© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
People ask me, ‘How did a kid from Hawaii grow up to be a professional jazz trombone player?’ For me, the answer is simple. There’s just nothing else. That’s it.”
- Conrad Herwig
Since we last visited with him in 2008 [the piece re-posted as a comprehensive blog feature on May 27, 2014], trombonist Conrad Herwig has subsequently issued three more CD’s under his own name: The Latin Side of Herbie Hancock, A Voice Through the Door and The Tip of the Sword.
The editorial staff at JazzProfiles thought it would be fun to bring Conrad’s discography up to date on these pages with annotations of all three of these recordings with reviews by guest writers Rick Erben - The Latin Side of Herbie Hancock as posted on Amazon.com and A Voice Through the Door and The Tip of the Sword by Bob Kenselaar as written for www.allaboutjazz.com. Bob’s reviews a part of an extensive interview with Conrad which we've also included in this piece.
As a special treat, we've included a video at the conclusion of this piece that features Conrad performing with baritone saxophonist Ronnie Cuber, trumpeter Randy Brecker, The Metropole Orchestra, conducted by John Clayton on John’s arrangement of Charlie Mingus’ Boogie Stop Shuffle.
© -Rick Erben, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
Conrad Herwig: The Latin Side of Herbie Hancock (Half Note, 2010) - Review by Rick Erben
“Latin rhythms and jazz go together like bacon and eggs, bikinis and the beach, flowers and sunshine. For over a decade, trombonist Conrad Herwig has promulgated the integration of latin rhythms with jazz music. Amidst a discography of some twenty leadership releases are "The Latin Side of John Coltrane", "Another Kind of Blue - The Latin Side of Miles Davis", "Sketches of Spain y Mas - The Latin Side of Miles Davis", "The Latin Side of Wayne Shorter" and a collaboration with trumpeter Brian Lynch, "Que Viva Coltrane". Now we have another legendary composer's music featured in Herwig's latest project "The Latin Side of Herbie Hancock", recorded live at New York City's Blue Note club in 2008.
Latin rhythms have been part of the jazz idiom for much of the music's history, that is largely due to the proximity of New Orleans to Havana, Cuba. Jelly Roll Morton called the influence the "latin tinge". These rhythms also became incorporated in the music of the big band era with the popularity of the mambo and rumba. But perhaps the significant development in the context of combo jazz was Dizzy Gillespie's collaboration with conguero Chano Pozo in 1947 that produced the compositions Cubano Be and Cubano Bop. The great jazz composer and arranger Tadd Dameron used these rhythms in some of his music and, later, Ellington wrote and performed the "Latin American Suite".
More latin influences have pleasantly intermingled with jazz - notably George Shearing's jazz combos and the music of vibist Cal Tjader. But latin and afro-cuban rhythms found their way into the hard-bop school as well, reflected in music by Horace Silver and Lee Morgan. Tjader was perhaps the major voice through his lifetime, with band member and conguero Pancho Sanchez carrying that torch forward in more recent times. And there have been other fine musical proponents of the idiom such as congueros Ray Baretto, Ray Mantilla and the great Tito Puente. Jerry Gonzalez recorded the classic album "Rumba Para Monk"; plus "Rumba Buhania" and numerous other albums with the Fort Apache Band. Trumpeter, composer and arranger Michael Philip Mossman's exciting efforts and trumpeter Brian Lynch's previously mentioned collaboration with Herwig plus his own "Con Clave" and his collaborations with pianist Eddie Palmieri are other stellar examples of more recent music in this vein.
All of which brings us to the latest release from Conrad Herwig, "The Latin Side of Herbie Hancock". Most noted for his association with Miles Davis during the 1960s, subsequent Headhunters band and as leader or sideman on numerous classic Blue Note sessions, Hancock has enjoyed a long period of popularity owing both to his composing skills and often funky or bristling piano style that generated several jazz hits for him as well as established him as a standard bearer in the legacy of jazz. It is then fitting that Herwig should choose his music with which to constitute another of his "latin side" projects.
The band is a sextet comprised of Herwig in the company of Craig Handy playing saxophones, flute and bass clarinet; Mike Rodriquez, trumpet; Bill O'Connell, piano; Ruben Rodriguez, bass and Robby Ameen, drums. Pianist Eddie Palmieri guests on three tracks, as does trumpeter Randy Brecker on six tracks.
