Best of birthdays to the master bassist Andy Gonzalez, who turns 63 today. A co-founder of the Fort Apache Band with his older brother, Jerry Gonzalez, Gonzalez’ c.v. includes protracted gigs with Dizzy Gillespie, Eddie Palmieri and Manny Oquendo’s Libre. His influence is palpable on such next-generation swing-to-clave bassists as — among many others — Avishai Cohen and Hans Glawischnig. I had the opportunity to interact with and be educated by Andy at least a half-dozen times during my years on WKCR, particularly on such subjects as Cachao and Arsenio Rodriguez, upon whom he would expound with great erudition. I’ll have to transcribe those cassettes one of these days. Meanwhile, here are the proceedings of a DownBeat Blindfold Test that Andy did with me around 2000, and a WKCR interview from 2006, when the Fort Apache Band had just released their excellent CD, Rumba Buhaina.
Andy Gonzalez Blindfold Test:
1. Ray Brown, “St. Louis Blues” (feat. Ahmad Jamal, p., Lewis Nash, d), “SOME OF MY BEST FRIENDS…ARE THE PIANO PLAYERS” (Telarc, 1995) (5 stars)
Well, it’s somebody like Ray Brown or somebody that LOVES Ray Brown on bass. I hear a lot of Ray Brownish things. [AFTER] [Why did it take you so long?] I had to hear more of him. At first I thought it was somebody younger, but then I started listening to what he was playing and I said, “Wait a second.” This is somebody who has some depth to his musical history just by what he played and how he played it. It had to be somebody like Ray Brown. I’m not sure of the piano player, though. [Any guesses?] Mmm… That’s not Benny Green, is it? It could be Oscar. [It’s the same generation.] Oh yeah? [AFTER] I didn’t hear much of the trademark Ahmad Jamal things. That was quite nice. It gets 5 stars out of me. Ray Brown is one of my heroes. Of the bass players from his generation, like Oscar Pettiford and Mingus… I thought he’s the one that… There’s Blanton in his playing, but I think he took Blanton beyond Blanton. Mingus I thought sort of took it the other way, and he used a lot more physical kinds of things about the bass, like imitating growls and doing wilder things, where I think maybe Ray Brown is more blues-based. There’s a lot of blues in his playing. Not that Mingus isn’t, but… And Pettiford was… It’s like three distinct voices to come out of the same era, and to play with a lot of the same people in the Bebop era and stuff like that. But very distinct voices, all three of them. But those are the same generation.
2. Sam Jones, “O.P.” (Israel Crosby, bass; Joe Zawinul, piano; Vernell Fournier, drums), DOWN HOME (Riverside, 1962/1995) (4 stars)
I’m going to take a stab and say it was Doug Watkins playing cello. No? He did do a cello record. [This is someone who is a contemporary of Doug Watkins who did…] Sam Jones? That was the second person I was going to shoot for. Because I realized he had done a cello record way back, but I can’t remember the circumstances. I only managed to cop a couple of Sam Jones records, especially on Riverside — those were a little harder to find. For some reason it made me think of the Doug Watkins record. I think Yusef Lateef is playing on it. When I heard the flute I thought maybe it might be him. [Any idea who’s playing bass and drums?] That wasn’t Jimmy Cobb? Something made me think it was Jimmy Cobb, the way he was riding the cymbal. [AFTER] You know, Israel Crosby is credited with taking one of the first solos on bass on record, “Blues For Israel,” with Gene Krupa. I mean, an actual bass solo. It’s a whole thing on the bass. This is the early ’30s. The pianist was Zawinul? Forget it. I would have never guessed that. I thought the piece was nice. It was kind of bouncy and airy. I thought Sam Jones was very articulate on the cello and very tasty. As a matter of fact, I never heard him take any bass solos that sounded slick, to tell you the truth! — from what I’ve heard of Sam Jones. That was excellent cello playing, just so far as getting across the cello. I’m wondering whether he used the cello the way it’s supposed to be tuned, in fifths, or the way Ray Brown did and some other cello cats did was retune the instrument in fourths to make it like a bass and easier to play. Now, that might be the case, because he seemed to get around the instrument pretty good. Playing in fifths takes a little bit more knowledge of how to get around the strings. So that’s an interesting question to find out. From what I heard, it sounded like it was tuned in fourths. Four stars, for Sam Jones especially.
3. Brian Lynch, “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face,” SPHERES OF INFLUENCE (Sharp-9, 1997) (5 stars) (John Benitez, bass; Jeff Watts, drums; Milton Cardona, congas; David Kikoski, piano; Donald Harrison, alto saxophone)
Wow! I’ve grown accustomed to her space face. That was a beautiful arrangement, man. It was gorgeous. It sounds like it was a trumpet player’s record, because he’s got the lead — and a big fat tone. I’m trying to think of who it could be. The drummer was on it with the Latin stuff. He was playing the right kind of beat. It wasn’t clave! And the conga player was holding his own. He’s just an adornment more than anything else. In the seconds where there was Latin rhythm, he played well. The bass player did okay. Gee whiz. Fat tone on a trumpet is what was getting to me. I was trying to think who has a fat tone on a trumpet. It doesn’t sound too dated. So let me see, who has a fat tone on trumpet these days? Terence Blanchard has a fairly fat sound. So does Nicholas Payton. They have kind of fat tones on the trumpet these days. [What trumpet player might think of that type of arrangement?] Now, that’s a good question, because there was a lot of depth to that arrangement. It stretched the tune out, it stretched out the phrasing of it, and also took it in different places. It gets five stars from me, because it was an original and unusual treatment of the song. Because that’s not an easy song to… It’s a pretty song. Not too many people, except for someone like maybe Sonny Rollins, have attempted to play that tune. And then I thought it was nice having the tuba in the orchestration. That was really pretty. [AFTER] That was Brian Lynch? No kidding! I didn’t even think about that. Excellent. I’m surprised I didn’t recognize… Well, John Benitez didn’t give anything that I could recognize him on. Milton, well, that I could hear. It was very nice. I enjoyed that.
