Tag Archives: David Sanchez

For Tenor Saxophonist David Sanchez’ 48th Birthday, an Uncut Downbeat Blindfold Test From 2003 and a WKCR Interview From 2008 that Ran on WWW.JAZZ.COM

A day late for tenor saxophonist David Sanchez’ 48th birthday, I’m posting the complete proceedings of a Blindfold Test that we did in 2003 and a WKCR interview in July 2008 on the occasion of his Concord CD, Cultural Survival, that later ran on the much-missed web ‘zine jazz.com.

 

David Sanchez Blindfold Test (12-1-2003):

1. Michael Brecker, “Timbuktu” (from WIDE ANGLES, Verve, 2003) (Brecker, tenor saxophone, arrangement; Gil Goldstein, orchestration; Steve Wilson, flute; John Patitucci, bass; Antonio Sanchez, drums; Daniel Sadownick, percussion) (4-1/2 stars)

This is a very interesting introduction. I love the instrumentation. Oh…wait a minute. The saxophone player definitely has a Mike Brecker. But until he starts playing, the blowing, I’m not going to… It definitely sounds like Mike. I love the orchestration. It’s really interesting, and I love what the flute player was playing at the beginning. He doesn’t play like how many flute players conventionally would play. In a way, I think he’s maybe not strictly a flute player, and he plays other instruments, like woodwinds. I might be wrong, but that’s how it sounds to me. Logically, the way he’s playing tells me this guy plays some other stuff. He isn’t the tenor player, though. But I’m convinced that he plays other woodwinds — saxophone, clarinet, other stuff. The saxophone player sounds a lot like Mike. If it’s not Mike, with all due respect… It just reminds me of Mike playing. I’m sure in other contexts, maybe he sounds a little more like him. But to me, right now, he’s sounding like Mike. [He is Mike.] That makes sense! It’s funny. A lot of people try to copy Mike, but when it’s Mike playing, 98% of the time I’m always right that it’s him. Because he plays certain ideas, certain intervals in a certain way that you say, “This is Mike.” With a certain attitude. That’s what I’m trying to say. He plays certain kind of intervals with a certain attitude, and he has a certain phrasing that’s very clean. So when he plays a phrase, I know when it’s him. He sounds great. I like hearing him in this type of context. It has that world music type of thing. At the beginning I think I heard some kalimba. I’d be lying if I told you I know which record it is. But it’s definitely Mike. I cannot tell you who the flute player is. Steve Wilson? Whoo! He was killing! I haven’t heard him play flute in a long time. I knew something about the ideas he was playing. Incredible. 4-1/2 stars. [AFTER] I liked the orchestration a lot. I’ll be buying this record for sure. I was going to say something about the percussionist, and I didn’t have time. But I was going to say that it sounds like he plays a bunch of different genres, so it’s not strictly a Latin guy. You know how there’s percussionists and there’s congueros, and I was going to say this guy sounds like he’s a percussionist, but at the same time, the people playing know how to keep the feel. Of course now that makes sense — Antonio Sanchez is playing drums, Patitucci is playing bass. Patitucci has great awareness of how to put the Afro-Caribbean vibe and Latin in there, but at the same time he makes it sound open. I’ll be buying this record for sure.

2. Mario Rivera, “La Puerta” (#3) (from EL COMMANDANTE, Groovin’ High, 1993) (Rivera, tenor saxophone; Hilton Ruiz, piano; Walter Booker, bass; Ignacio Berroa, drums; Alexis Diaz, congas) (3 stars)

That’s a beautiful song, “La Puerta Cesaro(?).” The first time I heard that song was by Elis Regina actually. I’ve never heard the record before, but I think I have a sense of who’s playing. I think I know, but I’m going to wait. The bass player has a very good sense of playing Latin music by the way he’s playing a bolero. It’s hard to tell who he is. The piano player reminded me of Hilton Ruiz. Ah, that makes sense! He reminded me of him because he’s him! I was going to say it’s Mario Rivera playing tenor. At the very beginning, he did something with the phrasing and his sound that made me think of Mario, but now, after I’ve heard the blowing… There’s something in the sound that reminds me a bit of Mario. It’s just the sound, but then when he plays, I’m like, “That sounds a little different.” Maybe it’s because I’ve heard Mario so many times playing songs at a pace that is not this; it’s not a bolero or anything. It’s been a long time since I heard him. Sometimes he has a tendency to play a little more, more notey, but now I’m not so sure. I liked the performance. It was Hilton on piano. The bass player could be Andy Gonzalez or… I don’t think it’s Benitez, though. Walter Booker? That makes sense, because he played sometimes with Fort Apache, and the feel he put in there shows he knows how to play the bolero. But you’ve got me on the saxophone player. At first I thought it was Mario. I’ll give it 3 stars. [AFTER] It was Mario? At least I was close. Mario is an incredible musician. He’s one of these musicians who can do anything. He can play any genre, instruments like crazy; this guy can go so many directions. And here, he was really using very well the sense of space. And he can play a lot. Because I heard him playing like incredible. I said, “No, maybe this is somebody else.” But definitely the sound reminded me of Mario.

3. Ted Nash, “Point of Arrival” (from STILL EVOLVED, Palmetto, 2002) (Nash, tenor saxophone, composer; Wynton Marsalis, trumpet; Frank Kimbrough, piano; Ben Allison, bass; Matt Wilson, drums) – (3-1/2 stars)

It’s an interesting composition. It’s going to be a little hard to tell you who the tenor player is. I can tell right now, by listening to his blowing. I hear many influences. I hear a little bit of both Joes, Joe Henderson and Joe Lovano. I can tell you the trumpet player, though. That’s Tom Harrell. It sounds like Tom Harrell to me. No? You got me here. See, I should have listened a little longer. That trill that he did, it’s so accurate. Tom doesn’t play that. Tom plays some beautiful ideas, but accuracy is not his thing. He plays some notes that take your breath away, but accuracy is not his thing. I take that back. The tenor player, there’s no way I really could tell. I could guess, but I’m not sure because I hear so many influences. I even hear a little bit of the Mark Turner thing in the upper register. Is that Clarence Penn on drums? No? Well, at least I’m being consistent. I’m getting everything wrong! [LAUGHS] [You’re saying you have to know the record to know who’s playing.] That’s not Roy Hargrove. No. He doesn’t play like that either. At first, I thought two things. When the composition started, while the tenor player was playing, I was thinking maybe this is Tom Harrell’s record. But once he started blowing, I realized I’d made a mistake. The other name that came to mind — when I heard the head especially — was Dave Douglas. But obviously it’s not him. 3-1/2 stars. [It was Wynton. I’d like to state for the record that David is putting his head in his hands.] When he played that trill, I thought, “That’s not Tom Harrell.” I said Tom Harrell too fast because when I heard the composition… Then I thought, “Is this Greg Tardy playing tenor with Tom? It could be. So maybe this is Tom.” Then I said Tom too fast. Greg plays with Dave Douglas, too. But I was thinking more in terms of how the composition sounded and the instrumentation. But once he started blowing, he started doing some things that were very accurate. So then I knew it was definitely wasn’t Tom. But you got me. I’m very surprised it was Wynton. I would have never guessed Ted. First, I’m not familiar with his stuff. Second, he has a beautiful thing going, I like his sound a lot, but he has so many influences that I could not put it together.

4. Eric Alexander, “I’ll Be Around” (from NIGHTLIFE IN TOKYO, Milestone, 2003) (Alexander, tenor saxophone; Harold Mabern, piano; Ron Carter, bass; Joe Farnsworth, drums) – (3-1/2 stars)

That’s a nice intro. The piano player put some very nice stuff on there. It’s a beautiful song, “I’ll Be Around.” I recorded this song. The tenor player has a beautiful sound. George Coleman, man! No? I said that very loud into the tape recorder! [LAUGHS] It’s definitely not George Coleman, but he definitely has a little vibe on the top register of the horn, a George Coleman thing. It reminds me, at least. I don’t know. It’s amazing. He reminds me of that vibe. I really liked what the piano player did at the beginning. The piano player is not a younger guy, right? I know by the attitude. I like the sound. The tenor player has a beautiful sound. But I can’t help it, those notes in the top register remind me of George Coleman. The only way I could guess is go to all those guys who have some kind of influence from George. Maybe I can tell on the cadenza. You can tell it’s a newer record, because for my taste, it has a lot of compression. You can hear a lot of echo. It sounds like most records sound now. In the studio, they put on a lot of compression, the sound sounds huge, but you can tell it’s fake; they use all these effects and compression and echo, a lot of reverb. You got me, man. [AFTER] You’re going to say that I’m jiving, but I was going to say Eric, but Eric has a lot of George influence. How old is this record? I’m surprised. Often there are some ideas he plays that sound like George Coleman’s stuff, but here some of the actual sound is the same vibe — the same approach in the higher register of the horn. That’s a compliment. If somebody told me I played like George, I’d be really happy.

5. David Murray, “Aerol’s Change” (from NOW IS ANOTHER TIME, Justin Time, 2002) (Murray, second tenor saxophone solo, composer; Orlando Sanchez, first tenor saxophone solo; Tony Perez, piano; Changuito, percussion) – (3 stars)

There’s definitely a Latin vibe going on. [LAUGHS] I’ll tell you that for sure! The timbalero is not an old guy. He’s playing too many notes. It’s definitely not Manny Oquendo. It’s kind of desperate, like “let’s get this…” The tenor player is doing things that remind me of Steve Grossman! I have no clue who it is, but he did a few very subtle things like Steve Grossman. The timbal is so loud that I would think it’s his record. Why is it so loud? It’s incredible. You hear every… The nature of that instrument is that it projects. So I don’t know why it’s so upfront in the mix. This tenor player reminds me of this other guy… I hear little things by other people, but something I’m hearing in this particular moment reminds me of David Murray. Okay, so that’s what this record is. [LAUGHS] Was he playing also at the beginning? So let’s put on the record that this first guy reminded me of Steve Grossman. There was no way I was going to guess him. [AFTER] By logic, I heard that David Murray had made something with a big band, a Latin thing. He did it in Paris? Oh, in Havana. That makes sense. I’m going to be honest. There’s different ways of playing Latin jazz. There’s a way of playing just like you play when people dance, like playing in a club. In all these salsa clubs and mambo clubs, there’s one way of playing. There’s the way of playing Latin jazz exactly like you’re playing for a salsa band, and then you put a solo on top. And the other way is that, yes, you take elements from that and go with the flow at the moment, and you’re very careful in how you interact with each other. In order to do that, you have to leave a considerable amount of space to be able to listen to all the other musicians surrounding you so you can interact and find your spot. At the same time, you’re going to add all those elements in the music. Here all I’m hearing is a steady rhythm, no matter what the solo is doing, and it seems to me a little frantic, like they’re in a hurry, an urgency to say “I’m here” instead of taking your time and getting there. That’s why I said this timbal player is not one of the old guys. Maybe I’m wrong. His solo is almost as though he doesn’t have enough time; he wants to say everything at the same time. But it’s only opinion, and my opinion doesn’t really matter. To my taste, I don’t like it that much. But that’s only my taste. [And that being said…] Oh, how many stars! [LAUGHS] I’ll give it 3. [That was Changuito on timbales.] Well, let me say something. It’s contradictory, because Changuito is one of my favorite timbal players in the world. So for me, it’s weird. But you never know. Different dates do different things. So maybe the way he reacted to this particular day was like this. But Changuito is actually one of the masters. I take everything back that I said, because he’s a master. I will say that for me, for my taste, first of all, the mixing…once again, it’s the compression vibe. This is the era we live in; everything is compressed. You hear every single detail of everything. And you know that when you’re at a concert, that’s not the way you hear music. The compression kills the natural overtones of the music for me. You hear even the sticks hitting the metal. For me, if I’m in a dance club and dancing with my girlfriend or something, it’s cool. But if I’m in my house listening to a record, it could bother me. But that’s only me.

6. J.D. Allen, “Pharaoh’s Children” (from PHARAOH’S CHILDREN, Criss-Cross, 2001) (Allen, tenor saxophone, composer; Orrin Evans, piano; Eric Revis, bass; Gene Jackson, drums) – (4 stars)

I like the atmosphere. I like the communication they get. Playing music that way is a different approach, and I like it. At first, I thought of Charles Lloyd, but then immediately I knew it wasn’t. And for a quick second, I thought of Dewey, but I immediately knew it wasn’t. [Does he sound like a guy that age?] I don’t know if I would put it that it’s this age or another age. But he did a few things that reminded me of them, but it wasn’t immediately obvious that it isn’t. I liked he was doing. He utilized a great sense of space. And I liked the piece, which helps, and his communication with the pianist was very good. They were really hooking up, and that’s what I appreciate most in any genre of music. 4 stars. [AFTER] I don’t know him. It’s a great record.

7. Dexter Gordon, “Scrapple From The Apple” (from OUR MAN IN PARIS, Blue Note 1963/2003) (Gordon, tenor saxophone; Bud Powell, piano; Pierre Michelot, bass; Kenny Clarke, drums) – (5 stars)

That’s great! You can’t go wrong with that one! You play it every day. Whoo! Mmm! It’s Dex. Big Dexter. “Scrapple From The Apple.” I’m trying to remember which record it is. But I knew him from the first note. It’s that way with all the older players The funny thing is that Coltrane sounded so many different ways throughout his career, but he always sounds like Trane. Sonny, too. Even Stan Getz. I have some really early stuff by Stan, but you always know he’s in there. This is not “Doin’ All Right.” Is this “Go”? I’m trying to remember the actual album. I haven’t listened to it for ages. Dexter’s the only guy who could do that quote and make it sound great! He plays all over the horn, great sound, great sense of time. 5 stars. Is the pianist Kenny Drew? Tootie Heath on drums? Oh, Kenny Clarke. Ah, definitely Bud Powell. The thing with Dexter is that in terms of sound he’s obviously got a lot of Prez, but you can tell that a lot of stuff came from Charlie Parker. He’s really playing the bebop shit incredible, but he has a whole other element of laidbackness that’s Prez-oriented, but also has his own vibe of the sound. That’s what makes him sound completely different, because the way he laid back is not the way Prez laid back. It’s a different thing. The real weight is in his sound. Another guy who plays a quote like [sings “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush”], it’s like “come on, man!” But Dexter makes funny quotes. He has a sense of humor, and still sounds so great. Probably I wouldn’t like it so much if I tried to play those licks, Charlie Parker shit, that incredible stuff. I would sound sad! But he delivers the phrases in a certain way that make it sound so hip and so personal at the same time.

8. Papo Vasquez, “Vianda con Bacalao” (from Papo Vasquez, CARNIVAL IN SAN JUAN, Cubop, 2003) (Papo Vasquez, trombone, percussion, chorus composer; Willie Williams, tenor saxophone; Arturo O’Farrill, composer; John Benitez, bass; Horacio Hernandez, drums; Joe Gonzalez, congas; Roberto Cepeda, chorus)

Nice. This is what people call Latin Jazz, but it sounds like New York Latin Jazz. It’s got some New York shit in there. It has some New York attitude to it. It’s really hip. It has a lot of content, but at the same time the groove is there. I like this. This reminds me of Papo Vasquez’ stuff, the arrangement. He’s one of these guys who writes music, like the in Fort Apache also, and he makes very good use of the bass, contrasting motion in phrases with the percussion, and then the horns are doing something different. That was a very interesting arrangement. Did you notice that the drum was not so much in your face? The clave was a little up-front; I wish I didn’t hear it so clear. Anyway, it reminded me of Papo, but I could very well be wrong. 3-1/2 stars. [AFTER] I knew it. He writes some really hip stuff. I think the tenor player was Willie Williams. He sounded good. But sometimes, when you put cats in a certain context, I guess the natural thing is that you change a little bit your playing, but just to that particular way of playing. Here it’s a Latin thing, but it’s a really hip Latin… It’s not like the Latin jazz where you just play for people to dance, and okay, let’s have some fun and background music. This is a really hip arrangement. You could tell the interaction was a little different also. It has that New York attitude, like I said before. But somehow, because the Latin element is there, I feel sometimes guys try to change a little bit and adjust and try to play a little bit more rhythmic and so on. And sometimes… I know Willie’s playing, and I know he’s a great player, but on this particular occasion, for my taste, I’d rather hear him play the way he really plays. Was that Negro on drums? I liked it a lot. It sounded great, and Papo wrote some beautiful music, as usual.

9. Warne Marsh, “Rhythmically Speaking” (from BACK HOME, Criss-Cross, 1986) (Marsh, tenor saxophone; Barry Harris, piano; David Williams, bass; Albert Heath, drums) – (3 stars)

That sounds like someone who is influenced by Lester Young, but the rest of the band sounds really bebop-oriented, very tradition. But the tenor player is playing kind of over the bar lines. I’m not sure I’m so much into this… Believe me, I love the bar lines. Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker are the two greatest people to play over the bar line to me. They could play so elastic, but then, when they came back, WHOO! Monk, too. He had a very special way of playing over the bar lines. This one has a different way of doing it. The tenor player reminded me of the Tristano school, that perhaps he had some influence from Warne Marsh, that type of playing. I like that type of playing, but you’ve got to play a certain way. I thought it was cool, but I’m not going to tell you it was great. 3 stars. [AFTER] [LAUGHS] Well, at least I was on the right track. I was never going to guess it was Barry. But the other guys were more bebop, more traditional-oriented. This is a late recording of Warne Marsh. Because he had a way of playing over the bar line which was different. This reminded me of this Tristano counterpoint type of thing. But earlier in his life it was a little more accurate. On this, it sounded like he was playing over the bar line, but then after that, what? It’s falling over anything, basically. It doesn’t have the continuity after the fact of going over the bar line. This is a late recording. It sounds like it. I’ve got a great record with Warne Marsh and Lee Konitz, and they play all these incredible heads. They sometimes will take a standard song and put on a whole other head with a Tristano vibe. This reminded me of him, and it was him, but it was another period of him, I guess.

