group got drafted, and Freeman accepted a four-year scholarship from Northwestern, the would-be singer turned first to trumpet and then to the saxophone. Before graduating with a degree in music and working on a Master’s from Governors State, Freeman played more r&b with the Spinners, Dells and Four Tops, and blues with J.B. Hutto and Buddy Guy.

“It’s funny, my father wasn’t a big influence on me musically until later in my life,” said the musician who would only give his age as 40-something. “I use to hear him practice all the time, and then I didn’t care for it because it was practicing. It wasn’t connected to any music at the time, but I heard it all day, so I think it got into my self-conscious.”

Chico never had intentions of leaving Chicago, it just happened after his determined jazz studies started taking him places. First, it was the Norte Dame Jazz Festival in the late 70’s, where he won best soloist and participation in a Brazilian student exchange program. On the way home from Sao Paulo, he decided to visit a Chicago friend in New York, bassist Fred Hopkins, who just passed away in January.

“It was three days to be exact, which is what I thought,” Freeman said picking up the story. “I was just trying to see what New York was like. Then (another Chicago saxophonist) needed a sub because he had to get back to Chicago, so three days turned into a week. Then I jammed with another musician who liked me so much, he hired me for his weekly Sunday gigs. So my week was now a month.”

That cycle increased as he met bassist Cecil McBee who hired him as did his father’s old employer Sun Ra. He then hit the big time landing a gig with internationally renowned drummer Elvin Jones who landed Freeman his first record contract within weeks of coming to New York for three days.

“Once I got with Elvin, that was all she wrote,” Freeman remembered, “because I started touring all over the world. To make a long story short, once I got to New York, I started working and never looked back.”

An Interview with Incognito

No Time Like The Future

INCOGNITO


Mark Ruffin

There are many readers who could never think of Incognito as a jazz group, and who are we to argue. No doubt these are people who’d look at Jean-Paul Maunick’s huge band as a funk group with obvious jazz influence. They’d be right. In fact, Incognito’s very first album in 1980 was called Jazz/Funk. These would be the same readers who might be surprised to know that the Cuban jazz group Irakere and young jazz guitar lion Mark Whitfield are both part of new Incognito projects and that the 42 year-old leader has turned his group literally into a finishing school for many of England’s rising young jazz stars including the brilliant trumpeter Kevin Robinson, trombonist Fayyaz Virgi and bassist Randy Hope-Taylor.

Then there may be some readers, maybe a bit over done on smooth jazz, who’d upon hearing Incognito live would consider them one of the jazziest groups they’ve ever heard. They’ve maybe even heard an Incognito instrumental if their local smooth jazz station had any balls, but all smooth jazz fans know the voice of Maysa Leak singing Incognito’s biggest hit “Deep Waters.” To these folks Incognito is deep.

For our readers with open minds, who subscribe to the Duke Ellington theory of only two kinds of music, good and bad, they probably already know all about Incognito. They know that Maunick is known as Bluey. They know that when the acid-jazz scene developed in England in the 80’s, Incognito was the movement’s heart and soul and it’s biggest success commercially, and some would say artistically. Our Senior Writer Mark Ruffin has been following the jazz leanings of Incognito for nearly 15 years and talked to the leader earlier this summer. -ED.

JazzUSA: :We haven’t heard from Incognito in a while Bluey, but now you’re back with a new album, “No Time Like The Future

Jean-Paul MaunickBluey:: “No Time Like The Future” is kind of where I left off from on the last album “Beneath The Surface.” If you listen to “Beneath The Surface,” I had just been through a divorce, at the end of it, I had found someone new, but it still a time of reconciliation and fixing things, making sure my kids know that the marriage made be over but dad is dad. I’ve had to deal with trying to let my ex-wife know that I’m going to be one of her best friends come what may. You know it was like personal things in my life that made me look inside myself during that record. So it’s a soulful down-tempo album and it’s a little blue. No you’ve got “No Time Like The Future,” which is like I’m back out again. I’m looking out again. I’m clubbing again. I’m traveling around the world. I’m in the studio in my own recording studio. I’ve formed my record company. I’m working with my son. He’s got a record deal. We’re like going to club together, going out clubbing, and it’s a reflection of that. It’s like living life and celebrating life again.

JazzUSA: You said you’re out clubbing again. I remember ten years ago when you were first gaining some success in England with Incognito, and the acid-jazz scene over there was smoking. The success of both Incognito and the acid-jazz club scene is intertwined, right?

Bluey: Well, it came out of what was called the Brit-funk, or jazz-funk scene in Britain. Giles Petersen, who releases my records in Britain, and is behind the a&r-ing of the band, and one of my best friends, one of my neighbors. He’s the one who coined the term acid-jazz. It kind of describe the music where we come from, so that in the history of it, we’ll be rooted in it. It’s like clubs that were happening in the scene in London were really reflective of what we were doing in Incognito, and the progression of it, yeah.

JazzUSA: What is the club scene in London like now? Has it changed? Because acid-jazz has kind of died over here, kind of.

Bluey: Acid jazz has kind of moved on and has become part of trip-hop, and then it moved again into what is called drum n’ bass. It’s almost like the way music was in the 60’s. Kind of like a cross-cultural sort of thing, and acid-jazz is like part of that. There is like no really one scene, anymore. We’re borrowing elements from everywhere. It’s moved on to somewhere else. I don’t know how to label it, but it’s definitely progressed.

JazzUSA: And this is reflected in some of the tracks on “No Time Like The Future?”

Bluey: Yeah, Acid-jazz is rooted into soul and jazz-funk coming from the 70’s. And there’s still that. You’ll find my influences from listening to Roy Ayers or listening to Charles Stepney arrangements. Even on the opening track, there’s gospel melodies with the funk and the jazz up in there. It’s all throughout this album. But then you’ll find that there is also like a cinematic underpinning on some of the tracks, like “Marrakech,” which borrows from trip-hop and gained influence from film music of the 70’s, Lalo Schrifin scores. You’ll find that in that tune, and you’ll find on “Black Rain,” you’ll find my son taking the manipulation of Richard Bailey’s drums drumming. Ror the first three-quarters of the song you’ll hear some amazing Richard Bailey drums, and for the last quarter, my son, Daniel , is taking the elements of drum n’ bass, but takes the drums and morph them into a more programmed sound at the end and takes it into a different kind of groove.

JazzUSA: Bluey, Charles Stepney’s name rolled off your tongue like you say his name everyday.

Bluey: Well, he means an awful lot.

JazzUSA: I think we’ve talked about him before.

Bluey: Yeah, I think so, because he’s from your hometown.

JazzUSA: Right, and he’s really big to us in Chicago, and right when you said his name, I could hear it in “Beneath The Surface,” where you really experimented with strings.

Bluey: That’s right. If you listen to what Charles did with his arrangements, so much of today’s mainstream music has Charles Stepney’s influence on it. If you want dark, if you want less-filled, if you want something that draws you in, call-up Charles Stepney’s rules, and it’s like you’ll win every time. The string arranger I work with, I was playing him Charles Stepney’s stuff. I was playing him Minnie Riperton albums, and I was getting into Chess(Records) stuff that I was listening to in the 70’s and it’s so relevant to now. You know, like certain things are so classic. They will always be the trend no matter what time, what era. Great stuff is great stuff. That’s what I like about the future. The future is going to be a classic place. If you look at modern fashion, if you look at what designers are creating today, they borrow from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, and yet, it’s like modern, current. If you look at the new Jaguar, they’ve finally bought a face back into the car, the way it used to be in the 60’s, and the car looks great again. It’s got a face. Certain things are tried and tested, but you can put new things to it, you can put a modern trend to it. It’s like great things stand the test of time and always will and Charles Stepney’s music is like that. It’s always going to part of whatever is classic in the future.

JazzUSA: A few years ago, I did the liner notes for a Chess re-issue of two Charles Stepney produced albums by Ramsey Lewis, “Mother Nature’s Son” and “Maiden Voyage.” He did both of these albums within a year, which I suppose is far different from how long it took you to do “No Time Like The Future.”

Bluey: I usually do five or six albums a year. In this last couple of years, I actually have done like four. They just can’t all be Incognito albums. Unfortunately, people don’t want to follow an album with an album these days. So I have to do other projects. Therefore, I formed my own label, Rice, and I have a band called Inner Shade, which are members of Incognito. It’s out on N-Coded Music over here. I formed my own label so I can do Maysa’s (Leak) second solo album, which is coming out this year as well on my label. I’m trying to get more records out because I like the way they used to do it in the old days. That’s the way I like to work, the way they used to do in the old days.

JazzUSA: I was at a party not too long ago and an Incognito tune came on, and someone asked me had I heard Incognito-lite. The person was talking about Inner Shade, and when I did finally hear it, I thought that the Incognito-lite rap wasn’t fair. Except for Randy Hope-Taylor’s bass line, it’s a different feel, but your influence is obvious.

Bluey: Obviously, I needed to stick close to home. It’s one of the first records I was doing for my label. I wanted to learn to walk before I could run. That’s why I wanted to do Maysa and Inner Shade first, they’re members of Incognito. These people know me. They also know I’m putting musicians through college. I’m trying to bring in young people like my son. Inner Shade was a platform for some of these younger musicians to work with the established musicians in Incognito. It allowed them to learn to make a album. It was quite experimental, and because of it, we’ve got some experimental sounds like our version of (Freddie Hubbard’s) “Little Sunflower,” I wasn’t afraid to experiment with drum n’ bass and various moods. It was more experimental than anything I’d done previous. It allowed me to see how far I could go, and it was a block leading to trying different ideas on the Incognito record. It is different in terms of sound. Usually an Incognito album only feature me as the guitarist on the record and it’s not guitar orientated, where as if you listen to the Inner Shade album, you’ll find that Mark Whitfield is featured on it, which makes it guitar orientated. You won’t find that on an Incognito record.

JazzUSA: If Inner Shade took off, does that mean you lose Randy as a bassist?

Bluey: Actually, I’ve lost Randy at the moment. He’s on the Jeff Beck album and he’s touring with Jeff Beck. So he’s coming out on the road whenever he can at the moment. I’ve always had two bass players with the group, Randy and a guy named Julian Crampton who did most of “100 Degrees and Rising.” They shared half the work on the new album. Incognito is like a musical institution. It’s bigger than all the players. It’ll always survive. It’s like a school.

JazzUSA:: But the spectacular Mr. Taylor is the only bassist you’ve ever toured America with, right?

Bluey: Yeah, he’s the only one we’ve toured over here with, but in England, we’ve used other players. Other here, people remember us for the line-up we bring over, where the idea of the band is much bigger than that.

JazzUSA: People in Europe would know that more than we would over here. And speaking of both countries, Joycelyn Brown and Maysa are both from the United States, what about the new singer Karen Bernod?

Bluey: (laughs) Yeah, she is too.

JazzUSA: Did she, like Maysa and Miss Brown, go over there to make it? Where did you find this woman?

Bluey: She was touring with Erikah Badu and also with D’Angelo and she’d been duetting with Luther Vandross recently. She came to my attention through my girlfriend who works at Verve, and I was looking for a third singer at the time. What I like about these women are they are incredible vocalists, but they’re very humble people. They don’t have a diva-ish attitude that so many lead singers suffer from.

JazzUSA: Well Maysa and Joycelyn Brown spent a lot of time singing background for other folks.

Bluey: That’s right and for me I love these bridesmaids. They’ve never quite been the brides, but in a way, that’s the attraction. That’s been the beauty of who they are as people and I function with them well. Sometimes you get great singers in the studio, but their egos are like so big that you don’t enjoy the experience. For me, it’s like, if the record turns out to be great, brilliant, it’s usually because the experience of doing it has been amazing too, the connection among people, the human conversation. JaazUSA: Although Joycely Brown did have a major worldwide hit?

Bluey: “Somebody Else’s Guy,” which I’m playing on a new version of it funny enough. She’s recording her new album right now. So Joycelyn, for me is one of those incredible people that like no matter who you are, if you meet Joycelyn, and sat down with her, you’ll going to come out wiser. You’re going to feel that you’ve been in the presence of somebody great. Sometimes in a world where so often you’re disappointed when you meet your heroes, it’s wonderful that people like Joycelyn and Stevie Wonder are around.

JazzUSA: The Cuban group Irakere is on one track. Where’d you run into Irakere at?

Bluey: Irakere and I have had a relationship for the last ten years. They’ve been coming to Britain playing Ronnie Scott’s and every time I’ve gone and seen them, I realized they didn’t get much money for doing those gigs. They have to send money back to Cuba for the government and they get paid very little in Britain. So what I’ve tried to do is for the last ten years, every time it’s been possible for me, I’ve organized a session for them to come along. I’ve got tapes in my wardrobe at home with like Irakere and Incognito featuring Roy Ayers on vibes.

JazzUSA: No!

Bluey: Man, I’ve got mad tapes. I’ve got mad, mad tapes. For me I just create these sessions so that I can like earn a bit more money and I can have a great time with them and learn and get an education.

JazzUSA: But what are you going to do with these tapes?

Bluey: They’re all these tapes. Some may just sit there forever because bureaucracies, people record companies or whatever, they can’t come to agreements. They want unreasonable fees. So what I’ve tried to do is just create sessions each time, and if it’s possible for something to work out, fine. In this case, it worked out fine because its just Irakere and Incognito, their horn section instead of ours just did this one tune for the album. I will look up to these musicians as long as they come over and tour.

JazzUSA: I don’t want to get into politics, but they shouldn’t have legal problems in England and even in the U.S., I think they only license their records that were already released in Cuba.

Bluey: It’s not because of them. I always recorded them with? I can’t mention any names, but believe me, I only recorded them with incredible artists. I’ve already said Roy, but he’s only the tip. We just couldn’t get management and people to agree without exorbitant fees. What I’ve been trying to do for years is try to set up a vehicle where no matter who you are, that’s why the name Incognito, what walk of life you’re from, or what your background is, if you’ve got something musical to offer, the door is open for you

JazzUSA: Is there a chance an Irakere record could happen on you label?

Bluey: It’s funny you should mention that, I’ve been talking to the Japanese about getting signed up, if not the whole band, then the Irakere horns. It’s funny you should ask me that.

JazzUSA: When is the Incognito U.S. tour?

Bluey: From mid September through mid October, we’ll be doing an extensive U.S. tour.

JazzUSA: I remember on one of your early tours, you came out with mostly new material. And after the show, we were hanging and I talked to you about it, because I thought it was a mistake, but then “Positivity” became such a big hit and I saw your point. I was kind of surprised when you did the same thing for the “100 Degrees And Rising” tour after having such a big hit album before. Now there’s been a few years between a couple of albums, what now? On this tour, do you just concentrate again on what’s on the current record and ignore that catalog from seven albums.

Bluey: Right now, of course, we’re promoting a couple of things from the new album. Right now we’re of the mindset that too many people are out there just to sell a record. They’re just out there to promote a record. We’re going to go out there and have some fun. There are no two gigs that are going to be the same anywhere in the world for us this time. And even the way we’ve scheduled the touring, we’re playing like Red Square in Russia. We’ve picked some wild places to play. We’re gonna make one of those life journeys that make you richer for going out there. Be guaranteed that we’re gonna offer a show that really comes from the heart and full of energy.

JazzUSA: If this was the 70’s Bluey, you’d have plenty of competition with a zillion other self-contained bands playing jazz/funk, but there’s hardly any now.

Bluey: It’s becoming harder for everybody. I’ve had to drop one musician to make the band smaller in order to bring in the cost of this tour. It’s the finances. Things have changed. People sell less records worldwide these days. You can get in the top 20 with like selling like even a tenth of what you had to sell ten years ago. It’s difficult times. But I got into music not to make money, I got into music because I love it. Now I have to understand that if I want to keep my vehicle going, my vision of music, I have to also be aware of not just the business of music, but the music business. I’m becoming wiser. I’ve got my own label. I just intend to keep this dream alive because a dream is as great as any individual.

Be sure to visit the Incognito Everyday Web Site.

Joe Sample Interview 2004

Joe SampleA Word With Joe Sample
About Flying Solo
by S.H. Watkins, Sr.

JazzUSA: Soul shadows… after listening to it I enjoy it very much. It gives you a chance to showcase your talent. Why a solo album?

Joe: a Solo album is the most natural thing for a guy to do who’s been sitting at a piano since he was five years old, should do. It’s all been solo piano since the beginning. From going to the piano teacher and sitting there. It all began with Boogie Woogie at five years old. 1944. Having to do recitals all by myself and I would do the common works for young piano students. As you get older you start doing the works of Bach and sonata’s, so it’s always been solo. I grew up with an older brother, he was 15 years older than me and he played piano in an all black naval swing band in WWII. His idol was Teddy Wilson, so I heard countless hours and hours of listening to my older brother playing Teddy Wilson.

Click to read the CD reviewAt some point in the mid 60’s it was Ben Webster who invited me to his hotel room, the day after he had jammed with the band, the crusaders. The Jazz Crusaders at the workshop in San Francisco. He insisted that I come to his hotel room where he had a reel to reel tape recordings of James P. Johnson. I had heard James P. Johnson recordings through my father and brother when I was a child. In the 50’s I became a disciple of be-bop like everyone else had. At 13-14 years old I also realized that my left had was surely going to die. It required whatever the technique was required to create a be-bop performance. And that simply meant get out of the way of the bass player and the drums.

JazzUSA: So it’s almost a natural thing for you to go this way.

Joe: Oh yeah, just to sit at the piano, to be able to feel like I’m a real man. I’m going to call myself a piano player and I can’t use both hands, is absurd to me.

JazzUSA: Do you think your target audience from the record company’s point of view, is going to appreciate this album. Bearing in mind that a lot of your audience is use to you in the ensemble setting.

Joe: The ensemble setting has always been a demonstration of my; love of music. I know that the audiences or fans don’t really understand or quite possible know what is the motivation of any musician. In my case I remember practicing, keeping my left hand in great condition. All the way up to the age of 30, where in 1968, as you know that was that major change from the Jazz Crusaders to the Crusaders. From the Acoustic piano to the electric piano. Also the change of the music, where I really decided, and I had numerous reasons. And this is what I will always say that I had numerous reasons to stop holding back the true territory musician that I am. I am made up of Jazz, Blues, Gospel and every damn thing else. So I’m not going to hold that back to satisfy, the status quo of the jazz world.

JazzUSA: You play music for Joe Sample and not for them.

Joe: I was born to do what God put in me and I can’t stop it from coming out.

JazzUSA: I’m glad you don’t . Joe you mentioned be-bop Joe? How did you feel about playing as a be-bop group. When you were in Symphony Hall in Chicago, where they did all the music you made famous in the electronic situation. But you got be-bopped up?

Joe: Be-bop was the most fascinating thing that I began to hear in the late 40’s. Again it was because of my oldest brother. We didn’t have real jazz clubs in Houston that would be a jam session on any particular jam Sunday afternoon. I remember that even the jam sessions would be shut down, because they would eventually become and interracial event. By Texas law that was against the law, the police would come in after one month and cut these rich jam sessions down. Another club would have it and wherever you had jazz musicians playing, of course everybody would find out about it, and it across racial lines. It was a natural instinctive thing not to give a damn about anybody’s race. All you cared about was can he play? The music was the drawing card eventually because of Texas law it was shut down. So in order to sustain a Jazz Club, you could not have Jim Crow laws in effect. I’m saying all that to say that Houston never really had a jazz club. That was the one unfortunate thing by being born where I was born. I didn’t have it that there were jazz clubs in most of the eastern cities. And even a number of Western cities where I was growing up. I had to seek jazz and I had to find it. What was natural was the church the Baptist, the African Methodist, the Sanctified the Holy Rollers….(laughter). Every blues bar on every corner, for every church there were two blues bar. There were blind men on every major intersection in the Black neighborhoods, playing Blues with a tin cup hanging off the neck of the guitar.

JazzUSA: And not a Jazz club in sight.

Joe: Not a Jazz club in sight.

JazzUSA: So it’s interesting that you ended up at Symphony Hall play be-bop.

Joe: That was also one of the loves of my life. One thing that people really do not understand. Especially Linn Suther could never understand this or, the critics of the elite publications. They never understood that being a piano player was one of the worst nightmares that you could engage yourself in on the face of the earth. For every decent piano I play throughout the 50’s and 60’s, for every decent piano I played 30 dogs. The dogs were so fierce and plentiful that finally in Cleveland, I told the Jazz Crusaders. We were in a Jazz club in Cleveland, I told the band that is it brothers. I cannot waste my life coming around week after week after week and sitting on pianos that were absolutely unplayable. Now this particular piano is suppose to be 88 notes. It had 88 keys on it and only 3 had a sound. There were no strings in this (explicative) piano. I quit, this is not furthering my life.

Right then and there, I made up my mind, I went to the Wurlitzer piano. I couldn’t really play the Fender Rhodes, because of the quality of the steel tones generated. The tuning time as they call did not have the strength to stand up to my strength. So I consequently break all the tuning times. I found out that Joe Zawinul was doing the same thing. He and I both got called out to Fullerton California to the Fender Rhodes Company. George Rhodes introduced me and Joe Sabine, not at the same day, but probably in the same week. To the new upgraded Fender Rhodes and that’s when I decide to go to the Rhodes. I found it could stand up from the strength of a piano player.

JazzUSA: A different direction Joe for you (kind of), you’ve always been a vocal critic of smooth jazz. Now that you are play straight ahead jazz have you been confronted by the jazz police.

Joe: There was a critic in the Washington Post recently, perhaps two weeks ago. Who reviewed my album and made an announcement that I would be playing with the trio in Arlington, Virginia at the Bridgemere. I thought that his review, he laid it out that he had to defend the position that he had always taken against me in the past. He was very complimentary, of the solo shadows work. His opening line was that I had spent the majority of my life making music that is easy to play and easy to listen to. This guy has no idea that my music has kicked most musicians asses. It is very difficult to play and the reason that they think it’s easy to play, because I simply make it sound so simple.

JazzUSA: Exactly, it is easy to listen to though!

Joe: It is that, I tell everybody today, I came up with this phrase a few years ago. I cannot tolerate demonstrations of intellect. This is when I made the decision that I had to get away from being the jazz piano player in the existing jazz clubs in 68. Basically because there were no pianos to play. And I saw that jazz was headed in a direction that was alien. Too many of the reasons that made me become a jazz musician in the first place. When I listened to jazz it gave me chills throughout my body. Duke Ellington, Basie, Lenny Kurstano(?), I listened to hours and hours. I was emotionally and spiritually touch by all the great artists of jazz. It happened with Miles, it happened with Coltrane, Coltrane was a very very spiritual man. Then all of the sudden by the ends of the 80’s, I personally saw that jazz was becoming demonstrations of intellect. And that word intellect I read recently was described as arrogance. This is what I have felt from a number of the musicians that have the sense of trying to prove that they are superior. I have felt as if I have been tested, they have created test to see how musical I was. I mean some name guys, some very prominent musicians today. I just think hey the only reason that you and I are here in this situation together, is because I thought we were suppose to be making music. I didn’t come here to pass a music test.

JazzUSA: They’ve lost touch?

Joe: They have lost as to what jazz music is suppose to be. Well we’ve lost touch with music everywhere. Every phase of it and you know what this album was? It takes me back to Soul Shadows I witnessed in Country, R&B, Jazz and I’ve witness in Gospel today, I have witnessed everything. WE have distanced ourselves so far from the roots of the origins of our music that I find it deploring.

JazzUSA: There’s not a lot of good music, there’s a lot of music being redone.

Joe: It’s formula, formula formula.

JazzUSA: No originality

Joe: None at all. The thing about smooth jazz is that they have a formula for them that works. And what they have done is that they created a formula which actually stifles the sense of creating new music. The most wonderful period that I remember in music was the 1970’s. Whenever you listened to any Crusaders album you never new what it was going to be like. If you ever listen to any Miles any Marvin Gaye. Motown was pouring out things all of the artists from Country to everywhere. We constantly heard music that we’d never heard before.

JazzUSA: Now it’s just variations on them.

Joe: It’s variations of the formula.

JazzUSA: I notice you have the entertainer on here, it’s got a Joplin tune. Are you familiar with Reginald Robinson. He’s a young pianist out of Chicago he just won a McArthur grant. And he was inspired by Joplin’s music.

Joe: I heard about this guy recently.

JazzUSA: I just mentioned him because he’s a pianist from Chicago and I’m from Chicago.

Joe: And his name is Reginald Robinson, RR, I’m going to have to write that down. He has a recording out?

JazzUSA: Yes he has a few of them out. I looked him up and made sure that I was right before I brought it to you. A couple more things and this is just my own. I remember this album you did a while back with Lalah Hathaway. In fact I still have the interview sitting on the wall that you did with Mark Ruffin. Are you looking to do anything like that in the future.

Joe: ON the books I. well right now I am currently in the process of looking for and writing and will be very soon writing with Lalah. Hopefully the next project that I do, do will be with Lalah and the trio. I’m very excited about getting in to the trio. For the first time ever I have a drummer, who really paves a way. So that as we are playing I have this room and this space to take a turn at any point that I want to. I can take it anywhere that I want to without anybody leading me.

JazzUSA: Who is it?

Joe: His name is Adam Nussbaum, he has made it possible for me to feel totally free to generate any kind of feeling that I may feel at any particular moment. I guess that that has been the most difficult thing, the intricacies of rhythm, are tremendous. This is where all of the Jazz critics have faulted me and they will say that the rhythm isn’t really important. That is where I disagree with them tremendously, cause that is what makes it, one of the main ingredients that make it jazz. Well Adam can feel every sensitivity concerning rhythm that I love to get into. And do you know why he does that.

JazzUSA: Why?

Joe: Because he is very passionate to listening to all recorded music, going all the way back to the beginning. He sends me things, he gives me things, he makes CDs for me where he as found some obscure Basie, obscure this and obscure that. We marvel at the feeling that these performers are generating. It is the feeling, the tingling excitement. Adam now makes it possible because he is sensitive to all of the sensitivity of rhythm.

JazzUSA: Well that’s good then we can expect some good Joe Sample coming out in the future.

Joe: And hopefully with Lalah.

JazzUSA: Yeah, hopefully with Lalah. Just one more question Joe, I have to ask this one. Are there any future Crusader plans?

Joe: Yes I would certainly like to get into the studio. I know that Stewart Lavine who has worked with us as a producer. And Pat Rings who has TRA records and we participate in the ownership of the master. He’s anxious to do it. I know all the guys now, Wilton and Ray Parker and I’m very anxious to do it. Ray Parker and presented a very new sense of rhythm and blues to the Crusaders. An authentic sense of R&B which I just, sometimes he’s into his unique sensitivities as an R&B player, I take my hands off of the keyboard and simply listen to it. We are all looking forward to doing this again.

JazzUSA: Joe it’s been good talking to you. You are one of the masters, we’re looking forward to the new album. Have a good day.

Joe: Thank you very much. Bye-Bye.

An Interview with Christian McBride

Christian McBride A Moment With
Christian McBride
by Mark Ruffin

Christian McBride’s new album is a departure from the reputation the young bassist has developed as one of the most in-demand session players, but the contemporary leanings on the record are just the direction the young bassist wants to head in. This month, he talks with JazzUSA’s Senior Editor, Mark Ruffin about the difficulties and the joy he had in making “Sci-Fi.”

JazzUSA: Last time we talked was right after your Herbie Hancock tribute record and a little before the “Family Affair,” album, and you were itching to do the funk and adding more music from the 70’s and 80’s, since that time, does it seem to you that the jazz lexicon has stretched enough accept tunes that you’re featuring on your new album like “Walking On The Moon,”

Christian McBrideCM: My honest answer is no. You won’t believe the kind of convincing I had to do with the record company. I’d say, this is the kind of sound I want from my cd, this is the direction I want to go, these are the songs I want to do. And it’s kind of like, ‘well, Christian, most people know you as a traditional jazz player. You need to do a traditional jazz record.’ Well, that’s not what I want to do. I don’t want to do a traditional jazz record, because I’m not really a traditional jazz guy. Even though music is what I love and is what I do, I also know that music is a profession. In the past, anytime someone called me to play on their gig, say Benny Golson or Barry Harris or Tommy Flanagan, a living jazz legend calls me to play on the gig with them, I’m not going to the gig trying to play like Bootsy Collins or Jaco Pastorius. I’m going to play the style that they ask me to play, which is in the traditional style. So people see me do that and they say, oh that must be what he does. So, when I started making my own records, I thought that would be an opportunity for me to do what I wanted to do musically.

This is the day and age of what I like to call the box, everything has it’s own little box, and no one’s allowed to just make music anymore, and I think it’s really bad in jazz. I don’t think the problem is with the music. I don’t think the problem is the musicians. I think there’s really this gargantuan generation gap between the people who are in charge of the jazz industry and the people who play jazz. There are so many young cats out there playing jazz and a lot of people in the jazz industry are a lot older. They still have very old school ways of thinking about how to market the music, how to present the music…

JazzUSA: Plus Chris, a lot of those cats still have a bad taste in their mouth from the fusion era…

CM: They never got over it.

JazzUSA: Right, so today, anything electronic is automatically associated with the smooth jazz shit, and forget about what Marcus Miller or Vital Information are trying to do, or what Tribal Tech,

CM: or Victor Wooten and those guys…

JazzUSA: Right, so if you’re child of the 70’s, I like to say 70’s, but you’ re so young, let’s say child of the 80’s,….

CM: (laughs) Yeah, but I caught the tail end of that. I caught the last third of the fusion movement..

JazzUSA:: Exactly, plus you had the advantage of being raised in Philadelphia, so your absorption… CM…was very quick.

JazzUSA: Right, so I do understand you box theory, but I’m kind of surprised that you get it from Verve.

CM: Oh yeah, big time.

JazzUSA: From Tommy LiPuma?

CM: Well Tommy…. I like Tommy… Think about something, all of the records that Tommy has produced are very produced records, Diana Krall, George Benson, all of the records he does have a very…

JazzUSA: slick sheen.

CM: Exactly, totally. And that’s really not where I want to go…

JazzUSA: Well, I wasn’t talking about production style, at least he seems to be open to ideas about music being varied, that’s his thing.

CM: For certain artists. See, when the whole corporate takeover happened a couple of years ago and Verve and GRP became one label, they technically are, but they’re still pretty much ran by different people, so I don’t deal too much with Tommy for my own projects. I mean, I see him all the time. He’s a real good buddy of mine and obviously working on Diana’s record and George Benson’s record….

JazzUSA: I hear what you’re saying. There are other corporate concerns for Tommy…

CM: Yes, exactly.

JazzUSA: Well your record seems to be partly a tribute to some of the great bass players…

CM: It’s a tribute in the since that I love their playing and I love the music that their wrote. But this cd isn’t about a tribute, or a tip of the cap to anyone as much as it is a direction that I want to go in, as far the sound of the album is concerned. It’s funny, because, when I was going into the studio to make this record, the record label suggested that I do a Christian McBride salute the bassists record. I really think the concept of concept records includes something very artificial and not very likable to me. I really don’t think, in the long run, anyone’s going to buy a record because of it’s concept. They’re going to buy a record because they like the music that they hear. Yeah, the concept might catch their eye, so they can buy the record. But if they buy the record and they don’t like the music, who cares about the concept.

So I knew that me doing a record and doing all music by Mingus and Oscar Pettiford, Ray Brown, Ron Carter, that’s not where I want to go at all. I feel like I’ve already garnered this reputation of being like this old school traditionalist kind of guy. I feel like a lot of people think of me like this 70 year-old man in a 28 year-old body, and I do take that as a compliment, but at the same time, I’m really very much into current music. Every time I mention I want to do that, a lot of people behind the corporate fence are like ‘oh no, you can’t ruin your reputation,’ I’m like man please.

JazzUSA: But didn’t you make that perfectly clear with the “Family Affair,” album?

CM: I thought I did. If there wasn’t a more blatant attempt, (laughs) You see the problem was “Family Affair,” didn’t sell very well. They didn’t push the record.

JazzUSA: And that’s really a shame because there was something there for both black radio and smooth jazz radio. But let’s not even talk about the sad state of radio..

CM: No, let’s not (laughs) We’d be on the phone all day.

JazzUSA: Yeah, I thought you made it perfectly clear on “Family Affair.”