4. George Mraz, “Star-Crossed Lovers” (Renee Rosnes, piano), DUKE’S PLACE (Milestone, 1999) (5 stars)
I sort of wish that the bass player would have bowed the melody at the end again, because he played it so beautifully at the beginning. Good bowing technique is like studying a whole other instrument. And he had superb control of that bow. I mean, he really sang that melody superbly, man. Right there that’s five stars for me, because I’m quite a fan of good bowing. I wish I could bow that well! But like I said, that’s a whole study in itself. It’s one thing to pluck strings and use your hands to get tone and sound, but to use the bow and get the vibrations that the bow makes, and use your hands in that sense, it’s a whole different way of playing the instrument. Whoever that was playing the bass, I really couldn’t tell you, but I thought that he has an excellent bowing technique. [AFTER] I figured as much. That’s bounce, man. He’s got beautiful, beautiful bowing technique. It bounces! Gorgeous bowing.
5. Ornette Coleman, “Women Of The Veil,” THREE WOMEN (Harmolodic, 1996) (Charnett Moffett, bass; Geri Allen, piano; Denardo Coleman, drums) (3½ stars)
Oh, shades of Ornette! I don’t think it was Ornette, but it was quite a bit of Ornettethology! Even the trumpet player sounded like Ornette! I don’t know who it was, but it sure sounded like an Ornetteish kind of thing. I wasn’t that thrilled with it. It was all right. The bass player sure didn’t sound like no Charlie Haden, that’s for sure. [AFTER] It was Ornette? Charnett Moffett was playing the bass? This was recent? Who was playing the trumpet? [Ornette.] Ah, so I was right about that. The piano is what threw me. I’m not used to Ornette with a piano player. 3½ stars for that. I’ve heard Ornette play with more… I like Ornette when there’s more emotion in his playing. Remember the Town Hall concert, “Sadness,” things like that? That really moves me. And the original quartet moves me a lot, with Charlie Haden, Blackwell and Don Cherry. All that moved me quite a bit. And Ornette over the years, man… I always dug Ornette. I like him best in smaller situations, not with all the trappings. I don’t like Ornette with a piano player. I like him without piano.
6. Ron Carter, “Samba De Orfeu,” ORFEU (Blue Note, 1999) (5 stars) (Bill Frisell, guitar; Stephen Scott, piano; Payton Crossley, drums; Steve Kroon, percussion)
It was nice to hear a bass guitar “surdo” and “casaba.” To me I would have dug it if they had added a tambourine. That would have really put the rhythm section a little stronger Brazilian. But they left the space open, which is okay. The guitar player wasn’t Brazilian; that’s for sure. And the bass player sounded like Ron Carter to me. [AFTER] Of course! Ron Carter, one thing, he’s got a great sense of humor. Throughout that solo, he’s a shameless quoter, a quoter of obscure melodies! I get a kick out of it. I mean, that’s like… Unless you know these melodies, you just… He quoted really obscure songs, like “Popeye, The Sailor Man” and “I Want To Wash that Rain Right Out of My Hair.” You have to know a lot of music to be able to quote these things, and he quoted quite a few different little tiny pieces of melodies from all kinds of things in his solo. It was nice. Five stars. Ron Carter is one of my heroes. I grew up listening to him, and I know him a bit, and he’s quite a nice man. One thing I’ve got to say is that I’ve learned a lot from listening to Ron Carter over the years, especially when he was with Miles. His perception of how to play bass in a rhythm section for that band was unique, and it really influenced me a lot. Even playing Latin Jazz it influenced me a lot, because just the kind of thing that they had going as the quintet with Miles, this kind of ESP thing that they had going, is something that most bands strive for — that kind of empathy and mind-reading between the members of a band. That’s something that they brought to a high art. And Ron was very instrumental in making a lot of that happen. I’ll always love him for that, that’s for sure. So he gets my five stars.
7. Dave Holland, “Jugglers Parade,” PRIME DIRECTIVE (ECM, 1999) (3½ stars)
I’m going to take a wild stab? Is that Avishai? He likes things that have odd meters. Is it a bass player’s album? Is it Santi? I remember him writing things that sound like this. Wow. So far I made two guess, and both of them were wrong. I’m not that big a fan of odd meter kind of things. But it was put together pretty nicely, and if the bass player composed this… Most bass players make good composers, just because of the fact that they always provided the bottom of things, the bottom of the harmonies, and sometimes the bottom of just rhythm and melody. So I am pretty happy when I hear bass players’ compositions and arrangements, because it’s like they have a different perspective on things and they hear things different. Most bass players who I know who write, it’s usually very interesting. And this was no exception. It was interesting. But like I said, I’m not a big fan of odd meter things. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because I’ve got the clave ingrained in me to the point where it’s like… And also, I grew up in the era of real hardbop-swing kind of things, so anything that has odd meters isn’t… It’s just a preference of mine. I’m not that particularly fond of them. I would give it 3½ stars. So who was it? [AFTER] That was Dave Holland?! I would have never recognized him. I would never have thought that it was Dave Holland. It didn’t sound like the kind of music that he used to play before. There’s something to be said for bass players that write. Because like I said, they’re coming from a another perspective.