10. Frank Wess, “Rockin’ Chair” (from Bill Charlap, STARDUST, Blue Note, 2002) (Wess, tenor saxophone; Charlap, piano; Peter Washington, bass; Kenny Washington, drums)

I hear some Ben Webster. But it’s not Ben Webster. That phrase definitely sounded like Ben. The inflection is right in there. Swing. This is a tricky one, because I know it’s not Ben. Sometimes I hear a little bit of Houston Person, but I know it’s not him. I don’t recognize the song. Is this a younger guy…not a younger guy, but definitely not the generation of Ben Webster. This is a guy who was after the generation of Ben Webster. [Is this an older recording or a newer recording?] I think it’s a newer recording. Maybe not new-new, but not even from the ’60s or ’70s. This is maybe ’80s or ’90s or something? I don’t know. Is it Scott Hamilton? Nice performance, right in the pocket. I liked the feel of the drums, the ride cymbal. It was definitely swinging, right in the middle of the beat, and the tempo was very precise. The piano player actually played very beautiful. When you play that kind of style, you’ve got to be careful not to overdo it, and I liked the way he was economical, but at the same time had some stuff going on. The tenor player has the Ben Webster thing, he has the old thing, but I know it’s none of those guys, like Gene Ammons or Ben Webster. I would give them definitely 4 stars. It was right in there and it had some beauty. I liked it. [AFTER] Oh, wow! No wonder, man. I should have guessed Frank. He plays with such a beauty. I was hearing the influences. I knew it wasn’t Ben, but at the same time what I liked is that it was very mature. I knew it had some level of maturity in the way he was playing, and I suppose I should have guessed it.

11. Wayne Shorter, “Orbits” (#8) (from ALEGRIA, Verve, 2003) (Wayne Shorter, tenor saxophone; Brad Mehldau, piano; John Patitucci, bass; Brian Blade, drums) – (5 stars)

I know this record, and it’s one of my favorite records. It’s “Alegria” by Wayne Shorter. I don’t remember the name of this particular composition, but this has been my inspiration record for several months. You know how you have an inspirational record, “let’s get the day started” when you’re on the road, and it inspires you. I love anything Wayne Shorter ever did. He’s so profound. There’s so much in every single phrase he plays that it’s unreal. English is not my first language, so I don’t have enough words to describe how deeply anything he does and anything he puts into it. I know some of the orchestrations on this record are his. It’s amazing. You think the voices are going to move in a certain direction, and they move another one, completely unpredictable. The funny part about this is that a number of people, as usual… For me, it’s been like this for years. They always have missed the point with Wayne. Some guys talk about Wayne’s compositions. I think he’s one of the deepest and heaviest composers ever. EVER. This is just my opinion, and it’s only mine and it doesn’t matter. But it’s not only his compositions, but his playing is at a level… The only word that comes to me in English is eloquent. All the phrases are eloquent, with soul, with heart, but very well thought at the same time, very well executed. The ideas are very wise and warm, but at the same time with a very precise way of doing things structurally. Meaning the way he writes, the way he develops a solo… He’s completely accurate. You talk about having accuracy in playing, that’s accuracy for me. For some people, accuracy is hitting all the notes and you can hear them all clear. But for me, that’s only one way of accuracy. Mental accuracy is what he does, that he takes one idea and connects to the next one, the next one, and builds up and just comes down. It’s a very impressive way of doing that. He’s unique. When it comes to that, there’s nobody like Wayne. And this record is great. It has the structure, the very well-formed structure vibe, everything is very well-formed, but it has some sections that are completely open. It’s fascinating to hear somebody going forward with something no matter what. No matter what, we’re just going to go forward. I was in London and I heard him being interviewed, and he said he was willing…his degree of commitment is at such a level that he’ll go down with the ship. To me, that was a deep statement. If he means to go down with the ship, that’s… Are you willing to commit for the moment? I got this recording several months ago, and since then I carry it everywhere. I get inspired by people who are willing to… It has a very high degree of honesty in terms of how they interact together. Danilo is very special like that also, because he has great ears, but he commits also to listen and sing with John. Outside of the fact that John can play different genres and has an understanding of playing different ways, musicianship-wise, he also has some great ears. Anywhere you take him, he can go. And when you put him together with Danilo and Brian, who has these huge ears and plays beautiful things on the drums. He gives you the energy, but it’s like martial arts energy. He has that power, but it’s not blasting. He has power and it has some depth. That’s why I love this particular group, especially with this kind of chamber ensemble. In my book, it’s 5 stars.

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David Sanchez (WKCR, July 24, 2008):

It is hard to fathom why tenor saxophonist David Sanchez, who turns 40 next month, draws scant attention from the jazz press. It can’t be for an insufficiently distinguished pedigree. After apprenticing with Eddie Palmieri and Dizzy Gillespie in his early twenties, Sanchez continued to be a first-call sideman with top-dog jazzfolk like Hilton Ruiz, Kenny Barron, Roy Haynes, Charlie Haden, and Pat Metheny while developing a tonal personality as individualistic as any musician of his generation. Thoroughly conversant with tenor vocabulary stretching the timeline from the ‘40s (Dexter Gordon) to the hypermodern (John Coltrane and Wayne Shorter), Sanchez began to articulate his experimentalist bent—recontextualizing the folkloric rhythms and melodies of his native Puerto Rico with the harmonic and gestural tropes of jazz, and articulating them with a heroic, ravishing tone and command of dynamics at all tempos —on three Grammy-nominated recordings for Columbia/Sony (Melaza, Obsesión, and Travesía), all Grammy-nominated. He revealed himself a full-fledged master on Coral, on which arranger Carlos Franzetti framed his sextet against the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra on a suite of repertoire by Latin American classical composers. Although Coral earned the 2005 Latin Grammy for “Best Instrumental Album,” it marked the end of his 7-CD relationship with Sony.

In late July, Sanchez came to New York for a four-night run at the Jazz Standard with his new quartet—guitarist (and 2005 Thelonious Monk Award winner) Lage Lund, bassist Orlando LeFleming, and drummer Henry Cole. He joined me on WKCR-FM to talk about it.

TP: Your new CD, Cultural Survival , is your first in four years.

SANCHEZ: It’s been a while. Sony was my only label since I started in the mid ‘90s, so it took me a minute to see what was the right fit and what direction I should take this time. I needed to feel comfortable for real to do whatever I wanted. I knew this recording would be a series of firsts—the first time recording with Concord, the first time recording with a quartet with guitar, after always using piano before. So the compositional vibe is different, both from that configuration and the fact that I’ve been checking out a lot of African music, especially southeast Cameroonian music and the Ari people from Tanzania, polyphonic music from Ethiopia, music from Mali. The essence of what I’d been doing is still there, but it does sound different.

TP: Melaza in 1998 was the first project on which you delved deeply into the folkloric music of Puerto Rico, and you worked with that repertoire for the next several records. Did your study of African music emerge from your explorations in Puerto Rican idioms?

SANCHEZ: It’s sort of an extension, to be honest with you. I’ve been listening to that [African] music already since Coral. All of a sudden, everything started making a lot of sense. You often think that something is from you, where you come from. I was listening to all these pygmy communities, to something that was way before, and all of a sudden I realized, “Well, this is kind of ours, but not really.” Listening to that music gave me a bigger picture. It definitely changed my perspective. We developed it this way in the Caribbean, but then again, the roots are very strong all over Africa.

TP: Your own development has followed a path of formal saxophone training, salsa, hardcore jazz. Your first gig in the States was with Eddie Palmieri. Once you started making records, you did Latin jazz dates and hardcore jazz things, as well as exploring your own vernacular. So it’s a long, ongoing journey.

SANCHEZ: Indeed. You have to bring the New York City experience into the equation, too. In New York, if you let your mind be open to those different influences and cultural backgrounds, then it’s available for you. But you have to be open. Everything is available. Whoever plays in a unidirectional way, or thinks or hears that way, it’s because they want to. Once I came here, I was exposed to all these different people coming from different places. That helps, too. A lot.

TP: You’ve been living in Atlanta for the last few years.

SANCHEZ: For the last four years, almost.

TP: How is it not living in New York any more?

SANCHEZ: Well, it’s interesting, actually! I do miss it a little. Especially my old neighborhood in Brooklyn, Park Slope, which was pretty hip. Then again, I have the blessing to come here three-four-five times a year, which is a lot. Also, Atlanta has its own musical scene. The gospel thing is huge. The R&B—as you know, all the studios are there. Everyone goes there to record. The movement of underground hip-hop mixed with jazz, the real underground (the other one, too, the one that you hear on the radio) is a very strong movement there. The jazz scene is tiny. But the bottom line is that, culturally speaking, when you analyze it, Atlanta is a cultural center. It has some kind of traditional something. It might not be jazz, but it’s something else. And the Atlanta Symphony is a really decent symphony orchestra.

But New York is unique. No other city in the United States is going to be a match for it.

TP: In the past, we’re used to hearing you in a more polyrhythmic setup, with Adam Cruz or someone else playing drumkit and usually Pernell Saturnino, but occasionally someone else, playing hand drums and percussion. Is this a different concept? Is the paredown for economic reasons? Aesthetic ones?

SANCHEZ: Both. Today it’s very hard to go out there with a larger configuration. But at the same time, I saw it as an opportunity. I was a percussionist before I was a saxophonist. I was really deep into the rhythms. My brother used to play with a folkloric group in Puerto Rico, with one of the masters in Rafael Cepeda. So I saw it as an opportunity to write music, as I did on Melaza, in a way that my percussion influence is very present, but you can either have the percussion or not have it. It’s going to be implied in the bass lines, or on the piano—in this case, on the guitar—and on the saxophone itself. Then you say: “What is this? This sounds different. This is not straight-ahead jazz, but this is not Latin Jazz either. What is it?”

TP: Continuing on your remarks about the multiplicity of musical languages that are available to any musician who comes to New York, and how the intersection of those languages creates exciting possibilities for R&D, it occurs to me that people like you, Danilo Perez, and Edward Simon, were in the forefront of a generation that arrived in New York from all over the world with a mastery of jazz language, which they used in elaborating their own vernaculars. Were you thinking about any of those things twenty years ago? Was it simply a matter of the gigs as best you could as they came up, and things just happened?

SANCHEZ: It was a little bit of both. As I said before, once you come to this city, the opportunities are out there. Don’t get me wrong. There are other cities in the world where the same dynamic takes place, like Paris. You meet colleagues who are roughly around the same age, a little older or a little younger, and you share ideas. You view the ideas and you think, “Wow, I never thought of this in this way.” If you have enough flexibility to accept and be receptive to those ideas, then it would help you and it would help the music to evolve in a different way, in a way that you’re no longer thinking of these categories, like: “Well, I play bebop.” “No, I’m post-bop jazz.” “No, I play free jazz—that’s my period.” “I’m a Latin Jazz guy.” “No, I’m a salsa guy who plays a little bit of jazz on top.” After a while, when you experience a city like this, all of this is irrelevant! It’s just the music, and you have all these ways of playing music, all these people coming from different parts of the world, different parts of the United States. It’s up to us as artists to take whatever we think can help us and enrich our own vocabularies.

TP: What was your path towards jazz? Coming up in Puerto Rico playing percussion, folkloric music, how did jazz enter your view?

SANCHEZ: I have to say a great part of it was because of my sister. She’s not a musician. She’s still into comparative theology and comparative literature.

TP: Serious stuff.

SANCHEZ: Serious stuff! [LAUGHS] She was open to so many different styles of music. I’m talking about not only jazz, but music from Johan Sebastian Bach, or Stravinsky, or Milton Nascimento or Elis Regina in Brazil.

TP: This is an older sister?

SANCHEZ: Yes. There’s twelve years difference. When she was a teenager, I was a kid. I was exposed to jazz and all the other genres because of her, although obviously I didn’t know it back in those days. . I had a dilemma when I was 10-11-12, and I went to the performing arts school. I really wanted to study drums and percussion. You had to pass these exams, and I did, but they said that there were too many drummers. I chose saxophone because I liked the sound—it was the only other instrument I liked. Somehow, I was sitting in with the percussion and doing the saxophone classes also. But not until she brought me a recording called Basic Miles, an LP with a green jacket, which was a compilation of different periods of Miles Davis’ career… I was already playing classical foundation-oriented music; which is what they were teaching—no jazz or anything. But I immediately became curious. I was like, “Wow, this is weird, introspective, and kind of dark,” but at the same time something attracted me. Then all these questions arose. “What is that?” “Was that written?” “This is unbelievable.” Then a friend said, “No, that’s improvisation.” “Wow.” That was a turning point for me to be really serious on my instrument. My sister also brought Lady in Satin, Billie Holiday and the Ray Ellis Orchestra, her last record. That was my introduction to jazz. Weird. I was growing up in the Caribbean, and I’ve got to be honest with you—not many people were into that.

TP: For one thing, the rhythmic feel of jazz, the 4/4 swing, is pretty different than the polyrhythms you knew from folkloric music, or the time feel in classical music. A lot of people from the Caribbean say that’s the biggest adjustment they need to make in playing jazz. Was this the case for you?

SANCHEZ: There are a lot of similarities at the same time. Feeling the beat on 2 and 4 is something really basic in Caribbean music generally. In Cuban music, if you listen to the conga, or we call it bacateo, and the references when they’re dancing is 2 and 4. It subdivides into that. The triplet feel, too. That 6/8 or 12/8, however you want to call it, against four, is very present in both. When you listen to jazz, that triplet feel must be there in order to swing. If you listen to Duke or Count Basie, all those people, you hear it. It’s that really African thing, going back to that subject. The European is there also, but the rhythmic foundation… You would be amazed how many similarities.

For me, the biggest adjustment was phrasing, and that has to do with language. The way you deliver the accents, the inflections. We speak open in Spanish, and in English you utilize vowels that are more on the inside of your mouth. The same thing with the music. I found that very challenging. Just the way people from the jazz world need that downbeat thing to feel more comfortable—they find the upbeats challenging. The upbeats happen in the Brazilian world, too. Still, when you really look at it, from all the different angles, there are a lot of similarities, and that comes from the African side. It’s African roots.

TP: So many tributaries, according to the particularities of each place where African slaves were brought.

SANCHEZ: There are definitely some very strong ties. But it’s still challenging.

TP: In your formative period, how did you approach assimilating tenor saxophone vocabulary?

SANCHEZ: Back when I was growing up, especially coming out of the performing arts school that did not teach jazz at all, and then entering Rutgers, it was a little less academic. I was very enthusiastic about it. For a certain period of time I’d be checking out Charlie Parker; for another period of time I’d be checking out Dexter Gordon. It wasn’t like an assignment. It was just enthusiasm and out of love at that particular time for what Dexter was doing or what Sonny Rollins was doing. I had this strong tie with Sonny, because somewhere you feel that Caribbean experience, and his way of delivering certain phrases was very percussive. I felt, “Wow, this guy is almost playing the drums at the same time he’s playing the saxophone, too, but with an unbelievable sound.” Those were some of my heroes. I got to Joe Henderson much later. Wayne Shorter, too. When you’re ready, life takes you to where you need to go. But at first, it was enthusiasm and passion for what I was listening to. It wasn’t like a report or work. Later on, at Rutgers, of course, you needed structure, and they’d tell you to check out certain records and certain tunes, and learn harmony. I owe that to Ted Dunbar. He said, “Man, you’ve got to play the piano. You’ve got to match your ears with your technical abilities on the instrument.” He pointed out all those things to me, which were priceless lessons. Kenny Barron as well. So definitely there was a structure, but before the structure there has to be that passion and willingness to be curious about something you don’t know.

TP: You worked with Eddie Palmieri as soon as you arrived on the mainland, and you’ve maintained your relationship with him over the years. Recently, you’ve performed with him in duo, and he himself has been expanding his concept since the time you first joined him. Talk about that relationship.

SANCHEZ: Without Eddie, nothing else would have been possible. First of all, he was one of my heroes. Eddie Palmieri was huge back in the ‘70s. He did some compositions in the salsa genre that became classics. And he would not settle for this. He would move on. He clearly had the New York experience, too. So did Tito Puente. You could feel it. Okay, it’s the salsa genre, but it doesn’t sound like the conventional variety—this has something else going on. I don’t know exactly what. My relationship with Eddie from the beginning was very special, because he embraced me. Just like Dizzy, too. He embraced me in a way that he knows, “yeah, this guy has a lot of potential; he has to work on this and that.” They were aware of those things, but they still embrace you.

