Monk moves!

Monk moves!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Individualism of Gil Evans

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


“Born with the Victorian-sounding name Ian Ernest Gilmore Green, and first marketed by major record labels in the 1960’s as a middle-aged hipster in a business suit, Gil Evans … was a unique American artist who rebelled against stereotypes of class and race. Born in Canada of Australian parentage in 1912, Evans was raised mainly in California.   He seemed to live with a spirit that was marked by the Californian dream in its purest form: to create the impossible in everyday life, through means that are both peaceful and sensual. It was this humble fire, expressed through an unpretentious demeanor and relentless musical curiosity, which fueled Evans' works and won him the respect of such younger rebels of the 1940’s Jazz scene as Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Gerry Mulligan and Max Roach.”
- Eliot Bratton


I wanted to spend time doing blog features about some of my favorite recordings and The Individualism of Gil Evans [Verve 833 804-2] certainly ranks high on that list.


As Richard Cook and Brian Morton observe in The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.: “Evans’ name is famously an anagram of Svengali and Gil spent much of his career shaping the sounds and musical philosophies of younger musicians. … His peerless voicings are instantly recognizable.”


Beginning with New Bottle, Old Wine with its very revealing subtitle - “The Great Jazz Composers Interpreted by Gil Evans - and continuing with his orchestrations for Miles Davis on their Columbia epochal associations including Miles Ahead and Porgy and Bess, my repeated listening to Gil’s arrangements revealed a relaxed sophistication, use of very simple materials, and lots of open measures and other forms of space that created a texture in his music that was unlike any other that I’d ever heard before - and with the rare exception - since.


“Texture” joins with melody, harmony and rhythm [meter] as a fourth building block used to create a musical composition? Ironically, of the four basic musical atoms, the most indefinable yet the one we first notice is – “texture.”


“Texture” is the word that is used to refer to the actual sound of the music. This encompasses the instruments with which it is played; its tonal colors; its dynamics; its sparseness or its complexity.


Texture involves anything to do with the sound experience and it is the word that is used to describe the overall impression that a piece of music creates in our emotional imagination.


Often our first and most lasting impression of a composition is usually based on that work’s texture, even though we are not aware of it. Generally, we receive strong musical impressions from the physical sound of any music and these then determine our emotional reaction to the work.


By the time of its issuance in 1964 The Individualism of Gil Evans represented a major step away from the close Columbia collaboration that Gil had formed with Miles and a major step into his own music on Verve [and later Impulse!] which allowed the sonority [texture] of Evans’ arrangements to become even more pronounced.


As Stephanie Stein Crease explains in her definitive biography Gil Evans Out of the Cool: His Life and Music:


“ … Gil held his own first recording session for Verve with Creed Taylor as producer in September 1963. Gil lucked out with Taylor (founder of the Impulse! label and producer of Out of the Cool). Arriving at Verve not long before, Taylor made an immediate splash as producer of the first wildly successful bossa nova records (with Stan Getz, Antonio Carlos Jobim, and Joao and Astrud Gilberto), including "The Girl from Ipanema." Verve gave Taylor carte blanche, which he passed along to Gil. Gil was allowed the number of musicians and recording time he wanted. He was even able to record some sketches on studio time—an unheard-of luxury for a composer/arranger. Gil was also allowed to record one or two pieces at a time, whenever he had something ready, instead of conceiving of an entire album beforehand. Taylor was confident that an album would eventually materialize if he gave Gil free reign.


At the first session, Gil recorded two of his own compositions, "Flute Song" and "El Toreador," It wasn't until April 1964 that he recorded another two arrangements; then, in the following six months he recorded six new arrangements for large ensembles and several sketches with a quartet. The resulting album became The Individualism of Gil Evans, released in late 1964.


The album contains some of Gil's best music on record. Selections include Kurt Weill's "The Barbara Song" and four Evans originals: "Las Vegas Tango," "Flute Song," "Hotel Me," and "El Toreador." Several of the musicians, including Johnny Coles, Steve Lacy, Al Block, Jimmy Cleveland, Tony Studd, Bill Barber, Elvin Jones, and Paul Chambers, played on all the sessions, preserving a consistency in the textures, mood, and overall sound. Other stellar personnel—Eric Dolphy on various woodwinds, Wayne Shorter on tenor, Phil Woods on alto, and Kenny Burrell on guitar—were on hand for some sessions and recorded with Gil for the first time. Gil plays piano on every track, and his performance, particularly on "The Barbara Song," functions as an indicator of his conceptual direction. On the Weill song, the mood is full of pathos, with Wayne Shorter's tenor sax taking up the cry. "El Toreador," built on one chord, sounds like a development of one of the Barracuda cues; Johnny Coles's plaintive trumpet is the foremost voice, cutting through the rumblings of the low brass and three acoustic basses and a whirring tremolo in the high reeds.