CM: Not to put it all on the record company, because the timing was very bad. That record came out three weeks before Universal bought Verve. So like everybody who was working that record got laid off a few weeks after the record came out. So it was just a bad time. But they used the lack of sales as a way to try to convince me that I need to do a quote, unquote, jazz record. But I’m saying that I really don’t think that’s going to do me any better sales wise…

JazzUSA: Right, what’s the saying, jazz is only three percent of the market and one percent of that is Kenny G.

CM: Yeah, right.(laughs)

JazzUSA: So last night I went to the Jazz Showcase, here in Chicago, which I noticed is on your itinerary. Do you know the reputation of the owner, Joe Segal?

CM: Oh, God, yes.

JazzUSA: So, last night I went to see Danilo Perez, and Danilo did some rap and some hip-hop,,,

CM: (laughs) Uh-oh. Did Joe Segal have a fit?

JazzUSA: Well the situation I was in is what was classic. I was sitting in the back of the room with (Blue Note Records Grammy nominated singer) Kurt Elling, and in front of us, was Howard Reich, the Chicago Tribune critic…

CM: Woooooooooooo,

JazzUSA: But he had walked out already right before Danilo did the tune. So in the middle of the piece, I looked at Kurt and said how nice it was that Howard had left already. The piece was wonderful. It went into this Brazilian thing that’s off his new album. Then, right when it was over, Lloyd Sachs, the Sun-Times critic stood up in front of us, and the pressure that Kurt and I felt was thick and undeniable. We talked about it after he left. It’s like they’re the fucking police. CM; Yeah, right, see, that kind of shit has got to stop. I can’t remember who told me, but they said fuck critics, ain’t no city ever put up a statue of a critic.

JazzUSA: Okay, with that, what was your mindset when you went in to make “Sci-Fi?”

CM: My mindset was look, I’ve got to do the music that’s in my heart. The reason I can’t really let the corporate end of the business direct what kind of music I do is because my biggest fear is that, say for example a producer says, ‘Chris we want you to do Chris McBride plays the Beatles.’ Knowing in my heart that that is nowhere near the kind of music that I’d want to do. My biggest fear is that that record would become a big hit and that I would have to do Beatles music for the rest of my life.

JazzUSA: Sounds like a bad Rod Serling “Twilight Zone” script. CM Yeah. I can imagine someone saying, yeah, I’m going to give into the record company. I’ll just chalk this one up, and then the record becomes a hit and they’re miserable for the rest of their life, because the one project that they didn’t want to do turns out to be a hit and now they have to play that. Plus another thing is that it’s very rare for an artist to stay on one label for a long time anyway. If I ever get dropped from my record label, I much rather get dropped for doing music that I wanted to do rather than doing what they tell me to do and end up getting dropped anyway.

JazzUSA: Explain to me the line on the album describing the title track that says you’re Laurence Fishburne and we’re Keanu Reeves, what does that mean?

CM: Remember the scene in the movie (“The Matrix.”) where they pulled Keanu Reeves out of the street and pulled him into that limo, and then they pull him down into the underworld and there is Fishburne waiting for him, that’s what it is. The melody is kind of like when Keanu Reeves is walking around checking out the scene, and then the saxophone solo is where it abruptly changes and we yank him into the other world.

JazzUSA: Okay. The record is great and I feel like it’s kind of a continuation of “Family Affair,..”

CM: Well “Family Affair,” was more of an experimental record than anything else because it was my first time trying to make a real serious attempt at trying to bridge the gap…

JazzUSA: Which is what you always wanted to do…

CM: Right, but I think with the new cd, sonically, like with the flow of the album, I think I finally got it. It’s still a jazz record, but it’s not traditional. It’s not fusion. It’s not funk. It’s not pop. It’s a little bit of everything. I think I finally got it.

JazzUSA: What did you learn from George Duke producing your last record?

CM: That it’s okay to experiment. George was more or less like a dream weaver. Most jazz musicians don’t need producers because jazz musicians know what kind of sound they want for their records, and working with George Duke, I told him what I wanted to do, and George was like, ‘well man, it sounds like to me that you already know what you want. It sounds to me like you don’t necessarily need a producer but I will help you get what you’re looking for. I’ll help you get there.” And he certainly did that. He was like my sail in the boat. He’s someone who exemplifies diversity. He’s played with Cannonball Adderley, Frank Zappa, Burt Backharach, Anita Baker. He knows about touching all the bases.

JazzUSA: In the contemporary jazz world right now, who’s doing other stuff that you like. Who has that vision of bridging the future with the past?

CM: Lots of people. I like what Danilo is doing. I really like what Brian Blade is doing. James Carter has always been a favorite of mine. He’s so wild. Actually, my new pianist, who is an old friend, Geoff Keezer, I like his ideas too.

An Interview with Ivan Lins

Ivan LinsA Conversation with
Ivan Lins
by Mark Ruffin

Brazilian music fans must be in a tizzy, because there is so much going on in the musical life of Ivan Lins. There is still a palatable buzz from last year’s stunning tribute album, A Love Affair; The Music of Ivan Lins. Plus, Sting won a Grammy earlier this year for the track She’s Walks This Earth from that album.. There was also the Ivan Lins tribute concert at Carnegie Hall, and now the singer has released an import live album, recoded in Havana. It’s titled Live in Cuba and features the Brazilian superstar backed by the island’s biggest jazz stars, Chucho Valdes and Irakere.

Contacted by phone, the singer talked about his trip to Cuba, and the tribute album. On a warm day, from his home in Rio, the singer talked about, among other things, how that tribute album project was originally supposed to be Miles Davis next album, and the unique experience of performing in Havana.

“Oh boy that was really something wonderful,” he said of the trip. “It was my first time in Cuba and it’s very impressive. Havana is crazy. They are very musical people and everybody in the country can play percussion”

The album is a pristine recording of Lins and his Cuban friends playing nine slick arrangements of the composer’s most well known tunes, including The Island and Dinorah, Dinorah. Plus Lins sings a wonderful arrangement of The Girl From Ipanema, and Valdes and Irakere plow through a long jam of Love For Sale.”

“We had one rehearsal and Irakere understood everything,” Lins exclaimed. “I brought in some lead sheets for the musicians, and I was like, ‘okay, let’s try one,’ and they just played and played.

The second time we played any song they were playing spectacularly. We could’ve recorded the rehearsals. It was that spectacular.”

Lins said he was also touched by the overwhelming positive goodwill of the people of Cuba, despite shortages everywhere. There wasn’t even a space for the band to rehearse for the concert. So, the day of the concert at Casa de La Musica, they practiced at an outdoor stadium where training athletes burnt in the hot sun along with the musicians.

“It was so weird,” Lins remembered, “so we just improvised.”

After the show was over, the Cuban group went to Europe, while Lins went to a private island to relax for a short vacation. The trip was part of his itinerary, but was interrupted when he got a call from the people of Cuba. The representative was a promoter asking the singer to cancel his vacation.

“Because the concert was very expensive, the students and common people couldn’t go to the concert I recorded live,” Lins explained. So, I went back to Havana and did a free concert at the National Theatre of Havana for 3500 people, just me and the piano.”

Impishly, the singer insisted there was a tape of this show, and implied that he wouldn’t be surprised if it showed up somewhere in the future.

On A Love Affair, The Music of Ivan Lins, the tunes that surprised the singer the most was Vanessa Williams singing Love Dance, and Sting singing the only song written specifically for the album, She Walks This Earth.

“Usually, my music is recorded by jazz musicians and is very jazz oriented, not so pop,” he exclaimed. “But Sting and Vanessa were huge surprises for me. And I loved it, because it’s a chance to have more pop people hear my music.”

He makes it clear that the project was all the impetus of the producer, Jason Miles. As the producer planned it, got an approved budget and a label, Lins was kept informed, but he kept his distance, until Miles asked him to sing one song and play keyboards on three others.

“Just to have my touch,” the singer said.

The project’s origin actually stretches back exactly a decade to early 1991, when Jason Miles was a programmer for Miles Davis. The keyboardist was an integral part of Davis’ great Amandla album. He was also around when then Warner Brothers’ jazz exec, now Verve Music Group president, Tommy LiPuma was suggesting new music to the great trumpeter.

Lins had met LiPuma during the time when the Brazilian composer was working with Quincy Jones and being produced by Stewart Levine. Two days after LiPuma sent Davis Lins’ music, he reacted the way most people do after first hearing his music. He went nuts.

“Miles called Tommy and said ‘I need to talk to this man.,'” Lins remembered. “You sent me incredible music. I want to talk to this Ivan Lins. How can I talk to him?’

“Tommy contacted Stewart Levine, and he contacted me and said ‘Ivan, Miles wants to talk to you. He’s in love with your music, but he wants to talk personally.’

“I got scared,” he said laughing.

The singer was so intimidated about speaking to the great man, that he didn’t trust his very good English. So he had a friend listen to the conversation, in case he needed a translation.

“I was afraid of the slang,” he commented. ” The Miles Davis slang. And it was really funny, because it was really fast and he went directly to the point.

“‘Oh man, your music is excellent. I love your music, man,” Lins said imitating Davis’ gravelly voice. “I listened to your cd’s and the songs are really great, but too many notes man, too many notes in the arrangements.'”

Laughing hard now, the singer continued the story saying that Miles said he was going to record an incredible 28 of his songs. Lins was proud, but skeptical of the bloated number, until a month later when he got his very first phone call from Jason Miles.

“He confirmed it,” Lins said. “He called me and said, ‘oh, Ivan, I’m Jason Miles. I met you in Los Angeles at Larry Williams’ house. I don’t know if you remember me, but I’m working with Miles and he wants to record 28 songs and I want to just say I’m a fan of your music.'”

Miles Davis died three months after that phone call.

Lins did get to know Grover Washington Jr., before the saxophonist died in late 1999. He opened two shows for the saxophonist, in San Diego and in Denver. He remembered Grover, like anyone who ever came in contact with him, by emphasizing what a quality human being he was.

Back in 1993, a Brazilian group called Batacoto with Dionne Warwick as guest vocalist, first recorded the song that Grover recorded for A Love Affair; The Music of Ivan Lins.

“The opening lyric is I’m a chameleon so I am here, but I’m not, which is how a lot of his American fans feel about Ivan Lins.

An Interview with Citrus Sun

Talking with the guru behind Incognito,
Inner Shade and Citrus Sun

Jean-Paul “Bluey” Maunick
by Mark Ruffin

Jean-Paul “Bluey” Maunick, the leader of the huge English group, Incognito, is finding himself in the same situation George Clinton was in 25 years ago. Jean-Paul 'Bluey' Maunick Incognito, like Funkadelic before it, is making too much music to wait for one record company to release one album a year.

Clinton solved the problem by getting deals for Parliament, Bootsy’s Rubber Band, the Brides of Funkenstein, Parlet, and the Horny Horns. Now following Maysa and Inner Shade, the group Citrus Sun has become Maunick’s third spin-off from his 70’s inspired jazz/funk mob with their debut album “Another Time, Another Space.”

“George Clinton is one of my heroes,” Maunick confirmed by phone from his London recording studio. “Along with Quincy Jones and Charles Stepney, these are the people who showed me how to encourage, how to organize and how to take care of my musicians.”

As was the case when Clinton had all those groups, Citrus Sun, as well as Incognito, Maysa and Inner Shade are all a distillation of the original vision of their leader. Citrus SunWhereas Maysa shows the pop/funk/vocal side of the mother group, and Inner Shade, it’s jazzier, drum n’ bass side, Citrus Sun wrings the 70’s instrumental ingredients out of the Incognito sound and heats it up with a modern smooth jazz flavor.

“The difference between my involvement with Incognito and Citrus Sun is that (on “Another Time, Another Space,”) I encouraged live playing and a more organic musical environment,” the producer explained. “When I produce Incognito, I dissect every sound and focus on sonic perfection. This was an opportunity for these guys to show what they can do. I was the boss, but we found a different way for me to steer the ship. It was a shared vision.”

He said that is not the case when many of these same guys perform under the guise of Inner Shade, describing it more as a direct offshoot of Incognito, complete with vocals, which Citrus Sun does not have.

“Inner Shade is like the Incognito album that I’m not doing,” he explained. “The next Inner Shade album will be much more Brazilian, which is where I’m not going with the Incognito album that I’m doing right now. I ‘m going much more r&b with it.”

Maunick also revealed that neither Maysa nor Jocelyn Brown is on the next Incognito record. Instead he will add four new vocalists to his incredible roster, including American singer Diane Joseph.

“The next Incognito record will be a real departure from the previous ones,” Maunick teased. “It’s more r&b sounding, but still with the Incognito flavor.”

The unique sounding horn section of Incognito does dominates the Citrus Sun record. But what makes the album different is the addition of guest stars Jim Mullen, who used to play guitar with the Average White Band, and the keyboardist from Simply Red, Tim Vine.

It is also interesting on the album to pick up on all the influences from the 70’s that these musicians display proudly throughout the eleven-track cd.

Mullen does a nice nod to Earth, Wind & Fire’s Al McKay on the song “Full Circle,” and there’s a very Roy Ayers like solo on “So What Can I Do?” Maunick even admitted to telling trumpeter Dominic Glover that he wanted him to sound like he was “in Donald Byrd’s living room,” on the track “What It Is.”

“This is a musicians’ project,” he emphasized, “I know they have to make a living, so told them to come and have some fun and keep it as a labor of love.

“Most bands have one kind of sound and they go with that,” he continued, “but with Incognito we’re so many things, that I have to find avenues to keep our interests alive and to keep our focus. Incognito can’t even survive putting out one record a year. I can’t make that kind of music and still hope to keep all those musicians together with one little tour.”

As usual, Incognito will be doing a North American tour to support their new upcoming album. As to whether any of his musicians will open or pick up gigs as Citrus Sun or Inner Shade depends on economics of course.

That’s one part of Clinton’s blueprint that he can’t pull off fully, and not just because of money. For one, as big as his group is, Incognito will never match the sheer number of musicians Clinton still carries with him to this day. And 25 years ago, each branch of the P-Funk mob had their own unique persona, complete with costumes.

“The last thing I want to do is bore people’s ears with the same band playing all night,” Maunick concluded.

J.A. Granelli Interview 2004

J.A. GranelliAn Interview with J.A. Granelli
by S.H. Watkins, Sr.

J. Anthony Granelli is a native of northern California. He began to study electric bass at the age of eight from San Francisco Bassist /instrument pioneer Fred Marshall. In his teens Granelli moved to Seattle Washington where he performed with Jay Clayton, Jerry Granelli, Julian Priester, and was a founding member of the critically acclaimed group Timebone. In 1999, Granelli founded Love Slave Records, a label dedicated to presenting New York’s exciting downtown scene and featuring a wide variety of artists including: Brad Shepik, Ralph Alessi, Ez Pour Spout, Jerry Granelli, Jamie Saft, and David Tronzo.

JazzUSA: Who founded the record company?

JG: I did

JazzUSA: Do you find that there are any particular obstacles put in front of you because of the fact that you’re running your own records company, instead of going through the standard distribution chain?

JG: I think the difference is that I have to do it all myself. If you’re on a label and their handling it, as an artist there’s just one less thing you have to hassle about. The major thing is that as the person whose running the label, all those responsibilities are mine. As a opposed of doing the record for somebody and having them put it out.

JazzUSA: What about placement, is there any resistance from the established industry because you’re an independent?

JG: The thing is that, the huge consolidation of the industry with quotes around industry. Has really made brick and mortar, meaning record store distribution very difficult, for small independent labels. The hardest thing, the real obstacle is you are faced with an either or situation. Either you are with a small boutique type of distributor like North Country. Where you’re basically in the catalogue, and if small record companies around the country want your product and they have dealings with the small distributors, then they know where to go and get it. That’s somebody coming in and asking if you have it and then getting it.

The other side is you take a pretty large step up to a real independent distribution somebody who will get your record into stores. When you move on to that level a real distributor is gonna want a certain level of financial activity. They’re going to want to see if you are going to put XE amount of dollars into the market in terms of advertising, in terms of buying listening posts etc, etc, etc.

JazzUSA: So you are faced with the age old problem of either swim with the big fish or have to swim around them.

JG: Exactly, I’m not trying to knock against any body in particular that I would be dealing with, but as soon as you move into the big fish world, the big fish end of the record industry is founded on ways to rip people off. If you look at it, historically the genesis of it is ripping people off. It’s become so institutionalized that they don’t even think about as ripping people off any more. It’s just simple the way they do business. For a big record label for them not to get a specific amount of reorders reported back to them, that that’s what happened or some CD’s came up missing or whatever doesn’t make that big of a difference to them. Because they are printing so many of them and destroying so many on a daily basis it doesn’t matter. But someone like me it’s horrific. Because I may be only printing up a couple thousand of them, and you know to get, you don’t really gain much stepping up in scale.

JazzUSA: It’s better to sell a few with no interference, then to sell a million that you’re only getting a penny on.

JG: Exactly, but you’d never sell a million records anyway. YOU not only set yourself up for spending more money to keep these people satisfied, but you also open yourself up for a myriad of ways to get stolen from.

JazzUSA: I’m glad to see you doing it, we’re very big on independent record companies.

JG: That’s great, for me I figured that I wanted to put some music out that I really loved, and some of my own music and it seemed like the best way to do it. This way we have control over everything we do.

JazzUSA: So you’re true to the music. Now let’s talk about Jay the bass player.

JG: That’s me (laughter).

JazzUSA: I see a lot of influences in the writing, particularly in the last album. I feel a little Charles Earland and some John Scofield in there.

JG: Yeah sure, Schofield was a large influence on me when I was younger. I guess kind of feel that a lot…like you never shed your influences. There might be times when you’re very influenced by somebody, and you try to write lot or trying to play like that person. Everyone grows out those phases and then you move on to what ever the next thing that’s interesting to you. But, you don’t ever shed that information, it might not ever be conscious. It’s not necessarily a conscious homage to these other people who have influenced you down the road. When I was writing that record the Gigantic stuff…the whole process of that band of Mr. Lucky as a band, really started when my daughter was born about 4 years ago. And becoming very dissatisfied with how I had been writing music up to that point. Which was for lack of a better word downtown New York, whatever that is. The music I had been writing up to that point was hard, it was hard, it was very complex. It was rhythmically very, lots of odd time signatures and time cycles and very angular.

I realized that I didn’t like listening to that type of music so much. Why was I writing it if I didn’t like listening to it, unless it’s because I felt like I should. Because I’m a schooled musician and that’s what I should be able to do. So I took a very conscious step back and stopped writing for a long time. I just really paid attention to what my ear gravitated towards, like what I liked to listen to. And that began this process of writing these two records and I have another record and a half of unrecorded material that I’ve been writing over the last year. It’s been kind of like that process of what’s important in music to me, is it melody, it’s groove, it’s these things. In New York a lot of the work I do, playing work is kind of like all country scene.

I think American music has become this huge fascination for me. That’s kind of what it’s all about, so people like Schofield and those guys I was really into when I was more of quote on quote a jazz musician is all in there. It influences it, it influences everything, now I looking at everything through this other lens. I just want to make beautiful music, and the end of the day and not to be schmaltzy about it, that’s what I want. I want to write something that someone will listen to, and sit there and have a great time listening to the music. Coming to see the band live, they’ll sit there and have a great time listening to the band live. They’ll be able to hear the melodies and remember them. That’s kind of what I’m after.

JazzUSA: Will this new point of view affect any future release from Easy Pour Spout?

JG: Easy Pour as a band, as the band that existed on that record, doesn’t necessarily exist. That record was like the beginning of the end for that project. Doing and playing those tunes that way, we played that music 2 to 3 years before we ever made that record. We sat down and thought about it and talked about it a lot. What are we trying to do with this, can we not play pop tunes in a jazz way. Can we find a way to play this music, where it stays emotionally true to the original. But let’s us improvise the way we want to improvise. It was a really a deliberate process that took a long time.

JazzUSA: It’s an interesting album.

JG: I’m very happy with it and over the course of the year since the record has come out. We have done special one off concerts. We done an all Led Zeppelin evening once, we’ve done a couple of things like that. Where we’ve put a confederation of people together for a special occasion.

JazzUSA: What’s next for you?

JG: I think I am working a bunch of new Mr. Lucky music. I think for this next project, this next recording we’re going to add a great peddle field player to the band that I play with out here in New York.

JazzUSA: Who is that?

JG: A guy names Joe Menke, he’s real good! Just for this bunch of music it’s gonna sound reall nice as a quintes… real full.

I’ve been working on that and… I kind of lead this wierd double existance where I write the Mr. Luck stuff, and I play in all the country bands but then at the same time I do like all these real hard core, free improvisation stuff… so I kinda work on both rails at the same time.

JazzUSA: Well thanks for your time and good luck with the CD.

JG: Thanks…

For more on J.A. Granelli visit his Web Site.

Christian McBride Interview

Vertical Vision is his Strength
Talking with Christian McBride
by Paula Edelstein
  Photo: Deborah Feingold

The celebrated jazz educator, master bassist, composer and arranger, Christian McBride gives us a new recording, told in a language of blazing originality. McBride’s latest is a first-class masterpiece and he gave us some insight about the recording in a recent interview. Here’s what he had to say…

PE: Hello Christian, so nice to talk to you again. Congratulations on your debut for Warner Brothers. Let’s talk about VERTICAL VISION. It clearly demonstrates that you appreciate and embrace both the historical and cultural aesthetic of jazz music. There’s bebop, fusion, free and traditional jazz styles included on the program. What inspired VERTICAL VISION?

CM: The same thing that inspired my last few CDs…just the beauty and diversity of improvisation. The beauty and joy of living life in general and just trying not to fight any certain emotion or whatever feeling you have at that moment. I am totally a guy who lives in the moment. I sometimes tend to do things and worry about it later. That could be good or bad but I find that generally, when it comes to music, it’s almost always a good thing that you don’t try to hold anything back.

PE: Would you agree that VERTICAL VISION is also a symbolic definition of the language that emanates from your acoustic bass?

CM: Yes and you know I didn’t think about that until after I made the record.

PE: Christian, you’re a well-respected man that wears many hats. You’re a bandleader, composer, arranger, educator…how do you delineate the mindset of each profession in order to accomplish the specific goals of each calling?

CM: Well, I think it helps; one that I’m a Gemini! (Smiles) and two, I think it helps that I have a passion for all music in general and whatever I’m called to do at that point, I really want to do it well. Maybe there will come a point when I decide that maybe I can’t do everything as well as I’d like to. So maybe I’ll start editing as time goes on. But at the moment, I like doing a little bit of everything. I like to compose, I like to arrange, I like to teach, and I like leading a band. But I also like playing in other people’s bands where I don’t have any stress. I can just follow orders. I like doing it well. I don’t like going into anything halfway.

PE: Well Christian, most geniuses don’t and you certainly are a genius in every sense of the word. You also have this growing body of work and reputation for edgy innovation, you’ve already begun carving a place for yourself in the genre’s long and still-unfolding story of compelling creativity. How has the collaborative and creative process with this particular ensemble of Ron Blake, Geoff Keezer, Terreon Gully, David Gilmore and Danny Sadownick kept your creativity flowing and bass chops burning?

CM: I cannot begin to tell you how blessed I feel to have this band. And I can say this truthfully from the bottom of my heart. If something happened where this band broke up tomorrow, I would really feel grateful because up until this point, I’ve had nothing but wonderful times with this band. I’ve finally found a group of guys who have completely open minds who are not afraid to try anything…no matter how bizarre it may seem at the moment. I just have a lot of fearless guys in the band who happen to be very musical. They use their taste to the utmost and when you have that combination of taste and fearlessness, I think you get a group of musicians that are going to make you feel good every night. Ron Blake has been playing with me since the end of 1999 and Geoff Keezer and Terreon Gully joined about nine or ten months later. When they joined the band, the group that I have on my SCI-FI recording with Rodney Green and Shedrick Mitchell had just split up under some really strange circumstances. So I started touring with these four guys, I was in a headspace where I didn’t care whether this band stayed together or not. I was like “Look, if we stay together, fine. If not, I expected it.” Now three years later, it’s like WOW! We’re still together and it still feels new. I am really looking forward to this upcoming tour.

PE: We are too! Christian, at this point in your career, do you consider playing jazz music an aggressive way of making art?

CM: Aggressive? I wouldn’t…it can be aggressive obviously. There are some moments when the aggression can get a little intensive. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be aggressive because…well, look at karate. That’s an art form. That’s a serious art form that can cause you some physical pain. (Smile). Making music doesn’t necessary cause you…

PE: But Christian…to use a metaphor, you have really “slayed” your audiences with those serious bass chops of yours! In fact, you’ve “floored” me as an audience member many times! (Smiles) So artistic aggression is good indeed! And finally, what do you want your listeners to come away with after hearing VERTICAL VISION?

CM: Well, I would hope that people would listen to the CD and just really try to hear the CD and say to themselves, “These guys really know each other well and enjoy playing together.” So I just hope they keep an open mind and let the music take them naturally instead of thinking “Oh Ray Brown’s protégé…former Wynton Marsalis protégé…Sting’s bass player…session guy.” Then trying to put an equation on the whole thing. I rather them just listen to the music and enjoy it.

PE: As they should. Again, thank you for the interview and congratulations on VERTICAL VISION. We’re looking forward to hearing music from it at your upcoming concerts. In the meantime, we’ll keep the CD in the player and stay updated through your website at www.christianmcbride.com

CM: Thank you, Paula.


Reprinted with permission of…

An Interview with James Carter

A Conversation With
James Carter
By Fred Jung

James Carter is one of a handful of musicians that is consistently making some of the finest music in jazz today. His name has become a buzzword for critics, for connoisseurs of jazz music, and the industry as a whole. He is a man in charge of his own destiny and his perceptive on his life, his music, and his future is mature beyond his years. The young saxophonist and I took some time during his tour to speak candidly about his influences, his music, his views, and his love, the saxophone.

JazzUSA: You came from humble beginnings. Let’s talk about how you came to play jazz music and your inspirations as a youth to pursue the music.

JC: First of all, I was born in Detroit. I’m the youngest of five and my family was always musically inclined. My mom was at the helm of the music part of it, as far as participatory where I was concerned because she used to play violin or piano during the school days. My father, who I did not have around long enough, he passed when I was, a little after two, about two and a half or something like that. He was into blues. He was an avid blues cat. He listened to B. B. King and others blues players like Muddy Waters, Elmore James, you know. I think he pretty much had an earful of what my people would call ‘good music’. But I think it was also because that’s what those artists had attention for, honesty, and what they were trying to convey and communicate to their listening audience, be it live, or on vinyl, or 8 track, whatever the case might have been at the time. It is the honesty that is what I have kept with me and it’s been somewhat incarnated in my music. Studying music and music being life. Music being an honest recollection of one’s own experiences to date or perceptions of tomorrow as well as today and of the past, whatever. It’s all part of one continuum.

JazzUSA: All these individuals were instrumental in your development as an artist and as a musician. Let’s talk about how each individual influenced you and how you developed your relationship. First, Wynton Marsalis.

JC: To begin with, as far as Wynton was concerned, the time I went down, I originally met him in March of ’85. He came to our town and was a guest soloist with the symphony at the time and the Board of Education got him to do a question and answer that was attended by the citywide fine arts departments of various schools. I met him because our jazz band was also hosting the event. Our school was hosting the event and they came from miles around for that. That’s how we pretty much met and exchanged numbers. I ended up taking my first tour of Europe that same year, in the summer, under an international jazz exchange program. While I was out on that tour, I was looking at MTV one day and I noticed that Wynton’s brother was playing with Sting. I wondered if it was something that he was a guest on or was he actually doing that. Later on that year, I got back into the States and it was pretty much confirmed that he had left the group (referring to Wynton Marsalis’s quintet in the early 1980’s with brother Branford Marsalis, Kenny Kirkland, Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts, and Charnett Moffett, Branford Marsalis left in late 1985) and Wynton’s manager called up and said, ‘We’d like for you to come down and play at Blues Alley.’ So I went on the second week of December in 1985 to Blues Alley and played there for the week. That’s how that started and it pretty much was a series of concerts that came from that gig, up until the summer of ’87. There’s was a little national eyebrow lifting, but nothing that was really on any given level, or what you would call notice or anything like that, except for one People Magazine interview that I did in March of ’87 and that was the first national splash and all.

JazzUSA: Lester Bowie.

JC: Lester, now that was more important, I would feel. It was most important because in ’88, May to be exact, ever since we played our first gig together, I was a last minute addition at the Detroit Institute of Art’s Recital Hall, part of a chamber jazz concert series in which Lester was soloing and guest artist of. We exchanged information and he was talking to me about putting a group together, which subsequently became the New York Organ Ensemble, but it started out with piano. We premiered it here in New York, first week of November in ’88. That was my first time here in New York as a musician and through that particular incident, I met Frank Lowe and subsequently lead me into meeting Julius Hemphill in St. Louis. I played with him for a long time. I became a member of the sextet from ’89 on up until his death in ’95.

JazzUSA: You divide your time between your own career as a leader and also with that of dame Kathleen Battle, Frank Lowe’s Saxemble, and Hamiett Bluiett’s Baritone Nation. How has playing in such a variety of settings aided you musically? Let’s start off with Bluiett’s Baritone Nation.

JC: It’s something that we’ve been threatening to do for the longest. It was just a matter of getting the right personalities on baritone together. Through Patience Higgins and Alex Harding, whom I had told Julius about, and also in turn told Bluiett about. We went to school together. We went to high school together, played in a jazz band. Then he came out here to New York to try and get some stuff together and so I tried to turn him on to different people. Anyway, the Baritone Nation pretty much instilled to me the viability of the baritone saxophone standing on its own two feet, with no rhythm section, just pure sound. We just added another dimension to it by using low clarinets, based on two bass clarinets, with Alex and Patience playing bass clarinets and Bluiett was playing contra-alto clarinet and I played the contra-bass clarinet. We just recently premiered that at the Texaco Jazz Festival (New York). We didn’t even use all of the material. We just went over a couple of things impromptu. We didn’t use it all during the concert because of time restraints and all. That’s what the Bluiett situation means to me.

JazzUSA: Are you going to record another album with Bluiett’s Baritone Nation?

JC: I think so. Well, I know so because I’m quite sure we want to record and document the clarinets being added on to the situation and see if there is some other cohesiveness that could take place. Right now, I think we’re in the process of finding another drummer.

JazzUSA: How about your time with opera diva Kathleen Battle?

JC: I always loved working with vocalists and her being an operatic soprano, I was widening her horizon. Being there to be a part of it, and watching her development, and being part of her development as well was really hip to me. I first saw her on television on a Boston Pops thing that John Williams was conducting. Branford was guest starring along with her. They got together and did a collaboration of some Duke Ellington stuff towards the latter part of that broadcast. I thought it was a very nice situation and I could hear myself doing other things with it. I kept saying if I ever got the chance for something like that to come to fruition, I would. The New York City Ballet called me up and asked me to come down to the studio because Kathleen wants to do a little ‘blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah’. I consented and went down there and that’s how it happened. I enjoyed every minute of it, every solo, and I enjoyed playing along with her. She was a nice vocalist in terms of personality, on and off the stage.

JazzUSA: Do you enjoy the opera?

JC: Yes. I like Caruso.

JazzUSA: And Frank Lowe’s Saxemble?

JC: Frank Lowe was one of the heroes I grew up hearing about. I felt like it’s one thing to know about these individuals, but when I was doing the gig with Lester, one night we were playing down there, I kept noticing this tall cat with dreads, with a couple of saxophones with him. He had a saxophone case on his back, anyway, I noticed. Just being curious and being in New York for the first time, I said, ‘Hey, I want to know who that is.’ So I went up to Lester real quiet and asked, ‘Who’s that cat with the saxophone case?’ He said, ‘Oh, that’s Frank Lowe.’ I was like, ‘What!’ So I went up to him and I was like, ‘Yo, man. I’ve been digging you since this, that, and the other.’ He had been sticking around for the set we had just played and we had exchanged numbers as well and he was talking about putting together a group around what he had heard from me and I thought it was quite an honor for that to happen so quickly first off. We pretty much formed the group. The first group consisted of Michael Marcus, Frank Lowe, and myself. It’s always been great playing in a saxophone ensemble in a context of any sort. The last saxophone ensemble that I was playing with at that particular time was back in Detroit that consisted of eight saxophones. All of the individuals doubled on other instruments, which widened the musical scope that we were able to deal with. Unfortunately, due to lack of gigs and lack of inspiration in Detroit the situation started falling off and the members started falling off one by one. We went from eight to five and then four in that same year, one by one. They felt it wasn’t going anywhere and started dropping off one by one. So we just don’t exist anymore.