8. Richard Bona, “Konda Djanea,” SCENES FROM MY LIFE (Columbia, 1999). (5 stars) (Michael Brecker, tenor sax)
That was very nice, man. Richard Bona. I met him a couple of years ago. I think he was touring with Zawinul. We just ran into each other on the road. But that was lovely. You can hear the influence of the African string instrument called the kora, which is a harp kind of instrument. I can hear that influence in how he approaches the bass. He’s playing it almost like a guitar, but playing it like a kora. Just the figures that he’s playing, it sounds like if he was strumming on a kora. It’s very pretty. Five stars.
9. John Patitucci, “King Kong,” IMPRINT (Concord, 1999) (4 stars) (Danilo Perez, piano; Horacio ‘El Negro’ Hernandez, drums; Giovanni Hidalgo, percussion)
Well, I recognized a couple of people in there. I think that was El Negro playing the traps, and it could have been Giovanni playing the congas. It could have been. Those are my cohorts, man. I know those guys intimately. Is this Patitucci? I had a feeling it was him, because I heard he had done something with the Latin thing. He was cool. Was this his tune? The piano player sounded a little familiar, too, but I wasn’t positive. I was thinking that it might be Danilo. What made me think it was Patitucci was when it got into the groove part, he was sticking to a pretty generic kind of groove thing. Unless you’re really sure of the clave and how to mess with it, I would imagine that’s what you would do just to… Because Negro and Giovanni can get very intricate on you, and if you’re not dead-sure where you are, they can throw you off in a minute. It’s like the clave thing with them is that they know that so intimately. I’ve played with them so much that I know what they’re about. Sometimes it’s better to be safe and stick to what you know you can do within that framework. So it was cool. The saxophone player I don’t know. It sounded like a Michael Brecker or someone like that, but I’m not sure. Chris Potter? Okay. There was something in his tone that reminded me of Michael. But I guess that got a four out of me.
10. Eddie Gomez, “Footprints,” DEDICATION (Evidence, 1998). (3½ stars)
Mmm, “Footprints.” That tune, ever since it came out, it’s been a favorite of all us musicians. Especially when you’re in school and stuff, everybody… It’s easy to play and easy to jam on. I was just about going to high school when that came out. I don’t really have a clue. 3½ stars. The bass player to me sounded like somebody like Alex Blake or someone like that. Because Alex Blake has that kind of facility; he likes to do those kind of crazy runs and stuff. Oh, it’s not? I figured as much. I just thought of him because I ran into him the other day and I hadn’t seen him for a while. [The bass player and you have the same alma mater.] Music and Art? He must have graduated way after me, though. Before me? Really. Hmm! I know Eddie Gomez went to Music & Art? [That’s him.] Really? That doesn’t sound like the Eddie Gomez I remember. It’s recent, huh? I’m a lot closer to the Eddie Gomez of Bill Evans days, and he didn’t play like this. He played different. Eddie was an amazing, amazing musician, and he got along so well with Bill. They were really mind-reading each other. It’s sort of like the same thing that happened when Scott LaFaro was in the trio. I got hip to Scott LaFaro maybe four or five years after he passed. He passed in ’61. I got hip to him early on because when I was 14 I was studying with Steve Swallow. I was in junior high school. He was the first one to turn me on to Scotty. Then I used to go and check out Bill Evans at the Vanguard a lot, and Eddie Gomez was playing the bass there. So I was just amazed at the facility that Eddie Gomez had at the time. Because he didn’t quite do what Scotty was doing. Scotty liked to mess with counterpoint and things like that a lot more. But Eddie was all over the instrument, which was amazing to me. I’m surprised I didn’t recognize him. I would usually recognize Eddie Gomez, because he’s a guy I’ve been following since I was a teenager. 3½ because as many times as I’ve played “Footprints,” there’s a lot more things that you can say with it than was said there.
11. Roy Haynes, “Trinkle Tinkle,” TE VOU! (Dreyfus, 1994) (feat. Christian McBride) (3½ stars)
It’s nice to hear pretty much the arrangement the way that Monk and the sax used to play the melody. The only thing, after a while that three note figure at the end -DINH-DUHT-DAH gets annoying. Other than that I liked it, but I didn’t care for too much, and to hear it through all the solos was a pain in the ass after a while. I would have preferred leaving it out and just play it, because it doesn’t do anything. It sounds like it was a novelty effect more than anything else. The drummer sounded like someone like Tain. I didn’t think it was, but it sounded like someone who can take it a little out like Tain can. But I couldn’t tell you who the cats were. [AFTER] It was Roy Haynes’ record? I’m surprised why he kept that figure, man. It sounds annoying. Is the bass player Ed Howard? Christian? I thought it was him while he was playing, but I just didn’t think he did anything… And it didn’t sound like Roy Haynes either to me. Is it a new record? Unusual. Like I said, it was pretty much in the Monk tradition. I would left out that BINH-BAHT-BAM. I’ll give 3½ because it was well played. Who was the alto player? Donald Harrison! He played well. I wouldn’t have recognized Roy Haynes. It didn’t sound like him. I heard him the last time a couple of years ago, and he’s always been Mister Taste. And it was tasteful…except for that. I don’t mind if an effect really adds something to the music, but that didn’t really add anything to Monk.