Two selections from Hancock's "Empyrean Isles" Blue Note session commence the album - "Oliloqui Valley" and "One Finger Snap". These are intriguing compositions and vehicles for exciting improvisation. "Oliloqui Valley" opens with the percussive montuno vamp of Eddie Palmieri's piano, setting up the rhythm for a full-throated horn section comprised of trombone, tenor saxophone and trumpet, reminiscent of Art Blakey's Jazz Messenger organizations. Soloists Brecker, Handy and Herwig take solid turns before thrilling Palmieri rides in amidst the cooking drums and percussion section of Robby Ameen and Pedro Martinez. "One Finger Snap" is taken at a frenetic pace with soaring statements from Rodriguez and Herwig.
Next follows the languorous tune "Butterfly" from Hancock's "Thrust" session. Craig Handy plays the bass clarinet that really imbues an exotic feel to the piece, much as Benny Maupin's work did on the original recording. This gorgeously tapers into Rodriguez's mellifluous trumpet solo and Herwig's plaintive voice at the trombone, preceding an exquisite tapestry of notes from O'Connell. This is the best arrangement of this tune that I have heard since Don Braden's "The Time Is Now" recording of the early 90s.
"The Sorcerer", part of the Miles Davis band repertoire and also done by Hancock on his "Speak Like A Child" album, is fittingly given a dark arrangement launching O'Connell into an intense solo. Herwig and Brecker then trade choruses as the piece evolves into a descarga jam. "Actual Proof", also from Hancock's album "Thrust", develops into a breezy vehicle for Brecker, Handy playing soprano saxophone and another fine solo from O'Connell.
Perhaps Hancock's most revered composition, "Maiden Voyage" features Handy playing flute, Brecker in a mellow tone and a sensational Herwig solo before O'Connell moves in with a delicately woven piano solo - all befitting the relaxed, idyllic nature of this marvelous composition.
Next it's back to "Empyrean Isles" for "Cantaloupe Island" and a journey featuring the clave - that rhythmic foundation of latin and afro-cuban music that is set-up by Palmieri's montuno vamps. This track is really in-the-pocket and features some incredibly sharp horn arrangements and solid soloing from Handy, Herwig and Brecker with Palmeiri's fiery eruptions at the piano keeping the music deep in the clave. It's easy to understand why Palmieri is so revered. The energy his intensely rhythmic piano style imbues is palpable and exciting. The piece concludes with a really slick arrangement for the horns and a return to the fascinating melody. This is killer good!
Closing the program is "Watermelon Man" from Hancock's 1962 debut session as a leader, "Takin' Off". This catchy tune immediately garnered Hancock wider notice and it's ebullient and funky rhythm is represented by the band before Herwig, Brecker and Handy begin a smoking jam. Amidst the relentlessly steady rhythmic foundation of drums and percussion, as they wail out in unison, it's time for Palmieri to cut loose once more. It is a thrilling conclusion to the album that only whets the aural appetite for more.
One contemplates all of the additional composers that Herwig might "latinize" in future projects such as Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, Horace Silver, perhaps even Charles Mingus. In the meantime, the succession of releases in this vein by Herwig contribute immensely to the contextual evolution of jazz, with respect to some of its great composers and performers, as well as toward the display of consummate musicianship in moving the art form forward. Here is one of those recordings that will remain a go-to staple of one's music collection for many moons.
© -Bob Kenselaar, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
- A Voice Through the Door (Criss Cross, 2012)/The Tip of the Sword (RadJazz, 2011) reviewed by Bob Kenselaar - all about jazz
Talking about some of his great influences in jazz, Conrad Herwig points out that it's important to look beyond their achievements on their instruments. "Sometimes during a musician's lifetime, people put so much emphasis on their virtuosity as a player that they don't really think about the vehicle of their expression—their compositions." Herwig was speaking of saxophonists John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter and Joe Henderson, but the same could be said about Herwig himself. He's one of the foremost jazz trombonists of his generation, but he's also made his mark as a prolific composer and arranger, as well as a bandleader and an educator.
And what's especially notable, too, is that Herwig has developed a distinctive voice as a trombonist and composer in a variety of musical contexts. His started his professional career in 1980, touring with trumpeter Clark Terry's big band before going on to stints with big bands led by drummer Buddy Rich, pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi and drummer Mel Lewis, in addition to putting in a number of years with the Frank Sinatra Orchestra. In the mid 1990s he began his long and continuing association with the Mingus Big Band, where he served as musical director for a time. In addition to his work with larger ensembles, Herwig has performed, recorded and toured with a number of small and mid-sized groups in contemporary, straight-ahead jazz contexts—both as a sideman and a leader. His experience includes work with such jazz masters as trumpeter Miles Davis, pianist Red Garland and drummer Max Roach.