JazzUSA: I had a conversation with Sonny Rollins and during the course of our conversation together, your name was mentioned by Sonny. It is gratifying to you to be praised by one of jazz’s living legends?

JC: We played a show back in 1996 in Cleveland, Ohio. I was on tour in Kansas City and my wife had passed on to Mr. Rollins that I was staying at such and such hotel and he called me up initially to discuss what we were going to play at this concert. Sonny and I should only have been on the phone for ten maybe fifteen minutes. It turns out we were on the phone for almost three hours. We were talking about not only music, but the way that we approach life, and certain things we have noticed where music parallels life. Just to have more of a vision then just playing the music. Giving it life, by saying, ‘Well I hear this, that, and the other in it and I see how this parallels this experience.’ It took it to a whole other level by the things he was saying. We just bonded. I’m glad you reminded me of that because I need to give him a call anyway. He ended up smoking me out at that jazz festival. He also smoked me out at the first jazz awards (New York Jazz Awards). I got about three or four nominations going and he was also on the same bill and he ended up with a clean sweep. It was late in coming anyway because the first annual jazz awards was supposed to have taken place three years ago.

JazzUSA: Most of the musicians in the current market seem content on releasing material that is “safe”. But you go out of your way to explore new music, to stretch yourself, and pave new pathways. Do you think that you are taking a risk?

JC: I don’t really try and go into thinking about things as being a risk or something like that. I think about it more or less as what I’m hearing naturally and I think that makes the injection of whatever music or whatever criteria I am listening to at that particular time that will help me with my end product. I’ll be able to digest more naturally as opposed to thinking about, well this is variables I need to take this risk. It already is a negative just by me saying that as opposed to, OK, I’m going to listen to this to help the process and have a better end product and all. If it happens to cross the line and everybody gets satisfied or some people get satisfied as well as myself, it’s all been a good day. If you are not hungry and still have the fire, then it’s about time to quit.

JazzUSA: You have a horde of saxophones. Do you have a favorite?

JC: I have one called Black Mahalia that kind of stands out. There is a story that goes along with it and it has a “Free Willy” kind of vibe to it. It starts back in the fall of 1992. The place is some place in Austria. I was over there with Julius Hemphill’s Sextet and at this festival, they had an exhibition room that consisted of places where you could get the latest CD’s, underground bootleg copies of things, even vinyl, and all sorts of small section of new and used instruments that were coming out and were for sale. At this one spot, there was a saxophone that was on display under glass that was an old Conn that had modifications done to it. I mean serious modifications. It wasn’t like somebody just threw some keys on it that were of another horn and that was it and it’s a piece meal job. I looked at it and I was like, ‘Man, this is kind of hip!’ At the time that I was playing with Julius, I was using this old Conn with me in its original form, so I was looking at the difference between the two and I was like, ‘Man, this is hip!’ Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get that instrument out of its case in order to actually play it and stuff. I just took the info that they had a pile of. Getting back with them later, I noticed that David Murray had been endorsing their product or they gave him one to play.

That following year, I talked with David Murray. I went over to his house and stuff. A couple of things had happened. His Mark VI (Selmer) got stolen and right at that time he spoke with the manufacturer that made this horn and they said they wanted him to play this horn because you are a cat on the cutting edge. David was like, ‘Cool, I need another horn anyway.’ Later on that following year, they found his horn and plus another Mark VI was loaned to him by Charles Tyler (played with David Murray in the late 60’s and early 70’s). Needless to say, Dave’s a VI man and so the Conn went into the closet. I asked whether or not it could be possible to check out Dave’s Conn, and he was like, ‘Cool.’ I played it there for a couple of hours and he let me take it back home with me. I played it for about a month and change and did a whole lot of hits on it and stuff. I called the folks up that made the horn, in Switzerland and told them that I had been hanging with my man David and I love this horn. I want to have it and this, that, and the other, and they broke it down to me and told me how much it cost and I was like, ‘What!’ At the time the horn was eight grand. They wanted to mass produce these horns with as many old Conns as they could find and I gave them some advice on what type of instruments that are out now that are more consistent, at a fraction of the cost. Anyway, I did not have the scratch on me at that particular time, so I talked to David and he wanted the horn back. So I had to give him the horn back, but before doing that I took the serial numbers and stuff off of it and gave it back to him. The following year I went over to Switzerland and I finally had some notoriety going because J. C. On The Set was out by then. I had some jack with me that I could put down on the horn as a down payment, in order to secure it. So, by the time I got all this together and I called them up and they had told me that they had sold all their horns. So I was mad, needless to say. The most they made, they only made five of them. The one that I had was the second of the five that had been made. So I was like, ‘If anyone calls up and says they don’t like their horn or whatever the case might be, them get in touch with me or get in touch with you.’ A few months later, I get a call from a guy speaking in broken English, talking about he has a black pearl Conn, and if I was interested, but he didn’t leave a number. A couple of days after that, he calls up again, and I was on my way out to go to the store and I heard the call come in. I unlocked the door and ran to go get the phone and he asked, ‘Are you interested?’ And I said, “Ya, but you didn’t leave a number last time.’ He said, ‘I know. I apologize.’ I asked him if he had the horn there with him and he said yes and I asked him to tell me what it looked like. He said, ‘Blackish-gray, silver keys.’ I said, ‘OK, I’m on the right track.’ Because out of the five that they had made, three of them were blackish-gray and had silver keys. The other two were made with black keys and gold plated bodies. I knew I was in the ballpark. I had him read the numbers off to me and I was reading my numbers and the numbers matched. It turned out that this horn was in an automobile accident with him and the car was totaled but the horn was cool. He had to get another car and so needless to say he had to sell it.

JazzUSA: What did you end up paying for it?

JC: Six. By then the exchange rate had gone up on the Swiss Franc and the eight thousand that it originally was had turned into twelve. So I took it for half the original price.

JazzUSA: How many saxophones do you own?

JC: I’m in the double digits somewhat.

JazzUSA: How important is the audience’s response to you?

JC: I know it is important to the extent of knowing that you have a captive and attentive audience. It’s not the end in itself. There’s certain times in Europe as well as here where you have some unruly elements in the audience as well. It’s not cool over there to talk, but at the same time the music shouldn’t suffer as far as its mobility. If that was the case, we wouldn’t have anybody breaking any ground through the years. It would be safe to play Dixieland all the live long day, if that was the case.

JazzUSA: How are the audiences in Europe different?

JC: They are more open-minded. They act to the same extent that people here would react to pop music, popular music of today. They have that same kind of excitement for jazz.

JazzUSA: If you were to change one aspect of the jazz industry today, what would you change?

JC: The open-minded aspect of it needs to be changed. The democracy of it on both sides as far as what the powers that be deem to be fit to be playable or classified in music. Even the artists in general, there’s certain people that get stuck in their own niche and they feel that since its proven for them monetary and status-wise, that that’s the end in itself. They see somebody else doing it and they want to put them down or something. I would like to see that change as well. Just in general the democracy that’s involved. I think it would be a better situation and everybody would come to the table with something new, at least in their minds if they are not actually applying it to their art form. But at least acknowledge that, and taking that knowledge a bit further by actually documenting it. Just be glad that we are all playing and we are able to document it.

JazzUSA: How important is diversity to you and your music? On a personal level, because there’s more enthusiasm, particularly with where one’s coming from and where one’s going and to be able to actually apply it to one’s craft is a bonus. It’s icing on the cake.

JazzUSA: Let’s talk about your new album In Carterian Fashion.

JC: I wanted to do something with spirituals and in small combos or in large ensembles, I noticed that the key element was the organ. It hooked up both gospel and jazz, because it was in both of them, in both realms. I don’t know if we should call it realms. It was in the music. I wanted to do a small microcosm that represented those acoustics.

JazzUSA: For audiences that come to hear you live and that listen to your recordings, what would you like them to take away from your music?

JC: I’m glad you brought that up because a whole lot of people want to say that it’s a buch of technical feats and things like that. The technical aspects of it is only a means to an end. It is not the end in itself to see how many octaves I can jump in one single bound and all this. How long I can hold this note or whatever. I don’t ever look at it that way, that I’m going to hold this note for twenty minutes or whatever until I see somebody pass out in the audience or something. I would rather keep the spirit going and be happy for the music that comes out. When we first played here at the Iridium, a reviewer told me that he had a lot on his mind and after the show he told me that he was leaving with a clear conscience. That’s what I would like to see.

JazzUSA: The jumps and held notes are referred to as showing off or grandstanding. Is that unfair?

JC: I would say so. If it looks like I’m grandstanding, whatever the case is, then that’s their opinion, but I am just playing the music at that particular time and if that’s all they see and they can not hear beyond that then that is another example of the need for open-mindedness.

JazzUSA: Do you have a philosophy in your music and is it similar to your philosophy on life?

JC: I don’t separate the two. Music is life. Keep your ears open and digest as much as you can. Make it better for yourself and in turn make it better for the world’s situation.

JazzUSA: If you were not playing jazz, what other avenues would you like to pursue?

JC: Before jazz, I was into computers and science and all that. I would say I’m still interested in science in general because it’s another avenue that stretches the human experience in general. Any type of mystic should intrigue anybody. That’s a given. I think the miraculous way that we have all this information at our disposal at the drop of a dime and the content of said information, bio-engineering, where’s it going. Whose hands is it going to be in? How is it going to be used? Is it going to be used for the better or for the worse for mankind?

JazzUSA: What is next for James Carter?

JC: I’m looking at doing a second volume on the The Real Quietstorm series. Only the theme will be things that were done obscurely by Billie Holiday and also perceptions on things that I think she would like to listen to if she was here, which opens the poetic license for the originals as well as takes on other artists or whatever, but mostly originals. I’m thinking about dealing with that license, and with that I’m looking at not just a regular quartet with a rhythm section but also some other horn things and strings.

Braxton Brothers Interview 2004

The Braxton BrothersFinding Out What’s Up With
The Braxton Brothers
by S.H. Watkins, Sr.

If you take all the jazz CD’s released since the Braxtons last CD Both Sides and rate the top ten

Rollin’
Braxton Brothers
(Peak – 2004)

tracks on each from one to ten, in my opinion very few will score as high overall as Both Sides. That’s a hard legacy to follow. Rollin’ comes close, if not going it one better, although it’s hard to compare them fairly because they’re different. Waye’s sax is more mature and sure when he riffs on Blue Sands or does the duet dance with Nelson’s guitar on the fantastic Find Your Way.

Listen to Rollin’ using RealAudio.

An Interview with Danilo Perez

Danilo PerezThe Art of the Diplomat:
A Conversation with

Danilo Perez
by Paula Edelstein

Although much of the music on MOTHERLAND, Danilo Perez’s debut release for the Verve label, is rooted in his Panamanian homeland, this exciting tribute is his homage to the music for all of The Americas. North, Central and South. The recently appointed Cultural Ambassador of Panama has composed and arranged 13 true representations of his essence, and presents some of the most profound musical symbolism and metaphors to ever elicit the legacy of his native Panama. From classic jazz and post-bop to folk and world music, Danilo Perez absorbs his listeners in the joyfulness that has pervaded Panama and conveys the importance of the recent return of the Panama Canal to its people. MOTHERLAND also introduces the first time that the punto, a traditional dance form in Panama, has been combined with jazz piano and through his use of the tamborito, a traditional Panamanian rhythm, Perez introduces his musical vision clearly and beautifully. MOTHERLAND embraces you and holds you in its mellow sensibility. This is an excellent musical experience and one you shouldn’t miss.

The handsome diplomat, and multi-talented pianist is joined by a stellar array of musicians including fellow Verve Music Group Recording Artists, the beautiful Claudia Acuna, the classic elegance of Regina Carter, and the highly talented Kurt Rosenwinkel. Longtime collaborator and friend of the composer, Luciana Souza, bassist Richard Bona, saxophonist Chris Potter, are among a strong ensemble that bring the imagery and life of MOTHERLAND to fruition. The genius of Danilo Perez has once again bridged the unfamiliar themes of his native Panama with the receptive enthusiasm of The Americas. I was extremely fortunate to speak to Danilo Perez as he prepared for a World Tour to promote his debut release MOTHERLAND.

JazzUSA: Hello Danilo, how are you? Congratulations on your new Verve release, MOTHERLAND! I’d also like to congratulate you on your appointment as the Cultural Ambassador of Panama. What an exciting appointment!

DP: Thank you Paula. Yes it is!

JazzUSA: On MOTHERLAND, the brilliance, the luster, the spiritual depth and love you and the accompanying musicians exude is an extremely noble tribute to Panama’s cultural exuberance. I was especially intrigued by your piano elegance and the use of the violin on “Elegant Dance,” a song that portrays one of the most graceful dances in the Panamanian Folklore, the Punto. With the release of the new CD and your recent appointment as Cultural Ambassador of Panama, this must be an extremely rewarding time for you.

DP: Yes, this is an extremely happy time in my life. I’m just so happy to be prosperous in the year 2000. I never thought…it seemed so far away in the 90s. I’m just so happy to see these wonderful times happening and to be able to share it with my family and with the other musicians. To grow and to be able to play around the world is such a beautiful blessing.

JazzUSA: With MOTHERLAND being the long-awaited follow-up to such a masterpiece as CENTRAL AVENUE, listeners can now realize a variation on the themes you explored on that CD. Your work continues to excite the musical tastes of so many people around the world and there’s a real continuity with MOTHERLAND that reveals that it was made to listen to in its entirety…much like a trilogy. Is it not?

DP: Yes it is. This record was born out of many events and I think it’s like telling a part of my life and trying to create an image of all the influences that we have from The Americas and how complex the personalities are. The first experience that inspired me was my trip to Cuba in 1998, and later the piece I wrote for the Chicago Jazz Festival in 1999…that kind of got me into the new millennium and was central in getting me to begin writing the music. Also recording with Wayne Shorter. All of these events really made MOTHERLAND possible for me.

After going back to Panama for the Panama Canal reversion, just seeing the Panama Canal, I then understood the meaning of “Panama Bridge to the World, Heart of the Universe.” It was so easy after that to write music, the feeling of all of that…what it created and brought out of me.

JazzUSA: Absolutely. It’s beautiful Danilo. You’ve invited a number of special guests to effect your poetic visions including Claudia Acuna, Regina Carter, Richard Bona, Carlos Henriquez, John Patitucci, Antonio Sanchez, Chris Potter and the brilliant Luisito Quintero among others. Their magic suggests that they really enjoyed these sessions tremendously and were set off by your being attuned to their ability to understand the styles so necessary to deliver just the right “prayer.” With the amount of time it takes to bring together such an excellent ensemble of artists, has it been difficult to re-adapt for touring in a trio format?

DP: That’s a great question, Paula. What’s going to happen is, I’m going to open up the group a little bit, I’ve formed a quintet. I am going to deliver a band from my MOTHERLAND project and it’s going to be called THE MOTHERLAND PROJECT. Hopefully this will be a band where I have composers. The names of the people in the band right now are Luciana Souza on vocals, Essiet Essiet, on acoustic and electric bass, and Alan Cruz on steel pans and drums. It’s going to be the beginning of a new project actually. Hopefully that will happen. It will be completely separate from the trio. It’s going to be called THE MOTHERLAND PROJECT. A place where everybody can find their motherland and bring music.

JazzUSA: What about us writers…can I come? (Laughs)

DP: You can come too. (Laughs)

JazzUSA: “Song To The Land,” brilliantly captures the nuances, imagery and exudes the ambiance of Panama with such great colors.

Danilo PerezDP: The whole concept of bringing these tunes to life…these tunes were written before for the Chicago Jazz Festival. But the pieces really came alive with the lyrics while I was in Panama. The person who wrote the liner notes, and also the lyrics to “Song To The Land,” is blind…but is an amazing talent. I talked to her about the record, and she had so much feeling about it. So I said, “Why don’t you write something?” So she wrote a whole poem…it’s a long one, a really long one! I went in and said, “I like this part.” And we’d work on it. That’s one of things that I like about the record is that some of the work and the whole playing comes from a feeling of brotherhood, communion, feeling. It’s not my record; it’s everybody’s record. Ana portrayed that very well.

JazzUSA: She does indeed and in the liner notes, Ana presents Panama as a metaphorical woman “forced to relinquish her maidenhood.” Do you feel the country has more of a feminine vibe as opposed to a masculine vibe even though becoming a mother to all requires both men and women?

DP: Only a woman would ask that question! (Laughs) Women, where I grew up, accepted the Virgin Mary giving birth to Jesus Christ as the most powerful and beautiful statement of motherhood. There have been studies that men are not really necessary to give birth but when you want to metaphorically represent multiplication of cultures, then women come first. The reasoning is that the country is the mother and that mother gives birth to a land. The land has to be borrowed or given to the world to be used as a canal basically. That principle of all the things we went through…came to Ana and me … so that’s how it was derived. That’s what Panama has been. We have become a citizen of the world in a way and learned to respect and love that. I guess it has a lot to do with the principle that I feel that women are extremely important and are a mount of inspiration for giving life.

JazzUSA: That’s beautiful Danilo. Thank you very much. The basis, or centerpiece of MOTHERLAND is the two-part “Suite for the Americas” commissioned by the Chicago Jazz Festival, and is an exemplary work that exhibits your sensibilities of what preceded this great musical achievement. How long does it take to write a piece of this enormity?

DP: Well, this piece took…I was in the middle of a world tour. I wrote an idea that came to mind, which was the first phrase of the motif and then a bass line would come to me. Things were coming to me like a puzzle. So I would say it was during a period of three months that I wrote this piece. I’d revise it. I went back to it. It came to life. It was beautiful because when you find the notes and you find the chords and you find the continuity of the piece, it was like the way you find friends in life. It’s just discovering where we live and all. That piece really came about like that. It’s the feeling that I have for The Americas and what it means to me and is a collage of elements of influential music from everywhere like the Middle East, Cuba, South America and Panama.

JazzUSA: Did you know in your “heart of hearts” that the world would eventually catch up and make you the diplomat to approach Panama’s glorious musical past? (Laughs)

DP: This year has been full of surprises for me and that has been one of them. When I went to Panama and President Mireya Moscoso gave me this honor, I said, I’ve had the Grammy nomination and been to The Kennedy Center and many other places that people dream of being. But going back home and being granted such a distinction, being recognized by your own people is an amazing tribute and feeling. It’s such a wonderful feeling.

JazzUSA: I can imagine it would be, especially coming from the President of the Panama. We are all very happy for you and truthfully, had I been asked to compile the short list, you would have been our first choice! We are also grateful that you will be making concert appearances again this year. Will The Motherland Project be the touring group also?

DP: Yes, we’ll be playing a week at Catalina’s Bar & Grill in Los Angeles, CA on October 17th through the 22nd, 2000. The tour starts on September 21st and 22nd in Boston, then on to Chicago on the 26th as well as dates in North Carolina and other cities. We will be leaving for Europe after the Catalina date.

JazzUSA: That’s great! You can’t imagine how grateful we are for this interview Danilo. We wish you continued success with your new Verve release, MOTHERLAND and once again, congratulations on your appointment as Cultural Ambassador of Panama. For more information regarding concerts in your city, visit The Verve Music Group Web Site

An Interview with Jason Miles

Jason Miles Speaking With
Jason Miles
by Paula Edelstein

Brazilian composer, pianist and singer Ivan Lins is rapidly becoming one of the most admired and respected modern masters of song since Antonio Carlos Jobim, Milton Nascimento and Gilberto Gil. As one of the most prolific composers to arrive during the post Bossa Nova generation, his repertoire is staggering and has been interpreted by such musical legends as Quincy Jones, Elis Regina, George Benson, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan. Today, a new generation and stunning lineup of pop and jazz stars that includes Freddy Cole, Chaka Khan, Dave Koz, Sting, Vanessa Williams and the late great Grover Washington, Jr., through the musical visions of Telarc artist and producer Jason Miles and the master himself, convey the romantic sophistication of Ivan Lins and capture it with beauty and tenderness on A LOVE AFFAIR- THE MUSIC OF IVAN LINS.

A LOVE AFFAIR – THE MUSIC OF IVAN LINS was produced and arranged by Jason Miles, best known for his top session and production credits, solo albums and award-winning film music. His debut release for Telarc, THE MUSIC OF WEATHER REPORT, met with worldwide acclaim and climbed to Number 6 on the Japanese music charts earlier this year! His great vibes, sense of humor, sincerity with a capital “S” and overall humanitarian spirit makes Jason the perfect producer for a project of this magnitude. Having created most of the synth sounds on Miles Davis’ classic TUTU, Jason Miles pondered this project for many years after meeting with Miles Davis one evening and hearing some of Ivan Lins’ music played by the great trumpeter. Davis died months later and Jason stayed in the session business, but as fate would have it, Jason heeded the call of his muse to forever seal the connection between Miles Davis and Ivan Lins. Jason Miles The result is A LOVE AFFAIR, THE MUSIC OF IVAN LINS. As one of the most beautiful projects this year, you can’t imagine how infinitely grateful we are to have spoken to Jason about this great project. Ladies and Gentlemen, we are pleased to present Jason Miles…

JazzUSA: Congratulations Jason on A LOVE AFFAIR, THE MUSIC OF IVAN LINS. What great songs from such a brilliant constellation of stars! This must have been one great gig! How did the concept come about?

JM: This was an exciting, challenging, difficult, amazingly musically rewarding project. Does that answer it? I had listened to Ivan’s music for over 15 years. We met in 1989 in Woodstock, New York. I was working one night in 1991 with Marcus Miller and Chaka khan when Miles Davis called me at the studio. He wanted me to hear a tape that he got. I went over to Mile’s apartment and he played me a tape of Ivan singing some of his material. It was just him at the keyboards. It was a thing of beauty. Miles was going to do a whole CD of Ivan’s material. Miles passed away a few months later and of course the project was never done. I thought it was such an amazing idea to have Miles playing Ivan’s music. I worked with Ivan a few times over the next few years. We’ve developed a warm friendship and he knows how much his music means to me. I’ve tried to get this project off of the ground for 6 years. I finally got the chance and I had to make this record count.

JazzUSA: Well count it does and in our opinion, it’s one of the most influential works this year! Jason, just the presence of Ivan as an accompanist on three of his songs and singing “Somos Todos Iquais Neste Noite” is spectacular! This song is one of my favorites but you’ve given it a beautiful accompaniment with Chuck Loeb, Romero Lubambo, Oscar Hernandez, Marcus Miller, Vinnie Colaiuta, Marc Quinones, yourself, and Pamela Driggs. Did you record this in Brazil?

JM: No, I didn’t record this song in Brazil. That would have been amazing but a logistical nightmare. I have a certain way that I do my projects to make it feel like everybody is in the room at the same time. “Somos Todos Iquais Neste Noite” is also one of my favorite songs on the CD. It has been done a few times, but I always heard it as this Brazilian, New York salsa vibe. I was trying to create at little bit of the “Vibe of Smooth.” Marc Quinones, Vinnie Colaiuta, and Marcus Miller really rock this track!

JazzUSA: The “Vibe of Smooth”…I like that! It’s like the Tropic of Cool! What was it like to work with Ivan Lins on this project?

Jason MilesJM: You give him the space he needs to create and then you join him to complete the journey.

JazzUSA: “She Walks This Earth,” is one of those songs that you instantly remember the melody to and adds further depth to Ivan Lins’ compositional prowess. Did Sting and Ivan collaborate on this song, because both of their styles really shine through?

JM: Ivan sent me a cassette tape with some new songs on it. When I heard one of the songs named “Soberana Hasa” I knew it was the song for Sting. It had that special vibe that I felt Sting could capture. Since the song only had Ivan at the keyboards with a drum machine behind it, I spent a couple of days thinking what kind of feeling I wanted the track to convey. I sent the track to Sting to do lyrics. I got a call from his assistant who said, “Sting is so busy he can’t really spend the time to really give the lyrics the attention that they need. Could I get a lyricist to write something?” I immediately said, “yes” and proceeded to call Brenda Russell. She was so excited because she is a huge Ivan fan and a huge Sting fan. It was her dream. She proceeded to write a truly wonderful lyric. They felt like a Sting song and it proved to be true by the truly wonderful performance he did on the CD.

JazzUSA: Brenda Russell is so very, very, talented! I recently heard her perform an Ivan Lins’ song at the Old Pasadena Jazz Festival in Pasadena, California. It was great and really was loved by the crowd. If this is any indication of the reception you’ll receive, then you’re going to be a very busy person!! She does a great rendition of “Nocturne” on A LOVE AFFAIR, THE MUSIC OF IVAN LINS.

JM: I can proudly say that my wife Kathy Byalick wrote the lyrics to that song. I can tell you that it just wasn’t a given. Ivan had to approve the lyrics and it was crafted to the way he felt that song best expressed itself. She also co-wrote “So Crazy with This Love,” with Chaka Khan, which is also on the CD. I was very happy that Brenda Russell sang this song. As I mentioned, she loves Ivan’s music. As far as being busy, I just want to keep making the music that I believe in and if the public and the industry believe in my work, I’ll be busy. I have other projects happening that I have the same passion for. If I’m going to make the quality work that I know I am capable of doing, it has to be about the music.

JazzUSA: Your ability to gather together such greats as Freddy Cole, Sting, Vanessa Williams, Brenda Russell, Chaka Khan, Peter White, Dianne Reeves, Chuck Loeb, Joe Sample, Dave Koz, Michael Brecker and so many others, says A LOT about the works you’re paying tribute to and the level of respect you have in the industry, Jason. Ivan Lins’ music always makes me feel so great…like taking a stroll through a melodic paradise! What have you found to be the most enticing aspects of his music?

JM: It’s the special way that the melody and chords blend together. It is very unique and emotional thing.

JazzUSA: I really like your rendition of “I’m Not Alone,” as sung by Freddy Cole. His voice is so elegant and really emphasizes Ivan Lins’ lyrical elegance. Did you choose Freddy Cole to sing this song for that very reason?

JM: I have known about Freddy for a while. I heard him sing on some of his own work as well as on some of Grover Washington, Jr.’s work. A very warm, confident voice. When I was talking to Telarc about the THE MUSIC OF IVAN LINS, they told me they were going to sign Freddy Cole and wanted to know how I felt about including Freddy on the project. I said that could be very cool. I spoke with Freddy and sent him a few songs. He really loved “I’m Not Alone.” He was a great artist to work with. Right on the money!

JazzUSA: I understand the appearance by Grover Washington, Jr. was one of his last performances. Jason, please share some highlights from the session with him.

JM: It is difficult to talk about Grover. Not having his vibe around is beyond words. I can tell you that he was in a great mood that night. (As always) He loved Ivan’s music and went into the studio and gave it that amazing sound and feeling that only Grover had. We ate some Japanese food, talked for a while and he did the song in typical fashion. I saw him a few weeks later and he was going to play on some more songs on the CD. I am extremely proud of that track and really miss Grover.

JazzUSA: We all do Jason and certainly appreciate your not procrastinating when the chance to work with him presented itself. We have some very nice memories on “Camaleao,” with you on keyboards and Grover ever so smooth. Smooth songs plus compelling musical arrangements from you equal A LOVE AFFAIR, THE MUSIC OF IVAN LINS and a chance for listeners to take a closer look through the musical vision of Jason Miles. The combining of Joe Sample and Ivan Lins on “Sweet Presence” as sung by Dianne Reeves was a brilliant idea! Please talk about their vibe!

JM: Joe Sample is one of my heroes. A special person and an inspiration as a musician and composer. Joe actually played on the song before Ivan. There is so much going on keyboard wise between the two of them on “Sweet Presence,” it’s amazing. Ivan came to the USA at the beginning of the year and stayed with us. We recorded with other musicians and he did his parts for the CD. We needed that elegant acoustic piano on it and I called Joe. As usual he added his magical touch.

JazzUSA: Is there a major show in the works featuring all of you in concert?

JM: A LOVE AFFAIR – THE MUSIC OF IVAN LINS was released September 26, 2000 and the release event and concert at Carnegie Hall in October was a tremendous success. We had a great time with Ivan Lins, Vanessa Williams, Dave Koz, Brenda Russell, Peter White and the phenomenal musicians that gave tirelessly of their energy, talent and passion for Ivan’s music.

JazzUSA: What an exciting evening it must have been, especially with such a stunning array of stars, the great Ivan Lins, and of course you, Jason!! Again, we wish to congratulate you on such a great accomplishment and the success the CD is having. Thank you for the interview, it’s a dream come true!

JM: Thank you Paula!

JazzUSA: Keep in touch with Jason Miles at http://www.telarc.com

Brenda Russell Interview

A Delightful Conversation With
Brenda Russell
by Baldwin “Smitty” Smith

It’s always a pleasure to speak with one of the world’s most delightful and charming human beings, one that always has a presence of elegance, she’s synonymous to the Grammy’s and she’s certainly one of the top singers and songwriters in the business. Case in point: her fabulous new CD entitled Between The Sun And The Moon. We spend a few moments with Grammy nominated Dome and Narada Jazz recording artist, Ms Brenda Russell.

Smitty: How are you Brenda?

Brenda: Thank you so much Smitty for that beautiful introduction. I’m fine, thank you so much.

Smitty: You are so welcome; it’s great to have you in the spotlight. Let’s talk about this great career of yours, and let’s step back to the beginning. I know you grew up in Brooklyn, but talk about how you got mixed up in this great business.

Brenda: Well, both of my parents are musicians, so I really just kind of grew into it. There was always singing groups around my house, and my Dad always had music books that I would always go through and “Sing this one daddy, sing this one” (laughing). I kind of grew up with music, I thought everybody’s parents sang and wrote songs and I didn’t realize that it was a unique thing until I got older.

Smitty: Now your first instrument was a piano?

Brenda: Actually it’s embarrassing to say this but my very first instrument was the accordion (both laughing). When I was about twelve years old, I moved to Canada with my Dad and they didn’t have money for a piano. So the closest thing they could get was an accordion, because the Accordion salesman came to our door one day and he was selling lessons. I was so musical, I was like….”I’ll take it, I’ll take it”! Up to that point, wherever I was, where there was a piano, I would jump on it and start plucking out songs by ear. You know, I’m a totally self-taught musician, as the accordion lessons didn’t take me too far, but I was always writing my own tunes; my Dad would knock on the door; “Get back to your lessons”. But they were so boring, I always heard more music than was presented to me through the lessons. So I’m really a self-taught musician today.

Smitty: How about that. Speaking of hearing more music than was presented to you in those lessons; You of all people was quoted as saying that you “Worried that you would never write another song”.

Brenda: Yes, that was after I wrote the very first one. That was because I didn’t know where it was coming from. I knew that I hadn’t had any lessons, and I was confounded that, oh my God, because everybody just loved my first song so much. I was working with a lot of musicians in Toronto, and they were shock at the chords and words I would use. And then I panicked and I thought “Oh, I’ll never do it again” (both laughing). Then I had this revelation, I was about 19 at the time, it just came on me that I wasn’t really FULLY responsible, but inspiration was involved. I call it heavenly inspiration. And that I was really just a channel that tuned in to the right frequency and then I could translate the music just from hearing it. That’s how I was doing it; it wasn’t just coming from me, my own body. It was something that I was being used for, and I thought; “Oh, well if that’s the case, I can write anything”. You know, my whole confidence level shot up when I realized that I could rely on the eternity, the ethers and things like that.

Smitty: And look at you now.

Brenda: (Laughing) Yes, well you know, each time I sit down to write a song, my approach… it’s already written. So if I get a little seed of an idea, I know, if it’s a good seed, and I know that there’s a song in there that’s already written, so it takes the pressure off of you as a writer that you have to….”come up with something”. You just relax and let it come through you; let it come out, what’s already been done.

Smitty: Isn’t that amazing. Have you encountered others, perhaps younger aspiring musicians that have experienced those types of feelings that you had early on, of not knowing where the next song will come from?

Brenda: Oh yes, all the time and I always inspire them by saying what I just said. Really because even writers of my own generation, when I’ve told them that it’s already written, a little light bulb goes on for them, they’re like; “Oh”! I know my friend Lisa Loeb who is a wonderful songwriter, I told her that one night, and she said “You know, I’m going to try that, that’s a whole new way of thinking that I never thought about before”. It just takes the pressure off because music is something that should flow through you. It shouldn’t be a head-banging experience if you are doing it right. And you don’t want to spend too long on an idea, like if you get stuck on a something, whatever you are doing creatively speaking. When you get stuck, walk away, experience some living, and then come back. Maybe I was too tired. All of the great minds that have created things in the past have always said ‘4 hours, and then take a break, and I have learned from people like that.