12. McCoy Tyner, “I Want To Tell You ‘Bout That,” McCOY TYNER WITH STANLEY CLARKE AND AL FOSTER (Telarc, 2000) (3½ stars)
I knew it was McCoy from the getgo, because it’s unmistakable, just his tone, his touch, and the kind of things that he plays. Although I felt it was kind of like… It’s like when you’re trying to get like a funk kind of thing going, you know, almost making an attempt to get like some radio play. The bass player wasn’t Avery? I don’t know who it was. [Someone you might think on electric.] Stanley Clarke? Yeah? He did play a figure that did make me think it was Stanley Clarke. But I said, “Mmm, let me see…” Who was the drummer? Al Foster? I sort of came up at the same time as Stanley Clarke, and I’ve been watching and listening to him since the early days when he was with Chick. He’s a fine bass player, man. He’s been moving around in different worlds and playing a lot of different kinds of music, but I have deep respect for him as a bass player. He’s a great bass player. I don’t think this is one of McCoy’s better efforts. Just for playing sake, I’ll give it 3½ stars.
13. Avishai Cohen, “The Gift, DEVOTION (Stretch, 1998) (3 stars)
I don’t know if I could tell you who that is. It wasn’t exactly a toe-tapper. The soprano had a dark kind of sound. That’s an unusual duo, the trombone and soprano. It’s not something you hear often. I’m at a loss. 3 stars. [AFTER] That was Avishai, huh?
14. Red Garland Trio w/ Paul Chambers, “This Can’t Be Love,” IT’S A BLUE WORLD (Prestige, 1958/1999) (3 stars)
It sounded like a few people. The first name that came to me was an odd name, Monty Alexander — which is weird. But that’s the first name that popped into my head. I heard flashes of Erroll Garner, I heard flashes of a lot of people in there. I probably do know who it is. Who was it? [AFTER] That didn’t sound like Paul Chambers? You know what? This must have been towards the end of his life. That was ’58? Paul Chambers articulates a lot better than that — for me. I’ve heard plenty of Paul Chambers. Maybe it was the rosin. Because when you put a certain kind of rosin on the bow you get a certain sound, and different rosins give you a different… When you pull the bow across the string, it gives you a different… This was kind of a rough sound for Paul. Paul usually gets a smoother attack sound on his bowing. But I do know that it has to do with the kind of rosin that you use. Some rosin makes the bow across the strings sound a little rough; it grabs the string a certain way so that the sound comes out rough. There’s another rosin that the sound comes out a little smoother. This sounded kind of rough to me. Really. Because Paul Chambers articulates a lot better on things I’ve heard him on before than on this particular piece. From hearing Paul on his best records… This wasn’t his best. It didn’t move me that much. 3 stars.
15. Cachao, “El Son No A Muerto,” MASTER SESSIONS, VOL. 1 (Epic, 1994) (4 stars)
That was Cachao, and that was Nelson Gonzalez on the très, who learned to play the très in my house. I brought home a très from Venezuela in 1970, and he was a frequent visitor to my house. He was self-taught on guitar. We started studying Arsenio Rodriguez records together, and he learned how to play the très in my house. I’m the one who got him the gig with Cachao in the middle ’80s when he did his big concert at Hunter College. I loaned him my bass and I was at most of the rehearsals, and I got Nelson involved in it. Because they didn’t have a très player originally for the descarga section. That’s my daddy, Cachao. This particular tune was kind of subdued, there was not much happening for him. The best way to catch Cachao sometimes is live. I wish they would record him live. This was part of the records that Emilio Estefan put out? I don’t think he’s the best producer for that genre. First of all, I didn’t like the balance of the sound. It could have been a lot better. I’ll give it 4 stars because I like Nelson’s playing on it. Was that Paquito d’Rivera on clarinet and Nestor Torres on flute? What about trumpet? It wasn’t Chocolate. It was? That was a very subdued Chocolate. It didn’t sound like him. And his trademark notes that he likes to play aren’t there. Something tells me there was maybe some weird chemistry going on in the studio.
* * *
Andy Gonzalez (WKCR–Feb. 23, 2006):
[MUSIC: “This Is For Albert” (Rumba Buhaina)]
AG: We did a couple of albums where we had to find a way for Jerry to play the horn with Joe Ford, and after he’d state the line, he would take a solo and then jump on the drums. Because there was no overdubbing; this was recorded direct to two-track. That was interesting, to say the, to see him manage the jump back and forth.
TP: It is one of the great sights in jazz to see him jump up from the conga drums after he’s been abusing his hands for 5-6 minutes, and immediately launch into an improvisation. Even more so when it’s a ballad
AG: I don’t know how he does it. I like to play percussion instruments, too, but I will not play them because it makes my fingers stiff to play the bass. I don’t know how to he gets to manipulate his fingers that well right after playing hard congas, and pick up the phone and play.
TP: He plays hard. You and your brother have been playing trumpet and bass and congas for close to 50 years…
AG: A long time. I’m 55, and I was 13 when we started to play music. A little more than 40 years.
TP: And you’ve often played in the same bands over the years. With Eddie Palmieri for several years, with Dizzy Gillespie briefly in the ‘60s, as well as the Apaches.