The musicianship on all the Verve sessions is of the highest order. The musicians dig deeply into the music, both as soloists and as ensemble players. Again there is an Ellingtonian parallel; the musical personalities are so strong on these recordings that horn voicings and ensemble passages are characterized by the collective sound of the people playing them.”


And here are excerpts from Gene Lees’ original liner notes to  The Individualism of Gil Evans:


“The gifted young composer, arranger, and critic Bill Mathieu once wrote of Gil Evans: "The mind reels at the intricacy of his orchestral and developmental techniques. His scores are so careful, so formally well-constructed, so mindful of tradition that you feel the originals should be preserved under glass in a Florentine museum."


Mathieu's feelings about Evans are not unusual. Without doubt the most individualistic and personal jazz composer since Duke Ellington, Evans is held in near-reverence by a wide range of composers, arrangers, instrumentalists, and critics. This feeling is only intensified by the fact that he is a rather inaccessible man — not unfriendly, or anti-social; just politely, quietly inaccessible — whose output has been small, and all of it is indeed remarkable.


What is it that makes Evans' work unique? This is impossible to say in mere words, but with your indulgence, I'm going to try to clarify some of it. What I want to say is not for the professional musician but the layman; the pros are invited to skip the new few paragraphs.


Every "song" is built of two primary components: its melody and its harmony. Rhythm is the third major factor, but I want to confine myself to the first two.


As the melody is played, a certain sequence of chords occurs beneath it. Now the bottom note of these chords sets up a sort of melody of its own. This is referred to as the "bass line" and it has great importance to the texture and flavor of the music. As a first step to the appreciation of Gil Evans, try not hearing the melody but listening to the bass line on some of these tracks.


Between the bass note and the melody note fall the other notes of the chord. You can put them down in a slap-dash fashion, so that you've got merely chords occurring in sequence like a line of telephone poles holding up the wire of melody; or you can link the inner notes of one chord to the inner notes of the next one, setting up still other melodies within the music. These new lines are called the "inner voices" of the harmonization. How well he handles inner voices is one of the measures of a composer's or an arranger's writing skill.


Gil's handling of them is often astonishing. His original melody, his bass line, and his inner lines are always exquisite. The result is that one of Gil's scores is faintly analogous to a crossword puzzle: it can be "read" both vertically (up through the chords) or horizontally in the form of ihe various melodies he sets up. Heard both ways simultaneously, his music can be breathtaking.


That's part of it.


Another and important part is his use of unusual instrumentations. Evans has virtually abandoned the standard jazz instrumentation of trumpets - trombones - saxes. He uses flutes, oboes, English horns (the standard classical woodwinds), along with French horns and a few of the conventional jazz instruments to extend the scope of the jazz orchestra. Evans was one of the first to use French horns in jazz, in the days when he was chief arranger for the celebrated Claude Thornhill orchestra. Not only does Gil use "non-jazz" instruments (usually played by jazz players, however), but he puts them together in startling ways, to create unearthly and fresh lovely sounds.


Finally, there's his sense of form, of logical construction. Everything he writes builds to sound and aesthetically satisfying climaxes, beautifully developing the previously-stated material. I know of no one in jazz with a more highly-developed sense of form than Gil Evans.


Yet, with all his gifts, Gil is oddly down-to-earth about his music. Once, when I told him that some people were having trouble deciding whether an album he had done with Miles Davis was classical music or jazz, he said, "That's a merchandiser's problem, not mine." Another time he said, "I write popular music." What he meant, of course, is that he wanted no part of pointless debates about musical categorizations; that he was making no claims on behalf of his music; and that since that music grew out of the traditions of American popular music, he was content to call it that.


On another occasion he said, "I'm just an arranger" This comment I reject. Even when Gil is working with other people's thematic material, what he does to it constitutes composition. …


To say that this album has been long-awaited is no cliche. It is the first Gil Evans recording in three years. "I stayed away from music for two years!' he said. "I wanted to look around and see what was happening in the world outside of music."


Welcome back.