Herwig also developed solid experience in Afro-Caribbean music from the very beginning of his career. He started a close association with clarinetist Eddie Palmieri in the 1980s, and, as Herwig recalls, "In the late '80s and into the '90s, we were doing hundreds of salsa gigs a year. I'm proud to say that Eddie Palmieri has told me that I earned my salsa badge. There were times when I wondered if I was a jazz player playing salsa, or was I a salsero playing jazz." The trombonist’s forays into salsa and Latin jazz also led to work with trumpeter Mario Bauza, percussionist Tito Puente and saxophonist Paquito D'Rivera. Ultimately, this experience resulted in the highly successful series of recordings Herwig has made with ensembles he's led re-interpreting the work of classic jazz masters in a Latin jazz context, beginning with The Latin Side of John Coltrane (Astor Place, 1996).
Less well-known is another side of Herwig—work that has ventured into avant-garde jazz, including experience with composer and saxophonist Henry Threadgill and percussionist Warren Smith during the "loft jazz" scene in New York in the early '80s. Another collaboration in a similar vein especially memorable for Herwig is his early duo recording with pianist Richie Beirach, Intimate Conversations (Ken, 1990). Here, the two musicians used as the basis for jazz improvisation the musical language employed by such 20th-century European composers as Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg and Anton von Webern.
Herwig's three most recently released recordings as of this writing each reflect three sides of the trombonist, composer and arranger. A Voice Through the Door (Criss Cross, 2012) is firmly grounded in a straight-ahead jazz quintet context, made up entirely of original tunes by Herwig, with the exception of one standard he arranged. The Tip of the Sword (RadJazz, 2011), brings Herwig together with Richie Beirach and Jack DeJohnette in an adventurous trio setting, playing some explorational Herwig compositions. The Latin Side of Herbie Hancock (Half Note, 2010) is the latest of the trombonist's "Latinization" projects, with arrangements by Herwig and pianist Bill O'Connell.
All About Jazz: What inspired you to record A Voice Through the Door?
Conrad Herwig: The genesis of it is the relationship that I have with the musicians that are in the group. Ralph Bowen is my colleague on the faculty at Rutgers University, and I think of him as arguably one of the great jazz sax virtuosos. I don't want to use the word "underrated" because I think the word "underrated" is overrated. But I think he's just dynamite, a dynamic player and just an incredible colleague. We think alike. His office is 20 feet down the hall; we see each other every day. And I love the sound of trombone and tenor sax. I was a fanatic for the Crusaders back in the day, with Wayne Henderson and Wilton Felder. I just love that sound. And as to the other guys in the band—Kenny Davis is another powerhouse. He's an incredible bassist and improviser. The way he solos, it's like a horn. He goes back to that lineage of bass players, to Paul Chambers and many others who have just impeccable lines and clean playing and perfect time. And Kenny's teaching at Rutgers, too, so it's a small world. Donald Edwards, our drummer—we've played together in the Mingus Big Band and the Mingus Dynasty. And Orrin Evans is a great friend and he's also a great friend of Ralph's. We've played together in the Mingus Big Band, recorded together, and I'm playing in Orrin's band now, the Captain Black Big Band.
AJ: And Orrin is also an alumnus of the Rutgers jazz program.
CH: It's the Rutgers family. I consider Orrin to be one of the most creative improvisers on the planet. He's so spontaneous, and he's just very empathetic as a pianist. When Ralph and I are playing, it's so great because Orrin knows what we're going to do before we do it. There's just a lot of love and a lot of joy when we're together.
AAJ: Kenny and Ralph go back a ways, back to the Out of the Blue group that Blue Note Records put together in the '80s.
CH: They do. And there are all kinds of other close ties we have with each other. Kenny has been playing forever with Ralph, and Kenny and I did a tour together with the Mingus Big Band. All of us have played hundreds of gigs together with different bands, maybe two of us together in different combinations. We have this relationship we have with each other and this mutual vibe, we don't even have to plan ahead. The spontaneity is just electric. And these guys are great, virtuoso players.
I always say to be a virtuoso jazz musician, you have to be a virtuoso musician. That's something that I think the average public doesn't understand. People listen to jazz, and they think jazz musicians just put on their sunglasses, snap their fingers and say, "cool, baby," winging it all the way. We're talking about musicians who have spent thousands of hours on musical fundamentals and on classical music, too. They're great sight readers, have great ears and have studied in major universities and conservatories, although they sound like they're organic jazz musicians. But all that is part of what makes the music so special, and it's very special, too, that we have that in common.
AAJ: And the compositions on the album are all your originals, with one exception, correct?
CH: Yes, the only exception is a re-working I did of "All or Nothing at All." I think Stan Getz once said, "You make the originals sound like standards and the standards sound like originals." That's what I was aiming for. That's something important for Criss Cross also. Gerry Teekens, who's the founder of Criss Cross, always talks about the tradition, jazz, blues and standards, and trying to make it personal, while at the same time doing something fresh.