TP: What sorts of things did Eddie Palmieri tell you and what sorts of things did Dizzy Gillespie tell you?

SANCHEZ: For instance, at the time, Eddie would always be working on how to flow rhythmically and be open and free within the clave structure. We had a connection in there right away. It might have something to do with the fact that I was very familiar with that way of playing drums. It became like if you put a hand in a glove, and it fit. Also, I’ve got to be honest with you, there is no way I would have gotten to Dizzy if I hadn’t been playing with Eddie Palmieri. I was so blessed. I was a kid still at Rutgers University, trying to learn more music and be exposed to all these ways of playing, and here I’m already playing with Eddie Palmieri, making a little bread to go back to school and buy some books and records, which was extremely hard for me to do in Puerto Rico. Then maybe a year-and-half or so later, I had the blessing to be able to play with Dizzy.

TP: Who himself knew a lot about drums and rhythms and passed on that information to several generations of drummers.

SANCHEZ: There you go. Once again, there’s a connection. I owe a lot to my very early musical development, which had nothing to do with learning to play the piano or sounds or anything. It was just feeling the rhythm and playing the drums. It actually was an access that I didn’t know I had at the time, but it tied me to great artists like Dizzy and Eddie and helped me relate to them.

TP: Now, you toured with Pat Metheny a couple of years ago. Did that experience factor into using guitar in your groups?

SANCHEZ: He called me at the last minute to be the guest with the trio for a two-month tour. I was very flattered. It was the first time in my life that I played with a guitarist on a consistent basis. It was a great learning experience. Because it is different.

The way I approach music, I can play a solo over any comp, over anybody comping—just play all my ideas on top of it. But I’ve reached a point that, in some ways, I hate doing that. I want to be receptive and try to take a risk as to how I can relate my idea to what the person is comping behind me. I’ve found that more challenging with guitar players than with piano players. It’s funny, because with guitarists you have more space in some ways, but the strings, the textures, the sound, the sonorities can also take you elsewhere. So I find it very challenging, and I take my time. I leave the space. Some people take that as tentativeness. Some writers get a little confused by that. They think that you don’t know. But what you’re doing is, you’re waiting to have a conversation with somebody. You’re not talking all the time. You take your pauses. Or if you’re writing, you have your commas.

TP: You might spend six hours looking for the right place to put that comma.

SANCHEZ: As long as emotion is happening, that’s all that matters. It’s a collective. You’re making music. It’s a composition. The only thing is that we’re improvising, so the composition happens at the moment. When you’re writing for an orchestra, the saxophone section is not playing all the time. Maybe the trombones are doing a rhythmic figure, and then, BAM, the saxophones jump in and reply to that. The same thing with the smaller configuration. Maybe he has an idea, and if I’m not listening well to that idea, I cannot take that idea elsewhere. That’s the challenge. You can approach it so many ways. You can approach the guitar as another horn, meaning you play the head, and then he lays out and you play like a trio. Then he comes and plays his solo—you could approach it like that. You could approach it as a piano or any other harmonic instrument behind your solo. You can go on and on with different ways of approaching the instrument. It’s fantastic. As I said at earlier, there’s a lot of first-times with this recording, and that’s one—never, ever before had I had a guitar on my records.

TP: So this in some sense stems from hearing it for two months with Pat Metheny, and also your investigations into string music from different parts of Africa.

SANCHEZ: I have to say that before Pat, I listened to many recordings with the kora, and also a wooden instrument called the ieta—it looks like it’s going to be a percussion instrument, but no, it has the 7 strings—as well as an 8-string instrument called the ngombi. That had a lot to do with my decision to see what sound the strings would give me. Then when I played with Pat, it confirmed everything. I was like, wow, we’re only doubling the melody, and it sounds so full. The tenor and the guitar complement each other very well. Something about the timbre.

 

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Filed under Blindfold Test, David Sanchez, Jazz.com, Tenor Saxophone, WKCR

For David Murray’s 57th Birthday, a Jazziz Article From 2007 and a DownBeat Blindfold Test From Ten Years Ago

David Murray turned 57 a few days ago; he’ll be in NYC next week to present his latest project, a big band collaboration with guitarist James “Blood” Ulmer, a partner on various projects over the last 35 years. I’ve appended a feature piece that I wrote about Murray in 2008 for Jazziz, framed around the release of Banished, and also a Blindfold Test from the early ’00s.

* * *
“I’ve always been around poets,” said David Murray, in New York City in January to play the Knitting Factory with his quartet. “They bare their soul so much. When I get my hands on a good poem, I can see the music jumping off the page. The word is powerful.”

Recently arrived from his home in Paris, Murray was having a pre-gig dinner at Chez Josephine. The walls of the West 42nd Street bistro are festooned with photographs and memorabilia of Josephine Baker, the famous African-American dancer-chanteuse out of St. Louis, who sailed to Paris in 1925, at 18, and transformed herself into a staple of French popular culture. After the second world war, she adopted a dozen impoverished French orphans, one of them the proprietor, who reinforces a tone of soulful Francophilia, both with the menu — fried chicken and collard greens share pride of place with snails and bouillabaisse — and the entertainment, provided by an elderly black woman in her Sunday best singing to her own piano accompaniment and a woman of similar vintage blowing melodies and obbligatos on trumpet.

Murray and his pianist, Lafayette Gilchrist, sat near the piano, facing Valerie Malot, Murray’s wife and manager, and Jim West, who runs Justin Time Records, which recently issued Sacred Ground, Murray’s 10th release for the label. On Sacred Ground, Murray and his Black Saint Quartet stretch out on seven songs — on two, Cassandra Wilson sings lyrics by Ishmael Reed — that the leader wrote for the soundtrack of Banished. The PBS documentary film, which premiered in February, examines three towns in Georgia, Missouri, and Arkansas from which residents of African descent were forceably removed during the years after Reconstruction, and which remain lily-white today.

Banished is the most recently realized of an ambitious series of projects, all touching on Afro-diasporic themes, that Murray, 52, launched after he migrated from New York City to the City of Light in 1996 to join Malot, with whom he has two children. It follows Pushkin, a fully-staged quasi-opera, as yet unrecorded, on which Murray wrote a suite of songs to French, English, Creole, and Bantu translations of texts by the immortal Russian poet, himself the great-grandson of an Ethiopian prince. During his dozen years of self-imposed exile, Murray, among other things, has composed big band and string music for Cuban ensembles, and created repertoire for bands comprised of musicians from Guadeloupe (CreoleYonn-de, and Gwotet, Senegal (Fo Deuk Revue), and the Black American Church (Speaking in Tongues). Later that evening at the Knitting Factory, he intended to touch base with poet Amiri Baraka, the librettist of “Sisyphus Syndrome,” scheduled to open on May 19th, Malcolm X’s birthday, for which Murray had as yet completed only five of 15 songs. In two days, he would fly to Cuba, to audition a string ensemble to perform as-yet-to-be written arrangements for a proposed celebration of Nat “King” Cole with Cassandra Wilson.

After ordering the fried chicken, Murray took his glass of vin rouge to a quieter spot at the front of the bar. “Next week I’m going to be writing like crazy,” he said. “But the deadlines keep me motivated. It’s like Duke Ellington said, ‘If I want to get something finished, all I need is a deadline.’ But between Banished and Sisyphus, I have music to play with my quartet for the next two years.”

In the summer of 2006, Banished director Marco Williams, a Murray fan since the saxophonist’s New York glory days in the ’80s, contacted Malot about Murray’s availability and sent a two-hour rough cut to Paris. “He wasn’t quite sure if he wanted to use me, but I forced myself upon him,” Murray said. “I stopped everything else I was doing, didn’t wait for nobody to give me no money, started writing songs, and had Valerie tape them and send them to him over the Internet.”

“It was a challenging process,” Williams relates. “David is not someone who’s going to write notes that hit a certain cut. Frankly, I couldn’t tell whether the music was going to work or not. But I wanted a collaborator, not someone just to score the film. And it was completely evident that David got the movie, it meant something to him, and he wanted to express something. The music was so beautiful, so evocative. I told my editors, ‘We’ll just get all the stems, and cut down as needed.’”

“Basically, this is ethnic cleansing,” Murray elaborated. “You see that monster, you got to cut the head off. My way of trying to cut the head off was to send him tunes.”

Without much prodding, Murray revealed that the film’s particulars resonated with his own family’s experience.

“Most black people who know their family history talk about how they got ran off,” he said. “We don’t know the terms ‘banished’ or ‘ethnic cleansing.’ We say, ‘We got ran off.’ When a town decides it don’t need you no more, that’s just how it is.” Murray cited his maternal grandfather, George Hackett, a sharecropper who went to Midland, Texas, and struck oil. “They ran him off the property, but he managed to sell his oil rights, and moved to California,” he said. “He was very enterprising. He went north to the Bay Area, but that was too far. A black man at that time couldn’t do nothing with the sea. Then he remembered he’d seen cotton in Fresno. He knew cotton, so he turned around to go where the produce was. He bought a block in Fresno, called Hackett Flats. It still has that name, and I own property on that plot.”

By Murray’s account, his paternal grandfather, a Nebraskan, was less fortunate, leaving his wife six months pregnant with Murray’s father when he fell from a scaffold in a gusting wind. Born in 1925 and full-grown in 1940, David Murray, Sr. hopped a train from Nebraska to Los Angeles, started a body and fender shop near Central Avenue, sent for his mother and older brother, and at 17, lied about his age and joined the Navy. Decommissioned in 1946, he moved to the Bay Area, tried out for the San Francisco 49ers, even joined the circus as an acrobat, but then returned to body-and-fender work, raised his family, and played guitar at church in a band with his wife, sons, and two nephews. Murray played bongos, but for one evening’s gathering, having just received an alto saxophone from his junior high school band director, Phil Hardiman, he brought his new possession.

“I didn’t know jack-shit, just squeaked and squawked,” he says. “I probably sounded a little like I do now, but now I actually know what I’m doing. It was like, ‘Wow, that young Murray is exuberant. He’s got a lot of energy.’ Then a couple of weeks later, ‘He’s starting to learn the songs now. Oh, yeah!’ I knew the melodies because my mother was always playing them. You can say that I am an on-the-job training type of guy.”

Physically mature like his father during high school, Murray, who ran a 4.3 40-yard dash, starred as a football tailback, got good grades, and earned money playing music. “I was always a leader,” he said. “From 13, I was bringing money home to give to my dad. We won a youth contest to play all the Shakey’s pizza parlors in the Bay Area. We had a gig every weekend for three years. We’d do any song, like ‘A Taste of Honey,’ and I’d improvise, not even knowing that I was playing jazz. Then I began to learn it. I’d heard Sonny Rollins play a solo saxophone concert at the Greek Theater, and he was a mighty influence. That’s when I started playing tenor. Later I had a funk group called the Notations of Soul, one of the tight bands in town. We played all the dances and proms. We played a lot of James Brown, of course. They started calling me ‘Murray-O,’ after Maceo Parker.”

During Murray’s teens, post-bop titans like Joe Henderson and Woody Shaw settled in the Bay Area, but Murray — who was slowing down Coleman Hawkins LPs to 16 r.p.m to analyze his solos — opted for the freedom principle, particularly the high-intensity post-Coltrane direction emblemized by Albert Ayler, himself a son of the sanctified church with early R&B experience. On a tip from trombonist Ray Anderson, whom he met during a successful audition for a horn section, Murray matriculated at the University of California-Claremont, and spent the next few years refining his craft with the likes of Arthur Blythe, Bobby Bradford, John Carter, and Butch Morris, all regulars at informal sessions at the house of Stanley Crouch, then a playwright, poet, and professor on the Claremont faculty, and a  drummer under the sway of Sunny Murray.

In 1975, Murray moved to New York City, sharing a loft with Crouch over the Tin Palace, an ultra-hip bar on the Bowery.

“All my Dad said was, ‘Just go out there and make some money — you’ll get good,’” Murray said. He followed that advice, performing as a peer of such A-list outcat elders as Sunny Murray, Don Pullen, and Lester Bowie, as well as Julius Hemphill, Oliver Lake, and Hamiett Bluiett, his future partners in the World Saxophone Quartet. In 1979, he assembled an octet, hiring the likes of Olu Dara, Anthony Davis, George Lewis, and Henry Threadgill. As the ’80s progressed he gigged frequently with two quartets, one a boisterous harmolodic unit with Blood Ulmer, the other a quartet with hardcore jazz masters like pianist John Hicks, bassists Fred Hopkins and Ray Drummond, and the iconic drummers Edward Blackwell and Andrew Cyrille. He also led ad hoc encounters with Randy Weston, Jack DeJohnette, and Milford Graves, and conceived elaborate homages to such heroes as Hawkins and Paul Gonsalves.

“I figured out that I could actually call the best musicians in the world and they’d show up, that I’d have one of the best bands just by hiring the best rhythm sections,” Murray said. “They taught me how to play. But I became a man in the World Saxophone Quartet. I’d be saying too much about myself if I said I was their equal when we began. But after five years, my sound started getting bigger. Finally, I became their contemporary — and they let me know it.”

Murray attracted a worldwide fan base through the lyric swagger and raw edge of his tonal personality. He drew criticism from many ’80s “young lions,” who attacked him as a poseur, suggesting that his predisposition to blast off to the outer partials stemmed less from an independent aesthetic decision than insufficient grounding in the tropes of tradition. As Crouch, who had championed Murray during the ’70s, joined forces with Wynton Marsalis to establish the Jazz at Lincoln Center juggernaut, Murray was unceremoniously deleted from the mainstream conversation. He recorded ever more prolifically, for multiple labels, and toured regularly with his various ensembles, but he was falling into a rut, and his rambunctious lifestyle was beginning to take a toll.

“I was troubled, and I needed to leave,” Murray recalls. “I had Paris in my sights.” For one thing, Paris was a magnet for African musicians. For another, Malot, who grew up in North Africa and whose sister’s husband, Klod Klavue, is a master Gwo-Ka drummer from Guadeloupe, understood — and through her booking and production experience was in a position to actualize — Murray’s desire “to get closer to my African roots and do a little personal research” on them by traveling to and performing with “groups of people in Senegal, in Ghana, in South Africa, in Cuba I’d met that I could relate to.”

“Jazz has the primal feeling of African drums and the sophistication of the city,” Murray says. “A primal force, like [drummer] Dudu Ndiaye Rose, brings very complex rhythms. I bring the harmonies and melodies. It  makes me want to play and sweat, like praising the Lord, going into a trance and getting back to roots. I’m trying to get to the core where the musics fuse.”

Today, Murray is less enamored with Paris than he once was. (“[The French] have an attitude that gets on your nerves.”) Nonetheless, Murray finds family life a sanctuary that provides space to think and focus, to work more systematically than the distractions of the New York City allowed.

“I used to put out five albums a year; now I put one out every year or 18 months,” he says. “I worked all the time and took pretty much any gig; now I take select gigs, maybe 120 concerts a year. I’m in Paris half the time, moving around the other half.  I’m not aligning myself with the avant-garde or the bebop, I’m just David Murray. I take my kids to school at 8:30, then I exercise, and I’m home at 9:30. I write until noon, and practice the rest of the day till 6, going through my books, trying to keep my chops up and my mind open. When a project comes up, I get very serious, and don’t study nobody else’s shit but mine. That will last for three months, and then there’s no project. Then I go back to my little everyday shit.”

He’s restless, though, and perhaps another journey is imminent.“One year I’m going to take my saxophone and go around the world myself,” he said. “I’ve got to do it soon, before I’m 55. What kind of music do people make in Tibet? What are people doing in India? I want to play with them.”