We've missed you.”


The following video montage has on offer the Nothing Like You track from The Individualism of Gil Evans.





Monday, February 27, 2017

Eric Alexander: 25 to 50

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


"Developing your sound is a lifelong endeavor. Ninety percent of the practicing I do is working on my sound."


"I guess more than anything, strong piano players make me play better: the stronger they are, the more in my face, the better I play. It's almost like I don't have to come up with anything on my own — they just steer me along.”


"I've always been partial to soulful playing, the stuff that connects with people; to me, that's everything. I don't want to play down to people, but I always want to maintain those elements that have made jazz what it is."


"I'm just not interested in that kind of obligation right now," he says with easy acceptance. "I don't really want to be in charge yet. I'd really rather be in other people's bands, because I feel I have a lot to learn in that respect. I'd just like to play my role within the larger context."


"I think I'm just naturally akin to that kind of sound and phrasing [referring to Dexter Gordon.] More than anything, I've always loved the bigger sounds. But harmonically, I'm more in tune with people like Hank Mobley — even though I don't particularly sound like him — and Sonny Stitt, for sure. When I first delved into playing, I sort of lived and breathed Sonny Stitt, because he was just so perfect."


"Right now, I just pick tunes that really reflect where my heart lies, the kind that feel most comfortable, most natural. But I find that different tunes lead my solos in different ways, so I pick them with an understanding of what kind of solo each tune will bring out of me."
- Eric Alexander, tenor saxophonist


It’s hard to believe that it’s been twenty-five years since I first heard tenor saxophonist performing on record, but then, most things these days “seem like it was just yesterday." [Eric turns 50 in August of this year]


The occasion was his 1992 New York Calling Criss Cross Jazz CD [1077] which I bought at the time primarily because it featured Kenny Washington on drums.


Boy, was I in for a big surprise as in addition to Eric's super playing, the disc also introduced me to John Swana on trumpet; Richard Wyands, piano and Peter Washington, bass along with Kenny round out a first-rate rhythm section.


Since then, Eric has gone on to develop a formidable career in the Jazz - not an easy thing to do these days - with his own quartet which is usually made up of Harold Mabern on piano, John Webber on bass and Joe Farnsworth on drums.


John and Joe also join Eric when he performs with the group One for All, a unit that is very much reminiscent of the classic Art Blakey Sextet. Pianist David Hazeltine joins John and Joe in the rhythm section and Jim Rotondi on trumpet and Steve Davis on trombone make up the front-line along with Eric.


Eric is also a member of Mike LeDonne’s Hammond B-3 organ Quartet along with Peter Bernstein on guitar and Joe Farnsworth once again on drums. Eric works regularly with Mike’s combo at Smoke’s in New York City.


Either leading his own group or as a member of One for All or Mike LeDonne’s foursome, Eric is a fixture on the New York Jazz scene as well as the International Jazz Festival circuit and makes frequent trips to Japan and to Chicago [he was born in Galesburg, IL, about 200 miles west of Chicago].


Over the past 25 years, Eric has made over two dozen recordings as leader for labels including Delmark, Hep, Milestone, Criss Cross, Sharp Nine, Venus and High Note. You can locate information about these recordings by clicking on the following link to Eric’s page on Discogs.


Eric talked about his early and formative Jazz experiences in The Windy City and The Big Apple with Neil Tesser who incorporated them into the following insert notes to New York Calling [Criss Cross Jazz CD 1077].


New York Calling


“In some ways. Eric Alexander at 25 is just an old-fashioned boy. When he lifts the tenor saxophone to his lips, the notes spill out on a plush carpet of sound that brings to mind the sax founts of earlier years: Hawkins, Gordon, Rollins, Coltrane, and the giant-toned Chicago tenor men, like Gene Ammons and Johnny Griffin, Ira Sullivan, and Von Freeman. ("Developing your sound is a lifelong endeavor," Alexander admits with a mixture of awe and pride. "Ninety percent of the practicing I do is working on my sound.")


He prefers a rhythm section that shoves right up against him — accompanists who rank subtlety several notches below unadorned swing and the independent line. You can find the model for this hard-driving, no-holds-barred style in the explosive fire of bebop and the earthy percussion patterns of the 50s, that decade when hard-bop roamed the planet. ("I guess more than anything, strong piano players make me play better: the stronger they are, the more in my face, the better I play. It's almost like I don't have to come up with anything on my own — they just steer me along.)