Smitty: Yes. So you have been an inspiration to so many around the world in many ways when you think about it.

Between The Sun and the Moon
  Let Somebody Know 
  When You Comin’
      Back To Me 
  Between The Sun
      and The Moon 


Brenda: Oh thank you.

Smitty: And that’s a wonderful thing.

Brenda: It is and I have been totally inspired by so many others that I feel that it is very logical and self-fulfilling really to share that with other people.

Smitty: Indeed it is. Speaking of inspiration, let’s talk about some of this great music of yours. We can go back to So Good So Right back in 1979.

Brenda: Yes, that was my very first solo album. I had done two previous albums with my ex-husband Brian Russell with Elton John’s label. That was a very exciting time. Then, when we parted, I became a solo artist and I was just so frighten that it was like I was just thrown to the wolves so-to-speak. “But So Good So Right“, I wrote a bunch of songs at that time in my life when we separated. Because usually when you going through an emotional upheaval, it’s a very good time to create, because you can write about all of the experiences that you’re feeling, and that’s a great material (laughing). It may be killing you, but it’s great material! The song So Good So Right came to me while I was washing dishes. So I don’t even have to be at a piano, you know. I was washing dishes and I was having a dinner party, and this (She’s singing) “So Good So Right, be with you tonight” just came right through, and I thought WO! I sat down at the piano, middle of my dinner guest, because I knew if I didn’t write it right then, it would be gone. And I never wrote in front of people before. It was very self-conscience but I knew that was a stronger pull. So I just wrote that song while people sat there (laughing). And it became a good thing for me.

Smitty: Yes it did, so when the feeling moves you, you have to go with it.

Brenda: Yes, absolutely.

Smitty: You’ve had so many great things that’s happen to you, as you mentioned that things were going well and started to click.

Brenda: Yes.

Smitty: One of those things I’m sure, was be meeting and working with Herb Alpert.

Brenda: Well yeah because Herb, I used to love him when I was a kid, when he did “This Guys In Love” and I just thought that he was the cutest thing on the planet at the time. Years later, to be with A&M Records who, of course for those that don’t know, Herb Alpert is the “A” of A&M. And Carole King was signed to that label at the time, and I was so enthralled with her. She was so inspiring to me, as she was one of the few women out there singing and writing, and playing her own songs. And I thought, I want to be on that label. It took a minute, but I ended up there (laughing).

Smitty: Yes you did. Talk about what it was like working with Herb Alpert.

Brenda: Well unfortunately its part of a dying breed that you have record execs that are musicians and musically inclined. Because it’s become more and more corporate as the years have gone on and the decisions are made by bean counters as they say, as opposed to people that are musical. Which could be why some of the music is suffering a little bit today, the quality of the music. Some of the music that’s out there is just not as good in my opinion, as it could be if they would let the doors open for certain types of artists. Herb was very musical. He helped artists, he understood artists, and it was a great place to be, I wrote a lot of songs there.

Smitty: And it shows when you think about your album Two Eyes, what a great album, and Piano In The Dark, what a great song.

Brenda: I have Herb to thank for that song being a hit, because when I made that album Get Here, which is the album which a lot of people know the song “Get Here” by Oleta Adams, who recorded it after I wrote and recorded it. Herb is the one who picked “Piano In The Dark” as the single at the very last minute. They had another song they were going with. Everyone loved “Piano In The Dark” at the record company, but it didn’t sound like anything else on the radio, so nobody had the guts to really go for it even though it was their favorite song, which is how the record industry works sometimes. So at the very last minute, after we had pressed up this other single Herb said you know what, I’ll never forget it, he was in his office and he called me in, “Brenda I think we should go with “Piano In The Dark, I really do”. Because he was the “A” of A&M he could make that change. It’s the reason why people know this song today.

Smitty: And what a decision!

Brenda: Yes!

Smitty: And Oleta Adams, she’s such a great singer as well.

Brenda: Yes, she’s fantastic and I was so happy that she picked that song up (Get Here). I wrote that song in Stockholm, Sweden when I was recording over there and ironically enough, that’s where she first heard the song in a record store while she was working in Stockholm. They were playing it and she heard that song for the first time in the city where that I wrote in, which I thought was pretty ironic.

Smitty: I’ll say, that’s scary.

Brenda: Yes it was, it was weird (both laughing).

Smitty: Well that was meant to be.

Brenda: Meant to be. People may know that that song became very popular during the Gulf War and people were dedicating messages to their love ones who were in the Gulf. That was very inspiring to me that I could help ease anyone’s pain of missing someone through my music.

Smitty: Well it’s such a heart gripping song and so real.

Brenda: Ahh, thank you. What a gift. Certain songs are gifts. That song was determined to be written, because at the time my record company was saying “We need a hit song, we need a dance tune, and we need pop”. And this song started coming to me (she’s singing), and I thought “well this isn’t what they want”. So I didn’t really pay any attention to it, I went to bed, I woke up the next day, and that melody was still there. That never ever has happen before or since. When I get an idea….well now I have learned (laughing) to write it down immediately. But at that time I was ignoring it, and it was like, no, no, here I am again, and I wrote that song looking out over the city of Stockholm.

Smitty: Very cool! Well let’s talk about your versatility as an artist because you not only have several great Grammy nominated hits, and then you jumped into doing movie scores, and one that comes to mind is the Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Color Purple. I believe that it opened back in September 2004 in Atlanta.

Brenda: Yes, yes, that was so exciting. For those that don’t know, The Color Purple, the novel written by Alice Walker, and the film by Steven Speilberg, is now a Broadway musical. And we have been working on it for about three and a half years. We had a six week run in Atlanta which was spectacular; we broke the theatre records there, people just gave us standing ovations nightly. It was just a huge blessing to be a part of a work so great, and to have people respond to it so positively. Now we are just tweaking it, rewriting things that we feel could be stronger, and we are opening on Broadway this fall.

Smitty: Wow! That’s incredible.

Brenda: Yes, it was a major leap to write, to go to theatre from pop music, because what I found was all the walls came down. Because you’re very confined when you’re writing for pop music because there are certain genre’ let’s say, that pop music refuses to except. With theatre, you could just really stretch your wings and write so many different styles; we have big band, front porch, foot stumping music. We have everything in this show from 1900 to 1940. It’s the most incredible music experience I’ve had so far. Wow, that’s saying a lot because what just came to mind is the song Justice Of The Heart, for the hit movie John Q, starring Denzel Washington.

Brenda: Yes, I wrote that song with Stevie Wonder. That was really a thrill, of course who isn’t a fan of Stevie. It takes a while to get to him but when he finally called me one day, “Ok Brenda don’t say anything”, that’s how the call started. And he starts playing this melody and singing to me, and all I could think of is; “I need to be recording this”(both laughing). He sounded so amazing and it was just a moment that I have to remember.

Smitty: Oh that will make your heart beat faster.

Brenda: It did.

Smitty: Well it just doesn’t stop with you Brenda, there’s the Ivan Lins song…She Walks This Earth, which is a unbelievable song.

Brenda: Yes, he’s one of the most brilliant Brazilian Jazz artist, composers, that I can think of. They did a tribute album to Ivan and Sting recorded this song and I had to write a lyric for Sting, to Ivan’s music….only my two favorite artists on the planet. The producer called and said “Ok Brenda, we need a lyric for Sting in two days, can you do it?” I said “Oh yes of course” (both laughing). Now that’s when the praying begins! Ok God this has got to be really good. And Sting won a Grammy for that record. I was very thrilled, even without the Grammy, I was so thrilled because I love collaborating with people that I admire and respect musically.

Smitty: Well I must say that your career has taken so many turns, but each turn has been just an adventure and a fabulous one at that.

Brenda: Thank you. I’ve been a very blessed child (both laughing).

Smitty: Yes you are. So let’s talk about this new record.

Brenda: Ok.

Smitty: Between The Sun And The Moon. For all of your great fans around the world, please talk about how you came up with this title.

Brenda: Oh yes, that’s a really cool story. Patti Austin, one of my favorite people first of all, we decided to write a song together and she came to my house….This is a very underrated woman by the way, people don’t realize how brilliant she is. Vocally she’s outstanding. So she came over and there was a lunar eclipse that night, so we said “Well let’s go look at the lunar eclipse before we began writing”. So we were watching as the earth began covering the moon and I said “Patty, we’re Between The Sun And The Moon“, and she went “yeaaaah” (both laughing). So we went downstairs to my studio and wrote that song in about an hour and a half. And it just flowed and it’s so spiritual, and so female, and African, and jazz, and Latin, and all of these elements mixed together. And she does a scatting riff at the end. That was the most fun and that’s how the title came to be.

Smitty: And that’s my favorite tune.

Brenda: Oh good, I’m glad.

Smitty: You just get so pumped up from that song.

Brenda: Oh yes, you start dancing around the house like a wild person.

Smitty: Talk about the first song on this album that was released in the UK. Make You Smile.

Brenda: Make You Smile was written with Bluey from Incognito, who was someone that I’ve always wanted to work with. He’s a very well established R&B figure over there. I just walked into his studio and he had this track up and we barely spoke, and we were just snapping our heads and singing, and we just got right in it (laughing). It was beautiful and that’s a pretty exciting track.

Smitty: Yes, and it seems to be doing quite well in the UK.

Brenda: Yes they really love it over there and that’s very cool.

Smitty: And I must give some props to your photographer for your album.

Brenda: Thank you. Considering that I was running between two countries, writing a Broadway Musical, recording an album between England and the United States, I was so wrecked (laughing) and I thought “Look good, you’d never know that I hadn’t slept in two months” (both laughing).

Smitty: Ah come on, you always look good Brenda.

Brenda: Oh man, I don’t know, it was the most chaotic time in my life, and I will never do that again. But it was fruitful.

Smitty: Well it was nice to pause for the shots, because it just rounds out the album and set the tone for the music.

Brenda: Thank you so much, yeah I got lucky (both laughing).

Smitty: Tell me, how are you doing all of this? You have this great Broadway Musical about to take off this fall and it just opened up in Atlanta at Alliance Theatre as you just described, it’s been a total hit. And then you have this great new album, you are normally on tour with Dave Koz..

Brenda: Well here’s a little bit of a sad story in all of this. I was working so hard and so run down that I actually got very ill, and I was diagnosed with diabetes this summer. Just before we opened the play, bam, I was in the hospital. It just took me so down, I just had to change my life, I have to take meds now and I’m just dealing with this disease, which IS doable. But it took a couple of months to really get balanced again. So I had to cancel the tour with Dave Koz and Patty (Austin) sat in for me on that tour with Koz. Because it became more important to focus on my health.

Smitty: Well here’s to you continuing to progress.

Brenda: Oh yes, I’m doing really well now. Sometimes you’ve got to hit a rock before you realize…..”Ok I’ve got to take better care of myself.” I got my lesson and I’m working with this.

Smitty: Oh that’s great, and we all get those lessons in different times and different situations from time to time, and it’s those that listen that actually are successful.

Brenda: Exactly, and there are so many brilliant people out there who are working with diabetes that amaze me. I was so shock to find out that Halle Berry and Salma Hayek and all of these amazing people are suffering with this disease….many people, actually millions of people with a high stress kind of gig like me. It really takes its toll on you, and you really have to work very hard to keep your health together.

Smitty: As long as you make that the foremost thing in your life and work around that…..

Brenda: Yes I have learned how to say no (both laughing).

Smitty: It’s great that you’re doing that, we need you around girl!

Brenda: Thank you so much, because I was almost not here. I was like three steps from the Grim Reaper, they said “Oh it’s a good thing you came in when you did”.

Smitty: When you reflect on all of the things that we’ve talked about, your career, is there a defining moment in your career and if there is, what would that be?

Brenda: Mmm, wow that’s a good question. I’ve had so many magnificent moments, so many things to be grateful for. I guess the defining moment was the fist time I was able to be recognized as an artist, on that first album. That was a major defining moment for me because there was a lot of faith and hard work that went into making that record. This is the So Good So Right album, and also on there was Way Back When which a lot of people love, and If only One Night, which Luther (Vandross) recorded. It was a bunch of songs that really set a tone for what people would expect from me throughout the years, so that was pretty special.

Smitty: And rightly so, that record was just stuffed with great songs.

Brenda: Thank you.

Smitty: Given your health, are you going to be getting out on tour?

Brenda: Right now I’m still writing on the Musical, so when you are doing that you just can’t do anything else. I think I will be going out this summer, we are talking with some really cool artists….we’re going to put a little tour together to get out there to see people LIVE!

Smitty: Yes, there’s nothing like it. Brenda, this new record is so good. I expect so many great things from this CD, I can really feel your heart and soul in it. It’s very strong.

Brenda: Thank you very much. It was really a wonderful experience, I collaborated with a lot of very cool people and recording in London was really a great thing. And just to tell you briefly, this whole London thing came to me in a dream, because I didn’t know where I was going to do my next record or what I was going to do. And I had this dream about George Harrison, and in the dream I told him that I was making my next record in London, which I had no plans of doing. I didn’t know where that was coming from. When I woke up, I thought “Wow, what a great idea”! And I just started moving on it. I called my manager and said “Come on let’s get a deal in London, I wanna do a record over there.” And ten days later he passed away. And I thought, that was a special message for me to move on this idea, for whatever reason, I don’t know how these things work, but I knew it meant something.

Smitty: And did it ever mean something.

Brenda: Yes. I didn’t know him, for people who may be wondering, no I did not know him. I met him once many years ago and it was just “hi how are you”, but it was pretty special. So I’m an instincts girl (chuckle).

Smitty: Yes I can tell, and great instincts at that. We hope to see you out this summer on tour, and the best of everything with the musical, it’s so cool!

Brenda: Thank you, I’m very, very excited about that. I just hope that everyone can come out and support us when we open up there (Broadway), and also to support the folks that have been effected by the Tsunami disaster, I just have to say that because what has happen is so devastating and I just hope people will find it in their hearts to just reach into their pockets and give some money to one these wonderful organizations that are helping these people out.

Smitty: Yes, and it doesn’t mean that we have to match what someone else is donating.

Brenda: No. Five dollars.

Smitty: And it doesn’t mean that we should give some outrageous amount, beyond our means.

Brenda: No, not at all! Little children are making collections and I think it’s the least that we can do for the sake of humanity. So, I just wanted to share that and inspire people.

Smitty: Well thank you so much that’s a wonderful thing to say and to be thinking about at this time. Brenda, it has been such a pleasure talking with you….

Brenda: Thank you and you too.

Smitty: Your great career, the wonderful things that you have done over the years, and the inspiration that you have been to so many….your fans, colleagues, and peers. Please come back and see us again.

Brenda: I will and thank you for having me.

Smitty: You are so welcome. We’ve been talking with Dome and Narada Jazz recording artist Brenda Russell, with her fabulous new CD Between The Sun And The Moon. It is in stores now and I highly recommend this CD for your listening pleasure. Brenda, thanks again and the best of everything with all of the wonderful things that you are doing in 2005.

Brenda: Thank you so much and the best to you too.

Visit the web site at brendarussell.com.

An Interview with Harry Skoler

Harry Skoler
Toots His Own Horn
by Matthew S. Robinson

JazzUSA.Com: Here’s a question you might have been asked before — if so, I apologize — but why swing?

HS: Why swing? Well, the music of Benny Goodman was really — no pun intended – instrumental in my getting into music in the first place.When I was playing clarinet as a kid, I wasn’t really too into music. I wasn’t too enthusiastic. And when my teacher gave me the Goodman to learn, I played it stiffly. When I played them for my teacher, he gently took the clarinet from my hands and just wailed on the solos.

I was inspired. That night, I bought my first Goodman album and told my parents that I wanted to be a Jazz clarinetist. It was the first music that captivated me. Though I’ve come to play many other styles of music — especially Jazz — it’s Goodman’s music that is really…a part of me- so completely ingrained that I really felt that this album- I really wanted to do a tribute to Goodman.

I really feel that the music of Goodman is they type of music where I don’t have to be a clone. I don’t WANT to be a Goodman clone. I have my own story to tell. So does the group. So this is music that we can play and yet still make our own personal statement. I feel that swing music is so alive that it enables one to tell their story through it. It’s not like a relic from the past. It’s like…a vehicle that can be driven at anytime. It’s so alive!

JazzUSA.Com: As a musician myself (and as our readers are predominately musicians), we know how there can be a grand difference between wanting to play an instrument, playing an instrument, playing it well, and really dedicating yourself to it. How did you stick with the clarinet and was doing so difficult at any point?

HS: Well, I ‘d have to say it stuck with me because the difficulty of the instrument as well as the music business really discouraged me at some points. At one point, I gave up on music altogether and went back to school for architecture. But soon [the music] began to call me- I began to go to jam sessions instead of design sessions (laughs). I had played so many instruments — sax, piano, flute — but as far as the instrument that is closest to my heart, I’d say the clarinet is. And that’s why I’d say the clarinet has made it to the top of the pile of instruments that I want to stick with intently.

For a while, I thought of giving it up because it’s not a very popular instrument. So few people play it. However, this soon proved an advantage because there aren’t as many clarinet players. So, as far as the business itself, it’s helped shine a little extra light my way. The nature of the instrument is that the clarinet has three different registers, so it allows for a variety of expression. So the band is important- it has to be sensitive, And that’s what’s so special about this band. Not only are we friends, but we have an affinity which allows us to work well together with all the variety of the instrument.

JazzUSA.Com: Who are your favorite artists (besides Benny). What era/s do they come from? Who do you like today?

HS: I break that down into two categories: The first is clarinet players; the second is just musicians. I’d have to say that, for me, the musicians are much more important than their eras. It doesn’t matter as much if they were be-bop or fusion or what. For clarinet players, I would say Jimmy Giuffre, whom I studied with for 2 years at New England Conservatory. He’s a mentor and a very mystical musician and teacher as well. (He was known, of course, for playing the lower end of the clarinet.) Eddie Daniels. Buddy De Franco. There’s a guy in the forties — Edmund Hall. There’s a guy that played with Gil Evans — Tony Scott. Great player!…They were my favorite players.

As far as musicians that have influenced me the most over the years….Bill Evans. Charlie Parker. Stan Getz. Rassan Roland-Kirk. Phil Woods….There’s so many…so many players. And, uh, Warren Vachét [Note: Mr. Skoler spelled the last name for me]. Lately, I’ve been listening a lot to Joe Henderson and Scott Hamilton. I like Marion McPartland. I really like Sonny Rollins.

JazzUSA.Com: What is your favorite audience? Who do you most like to play for?

HS: I would say – gee that’s a tough one! I think that the audiences that I like to play for- it has more to do with the setting. I’d say that when it’s more like a concert, I like that the best because in some clubs, the atmosphere is conducive to talking and listening, whereas in places like Scullers and the Regattabar, people come to listen. They concentrate and that brings out the best in me. I’d say those are the circumstances. As far as the audience, anyone who comes out to listen to us, I’m honored. I’m very happy to share the music with them. But I think the intimate audiences and venues bring out the best- certainly in myself and I think in the group as well.

JazzUSA.Com: What is “Adventures in Jazz”? How did it come about? What does it do? What does it hope to do?

HS: Quite simply, it is a committed quartet whose mission is to bring the language of Jazz to young people throughout New England. And that ranges from kindergarten through college, but mostly its from kindergarten through twelfth grade. We haven’t done any college workshops yet. But we could! It’s a program which is both entertaining and educational and it’s designed to help instrumentalists explore improvisation for the first time.

JazzUSA.Com: You do a great deal of work with school children. How did you get started with that? Is that as rewarding as recording and performing for their parents?

HS: About 1980, I started volunteering when I was living in Nashville (in Tennessee). I started going to a school down the street near my apartment and began volunteering to teach music — they didn’t have a budget for music — and I just kept doing it. I had had horrendous music teachers and wonderful teachers, so I wanted to help give other children the opportunity to learn and explore.

Over the last ten years, I began going into the schools on a part-time basis and it was so enjoyable and successful, that I decided to really- to do it right! And along with Roger [Kimball] and Tim [Gilmore] and a wonderful pianist named Mark Rettalack we formed “Adventures in Jazz” and spent about a year and a half or so just getting it together — rehearsing, putting together our presentation, promoting. But when we’re on the road, that’s when it really jells. It is an “adventure” because you have to be spontaneous. And if you don’t have the time of your life, you’re just not gonna’ get to the kids.

We’re now funded by three state programs — one in Massachusetts and two in New Hampshire. We were recently profiled in “Down Beat” [Jazz magazine] — I wrote an article — and that will hopefully help us get known and to grow. Anyone who has that interest in reaching kids with music is welcome to get involved [see contact address below].

JazzUSA.Com: What do you consider to be the state of music education today? What can/should be done about it?

HS: There needs to be a stronger priority on music education in general. I think it’s appalling that so many schools have cut music from their programs. And as important as other programs are, the arts are fundamental to human beings’ sense of self and creativity and I think there needs to be more funding for programs in school — particularly band programs and music teachers that are there on a full-time basis. I think that commitment to the kids is really important. In addition, I think that schools need to bring in outside artists to keep interest up. In our day and age — full of violence and drugs — anything that can help kids develop self-esteem while being creative is vital. In my opinion, it’s not an option to cut [music programs] anymore than [cutting]…math is an option. There should be programs to reach all students. So I think it’s public awareness as well as funding. I think the government has something to do with that. Grant programs and anything that’s going to encourage music to stay in schools must be developed and protected. When I went to New Hampshire — to these one-room schoolhouses — the kids had never had music. They were both delighted and…stunned by what I had to offer. It was sad to see that these kids had actually had no exposure at all. I think that needs to be changed. There needs to be some kind of national networking to help pool strengths and keep people together on this. I think there is some safety in numbers, and that should be developed.

JazzUSA.Com: How do you like working for a relatively small label? Is there more freedom and opportunity? Are you happy there?

HS: I take things one step at a time. At this point, I’m very thankful for what Brownstone [Recordings] has done for me. Not only have they allowed me to bring my music to a large group of people, but [Founder/Owner] Jack Werthimer has been so supportive of what I want to do. He’s brought me to meet people, he’s introduced me, he’s helped me stuff envelopes. He’s done a lot of things that I do not think happen at big labels. As you know, great things don’t happen in an afternoon. I mean, eighty hours a week can lead to nothing sometimes! It’s like seeds- some die; others grow like crazy. So I feel very lucky to be affiliated with Brownstone Records and feel very honored to be on the label. The future will take care of itself, but whether one of the ‘big guns’ comes knocking or not, I always want to have an affiliation with Brownstone and Jack Werthimer.

JazzUSA.Com: What are the future hopes and plans for Harry Skoler and his band?

HS: One thing that has been a continuing desire from the first day that I decided I wanted to be a clarinetist is to record my music continually and to make a difference.

[I’d also like] to have [my music] on the airwaves and to reach the people in a positive way. One of the ways to do that is through radio. We’ve always promoted on a national level. This is the second year I’ve been ion the charts. Another way is by playing venues — respectable venues — both nationally and, hopefully soon, internationally. Going places, meeting people- the whole nine yards. As much work and exhaustion is involves in travel and meeting people, it’ very rewarding and it’s something I want to do and keep doing.

The third thing is that I want to continue to grow musically. This band has really begun to jell and I want to keep that up. The music comes first. If we’re not happy with it, we don’t put it on stage or on records. We’re our own biggest critics. It has to fly with us before we put it out there. We have to make sure that it’s all the best that we’re capable of at the time.

© 2001 M. S. Robinson, ARR

Smooth Jazz Cruise Cats Interview

Mark Vrabel and Tony Labarbera
The Smooth Jazz Cruise Cats
by Baldwin “Smitty” Smith

We spent a minute with what have to be two of the most passionate and enthusiastic promoters in the business. What gives them that distinction? They are spearheading the phenomenal All Star Smooth Jazz Cruise 2005. Join me as we talk to Mark Vrabel and Tony Labarbera.

Smitty: Hey Guys how are you?

Mark Vrabel (MV): I’m doing great! How are you Smitty?

Tony Labarbera (TL): Hi Smitty, I’m doing well, thank you, it’s great to talk with you.

Smitty: You guys have been all over the country the past few weeks promoting this smooth jazz cruise, and it sounds like it’s going to be a hit.

MV: It’s going to be a hit. With the artists that we have and the cruise being hosted by Rick Braun who is the ideal host for an experience like this, it is a hit. All we need is for the people to know what’s happening and it will be a great success, and we are very excited about it.

Smitty: Super! This isn’t the first cruise that you have been associated with is it?

TL: We were involved with Peter D’Attoma and the Warren Hill cruise briefly. After the first cruise we were working with both of them in different capacities at one point, and that didn’t work out the way we wanted it to.

Smitty: So why a jazz cruise, tell me a little bit of how this has developed between the two of you?

MV: Tony and I have been friends since we were kids. Tony has always been involved in music in one form or the other from the rock n roll side and things like that. Myself, personally, I am the one who introduced him to smooth jazz. As a fan, I think that it’s a format where the radio does not do the live shows justice. There is such a difference between what people hear on the radio when it’s a song that you like, as opposed to seeing the show live, and the kind of energy and the talent and the musicianship of all of the artists that make up this genre. It’s such a fantastic experience, and I think that when you combine that with a cruise and the ability to spend time, and hang with the artists and see these shows and jam sessions and everything that’s involved in it. For a person that’s a fan of this music, I don’t think there’s a better vacation that they could take than a smooth jazz cruise.

Smitty: I like that, that’s so cool! Tony, you mentioned that you are a fan of smooth jazz, how long have you been a fan?

TL: Actually I have been involved in concert production for approximately 25 years. And mark being the big smooth jazz fan, had some motives of his own when he brought me to the very first show that I saw, which was Mindi Abair’s very first headlining show in Milwaukee about two years ago. He had brought me to the concert with the agenda of wanting to start doing some concerts of our own in the Chicagoland area. So I’m sort of new to the genre, as Mark has been a fan for many years, I sort went through “smooth jazz 101” when we decided to pursue this.

Smitty: Tony, as a fan of rock n roll, what was going through your mind as you sat there for the first time at a smooth jazz show? And by the way, you couldn’t have picked a better show than Mindi’s.

TL: To echo what Mark had said earlier, the live performances do not mirror what you hear on the radio. I’ve been telling my friends often when they ask me “What are you doing in smooth jazz all of a sudden”, that it is pretty much the music of your life, you just don’t know it. When you are walking through the department store or the grocery store, it’s the background music of your life. The problem that we have as promoters is bringing excitement to the audience and let them get excited about the live shows. If you can get them to one show, I believe that you pretty much have them hooked. Because the translation between what they hear on the radio and what they see live just brings an excitement to the whole experience.

Smitty: Is that how you felt?

TL: Yes. It was much more exciting to me to see the show live. And I have found that to be true with each of the performers that we’ve gone out to see. Actually Mark had taken me to 3-4 different shows before springing the idea on me that he wanted to start promoting shows. Then he and his family went on the smooth jazz cruise and invited us to go along. I went to the cruise on about one week notice. We did it as sort of a honeymoon with my new wife and we had the smallest cabin on the ship. I’m pretty sure that it was a closet that they turn into a room. They could fit a bunk in there, and we didn’t spend a lot of time there, as we were at all of the shows and all over the place. I like to tell people at this point that on the first cruise I got the smallest cabin on the ship, on the next cruise we now own the ship.

Smitty: That’s what I’m talking about! Mark, when you think about what Tony just described, don’t you love that conversion factor?

MV: I do and it’s a funny story, but it’s totally true. Talk about from one extreme to another; this is a classic case of that.

TL: How the whole thing actually started, on the smooth jazz cruise, I thought that it was a good way to possibly bring some rock bands on and do a rock cruise. So I talked to Peter D’Attoma about it. We drove from Chicago to Florida for the cruise, so on the way home, a 20 hour trip, for 20 hours we did nothing but talk about how we would put a cruise together.

MV: And how we would do it differently and how we would do it better.

Smitty: I love it. I would love to have been a fly on the wall for that discussion.

MV: Tony’s wife was kind enough to take notes. We have a whole log of our 20 hour conversation of what we liked, what we didn’t like, and how we would change and improve things if we were to do it ourselves. And the very first thing that we needed to start with, and I think it is the major attraction to anybody that enjoys and understands this music, is the lineup. To really know who the top artists are within the smooth jazz genre, to have them on our list, Tony spent many months with phone calls to managers and agents, and being the super pest, doing everything that he could to make sure that we could sign up everybody that we wanted to be on this cruise. And that’s happen; we are really excited about this lineup.

TL: We also felt that we needed a host who was going to be much more personable with the audience and guests. That’s why we picked Rick Braun, because he is probably one of the most approachable of the artists out there. And he has the perfect personality to be a host for something like this.

MV: Regarding Rick, I think the whole mood of the cruise, just from the example of his talent, his musicianship, and how solid that is; yet there is the fun side. Anyone that has been to a show where Rick has performed knows that the music is fantastic and how much fun he puts into his show. That’s the message that I’m trying to get out there with the cruise; The music is there, the fun is there, there’s going to be nice warm weather, and a lot of fun beyond the music.

TL: You also have to have a host that the other artists respect. That was again, one of the main reasons why we approached Rick Braun first.

Smitty: Hold up, please allow me to back up, did you say that your wife took notes for the 20 hour trip home. I hope you know how valuable she is to you and this effort.

TL: Well both of our wives are working night and day to help us put this thing together, and they have been very patient with us running around the country. I was just on the Peter White Christmas tour for the last month. I was just looking at a map the other day and realized that I had gone from one coast to the other four times so far since September, promoting this at different festivals and doing the tour and other things. They put up with a lot of us being gone to promote this thing at this point.

MV: Without our wives and their patience, their understanding, and their help, this could not happen.

Smitty: That is totally cool man. I hope you both know how blessed and fortunate you are to have wives that support you to that degree. Give it up for Rachel and Nadia! I’m looking forward to your next trip to Houston.

MV: Oh we expect to be down in Houston very soon.

Smitty: Cool, we’ll have a good time I promise you. Tell me, with the majority a cruises leaving out of Florida, New Orleans, and California, why Galveston, Texas, how did you settle on this port for the All Star Smooth Jazz Cruise?

TL: One of the considerations for anything that we’ve done with the cruises….We did want to switch it up a little bit from what everybody else had been doing. Everyone has left from the Florida area; we wanted a different destination and a different point of embarkment. So we were looking where we could go. So were going to the Gulf Of Mexico, which is Belize, Cozumel, and Playa Del Carmen. When we were looking for a different point of origin, we checked several different sites, we talked to several chambers of commerce etc. and the people in Galveston were extremely enthusiastic about doing this. They love the idea of our pre-cruise festival; we’ve got a two day festival in Galveston. They pretty much rolled out the red carpet, they brought us out there and showed us all of their facilities which were pretty much brand new and top notch. They are really excited. To be honest with you, that’s something that we got from them that we would not have gotten from any of the other locations that we checked into. They’re sort of business as usual, where Galveston was excited and they’re going to try to make it very accommodating, and that’s something that our guest is going to remember and want to come back for.

Smitty: That’s interesting that you say that because actually, what you’re doing in launching this cruise from Galveston, Texas; this is something that has never been done, and quite frankly you’re making history and I hope that it’s history that will certainly repeat itself.

TL: Well that’s the plan. The people from Galveston chamber of commerce, the people from the Moody Gardens Resort have been so helpful in helping us put everything together, that I see us doing repeat business there.

MV: I think that anybody that has a tendency against Galveston has not spent a lot of time there recently, because we did. We spent a week there and had the Convention and Visitors Bureau people take us around town, and show us everything that’s there. And with what we have planned at the Moody Gardens Resort, between all of the attractions available, the smooth jazz cruisers and pre-show concerts that are going to be at the resort, it’s going to be fantastic and we could not have ask for anything more out of Galveston. It also gives us an opportunity to go to some ports of call that you may not have been able to go to from the other locations. That includes Belize, Cozumel, and Playa Del Carmen.

Smitty: Ah man.

MV: It was kind of a combination of things, but we’re real happy with this decision.