AG: Jerry was also in the first band I ever recorded with, which was Monguito Santamaria, who was Mongo’s son. Rene McLean was in that band, and Jose Mangual, Jr., was in the band. Jerry was part of that band for a minute, too.
TP: Let’s talk about the history of the Fort Apaches. Ten years ago, you were playing a lot around and New York and touring, but things changed, Jerry moved to Spain, and the opportunities to play are less than they had been.
AG: Well, we have been playing some. Jerry would come in occasionally to do it, and there would be a tour set up, and some… The band has been working on and off. It’s maybe not as much as we could because of the distance between us. But we still get together enough. And it sounds like we’d never been apart, just because of the chemistry involved in the band.
TP: It’s one of the innovative bands of late 20th century jazz, influential on two generations of musicians from South America, the Caribbean, Spain, who heard your ability to fuse Afro-Caribbean diasporic rhythms with jazz harmonies. It’s hard to say if anyone was the first to do anything, but recordings like Rumba Para Monk and things before that have had a tremendous influence on the way jazz sounds today. These ideas were exotic in 1988; now it’s the mainstream.
AG: They were even more exotic in 1979.
TP: There are a few streams to discuss. One of the history of the Fort Apache; the other is the present. Let’s stay with the present for the moment, and the new recording, Rumba Buhaina.
AG: A lot of people don’t understand that “Buhaina” was Art Blakey’s Muslim name. In the late ‘40s, quite a few musicians in jazz were either converting to Islam or flirting with it. It’s just like jazz musicians are always the first to move to things that would probably help them get away from the American stereotype of what a musician is supposed or what a spiritual person is supposed to be like. So Art Blakey took the name “Buhaina.” I don’t know what it means, but all Art Blakey’s closest friends and associates would call him “Bu.”
TP: I believe that the Jazz Messengers name came from that same origin. Unlike your exploration of the music of Thelonious Monk, Rumba Buhaina explores a number of composers, of tunes primarily from their classic period, say ‘58 to ‘65.
AG: That was the music that influenced us a lot. We used to go hear Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers in person, and that was one of the key groups of those years. Just to hear Art Blakey be as authoritative a drummer… He was an amazing teacher. He didn’t have to tell you anything. He showed you. You just listened to him play, and it was all there to hear. We learned a lot from listening to what he had to offer, and how a drummer is so much the accompanist, and how he sets the pattern, sets the standard for what is to happen in the music. That’s something that really stayed with most musicians who came up around that time. That’s why we always consider Art Blakey one of the true teachers of the music.
TP: He was also a musician who distilled African musicians within a swing context on the drumkit, with cross-sticking figures and polyrhythmic patterns woven within his arrangements.
AG: I thought Art Blakey had such a strong force, a force of nature that reminded me a lot of field recordings that I had of tribal music from different parts of Africa. You’d hear, say, a drummer who would be talking on the drum, and not only the pitch, the timbre of the instrument and the way certain instruments…you would communicate a message with that way of playing. I could feel that out of Art Blakey, too. There’s a certain force that’s coming out of that. I immediately identify with it.
TP: During those years, were you also paying attention to the records Art Blakey was doing with drummers?
AG: Oh, yeah.
TP: Orgy In Rhythm, a couple of volumes, and the names are escaping me of a couple of others he did, where he played with the late Ray Barretto…
AG: I was just going to mention Ray Barretto. He also did a tribute to Art Blakey a few years ago. In fact, I think there’s one tune on the record that we also did. His concept was a little different than ours. First of all, when Ray Barretto first started getting back… He wasn’t playing much salsa any more, and he started to develop a Latin Jazz band. I know he paid quite a bit of attention to Fort Apache and what we were doing, and I think he took part of that as a role model. Which we were quite honored that he would use us as a model for what he was doing.
TP: But as far as putting the Fort Apache touch on this repertoire, how did the ideas evolve and come to fruition?
AG: We had the idea years ago. We thought of it as one of the many projects that we had in mind to do. There were other projects, too, that never came about for various reasons. Like, we wanted to record an album with Jose Silva, better known as Chombo, the Cuban saxophonist who was probably like the Ben Webster of Cuban music, and a masterful musician. We were just about setting that up when he had a stroke and he was no longer able to play. We were already starting to pick out the material. When you have a band like the Fort Apache band, you, have a lot of options, and there’s things that pop into your head about what this band could do, what we’re capable of doing. Because everybody in the band is a great musician, and we’re capable of a lot of things.
TP: But Rumba Buhaina is what we’re addressing.
AG: Yes. Well, the idea for the Art Blakey tribute… We started thinking about it, and then all of a sudden we had a few days at Sweet Rhythm to play… Before we went into the studio we played and rehearsed for a few days. That’s pretty much the way we did the Monk album, too. We played and we rehearsed different concepts on different tunes until…
TP: Were they tunes that seemed to lend themselves to dealing with the different rhythmic signatures that you bring to your arrangements.
AG: We tried to think of ways of approaching the music… Everybody contributed ideas. That’s the way we get it together. It’s pretty simple. From all our experiences, individually and collectively, it was pretty easy for us to put it together.
TP: Let’s step back to 1991, the album Moliendo Café, and Larry Willis’ tune, “To Wisdom The Prize.”
AG: I like that album a lot, for a few reasons. One of them was that Miles Davis had just passed away, and we had… We thought about it a lot because he was such a strong influence on us also.