He insists, with sure instincts about jazz's earliest roots, that his music communicates above all with immediacy and warmth — one reason he has long loved the soulful organ bands of the 50s and 60s. No wonder, then, that when he arrived in Chicago, shortly after college, he quickly made his way onto the city's south side club scene, and from there into the touring band led by the organist Charles Earland. ("I've always been partial to soulful playing, the stuff that connects with people; to me, that's everything. I don't want to play down to people, but I always want to maintain those elements that have made jazz what it is.")


The old-fashioned can become suddenly new, though, in the right context. For instance, we live in a time when a truckload of jazz's young lions can barely restrain themselves from establishing their own bands; so when Alexander states his desire to hook on as a sideman with established mentors, it strikes us as something novel. ("I'm just not interested in that kind of obligation right now," he says with easy acceptance. "I don't really want to be in charge yet. I'd really rather be in other people's bands, because I feel I have a lot to learn in that respect. I'd just like to play my role within the larger context.")


And in an era way past the demise of the cutting session, the "battles of the bands," and the idea that competition gets in the way of music's loftier goals, Eric Alexander arrives largely as the result of a contest — the Thelonious Monk Institute's 1991 competition for tenor saxophonists, in which he finished second to Joshua Redman (and a notch above his Criss Cross labelmate, Chris Potter). Not bad for a guy who started playing the tenor — in fact, who had begun concentrating on jazz at all — just five years earlier.


Born in 1968 in western Illinois, Alexander grew up in Washington state, but headed back to the midwest to attend Indiana University — as an alto saxophonist studying classical music. Before that year ended, however, he had discovered an unexpected affinity for jazz, leading him to transfer to the exceptional jazz program at William Paterson College in New Jersey.


He had also discovered the tenor saxophone, in a story worthy of those "girl-next-door" stories that dot fiction and cinema, and always seem too obvious to be true.


Alexander's father had purchased a tenor sax for him years earlier, but he had paid little attention to it. "The first time I really played the tenor was at a wedding gig, my freshman year in college," he remembers. "It was just a borrowed horn, but it just felt so much better than the alto did." In fact, says Alexander, it felt better than the alto ever did, even though he had been playing the smaller horn for more than five years. "It was right at that point that I decided I wanted to switch to jazz. The alto felt so horrible to me afterwards that to this day, I haven't been able to play it at all." Not long after making this recording, Alexander simply sold his alto, with the firm conviction that he had found his one true instrumental love.


Any chorus of any tune on this album and you'll understand the romance. Despite Alexander's protestations about the work he must do on his tone, he commands a huge and supple sound: like an extension of his own voice, it suggests that tenor players are in fact born, not made. He devours chord changes, the more the better, with both an inviting urgency and a focus on the details of finding new linkages between those changes: eloquent testimony to his tireless study of harmony. And his pinpoint control of the time allows him to regularly lag ever-so-slightly behind the beat, giving even his most ferocious improvisations the unflappable quality of a man truly in charge.


For all those reasons, Alexander's playing has drawn comparisons to that of Dexter Gordon. Alexander certainly doesn't mind such comments (Dexter being one of the many tenorists who've shaped his music); but he quickly points out that any such similarities involve something other than conscious imitation: "I think I'm just naturally akin to that kind of sound and phrasing. More than anything, I've always loved the bigger sounds. But harmonically, I'm more in tune with people like Hank Mobley — even though I don't particularly sound like him — and Sonny Stitt, for sure. When I first delved into playing, I sort of lived and breathed Sonny Stitt, because he was just so perfect." Don't ignore, either, the important guidance of Von Freeman, the legendary Chicago saxist who regularly presides over late-night blowing sessions at which he encourages younger players with both his words and his remarkable musical actions.


Alexander's Chicago experience remains a pivotal one for the saxist, who surfaced in the midwest shortly after college. "I was always kind of obsessed with living there; my mother's family is from Chicago, and of course, I was fascinated with the idea of playing with those organ groups on the south side." After his time with Charles Earland, Alexander heard New York's call, settling there in the summer of 1992; but he has re-created his Chicago jam-session experiences with sessions at the club named Augie's, where he can be found most weekends performing with such storied older players as the baritone saxist Cecil Payne and the altoist John Jenkins.