TL: Actually there was a different port that we were supposed to be on that we changed to Playa Del Carmen. So this is pretty much a custom cruise that you can’t get anywhere else, because even if you take this cruise without the music part of it, you would not be stopping in Playa Del Carmen.

Smitty: So you guys have really done a lot of homework, and you have so many features of this cruise that says that it truly is a vacation, and the music that comes with it, is just something that you don’t get everyday. So this is really a great cruise out of a nice location because I will tell you that the Moody Gardens Resort area is just fantastic. There’s so much to see with the award winning Tropical Rainforest, Aquarium, and so many other things to see and do. This is going to be a fun filled, jam packed, week of fun.

MV: I don’t know if my enthusiasm is coming through in my voice, but it is there and it is really strong. My input into this has been as much as coming from a fans perspective; knowing the music, understanding the music, seeing the live shows, etc. So I think it is really important to be able to set this up from what I think would be appreciated from a fans perspective, not necessarily just from the artists perspective, or from a business perspective, but what is it that would make this cruise better than anything else that has happen before. That is what was important to me and I think that we’ve been able to make that happen, and we’ve got a lot of surprises for people. I think that once this cruise is over, they’ll be back for our 2006 cruise and anything else that we do in the future because it is really important to us that everyone has a great time, and we are going to do everything that we can to make sure that that happens.

TL: One of the other important aspects of this is selecting the ship; The Elation really excited us because of two main reasons; the showroom is spectacular and one of the largest in the Carnival fleet. It also has the “Cole Porter” lounge which holds approx. 600 people that we will use for our jam sessions among other things. It’s absolutely beautiful and it has a jazz scene to it already. I think it plays very well to what we are trying to accomplish. We’re going to have shows in six different areas on the ship at some point during the week long cruise. We’ve got 50 different shows going on with 40 different musicians. So from a production standpoint, which is where I come from, we just thought that this ship (The Elation) lent itself well to producing the concerts.

MV: Also, what hasn’t gotten a lot of publicity to date is that in addition to all of the artists that everybody is familiar with, we are in the process of setting up talent for our “Rising Star” stage. We want to give the opportunity to some up and coming smooth jazz stars of tomorrow, to be exposed to our passengers and for the passengers to be able to see some of these future smooth jazz superstars. So another part of this whole thing that we are excited about is the “Rising Star” stage. I can’t give you any names yet.

Smitty: That’s cool. You know, I think this is great. You know why, you guys are true fans because what you are doing is what fans talk about doing all the time. This is what fans say that they would do if they would win the lottery, this is what fans say that they would do if they had the resources. After attending concerts or a festival, how often have you heard someone say “You know, I would love to organize a festival myself, or I would love to have a festival in my hometown.” And you cats are living a dream and you are sharing that dream with fans that have talked about doing something like this, such as giving up and coming musicians an opportunity of exposure. We get email from fans talking about different rising stars, saying; “They (promoters) really should invite this musician or that musician because they are really good”, or “I know he or she is not a headliner, but if they could just get a little festival exposure, I think that everyone will love them and want them back.” So this is just fantastic, I love your enthusiasm and passion for what you are doing. I think fans are going to embrace this because you are doing what they’ve dreamed and talked about doing for years.

TL: You know, there’s nothing stronger to us, than our line up. I think that makes the cruise. Looking at other options out there, nobody has our line up.

Smitty: I think you’re right, and I have an old saying that I have used for many years; “If you put the right people on stage, you’ll get the right people in the audience.”

TL: Right and you’ll have the right chemistry. That’s also something that we were looking at when we were approaching artists. We wanted artists that were going to be personable and approachable to the guest on the ship. We actually passed on a couple of artists that we thought may not be comfortable with being on all the time. Because when they get on the ship, the one thing that we are selling to everybody is access, they have their chance to be with these people for a week. They are going to be seen when they are eating, and moving about the ship, and so on.

Smitty: Yes, they will be seen when while they are eating, relaxing, and that’s cool.

MV: Now Smitty you are going to be with us?

Smitty: Of course!

MV: Ok I just want to make sure.

Smitty: You guys are going to be on my turf, I consider that a special invitation!

MV: Yes, very much so.

Smitty: Yes sir I will be there. Also, not only will the fans enjoy the lovely island of Galveston, but also the entire Houston area. If they want to spend a extra week or come in early, because there’s so much to see and do in this whole region of Texas.

MV: I’m going to use a line that I just can’t resist, and this goes well and we could make it the theme of the cruise if we want and that is; “They do everything big in Texas”

Smitty: You got it baby! You cats have come in and actually put your stamp on the saying that you just used Mark; that we do it big in Texas, and you’re coming in and doing it right. Because this is a big event, it’s totally cool.

TL: And even if we are Chicago Boys, we do have our cowboy hats.

Smitty: Yes. Now, you have a website where people can go and really get a strong flavor of what we’ve just talked about.

MV: The website is www.allstarcruise.com and once again we thought it was important to give people as much information as we could.

Smitty: And there’s some info there, that for sure.

MV: A lot of them know who the artists are and they can actually go there and buy their latest CD’s, although all of the merchandise will also be available on the ship during the cruise where they will be able to buy their CD’s and have them autographed by the artists. We also have information on there about the ports of call, the ship information, the deck plans, what the cabins look like, what’s going to be happening with the shows so that they get a concept of that. And in addition to all of the smooth jazz shows, on a normal cruise vacation there are comedy shows and some other kind of variety shows, and if we can incorporate any of the things that are already happening on that ship within our program, we will. Priority obviously being all of the smooth jazz music that we have to offer. But I think there will be some other entertainment options too.

TL: Plus we are going to have artist panels in a seminar type setting, with various artists answering questions from the fans, it will be a moderated forum where fans can ask questions and talk about things such as the state of the genre, sort of like a roundtable discussion. We are going to have a panel of industry professionals, management, record people, and promoters, and the artists are looking forward to this very much as well.

Smitty: That’s a fantastic idea. I was going to ask what makes this cruise different from all of the other jazz cruises, but we’ve answered that. I think you’ve answered that very well.

TL: I can answer that with one word, lineup.

Smitty: Yes, and your website is very informative.

MV: Please encourage everyone that wants to find out information to definitely visit us at www.allstarcruise.com where we have the booking information, there’s even a “Refer Your Friend” program. Because it’s always more fun to take a vacation when you can bring some friends along. So we really wanted the website to be as informative as possible, because I know from a personal experience how frustrating it can be when there’s something I’m interested in, and I can’t find out information about things. So we really wanted to make it as in depth as we possibly could.

TL: One of the other things that makes us different from the other jazz cruises, again I will answer with one word; Women. We’ve got Joyce Cooling and Mindi Abair. It’s not the Old Boys club. When we were filling out our line up, we were specifically looking to have some of the female musicians on there also. It was one of the things that was common on the other cruises that we’ve been a part of, that there were not any female musicians on there, so we went out and got two of the best.

Smitty: Yes you did, and I love them both (laughing)!

MV: We do too.

Smitty: I’m very close to both of them, and I love their vibe. It’s going to be very hard for me to miss this party.

TL: Cool, Mindi is my good luck charm. I said this on stage a couple of weeks ago; she was the very first smooth jazz show that I had ever seen, she was the very first smooth jazz concert that Mark and I ever promoted, as we promote concerts in the Chicagoland area also, she was on the first smooth jazz tour that I had the pleasure of being a part of after 20 years+ of touring with rock bands (laughing), and she’s on the very first cruise that we are promoting. So she has inadvertently and unknowingly become sort of a foundation of the different things that we are doing.

Smitty: Alright let’s give everyone the date of the cruise. I know that we’ve talked about it and it’s on your site, but let’s give everyone the dates.

MV: The dates of the cruise are; Sunday November 13, 2005 thru Sunday November 20, 2005, with our two day pre-cruise land based concerts on Friday and Saturday nights (November 11th & 12th) before the cruise. Friday night is Al Jarreau and Saturday night is Boney James, with a preview performance by all of the artists that are going to be on the cruise, in the Moody Gardens Convention (Center) Showroom.

Smitty: Yes, and that’s a gorgeous place. So the only thing missing here is everyone coming out and kickin and having a good time.

TL: Well it’s not missing so far, our sales have been very good. We started selling I think October 1st and we’re ahead of our projections right now. Once we get through Christmas things should start to explode.

Smitty: Yes it should because this is just incredible, how do you top this?

MV: We have our work cut out for us trying to top this for 2006.

TL: Preparations are already underway.

Smitty: I totally believe you two (laughing). Well Tony, Mark, this is just great. I can’t thank you enough for enthusiastically talking about this fantastic cruise. It is called the All Star Smooth Jazz Cruise 2005, and I love your slogan on your website; “Don’t be left on shore”.

MV: Smitty thanks for everything, we really enjoyed talking with you, we will see you soon in Houston and we will definitely see you on the cruise!

Smitty: You got it and big ups to you both.

An Interview with Brian Auger

A Conversation With
Brian Auger
by Mark Ruffin

For the first time in nearly two decades, the British born fusion pioneer, Brian Auger has a new album called “Voice Of Other Times.” Ironically, the record fits right into the box of the new fusion movement, “acid jazz,” and the keyboardist finds it hilarious that he’s being considered the “godfather of acid jazz.” His new Oblivion Express features his son and his daughter and they’re roaring this fall touring Europe and parts of the U.S. Before embarking on the trip, Auger took time with JazzUSA for an exhaustive interview concerning his a long career included crossing paths with John McLaughlin and Led Zeppelin long before either act were household names. He also tells how he outsmarted his U.S. record company RCA, and how black America established him as a force to be reckoned with in jazz.

JazzUSA: I can’t tell you how happy I was to hear the golden tones of your Hammond B-3 with some new music. I’ve seen you twice in my life, Brian. The first time, I’ll never forget it, was at Shyrock Auditorium, Southern Illinois University, 1975, you wouldn’t remember…

BA:: Wait, is that Carbondale?

JazzUSA: Very good.

BA: That was a beautiful auditorium as well.

JazzUSA: How do you remember that?

Brian AugerBA: I think we had a day off down there. We drove down. It’s kind of a particular area of the country that I hadn’t been too before, and it was such a great town. We had a great time. In fact I think we went to see “Blazing Saddles” while we were there. We had a great day there and then we had the concert. I really enjoyed it there and I remember it.

JazzUSA: Wow, Brian Auger sat in the Varsity Theatre in Carbondale, Illinois and saw “Blazing Saddles.”

BA: (laughing) That’s right.

JazzUSA: Those were some of the best years of my life and that is a very beautiful part of the country.

BA: Sure is.

JazzUSA: I remember a lot of things about that night. But, what I remember most vividly is Lennox Laingston killing those congas. Those were certainly some of the best years of your life too. Tell me some of the things you remember most about those early days with the Oblivion Express.

BA: The Oblivion Express, I started really after the Trinity years which were much more kind of artistically strained in a way. Oblivion Express was when I had no management. I started my own production company to make sure I had artistic control over the music from then on. The Oblivion Express was really kind of like a school in a way where I really asked everybody to really let it all hang out- to play to write and to try to develop ourselves as musician. I wanted to keep the band as open as I could to see what kind of things came out. In looking back now, I’m pretty amazed now at the albums we managed to make on a shoestring. One of the great things about coming the States, from my childhood years, I grew up listening to American jazz, here I was actually in America, playing to mixed audiences and understanding why I played the way I did. It was very much a voyage of discovery for me. We’d been in the States for about two months, and being on the road, night to night, playing with a band, there’s no better way to develop than doing that, and with a great bunch of people.

JazzUSA: Were you surprised at success that the Oblivion Express had in the United States?

BA: Yes I was. It really did come out of the blue. Now, the “Closer To It,” album was made in 1973, and it’s called “Closer To It,” because the first two Oblivion Express albums were “Oblivion Express,” – more kind of rock oriented- and “A Better Land,” which had kind of a different tone to it. “Second Wind,” was kind of a straight down-the-line amalgamation of every one’s ideas in the band. I had been going through a very dark period at the time, trying to get the band off the ground, and it was a tough time to hang in there, and I got a second wind when I heard the music of the “Second Wind” album. I just went ‘wow.’ “Closer To It,” I felt was more of the music that I envisioned, simply because the rhythm section, Godfrey McLean and Lennox really laid grooves down that I felt were the kind of correct backdrop of the kind of jazz influenced stuff that we were doing. And I sent that over to RCA, which was our record company, and I told them that I had arranged a tour in the States, one week each in various jazz clubs in about six cities across the States. They wouldn’t support me with any kind of tour support. They said you could never sell any records at a jazz club, (laughs) and basically told me not to come. I felt that that was a very valid album, so I had some space left on one credit card, so I brought all the tickets, and paid for the immigration, and decided that I was going to come in on my own and do the tour anyway. It was my chance to tour the album in America, come what may. I felt that I would be paying for those debts for a long time afterwards. (laughs) But I really felt for my own playing that I should come. Because every time I’ve come to the States, my playing took and step. Lo and behold, we got to Cleveland, about three weeks into the tour, and the album broke on the rock charts, the r&b charts and the jazz charts simultaneously. People started showing up from RCA from that point on. We hadn’t seen anybody up to that point.

JazzUSA: You know, sometimes, I hate record companies.

BA: (laughs) It was really funny because I was playing at this little place called the Smiling Dog Saloon in Cleveland and one evening the door to the band room opens and in come this guy who looked liked he was definitely out of place in a place like that. He said, ‘hi, I’m Frank Mancini, I’m head of national promotion for RCA.’ I said ‘Frank, man, I don’t know what you’re doing here, your department told me we couldn’t sell any records out of jazz clubs. (laughs) That really was the start of it all. It was just a gamble and a faith in the music. I look upon that now as something that started my career off in the States and launched the Oblivion Express. I believed in miracles after that trip.

JazzUSA: Do you know how “Closer To It” broke?

BA: Yeah, I do In Cleveland, there was a promotional office which was basically independent of RCA but promoted RCA product.

JazzUSA: Right, back in the day before branch distribution really kicked in with all the majors.

BA: Yeah, there was one African-American rep, probably the only one with the label at the time, who was in town, and he fell in loved with the album, and he must’ve had some clout with WMMS, because he went down there with the album and he convinced these people to play a track, probably about every half hour. And they loved the album, and that radio station, which was pretty powerful, it went out across the Tri-State area, suddenly broke the album. It was as simple as that. I didn’t even know these people until I got into Cleveland. Like I said, I really believed in miracles after that point.

JazzUSA: Brian, you said with Trinity, you felt ‘artistically restrained, in what way?

BA: Because we had a manager who produced our albums and I felt in a way that he kind of lived vicariously by infusing, or trying to impose his ideas onto the music, and we ended up when we made the “Street Noise” album, with kind of a mutiny among us. He wanted to run over the track “All Blues,” that we cut and I thought that Julie (Driscoll) did a tremendous vocal on it, and there were kind of production games going on where he wasn’t always into this thing for music saying, ‘we could do better than that, run over that.’ I listened to Julie’s take on that, I wore the tape out and I said, ‘hey man, you put that machine on record to run over that, there’s going to be serious trouble right now.’ It turned out to be a confrontation, and the track stayed on the album as it was, and we completed the rest of the album without the producer being in the studio. I felt that I really didn’t want to fight over stuff I was writing and knew how it should go. When he heard the track “Tropic of Capricorn,” that was something new for me, I don’t know where the hell it came from, he said to me ‘I don’t understand that track. It’s wrong to me.’ ‘What do you mean wrong,?’ (laughs) That one stayed on as well. Composition-wise, that was a step forward for me at the time. You have to understand that I have was trying to build a bridge between the rock scene and the jazz scene, which were two totally different things, totally separate. There were a lot of jazz guys who were really purist…

JazzUSA: Still are.

BA: Yeah, right, and they wouldn’t have anything to do with tampering with the kind of rhythmic side of jazz. Then there were a lot of rock kids that we played to as well. They were a few tracks that they liked, But he was like ‘I don’t understand it, I don’t know what Miles is about or Coltrane.’ And I really felt that there needed to be some kind of ground, I mean, I came from a jazz scene at that time, I mean, I could play solos and use jazz harmonies that jazz people couldn’t argue with, and yet in the 60’s, in these clubs where we’d play a jazz thing and then there’d be r&b bands that would come on and play. Rock was still developing and I really felt that this new rock and roll/r&b/funk kind of stuff that was going on, those were the rhythms of the moment. I felt they were exciting and I wanted to use them as a basis and then overlay my jazz harmonies and solos, and then try to arrive at some kind of music that would bridge that gap between those two fields.

JazzUSA: You just justified something that I’ve been saying for over 15 years. You are like the unrecognized father of fusion, in a lot of ways. I ‘ve been saying that for a long time. Even before Miles. And you just put it so eloquently in words. You were doing something, oblivious, not even knowing that the same things were going on in the United States.

BA: Yeah, it was strange, I mean, there were certain things that I felt that needed to get done. I mean, there were guys on the jazz scene who wouldn’t speak to me anymore, until the music kind of righted itself. I sometimes wondered was I just shooting myself in the foot here. Are we going up a creek that we would have to turn around and come back from? But I think there were certain pointers. I think when I heard Miles’ album “In A Silent Way,” and heard those kinds of riffs (sings “Shh..Peaceful,” ) I went wow, ‘obviously Miles must be listening to rock and r&b to get riffs going like that, and if he puts his signature to it, then we must be going the right way.’

JazzUSA: Miles is always a bright light.

BA: Yep, these things kind of move forward in their own way, and I really felt at that point , I had to have a band where I could develop as a band and put some time in behind this music to see where we could take it.

JazzUSA: You know if you play that Six Degrees of Separation game with you and Miles, there’s a connection with you and Miles, which is, of course, John McLaughlin.

BA: Right.

JazzUSA: You had John McLaughlin long before Miles even knew who he was.

BA: Yeah, John and I have known each other since we were about 18 years old. We would go out on weekends and play. Particularly, we’d do a lot of gigs around England at American Air Force, and American Army bases on weekend. So we were constantly playing to American audiences. Also, the Flamingo Club, where the organ kind of r&b/funk stuff was going on, where I played, that club was very interesting because we played over the weekend to probably a third white audience, English kids, a third West Indians, you know there’s a big West Indian population in London, and then the other third was made up of American GI’s, who would come down to London on the weekend to look for, you know, some happening music to go dance and to go hang out. That club was the one that kind of catered to that audience. So it was no surprise to me that when we got tot the States that we were playing to half-black, half-white audiences.

JazzUSA: Were those GI’s African-Americans?

BA: Yes. I grew up with black American music. I’d go and talk to these guys on the bases. We talked about the same musicians I’d grown up with. It was a great pleasure for me, my idols were all black musicians from America.

JazzUSA: Have you by chance, read Joe Jackson’s autobiography?

BA: No. I know who he is.

JazzUSA: Well, his book gives a great view on what it must be like playing pubs and bars in England, and as you talked, I had the images. It’s a totally different vibe from America.

BA: Absolutely. What I discovered in the States was that I kept getting these comments where we’d be playing. After the show would be over, I’d go see the promoter to straighten out some business and the guys would say ‘this is a strange audience. I don’t think I’ve seen these people here before.’ And I’d say ‘what do you mean?’ “Well, first, black acts will draw blacks and white acts draw white, but look at this, kind of half and half.’ It was really no surprise to me, because it was exactly the audience we’d been playing to in England. I realize, looking back, I really didn’t know much about what was going on in the States when I first came here, the way things were.

JazzUSA: Music has a way of pulling people together

BA: It cuts across everything. That power, in the 60’s, with music, kind of reverberated around the world and produced a kind of pop culture and musical listening audience, you know, you could go play in Japan, you couldn ‘t speak to the people, but they knew exactly what your feelings were. It was a pretty impressive time in music.

JazzUSA: I told you that I’ve seen you twice. The second time was when you had the group you called Search Party in the 80’s. I loved the album you made with that group “Planet Earth Calling.” Too bad it’s not out on cd yet….

BA: It is out.

JazzUSA: Really, that’s great. I saw that this company called One Way did put out “Closer To It,” and “Straight Ahead.”

BA: Yes, we finally got them out on cd. It took me a long time to get my masters back. I had a clause in the RCA contract that they had them for the five years I was with RCA, and then they had them for another fifteen years. When we told them to send everything back, it took them two years to find all the masters and the artwork.

JazzUSA: It was hardly common back then to ask for your masters back, was it?

BA: No it wasn’t. (laughs) In fact, when I thought about it, I can’t imagine how I dreamt of that clause and then got them to sign it. I think the thing was that they looked at it and thought, well, he’s going to be with us for five years and then he’s asking for the masters to be returned after another fifteen. Now if you were sitting there in 1970, these guys probably went well, a- we’re not going to do things with these albums after 20 years anyway. They didn’t know what this music was. Also, they would all be gone at that point, probably pensioned off. It was an older staff at RCA at that time. So, I think everyone said, ‘that’s fairly safe,’ and they signed it. When the time came up, it was pretty lucky for me.

JazzUSA: When you called and asked for them back, I bet some heads were rolling. BA In fact, they had to dive into the archives to pull out this contract and then go through it, and then the legal staff looked at it and realized, ‘well, there’s nothing we can do.’ They cut out the whole catalog in about 1979, so ti was really like having my whole history wiped off the shelf. I never got those albums back into circulation until 1995. That’s made the 80 ‘s and early 90’s kind of a tough time for me. A lot of people would ask, ‘what do you have on the shelf,’ and it was nothing.

JazzUSA: But when you got them back, suddenly, you had a career again.

BA: Exactly. I started to build a career, and also I started to build a band, which includes my kids in the band, which is tremendous to me.

JazzUSA: Yeah, your daughter, Savannah, may be the best vocalist you’ve ever had..

BA: And that’s the first time she ever sang. My eldest daughter, Ali, who is recording at the moment, is in love with Sarah Vaughan. She’s got every Sarah record, and we’re recording an album of standards with her, and I’m just playing piano on it. I was just trying to make a jazz album harkening to the days of somebody like Chet Baker, for example.

JazzUSA: Why did you decide to settle in the States?

BA: I really felt that every time I came here…there’s something in playing in America for me, what I realize was that I had listened to so much American jazz, from when I was tiny, right the way through. When I got to the States, every time I played here, my playing took a giant step playing. Not only that, there were loads of ideas that came to surface that, I realized, being in a European atmosphere, I’d kind of suppressed some of those things. It’s like saying well, ‘I don’t think they’d dig that, so I don’t think I’ll go that way. It was a very liberating experience to play with audiences in the States. In Cleveland, we’d played the Agora, which was probably about, 75% black, and I don’t know, it was like calling the meeting to order. We’d walk out on stage and people would scream ‘yeah, come on Brian, let’s have it. Let’s get down.’ They wanted me to let them have it, and I would just let fly and stuff would come out and I’d go ‘wow.’ I recognized that all my influences, all the people I’d listen to would come to the surface during those times and I felt that it was very important, for me, as a player, that I should come here and play in the States, no matter how tough that was going to be. I had to do something, artistically for me, that I wouldn’t get being a big fish in the European smaller pond.

JazzUSA: And you settled in San Francisco?

BA: Yes I did.

JazzUSA: You sure did pick a beautiful city with a great musical heritage. I would have love to have been there in the 60’s with Sly & the Family Stone, Santana, the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Tower of Power, Cold Blood, I could go on and on. I just read Richard Pryor’s autobiography, and found out that he even lived there during that time. What a great time that was. I would have loved to have been there.

BA: It was pretty amazing. I did come through here in ’69 and we opened for Led Zeppelin on the first date they ever did in the U.S. We played the Fillmore West together, and then we played at the Rose Palace in Pasadena. And I knew all those guys from London, it was like we were all old pals. But I had no idea, until I saw them here that they were going to be huge. It was a pretty exciting time. It was musically open and people wanted new ideas and the record companies weren’t afraid of music. There were a lot of music people actually running record companies, and that unfortunately has changed.

JazzUSA: When did you settle in San Francisco?

BA: I settled in 1975, when I came over. My kids were tiny at the time and I wanted to make sure they were in a safe place with good schools, so we settled in Marin.

JazzUSA: So the kids were born in London?

BA: Yes, they were all born in London.

JazzUSA: Did you spit your son Karma out? Did you like clone him, because you two look so much alike?

BA: (laughs) It’s pretty amazing, yeah. They’re my kids.

JazzUSA: How many kids do you have?

BA: Three. Karma is the oldest, and then Ali is my oldest daughter, and Savannah is the youngest. This is how funny it is when we were going to cut “Voices of Other Times,” Ali had been out on the road, singing with the Express, but doesn’t take kindly to the touring and the stress of it all, and wanted to stay in town. So Karma and I was having a conference on this, and I was like, ‘I don’t know what the hell we’re going to do. Who’re we going to get? We’ve got to make an album.’ And he said ‘you should give Savannah a shot.’ Now Ali was such a powerful singer with a tremendous gift, I didn’t even know Savannah sang. So I said to Karma, ‘what are you talking about? Savannah doesn’t sing.’ He said ‘she does, but you’ve never heard her.’ I said, ‘what do you mean? What does that mean?’ He said, ‘look, I tell you what Dad, you tell here to learn, say, half a dozen of our tunes, and we’ll have a little rehearsal, just you, me and Savannah, and then you tell me what you think.’ And Savannah came up with the goods and I was astounded. Then she said ‘this is one of the things I’ve always wanted to do.’ I think she fell a little bit in the shadow of Ali, and she never told us about it, but she stepped up to the plate on the first recording.

JazzUSA: She never told anybody?

BA: She never told anyone. Karma was the only one who knew. She was also interested in theatre and did of lot of theatre when she was in school and college, and she was tremendous at that, and it kind of translated to a kind of stage presence with the band as well and she’s only too happy to be out there with us. She’s very, very funny, blessed with a great sense of humor. She doesn’t freak out that she has to travel. It’s something that she wanted to do, and I’m very happy to have her.

JazzUSA: Did you push any of these kids into arts?

BA: No I didn’t. Karma used to play piano and I asked him if he wanted to go take lessons. No he didn’t. He played keys and one day we worked out a version of “Sister Sadie,” the Horace Silver, and when he was nine, at (the nightclub) Keystone Berkely, he came on with the band, and the band at the time was Paul Jackson on bass, and Mike Clarke on drums from Herbie’s (Hancock) band. They were with me for about a year, and I asked if Mike and Paul would it upset them if Karma came on and played “Sister Sadie” with us, and they laughed, ‘no, get him on, man.’ He came on and that was his debut on keys, and he had the opening line, (sings.) So I thought that he might play keys and after a while, he got interested in trumpet, so he wanted to play in the high school band. So he got a trumpet and played in the band for about 18 months. He was able to just pick the trumpet up and play stuff on it, but he never practiced. Then he went from that to saxophone, then he didn’t do anything for a while. Then, when he was 20, he saw Gerry Browne play, I did a gig with Gerry, the drummer who was with the Larry Coryell band. When Karma saw him, that was it. ‘I want to play drums.’ At that point, we went, ‘yeah sure.’ (laughs) I never pressed any of them to do any of this. I think it’s so hard in the music business nowadays, with the kind of music we’re playing.

JazzUSA: How old are they?

BA: Karma is now 30. Ali is 27, Savannah is 26.

JazzUSA: I have you down as 61, is that right?

BA: I can’t believe it myself.

JazzUSA: You know life is so funny, and you’ve got so many stories to prove it, but here’s another one. Right now, as far as the fusion that you foresaw, right now, in my opinion, as far as the future of fusion, in my opinion, ground central fusion headquarters for r&b/jazz/funk/rock is London. It’s ironic, but London is the shit right now.

BA: Right. We’ll be playing in London on our next tour.

JazzUSA: Wow. They must treat you like a saint.

BA: Yeah, it’s amazing to go to my hometown and have young kids with old vinyl with a copy of “Closer To It,” saying ‘would you sign it for me and would you play “Happiness Is Just Around The Bend.’ These young kids now call it acid jazz. To have some of these British bands, these young kids like the Brand New Heavies and Incognito, and to see myself in magazines referred to as the godfather of acid jazz, is funny as hell man. It’s wonderful, it’s great.

JazzUSA: You know, San Francisco had a mean acid jazz scene for a minute. How is it now?

BA: San Francisco is a strange town man. There’s still kind of an acid jazz movement, it’s a kind of a house thing going on here, also New York.

JazzUSA: Yeah, and Chicago. Those are the three cities with acid jazz scenes worth talking about.

BA: Yeah, I’ve got to get to New York and Chicago.

JazzUSA: The new record, “Voices of Other Times,” is great. Is this your first album since “Planet Earth Calling?”

BA: I did one other record called , “Keys To The Heart,” which was made in Switzerland. There’s some great stuff on there.

JazzUSA: But this is the first American release.

BA: Yes, this is the first American release.

JazzUSA: Why Miramar Records?

BA: Well, because calling around, it took me along time to go through all kinds of people. I sent tons of records out to all kinds of different companies, and I was having a hard time getting people to even listen to it, I happened to call Miramar. It’s funny, I hadn’t known that at Miramar, the executives had changed, and I had somebody else’s name who was a fan of mine, and I thought I’d just give them a call and see what happens. I couldn’t get through and was told he doesn’t run it anymore and that the company was ran by somebody else, and I asked who it was. They told me it was Russ Martin, and I asked, well, can I speak to Russ Martin? Sometimes, you never get past the switchboard, but they put me straight through to him, and lo and behold, Russ turned out to be a big fan, and was completely knocked out that I called, and wanted to hear the album. I sent it to him and they were really knocked with it. Then he flew all the way down to see us and he liked us and it worked out like that. And I found a company in England called Sanctuary Records and they are putting the record out over there. They were the same, I kept going down the line until somebody called back saying ‘oh man, I think it’s great,’ which was a good thing, because if you’re going to bargain with people, if they’re coming on and telling you it ‘s great, then they’re throwing all caution to the wind, and I’ve been kind of lucky to have managed to get with these two company.

JazzUSA: Brian, who is Ella Auger?

BA: Ella is my wife. Ella’s from Sardinia. We met early on late in the 60 ‘s. I was playing in Milan. We’ve been married ever since ’68 and we still are.

JazzUSA: Gosh, you’re living a great life here, man.

BA: Man, I can’t complain. A lot of people come up to me and say ‘you haven ‘t gotten the props that you deserve,’ and I say to them, ‘what do you mean? ‘ I married a beautiful Italian lady whose fantastic. We’ve been married 31 years now. She’s borne my three kids who are my jewels, she brought them out when I was on the road and they are tremendous people. I’ve basically done what I’ve wanted to do throughout my life, what else am I supposed to deserve? (laughs)

JazzUSA: Another thing about the album is you’ve come full circle. You were in England doing things that you didn’t know was going on in the United States, now you’re over here doing things that are in the forefront in England.

BA: What you have to understand that every year we do two tours of Europe, and have been doing that for the last five years, and so what’s going on in London has not escaped what’s happening. The reason that “Indian Rope Man,” for example, is on the record is just that kids have asked me for it. In the end, I said I’ve got to figure out a way to do that. So, one day I was listening to “There Was A Time,” by James Brown and I went, ‘that’s the kind of groove I’ve got to have for “Indian Rope Man.” I wanted to update it. It was Karma’s idea, he said, “hey Pop, why don’t you take the front of “Indian Rope Man,” from the “Street Noise,” album, why don’t we just sample that and put that on and then have the band kick in?’ I thought, great, and we ended up doing that and people have loved that track. “Voice of Other Times,” is something that people kept writing me and asking what the lyrics were, and one day Karma said ‘you should do that tune of stage,’ and that was when I realized that I had never done that tune on stage.

JazzUSA: Never. That song is almost 30 years old and you’d never done it live?

BA: Never, and we started doing it on stage, and when it came time to record the album, we realized that we should record that, and that kind of gave us shape to the album, because I’m exposing, in a way, all the people that I’ve revered and that I have listened to, that have influenced me, so “Voice of Other Times,” seems really appropriate for this album.

An Interview with Harvey Mason

Harvey MasonHarvey Mason
In the ‘Fourfront’ of Smooth Jazz
by S.H. Watkins, Sr.

He’s been hired by everyone from Barbra Streisand to James Brown to Henry Mancini to Herbie Hancock to Reba McIntyre to Sergio Mendes to the London Symphony Orchestra. He has played on well over 1,000 recordings and hundreds of film scores, won four 1st place plaques from Modern Drummer magazine’s annual studio poll and has been the first call drummer for the Academy Awards ceremonies on 16 occasions. We got this founding member of the contemporary jazz “super group” Fourplay to take a minute from his schedule to sit down and talk with JazzUSA.