AAJ: You're quite prolific, really, as a composer and an arranger.
CH: Well, it's just something that I've been doing since I was a kid, even in high school. I was blessed that I had music theory and composition in high school. And then when I went to North Texas State, I kept doing it. And a lot of my friends are composers and arrangers, guys like Bob Belden, who's now very successful. It actually goes back to when I was in elementary school. I used to get in trouble because I'd get bored with the parts for my classical wind ensemble in sixth grade. And I would try to make up my own parts so that the band director couldn't tell whether or not I was playing my part. Then I would get in trouble. I remember one time the band director asked me what I was doing. And I said, "I'm just kind of messing around in F." And he said, "Well don't mess around in F. Just play what's written!"
AAJ: Is there something in particular that these compositions on the album have in common, or are these just your latest compositions?
CH: Sometimes I'll write music, and it's almost like an extended suite. All the tunes on the CD were written in a six- month or one-year period. I do a lot of reading and thinking about philosophy, and the ideas behind these compositions go back to the poetry of Rumi, the 13th-century Sufi mystic. His poetry is beautiful, and I tried to take some of his poems and write up my own musical interpretations of them.
I've done that a lot in different projects. I'll be reading the Tao or oriental philosophy or Indian philosophy and try to use some of that as motivation. Or I'll go to an art museum or watch a Kurosawa film and listen to the score by Takemitsu. It's important for music to be a reflection of a broader part of yourself rather than just another slice of jazz. I think it might have been Dave Liebman who told me—he probably won't mind if I say this—that if music is a reflection of life, you have to have a life first.
AAJ: And the title of the album—A Voice through the Door—what's the significance of that?
CH: "A Voice through the Door" is one of Rumi's poems, and it has to do with motivation. Let's imagine there's a doorway and something either moves you to walk through that door or to walk away. It has to do with the overarching principal of wanting to keep growing and to pursue a path—what motivates us to move forward. It's about staying motivated and being optimistic. It's maybe a metaphor of our life, that we're constantly going through doors and continuing to move on.
AAJ: With The Tip of the Sword, there's a connection to Taoist philosophy.
CH: There is. Each of the compositions on the CD ties to a quotation from Zuangzi, a Taoist philosopher from the fourth century. And they also tie in with preparation in the martial artists. There are thousands of years of history behind these things, pre-Samuri, that have to do with effortless effort, control and inner sincerity. My sons and I were studying Shaolin Kung Fu for a while. We learned that the master never uses his art. We were studying with Phil Sant in Brewster, New York—he's a great Kung Fu master. I asked him, did you ever have to use Kung Fu in a real-life situation? And he said, "No, I just look someone in the eye, and they realize that there's no use confronting me." That's the inner sincerity that comes across—there's this power.
Jazz is not a martial art, obviously, but there's a kind of synchronicity to it, and it's an art of freedom through discipline. You do have to put thousands of hours of preparation into it. And with a great master like John Coltrane—who's a real role model for me—he had a sincerity of effort with such purity it was monumental. So I see a lot of connections between jazz and philosophy.
AAJ: Your collaborators on The Tip of the Sword are Jack DeJohnette and Richie Beirach.
CH: Jack is my favorite drummer on the planet. I idolize him. He's a total musician. He's influenced a lot of young drummers, like Jeff "Tain" Watts, whom I've worked with recently—Tain is that kind of musician. Jack has set the bar so high, because he's an incredibly gifted musician in all ways. He's a composer and a pianist and he's such an empathetic player. I had the good fortune of recording with him—there was an album called Altered Things(Timeless, 1992) by a great Finnish saxophonist named Eero Koivistoinen. Dave Kikoski and I were on it with him, along with John Scofield and Randy Brecker. That was the first time I ever got to play with Jack. But Richie has played with Jack for a long time. He had a trio with Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette together.
And then when I started playing with Joe Henderson I also recorded with Jack. We did a Porgy and Bess album (Verve, 1997), we did some gigs with Jack and Dave Holland and John Scofield. It was a blessing, and I've always just felt comfortable playing with Jack. But it'll keep you up at night knowing that you have to prepare for playing with him, because Jack is just frighteningly creative, although supportive at the same time. People think of Jack as this amazing powerhouse of drums, but he can say more with one touch of a cymbal than some people can in a whole solo all over the drum kit. Jack has this incredible palette, and he always knows exactly what to hit at just the right moment. It's actually very humbling to work with somebody like Jack DeJohnette. I admire him greatly.
AAJ: And Richie Beirach is someone you've collaborated with for a long time.