Alexander's Criss Cross debut finds him in the company of John Swana, the great Philadelphia trumpeter whose two Criss Cross albums have showcased his pure melodies and effervescent tone — and a rhythm section with whom Alexander knew he could comfortably work. After all, pianist Richard Wyands, bassist Peter Washington, and drummer Kenny Washington made up the rhythm section that boosted Alexander to his second-place finish at the Monk competition. The two unrelated Washingtons have developed a tasteful, versatile, and potent partnership reminiscent of earlier such pairings (Paul Chambers & Philly Jo Jones; Bob Cranshaw & Billy Higgins). But it takes nothing away from them to suggest you pay special heed to the solos, and even moreso the accompaniments, of Wyands, a mature and steadying player who was one of the young tenorist's instructors at William Paterson.


Alexander selected the material for this date without much fuss: "Right now, I just pick tunes that really reflect where my heart lies, the kind that feel most comfortable, most natural. But I find that different tunes lead my solos in different ways, so I pick them with an understanding of what kind of solo each tune will bring out of me." New York Calling resembles a typical, well-spiced Eric Alexander set, with highlights everywhere. You'll find your own: I lean toward the Rollinsesque nature of his version of Swedish Schnapps, as well as the way he has turned Wives And Lovers into an Afro-Cuban dynamo . And anyone who chooses to resurrect the lovely and forgotten Arthur Schwartz ballad Then I'll Be Tired Of You — with verse intact, no less! — deserves kudos for that alone.


In the early part of this century, the American novelist Edith Wharton spoke of what she considered a "common symptom of immaturity, the dread of doing what has been done before." Eric Alexander, like many of his contemporaries, has no such fear. But his utter mastery of the jazz fundamentals sets him quite apart from most of the pack. That skill allows him to provide new twists on old ideas — which here serve as brand-new inspirations to a saxophonist of unquestioned accomplishment and boundless promise.”


NEIL TESSER


You can check out Eric’s powerful and propulsive tenor playing on the following video montage that features his original composition One for M which is the opening track on New York Calling.



Saturday, February 25, 2017

Paquito D'Rivera: Portraits of Cuba [From the Archives]

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


“The thermometer outside of the venerable St. Peter's Church in Manhattan's Chelsea district read in the low 20s. Due to a momentary malfunction of the heating system, it was even colder inside, thanks to two of the biggest blizzards of the century which buried New York City under more than two feet of snow.   That was until the downbeat of "The Peanut Vendor".   


With this work and the subsequent 11 pieces rehearsed on that freezing February afternoon, the temperature and excitement coming out of Paquito and the 14-piece band, (dressed as Eskimos to combat the arctic conditions), rose to fever pitch. While Bob Katz and his sound crew were setting up in double time to insure the perfection of the recording, Producer David Chesky was closely supervising every aspect of the production, including authentic Cuban cuisine every day for the musicians and crew.  


The next afternoon, after 3 takes of "La Bella Cubana", the session was launched with the panache of a maiden voyage.   There were smiles amongst the band members and Paquito - the music had taken over.   David Chesky said, "Sounds great - it's a take". Paquito smiled at Carlos and replied, "That's it". Carlos chimed in, "OK, guys, 11 more to go".”


I was so taken with Pacquito D’Rivera’s 1996 recording of Portraits of Cuba with arrangements by Carlos Franzetti who also conducts the orchestra, that I wrote David and Norman Chesky a “fan letter” for their role in producing it for their label [Chesky JD145].


In return, I received a nice letter of appreciation from David along with the artwork from the CD jewel cover and tray plate arrayed as a poster which I later had framed.


Imagine that!


Here I was sharing with him how admiring I was for what could only have been an expensive and time-consuming labor of love and here was the person who incurred the expense of the money and time involved thanking me!


But then, it seems, such self-effacement [let alone, self-sacrifice] has always been there for those involved in producing Jazz recordings for as Michael Cuscuna, who has had a long association as the keeper of the flame for Blue Note Records and who is the current proprietor of Mosaic Records has explained:


“The hardest thing about having a jazz label,' says Michael Cuscuna, "is that you never have enough money to pay yourself and you don't have the reserves to grow the business. You take every cent that comes in and put it into pressing-plant money or making new records. There's no time to sit down and think, or put money aside for anything.” [Richard Cook, Blue Note Records: The Biography, p. 186].


Portraits of Cuba has thirteen [13] tracks that feature Paquito on soprano sax, alto sax or clarinet in arrangements that are beautifully fashioned by Carlos Franzetti in such a way as to evoke reminiscences of Gil Evans’ collaborations with Miles Davis.