JazzUSA: Hi Harvey. I just heard the new CD a couple of days ago, and it seems to be somewhat of a throwback to the old Fourplay, it feels like you’ve recaptured the feel that made you so hugely successful at the start.

HM: I think there’s a new excitement with the band, and that may be what you’re speaking of. We’ve switched labels and we’ve finally all figured out how to play together with Larry (Carlton) and Larry’s an integral part of the band now. His voice has become one with the band and that’s created a whole new excitement. We tried some new things recording this time because we’ve always wanted to continue the growth and push buttons a little bit, so we tried a different approach. I love this record and I think is has a freshness, and I people will enjoy it, it will pique a lot of interest.

JazzUSA: Would it be fair to say that the change in the band after the fourth CD was due to a feeling that you needed to keep putting out the same feel rather than expanding the sound?

HM: We weren’t really striving to get a ‘feel’, we were just doing what came naturally actually. Maybe we weren’t pushing the envelope but I think a lot of that had to with the Record company not really letting people know, not pushing like the first three records. The last record they took it for granted that people would automatically pick it up and that didn’t happen.

JazzUSA: Like a lot of groups now, I notice that you’re collaborating with some of the younger producers and performers. Notably Babyface…

HM: Babyface actually co-wrote a song with Nathan (East).

JazzUSA: It there a tour in the works?

HM: (laughing) We’re on tour for most of June, off in July, then touring again in August, September, October and November.

JazzUSA: Let’s go back a little bit… You were on the B3-master Charlie Earland’s album ‘Leaving This Planet’. Any memories of that time?

HM: I met Charles when I was a kid in Atlantic City in the 60’s, probably ’64. I used to sit in with him and it was a lot of fun, he was a very swinging organ player. He had a hit in the 60’s called ‘Daily Double’ and another called ‘I love you more..’ that was on all of the juke boxes. I had actually been recording quite a while before I did that record with Charles. I was pretty popular and getting calls to do all kinds of records, and that time around our relationship was rekindled, reestablished when we did ‘Leaving’. I actually went on the road a little bit with Charles in ’65.

JazzUSA: What about your collaborations with George Benson, he was on your ‘Earth Mover’ CD, right?

HM: He was also on ‘Funk in a Mason Jar’. I did George’s records, and he reciprocated.

JazzUSA: Any plans for future solo work?

HM: My last solo work was two years ago, and that wad nominated for a Grammy, the name of the album was called Ratamacue. I’m in the process of doing a new record now.

JazzUSA: Fourplay has a new record deal, are the individual artists tied to that deal as well?

HM: BOb and Larry are still with Warner, and my new record is going to be on BMG. Nathan doesn’t have a solo deal yet.

JazzUSA: What’s it like working with such a great ensemble of players.

HM: What we did this time, we wrote six songs in the studio. ‘Heartfelt’ was written on Valentine’s day by Bob, written that morning. Bob’s amazing like that, and we had nothing planned to record that day. Bob said ‘I wrote this son, I’m not sure it will fit the band but let’s try it’. We ran it down once and said ‘it’s ready, Let’s record it!’ And we recorded it. It was so special that when we were looking for titles for the CD I said that song should be the title. This CD was in fact really heartfelt, everything came from the heart and we were really using our hearts to create the music.

We also wrote four songs together in the studio where we were just jammin’ and everyone added something to it. Bob and I wrote a song called ‘Tally Ho’ in about 20 minutes, can you believe that. Then we issued a challenge to Larry and Nathan to write a song in that time. They wrote a great song ‘Goin’ Back Home’ but it took them an hour and 20 minutes. Everything was inspired, there were challenges and we just worked together, it was such a great feeling. We usually just write our songs and bring them in, then each guy produces his song. Here we worked a lot at creating songs on the spot. It was really different and Larry really became an integral part of the band, he really showed ihs versatility. I think we captured some of the best of Larry Carlton that’s been on record.

JazzUSA: Well, the synergy certainly shows though, perhaps you should always do it that way, the CD doesn’t feel ‘canned’ like a lot of today’s smooth jazz.

HM: I would say that Bob and myself were in the forefront of this entire smooth jazz format, and i’m going all the way back to the days when I started doing all of Blue Note’s sessions. And I’ve evolved, I mean was at the forefront of all those type of crossover records. I did all those records coming up, George and Bob, those records with Donald Byrd, and all those were big records at the time.

Being at the forefront of that whole format, we sort of set the stage, but it’s taken on a different musical angle as I see it. We could all play, we all had individual voices. Now the music is pretty bland and you don’t know one player from the other, there isn’t very much personality in the records as I see it. But that’s what has become of smooth jazz, a lot of these guys have taken on the characteristics of the earlier guys and tried to promote that.

The reason why Fourplay stood out was because they were four distinct voices that came together and made a very unique sound, and I think that sound has always been there, always been evident in Fourplay. There is a sound and synergy with Fourplay that’s unmatched with any other group, there were some other groups that tried to emulate our success but unsuccessfully. All the players in Fourplay have participated in so much music, have so much music history, and they are all such great guys that are giving and listening. There’s love amongst the guys, we all get along so well, and that’s the ingredient that makes us special.

The players are all professionally trained and have worked with so many musical giants, jazz giants. There’s a lot of history and depth there, and that what separates us from today’s ‘smooth jazz’. Our records don’t fit into the ‘smooth jazz’ category of today because there is such a deep sense of harmony that is done in such a way that it is transparent. If you’re a real musician, you realize it, and it can be contagious. I think it has created a sound that is very unique and non typical smooth jazz. It’s non threatening and filled with a lot of great music.

JazzUSA: It sort of defies the standard labels.

HM: I guess those titles are marketing labels, and ‘smooth’ is better than ‘rough’, but we didn’t think about categories. We just made a record that we like, we’re making music for the ages. We want to make music that people will hear and love for along time. I hope that the records continue to sell and will be recycled for many years to come.

JazzUSA: I’m sure it will. You’ve been a part of great music all my life personally, and I’d like to thank you.

HM: Thank you so much for your support.

Brian Culbertson – an Interview – 2005

Brian Culbertson
The man and his Music

by S.H. Watkins, Sr.

Brian Culbertson, child prodigy and son of famous jazz musician Jim Culbertson, has managed to climb to the upper echelon of today’s contemporary jazz ladder without losing touch with the world from which he came. His new CD It’s On Tonight is a set of 12 sensual tracks, all written or co-written by Culbertson. As he put it “this album has over 60 minutes of music to do one thing… get you in the mood.”

Although Brian’s previous releases have always featured a mix of styles, funky, R&B, up tempo and slow jams, THIS one is all about the mood music. “People always tell me that they like the sexier songs (on the CDs), trying to give me details about what a great effect a certain track had when they played it in a romantic situation with the girlfriend or wife… Whoa! Too much info (laughing).” Showing his musical breadth, Culbertson performs on piano, trumpet, trombone, keyboards, bass, synth bass, drum programming, percussion and even a little background vocals here. Joining him on the CD are sax men Boney James and Kirk Whalum, trumpeter Chris Botti and vocalists Will Downing, Ledesi and Patti Austin who Culbertson calls a “very funny lady. She comes into the studio and things lighten right up.”

As a student prodigy coming up in Illinois, Culbertson was both inspired and influenced by the Chicago music scene. “Funky music, man” is how he summed it up. “The Chicago hump… once you do the rounds with the musicians (in Chicago) you’ve had an opportunity to really hone your craft” Culbertson stated, adding that “a lot of great jazz musicians in N.Y and L.A. came from (Chicago).”

After writing and recording his very first album in the bedroom of his Chicago apartment, Culbertson has gone on to put out a string of seven CDs that feature his smooth style and knack for penning songs that people “relate to”. Now living in L.A. himself, Brian still plays regularly and with his band which includes his father Jim and one of today’s young musical prodigies Eric Darius.

It’s On Tonight is Brian’s first effort with his new record company, GRP. “I’m here because Bud Harner (Vice President of A&R, GRP/Verve) is here,” Brian states. “He and my father played in college jazz band together at Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois . He’s like ‘Uncle Bud’ to me. He actually got me my very first record deal. And ever since he left Mesa/Bluemoon to go to GRP, he’s been trying to get me over there.” Harner concurs, “Brian Culbertson is home! I’ve literally known Brian since he was born. I’ve watched him grow and listened to his experimentations with various styles of music over the years. Ultimately, this led to me signing him to his first deal at Mesa/Bluemoon, which segued to his association with Atlantic followed by Warner Bros. Needless to say, I’m thrilled to have Brian back where he should be – with me – at GRP/Verve.”

If It’s On Tonight is any indication of things to come, this new environment is only going to allow Brian Culbertson to raise the level of his game and continue to put out music that people feel, that people relate to.

For more on Brian and his music visit the web site at brianculbertson.com.

An Interview with Herbie Hancock

An Interview With
Herbie Hancock
by Mark Ruffin

Legendary pianist Herbie Hancock and Bill Laswell have reunited to produce Hancock’s latest album “Future To Future.” Things have really changed since these two teamed up for “Future Shock” in the 80’s to produce the “Rockit,” unquestionably the biggest hit of Hancock’s career. This time out, it turns out, Hancock, wasn’t looking for a hit, just a way to shake up the jazz world. But isn’t every Herbie Hancock album a way to shake up the jazz world. His all-star “Future To Future,” band is coming to a town near you real soon, but before embarking on his cross-country tour Hancock sat down with our own Mark Ruffin.

JazzUSA: Who are the members of your current touring band?

HH: Terry Lynne Carrington on drums, Wallace Roney on trumpet, Matt Garrison is the bass player, Darryl Diaz is the other keyboard player, and D.J. Disk is the turntablist.

JazzUSA: Is the show kind of straddling both your electric and acoustic worlds?

HH: It is the “Future To Future” band and we’re concentrating on the stuff from the new record, but we’re also doing “Dolphin Dance” which was done back in 60’s before anything electric. I have a completely different arrangement of “Dolphin Dance,” that includes the electric instruments. So I’m doing a combination of things. I’m throwing out the labels and just doing music, and using sound producing devices. Whether they’re electric or acoustic doesn’t really matter, as long as they work.

JazzUSA: Sometimes when you’ve put out records, they’ve been events in jazz, albums that have literally turned the tide in music. “Head Hunters” changed music, “Future Shock,” changed music, not to mention videos, for “The New Standard,” singers are still thanking you today for letting the jazz police accept new songs….

HH: (A Hearty Laugh)

JazzUSA: So, do you see “Future To Future” like that, something that can help change the shape of the music that we’re about to hear?

HH: Well, one of the purposes of doing the record was to open a doorway that could perhaps inspire other musicians to create and open their own doorways to the future. In other words, I’m not interested in copying me, per se, but perhaps I could encourage them to not worry about and get rid of their fears of creating new stuff, and go ahead and let it flow.

JazzUSA: You know, contemporary jazz has been kind of stagnant as a whole, over the last few years. Some people think that the worst thing that could have happened to electric jazz music was smooth jazz. Would you agree with that assessment?

HH: That’s another reason I did this record

JazzUSA: Because hardly anyone is pushing the envelope?

HH: Exactly.

JazzUSA: But, someone who is, is your co-producer on this record Bill Laswell. (Laswell also co-produced “Future Shock.”)

HH: Always. He’s a real visionary.

JazzUSA: His record with Jah Wobble is a smoker, and was on my top ten list last year. Have you heard that record?

HH: No, what’s the name of it?

JazzUSA: It’s Bill Laswell and Jah Wobble and the complete name of the record is “Radio Axiom: A Dub Transmission.”

HH: No, I’ll have to ask him about that one.

JazzUSA: Well, it kind of reminds me of yours actually, and I thought it might have been a source of inspiration.

HH: No, not at all. In fact I haven’t worked with Bill in about ten years, which is why I decoded to work with him now. Because we’re both ten years older than we were the last time we worked together. So, naturally, things have happened our life has made certain developments. And I really wanted to find out where his head was at. What things were real issues with him. Is his head buried in music? Or does he think about social issues and political issues? And knowing Bill Laswell, I knew he thinks beyond music. He also thinks about what’s happening in society and so forth. And so we talked about some of those things. As a matter of fact, we did that for two hours and only talked about music for one hour. But that’s exactly what I wanted. I didn’t want to approach this record from the standpoint of a musician. I wanted to approach it from the standpoint of being a human being.

JazzUSA: Are you involved in social issues?

HH: Absolutely. One of my projects is, I have a foundation called the Rhythm of Life Foundation. It’s about technology for humanity, basically. That spawned the Rhythm of Life organization, and that organization’s first major project is one called BAYCAT What it is, is we partnered with the City of San Francisco and another entity, the Manchester Craftsman Guild, more specifically, Bill Strickland, who runs the Manchester Craftsman Guild.

JazzUSA: Right, in Pittsburgh.

HH: You know it?

JazzUSA: Yes, I once spent a weekend there doing a story on English guitarist Martin Taylor. Plus some great records have been made there.

HH: So, you do know the place. Well, Bill Strickland and I got together with Mayor Willie Brown and the guy who is actually the CEO of the Rhythm of Life foundation, because I can’t run it, because I have too many other things to do, with my music career, and so forth. But I’m definitely involved, hands-on involved. A guy named Joseph Mouton is doing that. Anyway, we got together with Willie Brown, and started the BAYCAT project. BAYCAT means Bayview-Hunter’s Point Center of the Arts and Technology. Bayview-Hunter’s Point is a poor area in the San Francisco Bay area. We’re at the point now where we’re shooting for groundbreaking by September.

JazzUSA: It sounds like the Manchester Craftsman Guild West.

HH: Exactly, and Bill is the main focus in the BAY-CAT project. The difference is that there is more of an emphasis on technology in the BAY-CAT than there is in the Manchester Craftsman Guild.

JazzUSA: Herbie, can you tell me about Transparent Music and your involvement?

HH: Yes. It’s a partnership between myself, Chuck Mitchell, who used to run Verve Records, and David Passick, who is my manager. There’s another partner, but he’s not a hands-on person. He’s more of a money person. So, the three of us really run the label. Chuck is really the CEO, the responsible person, who has the expertise in running a label. David Passick, being a manager, but also have been involved in the music business for a number of years, also has a great vision for the music business, and the combination of the business part and the artist, because he is an artist’s manager and he develops artists. Me, as an artist, is interested in creativity.

JazzUSA: So, beside being an artist, what’s your role?

HH: I help in the selection process. I help bring in artists to review their material. I’m involved in the decision making process of how the label develops and the directions it takes, who distributes it. I go to the meetings and I’m one of the decision makers.

JazzUSA: So far, it’s been Mark Whitfield and your record, any others?

HH: Yes, we also have John Fortier, from the Fugees. We have Venencius Quatiaria, he’s from Brazil. We have Bekely, Lamb and Wilson- a guy who was lead singer with the group America, a guy who was lead singer Chicago, and Carl Wilson was with the Beach Boys, but he died. So we have the record that they did. That’s already released. We also have Paul Horn on our label.

JazzUSA: Another musician interested in social issues.

HH: Yep, exactly. We did some remixes of some material that he had done before. The great thing is that he owns all the material that he had done before.

JazzUSA: Wow, even that Columbia stuff?

HH: Maybe I shouldn’t use the word all. Maybe he does own all of it. I know he owns some of it. And we’re able to re-issue those, or re-structure them. He’s very happy to be on the label. Pete Velasco is also on our label.

JazzUSA:: Are you happy to be having your own record company?

HH: Absolutely, because we’re small, so we can move fast. And it’s exciting to be in on the ground floor of a new label. Especially at this time when the music business is in the process of change and a new kind of development , and the use of the new technologies, the Internet and new thinking and development of intellectual properties and so forth. It’s very exciting.

JazzUSA: Will you be with this label, going back and forth between acoustic projects and electric projects? Or like you said earlier, just putting out music?

HH: I’m actually still signed to Verve Records too. So, I have an agreement that I can do some things on Verve and some things on Transparent Music We’re making a distinction between the two, in that, I can do special projects on Transparent Music, whereas kind of the mainstream jazz stuff will be on Verve.

JazzUSA: Is there another record with Wayne Shorter in the offing at all?

HH: We haven’t specifically talked about it, but definitely, there will always be a record with Wayne Shorter in my future.

JazzUSA: How did the first one happen? I know you’ve been great friends for years, did you guys just one day say, lets go in the studio?

HH: We talked about it, and that was one of the ideas that came about. We wanted to explore a new approach to the music, and we thought that it’s gonna be hard enough for just the two of us to do it, without including someone else in the loop. So, let’s do that and then figure out…because we broke a lot of rules. There was a certain degree of spontaneity, but purpose in the different approaches that we used, or different examination we used in making the music on “One + One.” At that point,, we hadn’t figured out how we could translate that to other instruments in a traditional jazz band. Since then, we have been kind of exploring those avenues, although we haven’t really executed them to its fullest extent. Some of that is actually on the live performance on “Future To Future.” One + One” has forever infected what I do.

JazzUSA: How’s that”

HH: The idea of re-examining the convention in jazz was a key element in “One + One.” Tempos for example, why is it on a jazz song, the tempo is always constant. It never speeds up. It never slows down. In classical music, they have soloando, decelandos. Why do we limit ourselves that way? Jazz is supposed to be free. That doesn’t mean every piece has to be done like that, but how about one? (laughs) How about just one piece being done like that? At least. Why is it that the bass player plays all the time, but the other players don’t? And why does the bass player play one note on every beat, except for a few exceptions? Why is it that the drummer never stops? We -examined all of that stuff. And we also decided when we did “One + One,” that we could look at the glass as being half full or half empty. In other words, we could look at it like, here we have a piano and saxophone, which is a jazz group minus the bass player and the drummer. Or we could look at as we have a saxophone and a piano, and we decided we’d look at it like that. In looking at it like that, what are the things we could do because we don’t have a bass player and a drummer, and that’s what we do. You’ll notice that I didn’t try to play bass lines with my bass hands, the way most people have done in the past. If I wanted to do that, why not have a bass player? What’s the point? To just show off, my bass playing chops, , like conceptually. But we decided not to do that.

JazzUSA: Were you surprised at how successful it was?

HH: No, because I don’t think about it, whether it’s going to be successful or not. I do know that Wayne and I both have very good reputations. And that we have an installed base of fans that would probably buy our records, and I thought that they’d be interested in a record like that.

An Interview with Jonathan Butler

Do you love meJONATHAN BUTLER
HEALS HIS LAND

by Mark Ruffin

Most of North America knows Jonathan Butler as a powerful adult pop vocalist and a superb and unique contemporary jazz guitarist who laces his instrumentals with a touch of his South African homeland. It may come as a surprise to many to learn that Butler was the youngest of 17 children and he was a child star from the age of seven.

“But to be Stevie Wonder in South Africa didn’t make a bit of difference to the government.” Butler said in a phone interview from his temporary home in Los Angeles.

Nonetheless, Butler was the very first black artist ever played on white South African radio, After a life of pop, he discovered jazz and moved to London. He became a star, which of course during apartheid meant unofficial exile. Now that the country is making history with a mass strong of racial harmony, Butler will spearhead the day when every one in South Africa will ask for forgiveness. When the historic South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission hands in it’s final report sometime this fall, they will call on Butler to lead the call of unity with a song.

JazzUSA: So how are you doing Jonathan.

JB: Right now, it’s hot in L.A., but I’m fine. I’m just coming off the road, and sort of spending time at home with my children, just trying to do normal things.

JazzUSA: Speaking of home and L.A., why did you move to L.A.

JB: I think it’s part of the adventure. I lived in New York for about a year. We didn’t really like New York that much. I came to L.A. to do a record with Maurice White, the Urban Knights album for Ramsey Lewis, and while I was out in California, I decided, well it’s a lot sunnier out here. I think I’ll stay just for the sunshine and I think it worked out pretty good. We’ve had a good time in L.A. We’re staying here probably until January and then we’re moving back to the U.K. where we lived for 14 years.

JazzUSA: So your kids, have they’ve gotten much of a taste of America?

JB: I think so. We’ve been here for four years. It’s been a good time for us. It brought a big change in our lives to move over here. And for me, musically, it’s what I needed. I needed a shot in the arm, and America has been good for me that way. I’ve had a chance to work for a lot of people that I dreamt and desired to work with, and it’s continuing.

JazzUSA: Well, why move back to England?

JB: I think, spiritually, it’s a better place for me, my family and for my kids education. Also my wife and I have a tremendous number of good friends that we both miss and long to be with. Today, you can live anywhere. Especially with communicating with people, it’s a breeze. Basically, my family comes first. I will always know how to sing and play guitar. But (living in America) is a season thing. It’s been a very important season for me to have moved here. I realize how I have grown and matured. I’m better at my craft as an artist, as a songwriter and a performer. It was good, but I think I’m sort of ready to get to the next place and that is to settle my family down so I can get into some other things. I don’t know what they’re going to be.

JazzUSA: How old are your kids now?

JB: They’ll be 14 and 10 this year.

JazzUSA: So they are getting a piece of America they will remember.

JB: Absolutely. They were born in London. They’ve lived in New York and L.A. They’ve been to South Africa. They’ve been to every island you can think of. They are truly rich with life experiences and social situations. And that’s an important thing. And I think education is first on me and my wife’s mind, getting them back to a place where they don’t have to grow up so fast is very important to us.

JazzUSA: And they have to grow up fast in America, and with your childhood in South Africa, there are a lot of similarities to a kid growing up in America, aren’t there?

JB: Well, growing up too fast is what happened to me, being a young entertainer as early as seven years old. It’s a crazy life for a child being in show business at that age, because they definitely lose their innocence very young and they become incredibly worldly. I wouldn’t change anything in my life, I’ve had an incredible life so far, but for my children, I think there are some things I’ve grown wise to. And it would be good for me, and for me, to keep them away from certain things, so that they can just be kids.

JazzUSA: We’ve have talked to each other a number of times over the last ten years, specifically the first conversation we had years ago where you were pretty frank with me about your childhood. We’ve never talked about that again, but since then you have really been pretty frank in print about some of things that happened to you in your childhood.

JB: I don’t know. It’s part of growing, it’s part of maturing, part letting people in. There’s a whole lot more to what I do and why I do what I do. I don’t know, I think it’s getting to another place in my life where I’m probably more reflective now. For me it’s good. It’s very liberating. I do feel a greater sense of freedom in my heart and I hope that through the music it would come through, that people will really get a chance to talk to me, to know me, to find out what I’m really about. Stuff like that.

JazzUSA: Well liberation is certainly what’s happening in your homeland. How did you get involved with this music for the Truth & Reconciliation Commission?

JB: I was invited by the Truth Commission to actually write one song and perform another. That song is called “Forgiveness,” which is really what the Truth Commission is really about. These are really intense investigations that are happening in South Africa. People are talking about all the things, all the atrocities that happened- the torturing, the killings, the brutalities of the police, the government and ex-presidents. These people are all invited onto a podium to demonstrate and explain why they did what they did, and they’re given immunity based on the facts. It’s a really wonderful and noble cause because it’s setting our country off in a wonderful direction. I was invited by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the South African Broadcasting Corporation. I was deeply involved in that while I was in South Africa. I worked with the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra and a six or seven hundred piece choir from all parts of South Africa. I had about a week to produce those two songs. It was an amazing moment in my life, just to have been invited by Archbishop Tutu.

JazzUSA: Had you ever met the Archbishop before?

JB:No that was our first meeting. And it was a really emotional meeting for me. I realized that this was a man of God and a man of peace-a man with a tremendous amount of grace. He really moved me. I really believe he’s like Moses. He such an incredible person and it really meant a lot to me to meet him. He showed me all about what was going on with the Truth Commission. South Africa is a country that has so much color and diversity and with all of that going for it, I think the country is moving into the right direction. When everybody wants change, change will appear and I think that’s what so unique about South Africa, in my opinion, is that everybody wants change.

JazzUSA: And it sounds like it’s happening?

JB: Oh yes. We’re still in transition, a lot of people are not as positive about the transition because they’re afraid. With all new things, there’s a lot going on, so we all have to wait and see. Give or take ten or twenty years, South Africa will emerge as a truly unique country.

JazzUSA: Is this c/d coming out in the U.S.?

JB: I think we are going to make that available. We’ve done a video in South Africa and the whole thing. So I sincerely hope so. It’s definitely something I want Americans to hear. I am indeed involved in the community, I’d really like everybody to catch a glimpse of that.

JazzUSA: It’s not one of those “We Are The World,” situations where there’s a bunch of South African stars?

JB: No, it’s just me. It’s a single where I do my song “Heal Our Land,” and the other tune written by these two new guys from Cape Town. It’s not so much “We Are The World,” it talks more about forgiveness. Basically, it’s going to be released when the Truth Commission hands over to the government the records of everything that was recorded about the last 40 years. When that is handed over to the government as part of South Africa history, the single and video will be released in South Africa and it will be a day of forgiveness. And I will go back to South Africa to be there for the release.

JazzUSA: So there’s no way anyone is going to hear this until the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is done?

JB: Until they’re done. We’re kind of getting ready for that, and I think it’ll probably be in October.

JazzUSA: Now you wrote “Heal Our Land” years ago, but that is what the song is about.

JB: Yes, I think some songs stand the test of time. That’s very cool when that happens. I’m incredibly proud of this project and the involvement of my country. You know I’ve been away a long time and I really want to get back to my community.

JazzUSA: So right now, you’re touring with Guitars & Saxes with Marc Antoine, Richard Elliot and Kirk Whalum, right?

JB:Right.

JazzUSA: Now there are some who may think you’re lowering your standards by touring with that group.

JB: If you see the gig, I think you’ll understand why I did it. Part of the reason I came to America was to work with people that have somewhat inspired me. Kirk’s an incredible inspiration to me. He’s probably one of the best saxophone players in America, as far as I’m concerned. Marc Antoine is a good friend of mine, from the time we met about a year ago, we’ve become really really good friends. And Richard is a strong person, a very dynamic player. We have an awesome band to work with. What it’s done for me, like I said, it’s all about getting sharpen and working in a situation as an artist means you get to collaborate with people and get better at what you’re doing. And also you get to play to audiences that sometimes one probably would not have played to. And it’s always about breaking new ground, building new relationships with people. I’d like those folks to see the gig and they’d understand why. I have fun with it. We’ve been away for about a month and a half touring. I’ve come back from my own tour to doing this Guitar & Saxes. It’s all in the line of new experiences with different people.

JazzUSA: And when this tour is done, you’re going right back to doing your own tour?

JB: Absolutely.

JazzUSA: Are you working on a new album right now?

JB: Yes I am. I’m writing right now. I’m not recording as of yet, but I’m doing a lot of writing.

JazzUSA: Let’s go back to South Africa. You finally went back home a couple of years ago for the Two Nations Concert with Prince Charles and Nelson Mandela, right?

JB: Yeah, that was the Spice Girls thing. That was actually the second time I went home. Actually around that time, I was getting ready to do my own tour of South Africa. The first time was too incredible. This had to happen around ’93 or ’94. I get around so much, I don’t know what years I’m working in. The Two Nations Concert was truly an amazing event, to have 50,000 people there and the Spice Girls, Billy Ocean and a lot of local artists and a lot of British artists. I guess they took the best of Britain and the best of South Africa. The King’s Trust is always held in London,. It was never held in South Africa. It was really important for the spirit of the country. I had a good time. I got to see the Spice Girls and have a laugh.

JazzUSA: So the country is really opening up, huh? I mean there’s talk of having an Olympics there,

JB: Oh yeah, I was there for that too. I was there for the Olympic bid. That was quite an incredible day. It was incredible, right near City Hall, you’ve got 60,000 people just waiting for the countdown for the Olympic bid. It was just amazing.

JazzUSA: Just for the bid?

JB: There was nobody being killed, nobody being chased by the police and chased with guns. It was just people enjoying the day, just proud that they were nominated. It’s getting there.

JazzUSA: I remember talking to Hugh Masekela and he was saying how the musical infrastructure needs to be built too, that they shouldn’t forget that in South Africa.

JB: I tell you, when everything was in turmoil, music kept on playing, it kept the people smiling. Let the government forget that and I’d be very upset. I’d be very upset if they don’t pay attention to the arts.

JazzUSA: Now when you were coming up, black American music had quite an influence in South Africa?

JB: And still does.

JazzUSA: Yeah, I listen to South African radio on the internet (Qradio.com) and it’s mostly r&b.

JB: It is stronger than ever. When I was there, I saw billboards of Tupac Shakur. I was like what the hell does Tupac Shakur have to do with Africa. It just shows you the power of that music. It translates and black people connect. They connect to somebody who is just like you and it’s an incredible power to have the music here be that influential in South Africa. I don’t think it will stop.

JazzUSA: It’s funny that there are so many similarities between our countries, what with the violence, even with children, the apartheid and the history of the U.S. It’s incredible to me, that as large at that continent is, that it’s South Africa where the American presence is the strongest.

JB: I think that’s ideas that people buy into. I think South Africa has to set it’s own standards. For me, as someone who grew up in the 60’s in the height of apartheid, when it was at it’s worse, you know don’t want to mess around with life. I think what all these things have taught me is to appreciate life and not think inclusively. We’re not going to get anywhere thinking inclusively. We have an incredibly rich culture and history that can not be forgotten, that shouldn’t be forgotten, but at the same time, the world is changing. And our children, how are they going to look at us. We got stuck in tradition and thinking exclusively, whereas our kids go to school with everybody. They socialize with everybody. And I think American and British culture that is filtered into South Africa, people sort of live that idea. They want to be a certain way. They want to live in a certain way. They think of themselves in a certain way. Everyone perceives a whole other thing. I think as a whole, as the older folks, we’ve got to make sure that our kids don’t have hang up with life in the future. As an artist, I’m always thinking inclusively, I’m not thinking, oh, I’m a black artist, I’m from South Africa, I should just write South African music. I’m an artist, I paint anything I want to paint. To me, that is where music has contributed so much to society. Like Hugh Masekela said, I’d be very upset if the government didn’t pay too much attention to the arts. There’s no way that American music will stop having this influence, not only on South Africa, but around the world.

JazzUSA: Well one thing that great about your palette, if you will, is that you always maintain your country influence in your instrumental music.

JB: I’m trying to find that place, that ingredient, that makes me stand out as a South African, not as an American guitar player. I don’t come from the same experience, so I have to bring forth who I really am. That’s taken a whole lot of years to actually get people used to that, because you listen to the smooth jazz stations and I hear a lot of American funky jazz guitar players. To me, Benson is probably the most outstanding for me because I can hear him like that. I know who Benson is, I know who Earl Klugh is, but there’s a lot of other people who sound the same to me. I think it’s important to keep your identity, cultivate you identity, bring that out. If you’re from New Orleans, play with that New Orleans style, mess around with it, come up with something where people say ‘wow, I’ve never heard this before. It’s all about breaking new ground and trying to let people in on my background. Instrumentally, I can do that.

For more information visit the Jonathan Butler web site.

Cassandra Reed Interview

Cassandra ReedCassandra Reed
Contemporary Music’s Newest Voice
by Paula Edelstein

Cassandra Reed’s “Only Human” hit the top spot on MP3.com’s jazz vocals chart with over 10,000 total plays! When she recently appeared on the cover of Jazziz magazine in July 2003 as a featured artist in “Who’s Next? Jonesing for Norah” she lit a new fire among the American jazz press. Now her new self-titled debut from Peak/Concord Records has hit radio and Reed is rapidly gaining a new audience that had previously considered her a guest star on recordings made by Gato Barbieri, Freddy Cole and Romero Lubambo. CASSANDRA REED features the stunning vocalist collaborating with producer Jason Miles, Kathy Byalick, Wallace Rooney, Gene Lake, James Genus and several other great musicians. The result clearly shows they had a great time making wonderful music for the whole world to enjoy.

A native of Seville, Spain, Cassandra Reed came to America in 1999 after achieving stardom in Europe and Japan when her CD – I BELIEVE hit Number 1 on the European and Japanese charts! Since signing with Peak/Concord, the stunning Ms. Reed has made personal appearances on both the East and West Coasts of America, and will make her first appearance with the Paul Taylor band at the Long Beach Jazz Festival this month. This is getting real good so we caught up with Cassandra and here’s what she has to say!