TP: The album is dedicated to the percussionist Guillermo Barretto. Art Blakey had just passed. Charlie Palmieri had just passed. Dizzy Gillespie shortly thereafter. George Adams as well. All are mentioned on the inner sleeve…
[“To Wisdom The Prize” & “Along Came Betty”]
TP: On previous shows, Andy has brought literally a suitcase filled with recordings, primarily obscure and little known, great gems. A lot of this material is now available on CD so it’s a bit easier to track down…once you get the CD. Next week will you be playing primarily this repertoire or digging into the whole book?
AG: I’ve got a feeling we’ll dig into the whole book, but we are going to feature some of the tunes from the new album.
TP: Earlier I mentioned that there are two streams to talk about, one the new recording, Rumba Buhaina, but for listeners… As you get older, you come to grips with the notion that younger listeners don’t share core experiences. A lot of hardcore jazz fans may be unfamiliar with how you and Jerry developed your ideas about music, and what in your personal histories led to the formation of the Fort Apache Band.
AG: Jerry got his first opportunity to record in 1979, and that was an album under his own name called Ya Yo Me Cure, which in English means “I have been cured”—whatever that means. The title track of that album was something that Frankie Rodriguez, who was a percussionist who passed away a few years ago, but was a very talented person and very close to us… He was part of Grupo Folklorico, and he was into culture really deep. I had a record of pygmy chants from Africa, and he heard one chant that was done by kids. It was like some children’s chant. He heard it a few times, and started singing “Ya Yo Me Cure” to it, just putting those Spanish words to the chant itself, and we made a guaguanco out of it. That was a precursor of what Fort Apache became.
TP: But by then, you’d been professional musicians for more than a decade. Eddie Palmieri, Dizzy Gillespie…
AG: I played with Ray Barretto while I was in high school, ‘69 to ‘71. In between that time, me and Jerry worked with Dizzy Gillespie. So we were getting arond. I was still in high school, and Jerry was coming out of college.
TP: Were Eddie Palmieri and Dizzy Gillespie people who helped push you along conceptually?
AG: It was kind of a mutual thing. We were well aware of Eddie Palmieri; we were big fans. But we brought something new to the table.
TP: What was that?
AG: Well, a different sensibility. The sensibility that Eddie Palmieri had before, when Barry Rogers was part of the band, and Barry would bring the harmonic element… When he’s taking a solo, you can feel there’s something that’s really in the jazz world, and it’s very spontaneous and very heartfelt, and there was a lot of feeling to it. That’s one of the things that we learned a lot about, and something about jazz improvisation, that nothing was thought out before time—it was just off the cuff. Whatever came to your mind that you thought was hip enough, that’s what you would play. So we had started to do those kind of things with Eddie. We took Eddie’s band into some new places where he hadn’t ventured before. We all used to hang out at my parents’ house in the basement apartment on Gildersleeve Avenue in the Bronx, and Eddie Palmieri used to come over and Barretto used to come over… If that basement could talk… Dizzy Gillespie used to come over. We used to have jam sessions there all the time. Out of all that stuff, out of a lot of experimentation, came the music we wanted to play.
TP: Both of you had been deeply into folkloric music for many years. How did you get involved in… Was folkloric music just always there, or did people point you towards recordings and connections?
AG: Well, there’s different types of folkloric music. There’s folkloric music for dancing, and it was more a commercial music that was provided for dancing, but it still had quite a bit of folklore to it. That was the soundtrack of my childhood. Family parties, things like that. There was always a collection of good 78s that everybody used to dance to, like Machito, Tito Puente, Tito Rodriguez, Cortijo Y Su Combo from Puerto Rico with Ismail Rivera singing, Mon Rivera… This was primarily folklore in the Puerto Rican vein and in the Cuban vein. Sonora Matancera, which was a Cuban band. That’s the stuff we grew up with.
TP: When did you start breaking that stuff down?
AG: That came a little bit later, because that’s something we got used to hearing. But we didn’t start breaking it down until we became more schooled in music. Both of us went to High School of Music and Art. They give you theory. They give you how to analyze a piece of music, and what happens in these number of bars, and then this section comes, and things like that. But what happened was, when I was 13, we had already been listening to Cal Tjader records for a while… Jerry was two years older than me, and he was starting to play congas, and he was also playing trumpet, and I was playing the bass, and we put together a Latin Jazz quintet like Cal Tjader’s. We started working with it. We started playing… In that music, we were trying to emulate the Cal Tjader sound and what they were doing, which was quite spontaneous and very jazz-like. They always had good pianists, and Mongo and Willie Bobo were heroes of ours. So that was pretty much how we started and where our taste was as far as playing music.
It wasn’t until I got to play with Ray Barretto’s band that I really started studying what came before, especially Afro-Cuban music. Or Cuban music. The term “Afro-Cuban” that’s bandied about now as THE term, because everybody wants to point towards Cuba as the birthplace of a lot of the music—but I don’t know. I think it was maybe a little more to do with the Caribbean experience. Not just Cuba. Cuba was dominant, but there was also a lot going on in Puerto Rican and a lot going on in other places, too. And New York was the magnet the drew a lot of elements to it. A lot of great musicians from different parts of the Caribbean were moving to New York and bringing their music with them.
TP: How long did you play with Dizzy Gillespie?
AG: Almost a year. 1970.