Fortunately, the background of and context for the music on Portraits of Cuba is well-documented thanks to an interview with Paquito as conducted by Allison Brewster Franzetti, the wife of the composer-arranger whose lush arrangements beautifully frame D’Rivera “intensely hot, firecracker phrases that do so much to enliven the date.” [Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.]


Here is that interview which forms the sleeve notes to the CD.


© Allison Brewster Franzetti/Chesky Records, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


“CONVERSATIONS WITH PAQUITO


The following took place at Carlos' and my home on February 21, 1996.

ABF: How was this project completely new for you?


Paquito: I suspected that it would be - Carlos Franzetti is an arranger whose imagination has no end. I remember that there once was a compatriot of Carlos', a pianist, and a conductor and arranger, too, and he said, "Here's Carlos again - he invented another chord!" Carlos is a person who invents chords. I don't know another person who invents chords. He does some new voicing or something, and the same thing happens when he arranges a whole work. We're talking about one chord, but when he reinvents it, I think he really reinvents it! This CD has nothing to do with pure Cuban music - it's a jazz tribute to the Cuban tradition. That's what it is - that's my idea. That is how I see this project.


ABF: I know that you and Carlos have worked together for many years, both live and in various recordings. How did this project come about?


Paquito: That was absolutely Carlos' idea. He called me and said, "You remember Sketches of Spain ?" I think that was the origin of this record - not to copy it, but the idea of Sketches of Spain, which is not a Spanish-music project at all. If you play Sketches of Spain to somebody from Galicia, he'll say that it isn't Spanish music, it's a jazz tribute to Spanish music. It's the same thing that Carlos has done here with Cuban music - it's a jazz point of view, it's a jazz tribute to Cuban music, using elements of Cuban music.


ABF: You're the one who actually chose the material that he was arranging.....


Paquito: Well, some of them. For example, la habanera Tu - I chose that because that was the first tune that I ever played live, with my father.


ABF: Your father was your teacher, am I right?


Paquito: Yes, my father was my teacher. He was a classical saxophone player and a very clever pedagogue. He taught me solfeggio and how to read by playing some ingenious educational games with me. He used to repeat like an evangelic (the gospel) -"Solfeggio is the base of all musical instruction". He was the person who introduced the French school of classical saxophone to Cuba. Tito (my father) represented a world famous instrument maker in Havana, and he had a little shop, where I met some of the most outstanding Cuban musicians, Chico O'Farrill and Jorge Bolet included. It was in that shop where I first heard recordings of Benny Goodman live at Carnegie Hall, and right then and there I decided to be a jazz musician in New York. Anyway, the first time I played live was a at a graduation party at the end of the year at the school "Emilia Azcarate" - and they have a party and a wonderful dinner. I played with my father and a saxophone quintet which was accompanying me, and the first thing I played was la habanera Tu by Eduardo Sanchez de Fuentes. I performed frequently with my father after that, playing on radio and television and in theatres. I was known as "Paquito D'Rivera - The Smallest Saxophone Player in the World!" [Paquito stops to look at the list of music on this CD] Well, then No Te Imports Saber -Carlos did such wonderful work here. I explained to him why I wanted to do this. This is a person I admire very much, Rene Touzet (the composer of No Te Importe Saber), a monster musician. He's a great piano player, a classical piano player, too. This is a more well-known piece. And I asked Carlos to write something very pianistic to honor this man.


ABF: Surprise! (What I am referring to here is that Carlos wrote an intricate virtuosic opening and closing for me to play.)


Paquito: Yes! And you sounded incredible. I didn't think it was going to be so heavy, that! I think that


this is the best tribute to this great Cuban musician. Mariana was written by Carlos Franzetti in the Cuban jazz style, and it's a coincidence that the name of this little lady (pointing to Carlos' and my daughter, for whom this work is named) is the same name of the mother of one of our most dearest father-founders, Antonio Maceo (1845-1896). Her name was Mariana. Quite a coincidence, huh? Carlos has a lot to do with Cubans - poor man! Even the name of one of his children has to do with one of the dearest of Cuban women! That woman is the representation, the symbol of Cuban women - Mariana, the mother of Antonio Maceo. Isn't that wonderful?


ABF: Oh yes! And whose idea was it to record Echale Salsita?


Paquito:  Carlos and I had the idea to do Echale Salsita. This is where Gershwin took his idea from, his main theme for his Cuban Overture.