CH: My first album as a leader, With Every Breath (1987), was on vinyl on the Seabreeze label, and that was with Richie Beirach and Jim Snidero, Ron McClure and Adam Nusbaum. And then we did a series of albums on the Japanese Ken label. I also did a quartet record with that same rhythm section and a quintet record with Randy Brecker called The Amulet (Ken, 1991). Richie and I also did a duo CD, which was amazing, called Intimate Conversations (Ken, 1990).
AAJ: One review of that record compared it to avant- garde 20th-century classical music, which is not something you're widely known for.
CH: I think one place you'll find that influence is on The Tip of the Sword. Intimate Conversations had a life way beyond Japan. It was also issued in Europe on the Bellaphon label, and people in Europe liked it quite a lot. You can use that 20th century European musical language as the basis for jazz improvisation, too—we're talking about the Second Viennese School, Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg and Anton von Webern, as well as Satie, Ravel and Debussy. When you think about it, composition and improvisation are the same thing, because improvisation is just spontaneous composition.
It's interesting to think about the continuum of musical language in jazz improvisation. You see early New Orleans jazz, Dixieland, swing, bebop, hard bop, modal—modal-pentatonic, and a kind of a modal chromatic or tonal chromatic improvisation—and then really avant- garde improvisation. You can make the differentiation between pulse and non-pulse avant-garde—like the things from the late '60s, like Coltrane's Sun Ship (Impulse!, 1965), or Eric Dolphy, Albert Ayler and Archie Shepp, compared to the things that Anthony Braxton was doing.
It's interesting that mainstream jazz kind of went away in the late '60s. Every Trane record was pushing the envelope. Miles was pushing the envelope into the '70s, and you had records like Lookout Farm (ECM, 1974) with Dave Liebman.
Then, in the '80s, the music took a little more of a conventional path harmonically. You had the neo-bop movement then, for example. But even while that was going on, I was blessed to be able to play with people like Richie Beirach, as well as with Henry Threadgill and Warren Smith and that downtown New York scene, which wasn't getting a lot of attention then in the United States. Richie Beirach and I always used to say that we were too "in" for the "out" cats and too "out" for the "in" cats. But I feel blessed that I've been able to play in so many different kind of musical languages.
I did a record with Dave Liebman called Timeline (Owl, 1989) and went on the road with him, too, which was fun. It was Dave and Bob Mintzer and myself, with Rufus Reid,Jim McNeely and Adam Nussbaum. Then I was working with Eddie Palmieri and Afro-Caribbean bands, playing with Mario Bauza, Tito Puente and Paquito D'Rivera. And I had a lot of big band work. I remember doing gigs with Frank Sinatra and then going to Richie Beirach's house and playing duos—the stuff we were doing on Intimate Conversations. It was a nice time.
AAJ: Your work in Latin music in particular is an important part of your career, including records you've made as a leader, such as The Latin Side of John Coltrane in 1996 and other recordings in your Latin Side series.
CH: Some people probably feel that I've made about five records, and they're all the Latin Side—The Latin Side of Coltrane, The Latin Side of Miles Davis (Half Note, 2004), The Latin Side of Wayne Shorter (Half Note, 2008), The Latin Side of Herbie Hancock. Or they only know me from playing with Eddie Palmieri's band—which is s a huge side of my life, because I've been playing with Eddie for 27 years I think. Eddie's my son's godfather, and we're like family. I was really happy that he was voted an NEA Jazz Master, which is so well deserved.
The trombone has had an integral part in Afro-Caribbean music and Afro-Cuban music. If you go back really to the '40s, Generoso Jiménez was an iconic trombonist in Cuba who was the musical director for Benny Morton band, which was the leading Cuban big band in its day. Barry Rogers was another great trombonist, who was influenced by Generoso. Barry burst on the scene in the early '60s with Eddie Palmieri, and the two of them really created the trombonga sound in salsa and in Afro-Cuban music.
It was amazing to be able to join Eddie's band and to play with him for so long. In the late '80s and into the '90s, we were doing hundreds of salsa gigs a year. I'm proud to say that Eddie Palmieri has told me that I earned my salsa badge. There were times when I wondered if I was a jazz player playing salsa, or was I a salsero playing jazz. It just becomes part of who you are. And Afro-Cuban rhythms really inform swing, too. The more you know about Afro-Cuban music, the more you're able to swing in jazz. Sometimes people ask me, "Have you quit playing jazz? Because all you're doing is playing Latin music." And I say, "No, it's all the same. It's all the same."
The whole "Latin Side" thing came together with Brian Lynch, Donald Harrison and me playing with Eddie Palmieri. Being jazz players, we'd be quoting tunes, and sometimes we'd take an Eddie tune, say, a D minor ride, and play "Impressions" on it. Or we'd play a blues and do "Blue Trane." And it worked so well that the idea came to do the whole concept. Bob Belden and I were talking about it one day, and we were saying wouldn't it be cool to do the Latin Side of Coltrane, and that was when it happened.
