Sunday, February 5, 2012

Jim Snidero: Jazz Alto Saxophone Revisited


© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


“For most of the last three decades, the tenor saxophone has dominated the forest of jazz woodwinds, its dark, obviously romantic shadow all but obscuring the once-prominent alto sax. In recent years, though, the alto saxophone's singular, sexy intensity has again gained fashion, re-establishing its vital niche in the jazz environment. You can thank guys like Jim Snidero for helping make it so.”
- Neil Tesser, Jazz writer/critic

“I want to be as creative as possible.  But I don’t think you ever can exhaust straight-ahead music. There are so many things that you can do just by changing a few notes, by changing phrasing, by changing octaves. I sense something missing in the shape of a line and the time feel of cats who haven’t gotten deeply into Bird and bebop. Basically, I want my music not to sound straight-ahead but still have that bebop attitude—a bit of abstraction and a bit of grease.”
- Jim Snidero

“he takes this music for quartet and quintet beyond the jam session mentality that assures so many small-group sessions of only momentary interest. In an area of music that is underused—in fact, largely undiscovered—by most jazz artists, he invests his work with dynamics” as well as “harmonic shape and texture.”
- Doug Ramsey, Jazz author, writer, critic


Whenever I listen to the music of alto saxophonist Jim Snidero, it always makes me wonder why I don’t do so more often.

It’s all there: the bop tradition of Bird, Cannonball and Stitt; some freer post bop influences; gobs of technique; impressive improvisation ideas; an irrepressible sense of swing.

What makes the music of Jim Snidero even more impressive is that he didn’t begin his career in Jazz until the early 1980s.

Given the relative paucity of the US Jazz scene at that time, it’s amazing that he found the music at all, let alone his own direction in it.

Here’s a quick synopsis of Jim’s background and credentials as excerpted from the Concord Music website:

“A teenage student of Phil Woods and a product of the jazz program at the University of North Texas in Denton, Snidero received postgraduate training with organist Jack McDuff in 1982-83. He side-manned from 1983 to 2003 with the Toshiko Akiyoshi Big Band, played with Eddie Palmieri from 1994 to 1997 and with the Mingus Orchestra from 1999 to 2001, and has appeared as a sideman on albums by pianists David Hazeltine and Mike LeDonne [who also plays Hammond B-3 Organ], tenor saxophonist Walt Weiskopf, and trumpeters Joe Magnarelli and Brian Lynch. Since the late Eighties, he’s led numerous ensembles featuring the top musicians of his peer group, and toured them extensively in the U.S., Japan, and Europe.”

Paralleling Jim education and work experience is the fact that Jim continues to grow and develop his own, personal vision and sound as a Jazz artist.

Or as Neil Tesser explains it:

“More to the point, Snidero has identified, studied, and even elaborated upon the classic virtues of his instrument. These include a fierce rhythmic authority, which dovetails with the instrument's natural bite (and without which the alto can sound gray and fallen), and the ability to really fill the horn: to "sing out," whether it be through a single note or a flurry of wildly complicated improvisation. But it all starts with the sound.


Perhaps no element in jazz strikes with the immediacy of sound; but in the case of the alto sax — the most "vocal" of saxophones, capable of an opera singer's proverbial "pear-shaped tones" — it takes on greater importance still. Such concerns are not lost on Snidero, who says that in the last few years, "I've been striving most to define my style and my sound. I think I do have my own sound, and I'm just trying to get closer to it; I want it to be more flexible, to have more colors, to be more characteristic, to make it both bigger and more focused. Sound has always been really important to me."

Another great feature of Jim Snidero’s music is that one gets to hear it against a backdrop of some of the best, young musicians on the New York City Jazz scene. Of the 16 recordings that he has issued to date under his own name, Jim is joined by the likes of trumpeters Tom Harrell, Brian Lynch and Joe Magnarelli, trombonist Conrad Herwig, alto saxophonist Mike DiRubbo, tenor saxophonists Eric Alexander and Walt Weiskopf, guitarist Paul Bollenback, pianists Andy LaVerne, Renee Rosnes, Benny Green, David Hazeltine, Marc Copeland, Mulgrew Miller, and Mike LeDonne [who also plays Hammond B-3 organ on one date], bassists Peter Washington, Dennis Irwin, Steve LaSpina and Paul Gill and drummers Jeff Hirshfield, Kenny Washington, Tony Reedus, Marvin “Smitty” Smith, Jeff “Tain” Watts and McClenty Hunter.

What a showcase of talent. Is it any wonder that Jim Snidero makes such great music? As Jazz columnist Ted Panken has observed: “Music is a social medium, and the palpable ensemble feel, the sense of co-equal voices transmuting notes and tones into four-way conversation, is directly attributable to the musician­ship and interpersonal chemistry of Snidero's band mates,  "These guys can play bebop, but each one adds something that's fresh but still hip," Snidero says.

Snidero sums up his approach to music best in his interview with Ted when he says:

"I grew up listening to a standard of excellence, be it Coltrane. Rollins, Bird, Joe Henderson. Cannonball or even as a kid, Phil Woods and Dave Leibman. It's an incredible achievement to play an instrument like that, and the music itself is so warm and spiritual. When you hear their tone, it's perfected and compete—it isn't missing any colors or nuance, it's expressive, it has a human quality. I'm not saying my sound is on that level, but I value those things. My goal, whether I'm playing inside or outside, slow or fast, Latin or swing, is to have those qualities in my playing, especially when I'm playing my own music. If it has a spiritual quality and it's very refined, then I think people get into it no matter what."

All of these qualities are on exhibit in the following video tribute to Jim. The music is his original composition Tippin’ from his CD by the same name [Savant SCD 2086] on which he joins by Paul Bollenback on guitar, Mike Le Donne on Hammond B-3 Organ and drummer Tony Reedus.