* * *

David Murray Blindfold Test:

1.    Charles Mingus, “Better Get Hit In Your Soul” (from “Live at Antibes,” Atlantic, 1960/1994), Mingus, bass, composer; Booker Ervin, tenor sax; Eric Dolphy, alto sax; Ted Curson, tp.; Dannie Richmond, d. (5 stars)

That’s Mingus.  “Better Get It In Your Soul.”  I just love… I heard this on the radio in Paris the other day.  We were in a car.  Everybody said, “Who’s that guy back there?”  I said, “That’s Mingus.  He’s pushing the band on.”  He’s saying all kind of stuff.  We need people like this guy.  We need more people like him.  Is the trumpet player Lonnie Hillyer?  [It’s not Lonnie Hillyer.]  Who’s that bald-headed guy, that trumpet player?  [Ted Curson.] That’s Ted!  I could be wrong, but I get the Clifford Jordan vibe from the tenor player. [No.] So it’s Ted Curson, Eric and…goddamn, who is it?  [Well, how did you like the saxophone player?] I loved him.  It wasn’t a long solo.  He was kind of breaking up there at the top, but I liked him.  And definitely it’s before the period when George came into the band.  It couldn’t have been him.  I’m trying to think of who was in that band, because I’ve never seen that band… [Should I tell you?] No, not yet.  Because I might come up with it.  [How would you describe his sound?] What’s the characteristic of his sound?  [Warm.  A little brittle at the top.  [Do you get a sense of where he’s from?  Could you locate him geographically by his sound?] Texas. [You got it.] Texas.  I’m just trying to think who the heck it is.  What’s that tenor player…Red Conner? [No.  But this guy was under Red Conner.] Under Red Conner. [He heard that when he was young.  People say he sounded very close to Red Conner.] That’s a very good hint.  Under Red Conner.  And this guy is still around. [No, he died.] Oh, boy.  Texas.  Who’s from Texas.  He sounds like a few different people to me.  That’s why I thought it might have been Clifford, because of the way he started that solo.  Because Clifford always had that restraint, then you’d wait for him to bust it, then he finally busts it at the end.  To me, that’s Clifford.  When I was playing with the Mingus All Star Big Band on that record we did in Paris, I was sitting between Clifford and…who’s that alto player, that guy who’s riding on the horse… He did like one of them slick tunes.  I can’t remember his name.  He teaches at University of San Francisco. [Not John Handy.] Handy.  I was sitting between Clifford and Handy.  Damn, this guy is dead, huh? [For many years.] From Texas.  The only guy he sounds like to me… [AFTER] Goddammit.  I love Booker.  Man, I love him.  I should have got that. {How about the Mingus band?  Did it have an impact on you?] I heard that a lot.  In fact, that… [Your octet reminds me of that sort of feeling.] Sure, of course.  Because I love Mingus’ music.  My son is named Mingus!  That kind of explains things, too.  Just having those three horns or however many horns he’s got, and me having five horns, you get a balance… You could go many ways, especially if you have at least five horns up there.  It could go so many different ways.  Mingus taught me that, how you could try to make a small or middle sized band sound sometimes like a big band, sometimes like a small group, have that flexibility.  Booker Ervin, what a beautiful player. [You have to give stars.] On a recording like this, it’s stood the test of time.  It’s got to be a 5.  Of course.

2.    Charles Lloyd, “Homage” (from “Voice In The Night,” ECM, 1998), Lloyd, tenor sax; John Abercrombie, guitar; Dave Holland, bass; Billy Higgins, drums. (4 stars)

He’s got that Trane thing happening.  Coltrane influenced a lot of people, man.  The guitar, that’s interesting.  I wasn’t expecting the guitar.  Man, there was like a budding genius… I forget his name.  He played tenor and guitar and piano.  Remember that guy?  He died. [Arthur Rhames.] Arthur Rhames. [It’s not him, though.] But he had Trane down, though.  Is tenor his only instrument? [He plays flute, soprano, but primarily tenor.] Wow.  [He was very well known thirty years ago.] Is he still alive? [He’s still alive.  This is a recent record.] This guy did an album of Billy Strayhorn… [Oh, Joe Henderson.  It’s not Joe.] It don’t sound like Joe. You got me on this Bay Area thing, though.  Who the hell was this… I got out of the Bay Area so fast.  As soon as I got out of high school, I was gone. [Should I tell you?] No, let me hear it out. [You might want to think about who the drummer is, too.] [MIMICKING THE STROKES] Sounds like Billy Higgins.  [It’s a studio band, though they did tour.] He just loved Coltrane, whoever the hell he is!  But everybody loved Coltrane when I was growing up. [Where does he sound like he’s from?] Is this guy really old? [Not really old? [Not really old.  The generation right before us.] Who’s this tenor player, he plays a lot in the studio… He had the same piano teacher who I studied with.  He’s from the Bay Area, but he wouldn’t be the next generation before us.  He would be 25 years before me.  But he doesn’t sound like him.  Tell me. [AFTER] Charles Lloyd!  That’s Charles.  He had that Trane thing down.  I love Charles Lloyd. I guess he was in the Bay Area, but I always thought he was hanging out in L.A.  Yeah, that’s the second time I’ve been stumped by Charles Lloyd.  They played a piece for me in Japan one time, and all I could think of was John Coltrane.  But that lets you know how well he absorbed the Coltrane legacy.  He doesn’t necessarily sound like Coltrane that much now.  But during that period he was certainly all over. [Well, that was the one piece on the album that was in Coltrane’s style.  How many stars?] I’d have to give it at least 4 stars, because Billy’s back there playing and boppin’, and I’ll leave off one for creativity perhaps.  How can I say it… Coltrane is such a large figure that… Can’t nobody do it like Coltrane.  I don’t care who you are.  That’s why, in my explorations of Coltrane, I tried to stay away from trying to sound like him, because that’s too easy.  All the notes are written somewhere.  When he studied Coltrane, I’m sure he absorbed it mostly from the records.  In old times, you could slow it down and put it on 16 and get the solo, and then speed it back up.  But now you’ve got all these Coltrane transcriptions.  I have a book over here with all of the different versions of “Giant Steps,” transcriptions of just “Giant Steps”…

3.    Michael Brecker, “Freedom of Expression” (from Milton Cardona, “Cambucha,” American Clave, 1999), Michael Brecker, ts; Milton Cardona, shekeres, doo-wop vocals; Sergio Cardona, percussion (bells). (3½ stars)

Doo-wop with like the shekere, an African kind of thing — that’s nice!  That’s creative.  I want the tenor player to play more.  When was the recording made? [’99.] My first reaction would be… I know it’s not James Carter.  What’s that guy?  Who are some of the new guys… Whoever it is, they like me.  I mean, I don’t know if they LIKE me, but they’re influenced by me. [That’s questionable.] Well, I hear it.  [This guy is older than us.] Well, then it is questionable. [And he was very prominent when you came to New York.  Although in a different area.  Do you know who the shekere player was?] He’s an old guy.  Chief Bey. It sounds like him on those shiko drums, that low drum.  Can you play it again for me? It was so sparse, I could never get a fluidity thing. [I think that was in the arrangement.] Probably so. [Because it wasn’t his arrangement.  He was playing someone else’s concept.  I’ll give you a hint.  This is a Kip Hanrahan project, and Milton Cardona is playing shekere.] Oh, Milton, yeah!  He has a strident kind of tone; maybe it’s the recording.  Is this guy alive? [Oh yeah.] [AFTER] I would have never got that.  I like Michael Brecker.  He can play his ass off.  But it’s not something that I listen to often. [I was playing that because you’ve done so many things with African rhythms.] It’s interesting.  I like the doo-wop part of it.  He always comes up with good ideas. [It was Milton Cardona’s project, and they used him.] I’ve never consciously listened to Michael other than I used to hear him play sometimes at Seventh Avenue South through the wall, because I used to live through the wall there.  I like him, but I would never have named him.  3½ stars.

4.    Von Freeman, “Solitude” (from “Never Let Me Go,” Steeplechase, 1992), Freeman, ts.; Jodie Christian, piano; Eddie DeHaas, bass; Wilbur Campbell, drums. (5 stars)

Ah, this is “Solitude.”  He has a nice touch.  Is he from Chicago? [Yes, he is.] Sounds like Von to me.  You know, that motherfucker is so bad.  I was in a bar… He plays at the Apartment Lounge I think every Tuesday night or whichever night of the week.  But whenever I’m there, it’s a must to go hear Von, because he’s one of the last great tenor players.  See, I have a problem in general with… Certain people’s sounds stick in your head, because it really is their own.  That’s probably why I got this one and didn’t get the others.  I hear parts of people in other people’s sounds, but I hear pure Von.  That’s him, man.  He’s great.  It’s just the way that people from Chicago play.  When you hear Johnny Griffin, there’s a certain kind of distinctiveness between the beat.  He’s going to fit as many notes, but it’s the way he lands that makes you know it’s him. [SINGS SUPERSONIC GRIFFIN PHRASE] Damn!  How’d you get all those notes in that couple of beats there.  Incredible.  I’ll give that 5 stars for being Von, for all of the things he’s done and all of the people he has influenced, including his son, who is also great.

5.    Charles Gayle, “Touchin’ on Trane, Part B” (from “Touchin’ on Trane,” FMP, 1991), Gayle, ts.; William Parker, bass; Rashied Ali, drums.

Sounds like Frank Wright.  Is it that guy who used to play with Cecil?  You know the guy who does those festivals… [William Parker.] Is that William?  [Yes, that’s William.] [AFTER RAISING HIS EYES] I keep making these facial expressions because… Maybe it’s David Ware or somebody.  I don’t know.  [Not David Ware.] I don’t want to be negative, but I… Let me not be negative. [Be constructive.] What’s that guy that used to be homeless? [Charles Gayle.  That’s who it is.] He wears a clown suit sometimes.  In Europe, Sunny Murray did a gig with him, and he said he was wearing a clown suit.  There’s a struggle that you can do when you play with your horn.  When it’s not really relaxed, it sounds like you’re fighting your horn or something like that.  That’s why I keep grimacing, is because I’m not hearing the fluidity.  But what I do hear, I like the mood of the piece.  I like what William Parker is doing.  Let me think about who the drummer is now.  It’s somebody I played with.  That’s Andrew, it sounds like. [No.] I don’t know. [It’s Rashied Ali.] Rashied, okay.  It’s hard to tell who’s playing when they play brushes.  He knows how to play the brushes.  I’ve got to give it 3 stars.

6.    Ben Webster, “Chelsea Bridge” (from “Ben Webster with Strings,” Verve, 1954/1995), Ben Webster, ts; Billy Strayhorn, piano, arr.) (5 stars)

That beautiful string arrangement that Billy did.  You know, I did a string arrangement kind of based on his string arrangements when I did the Ellington thing this past summer.  We had a big band, plus we had 20 strings with 2 harps.  So I kind of listened to what Billy had done with the arrangement he did for Ben. It’s beautiful, so I took that and tried to add to it.  I had 20 strings.  He only had a couple.  But it sounded like a lot of strings; it sounded great.  That’s the way the saxophone is supposed to be played.  There’s no struggle.  It’s like he’s having a conversation with you.  Now, in the Billy Strayhorn book, he said that Ben was kind of proud of Billy, and he kind of took care of him like a little… I can see that happening, because he LOVED him, because he knew how great he was.  They appreciated one another for their music.  That’s what I aspire to be. [LAUGHS] I want to be just like that when I grow up.  Shit, man, this is pure music.  And it’s not the genre even.  No, it’s not the genre.  Like, the last thing… Well, I don’t want to go back.  They could have been playing anything.  But it’s just the way that you hold that horn, the way you use it as your form of expression, it’s almost like you love it… Do you love it, or is it just a piece, a thing that you use to spit through?  Do you love it?  He loves that horn!  Shit.  I don’t know if you were around when I did that string concert at the Public Theater years ago.  I did all ballads.  I think I had 14 strings.  That was one of my most successful concerts, because people were actually weeping in the concert.  I wasn’t weeping, but I had a little funny reaction, and then a couple of years after that this family comes up to me on the street and there’s this little baby, and they said, “You know, we have to thank you, because our son was conceived that night you played this concert; it made us really fall in love.”  I did my job!  To me that was the highest compliment that anybody ever paid.  And Ben and Bird with Strings… Every saxophone player has to realize his potential in playing in front of the strings.  I think it’s a wonderful. [So I don’t need to ask you how many stars for that.] Oh, man, if they could give more stars, they could give him the tip-top.  That one stood the test of time, jack!

7.    Eric Alexander, “Straight Street” (from “Solid,” Milestone, 1998), Alexander, ts; John Hicks, piano; George Mraz, bass; Idris Muhammad, drums. (4 stars)

This is a classic recording.  This is the one, right?  Oh, it’s a remake of it!  Oh, they got my piano player.  That’s John Hicks, for sure.  It sounds like Ray, too.  Wait.  No, that’s not Ray.  Hell, no.  He’d kill me!  Let me put my thinking cap on.  I like this one. [LAUGHS] Is that Curtis Lundy? [No.] I like his sound.  He sounds a younger guy, but with that old sound.  Whoever it is, he’s got it down.  I can’t say I know who he is.  I could take a wild guess, though.  When was this recording made? [’98.] Who are some younger tenor players?  I don’t really know who’s around. [AFTER] He sounds really good.  He sounds excellent.  I’d give it 4 stars, because it’s a remake of a legend.  I’d give it 5 if it were the real thing.  But John Hicks gets 5 stars for just being John Hicks, man!

8.    Sonny Rollins, “Cabin In The Sky” (from, “Plus 3,” Milestone, 1995),  Rollins, ts; Stephen Scott, piano; Bob Cranshaw, el. bass; Jack deJohnette, drums. 3½ stars.

I know this guy.  I don’t want to be stupid too soon.  I think I have a good idea already who it is.  It’s not who I thought it was at first.  I don’t know this guy’s name, but he is a contemporary of mine, this guy… No? [He’s older than you by a fair piece.] Is he living? [He is living.] It’s Sonny Rollins when he was going through his teeth problems.  That’s  what it sounds like.  He’s going through his teeth problem.  Because it ain’t CLASSIC Sonny.  Ah, how can I say this without being negative to Sonny.  It just sounds like he’s dealing with serious dental problems.  Let’s talk about it.  Let me say something different.  Sonny Rollins, but… Let’s just say it’s not the period of Sonny Rollins that I really, really am fond of.  I think Sonny Rollins… Sonny is such a… That’s why I was grimacing during that.  Because when you play tenor, when it’s a struggle to play certain notes for somebody that great, you know there’s something physical going on.  You can tell.  Because some of the notes that he was struggling with, somebody with regular dental work wouldn’t have.  So it probably was during the period of time when something like that was happening.  Well, I loved it!  It’s Sonny Rollins.  I love Sonny Rollins.  I mean, I love him for being Sonny Rollins.  That’s not one of his best recordings, I would say.  3½ stars.  He’s going to kill me.

9.    Sam Rivers/Tony Hymas, “Glimpse” (from “Winter Garden,” NATO, 1998), Rivers, tenor sax; Hymas, piano. (5 stars)

Whoever this is, they have a very nice sound.  You know, the saxophone is the kind of instrument, when it buzzes, you know you’ve got something.  When you don’t hear that buzz, you get a flat sound.  It’s too straight.  This horn has got a buzz.  It’s alive.  He knows his horn.  Now let me figure out who it is.  Is he from this continent? [Yes.] I like the tune.  It’s beautiful. [The saxophone player wrote it.] It’s great.  He’s a good writer.  It’s got that real international kind of sound.  I’m not quite sure who it is. [He was also very prominent in your scene when you got to New York, and he was already in it.] Oh.  In my scene.  [Or parallel.  And he’s old enough to be your father.] Okay. [And you’ll kick yourself if you don’t know who it is.] I will kick myself.  Who’s the brother who teaches in upstate New York… [Not him.] Play me a little more.  I don’t want to be kicked by myself.  I love it.  Whoever it is, I really dig it. [PLAY “Impulse”] My father is almost 75 years. [That’s how old he was when he made this.] Incredible.  Is it Sam Rivers?  He’s the only guy it could be!  Sam Rivers is such a great person.  He gave me my first gig in New York.  It sounded like somebody who just knew… He’s probably forgotten more shit than most people know.  It sounded like somebody like that.  It really helped this other tune.  I may have never gotten it with just that ballad.  That’s a beautiful song.  You know when you hear a song and it sounds like it doesn’t matter what year it was made… [It’s like Classical music.] Yeah, it’s like Classical music.  It’s always going on.  You could sing it in a different language, and it will still work. [Why did you ask if the saxophone player was from this continent?] Because at first it sounded like somebody from Brazil, like what somebody Ivo Perelman might do.  I like Ivo.  But then as it went on, it sounded like somebody more mature who has been through generations.  And when you said he was old enough to be my father and you put on the faster song, I could hear Sam’s rhythms.  Rhythmically, Sam has a different kind of expression because he’s been through so much, I guess.  His rhythm is not like Sonny Rollins, where it’s like BOM-BOM, right on your head, the way he attacks.  He’s snake-like; he kind of slides through.  But he’s got that sound.  God bless Sam Rivers, man.  I hope he lives to be 100.  I’d give that tune 5 stars.

10.    David Sanchez, “Lamento Borincano” (from “Obsesión,” Columbia, 1998), Sanchez, tenor sax; Edsel Gomez, piano; John Benitez, bass; Adam Cruz, drums; Richie flores, Pernell Saturnino, percussion.  (4 stars).

Is it a recent recording? [Yes.] Everybody loves Coltrane, man!  He’s probably the most quoted tenor player since Bird, I guess.  I take it these are Spanish musicians. [Hispanic-American, U.S.-based.  But mostly from Puerto Rico.] I’ll just take a guess that it’s David Sanchez or somebody like that.  One time this guy had a funny idea to do a Three Davids —  David Murray, David Sanchez and  Fathead! It was funny, man.  People run out of themes sometimes.  So we did this thing.  And it was nice.  We did it with an organ player.  I kind of remember his sound from there.  I kind of like David Sanchez.  He’s still young.  He’s got a ways to go.  But he’s going to be one of the great ones.  I think in about two years he’ll be where he wants to be.  It takes time to be… You’re thrown in there, and there’s this big fray in New York, and they expect you to be great already.  And I’m sorry, it just doesn’t… I didn’t get my own sound til I was about 28, and I feel like I got it early. [So you feel you didn’t get your own sound until about ’83-’84.] Something like that.  I had to absorb all this stuff around me, people saying this about me, they’re writing about, “Oh yeah, you’re the next blah-blah-blah.”  What the hell, I don’t know, man.  I’m trying to play my horn.  So David Sanchez, he’s getting a lot of recognition, but at the same time, this is a young man.  Give the guy a chance to develop.  He’ll be good.  I’ll give it 4 stars.