TP: what sort of experience was that? Was he playing primarily Cuban-influenced repertoire…
AG: No, he was mixing it up. We had an interesting version of his band. At the time, when we joined the band, there was no trap drummer. There was just Jerry playing congas, and I was playing the bass, George Davis was playing guitar, and Mike Longo was playing the piano—and Dizzy. I was playing my Ampeg baby bass. Now, Dizzy insisted upon a bass player who could play Latin rhythms and some jazz comfortably. That’s how I got the gig. I was only 19, and I was thrilled. We traveled a bit. It was amazing.
Dizzy was not one to… If you would sit down with him and you wanted something explained harmonically, he’d sit down at the piano and show you. But as a bandleader, he had this great instinct about talent, and he knew when he put a group of people together that the chemistry was going to work.
TP: Rhythmically did he have anything to show you, or did…
AG: We had things to show him.
TP: What sort of things did you show him?
AG: I remember working in Harlem with him one night, and we were doing a week at the Club Barron—and we brought Nicky Marrero to sit in on timbales. We played one of his tunes (I forget which one at the moment), and after he took his solo, he went by the bar… The bandstand was near the bar. He went by the bar, and we doubled the time on his tune, and we were smoking, the rhythm section was cooking, man. Then he comes up behind me and whispers in my ear, and he goes, “Where’s one?” In other words, as much as he’d been influenced by and heard quite a bit of Latin rhythms, and he’d been surrounded by good rhythm drummers, sometimes you can know a whole lot and still, if you divert your attention for a minute and come back to it, you go, “Wait a second; my hearing just turned around or something; I’m not quite sure where it is.” So while I’m playing and we’re cooking, I just looked at him and I go, “One.” He goes, “Oh, ok.” Heh-heh. Dizzy was a sweetheart. I loved him.
TP: So as kids, you’re soaking up the music at home. It’s part of the daily fabric of your lives. You’re listening to all the jazz records as they come out…
AG: And we were lucky enough as kids to journey out the clubs and hear this music in person. I saw Trane play. I wanted to see the quartet play, but they had already broken up. I saw one of his last performances. I saw everybody play. I was quite a regular in all the clubs. I used to go down to the Vanguard to hear the Bill Evans Trio, and I’d go to the Vanguard on Mondays to hear the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra. And Slugs was one of my favorite jazz clubs in the world. That was THE place. That had an atmosphere, and the music was exceptional. Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers used to play there regularly. Lee Morgan, his band used to play there. I saw so many bands. I forgot that we got to play with Kenny Dorham for a year, before Dizzy… Actually, about the time I had started playing with Ray Barretto, I was playing with Kenny Dorham.
TP: I think Jerry has related that when he was auditioning for New York College of Music, he encountered him…
AG: Kenny was trying to get his degree so he could teach. New York College of Music started a jazz program, and they were givimg full scholarships to jazz musicians, and all of a sudden, a lot of musicians jumped in that school. They had a great big band. Great musicians there. So Kenny Dorham was studying there, and he was in Jerry’s trumpet class. The trumpet teacher was a classical teacher, and he failed Kenny Dorham. Failed him! I couldn’t believe that. Kenny Dorham could have taught him a few things. But we’ve been blessed, man. We were blessed that we were really accepted by a lot of people, and taught as well. Just by playing together with someone, you give a little bit of your knowledge, and you get knowledge back in return. There was quite a bit of activity going on for musicians in those days.
TP: It also seems that the cultural politics of the ‘60s would point people in the direction of incorporating folkloric music into the fabric of their everyday activity and professional work.
AG: Of course. I saw Olatunji. Olatunji had a group of drummers and dancers, and we got to hear that. There was a lot going on. But there wasn’t much Cuban folklore. Because of the Revolution, the radio stations wouldn’t play much of that music. But around 1969, Felipe Luciano, who was part of the Young Lords, he got a position to start a radio program on WRVR. I had met him while I was with Barretto, and I was studying Cuban folklore with Rene Lopez, who was one of the producers of Grupo Folklorico Experimental. We actually programmed the first month of shows. The first bunch of shows were midnight to six in the morning. We got calls from people saying, “what are doing playing this great music, and I’ve got to get up for work in the morning—are you guys nuts?” Then after a few months, finally, we got the ok to do our show in the afternoon. That was the beginning of… We did quite a bit of teaching by playing the music and talking about it, and opening that door that was closed to a lot of people about Cuban music. There was a lot of live performances…
TP: Then you started doing it yourself, and Grupo Folklorico came into the picture…
AG: Oh, yeah. Well, that was a given. When you’re exposed to all this knowledge, it becomes part of you, and you want to do it—and especially if you have the skills to do it. It’s like anything. When you’re studying music and you’re listening to records, it’s a communication, and you pick up on the message that’s being sent to you.
I heard this next tune on a videotape of a rehearsal in Matanzas, Cuba, that somebody gave me, of a folkloric group that was doing bata stuff, which is the hourglass shaped drum where there’s three different drums of different sizes, and they have chants going on with certain drum-beats. So there was one that was done in honor of the deity called Elegua. Elegua is the keeper of the crossroads, and is the one that opens and closes all your paths. So most ceremonies begin with Elegua. When you do a ceremony in that genre, you start with Elegua.
So I heard this chant, and it stayed in my head, and I started playing bass to it, and I figured out two sets of changes to the same melody. That’s what we use as our basis for improvisation. The first set of changes is a pedal tone, and it just stays in that pedal. It’s open. It’s kind of what McCoy Tyner or Trane would do. Then the second time we run the melody down, there’s another set of changes to it. So I came up with that, and then we developed it into a composition.