If you had told me when I was 18 that all I was going to be able to do was play the music of Coltrane, Miles, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock and Joe Henderson, I would have said, "I'll sign up for that. Any time." It just happened that it felt natural. And the thing is, it's really just a vehicle for stuff we like anyway. When you talk about playing "One Finger Snap" or "Impressions," or "Footprints"—when I was coming up in the '70s, those are the tunes we were playing in jam sessions. So, there's nothing really hugely different. We're just putting an Afro-Cuban flavor and Afro-Cuban framework and using those compositions within that framework.
AAJ: The Latin Side of John Coltrane made a really pretty big splash when it first came out—it got a lot of attention.
CH: It didn't surprise me, because everybody who loves jazz loves Coltrane. But you can't really say a lot of people love jazz. It's an aficionado's music. It's an insider's music. It's cool and it's hip, and that's why we love it. But, for example, with Eddie Palmieri, he's hugely popular. Millions of people love Eddie Palmieri's music in South America, in Mexico, in Puerto Rico, the whole diaspora of Afro-Cuban music and Hispanic culture. Back in August, we were in Bogota. There were 90,000 people downtown in the square at our concert with Eddie Palmieri. And the amazing thing is they are really knowledgeable and total fanatics—and this is in Bogota, Columbia. Once you've seen the power, it all really makes sense.
Eddie always talks about Afro-Caribbean jazz as the fusion of the 21st century. And it's coming into its spotlight right now, with people like Eddie, Paquito, Arturo Sandoval and Chucho Valdes. Afro- Caribbean music has the power to draw you and make you want to move and bring you to your feet. So, superimposing or grafting the jazz classics onto that was amazing to see.
I will never forget doing a tour in Europe, and we went to the Canary Islands. It was a Heineken festival, and I remember there was a Heineken blimp and there were four-story high beer cans. There we were, playing the Latin Side of Coltrane, Brian and me and all of the guys from the record. We were playing either "Blue Trane" or "Impressions." And when I looked out around the stage, there were a couple thousand people listening to music. But when I looked back on the beach, I saw a huge crowd of several thousand people, all dancing salsa on the beach to John Coltrane's music. And then it really struck me—there's a power in this rhythmic form and in this music that's a serious force.
AAJ: In the summer of 2012, you played a series of concerts on the theme of the Latin Side of Joe Henderson at the Blue Note in New York.
CH: In a lot of ways, doing the Latin Side of Joe Henderson comes closest to home for me because I was blessed to tour with Joe Henderson and play in his quartet, his quintet, his sextet and his big band. I love Joe Henderson's music. I've been fortunate to share the bandstand with so many great musicians, but on a day-to- day basis, pound for pound, it was the greatest experience of my life, playing next to Joe Henderson.
It was an amazing experience traveling around the world with him—an amazing learning experience, too. It was daunting, soloing after Joe Henderson, because he was such a great saxophonist. But I also consider Joe to be in the pantheon of great jazz composers.
Joe grew up in the era of John Coltrane and Wayne Shorter and yet had his own individual voice—he was an innovator, along with them. Playing Joe Henderson's music is completely a labor of love for me. And having someone with the stature of Joe Lovano as part of this, playing the tenor saxophonist role, is just amazing. The other guys with us are so great, too—Ronnie Cuber, Alex Sipiagin and all the guys in the rhythm section. Bill O'Connell in particular is an amazing force. Again, I don't like the word "underrated," but I think Bill is one of the great composers, arrangers and musical minds around today, especially in his work on Afro-Cuban and Afro-Caribbean music.
AAJ: In addition to A Voice Through the Door, another album of yours in the straight-ahead jazz mode that stands out is Jones for Bones Tones (Criss Cross, 2007) with trombonist Steve Davis.
CH: This was a follow-up to another record I made with Steve called Osteology (Criss Cross Jazz, 1999), which is the science of bones. A Jones for Bones Tones is a tribute to a lot of different trombone players that I really admire. Slide Hampton, Curtis Fuller,J.J. Johnson, Frank Rosolino, Albert Mangelsdorff and then some trombone players that people may or may not know as much, such as Eje Thelin, a great Swedish trombone player and one of the all- time greats anywhere. In Europe, everyone idolizes the guy.
And, of course, growing up in Hawaii, Trummy Young was my idol. He moved there in 1964 when he left Louis Armstrong and married a Hawaiian girl, and he lived there until he died in 1984.