P.E.: Hi Cassandra, congratulations on your debut for Peak Records. The word from the jazz press is that you’re among the “jazz debutantes” that may have the ambition to replicate the success Norah Jones recently achieved with her debut recording. You’re on the cover of Jazziz and have received other great reviews around the globe acclaiming your talents, how are you handling all of this newfound stardom in America?

Cassandra: Well my focus is kind of more really appreciating that I could do the kind of music I want to and that I could work with great musicians. My focus is on what I can do and everything that comes towards me that is positive. It’s nothing that freaks me out…good or bad!

P.E.: I hear several influences in your voice such as Kelly Sae– the other half of Count Basic in your phrasings, some that sound like Canadian vocalist Remy Shand’s background act, a little Norah Jones rings through and also a little like Jenna Mammina. Are you familiar with them and are they among your vocal influences?

Cassandra: Actually not really like in a main way. I think that what happened is that I grew up in very different influences and although I come from a very emotional point of view first, I always have listened to a lot of jazz artists and always appreciated like really well done music. But it’s not the only style that has influenced me.

P.E.: I agree, there’s definitely a pop and soul edge to your style. Cassandra, as you know Jason Miles and Kathy Byalick have great reputations for making hit songs and CDs. He has produced several award winning recordings including Gato Barbieri’s latest called SHADOW OF THE CAT, Freddy Cole and Romero Lubambo…and Kathy has written several great songs over the years. How did you hook up with Kathy Byalick and producer Jason Miles?

Cassandra: When I came to America four years ago, I came because I had a deal on Warner Brothers. Before that happened, my manager knew of Jason and had given him a tape and Jason really loved it. But at the time I was already tied into a production team so we didn’t hook up then. I happened to not release the record on Warner because of internal changes. So I got out of that and Jason and I hooked up. When we met, we really, really connected because he’s such a great person.

P.E.: “I’m Still Here” features the great Romero Lubambo adding Latin feel to this highly listenable song. What was it like working with him?

Cassandra: Romero is a sweetheart. I don’t know how to say it…it’s just that he’s very positive and has a magical touch.

P.E.: Do you play other instruments and did you study music formally?

Cassandra: When it comes to instruments, I don’t think I can actually say that I play them!! I started out by playing saxophone because I was not aware of my singing all of the time and the saxophone is something that is very close to the voice. So when I was 13 or 14, I worked to buy a saxophone and I just played and played in school jazz bands and I guess I thought I was great. When you’re that young…people just say,”Oh, she’s so cute.” I studied piano for a little while and with the guitar, I would say that’s the instrument that I play the most because it’s the one I use to compose. On the vocal part, I have a great voice coach right now that’s really working miracles for me!

P.E.: What are some of your other interests outside of making music?

Cassandra: I’ve always been very athletic and always loved sports and being outdoors. I enjoy archeology… and am also interested in the study of natural medicines.

P.E.: Who are the members of your working group and how has that chemistry been working?

Cassandra: James Genus on acoustic bass, Gene Lake on drums…of course Jason Miles played and produced. But I will be appearing in Long Beach with Paul Taylor’s band.

P.E.: Those are some great musicians so here’s to a successful concert and once again, congratulations on your debut for Peak Records.


Reprinted with permission of…

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

 

 

Herbie hancock Interview 2004

Herbie Hancock Speaking With
Herbie Hancock
By Mark Ruffin

Monday, April 12th was proclaimed Herbie Hancock Day by Mayor Daley of Chicago. He was surprised with the announcement and a 64th birthday cake at a free open to the public question and answer session at Symphony Center on Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago. Beforehand, JazzUSA.com’s Mark Ruffin, interviewed Herbie Hancock for PBS/Chicago outlet WTTW-TV and the show Artbeat Chicago. JazzUSA: You’re home, and since you’ve left home in the late 50’s, early 60’s, you’ve built this great career winning an Oscar, multiple Grammy awards, a MTV award…..

HH: Five MTV awards. (laughs) Let’s get that straight. The reason I say that is that it was actually the first year that they had MTV awards, and that’s when Rockit was a big hit and it was sort of like the beginning of the whole MTV thing. Of course, MTV had been around, but it was the first time that they had the awards. There were only at the time, as far as I know, three artists that were Black artists that had music videos that were on MTV. So there was this whole question about discrimination with MTV. They told me later that they were following a radio format for Top 10 radio or something. At that time all the Top 10 records were by White groups. Anyway, the fact that we won five, nobody won four. Michael Jackson won three for Thriller. So that was an exciting time for me.

JazzUSA: Did you know that you and Eminem are the only two people ever to have won a Grammy, an Oscar and a MTV award? No one else has ever done that.

HH: Really? I didn’t know that. (laughs)

JazzUSA: Tell me, from the beginning, you’re a Hyde Park grad, was there something from the beginning, something growing up that linked your music becoming even bigger than jazz?

HH: Thank you for your compliment about the expansion of the music. To me, I realized that it’s because of jazz that I’ve been able to venture into so many different areas of music. If I had picked another music to be my foundation, I wouldn’t have been able to be that flexible, because they lend themselves that easily to the kind of flexibility that jazz does. But, really it was kind of my basic curiosity about things that led to me venturing into a lot of different genres.

JazzUSA: You were a various curious kid too. I saw a picture where you’d won a spelling bee very early on in your life. You were a classical pianist early on in your life, and in college you studied electronics. So, there was this strong curiosity in you. How did your growing up in Chicago… did growing up in Chicago have anything to do with the development of that?

HH: Absolutely. First of all, Chicago is a great town for nurturing creativity. We see that, for example, not only in the field of music, but in the field of comedy for example. You know it was Second City that really started Saturday Night Live. Second City is Chicago. Second City is a comedy club here where a lot of the performers from Saturday Night Live, John Belushi, some of those other fellows, they kind of started their career there. Also for the jazz scene in Chicago, there was always an audience and a spirit to encourage the development of young players here. So, I was able to develop a lot of skills and learn from a lot of great musicians here in Chicago.

JazzUSA: There was also a lot more jazz clubs than there are today, certainly. At the Jazz Showcase, for instance, right now, a lot of local rhythm sections are used when national acts come in. Did you have the opportunity to do that when you were young, playing with big names?

HH: One of the, actually, the first big name that I played with was Coleman Hawkins and he came through Chicago, using what we call a pick-up band. Jodie Christian was the pianist that was the number one pianist all the time. But Jodie was working. He had a gig. So, it was the drummer, a guy named Lewis Taylor that had suggested that they try me to play with Coleman Hawkins. And he knew that I was young and that there were other guys that were around, like Willie Pickens was around and Billy Wallace was another pianist, several other pianists that were around that were kind of mainstays, more or less, more than I was. I was kind of new on the scene, fresh out of college. Anyway, I was also working at the post office in the daytime. (laughs) I had to be at work at the post office at 8:15 in the morning. The gig at night was from nine o’clock in the evening to four in the morning, except on Saturday. On Saturday, it was from nine in the evening to five o’clock in the morning. By the time I got home, I could only sleep for about an hour and a half, two hours, then I had to get up, go to work and deliver the mail. I lasted about two days then I got sick. So on the third day, I quit the post office, (laughs) better choice.

JazzUSA: Eventually, Donald Byrd was the one that heard you in Chicago and got you to New York, is that right?

HH: Right. Again, this was thanks to someone in Chicago that believed in me, a club owner by the name of John Cort. He owned a club called the Birdhouse. He was a friend of Donald Byrd’s, and Donald had a group. He and Pepper Adams had a quintet. This was in wintertime that they came through Chicago on their way to Milwaukee. They, I guess, flew into Chicago and were driving to Milwaukee. But there was a blizzard that night and their piano player had gotten stranded somewhere. So they needed a pianist just for the weekend. It was a ten-day engagement, starting on the weekend and ending at the next weekend at a club called Curo’s in Milwaukee. So, I was suggested.

JazzUSA: And that band took you to New York?

HH: What happened was that I played those three days in Milwaukee, and they liked me so much that they said they wanted to keep me on with the group and that they would fire the other piano player (laughs) which was what he did as a matter of fact. And Donald said ‘we would love for you to move to New York and become a permanent member of the band.’ I said ‘I would love to, but you have to ask my mother, (laughs) which they did. I called my parents, handed the phone to Donald, and he assured them that he was gonna watch over me and that everything would be fine.

JazzUSA: How long did you last with the band once you got to New York?

HH: Two years. I took my first plane flight going to New York right after that, which was the beginning of 1961.

JazzUSA: You’ve logged a lot of miles since then, brother.

HH: (laughs) Sure have.

JazzUSA: Okay, you’re in New York, and first there was, Watermelon Man. For a lot of people, that was the first song they heard by you. But it wasn’t you that made it into a pop hit, it was Mongo Santamaria. How did all of that happen?

HH: I wrote the song in 1962, a little over a year after I had arrived in New York. I wrote the song for my own first record called Taking Off. I actually had a hit going. They only had one chart at that time, everything went on there, whether it was jazz, pop, country, everything, the Top 100. I got up to about 80 on the chart. That was doing very well for a jazz record at that time. Then I worked with Mongo Santamaria one weekend, because he was between pianists. The former pianist, which I found out maybe 30 years later, was Chick Corea, and Rogers Grant was coming in. So I played this weekend with Mongo and Donald Byrd came by one of the gigs and was having a discussion with Mongo about a link between Afro-Cuban music and Afro-American music, and where is the African link. Anyway, it was Donald who suggested, ‘why don’t you play that tune for Mongo?’ This was during a break between shows, so I started playing it on piano, then Mongo got up on the drums and started playing this beat and it just fit perfectly. Then little by little, the band joined in. Then little by little, the people, who were sitting, it was a supper club, they were sitting at tables, little by little, they started getting up dancing. Pretty soon everybody in the place was dancing, and they hadn’t danced all night. But on that tune they danced. Then Mongo asked if he could record it. I said absolutely. I wrote the tune and I published it, so it was truly mine.

JazzUSA: And it became a bit pop hit.

HH: Yeah, it was like in the top ten.

JazzUSA: You were only 23 at the time, how did that feel?

HH: It felt great because I had just joined Miles Davis’ band when the tune was a huge hit. So here I was playing with the top jazz group and walking down the street and hearing my song, Watermelon Man, playing out of everybody’s window in New York, during that summer. It was great.

JazzUSA: So, how did you hook up with Miles? What was that first connect like, the phone call?

HH: Well, there were rumors that Miles was looking for me, and of course, I didn’t believe any of the rumors. But, it turned out that they were true, because I kept hearing more and more rumors. Donald Byrd was my roommate, and he told me, he said, ‘when Miles calls…’ I said, ‘Miles is not going to call.’ He said, ‘yes he will, and when he calls, tell him that you’re not working with anybody.’ I said, ‘no Donald, I couldn’t do that to you. You brought me to New York. You started my career. You’re the one who told me to keep my publishing company and put my songs in my publishing company and all of that, and you helped set all that up.’ And he said, ‘shut up.’ (laughs) He said, ‘listen to me. Tell Miles that you’re not working with anybody.’ Funny thing was about a half-hour later Miles called, and his first question was (imitating Davis’ famous raspy voice) ‘you working with anybody?’ And I said no. (laughs) The next day I went to his house to I thought audition. We did that for about three days and then he said, ‘tomorrow, we’re going to record,’ and I was shocked. We recorded the record Seven Steps To Heaven. Actually, I’m on half the tunes and Victor Feldman is on the other half.

JazzUSA: That’s a great record too. So, the Miles Davis Quintet took off, became this world famous band, and you also caught Miles in a period of transition, where he went from acoustic to In A Silent Way, and Bitches Brew and you were there for most of that too. How did you view this transition to a more electronic based music?

HH: It was inevitable. Miles was always a very open musician, and electronics were a new thing. Of course, the electric guitar had been around since the 30’s. But now that was being extended to synthesizers. There was a whole new viewpoint of electronics. Of course it was being really captured in the rock market, so electronics was like a youth-oriented concept in a way. It was associated with the young music that was coming in, rock and roll, and so forth. Many of the jazz musicians were curious about figuring out a way to incorporate the two and just curious about what the result would be when you combine elements from rock or funk, and so forth, with jazz elements, and Miles was at the forefront of that. Actually the first fusion, we call it fusion now, record, or group, was not Miles with Bitches Brew. It was actually Tony Williams. He had a group with John McLaughlin on guitar and Larry Young was the organist.

JazzUSA: That was the original Tony Williams Lifetime. HH Yeah, Tony Williams Lifetime. They came out with that sound before Miles made that transition and I think Miles heard that and decided he wanted to work in that area. Then Bitches Brew came out and just blew everybody’s mind.

JazzUSA: But you took to electronics especially it seems. You formed the Mwadishi band, with one of my favorite horn sections ever and Eddie Henderson, Bennie Maupin and Julian Priester, then of course Headhunters. At one time, Headhunters was the biggest selling jazz album of all time. Is that right?

HH: Right, when it came out.

JazzUSA: But, when you recorded it, you weren’t thinking like that.

HH: Oh no. (laughs) I mean who knew? Who knew that the record was going to have that kind of impact. I was just as surprised as everybody else.

JazzUSA: Was it a jam session that started Chameleon and it became this big thing.

HH: No, Actually, we developed it together. We sat down and worked on different parts of it. I have the original music for Chameleon, and its very different from what we wound up with with the final recording. The bass line is completely changed, and the melody had some changes in it. We kind of refined it, but different people in the band helped shape it.

JazzUSA: And as your career grew, you walk this line, acoustic, electric, all the time since Mwadishi band. Then came Rockit. That was a whole different audience that you tapped into there. And you’ve seemed to have always had that knack. Everything was elastic. Maiden Voyage was elastic. Chameleon, Watermelon Man was elastic, I mean you made an electric version of that. Where did that come from being able to tap into folks like that.

HH: I think part of it is my own curiosity about things and a kind of openness that is due primarily to Miles Davis. I noticed that he was very open, even when I had tunnel-vision about jazz, Miles was very open. But also, I began practicing Buddhism in 1972. That really supported the concept of openness and supported the areas that it takes to venture beyond the comfort zones and into other areas that you may not be too familiar with. So that was a major help. If it hadn’t been for Buddhism, I’d never made Headhunters. That I know. I chanted onto that. My chanting led to that.

JazzUSA: Tunnel-vision from Herbie Hancock, that just doesn’t sound right.

HH: Well I had it


Reprinted with permission of…

Jeff Lorber Interview

On the Flip Side With
Jeff Lorber
by Baldwin “Smitty” Smith

One of the fantastic keyboard players in this business, musically he’s a quiet assassin. He’s got a great new CD out following up the chart blasting “Philly Style”. His new record is called Flipside. Please join me talking with a master of the keyboard Mr. Jeff Lorber.

Smitty: Before we go any further, let me tell you; after listening to this new record, you are still the Schiznick! So tell me, what’s the flip side of Jeff Lorber?

JL: Thank you Smitty. Well you know, Flip Side has a couple of different meanings. One meaning is, with musicians, when you talk about flipping something, and you’re usually talking about taking something that you usually do but taking a different approach to it. You’re not doing it the same way but just sort of being creative with what you’re working on. And that’s definitely what we tried to do on this album, to try and take a creative approach to the idea of smooth jazz and contemporary jazz and to just kind of include some new elements and some new ways of approaching it. And at the same time, when I was working on this new record, I was kind of going through a real life changing situation. After I made the record I went in, in late November and had a kidney transplant.

Smitty: Yeah I heard about that.

JL: Luckily everything was successful and I’m feeling great. And that sort of relates too. Because I’m kind of on the flip side of that situation and feeling very good about it, very lucky and very grateful of course. So the title has sort of that meaning for me also.

Smitty: Yeah so it has a dual meaning. We’re glad you’re doing better man. That’s great!

JL: Thank you.

Smitty: Speaking of FLIPSIDE, you’ve done some very creative things with this new record, and it is a great record man. Talk to me about some of the things you did. I know you used two drum kits which is kind of a cool thing.

JL: Well, I worked with Steve Dubin. He was kind of my co writer and collaborator on a lot of the songs as I have on the last two albums. The last two records we brought a great rhythm section in. We had John Roberts on drums, Tony Madien and Alex Al. And that formed sort of the basis of those records. We created the rhythm tracks for that band. After that the songs were almost done. They just needed a little bit of work. But this record, we took a different approach. We sort of created each piece, like we overdubbed up each instrument separately. In a way it was much more time consuming. Just bringing a band in and playing the songs and getting those great performances, is a very fast and easy way to make a record. But we took a different approach. We wanted the record to sound modern. As far as what we did with the drums, we use the same drummer that we have been using. John Roberts is a phenomenal player. He’s toured with everyone from Sheila E, Rachelle Ferrell, recorded with George Duke on his last couple of records. He’s just a phenomenal player. But anyway, we brought in a couple of different drum kits. One was sort of a modern kit that we recorded with a lot of microphones, like people normally do nowadays. And the other kit was this like sort of old Slingerland kit like something that Ringo Starr might have played in the 60’s. And we recorded that in mono with just a few microphones. We did that just as an experiment to see if we’d like it and ended up using that on about half the album. There’s something that’s very direct and very powerful about recording something that simply. Nowadays things get more complex, you have more tracks. People don’t even remember what it was like back in the days. They use to record a whole drum kit, with just one microphone really.

Smitty: Oh Yeah.

JL: Those old Led Zeppelin records and old jazz records, the band would just go into the studio and record and that would be it. It wouldn’t even be recorded to a multi track tape, it would be just kind of recorded to a two inch tape and that performance would be the record. There wouldn’t be any overdubs. But nowadays with so much digital recording, you have so much control over every element and over the sound of each instrument. And sort of unlimited tracks and unlimited ability to add things if you want to.

Smitty: Very true. But it seems like you kept it simple but with some astonishing elements.

JL: That’s one thing about Steve Dubin, working with him. From the very beginning of working with him, he sort of emphasized trying to keep things stripped down and don’t add anything to the track unless it’s really necessary. Kind of keep that more minimalistic approach where each element means something and it’s all contributing to the whole.

Smitty: It’s a beautiful sound, and Steve Dubin is a bad boy in his own right. There’s no doubt about that. I love his work. My hat’s off to him. But tell me a little bit too about Nelson Jackson, this keyboard player. I love this cat’s style.

JL: Yes, he’s kind of a secret weapon. Steve has been bringing him in as the co writer on a lot of stuff that we’ve been working on. He’s just a young man from the L.A. area. Basically he’s very involved in the gospel music scene here. I think every Sunday he’s playing two different gigs at two different churches.

Smitty: Wow!

JL: Yeah, he’s the man. You know he’s just a very strong keyboard player, he’s very funky and he’s got a great feel. In everything that we did, he played a lot of the base lines and came up with some of the basic chords. He was a co writer on about four of the songs of the album. Everything that we recorded with him, we didn’t quantitize it. Like a lot of the time when you use a sequencer, you use digital recording, you quantitize stuff to make it perfectly in time because it feels good. But this guy has such a great sense of time and such a great feel that we didn’t want to do that. We just kind of recorded everything he did; just exactly the way he played it. I think that really adds kind of a neat flavor to the record.

Smitty: I love the vibe. It’s definitely high definition that’s for sure. Now talk to me about this whole concept of improvisation. I mean this is not something new, but it seemed to be very important to you on this particular project.

JL: Well, yeah another thing that was different about the last couple of records was that we really focused on songwriting. As far as soloing was concerned, the solos were a little bit constrained. You know we’d just have a short solo in the middle of the song and maybe a solo on the way out. But on this record we took a really different approach. On a lot of the songs there’s almost improvisation and soloing from the beginning to the end of the songs. Much more free and we just used some of the advantages of digital recording, where from the earliest point in the writing process it’s really easy to capture those performances in a really high quality way. And retain that sort of initial inspiration and we definitely approached this record like that.

Smitty: Isn’t it true that the first take is sometimes the best take?

JL: Yes absolutely, and the reason why is because, you know it’s sort of like the first time you’ve ever heard those chords and that beat and there is just something really magical about that very first time that you try and play on something. And it can really just have a vibe about it that you can’t get any other way. You know, one artist that I worked with in the past, I do a lot of production, and one guy that really comes to mind as someone that always retained that first take was Art Porter. Everything that I recorded with him, he’d go into the studio and he’d play that first take and that’d be it. We would actually try to beat it, we’d play more takes, but it was always the first take that ended up being used. Once in a while we’d like kind of repair a little something here or there. But more or less everything was that first take.

Smitty: How many times have we said to ourselves, “Man if we had did that first take, that first take was so cool I wish we had done that one you know.”

JL: Yes you’re absolutely right.

Smitty: And you’ve got to talk to me about this horn section. I mean, this is some great work and I can’t say enough about the production. It seems like you’re very deliberate in the arrangements with the horn section on an improvisational level.

JL: Well we used Gary Meek and Ron King, who we’ve used before. On my last couple of records we used those guys on some of the songs. We also used Jerry Hey who’s incredible, of course he’s world famous for all of his work with Quincy Jones and all of the unbelievable records he’s done over the years. But in this record we were kind of looking for a more loose approach, and everything that Jerry Hey does, most of it is very polished and really perfect and really well thought out. We actually wanted to go for something that didn’t sound like that at all, something that was sort of looser and more spontaneous. And one thing we did this time that we’ve never done before, we didn’t have any horn charts at all. Just let the guys go in, sometimes we’d give them some ideas and sometimes we wouldn’t. We’d just say to just go with whatever you feel. And so as a result the horn stuff that’s on there is much more, it’s just got a different vibe. It sounds more live and more improvised. Like the song Sun Ra really stands out. It’s a very unusual song because it’s sort of a combination of reggae and kind of a stack sort of Memphis R&B feel, if you can imagine what that is. If you hear the song you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Smitty: Yes I’ve heard it.

JL: We have Paul Jackson playing reggae guitar, but when the horn section went in, I told them to basically take that Stack R&B approach to the horn line and so that’s a really neat element.

Smitty: Yes that is. It’s a different approach, I mean I noticed it right away. It’s a great vibe; it’s different but seriously a cool vibe. And Ooh La La! Come on man, that’s a nice tune. It’s got some of that Jamaican and Latin kind of feel to it. What was the idea there?

JL: Well that was just one of those songs where every once in a while you get these sort of magic songs that just come together very quickly with a lot of spontaneity. Basically it was a track that Nelson and Steve had put together for the most part. And I just came in and played, like what you hear I just came in and played on top of it, it was the first time I heard it. It just kind of has a catchy melody and some kind of magic that we always love. It’s funny because when you get into making an album, sometimes you lose a little bit of objectivity. You don’t really know what people are going to like and what’s going to stand out. We always loved that song and we’re hoping that others will too. We were very relieved when we handed the record in and a lot of people at the record company that heard the album all agreed and thought that Ooh La La would be the first single, we all agreed with that and were glad that they chose that song.

Smitty: Yeah man, that’s a kickin’ tune I tell you. I mean these are all great songs. I love Santa Monica Triangle, I love to kind of get up to that and do my thing.

JL: Yes Santa Monica Triangle is probably the most different song on the record of anything that I’ve ever done. It’s got a little bit of a kind of electronic feeling to it; it’s got like a little dance hall kind of reggae group. There’s a lot of reggae influence on this album. And there’s also another influence on this album, it’s sort of unusual, like an old time Jazz. You know like we were talking about that old drum set that we used. Just the swing feel that’s on the title track Flip Side.

Smitty: That retro throw back thing.

JL: Yeah exactly. When I think about this album, that’s kind of what stands out to me in terms of what’s really different about it is those elements.

Smitty: As if we didn’t think you could do something to top Philly Style and Kickin’ It. This is a great arrangement of songs and I love the improvisonal approach to it. And it was sort of a let it be style, you know when you played over the top. Regardless, this is Jeff Lorber, in other words I felt you were telling us that this is Jeff Lorber, this is the flip side, and this is real, groove with it you know.

JL: Yes that’s it, that’s the feeling.

Smitty: Very cool. So now the record comes out today.

JL: Today is the day!

Smitty: How about that? Well I anticipate some great things for this record and can’t say enough about it. Now you’ve got to tell me about the cover art, the picture here.

JL: The cover of an album is so important to me. You want to have great artwork that kind of reflects the music inside. And sometimes it’s tough, because if you’re a musician, you’re not necessarily a graphic artist. So you don’t really have talents in that area, you have to trust other people. But what happened with this record is that I had a friend that I met when we played at the Jazz Café in London. His name is Vincent van de Wijngaard. He’s just a very avid fan of Jazz and of my music. He’s a photographer and I’d had a chance to check out his pictures which are just incredible. From an early stage, I wanted to involve some of his cool images on this album cover. Luckily the art director at Narada really liked one of them and that became the cover. It’s got that sort of beach scene that fits in with the reggae influence that’s on the album. The whole album has a kind of a vibe of being in escape, you know you put the album on and chill out just kind of get swept away in that world that it takes you to. And that’s sort of what the cover represents, very colorful, a very vibrant image. I thought it worked very well with the quality of the music that’s inside.

Smitty: Yeah man, impressive. Well I tell you Jeff, I think there are more sides than just a FLIPSIDE to Jeff Lorber, but this is a beautiful side.

JL: Thank you

Smitty: Hey man, best of everything with this record and the first single coming out and your health more importantly. We’re glad to have you around.

JL: Me too, believe me! Like I said I’m just so thankful and I really consider myself to be so lucky and I plan on taking advantage of my good fortune as much as I can in terms of making great music basically.

Smitty: Cool. Well we certainly look forward to hearing more of this great stuff from you. We’ve been talking with Narada Jazz recording artist Jeff Lorber. He has a great new CD out, it’s called FLIPSIDE and there are many shades and layers in this great project. I highly recommend it and it’s in stores today. So please pick this one up. Jeff, thanks for the great conversation, best of health and best of everything to you my friend.

JL: Same to you.

Charles Lloyd Interview

Indelible Musical Images
A Conversation with Charles Lloyd
by Paula Edelstein

Charles Lloyd is a masterful musician whose roots have been firmly planted in success through years of strong performances and his global reach. We spoke to him about a few of the concepts associated with his new release Life Every Voice, and here’s what he told us. So Listen Up!

PE: Hello and thank you for the interview. It has been reported that the motivation for LIFT EVERY VOICE was brought about by the events of Tuesday September 11, 2001. How did you stay focused throughout that week in order to still play the gig at the Blue Note Club?

CL: It would be completely and utterly wrong to say that the events of 9/11/01 “inspired” me to record LIFT EVERY VOICE. That was a devastating experience. To this day, it is difficult to speak of. It changed our lives dramatically, and by doing so informed the emotional content of the recording.

We walked the streets of the Village where we were staying. It was an eerie place to be, no cars – just foot traffic and emergency vehicles. There was an overwhelming atmosphere of community and caring. We were all trying to make sense out of it, to understand the whole picture.

When we were asked to open at the Blue Note on Sept. 14th, it was hard to keep it together. I think we did OK for the first set, but I got pretty spun out during the second set. The audience, however, got a feeling of uplift… there were tears and laughter. The first song I played that night was “Rabo de Nube,” by Silvio Rodrigues. I had just received the music from Cuba before I left home. The melody went straight to my heart, and the lyrics say, ” If I could tell you what I would like to be, it is the tail of a cloud, a clear rain that would come down and wash away your tears and sorrows.” There was someone from Paris in the audience who came up to me and thanked me for playing that song. The next two nights we managed to dig in and lift the music to a higher plane.

PE: The CD includes a dynamic mix of the Charles Lloyd musical mindset, public-domain spirituals, pop/rock songs, protest, R&B, folk songs, and Ellingtonia. By its very definition, the songs on LIFT EVERY VOICE describe the feelings felt by mostly anyone who has the capacity to love and express themselves or are still shaken by such a tragedy. In your heart of hearts, do you think there is still a chance for the world to live in peace despite the fact that such evil people walk planet Earth?

CL: I always try to look to the positive rather than focus on the negative. This is a time on the planet when not only human beings but also Mother Earth need healing. Whatever service I can do in my small way to help that healing, it is my honor and privilege to do so. This is a time to restore love and respect.

PE: You’ve assembled a top-notch ensemble of musicians including Geri Allen, guitarist John Abercrombie, bassists Marc Johnson and Larry Grenadier, and drummer Billy Hart. The result is one of the most unusual and deeply spiritual recordings in your remarkable career. How difficult was it for you to get this special group of musicians together– especially since they all have such busy schedules?

CL: Schedules are difficult – we recorded on two different days. One day in January 2002 at the end of a west coast tour. It was a short recording day; I think we went from 1 pm to 5 pm. That first day was with Geri, Larry, and Billy Hart. Then we scheduled a return day in February with John, Marc, Geri and Billy.

PE: Is this the touring group also?

CL: We rarely tour as a quintet, only for special events. We were to have had a concert at Royce Hall last November with the quintet, but there was a flaw in the organization’s calendar and it will have to be rescheduled. This March we have a west coast tour with an LA appearance at the Jazz Bakery on the 14th. Since the UCLA date won’t happen for some time, I wanted to be able to share this music with my Los Angeles listeners. Geri Allen will be with me, as well as an incredible bass player that I started working with last summer – Robert Hurst. And, my newest addition is a young drummer Eric Harland. He just did a week at the Blue Note with me – his talents are just starting to bloom. Ironically, he was part of the midnight jam group that was at the Blue Note during the week of 9/11. That is where I first heard him. I see and hear in him the same love of the music that Master Higgins had.

PE: What is the story behind your original composition “Hymn to the Mother?”

CL: “Hymn to the Mother” is to Mother as Deity. Mother of the Universe. It is to Mother Earth who continues to support us and bless us with her beauty everyday.

PE: “Blood Count” and “Beyond Darkness” which feature you on flute are also a provocative blend of emotion and meditative contemplation. Most notable is the fact that each disc ends with something meaningful: “Hafez, Shattered Heart” at Disc One’s close and one more lengthy meditation, followed by an up-tempo release, and “Prayer, the Crossing,” ends Disc Two. Do you consider LIFT EVERY VOICE your masterpiece?

CL: Well, I think that each song has meaningfulness. Only “Beyond Darkness” has flute on it. “Bloodcount” was Strayhorn’s last composition that he wrote in the hospital before he left town. Hafez was a Persian poet many centuries ago, but his writing brought me solace in the months following 9/11. I wanted to pay tribute to him. Like all sages, he had a message of universality. “Masterpiece?” That is a concept for others to contemplate. I never think of my work in those terms. I am always looking forward to the next expression; there is much I am working on to improve my work.

PE: Thank you so much for this interview and we’re looking forward to your safe return to the West Coast and also to the splendor and peace of the way it was. Where can your fans find your West Coast tour dates?

CL: My tour dates are always listed on the ECM website which is ECMrecords.com It will show both North American and European dates. Our west coast dates are March 14, 15, 16 Jazz Bakery in Los Angeles; March 18-23 at Yoshi’s in Oakland and March 24th at Kuumbua in Santa Cruz.

PE: Keep in touch with the great Charles Lloyd at www.ecmrecords.com.


Reprinted with permission of…

Candy Dulfer – Candy Store

Candy Dulfer
Candy Store
(Heads Up – 2006)
by Ray Redmond

Dutch-born saxophonist Candy Dulfer has been wowing audiences for nearly two decades now. In every corner of the world she is known for having show-stopping musicianship and eye-popping sex appeal. Ever since her 1990 Grammy-nominated debut album Saxuality she has kicked out a string of hit CDs with an impressive and diverse list of collaborators that includes Prince, Dave Stewart (Eurythmics), Maceo Parker, Van Morrison, Beyonce, Pink Floyd and Aretha Franklin.

Dulfer joins the Heads Up Records with the release of the free-wheeling, high-energy Candy Store. This assortment of tasty tracks was crafted by Dulfer and fellow Dutchmen and longtime friends, guitarist and songwriter Ulco Bedand keyboardist Thomas Bank. They are joined by keyboardists / bassist / vocalist Chance Howard from Minneapolis – a member of Prince’s band, as well as Morris Day’s band, The Time – the new kid in the store.

Written by Howard , the CD pops off on the upstroke with the house-style “Candy.” “If I Ruled The World” is my favorite; filled with sexy sax choruses and flutes atop a FUNK-EEE bassline, complimented by some smoking keyboard solos, this is truly a groove and a half. “L.A. Citylights” is slow and mellow, filled with smoky and evocative sax lines. “Soulsax” is also on the slower side, harkening back to the days when Grover and Kool’s Gang were in power on the slow-jam circuit.