11.    Paul Gonsalves/Sonny Stitt, “Perdido” (from “Salt and Pepper,” Impulse, 1963/1997) Gonsalves, Sonny Stitt ts; Hank Jones, p.; Milt Hinton, bass; Osie Johnson, drums. (4½ stars)

It’s two tenor players.  Paul sounds different than before he really got plastered! [You think this is before or after?] This is before.  When he gets really plastered… Here I am going negative again.  But before he’s really libated…he slips and slides even more when he… Before that, he sounds more like a normal tenor player.  You know what I’m saying?  when he plays his little figures.  But when he gets plastered, he sounds like he’s in his own zone.  And I hate to say it for the youngsters, but the guy sounds good when he’s plastered! [LAUGHS] I don’t know!  It’s like no abandon, just pure… I love Paul.  He’s my favorite tenor player, man.  This is definitely pre.  He seems pretty sober here. [Then you have to figure out the other one.] Let me see who’s in the right here.  Paul is in the left.  This is like a separate recording from an Ellington project.  This is not an Ellington project at all.  They both sound wonderful.  That’s all I know.  He’s not an Ellington tenor player. [No.] Not at all. [Not at all.] This is from a whole nother zone. [He had his career as a hired gun.] Okay!  With the correctness of the way he plays, it sounds like it could only be Sonny Stitt.  What comes to mind is the Sonny Rollins-Sonny Stitt thing with Dizzy where they both play their ass off, then Dizzy ends up smokin’ them both!  You’re not going to find two better tenor players on the planet anywhere than Paul Gonsalves and Sonny Stitt. [Any idea who the piano player is?] Let me hone in.  Is he alive? {The piano player is alive.  He’s an elderly guy now, but this was 40 years ago.] [AFTER] I couldn’t really get his left hand, but I should have figured that was Hank Jones.  I played with Hank once in a tenor battle in 1978 at the Northsea Jazz Festival in the Hague.  It was Archie Shepp, Lockjaw, Fathead.  Hank Mobley got sick and I took his place.  Illinois Jacquet was running the session.  Hank Jones was on piano and Max Roach on drums and Wilbur Little on bass.  That’s when everybody in Europe recognized me and said I hung pretty good with the old guys.  So that was my moment.  I’d say 4½ stars for this, only because I’ve heard Paul play better, I guess maybe for the reasons I mentioned!  I don’t know why.  But it passed the test of time again.

12.    Branford Marsalis, “Attainment” (from Jeff Watts, “Citizen Tain,” Columbia, 1998), Marsalis, ts; Kenny Kirkland, piano; Eric Revis, bass; Watts, drums. (5 stars)

Is it one drummer?  I like the tone of the sax player.  I’m waiting for them to get into it.  It’s nice how they got into it finally, like a lilt kind of.  [4 minutes.] I’m not quite sure who this is, but the spirituality of it is something that I can sort of relate to.  Is this a young player, or an older one? [A little younger than you; not too much.] Sounds good, though. [He’s someone you have encountered over the years.  You’ve had a dialogue.] A word dialogue? [I just mean a dialogue.] Oh, a dialogue.  That sounds good to me.  You mean we played together. [I’m just going to say you had a dialogue!] Okay, man.  I’m trying to figure out… It sounds familiar.  Somebody that I know.  Geez… It’s not Chico.  [Okay, you played together.] I’m trying to think what tenor players I played with.  A tenor player that I played with and is younger than me.  [Not that much younger, but definitely affiliated with a different generation than you.] Branford Marsalis.  He sounds good, man.  The spirituality comes through.  It sounds good! [So you can probably figure who the other guys were.] I guess with his band perhaps.  Jeff Tain and the brother who just passed away, Kenny Kirkland.  It was a very nice piece.  I’m impressed.  We encounter one another in Europe all the time.  He’s playing a lot of soprano.  He don’t play tenor that much on the gig.  But I admire him.  He’s a great player.  I’ll give that 5 stars because the spirituality is there, and you feel something. [That was Tain’s record, not Branford..] Tain did a good record, then.  God bless him.

13.    Joe Lovano, “Fort Worth” (from “From The Soul,” Blue Note, 1991), Lovano, tenor sax; Dave Holland, bass; Ed Blackwell, drums. (4 stars)

It kind of sounds like Dewey. [Dewey’s influenced an aspect of his playing.] Dewey’s son. [No, it’s not Joshua.] Okay.  He definitely likes Dewey.  But he sounds good.  I like the composition… [Who’s the drummer?] I wasn’t even listening for that.  Give me a few more minutes, a little glimpse of the drummer.  I’ll play you the one before, a duo. [PLAY “Modern Man.”] It’s definitely not Dewey now.  He sounds completely different now to me. Is it a recent recording? [1991] I think I need a clue. [The saxophone player has become very prominent in this decade.  This was a sort of breakthrough recording for him.  And he’s a year or two older than you.] Oh, that’s great.  Gee.  A year or two older than me.  It’s not Don Braden or someone like that.  I don’t know who it is. [AFTER] Oh, I know Joe.  I should have known that.  I don’t really know his sound.  He sounds good, though.  I’ve seen him over in Holland; we were hanging out in Amsterdam.  I don’t really know his sound, so I probably would have never guessed that. [Who’s the drummer?  Do you know?] [AFTER] That’s Blackwell?  No shit.  4 stars.

14.    Ornette Coleman, “Feet Music” (“In All Languages,” Verve, 1987/1997).  Coleman, tenor sax; Don Cherry, tp.; Charlie Haden, b.; Billy Higgins, drums.

It sounds like they’re out of the Ornette Coleman school.  Which is a great school.  Sounds like Dewey to me.  Is that Dewey? [No.] That’s Ornette on tenor!  No wonder it’s out of the Ornette school! [LAUGHS] There’s one note Ornette always play when he plays tenor.  He plays like he’s playing alto, and it just hits that note!  I think he can play any saxophone.  But I’d like to hear him play baritone one day.  He probably could play the shit out of that, too.  People have to recognize that there are… If we’re lucky enough while we’re here, we’ll come across maybe 3 or 4 geniuses whose music really is something that has a lot of influence, and Ornette is one of them.  There aren’t many of them out here now left that their concept was maybe the strongest thing… The concept supersedes even the playing itself.  That’s what brings his genius into it.  That’s why you can hear his… When he did this thing at Lincoln Center, I heard about it.  I heard it was wonderful.  I want to hear some recordings from it.  But those kinds of things Ornette is brilliant on.  We need to hear him more.  He gets 5 stars for all the abuse they’ve given him over the years

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Two Conversations With Eddie Palmieri, Who Turns 75 Today

To observe the 75th birthday of maestro Eddie Palmieri, “El Rey de las Blancas y las Negras,” I’m posting a pair of interviews conducted, respectively, in 2003 and 2005. The first is the raw transcript of a conversation with Mr. Palmieri and Arturo O’Farrill for Downbeat in 2003 — trumpet master Brian Lynch dropped  by and joins the conversation towards the end. The second was conducted for the press materials for Palmieri’s 2005 album, Listen Here, on which he convened guest improvisers Michael Brecker, Christian McBride, Regina Carter, David Sanchez, John Scofield, and Nicholas Payton, as well as Lynch and Donald Harrison and Conrad Herwig from his Afro-Caribbean Octet, one of the truly underrated bands of the ’90s.

Eddie Palmieri-Arturo O’Farrill (Birdland, 9-22-03):

TP:    I wanted to start with a comment for Eddie.  I’ve been thinking a lot about you in the last couple of years and listening to a lot of your music.  And it occurs to me that you’re from the same generation as Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock and McCoy Tyner.  You’re a little older, actually, than all of them, but only by a few years.  And all of them within the last decade or so have been revisiting roots, their roots in the music and the things that initially inspired them, with fresh ears.  It seems you’re doing the same thing these days, particularly with La Perfecta and with El Rumbero del Piano.  It seems this last decade has been a period of consolidation.  It’s not a specific question, but could you take it and offer some reflections on what you’ve been doing in the last decade.

PALMIERI:  Well, what happened, after the dance genre really ended, in a sense, of the music called Salsa, then I started to record Latin Jazz.  That’s when I was working with Brian Lynch, Conrad Herwig and Donald Harrison.  We did three CDs, Palmas, Arete and El Vortex.  That was the move.  We started to travel to Europe and started doing concerts, playing Latin Jazz.  What happened was that the last two CDs, which were recorded for RMM, the label company of Ralph Mercado…and we analyzed that to see if we could get back into our main genre, which was, again, the dance orchestra.  Because it’s essentially a dance orchestra.  That’s where you have El Rumbero Del Piano.  After El Rumbero Del Piano, which closed the 20th century, then to open up the 21st century Tito Puente and I did Masterpiece. But Tito passed away, and we were never able to travel or do concerts, which we naturally had planned.  Then I decided to go back… The idea came from a conversation with Conrad Herwig.  He was doing some transcription work on Frank Rosolino, the trombonist, who was his idol, and he said that we should do this for Barry Rogers, who was the co-partner with Jose Rodriguez on the trombone.  That’s where it started.  Then we started to do the work for La Perfecta.  We did the first album, La Perfecta, II. We were quite fortunate to have the flute player Eddy Zervignon, and we took that conjunto to Europe, and it was well received.  Then on the second CD for Concord, Ritmo Caliente, we brought back some of those compositions as well and recorded them again.

TP:    You wrote new music as well.  Was it inspired by the same idea, the same notion?  Did you use the older compositions as a springboard for the new work as well?

PALMIERI:  Well, the old work, as far as the compositions that had been recorded, they knew what we were going to do there.  The new work that was created was from a ballad that we had written, then a gigue    of Bach that I always had in mind, and I knew we could work it out — by adding the batas, it became quite exciting.  That’s how we were able to get some new compositions and mix it with La Perfecta on Ritmo Caliente.

TP:    You just brought up a point that I think is very pertinent for both you and Arturo as bandleaders dealing in this idiom.  This is dance-driven music.  But there aren’t so many venues, I wouldn’t think, for you to play for dancers any more.  I don’t know how many jobs either of you do in a year for dancers, but I wouldn’t think it’s too high a percentage.  Can you address the impact of the function, of the situation on the music that you play and the music you conceive?

O’FARRILL:  It’s funny, because there aren’t really that many great dance halls left.  That’s one of the problems.  In the heyday, during the ’50s and the ’60s, there were a lot of dance halls.  Also, I think this is true.  People don’t know how to dance any more! [LAUGHS] They don’t know how to dance.

PALMIERI:  Yeah.

O’FARRILL:  They’re not taught to dance.  The few dances that I’ve played, I look out on the floor, and there’s no style, no elegance.  So I think there’s an absence of really fine dancing, and that has a lot to do with it.  It has a lot to do with the fact that there’s also no dance clubs.  We played the Copacabana this year with the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra, and it was very disappointing, because we didn’t get out as many people as we would have liked, and the dancing was… I mean, it was very lovely, but I think that it’s a lost art.  I think we need to have dancing schools, so people can learn how to dance again!

TP:    When La Perfecta was formed, I’d imagine most of the songs were written and conceived for dancers — and for the greatest dancers around!

O’FARRILL:  You can’t listen to those records without moving.

PALMIERI:  Well, it certainly happened that it was the time and it was the location of the Palladium, and there were the greatest dancers.  To be able to play the Palladium, you had to have an orchestra that was… It was like a challenge between the dancer and the orchestra, who could outlast who, in a sense.  And to be able to get into the Palladium… Then once you got in, then the word of mouth… We were a dance orchestra, and how we presented that with the two trombones and flute was quite interesting and very exciting to dance to.

TP:    It’s the same process as the old big bands, the jazz dance bands, who played with chorus line dancers or played at the Savoy or the Apollo.  A lot of the music, which is an untold story, was done in response to the dancers.  What were the first principles for your compositions?  Rhythmic?  Harmonic?  A combination of both?

PALMIERI:  At the time, it was following the Cuban structures that I heard in the different orchestras that were coming out of Cuba in the ’50s and ’60s.  It never ceased to amaze me how it would excite me to listen to them.  At that time, you could record only within 2 minutes and 45 seconds.  How they were able to get you!  I dedicated all of my time and my career to listening to the structures that were coming out of there.  Once I learned them intuitively, then I learned them scientifically — why they excite.  There were reasons.  There’s a tension and resistance within the forms, and the rhythm section and how it has its own form so it can reach that climax.  That’s what made it interesting for me.

O’FARRILL:  That’s an interesting word — “tension.”  When I listen to your music, man, to me it’s always eminently listenable and eminently danceable.

TP:    And intellectually challenging.

O’FARRILL:  Intellectually challenging, and always with a heavy attention to exactly what you’re talking about — the tension.  The dancing.  The groove.  There’s very few people in the world who have ever achieved what Eddie has done, to make music really intelligently and eminently groove.  I mean, the groove is the factor, too.

PALMIERI:  Thank you.

TP:    Do you think that having intensively played timbales in your early teens… You’ve said that you copied all of Tito Puente’s solos.

PALMIERI:  Oh, yeah.  As a youngster, me and all my friends, we all wanted to be another Tito Puente, and by 13 years old I was playing the timbales with my uncle, who had a typical folkloric orchestra — a conjunto.  For two years.  Then after that, I gave him back the timbales, or sold it to him, whatever, for the next drummer who was coming in.  But that certainly helped me to be able to comprehend what I was listening to later.  In 1955, I went with Johnny Segui.  In 1956 is when I came into the orchestra with the conjunto of Vicentico Valdes, who was also Cuban.  The conjunto that he was presenting was extremely exciting, and the rhythm section was what was happening.  So I was able to capture that also.  After that, I worked with Tito Rodriguez for a couple of years.  By late 1961, then I formed La Perfecta.

TP:    So you had a long apprenticeship.  Your concepts didn’t just come out of nowhere.  You had a lot of time to think about it, and you’ve been playing since you were young.

PALMIERI:  Oh yeah.  And certainly, the different orchestras that I was able to work with and comprehend…

O’FARRILL:  I think it’s very important for all musicians to play some kind of percussion instrument, especially Latin musicians — especially Latin Jazz musicians.  You should be able to play timbal, on the conga, or whatever it is.  To get that concept, you have to play it.  I’m the kind of person who learns by doing.  I can’t learn by rote or by hearing it.  I have to do.  So playing timbales, that has to be a heavy part of your development.

TP:    What percussion instruments do you play, Arturo?

O’FARRILL:  Conga.  That’s it.

TP:    And is playing the drums important to your identity as a pianist, to your tonal personality?

O’FARRILL:  It’s difficult on my hands.  As a pianist, you don’t have to have calluses on the bottom of your fingers.

TP:    You’d better pick up some sticks.

O’FARRILL:  Well, I wish I had thought of that! [LAUGHTER] No, you want the calluses on the tips of your fingers.  But at least for the fingers to have a thorough understanding of the different patterns that come into play in a rhythm section.  A lot of people take Latin Jazz and do a generic thing.  But to really know what each instrument plays, that’s where you begin to have an understanding.  And as a player, you begin to pick up on things.  You can land in places rhythmically, because you’re aware of what the timbal is doing or the bongo.  It’s very important stuff.

TP:    Your approaches to the piano are so different, and yet come from such a similar root.  Arturo is a very florid player.  You play a lot of notes, there’s a lot of facility and elan…

O’FARRILL:  I have to say that’s true.  But when I’m playing… We did this record called… It was a Machito tribute, “Live at Hostos.”  And one of the highlights of my life was that I sounded like Eddie Palmieri! [LAUGHS] On a Papo Vasquez composition.  For a minute there, I had his groove.  It felt so good!  Florid, whatever.  But to have that kind of command of the groove, that to me is very important.

TP:    Where I wanted to take this is: Arturo, even though your father is one of the seminal composers and arrangers in the idiom, you yourself came out of a jazz head and then moved back into the structures of diasporic music and Afro-Cuban music.

O’FARRILL:  Yes.

TP:    And Eddie began as a rumbero type of personality, and then moved to jazz later.  You’re quoted as saying that you hated jazz at first.

PALMIERI:  Yes, I never comprehended it.  Not that I never comprehended it, but I really concentrated on the structures for dancing.  That’s where I really stood, as a dance orchestra leader.  What was I going to do with an exciting orchestra to make the people dance?  But sure enough, then we certainly had to go into the world of jazz harmonics and go into the Latin jazz, as we did on those four CDs.

O’FARRILL:  See, I came from a different background.  It was probably because I did the typical rebellious son thing.  My father was a very great Latin composer-arranger, so I rejected that.  You know how kids are.  You reject what your father does.  So my first influences were Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk, and that’s all I played.  It wasn’t until many years later that I started listening to Latin music and playing it.

TP:    What were the challenges you faced in adapting your style to the rhythms and structures of Latin music, coming from the orientation you had.  What are the challenges for a jazz-oriented person in adapting themselves to Afro-Cuban music?  Conversely, what are the challenges for someone who is immersed in Afro-Cuban structures to adapt themselves to jazz sensibility and expression?