I was lucky as a kid living in Hawaii, my teacher had been in the Air Force—Les Benedict, who's just a fantastic, virtuoso player—and he had a lot of European records, including Eje's album. So I had cassette copies of Eje when I was about 13 or 14 years old. The funny thing was, my teacher also gave me stuff like Carl Fontana. Another teacher of mine was Ira Nepus, who was living in Hawaii and who played with Woody Herman. Frank Rehak was his roommate in the band in those days, probably in the '60s, maybe early '70s. Les and Ira were Trummy's students, and so I was able to be around Trummy and hear Trummy play. And I thought that was how everybody played trombone. It was an amazing gift for me, as a young kid to be in the presence of someone who's such a legend.
Another little bit of lore: when I was eight years old, we had our first band day, and the band director had a big truck with instruments. He would take a look at each kid. And to me he said, "Hey, kid put your arm out." And so, I put my arm out, and he said, "OK. You're a trombone player." I was the only kid who could reach the end of the trombone slide.
AAJ: You've had a long-time association with the Mingus Big Band, also. How did you get started with that?
CH: A lot of friends of mine were playing in the band, guys like Alex Foster, John Stubblefield and Dave Taylor. So I guess what happened is that Sue Mingus got my number from them. The Mingus Big Band is like a family. These guys are like my brothers, really. We've been tight friends for years. We get together socially, too. When I'm talking with my wife and thinking about who we're going to invite for a barbecue, these are the guys. It's a great thing.
AAJ: You've also served as the musical director for the band, for example, during the time that they recorded the Grammy- nominated Live at the Tokyo Blue Note (Sunny Side, 2006).
CH: Yes. For now, though, I call myself the designated hitter. There have been great musical directors along the way in the history of the Mingus Big Band—Steve Slagle, Alex Foster,Craig Handy and Boris Kozlov now is leading the band. If I'm needed, I'm happy to fill in.
I have to say, though, that with all the great musical directors of the band, in a sense, they're not really the leaders of the band. Mingus is the band leader. Mingus was a warlock. He was a visionary. He was the jazz Merlyn—the prognosticator who foretold history. The amazing thing about Mingus' music is that all of the tunes are as topical today as they were the day that he wrote them. Like, "Fables of Faubus"—you could be talking about any number of corrupt, mean- spirited politicians today. It's not just the political message, though. It's the music itself. He had this whole multi-layered approach to music. There's a hidden psychological dimension to everything he did. That's why the kid who plays electric guitar in his garage rock band and heard of Mingus because Jeff Beck played "Goodbye Porkpie Hat" comes to the Jazz Standard and learns to love Mingus. And he's sitting next to another the kid who's deeply into Eric Dolphy and Ornette Coleman. Mingus' music has meaning in so many different layers.
AAJ: There's an educational side to your work with the Mingus Band, too.
CH: We just did the fifth annual Mingus High School Competition, with high school bands from all over the country playing Mingus' music. There were several nights at the Jazz Standard and then a whole series of events at Manhattan School of Music, including a brass clinic I did. I've been an adjudicator on the competition and a collaborator on the Mingus educational aspects, which is a lot of fun.
AAJ: Your work as a jazz educator is another very important part of your life, being on the jazz faculty at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, since 2004, and serving as the Chair of the jazz program since 2011.
CH: Before that I suffered from what might have been called New York City Adjunct-itis. But it wasn't suffering, actually—it was a blessing. Back when I was in college at North Texas State, I never really considered being a jazz educator per se. I mean, I was a player. Rufus Reid was the first one who recruited me to go into the public schools in Paterson, New Jersey, doing some lectures in elementary schools and high schools, when he was head of the jazz program at William Paterson College. And then he gave me my first job teaching at William Paterson as the adjunct professor of trombone there. Then one thing led to the other, and I was at the New School and NYU and Manhattan School of Music, Long Island University and Queens College, which is where I got my master's degree. Then I got involved in doing master classes and workshops around the country. I've done hundreds of those at different places—schools like Eastman, USC and state universities, you name it. Then in 2004, there was an opening at Rutgers, I applied for it, and I was very fortunate to start as a full-time Assistant Professor of jazz studies.
It's the greatest thing in the world when your job is your hobby and your hobby is your job. It's a blessing. In the early days I was teaching improvisation, composition and jazz trombone and the students kept me on my toes. They're very talented and hungry for knowledge. The one thing I've told my students is that I'm not going to lose my chops teaching you. So, I play in all the classes and I play in the lessons, so we can interact. They're kicking my butt sometimes. They'll call tunes that I haven't played in 20 years. It's a lot of fun.
We work on jazz all day long, that's all we do. We go to lunch and we talk about jazz. I finish up at 4 o'clock. I get in my car, I drive to the City, and I go to the Jazz Standard or the Blue Note or Dizzy's Club or wherever I'm working.