ABF: Gershwin's Cuban Overture was performed on August 19, 1932, is that right?


Paquito: Well, I don't remember exactly, but I think so. In early 1932, Gershwin made one of his visits to Cuba. Upon hearing Ignacio Pineiro's Echale Salsita, and Cuban music at large, Gershwin used the first 4 bars of Pineiro's Echale Salsita for his Cuban Overture, which he composed in July, 1932. Cuban Overture was performed in an all-Gershwin program on August 19. As Gershwin had developed Pineiro's material into his own overture, Carlos thought about paraphrasing Gershwin in his arrangement of Echale Salsita with quotes from Rhapsody in Blue. And then Carlos and I listened to Ignacio Pineiro's work, and to the part of the tune that goes "G-C-B-A-G-C-B-A-G-C-B-A-G", and Carlos used the overture here. I asked him to do that, and he did it marvelously. Song to My Son is an arrangement by Carlos of my piece.


ABF: You wrote that for your son, Franco, didn't you?


Paquito: I wrote that for Franco, yes.


ABF: When did you write that?


Paquito: I believe it was before I came to this country. In fact, I wrote that when he was born, and when I went to see him I felt a very strange feeling of happiness. I was so impressed, and I was a little sad, too, for some reason. It was a combination of both things. And then I wrote that song. I think it's a little nostalgic mainly because my mother wasn't there and my father wasn't there. They were not able to assist, to be present, to attend that happy event. That is why that song is a little nostalgic. I remember that.


ABF: Portraits of Cuba was written when?


Paquito: Portraits of Cuba is one of the themes of my wind quintet called, Aires Tropicales. I wrote that for the Aspen Wind Quintet. I was commissioned by the Aspen Wind Quintet to write a piece for them, an extended piece which is called Aires Tropicales, and this is the opening movement. I call it Portraits of Cuba because it's a portrait of my land.


ABF: And when Carlos arranged it, he took the beginning of the Aires Tropicales, which you orchestrated, and put it at the end of Portraits of Cuba exactly as you wrote it.


Paquito: Yes, he did. He likes to change the order! He did the same thing with No Te Importe Saber. The verse is in the middle of the introduction - you call that the verse, right?


ABF: That's right.


Paquito: And then he put the introduction in the middle of the song, like a bridge. He likes to move things around. So, basically, we chose this repertoire very democratically between us. Drume Negrita - that was something that came to our minds immediately, in unison. This is a favorite lullaby. Cuban musicians like this song very much - there is a preference for this piece of music amongst musicians, from classical musicians to jazz musicians and popular musicians.


ABF: It's universal, then.


Paquito: Yes, it's universal.  The Peanut Vendor, El Manisero, well, it's The Peanut Vendor....


ABF: Everybody knows The Peanut Vendor. I learned it in school, we ALL learned it in whatever music program we were in. I'm talking about public school, not music school.


Paquito: Yes, everybody knows The Peanut Vendor. And of course it's dedicated to Jimmy Carter (we laughed)! Tu Mi Delirio was an idea of Carlos'. This bolero is probably the third or the fourth piece by the great Cesar Portillo de la Luz. That man is a favorite of all time. I previously recorded another arrangement of Carlos' of one of his wonderful pieces called, Contigo En La Distancia for one of my records, and I have also recorded a couple of other works by him, including Noche Cubana What else?


ABF: La Bella Cubana....


Paquito: Ah, La Bella Cubana. I think this was an idea of Carlos Franzetti. Carlos wanted to do La Bella Cubana for some reason, I don't know why.


ABF: I know why … We heard La Bella Cubana used in the movie based on the Graham Greene book, "Our Man in Havana", and this music evoked such
nostalgia and emotion, like most Cuban music.....


Paquito: You're right about that.


ABF:  .......Anyway, Carlos thought that La Bella Cubana would be a great addition to this collection.


Paquito:  You know that Jose White, who wrote La Bella Cubana, wrote a beautiful violin concerto, too?


ABF: Oh yes, I have heard it - the Brooklyn Philharmonic performed it several years ago.


Paquito: I read that he was an amenable person. You know that he was black, and for a black soloist at that time life was difficult. He was the founder of the Royal Conservatory of Rio de Janeiro, and he was a teacher at the Paris Conservatory, being a Black Cuban in the 19th Century. He was a remarkable man. We are very proud of this man.


ABF:   We haven't yet discussed   Como Arrullo de Palmas.