O’FARRILL:  It’s very different.  There’s a tradition in Latin piano, and you have to respect it.  You have to really understand and know the great pianists, to be able to play in that style without losing your identity.  First of all, it’s a different technique.  Your hands have to move differently.  It’s not florid.  It’s not Bud Powell.  It’s a different concept.  And I think that if you play enough right-handed, heavy, florid, 16th note type stuff, you lose that percussive sense.  Also, it’s a very Cuban kind of piano style that you have to adopt.

TP:    Elaborate on that.

O’FARRILL:  Well, Rene Hernandez.  Peruchin.  That’s the kind of school you’re coming from, with the octaves, thirds… You’re playing stuff that you can’t really do with 16th notes.  You have to really play that stuff with a heavy touch.  And if you grow up playing Bud Powell, that’s not the school.  Bud Powell is the school of 16th notes in the right hand and spare comping in the left hand.  So I had to basically retrain myself to really be able to play that.  And I had to grow up.  I had to get past my teenager crap, and come to love this music.  Because it’s who I am.

PALMIERI:  And for me, like Arturo said, it was the octave playing, which came from the players… Rene Hernandez was one of the greatest arrangers that we had here, naturally, and his father, Chico.  And when we’re playing in the Latin area, the minimal harmonic changes is…we land up, more or less, on tonic and dominant, I-II-V-IV chord changes.  When you get into the jazz, that really was a whole other world for me, and I had never experienced that.  Because I listened to the jazz artists earlier, but never gave it the time and the effort that I gave the dance orchestras.  So then, it was quite difficult for me.  And still, to work out that different… How to change the style of fingering also, to play certain things.  Because when you’re playing in octaves… And that was a time when there was no mikes, so you had to play really…

TP:    You had to play loud.

PALMIERI:  That’s really the worst position, because the extensions are locked in.  So sure enough, I had to get back to some basic fundamental exercises, thirds and minor thirds and sixes, and double note techniques, so that I could be able to play in a different style.  It’s still difficult for me to go from one to the other.

TP:    Arturo, is going from one to the other complex for you as well?  Because both you record and perform in both areas of the music.

O’FARRILL:  Ideally, you want to blur that line.  You don’t want to have that big a changeover.  What I try to work towards is having the two styles be transparent, so that you can play.  As Eddie was talking, I was thinking that there’s a thing in Latin music that we call “timba.”  It’s a lot easier to fudge and fake jazz type stuff than it is to fake “timba.”  Because when you’re playing in Latin music and you’re not really grooving, people pick up on that — especially dancers!  So you can do all this fast stuff, and that’s like nonsense to me.  But when you’re playing a really heavy groove, you’re playing “timba,” that’s a lot harder to fake.  I don’t think you can make it.  I think it really has to come from your soul.  So the thing that I work with is to blur the line between Jazz and Latin, and kind of come out of this fast kind of stuff right into “timba,” right into a heavy, groove-oriented, clave-aware style.

TP:    Eddie, you’re not just a pianist, but I would think there must be an orchestra in your mind all the time when you’re playing.  Is that how it is for you when you’re soloing?

PALMIERI:  What happens, again, it’s how I’m able to go and extend, if it’s a variation, within the chordal structures that… They’re not variant.  For us to lock up…Arturo said the word “timba.”  For me, it’s always, again, holding onto a dominant, and how am I going to be able to extend on that, what was I going to do on that.  That’s where it started to extend, harmonically or whatever, I was able to perform in the sense of what I was playing.  Whole tones came in, and different kinds of tension chords within the structures that I play.  I still keep working on it and keep developing it.

O’FARRILL:  Eddie plays with a lot of texture.  Eddie plays with what I call sound waves.  He plays with the texture of the piano.  It is orchestral.

TP:    I would imagine that 98% of what you’ve recorded has been your own original music or your own arrangements on music in parallel to what you do.  Which is one reason why, when you played on Conrad Herwig’s “The Latin Side Of John Coltrane,” it was very interesting to hear you improvise on “Africa” or “Impressions.”

PALMIERI:  [LAUGHS] Right!

TP:    So I was wondering if for you playing the piano equals composing?  What’s the relation between improvising and composing for you?

PALMIERI:  To compose for me is what I’m going to be able to…what theme I’m going to work on, what am I looking for.  For me, the majority of the work in Latin was also with the vocalists.  So what theme was going to be on it, what’s the story going to be about.  And naturally, I was more interested always to write constantly more original music, and keep it that way.  That’s why I never ventured into recording with many other artists, except what I recorded on my own.  And then, in improvising, it’s based on those structures that I create within that composition, and what I do with that, and how I move it around is quite enjoyable to me! [LAUGHS] I’m very fortunate that it’s been accepted.  So between the two of them, it’s a great combination, like the composing and the improvisation.

TP:    Were you composing before you left Tito Rodriguez?

PALMIERI:  No, I started really when I formed La Perfecta.

TP:    How many compositions have you published over forty years?

PALMIERI:  I’d say we’re close to maybe 200.

TP:    And how much of that is in the book of your band at any given moment?

PALMIERI:  Well, there’s different books.  I have the enlarged orchestra, you know, with three horns, with five horns, and that’s one book.  Then we have the Latin Jazz.  Then I have the Perfecta work, which is not in its entirety. But the majority of that work, what I’ve written, is unplayed.

TP:    So now you’re revisiting a lot of things, and setting a precedent for going back.

PALMIERI:  I’m bringing some of them back.

TP:    Arturo, you lead the Chico O’Farrill Big Band, which has access to the entire body of work of your father, who was composing as far back as the early ’40s in Havana.  In Ira Gitler’s “Swing To Bop” he said that after he heard “Salt Peanuts” in 1946, he started writing charts for a band he had in a Havana club, and had it for six months.  So from 1946, he was aware of modern jazz.  And he’d arrange for his band and was also an arranger for hire.  So you have a huge repertoire at your disposal. When he formed the big band again in the mid-’90s, how did he choose older repertoire to play?  How did he make his choices?

O’FARRILL:  He chose pieces that were suggested to him.  There’s an old saying that the great composers always have four or five great themes, and they regurgitate them over the years.  Chico has rewritten a lot of music.  So something from the ’40s might show up in the ’90s as a different piece.  It’s smoking. But it has its roots there.  I think it’s a process of working out your ideas that you may not have worked out fully in 1948.  Certainly, a lot of the stuff that we play now… Some of my favorite Chico O’Farrill is from the ’50s.  Some of that stuff is classic.

TP:    The things he did for Norman Granz?

O’FARRILL:  “Almendra,” “The Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite.”  What always strikes me about his writing is that it’s very simple.  It’s not cluttered.  It’s linear.  So over the past three records that we did, people suggested to him what stuff might be brought out of the closet, and then he would rework it.

TP:    Your father did a lot of writing for hire and for studio bands, which is different from Eddie’s experience.  You were always in the Ellington position of having to sustain a performing orchestra and create music for it, and to play for dancers.  Arturo, from your perspective as a bandleader and someone who analyzes music, can you talk about the dynamics of Chico O’Farrill’s music vis-a-vis Eddie Palmieri’s.  Very different perspectives on similar roots.

O’FARRILL:  Right off the bat, you have to remember that Eddie is a monster pianist, too.  My father didn’t play anything.

TP:    He was a trumpet player.

O’FARRILL:  Believe me, as soon as he figured out that he had to practice all the time, he gave it up.  A lot of the music that Eddie writes is for Eddie, and specifically for the unbelievable performance that he gives.  Chico’s music doesn’t do that, because he didn’t create it for himself to perform.  Also, he made the decision early on in his life; he was 21 or 22 when he said, “I can’t play music; I just want to write!”  For him, it was an easier way to be a musician.  It was an easier way for him to work out his musical battles.

TP:    Arturo, you’re obviously influenced in many ways by the example your father set for you, from your teenage rebellion against Latin music to your embrace of it.  I’m sure Eddie was influenced by your uncles who played, but I’m sure the deepest influence for you would have been your older brother Charlie, because you had to follow in his footsteps in bands!

PALMIERI:  Right, Charlie.  And he was the one that would recommend me to the different orchestras.  My brother was nine years older.  We had no other brother, no other sister.  It was just Charlie and I.  So he was certainly my great inspiration as far as his form of attack on the piano.  He really went at it!  That certainly came into me.  I could never really thank him enough for showing me that road.  My brother was quite an exceptional player.  He knew Arturo’s father, Chico O’Farrell, more than I.  I believe I met your dad when he was already elderly; I didn’t know him before.  But Charlie had.  So that was an tremendous asset to me in my playing.

TP:    Arturo, within the last year, you’ve taken on the position as Director of the Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra at Lincoln Center, which is an institutional position, and one that involves a lot of responsibility, because you have to accumulate a lot of repertoire that’s representative of this tradition.  How does Eddie’s music, which is so personal… I mean, it’s hard to think of anybody else playing Eddie’s music, because your sound and your vibration is so fundamental to it.  Is there anything you can say about that?

O’FARRILL:  There’s a whole controversy about repertory orchestras.  People always ask me why they exist, and it’s a very good question. Because the people who created this music left an indelible stamp on it.  I just believe that musicians are organic.  They bring to the music a whole nother vibe.  There’s never going to be an Eddie Palmieri. This is the cat!  But to have Eddie’s music continue, whether Eddie’s playing or just sitting in the audience, is very important.  Machito is gone, Mario Bauza is gone; does that mean their music shouldn’t be performed?  Hell, no.

TP:    Which of Eddie’s compositions would be your choices?

O’FARRILL:  It’s a daunting task.  And I’ve got to talk to Eddie, because we’ve got to get some of your music in the book!  Eddie played on the Benefit Gala at Lincoln Center.

PALMIERI:  Yes, I remember.  We had the two orchestras, I think.

O’FARRILL:  The two orchestras side-by-side.  How do you choose?  That’s like asking me…it’s like the kid in the candy shop.  There’s just an amazing amount of music that I would play as a regular part of the canon.  Now, it’s a funny thing, because it’s a very important position…but it’s not. What it is, is just bringing this music forward, bringing it out.  That’s more important than the position or the institution.  And Eddie has been all over the world, playing this music in Finland or in Japan or in Des Moines.  That’s what it’s about.

PALMIERI:  One of the greatest dancers we’ve seen, we saw in Pori.

O’FARRILL:  We played in Pori.  They LOVE his music in Finland.

TP:    One thing about leading a band for forty years is that people come through it and go on to make original contributions of their own.  So in the early ’70s, you have Los Diabilitos, the Gonzalez brothers and Nicky Marrero and people like this, who all went on and added to the vocabulary, Conrad Herwig and Brian Lynch, Richie Flores and Giovanni Hidalgo.  I’m wondering if you can discuss how the vocabulary of Afro-Cuban music has evolved during your career.

PALMIERI:  For me, it’s on the rhythm section side.  But certainly the music that harmonically has been composed going into the Latin Jazz world has extended.  I find it very interesting what’s happening… Again, what we do with it.  How we’re going to present it, where we’re going to present, and how important it is to be presented properly.  It’s a constant challenge.

TP:    How has musicianship changed over the years?

PALMIERI:  They certainly have extended in their preparation, compared to the younger players when… When I started, for example, the elders were very well prepared.  And what I find now, coming out of Puerto Rico, for example, are incredible trumpet players and saxophone players.  Percussion has reached an incredibly high degree.  I have to say that.  Before we would have just a conga player and the bongo who were there to accompany.  But now we have incredible soloists.  You talk about a Giovanni Hidalgo or a Richie Flores, who each came through my orchestra.  I call it my Hispanic Jazz Messengers, with all the different artists who came through my different orchestras.

TP:    Arturo, one of the defining events in jazz over the last 15 years has been the influx of musicians from all over the world who are familiar with jazz and bring their own culture to the music.  How do you see this movement affecting the vocabulary of jazz as a whole?  It seems there used to be more separation between jazz and Latin music.  Now things seem to be converging more. Does that sound right to you?

O’FARRILL:  I think so.  I think you have to be very well equipped to compete in the traditional Latin Jazz world now.  You really do have a wide variety of styles.  You’re talking about Danilo Perez and Gonzalo Rubalcaba, and then there’s people also like Papo Vazquez, and Bomba and Plena.  That’s why the world of Latin Jazz is no longer, and actually hasn’t been for many years, just Afro-Cuban. That’s very important to me, because Cuba was very central to the formation of these styles, but now the thing has really gotten quite large.  I mean, you’ve got Chano Dominguez in Spain, and you’ve got… So the world is really opening up for Latin Jazz.  And it’s still Latin.  It still comes from our corner of the world.  But it’s very much more open, very flexible.

The thing I’m proud of is that our musicians tend to really love jazz.  I mean, the ones that come out of our tradition are really very well trained in jazz.  I haven’t quite found that parity in jazz musicians.  Jazz musicians aren’t as well trained in Latin music.  They don’t really research it as much as Latin musicians tend to learn about jazz.  I think it’s a very exciting time for Latin music and jazz to interact.

TP:    It just seems to me that things that used to be considered (and I’ll use the word in quotes) “exotic” in jazz 15 years ago — maybe Dizzy Gillespie was applying them — are now part of the mainstream. Every musician is supposed to know it, basically — at least in New York.

O’FARRILL:  Well, it’s funny, because I run into… Twenty years ago, ten years ago even, drummers…you’d talk about cascara, and they’d look at you like you’re from Mars.  Now every drummer coming out of every conservatory that has a conservatory is learning about cascara and about clave and all these things that were considered exotic 10-15 years ago.

TP:    Eddie, how do you observe this with the musicians who come into your bands?  You do have steady personnel.  How do you see the musicianship?

PALMIERI:  It’s tremendously rounded now.  As Arturo says, we have players coming from all over, and making it quite… For example, from the Afro-Cuban it went to Afro-Caribbean, with the Puerto Rican (?) in the ’60s.  Now it’s Afro-World.  And now it’s all over.  The talent just keeps pouring in.  On my end, I’ve been carrying lately a band of certain personnel.  So it’s not as varied as it was before.  I used to have different musicians coming in and out of the different orchestras.  But now I’m hanging on to certain personnel.  We have Brian Lynch, who comes in and out and performs with us.  But I see it as quite exciting, very educational with the intermixture that’s happening now.  They’re all different players, and they’re interested in the Latin music, and where we’re going to be able to present it and where we’re going to be able to take it.

TP:    In bringing a new piece of music to the band, how do you go about it?  Do you sit down with the drummers and go over their specific parts with them, and ditto with the brass, or is it something they’re expected to know and it evolves over time?

PALMIERI:  Well, with my rhythm section, when we’re doing a recording, they know what they have to do as far as the structure of what we’re playing, and the horn players have their music, and then we gel it together whenever we’re able to have a rehearsal for recordings.  I don’t have that many rehearsals constantly. But when I have new material that’s going to be recorded, certainly I need it.  The problem I’ve had, in a sense, is that in the last certain amount of years I’ve had different types of recordings, and that certainly has hampered the situation of the personnel.

TP:    Well, these days it seems like you’re accessing your whole corpus of work.  You can go to La Perfecta, you can go to the more open ended things of the ’70s, and the vocabulary you built up in the band with Brian and Donald and Conrad.  All those things are there for you, and now you’re consolidating all of them in some sense.

PALMIERI:  Right.  But lately, in the last few years it’s been just the typical La Perfecta orchestra.  When we have certain engagements, the Latin Jazz, we bring out certain other compositions.

TP:    Arturo, you’ve been in the enviable position of having the same big band for many years with very constant personnel.  Talk about how playing every week builds the growth and identity and sound of a band.

O’FARRILL:  There’s no substitute for having a regular gig.  Also, I’m very blessed in that the musicians I have are bona fide Latin players.  They understand how to phrase.  It’s very subtle, it’s very different.  You can’t walk in off the street and be a straight-ahead jazz player and play this music.  You have to be aware of clave, you have to phrase, you have to be aware… Victor Paz once said to me, “You do not wear a tuxedo to the beach.”

PALMIERI:  That was his form of identification.

O’FARRILL:  That’s a very Victor Paz thing.  But what he meant was that you get players who understand Latin music and you put them together, and it’s an invaluable thing.  I am very lucky, very blessed.  I have wonderful musicians who have been doing this for a long time.

TP:    Have either of you been able to do any amount of playing in Africa at all?  Eddie, have you brought your band to any of the African nations?

PALMIERI:  No.  I haven’t been to Africa.  As far as I’ve gotten, we went to Algiers.  Another problem is that to get into an African country, you need shots, and I always wanted to stay away from the shots — at that time.

O’FARRILL:  We went to South Africa.  I’ve been there several times.  The last time we went… They have a Northsea Jazz Festival in Capetown…

TP:    My God, that’s the real extension of imperialism.

O’FARRILL:  You better believe it!  Talk about colonial imperialism!  I was amazed.  I was there with Papo Vazquez, and they loved it.

TP:    Eddie, was listening to African music ever part of your early experience, or was it all Cuban?

PALMIERI:  It was Cuban.  But I knew that the fundamental, naturally, was African.  But it was the music that was coming out of Cuba.  That’s where I really centered my education on.

TP:    How would you describe the difference between the Afro-Cuban approach to these rhythms and the African approach to these rhythms?