AG: The reason I played “Anabacoa” is that it’s a tune that had been done by a few Cuban bands, but the one that caught our attention, and that’s why we wanted to play it, was the recording by Arsenio Rodriguez Y Su Conjunto, and their version was slammin’! That’s where we got our inspiration, but then we took it to another place. And then we had the great Manny Oquendo playing one of his really classic timbal solos. It goes back to what we were talking about Art Blakey being the authoritative drummer. Well, Manny shows that he’s in that same league. He’s a very authoritative drummer.
TP: The primal feel and the sophistication together.
AG: Together, yeah.
TP: That quality could describe Fort Apache, which has been doing it for 27 years, on and off…
AG: Time flies.
TP: We’ll move to 1988, and a live performance by an expanded edition of the Fort Apache Band, that was documented by Enja, in Zurich, titled Obatala. I’ve treasured this recording for some time; it’s an expanded version of the Apaches… Mad percussion.
AG: When we started the Fort Apache Band, it had a large percussion section. But it was very difficult to work with that kind of ensemble, because booking it wasn’t easy. It was a lot of people to fly in and put up in hotels and so on. It was a financial decision and an artistic one to break it down to the bare essentials, which was a quintet and a sextet.
TP: Who did the arrangement of “Justice.”
AG: Jerry and I heard a riff on a Cuban record by Frank Emilio, who is a great Cuban pianist, and he had a riff on this record that was so intriguing, and we said, “Wow, this sounds like ‘Evidence’—because “Evidence” has such a quirky rhythm-melody to it. I said, “Wow, let’s see about putting these two elements together, and this is what came out.
[END OF CONVERSATION]
It may surprise bass maestro Andy González’s many fans that Entre Colegas (Truth Revolution) is his first leader recording. Now 64, González boasts a vast and distinguished discography that includes ten recordings with the pathbreaking Fort Apache Band, in which he and his older brother, conguero-trumpeter Jerry González, masterminded a singular marriage of the harmonic language of hardcore jazz and the hand-drum rhythms of Afro-Cuban musical. Another nine albums document the pathbreaking four-trombone dance band Conjunto Libre, which he co-founded with iconic timbalero Manny Oquendo in 1974, after both left the employ of Eddie Palmieri, who González joined after two years of steady employment with Dizzy Gillespie.
“Andy is easily most influential Latin Jazz bassist ever,” says Truth Revolution Records co-proprietor Luques Curtis, a bassist whose own burgeoning career embodies González’s multilingual aesthetic. Curtis, 32, and his older brother, pianist Zaccai Curtis, met González twenty years ago after he heard their kid band play charts of such Fort Apache classics as “Moliendo Café” and “Obsesión” at a concert. “Andy came to our house afterward,” Curtis recalled. “He hung with us all night, playing his music and hanging out. After that, Andy would visit for a day or two a month. No money. He explained to us what happens during the coros, and how Afro-Cuban music is shaped.”
González has suffered the travails of aging—in 2004, the toes on his left foot were amputated due to complications from previously undiagnosed diabetes; at the beginning of 2015, he began three-day-a-week dialysis treatments. The Curtises—whose label had built momentum with releases not only by their Curtis Brothers group, but diverse artists like vocalists Sarah Elizabeth Charles and Eva Cortés, trumpeters Ray Vega, Jonathan Powell and Carlos Abadie, and timbalero Ralph Irizarry—responded to the second medical event by generating a project with their mentor.
González decided to present a pan-stylistic, strings-oriented program that he describes as “Django Reinhardt visits Cuba and Puerto Rico,” with long-time partner Nelson Gonzalez on tres, Cleveland-based Orlando “El Mostro” Santiago on cuatro, Brooklynite Ben Lapidus on guitar and tres, and Cuban emigree David Oquendo on guitars and vocals, as well as Abadie, the Curtises, and a host of hand percussionists who render the rhythms with precision and elegance.
“I just maintained the rhythm and kept the styles together,” González said, understating the effect of his enormous ears and harmonic erudition in maintaining quality control. “I was more concerned about sound than the style—when it’s good music, it’s good music, and that’s the name of the game.” He attributes his ability to get through the proceedings to acupuncture treatments that alleviated the stiffness attendant to dialysis; indeed, he plays so impeccably that it’s hard to discern any impairment.
“Andy always has a clear idea how he wants things to be, and gets musicians who can execute but also do their own thing,” said Lapidus, whose erudite program notes offer significant value-added. “He leads, but he’s also unbelievably supportive. He’s played in so many situations and so many styles that he was able to pull off what most people could only dream about doing.”
González compared the session’s ambiance to the atmosphere he and his brother generated at impromptu mid-’60s gatherings in the basement of his family’s house in the South Bronx. It was a destination for a Pan-American cohort of the famous—attendees included Gillespie, Machito, Kenny Dorham, Jackie and Rene McLean, Carlos “Patato” Valdes, Rashied Ali, Larry Young, Ruben Blades—and obscure, attracted by the brothers’ global perspective and predisposition to treat jazz and Afro-Caribbean styles not as separate entities but as extensions of each other.
“There were elements of that spirit—to play with abandon and grab some of the jams,” González said. “I played with as much abandon as I could. If they want me to do another record, I’ll see if I can think of something else to do.”