Adding a bit of Latin spice are “La Cabana”, Dulfer’s ode to the Dutch Caribbean islands (Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire) and the smart “Back To Juan” with it’s handclaps and percussion base.

Not content to remain relegated to her heavenly horn, Dulfer delivers some solid vocals on “Summertime”, an uptemopo groove with an old school bumping bassline based on a classic skating song. The track features a full horn section to complement her sassy sax work. Candy also gives up some sweet and subtle vocal accents on the soulful closer, “Every time.”

Candy Dulfer’s name has become associated with good music, and she again delivers it in the Candy Store.


 


 

Hiromi Interview – Musical Visions “Spiral” to a Higher Level

Pianist/composer Hiromi mesmerized the jazz community with her 2003 Telarc debut, Another Mind. The buzz started by her debut album spread all the way back to her native Japan, where Another Mind shipped gold (100,000 units) and won the Recording Industry Association of Japan’s (RIAJ) “Jazz Album of the Year” Award. Hiromi’s second release, Brain, followed a year later. Brain received Swing Journal’s “New Star Award,” Jazz Life’s “Gold Album,” HMV Japan’s “Best Japanese Jazz Album” and the Japan Music Pen Club’s “Japanese Artist Award.” When Swing Journal announced the results of its 2005 Readers Poll, Brain won “Album of the Year.” Hiromi takes it up another notch with her January 2006 release, SPIRAL. Born in Shizuoka, Japan, in 1979, Hiromi took her first piano lessons at age six. She learned from her earliest teacher to tap into the intuitive as well as the technical aspects of music. Hiromi took that intuitive approach a step further when she enrolled in the Yamaha School of Music less then a year after her first piano lessons. By age 12, she was performing in public, sometimes with very high-profile orchestras. “When I was 14, I went to Czechoslovakia and played with the Czech Philharmonic,” she says. “That was a great experience, to play with such a professional orchestra.” At 26, Hiromi stands at the threshold of limitless possibility, constantly drawing inspiration from virtually everyone and everything around her. Her list of influences, like her music itself, is boundless. “I love Bach, I love Oscar Peterson, I love Franz Liszt, I love Ahmad Jamal,” she says. “I also love people like Sly and the Family Stone, Dream Theatre and King Crimson. Also, I’m so much inspired by sports players like Carl Lewis and Michael Jordan. Basically, I’m inspired by anyone who has big, big energy. They really come straight to my heart.” Sounds of Timeless Jazz spoke to Hiromi during a break between her Asian and American tours and here’s what she told us.

HiromiHiromi’s New Musical Visions
“Spiral” to a Higher Level
by Paula Edelstein

P.E.: Omedeto gozaimasu! Congratulations on the release of your new CD called SPIRAL. I had the pleasure to see your “live” performance at the California Plaza in Los Angeles last summer but the new DVD that is included in SPIRAL really gives your fans an up-close and personal look at your technical skills. What is your keyboard of choice and why?

Hiromi: It’s the Nord Lead 2x made by Clavia. I like this one because it’s a 49-Key Virtual Analog Keyboard that comes with 20 voices polyphony – very useful when creating layered sounds, and programming the sounds that I want. It has power pads, awesome leads and booming basses. 20 voices are also very beneficial in sequencing situations when you use more than one sound at a time.

P.E.: Not many keyboardist/pianists stand during their performances! Does standing while you play your Clavia keyboard give you an extra sense of interaction with the audience and the band?

Hiromi: Well the reason I started standing up is because I’m very small. To have a big, big variety of sounds and dynamics, I needed to use my full body and back muscles and strength to achieve the sounds I wanted.

P.E.: Oscar Peterson, Ahmad Jamal, Chick Corea are but three jazz greats that have been named as being major influences on your music. When did you first become aware of Chick Corea and what composition of his would you add to your own repertoire at this point in your career? Ahmad Jamal? Oscar Peterson?

Hiromi: I played with Chick Corea at age 17 while in Tokyo. He happened to be in Tokyo and I was taking music lessons there. My teacher introduced me to him and he asked me to play one song. Later that evening he asked me to play with him on one song and it was a magic moment and a real blessing to play with him. I don’t play any of his songs in my show but one of my favorite compositions of his is “Humpty Dumpty.”

P.E.: Congratulations on the many awards you’ve received for ANOTHER MIND and BRAIN. Do you have plans to tour now that your class schedule is no longer a consideration?

Hiromi: We have completed our tour of Asia in support of SPIRAL and we start our tour of the USA this month – January at the Blue Note in New York City.

P.E.: Let’s talk about SPIRAL, your third release for Telarc. It’s the absolute opposite from BRAIN, your second release and ANOTHER MIND, which was your Telarc debut and produced by Ahmad Jamal. The title track “Spiral” is beautiful. You choose distinct descriptions to title your CDs. Is that something of a subjective metaphor or just an attempt to abbreviate titles for easy memorization and reference? (Smile)

Hiromi: I always try to title the song so that one note will involve everyone in the concert hall. It’s in B-flat minor. “Spiral” shows that some things seem to change but actually always keep coming back. One tries to let go, but cannot; when one forgets about it, it always comes back to haunt you. Life is like a spiral.

P.E.: What are some of the feelings you’d like your listeners to experience when hearing your music?

Hiromi: I don’t really want to force anyone to feel a specific way, but if they can keep their body and mind “floating” with the music, that pleases me.

P.E.: The four-part suite titled “Music For A Three Piece Orchestra” is absolutely brilliant. What is the inspiration behind this composition?

Hiromi: I have been playing with my band for about 3 years now and as I tour with them, I realize that I wanted to expand the music that we three are playing. The first movement, “Open Door – Tuning – Prologue” – symbolizes being in a concert hall and feeling the atmosphere before the music even begins. That is all part of the show. Part two is “Déjà vu” and that is something one has experienced before, but when? Where? How? I go on a journey inside to try to figure it all out. On “Reverse” we come back from the dreamy déjà vu world, going back and forth between dream and reality. The fourth movement is “Edge” and this is the welcome back to reality. It is sometimes hard to face, but it is, indeed part of my world.

P.E.: “Love and Laughter is also quite beautiful. It is dedicated to Ahmad Jamal – who just so happens to be one of my favs also. What is the story behind this song?

Hiromi: He has always been so encouraging, always making jokes and is full of love and always has this unique happy laughter. I really love him.

P.E.: It’s totally engaging. Then there’s the exciting, fast action, energetic piece “Return of Kung-Fu World Champion.” The jazz/rock fusion elements, humorous riffs and traditional oriental music really form the great musical language that brings the imagery to life. Was the song written after you’d actually seen a kung-fu match?

Hiromi: I really think that martial arts and music are very close to each other and both require a lot of focus and improvisation because you don’t know where or when you’re going to get kicked! (Smile) I was watching a movie with Bruce Lee and noticed his form and improvisation and realized that it was very close to music.

P.E.: What is the most memorable event that has taken place during your concerts?

Hiromi: It happened during a tour of Japan. I was snapping the piano strings three days in a row but I hadn’t noticed. On the final day, one of the strings snapped off and landed over on the drums! The audience noticed it and said, ‘something flew across the stage.” I thought it was my hairpin and was feeling my hair and everything. So we found it and I threw the piano string into the audience like the rock stars throw their picks after a show!

P.E.: That’s funny, but a very memorable ending for what I know was a great show. Domo arigato gozaimasu Hiromi san. I really enjoyed talking to you. Sayonara.

Hiromi: Dotashimashite Paula san.

P.E.: Keep in touch with Hiromi at www.hiromimusic.com.


Reprinted with permission of…

An Interview with Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts

Conversation With
Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts
by Mark Ruffin

Almost inexplicably, Jeff ‘Tain” Watts’ second album on Columbia Records, Bar Talk, is out in stores across the country. To celebrate, the drummer, who came to prominence with both Wynton and Branford Marsalis, is touring with his new quintet featuring the great guitarist Paul Bollenback.

Despite the recent purging and gutting of the jazz department at Columbia, including all things Marsalis, Watts survives. Even though it was Branford, then an executive with signing power, who originally gave Watts, the deal, the former Tonight Show drummer is still a Columbia jazz artist.

“I’m as surprised as anybody,” Watts replied when asked how did he remain with the company. “It’s bizarre.

“The fact that I could survive Branford not being there and it was him who brought me in is just kind of wild,” Watts continued. “(Columia’s ) just giving me my own leg to stand on as an artist, which is great. They’re behind me and not behind Branford’s boy. They don’t have to make sure I’m okay because Branford might get upset. It’s purely on my own terms.”

“Tain’s a bad (expletive) musician, that’s why Columbia kept Tain,” Marsalis said earlier this spring when both he and Watts performed at Symphony Center. “If Tain gets to stay at Columbia,” Marsalis continued, “and Columbia does what a company like Columbia is capable of doing for an artist, that’s good for Tain,” “It would be in my best interest to know more specifics about why they’re doing what they’re doing, but I just don’t know,” said Watts with exasperation. ” The best way that I can access them, because it’s somewhat of a unknown quantity right now, is just have good management and refine my band so we can make a good presentation.”

It could be said that Watts’ chance to shine as a solo artist, indeed his whole career owes both the Marsalis brothers a tremendous debt. Or it could be speculated that a musician this talented was pre-destined to become one of top drummers in jazz regardless.

Watts wasn’t headed that way at all as a youth. Surprisingly, he didn’t start listening to jazz until he was in college. But the city he grew up in, Pittsburgh, is known for producing, arguably, the two most important drummers in jazz history, Art Blakey and Kenny Clarke. The Steel City has also produced Ahmad Jamal, Billy Eckstine, Billy Strayhorn and countless others, including the great guitarist George Benson.

When asked about Watts earlier this year, Benson told this writer that Watts is “probably the number one jazz drummer in the world today.”

“I wasn’t aware of him because I was between five and eight years old when he knew me running up and down the street where he lived in my neighborhood,” the 42 year-old musician said. “But he knew me and he made me aware of it later.”

Watts was into pop and was studying classical music at a Pittsburgh college when he first started listening to jazz. Then he transferred to the world famous Berklee School of Music in Boston. It was there where he formed an unbreakable bond with a classmate. That buddy was Branford Marsalis.

“I was very new to jazz,” Watts remembered. “He had all these tapes with his high school band, and with his father and Wynton with various people, He really let me hear how his brother sounded, then a few months later Wynton came to town trying to get in Art Blakey’s band, and that’s when I met him.”

Between 1982 and 2001, Branford, Ellis and Wynton Marsalis, incredibly, made close to 65 albums for Columbia Records, and Watts was on many of them. He also became a first call session and touring player, leading him to perform with a list of jazz stars much too numerous to list, and was with Jay Leno’s music crew from 1992-1995.

Now that that period, the Marsalis era, is over in jazz history, Watts, ironically, finds himself as the artistic anchor of the newly revamped Columbia jazz department.

“Maybe they foresee me doing something in the future,” Watts once again contemplated why Columbia dropped every act Marsalis signed as their Creative Consultant, but kept his best friend. “Maybe they thought, ‘hey, let’s build up some catalog on this guy and see what happens.’

“Another thing I think about is maybe perhaps, the fact that Branford and Wynton no longer records for them, just the fact that I have a connection with them means if I do records with them, they may have some more stuff with them playing on it.

Watts, a smart, but shy, soft-spoken and modest guy with a sharp mercurial wit, rethinks the reason once again, as to why Bar Talk is actually in your favorite record store.

“Someone did tell me that my first record id sell more than Branford’s last couple of records,” he laughed at his friend. “And you know Columbia, if it isn’t anything else, is a bottom-line record company.”

Cheryl Bentyne – Uptown Interview

Cheryl Bentyne
The Making of ‘Let Me Off Uptown’
by Paula Edelstein

PE: How did the concept for the tribute to Anita O’Day CD titled ‘Let Me Off Uptown’ come to your attention?

Cheryl: My manager Bill Traut saw the possibilities of my singing Anita’s book. He and I have been friends for many years and he knows my voice better than I do!!! And the obvious title was her biggest hit! The choice for Jack Sheldon to “play” the Roy Eldridge role was Corey Allen’s. Jack is a legend in the L.A. band world as well as worldwide fame via The Merv Griffin Show and his haunting solo on the original recording of ”The Shadow Of Your Smile.” I LOVE his playing and singing!!! He is truly an original. I was thrilled to have him join me on this classic song.

PE: With respect to the Great American Songbook, your work with the Manhattan Transfer features many songs from that genre, as did Anita O’Day’s when she sang with a band during her heyday. Is that where the comparisons stop in your opinion?

Cheryl: Well, first may I say Anita is alive and well and still out there singing!!! By comparisons do you mean my voice to hers?

PE: Yes and the choice of material.

Cheryl: I am drawn to great songs. If this is what you mean, I am greatly influenced by all the singers of that era, but also know what I sing best. They are called Great American songs for a reason and I still refer to the standards as the greatest songs ever written. If this seems nostalgic so be it…and yet…I was not born in this era!! Born too late I guess!!! Ha ha ha ha…

PE: What song selection criteria did you use for ‘Let Me Off Uptown’?

Cheryl: I began with Bill giving me endless songs to choose from and insisting on some that were required listening if I was to do Anita’s repertoire. I began by listening to 20 some recordings from her very early work through her bebop work. All of which was overwhelming!!! We chose what we all thought was representative of her early years, but I wanted to give a formal bow to her work as one of our truly great jazz singers. In doing so, a few of my choices were not based on her having the “hits” on them. But her influence on the particular interpretation.

PE: At one point during Anita O’Day’s career, she played the drums and on this CD you wrote the rhythm section arrangements based on O’Day’s original recordings. How difficult was this transcription?

Cheryl: Not difficult at all. My producer and husband Corey Allen has the ears and ability to easily transcribe her charts and is a big fan of Paul Smith. As well as his choosing our trio to play the songs! We have the most swinging band of all! Dave Tull on drums is spectacular as well as Kevin Axt on bass and Corey on piano. They truly formed the pocket and foundation for me to just swing over them! It was a blast! But, you are right, Anita’s entire basis as a singer I feel is her rhythmic concept! I learned so much from listening to her over and over. She gave me permission to dig deep and swing! That is what I was raised to do by my father!

PE: Cheryl, you attended Berklee College of Music when Bill Holman was teaching there and now you’re working with him and are accompanied by the great horn arrangements he’s written for this recording. How did the two of you hook for this session?

Cheryl: Actually this is a question for Corey. I did teach at Berklee for a couple years, but Corey was the one who was so influenced by Bill. I was just the lucky so and so who got to sing with his band and groove inside his arrangements!

PE: Another big band master, Jack Sheldon makes an appearance here – in a duet with you on ‘Let Me Off Uptown’ and on Conjunction Junction. What, if anything did you learn from Jack during this session that you can apply to your future gigs as a leader or with The Manhattan Transfer?

Cheryl: He is the best! As I said earlier! What a fun guy. I guess by watching him I learned to just relax and let the song carry me!!! I love him.

PE: If you had to choose between a solo career and remaining with the Manhattan Transfer, where would your fans find your next recording?

Cheryl: Well, I am lucky enough to do both…for now. I am already planning my next solo project. My husband is a phenomenal string arranger. This is his first love, so we are talking about a string project. That’s all I can say for now…don’t know what the Transfer is planning.

PE: That’s cool. Being lucky is sometimes the most important aspect of a careerÂ…but for you, you’re lucky, talented and very cool! Where can your fans find your tour and concert information and are there plans in the works for a tour in support of ‘Let Me Off Uptown’?

Cheryl: Telarc has a great site; I also have a web site as well as the Transfer’s. WE are in the process of planning gigs for ‘Let Me Off Uptown’, between the Transfer gigs. Thanks for asking and either Cherylbentyne.com/ Telarc.com or The Manhattantransfer.org can help.

PE: FABULOUS! Thanks so much and once again, CONGRATS on ‘Let Me Off Uptown’. It’s HOT! Keep in touch with Cheryl at www.telarc.com www.cherylbentyne.com or www.manhattantransfer.org

Jesse J – Tequila Moon

Jesse J
Tequila Moon
Peak Records – 2008
Sounds of Timeless Jazz
 

Jesse J joins the ranks of such contemporary female saxophonists as Mindi Abair and Candi Dulfer  with her debut release called TEQUILA MOON. Produced by the amazing Paul Brown, she couldn’t go wrong and as a result, this recording is definitely saying something! Paul and Jesse co-wrote several of the recording’s great songs including the title track, “Sin Ti,” and “Fiesta Velada.”

While her saxophone playing is emphasized mostly throughout, it is her seductively, sweet voice that endears you to her musicality. On “Mas Que Nada” she takes a lighthearted romp through the lyrics before Greg Karukas solos behind the infectious rhythms of Sergio Gonzales and Richie Garcia.  “Bese Me Mucho” offers yet another splendid opportunity for Jesse to display her vocal prowess. Here she lovingly expresses a lover’s wish in subdued hushed tones.

Her voice is fresh and friendly…not overly produced and just right for lovers of smooth jazz. Paul Brown’s genius as a guitarist and producer are on the long list of what makes this CD respectable. But along with the versatility of the musicians, Jesse’s cool tones, her hot saxophone licks and her lovely laid-back vocals and overall sensuality, T

EQUILA MOON is one heck of a debut. I’m lovin’ it! Keep up the great work Jessy!

– Paula Edelstein

Reprinted with permission of…
sotjlogo

 

Hiroshima Interview

HiroshimaHiroshima
An Inventive Fusion of Music and Culture
by Paula Edelstein

Hiroshima, one of the instrumental world music’s most innovative acts, has released their 14th CD! This summer is not only a special time in their musical careers, but also marks the release of The Bridge, their sensational debut for the Heads Up International record label. It is a great recording that fuses a blend of Asian and North American sensibilities and reflects their cultural and spiritual connections. We were fortunate to hear some of Hiroshima’s great songs in concert at this year’s 25th Anniversary of the Playboy Jazz Festival in Los Angeles, CA. Fortunately for us, we had communicated with them just before the concert date and here’s what Dan and June told us about the making of The Bridge.

P.E.: Hello, Dan, hello June. Your debut for Heads Up International is sensational! Congratulations on The Bridge, it¹s right on time with its symbolic messages, up tempo feel and larger sound. I’ve been told that this CD was essentially recorded “LIVE” with overdubs, odd loops and even scratch marks! Were these techniques employed to freshen up the sounds of the ancient Eastern instruments such as the koto and shakuhachi so that they’d have a more contemporary feel?

Dan: Thank you for your enthusiastic approval! It means a great deal to us. We feel good about this project, both conceptually and musically. We feel that Hiroshima’s music has always been about bridging cultures and music, and this being our 14th CD and with a very cool label, Heads Up, we felt a certain “rebirth,” of ourselves, our music, and reaching out to people with our message of peace and multi-culturalism.

We also felt that we wanted to “uplift,” people with our rhythms and vibe and spirit. That’s why we open with “Eternal Phoenix,” (with its rousing, multi-cultural overtones ranging from Kabuki to rock to contemporary jazz) because it will always be about rising up from whatever we have to deal with in this life. We chose “Caravan of Love,” by the Isley Brothers, because it is a classic song from the 70’s about brotherhood–a theme that people no longer talk about, but is so crucial to the times we live in now. Our approach to this project was to be as spontaneous as possible, so we did record as “live” as possible. We also tried to use as few “takes” as possible. It was like, “play with your heart–and don’t worry about it if there are a few ‘clams’ here or there”. It was fun! We actually were VERY behind starting this CD and pretty much wrote, recorded and mixed it all in the space of about 12 weeks, which is pretty fast by today’s standards.

Again, the koto, and to a much lesser extent, the shakuhachi and taiko, play a prominent role in our “sound.” It is who we are. We actually never think to “update,” their sound, because they are timeless.

P.E.: Great! Dan, you wrote or co-wrote seven of the 11 songs and have been one of contemporary jazz’s most prolific composers since the group was formed in the 70s. What type of events, persons or places seem to inspire you?

Dan: I’m very flattered that you asked. I was born and raised in East Los Angeles, with 3 generations in the same house, so I grew up in an environment that was rich with Japanese music (my grandparents), Sinatra (my parents), jazz (my older brother studied jazz piano), rock and R&B and the music of the neighborhood–which was salsa. In fact, that salsa was the foundation of my first big musical ‘break.’ Because of my familiarity with regional Los Angeles salsas, I was the musical arranger for both the Los Angeles and Broadway productions of “Zoot Suit.”

I’m also very much influenced by the times and the people around me. On The Bridge, the song “Manzanar,” (which I co-wrote with June) was influenced by the whole epoch of World War II and all the Japanese-Americans being imprisoned for no reason. The direct inspiration was a story my mother told me about how strange it was to be an American one day, and then to be treated like an enemy the next. To be forcibly evacuated to a desolate place in the desert, to live behind barbed wire–and to hear the mournful wind at night. The song starts with me trying to replicate the sound of that wind on my shakuhachi, and then weaves the sound of the koto into those nights.

P.E.: I understand those same feelings more than you’ll ever know. But on a lighter note, you’ve put vocalist Terry Steele out front on several songs including “I Just Wanna Hang Around You,” “Caravan of Love” and “Believe.” These songs are known for their messages of brotherhood, humanity and love. How did you come to work with Terry Steele?

Dan: Good question. Why ARE we working with Terry?? Hey, it’s a joke!!! In truth, Terry has been a longtime friend of the band’s and has sung background on recent CD’s, and over the last 5 years gradually became our lead singer. Kind of by osmosis. Terry is probably more known as a composer whose songs are covered by chart-topping vocalists like Patti LaBelle and Luther Vandross (“Here and Now,”) but he’s also a very soulful singer and a pleasure to work with.

P.E.: There is a beautiful spectrum of musical styles on The Bridge. Did either of you study any special musical techniques with masters from India, South America, Africa or Japan in order to be able to fuse the sounds of those countries effectively? After all, the musical scales of those countries are so different and sometimes very difficult to play.

June: To know koto is to understand me and my love for this Japanese instrument. I was born in Japan but immigrated to America at the age of 6 with my mother, brother and two sisters. Facing the struggles and hardship of adapting to a foreign country, I longed to return to Japan. It was not much longer after our arrival in Los Angeles that was I introduced to the instrument. My family was attending a social/welfare event for immigrants, and I saw a woman perform on the koto. This woman sat at one end of the koto and when her fingers touched the strings, beautiful, harp-like sounds emanated throughout the hall. At that moment, I immediately fell in love with the sound and image. I begged my mother to let me play koto.

This woman playing this angelic sounding instrument was Kazue Kudo, who also had just immigrated to America. She was searching for a place to teach and was settling her life in a new country with her husband and three sons. My family’s living room became the “studio” where Kudo Sensei (teacher) initially taught in the Los Angeles area. I have studied classical, traditional koto with Kudo Sensei for over thirty years. I have also received her “natori” (teaching/professional/master degree) from the acclaimed Michio Miyagi Koto School of Japan.

Dan: I got the idea of playing shakuhachi through an early friend and mentor, Bay Area jazz musician, named Gerald Oshita. He played so many different instruments and really gave me the desire to also be a multi-instrumentalist–to have a truly diverse palette to work from. Also culturally it was exciting. I then had the opportunity to study briefly with Kodo Yuge, a wonderful man and a very soulful shakuhachi player and teacher.

P.E.: Please describe what a koto and shakuhachi sounds and looks like.

June: The koto is a traditional Japanese instrument that came to Japan from China around 700 AD. It was originally made from kiri (paulownia tree) that has heart-shaped leaves. It is a soft, porous wood that gives the deep, warm sound, like a harp (although it is classified under the zither family). It is approximately 6′-3″ long, 10″ wide and about 3″ deep. It has two sound holes at the bottom and is hollow inside. The traditional koto has 13 strings (originally silk, and now usually substituted with tetolon), with 13 moveable bridges (originally ivory but now also made of plastic). It is played with three ivory picks worn on the right hand. Some compare the koto to a dragon crouching by the sea because of its length. At the head of the dragon the strings are pulled down through eyelets, representing the horns off the dragon. At the opposite end the strings are coiled like the tail of a dragon.

P.E.: Beautiful!

Dan: The Shakuhachi is a bamboo flute with 5 holes and an angle cut at the top. It’s played vertically. Like the wind it is played by feeling and texture, and likewise can be both lyrical and eerie. It’s truly an instrument of the Tao. I’ve had the opportunity to use it in a number of movies, from “Black Rain” to “Thin Red Line.”

P.E.: Wow. That’s amazing. Which composers, jazz artists or visual artists inspired you to become a musician?

Dan: My musical influences are legends, ranging from Pharoah Saunders, Geraldo Oshita, Yusef Lateef, Moody, of course Miles Davis to Jimi Hendrix, Donny Hathaway, Earth, Wind and Fire, Santana, to ethnic musicians the world over. Since my educational background was in art (I graduated with a B.F.A. in Painting), I tend to employ art as the basis for my approach as a musical composer. I love Japanese art, and the work of Kandinsky, Peter Paul Reubens, Van Gogh, and on and on. Art and music are SO RICH.

P.E.: Truer words were never spoken! As Michelangelo stated, “Art and music have ruined me.” I’m sure he meant that in a good way though. (Smile)

June: It is because of the influence of, and the special sound from my teacher, I am continually trying to expand the creative elements of contemporary and traditional sounds, along with keeping ties to heritage and cultural. Kudo Sensei is one of the artists who inspired me to become a musician. Other inspirational artists include Dorothy Ashby, all previous and current bandmates of Hiroshima, James Moody, the late Gerald Oshita (“G”), Sutomu Yamashita and the Red Buddha Theater, many of the rock and roll, R&B and jazz artists and groups!

P.E.: We recently saw your brilliant performance at the Playboy Jazz Festival in Los Angeles at the Hollywood Bowl. Will you be appearing in concert in support of The Bridge any time soon?

Dan: Anywhere AND everywhere people will listen, feel and support the tradition of creative artists that we are privileged to follow.


Reprinted with permission of…

An Interview with Joe McBride

Joe McBride's Texas Rhythm ClubA Few Words With
Joe McBride
by Ray Redmond

Of all of the places Joe McBride’s music has taken him in 2000, none has affected the contemporary jazz star more than Cape Town, South Africa and his hometown of Dallas, Texas. That fact is underscored by his fifth Heads Up International release, The Texas Rhythm Club, as well as his contribution to the label’s Smooth Africa compilation, released earlier this year.

Ironically, that land down under and far away, where McBride played in January with the Heads Up Superband, probably has more jazz musicians who are well known in the United States, than those headquartered in the Big D. Erasing that anonymity is part of the concept of the Texas Rhythm Club

“What I’m trying to do with the Texas Rhythm Club is show the variety of music and the talent that is in Texas,” McBride says. “The talent is world class and the music as good as any around the globe, be it New York City, L.A., London or whatever, we’ve got the equal in Dallas. I’m trying to illustrate with this album that, not only Texas, but primarily the Dallas-Fort Worth area is a fine place to live and has lots of great music and musicians.”

The Texas Rhythm Club is more than a titled-concept, however. It’s the groove and tasteful spice on Hot Chili Pepper t. It’s the shimmering smooth jazz cliff that McBride’s keys climb on White Rock. It’s much more than just the rollicking opener and title track, the Texas Rhythm Club is also the name of the aggregation that McBride tours with, but until now, has yet to record with.

“My other records were maybe 70 to 80% computer-drum machine sequenced, and I’m still using that process on this album,” explains McBride. “But I’ve added more of the real drums, real bass and real horns to get that kind of Rhythm Club groove going on that we cook up live all the time.”

That Texas Rhythm Club groove is most obvious on the title track, which McBride says, “rocks more than anything on the record.” The style, that can be described as a funky danceable mix of hook laden r&b and contemporary jazz, punctuated by kicking horns, can also be heard on the tracks Lone Star Boogie, and the slick Handjive.

The cadre of musicians who are all part of the groove and the band that McBride call the Texas Rhythm Club are not all represented here. He calls it a “multiple constellation” of musicians that form the pool of regulars, super-subs, friends-old and new- that he uses live night after night, at home and on the road. In Dallas, the depth of quality talent is so strong, that the players left off the recording could’ve made a recording just as strong.

“Some of these guys have been with me longer than others. Some of them are people I recently met and our camaraderie was strong and we became tight through enjoying each other’s talent, and most of the people, if not living in Dallas, frequent the area quite a bit

“The atmosphere around here is pretty much that you play with people that you know and are around the most,” McBride continues. “There’s an abundance of a lot of different people that I’ve had the chance to play with in Dallas, and it’s a very spirited thing, but these guys have their own things going on too.”

Wayne Delano is a musician the pianist points at to the solidify his point. Was he in New York City or L.A., the jazz world may already know about this multi-reed man. Delano is the primary sax player with the Texas Rhythm Club, but in addition to contemporary jazz he plays here, Delano also leads his own straight ahead combo in Dallas.

With pride, McBride points out that Delano plays soprano, tenor, alto and baritone, and should never be associated with the legendary style of Texas tenor playing. He explains that one of the things he loves about the scene in Texas is how so many of the musicians respect the rich musical past of Austin, Houston and Dallas, but are constantly looking to the future to hone their skills. He calls his companions a new breed of Texas contemporary jazz musicians.

On the simmer-to-a-boil sleeper, Texas Twister, McBride does some mining of his own Texas influences of the past by paying homage to the Houston boo-ga-loo sound of the 60’s, and the piano playing native of that city who practically invented it, Joe Sample.

Howzit In Dallas is a distillation of a popular greeting in Cape Town that McBride brought back with him from his visits to South Africa. Just like, 11 K’s To Freedom, the track McBride contributed to the aforementioned Smooth Africa compilation, Howzit In Dallas has an undeniable smooth urban flair that transcends boundaries, both musical and geographical.

“I had such a wonderful time in South Africa,” McBride comments. “It’s so amazing to be able to visit there, especially upon reflecting on years in the past when it wasn’t really possible or feasible. But with the ending of Apartheid, there are things going on there and it has open up quite a bit.”

In January of 1999, Joe McBride, backed by a group of South African musicians, made history and became the first American act to play the historic Cape Town Jazzathon. But, he’s not the first McBride to come to prominence in the United States.

Joe McBride was born AGE years ago in Fulton, Missouri where his father’s brother, Bake McBride, was an outfielder with the St. Louis Cardinals and Cleveland Indians baseball teams. The younger McBride studied music at the Missouri School for the Blind and Webster University in suburban St. Louis.

St. Louis was not only the city where McBride began to nurture his musical originality, but also the restless spirit he is known for. Those formative years in the mid-west music scene were followed by a short stay in San Diego, the birth place of smooth jazz radio.

“I played with several people there while I was out there,” remembers McBride. “It was about 1983, and I met and played with (guitarist) Steve Laury and members of the band Fattburger. San Diego is a wonderful place, and I still like to hang out there because I have friends and family there. But it didn’t click like Dallas did.”

McBride came to Dallas in ’85 to visit his brother who works for a major computer company there. He had no intention of staying more than a couple of weeks, but before he could leave, the telephone was ringing with offers to play. He says his introduction into the city’s scene started slowly like a snowball rolling down a hill, until it was up to full speed and he found himself one of the top attractions in town opening up for internationally known jazz and pop stars alike.

It was during these early years that he met a young trumpeter named Dave Love at a function for North Texas State University. The two became fast friends, and when Love went into the other side of the music business and started Heads Up International, the executive remembered the soulful pianist/vocalist that he met in Dallas and signed him to a record deal.

The resulting album, Grace, released in 1992, instantly made McBride a core artist at smooth jazz radio, a fan favorite, and introduced the pianist to a galaxy of jazz stars. His subsequent albums, 1994’s A Gift For Tomorrow, 96’s Keys To Your Hear, and Double Take, from ’98, all featured an impressive list of guest solo artists, including Grover Washington Jr., Richard Elliot, Phil Perry, Peter White, Dave Koz, Rick Braun, Larry Carlton and many others.

“I have truly been blessed to be in the company of some very fine musicians and it’s all been a wonderful thing,” concludes McBride, “but featuring the my guys in the Texas Rhythm Club has been long overdue. After all, this is the place that I reside in, the place the I call home. All of the places I’ve been, and all of the people I’ve met has been like a metamorphosis in my life, all part of the road that one travels. This album, Texas Rhythm Club, is part of that journey, and its been really special putting it together.”