PALMIERI:  I think it’s the evolution and crystallization of these rhythmical patterns.  They were certainly coming from Africa, but when the “mulattoes,” so to speak, were born in Cuba, it became a mixture of Spaniard and the African, along with the native who was there, and that combination… They took it into another direction, in my opinion, and it was really more eventually from their religious “abacua,” that was strictly African (naturally) and their religious belief to the dance orchestras that then started to come out from Ignacio Pinero earlier, and his Sexteto Habenero from the ’20s and the ’30s, then they started to use those patterns for people to dance.  That’s where I come in.

TP:    So it’s a stylization of the folkloric, or as you once put it, of the primitive.

PALMIERI:  Exactly.

TP:    Arturo, how influenced was your father by the African aspect of Cuban life?  Was he very involved in the rumbas and the folkloric rhythms, or less so?

O’FARRILL:  He grew up in a pretty rural part of Cuba.  Undoubtedly, he heard a lot of ritualistic music.  I think it influenced him greatly.  That kind of music gets in your blood.  It kind of becomes a part of you.  I remember the first time I heard Los Munequitos.  Man, I started bawling!  I was weeping, man.  Because I’d never heard that profound a sentiment, and a sentiment expressed in rhythm, as when I heard those guys.  That’s such a central feature of “Latin Jazz” — and I use that word in quotations.  It has to be folkloric.  It has to have its roots, and it has to respect its African roots.  It has to respect it in terms of its instrumentation and in terms of its textures.  You can’t just slap a conga on something and call it Latin Jazz.  Whether or not my father transcribed the crostic rhythms of the Gon people… He did not do that!

TP:    But he got Machito’s players, who could put their own stamp on anything he might give them, if he wanted that feeling.

O’FARRILL:  I don’t know how much of that stuff is an oral tradition and how much of it is actually transcribable.  Anybody can write these rhythms.  It takes somebody who really knows that stuff to play it well.

TP:    But Eddie, when you were a kid learning Tito Puente’s solos, or hanging out and soaking up Cuban music with Manny Oquendo in the ’50s, was it an oral tradition?  Were you writing it down or learning by doing?

PALMIERI:  Well, naturally, by listening.  That was the main direction.  And then, when I went on to play timbales, I listened to the older records.  Because the orchestras that were recording here were really happening!  Machito, Tito Rodriguez and Tito Puente, who had conjuntos at that time.  Conjunto meant without the saxophone.  So certainly, by listening to them, that was my guide.  Then eventually, I started to do the same when I got hip to the Cuban recordings.  The main time was when I was with the orchestra of Vicentico Valdes.

TP:    Is it different for you playing for dancers vis-a-vis a seated audience?  As a kid, from the age of 13 or 14, you were playing for people who were dancing.

PALMIERI:  Well, it’s certainly a great feeling when you’re performing and you see some great dancers.  That’s something that gives you balance.  It’s absolutely wonderful.  But again, as the genre changed and the art of dancing is lost now, and mostly what we do when we’re presenting the orchestra is have concerts.  On the concerts, certainly everyone is thinking about how do you excite them, get them moving in their chairs and making them feel… When you’re playing one of the jazz rooms, it’s another kind of feeling.  But again, it’s a musical and rhythmic challenge.

O’FARRILL:  You can’t be a musician in New York without playing dances, salsa gigs and whatever. I’ve been playing for dancers since I was a kid.  To me, there’s something slightly artificial about playing for a seated audience!

TP:    And you play for them a lot.

O’FARRILL:  Oh, I do all the time.  When you’re playing this kind of music, invariably, somebody will get up and shake a little bit, and I think that’s what you want. Cabaret laws notwithstanding, I encourage people to get up and dance whenever they feel like it.  You can’t do that at Alice Tully Hall sometimes.  But that’s the real deal.  That’s what this music is about, and getting people moving is central.

TP:    But the pool of musicians now comes primarily from conservators. They’re very technical.  A lot of jazz we hear now has very complex rhythms, but it’s also a very technical thing.  So it’s an interesting challenge, I’d think, to keep that feeling in the music given the climate of the times.

O’FARRILL:  Yes.  There’s the old saying, “You can be very well trained or you can be very well trained.”  A lot of musicians are coming out of conservatories who can play, but that’s a small part of what music is.  My father always said, “Okay, so you can play an instrument.  So what?”  That’s a small part of it.

TP:    Eddie, are you still doing a lot of composing?

PALMIERI:  I haven’t been writing since the last CD.  I stopped since “Ritmo Caliente.”  But there are a few things now that are starting to work up, and I’m seeing what I can do now to prepare for another CD when the opportunity comes with Concord again.

TP:    Has your process in writing been a project-oriented thing, or is it something that’s just part of your everyday life?

PALMIERI:  Well, sometimes I’ve had a project presented to me.  I did the Ballet Hispanico work, and that music was never recorded.  I have it at home.  But usually, it’s when I get inspired by some theme that I want to present or make a statement on, and once I get that, then I start working from the bass line up, and start layering, putting the structures on to write the arrangement.

TP:    Do you make use of the new technology?

PALMIERI:  No.  I haven’t been able to comprehend that.  I leave it alone!

O’FARRILL:  I can’t make heads or tails.  I’ve had Finale for many years. I still prefer pen and pencil and paper.  I can’t cope with it at all.

TP:    And how much composing and arranging do you do?

O’FARRILL:  I do quite a bit.  And still, I can’t use sequencers or samplers or notation software.

TP:    Is it project-oriented for you?

O’FARRILL:  It’s always project-oriented.  For me, deadlines are crucial.  I have to have something presented, where I have to come up with a project or a writing assignment, because left up to my own devices I’ll just procrastinate forever.  So it always has to do with a project or a deadline that is looming.  My father was very much the same way.  Now, Chico had the unusual ability to churn out an arrangement in an hour-and-a-half, three hours — he would do it in pen!

PALMIERI:  Amazing.

O’FARRILL:  He would do it transcribed.  The instruments would be in their proper… So he was kind of a freak that way.  It’s very different for me.  But he also had to have a deadline, and he had to have a specific goal and a real articulated project for him to be able to do that.

TP:    For many years, you’d go to hear an Eddie Palmieri performance, and he’d be playing a keyboard.

PALMIERI:  The reason is that when I play you can’t amplify the acoustic… The feedback is on it.  For me, it’s the feel of the instrument.  That’s why the keyboard was put on top.  I’ll play solo piano first, and then come in with the keyboard.  I get complications with it, too, because of the volume and complaints, but it’s the only way I feel I can cut through.  It’s very seldom you can find a great engineer… We just did the Monterrey Jazz Festival, and they had two Marcus Berrys, I think, so I got the microphones they had, and the acoustic was quite wonderfully amplified.

O’FARRILL:  That’s rare.

PALMIERI:  But still, when I play with the orchestra, if I can’t be stimulated, then I have a problem to stimulate the band, in my opinion.

TP:    So it’s to hear yourself.  To hear yourself think.

O’FARRILL:  The clarity.

PALMIERI:  Yes, and to hear myself play, so I can cut through with the band.  The rhythm section is quite heavy also.  And we use three horns or five horns. So I use the keyboard on top.

TP:    Arturo, you’re basically leading two bands.  There’s the Chico O’Farrill Orchestra.  Is the repertoire expanding for it?

O’FARRILL:  The repertoire is expanding.

TP:    And where are you getting repertoire?

O’FARRILL:  Original music from the members and from myself, and we’re digging out stuff from Chico’s archive.

TP:    With Lincoln Center, I guess you’re cherrypicking from everywhere.

O’FARRILL:  Absolutely.

TP:    How are you conceiving that?  Where are you getting material from?  How big is the book now?

O’FARRILL:  Some of the stuff we’ve had to transcribe, because it’s impossible to get the actual scores from the sources.  For example, the Machito stuff I can find.  It’s irreplaceable.  The scores are gone.  So we pay a transcriber to do that stuff.  And there’s a lot of material that exists.

TP:    How has leading these bands influenced your own personal growth as a musician?  It’s a huge responsibility, and there’s so much more involved than just playing.

O’FARRILL:  It’s funny.  I’m not a happy bandleader, because I find it very difficult to deal with all the issues.  There’s the issue of playing and there’s the issue of creating music, and then there’s the difficulty of dealing with people’s schedules and people’s idiosyncracies.  I don’t have patience for that, to be honest with you.  But certainly it’s expanded me as a musician.  Being responsible for an evening’s performance and a set group of people has heightened my musicianship, my sense of… When you’re rehearsing a band, you want to make sure the trumpets blend, and you want to make sure the dynamics are honored and the people aren’t stepping on one another. That’s pure musicianship.  That takes a lot of skill.  So all that has honed my musical skills.  It’s also created a larger sense of my understanding of this music, which is invaluable.  I’ve had to listen to a lot of music.

TP:    So it’s made your musicianship richer and imparted more depth.

O’FARRILL:  Yes.  And not as a pianist.  As a musical concept.  As a mind.  As a pianist, I’ve tried to stay out of the way.

[PAUSE]

TP:    Brian Lynch is here, and I’m sure he has a few comments or questions for Eddie.

BRIAN:  How has jazz been something… What has the weave been between… You may not describe yourself as a jazz musician per se, but I think jazz has always been a counterpoint.  I always feel one of the unique things about you is the way you’ve epitomized jazz, even though a lot of times you do music that may not be termed as much.  But you seem to exemplify the jazz attitude in a lot of ways that I see it.  The spirit of improvisation, the spirit of doing things differently each time instead of staying in the same place, the rawness of a lot of your music.  I think you’ve attracted a lot of unique personalities.  The one who comes to mind, of course, is Barry Rogers, who came from being a jazz musician, but I think you and him had the same way of thinking — you came from different sides of the street, so to speak, and you met in the middle.  Has jazz always been something that’s been on your mind, no matter what you’ve been playing?

PALMIERI:  Well, jazz phrasings for sure, in the work we did with Barry.  Then that led to… Well, definitely, when I met you, we went into the Latin Jazz, starting the work of “Palmas.”  Once that came in, that was my inroad to the work I did.

BRIAN:  You’ve spoken of listening to some of the jazz greats in the early years, both in person and through the medium of records, and I remember you saying that you had to make a conscious decision about which way you wanted to go, whether to follow jazz or to follow however you want to term the music you’re playing.

PALMIERI:  Right.  What I followed was definitely the dance orchestra.  That’s where my heart was. But certainly, I developed an orientation from my early listening to records by Art Tatum, Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner and Herbie Hancock.  We heard the Count Basie band… Remember, the original Birdland was right next door to the Palladium, so the exchange was quite exceptional.  But it’s certainly helped me in terms of how I structure, how I think of the phrasing and the harmonic changes I want to use — it comes from the jazz idiom.

BRIAN:  Arturo, maybe I can ask you something. I feel that so much of the Cuban music I hear you could call jazz.  If you apply the same criteria that you’d call Count Basie or Benny Goodman or that style of jazz: This music is played for the dancers, it’s got improvised solos, it’s got swing — all these qualities.  Do you feel sometimes people kind of miss the point?

O’FARRILL:  I’ve always maintained that the music that came up in Cuba in the ’20s and ’30s paralleled the music that was taking place in the States in New Orleans and Kansas City.  It’s another branch of the roots.  Just like you have your Kansas City school and St. Louis school and Detroit school, you have a Havana school growing at the same time.  I think where people goof is that they don’t accord it the same kind of stature.  You’re right.  The roots of improvisation are there for both musics.  There’s a similar instrumentation style and orchestration style.

BRIAN:  I think it has to do with the appropriation of a certain word, and the appropriation is the word “American.”  That America means just the residents of the United States of America.

O’FARRILL:  That’s very narrow-minded.

BRIAN:  Well, if you talk about jazz being a music of the Americas, instead of American music… I think a lot of things get left out.  The genesis of jazz, in a lot of senses, is pan-Caribbean.

O’FARRILL:  I’m sure if you visited Congo Square in New Orleans at the turn of the century, you’d hear a lot of clave-inspired music.  Guess what?  New Orleans is the Caribbean!

BRIAN:  I was looking through a book of photos by James Van Der Zee and found a picture of Sexteto Habenero in Harlem in the late ’20s.  It looked for all the world like a picture of Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five.  All these things are very much together.  So there’s a case for saying that this is all jazz.

TP:    One thing I could bring in is that musically, the styles may be different branches of the same tree, but I think the scene, in certain ways, was more stratified when Eddie was coming up.  A lot of jazz players played in Latin bands, but I think the musics were seen more as very separate.  With the notable exception, of course, of Dizzy Gillespie, who was fifty years ahead of his time.

BRIAN:  I think in 1945 or 1950, the typical jazz musician knew much more about playing Latin rhythms that he did in 1970 or 1980.

O’FARRILL:  Yes, there was a moment there when it fell out of favor.

BRIAN:  Maybe we’re just about back now to a certain… It’s still the same thing.  Back to what you were saying, “jazz musicians” don’t do their homework as much about Latin music as the other way around.  A lot of times they’re missing something in their comprehension of what the requirements for jazz is.  And this maybe gets back to what we were talking about before, about having an incomplete analysis of what jazz is and what it means.

O’FARRILL:  Well, that’s the $64,000 question.  What is jazz?

BRIAN:  What is jazz.  Or what is swing?  I know in my own experience, playing Latin music helped my straight-ahead swing immeasurably.

O’FARRILL:  Oh yeah.  I have to agree with you there.  Your whole rhythmic concept is broadened in Latin music.  Your ability to hear eighth notes and sixteenth note sequences in a flow.

BRIAN:  And also the idea of consensus and playing a groove together.  I came to town in the early ’80s, and sometimes it seemed that swinging was kind of a lost art back then.

O’FARRILL:  Yeah.  It might be a lost art today!  I would add to what Brian was saying.  I think that to look at jazz as separate from Latin is a real fallacy.  Human beings love to categorize things.  They put things in boxes and make understandable that which is not.  The idea that Latin Jazz is so popular is both a blessing and a curse these days, because it further delineates the differences that people have in their mind about the two.

TP:    What did your father think about it?

O’FARRILL:  I don’t think he gave it much thought.  I think he looked at life as a musical challenge.  The only thing that bothered him was that Latin musicians tend to get paid less, and the music is less well received and not accorded the same respect.  It’s basically an economic issue.  To this day, I think, Latin Jazz tends to pay less, just in terms of economics.  I think my father didn’t care.  He was just a consummate musician.  He just wanted to write music.  He didn’t care if it was Count Basie or Machito.  He just loved what he did.  I don’t think he saw one or the other.

BRIAN:  Jazz is an attitude and a procedure to what you’re doing.  It’s about improvisation.  It’s always about wanting to extend something.  I think a proper relationship with your material is, as Eddie was talking about, extending folkloric materials of one sort or another.

TP:    We were talking about how sophisticated everything has gotten today, and yet the folkloric element is still so fundamental.

BRIAN:  Well, you’re seeing a lot of this trickle back into straight-ahead jazz.  A lot of the polymetric kind of wizardry that’s going on and a lot of the sophisticated bands is kind of coming in through the back door through Caribbean and Afro-Cuban music.  The fact that drummers have a much more pronounced emphasis on the 12/8 in their beat I think has to do with some of that, too.

Eddie Palmieri (for bio for Listen Here) — (Feb. 24, 2005):

TP:   What I think we should do is try to give something to the press so they can see what you think about jazz, why you doing a jazz record is different than what you normally do, and what your relationship has been to jazz, as well as the songs on the record. Plus the different instrumentalists. What’s so interesting is that you have some of the most distinctive personalities out there, and they all sound within your music.  They follow the logic and they’re immediately part of your world. It’s a sort of magic.

EDDIE:   Regina Carter just fell right in.  I had met her, but I wasn’t aware that she also had played Latin music, with charanga bands. So the piece I wrote for her, In Flight, she blew it away.  Her soloing was incredible.

TP:   She played a little pizzicato, almost a tres sound, on “Nica’s Dream.”

EDDIE:   I’ve never done compositions of the jazz artists, because I don’t know the jazz repertoire. But I do know the jazz phrasings and jazz harmonies that I utilize for my own compositions. This time, we utilized some of the compositions like “In Walked Bud,” which we did with Brian Lynch, Conrad Herwig and Donald Harrison. It was going to be for Nicholas Payton, but that composition was just finished, and I gave him another composition, called “E.P. Blues,” on which he plays with the three horns, the band. Nicholas also plays on “Nica’s Dream.” Michael Brecker and Christian McBride just blew me away.

TP:   Let me ask you systematically, tune by tune. Then I can interpolate questions.

EDDIE:   I didn’t use the full rhythm section, which I always do. I missed it in some of the compositions because of the form of the writing, which I turned into more of the Latin flavor.

TP:   Explain how the rhythm you used for this, the drums and conga, is different than using timbales, bongo and congas.

EDDIE:   It wasn’t a major problem. It’s just that when I use the drums, I call that Jazz Latin.  Latin Jazz, if I may, would be when I use my full rhythm which I always had—bongo, conga, and timbal.  But in my opinion, when you put a drummer within that whole rhythm section, the drum is very heavy. He just holds the weight, and it’s very difficult in the mixing.  But usually, when we do it, I either tone down the drum, bring down the volume, or we just eliminate him in certain sections. But I wasn’t going to do that to El Negro; I wanted him to play. Between him and Giovanni, they have a rapport. They did an excellent job. So I left it like that, without the timbales. But in some of the compositions, I missed having my full rhythm section, the conga, bongo and timbales. Just a few of them. The rest were fine. If you notice, we did a duo, we did trio, we did quartet, which I haven’t done.