Paquito: This is our tribute to the most universal Cuban musician, Ernesto Lecuona.


ABF: I remember when you called Carlos, and you spoke with me, saying "We can't do Portraits of Cuba without Lecuona".


Paquito: Lecuona is Cuba. Lecuona is the most representative Cuban composer. He also plays an important part in the history of Spanish zarzuela and Spanish music in general. Malaguena and the Andalusian Suite - these are part of the Spanish music repertoire. Some Spanish people don't want to call Lecuona Cuban - they consider him to be a Spanish composer. But this isn't true.


ABF: Whose idea was it to do I Love Lucy which was priceless?


Paquito: Incredible! You can't talk about the history of Cuba without talking about the history of Cubans outside of Cuba, especially the Cubans in jazz music and in American culture. I Love Lucy was the creation of Desi Arnaz, and this television program represented a Cubano so much in this part of the world. That theme is part of the Cuban music story, and both Carlos and I agreed about that.


ABF: Does Portraits of Cuba represent your roots as a Cuban?


Paquito: It's an ideal framework to express myself as a jazz musician born in Cuba. I have always been combining Cuban elements in my music, but this was written especially for me, accompanied by a wonderful big band, expressing in a jazz way my Cuban music. It's amazing what Carlos Franzetti has done here. I was very pleased and very honored to record with people I admire so much, people like Dick Oatts, for example. Dick is a jazz musician I admire a lot, a great saxophone player. And Jim Pugh, Dave Taylor, John Clark, Roger Rosenberg, Lew Soloff, Gustavo, Bobby, Tom, you, and all of the people who work with me in my band - Carlos used to be one of my pianists, and Dario Eskenazi is now. Andres Boiarsky, Mark, Diego Urcola and Pernell all work with me frequently. Dave Finck is a monster bass player. Another reed player that I admire very much is Lawrence Feldman, a doubler - I wonder how he can play all of those instruments so perfectly!


ABF: I feel the same way about you. It was amazing to watch you switch back-and-forth between instruments so comfortably. I know that you're thinking about what you're doing all the time, but to anybody who doesn't know, it looks like you just pick up any instrument and there you go....it's an amazing gift that you have.


Paquito: I have an opinion about that. I wrote a book about the saxophone, soon to be published, and in the liner notes I say, "Great artists make very difficult passages sound very easy". I think you have to make difficult things sound very simple, like Heifetz. It's an art.


ABF: How do you prepare for a project like this? I know that you had some of the charts in advance and a synthesizer tape that Carlos gave you of his arrangements.


Paquito: First of all, Carlos has a feature in his favor. He's a great arranger, but he doesn't write things to be difficult. It's not necessary to write things that are difficult. In general, Carlos writes things very simply -everything is there for you. I didn't suffer too much  - I had to study some things, but generally, Carlos writes music that is simple to read and is wonderful. Complications don't make good music.


ABF: What he also does is to write his arrangements exactly as he wants them to be played, including all of the voicings in his harmonies. When he has something very specific in mind, it's down on paper. Now, please tell me more about your early studies. Brenda (Feliciano, Paquito's wife) was telling me at the recording sessions for this CD about your studies with your father - how you perfected those incredible high saxophone notes that you play which influenced so many saxophonists in their own ranges.


Paquito: When I switched from soprano to alto saxophone, the range was too short for me. I didn't know what to do - I was desperate. And then my father taught me how to play the high notes with a book written by someone who happened to be one of Charlie Parker's favorite saxophone players, Jimmy Dorsey.


ABF: Brenda was also saying that you and Carlos have always been ahead of your time. Would you like to comment on that?


Paquito: Some people didn't believe in what we stood for in that period. For example, when I was talking about the roots of Latin American music, I remember thinking, "They're going to pay attention to us - there are a lot of Latin people here". And you see now what has happened - now everybody wants to be Latin, even Ronald Reagan's grandmother was Latin (we laughed)!


ABF: How would you describe your overall experience in working on this project? Paquito: We worked on this with so much love, and I trusted Carlos Franzetti completely. When he came to me with this idea, I said, "I don't know what you're going to do, but I don't care, really. I trust you to do this." This really was Carlos' idea and he should take full credit for this project.


To my ears, the most exciting piece of music on Portraits of Cuba is the title tune.


See what you think as it forms the audio track on the following video montage made up of images of Paquito and the CD cover artwork, Cuban travel poster from the 1940s and 1950s and historic postcard views of the island nation which antedate both.