TP:   Also new, except for the overtures you’ve done. So “In-Flight” was for Regina, and it seemed you were playing with some familiar changes.

EDDIE:   Yes. I came up with the melody, and I figured with the violin it was going to sound real interesting, and that she’d blow it away. Not only the melody, but her soloing on “In-Flight” is extraordinary. I’d met her in Europe, but I hadn’t heard her. I certainly didn’t know she had played in Latin bands. That helped a lot when we started to play.

TP:   I think you told me that you had to change your fingering system to play jazz, that it requires you to alter your actual approach to the instrument.

EDDIE:   Right.  The way you always play in Latin is in the octave, the full octave, and that locks the hand.  The reason for playing the octaves was that there really was no amplification at that time, and hitting four C’s, for example, and lining them up that way so it had a lot of power.  But what happens is you’re not using the fingering the way you would for jazz. So when I went into Latin Jazz, then I had to do some exercises and a different approach of technique to be able to play the Latin Jazz.

TP:   Is there a process of unlearning that goes into this?  You spent so many years creating this unique sound, always with jazz in mind. But this seems to culminate a decade of moving back to a certain element of your early years.

EDDIE:   It was really to let go the form of attack. My soloing, for example. And also, comping behind the jazz players on the Latin Jazz CDs that I did—Palmas, Arete and Vortex. That was a great experience for me at the same time, and I brought it into this CD. So it worked good for me. At the same time that I let go of the other approach in my form of attack, this one helps me in another way. I use more fingering in one of the numbers with John Scofield. I solo…

TP:   “In Flight” is your composition, and there are some changes you work, probably subconscious. “Listen Here” is an Eddie Harris tune. You selected it?

EDDIE:   My son wanted me to do it. We used Michael Brecker and Christian McBride. Michael hadn’t played in a while, and when he came to play, he REALLY played. I had met Michael Brecker with Randy many years ago, from when Barry Rogers was in the orchestra, and they eventually made Dreams together. But I saw them playing once with Horace Silver. Randy had recorded with me at times, but not Michael Brecker. He came and he played incredible in that company.

TP:   Eddie Harris in the ‘60s was one of the most proficient guys at using vamps and boogaloo, which is a sort of pan-Latin-backbeat unity thing. Can you talk about you responded to that in the ‘60s when it was happening? Also, did you know Eddie Harris?

EDDIE:   No, I didn’t know Eddie Harris. But the time of the boogaloo, that was also going into the late ‘60s. There were certain vamps, and then they were singing in English, a few of the young bands coming out at that time.  But in the Eddie Harris compositions I’ve heard, he always simplifies in the harmonic structures, but they have a natural swing ride to them like Listen Here has. And between Michael Brecker and Christian McBride, they certainly had it riding. Then I was right in there in the middle with them.  It turned out great

TP:   What’s it like working with a jazz bass player like Christian McBride?

EDDIE:   He and I met in Aspen. He’s the musical director of the Festival up there. I saw him doing seminars, and he was excellent.  Then we talked about recording. He is tremendous!  His father played with Latin bands in Philly, and one of the Latin bands here… He knew Mario Rivera, people like Cortijo and so on. His Dad was involved in there. He even told me, “My Dad will be jealous that I recorded with you and not him.” But he’s an incredible bass player. You know what he does in jazz.  But he can grab a Latin tumbao and ride that, too. I know because we did a thing together for Donald Harrison, one of my compositions called “Snow Visor.” We did an intro together, and then we played the whole composition.

TP:   Did you have to give them much instruction?

EDDIE:   No instructions. They certainly knew what to do.

TP:   “Vals Con Bata.”

EDDIE:   That has John Scofield and David Sanchez, with Giovanni playing the bata drums.  That’s more or less into the Jazz Waltz, and it came out also… That one was going to be pulled, because it was giving us a lot of trouble in the recording. But we held it for last, and worked on it, and were able to put it on the CD.

TP:   Did you think of it with Scofield and David in mind?  Didn’t David come out of Puerto Rico with you?

EDDIE:   Yes.  He went to Montreux. We closed a show for Miles Davis; Miles didn’t like to close. At the end of his career, he’d rather open and then leave. Then we followed him.

TP:   I wouldn’t want to follow your band.

EDDIE:   [LAUGHS] But David left with me from Puerto Rico. After that, he’s held his own, and he’s very respected in the jazz field and a pride of Puerto Rico.

TP:   Were all the tunes composed for the date?

EDDIE:   “Vals Con Bata” was already done, and I decided to pull it out because I needed a jazz waltz. I love them. It worked fine. John Scofield plays electric guitar, and David solos excellent.

TP:   I guess the jazz waltz is another point of connection between jazz and Afro-Caribbean music because of the triplets. Is that one of the things that appealed to you when you were younger?

EDDIE:   Yes. I always dedicated myself to listening to the Cuban music, and that was really my forte. But if I was ever going to do anything in jazz, it would be in a waltz type thing. I felt very comfortable there. I love them. I’ve recorded 3/4 on certain CDs. I have one called “Bianco’s Waltz,” another is “Resemblance,” which I did with Cal Tjader.

TP:   “Tema Para Eydie” is for one of your daughters.

EDDIE:   One of my daughters who’s here tonight. That turned out to be a duo between John Benitez and I.  John was great, because he can comprehend the Latin playing, and he’s become quite a jazz bass player in his own right, and a great soloist. It was written for the CD.

TP:   Break it down for me a bit.

EDDIE:   It was going to be done like a ballad. On the last CD, I did one called “Tema Para Reneé,” my oldest daughters. This is my second oldest; I’m doing them one at a time. This one was going to be like a ballad with the whole rhythm section. But we were having some complications, not in the recording itself, but in the numbers that were being selected to be done and a few that might change from the instrumental point of view… So instead of doing this one as a ballad with the horns and rhythm section, I decided to do it as a duo. I said, “Instead of playing piano alone, I’ll play with John,” and we did it as a duo.

TP:   Has working on the different fingerings made this a more acceptable thing for you to do on record? Your fans who are into jazz like things like “Cobarde” or “House On Judge Street,” where you make these long, grand intros. But these are a bit different. And what you did with David at Le Jazz Au Bar was also different. Can we say this is something you’ve been evolving to?

EDDIE:   We’re working towards it. Eventually it will be like solo piano, which I do sometimes on sets…

TP:   I wish you’d recorded the opener on this set. And if you do a solo record, I hope it’s on a Bosendorfer. Your left hand deserves it.

EDDIE:   I love the Bosendorfer. I’m working on that. But then the duo made it comfortable for me. At one time, I would never even have attempted to do it. But because I’ve been working on a few things, I thought it should be a duo. And I was very comfortable with John Benitez.

TP:   What makes this the time for you to start working on this. Your place in history would be pretty secure if you weren’t doing this. What was going on in your mind ten years ago that made you start taking this direction.

EDDIE:   Because the dance genre had changed, and my wife said, “the writing on the wall is going toward Latin Jazz.” That’s when I decided to do the Latin Jazz CDs, and then changed my style of playing more. Once I started with the fingering, then I wrote a couple of ballads, like Bolero Dos and Tema Con Reneé, and another one that Brian Lynch put strings on for me. I started to work on other ballads, and that made it more pianistic, more pianistic in my approach to the recording, and played ballads.

TP:   So ballads is more jazz for you… Up-tempo 4/4 swing isn’t really your thing, but playing these beautiful rubato ballads…

EDDIE:   Yes, which I enjoy very much. And then the 3/4, which I use for the jazz waltzes.

TP:   “Tin Tin Deo.” Was Dizzy Gillespie very important to you in the ‘50s.

EDDIE:   [LAUGHS] Dizzy was something special with me.

TP:   Didn’t Jerry Gonzalez go from him to you?

EDDIE:   I don’t know if he went from him to us. The brothers came in around 1974, when…

TP:   Jerry’s on the Puerto Rico concert.

EDDIE:   That’s ‘71. But when we do Sentillo is when we really started to meet. Then Jerry plays congas on one of the compositions on Puerto Rico. Because there was another conga player, [tk]. In the Sing-Sing album also, the brothers were on. As a matter of fact, I wrote the compositions at Andy’s house. I came up with it right there. I said, “I have this in mind,” and then we did it before we went to play at Sing Sing. So in ‘71-‘72, we already were playing together.

TP:   But had you always been aware of Dizzy…

EDDIE:   Yeah. Dizzy went with me to Riker’s Island once. He knew the gentleman who was musical director there, named Carl Warwick. He came with his camera… He was my MC that day. Matter of fact, before he brought me out, he said, “Before I bring out my Latin soul brother, Eddie, have you ever seen such a captive audience?’ That’s how he brought me on to the stage. Then we played and blew them away.

TP:   Let’s say something about Dizzy Gillespie to give the press something. Everyone knows his connection to Afro-Cuban music and what he did with it. But was it personally important to you in the ‘50s and early ‘60s.

EDDIE:   Well, the most important thing for me with Dizzy was the importance of how he got together with Chano Pozo, that one percussionist, coming out of Cuba, was able to change the characteristics of a jazz orchestra. Then that worked, it became very important in the Latin Jazz. So credit must be given to him to the highest degree.  Plus what he did on his own with the jazz bands that he had constantly, and his form of playing. Then how he ended his career with the international band, that he brought in more Cubans. He brought in Arturo Sandoval and Paquito D’Rivera, plus Giovanni and Danilo Perez. They all were in that orchestra.

TP:   So it was more his overall accomplishment than the specifics of his compositions?

EDDIE:   Yes.

TP:   That being said, how did you approach “Tin Tin Deo?”

EDDIE:   Well, I gave “Tin Tin Deo” a Latin intro, and I worked it more like a montuno type thing, the cha-cha-cha type approach to it, a Latin flavor type thing for David Sanchez. Then David took over, and brought that number home.

TP:   So David’s personality is the thing.

EDDIE:   He plays beautifully. You can hear his tone and feeling in the number. It was excellent.

TP:   That’s another jazz characteristic. Not only jazz.  But writing for personalities. You wrote for Barry Rogers… I don’t know what you did when you were writing for Tito Rodriguez. But is that an appealing thing about jazz for you?

EDDIE:   Yeah. Barry was really great, because not only did I write with him in mind and what he did, but we worked together. Working together was great, because I would bring in the composition, and then Barry would add the harmonies of the two trombones, and change them around, and then when we got into different orchestras, he also orchestrated incredibly well. On Santillo, for example, or the composition Puerto Rico. Then when we did The Sun of Latin Music, the Dia a Bonito(?) was a great collaboration between Barry Rogers and I.

TP:   Let me bring this to the ACJO. Have you been influenced by the way that Brian, Donald and Conrad play? Have they inspired your compositional direction?

EDDIE:   In the Latin Jazz, for sure. When I met Brian Lynch and he started to play, he’s the one who was the stimulus for me to write for them. I already had been using Conrad in the Latin orchestra. So between the two… I said, “Well, I’ll write a composition.”  How do I satisfy the personal desires of the jazz player and their changes, and how do I bring it then in the same composition to satisfy my rhythm section desire, which is more Latin and less chordal changes? In the three CDs, I was able to achieve that.

TP:   So really, having them, plus the practical necessity of moving to a different sound, combined to move you toward jazz.

EDDIE:   Right.

TP:   How about “In Walked Bud”? Was Monk someone you paid attention to?

EDDIE:   Sure. Thelonious Monk… In fact, Willie Bobo years ago called me the Latin Monk because of the dissonance playing that I did. But I never did any of the jazz playing, not even Thelonious Monk, until this one.  Richard Seidel sent me certain compositions, and when I was looking at “In Walked Bud,” I liked it. It was a natural to do it in an up-tempo. It came out all right. Even “Nica’s Dream” later on is in an up-tempo also.

TP:   Were you paying attention to Monk in the ‘50s?

EDDIE:   Well, Barry Rogers also made me very aware of him. We’d exchange LPs, and he brings me a Thelonious Monk LP, the one with the stamp, where he does “Tea For Two,” which is a classic. I exchanged that for a Celia Cruz-Sonora Matancera. He also brought me Kind of Blue, maybe for Chappotin or something like that.

TP:   When Fort Apache did Rumba Para Monk, did it make sense to you? Do Monk’s compositions flow easily into Afro-Caribbean rhythmic structures?

EDDIE:   Certain numbers, yes. I met Thelonious Monk once, when I was playing at the Corso, and he came up to hear the orchestra. He was brought up by a bass player named Victor Venegas, and he brought him upstairs. He blew me away.

TP:   Where was the Corso?

EDDIE:   That was a dancehall on 86th Street off Third Avenue.

TP:   What did he say?

EDDIE:   He didn’t say much. But he enjoyed the band, and that was great.

TP:   Did he dance?

EDDIE:   No. He just sat and listened.

TP:   “La Gitana” is a trio with Scofield on acoustic guitar and John Benitez.

EDDIE: He played beautifully. The instrumentation was originally for a larger band, and we rehearsed it, but it didn’t come in.

TP:   So it became a trio track by accident.

EDDIE:   Right. First it became a duo in the studio, and then a trio.

TP:   “Nica’s Dream.”

EDDIE:   Many years ago, in the ‘60s, I bumped into Horace in the street. I knew he liked Latin music, and I’ll never forget that he asked me, “Are you hip to ‘Nica’s Dream?’” I was walking on Broadway, right by Birdland. The Palladium was right next to Birdland. We were going like this, then he said hello, and I said how much I admired him. I wasn’t into jazz until later on, until I had Barry in the band. Then he brought me to Birdland on a Sunday, and I saw the original John Coltrane quartet also. Which by the way, when I started here on Tuesday, McCoy Tyner was at the soundcheck, and we had a nice talk.

TP:   So Horace Silver was another connection for you.

EDDIE:   Except that I met him. So when Richard Seidel sent me the tunes, I said, “I’d like to look at Nica’s Dream.” We did again up-tempo, a little bit more, and then we wrote a Latin thing at the… For that and “In Walked Bud” I was going to use the Latin rhythm section I like later on, but we didn’t do it, and I left it just drums and conga. But we put a mambo ensemble in there, because I changed the chord structures toward the Latin. That’s what I solo on.

“Mira Flores” is a place in Spain called “En Cortijo a la Mira Flores.” I just used the words “Mira Flores.” That’s where I heard and saw the original crushings of the olive to make the virgin olive oil. It was the historical museum, and then they turned on the machinery, because it worked, and the machinery… It gave me an idea again, and another 3/4 rhythm, which I wrote. There Christian McBride and Brecker exchange solos,  and I accompany them. Michael Brecker told me, “Eddie, it’s a beautiful composition,” and I told him, “If you play it and put it in your repertoire, I’ll be quite honored.”

TP:   So it’s a recent composition as well.

EDDIE:   Right.

TP:   “E.P.  Blues” was also for the session?

EDDIE:   I had Nicholas in mind for In Walked Bud, but he falls on this one, and he exchanges with Brian and Conrad and Donald. He was great. And he was comfortable here.

TP:   By the way, does Donald Harrison’s presence in the ACJO have an impact on you?

EDDIE:   Oh, yeah. He can play drums, and he’s a Big Chief. Now he has his own tribe, since his father passed away. Not only that. Donald can dance, he loves Latin rhythms. That’s why he wanted to come play with us. He told Brian, “I’ve got to get into the Eddie Palmieri band,” and he stuck with me for a while. We did the three CDs. I happen to love Donald Harrison very much. He’s not only a great, great player, but he’s a gentleman to the highest degree, an incredible human being.

Conrad is my compadre. I baptized his son Glen. Conrad to me is the greatest trombonist that I’ve ever met. Conrad is an incredible trombonist. He can execute the instrument, and knows about the structures of how to play it, and how to explain it to the students. Now he’s in a great position, because he’s also a professor at Rutgers.

Brian is an extraordinary talent. He’s one of the greatest trumpet players I’ve ever met. How he is able to comprehend… He’s very well known in the jazz world. But when he came into the Latin thing, I saw him make it his business to buy, like Barry did, for example, the essence of these Latin rhythms from the Latin records…to be able to get the right recordings. Brian Lynch has fulfilled that. He comprehends Latin very well, and that’s very difficult to do.

John Benitez is an incredible bass player. His roots are Latin from Puerto Rico, and he knows that, and he’s also become one of the top jazz bass players. He’s rounded.

TP:   Had Negro played with you before?

EDDIE:   He played here with me along with Richie Flores for a whole week. Negro is an extraordinary drummer. At the same time he plays his jazz, he knows his Cuban music. He gives another unique style that only a few drummers can do.

And Giovanni left with me for Europe as a young man, in 1984. His first tour to Europe.

TP:   You end “E.P. Blues” with a solo. You have the last word. Do you always have the last word on your bands?

EDDIE:   Yeah, sure.

TP:   Was it intended to be the set closer?

EDDIE:   Well, it was the most exciting number.

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