The other thing that's amazing about Rutgers is the other faculty members here. Right upstairs is Victor Lewis. We were next door to each other for five years. I'm drinking coffee with Victor Lewis every day—you could pinch me. Stanley Cowell is a living legend; he just retired, and now Bill O'Connell is interim professor here. Vic Juris teaches guitar;Joe Magnarelli teaches trumpet; and, of course, we have Ralph Bowen and Kenny Davis. The faculty septet is smokin.' And we have a really good rapport. It's really an amazing thing—a dream come true.
There's a long history of jazz and jazz studies at Rutgers. Someone sent me a bunch of clippings of the Rutgers Jazz Festival from around 1969 with Julian "Cannonball" Adderley and Miles Davis. Larry Ridley started the program back then, with Frank Foster and Kenny Barron on the faculty. John Stubblefield directed the Rutgers jazz band, and I think he was the director when the Rutgers band won the Notre Dame jazz festival. Frank Lacy was in that band. They got into a bus, drove to Notre Dame, and they came back with a big old trophy. All the top jazz programs in the country had bands there. And Rutgers won it.Paul Jeffrey was another director of the band; he's down at Duke now. And, of course, William Fielder was a legend. I consider him one of the greatest brass gurus that I've ever met in my life.
One of my goals, now that I'm the Chair of Jazz Studies, is to raise awareness about the program, although it's not a matter of selling something that's an unknown quantity. The program has been in existence for so long.
The fact is, it's not a hard sell at all when you have a school that's 45 minutes from New York and an hour from Philadelphia. We have the great faculty that I mentioned. And there's also a really vibrant jazz scene in New Brunswick. The New Brunswick Jazz Project—Ralph Bowen is the musical director—has really been opening up venues. We've been bringing in guest artists, and there are gigs for the students every week. Plus, they're able to get on a train or hop in a car and be at the Vanguard in an hour.
Another selling point about Rutgers that it's one of the 25 research universities in the country. And now we're part of the Big Ten, which goes beyond the athletic program, putting us in a consortium with Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and other major schools. For students who want a college experience that gives them a major university environment—they get that at Rutgers. It's a stable environment and very vibrant intellectual community. Another thing—I guess I'm really on my soapbox now—a Rutgers degree really means something. It's a highly renowned educational institution, and there's an intellectual challenge to our program that students won't get at a school that's in a standalone conservatory setting. Ours is a conservatory program, too, but in the environment of a major research university.
Students selecting a school need to know themselves and what kind of environment they need to thrive, and this ties in with the size of a program, too. I think when I went to North Texas State they had something like 700 jazz majors, with maybe 80 or 90 trombone players auditioning. At Rutgers, we have about 700 students in the whole music school and approximately 50 jazz majors. So, our students have a lot of face time with the professors, and there's a lot of individual attention. So, it's intimate, but, at the same time, there are a lot of opportunities academically and socially, because it's within a university of 47,000 students.
AAJ: In addition to North Texas State, you also attended Goddard College and got a degree in ethnomusicology.
CH: Afro-Cuban ethnomusicology. I went to North Texas State for four years, and then in my last semester I ended up going on the road with Clark Terry, which was a dream. Then I came to New York and pretty much right after Clark Terry, I moved on to Buddy Rich's band. And right after that I was with Toshiko Akiyoshi and then I started with Mario Bauza and then Eddie Palmieri, and by 1986 I did my first gig with Frank Sinatra. One thing led to the other. So, I was never able to go back to North Texas State to finish my degree. But I found that Goddard College had a cohort program where you were on site at the school for a short period, followed by distance learning. So, I was able to study Afro-Cuban music, which really excited me, and finish my degree while working around my schedule as a musician.
I don't think it was my parents' dream for me to leave school. But you have these forks in the road, and for me, I just had to go with Clark Terry when I had the opportunity. And the blessing for me is that Clark Terry has been like an uncle to me. He has helped me in my career. I love him as much as my own family. He's the most wonderful human being on the planet. When he was living in New York, I would get a phone call from him out of the blue, and he'd say, "I'm listening to you on the radio right now." Clark is such a warm, wonderful guy.
I was working with Clark Terry again some years ago with Branford Marsalis and Byron Stripling in a band billed as Clark Terry and the Young Titans of Jazz. I joked that I felt more like a "tired titan" than a "young titan." We were working at Birdland and all these trumpet players were coming to sit in and to honor Clark, guys like Randy Brecker, Terrell Stafford or maybe Roy Hargrove. Randy played beautifully, and I said, "Randy, that was great." And Randy said, "Yeah, but Clark will cut you in five notes or less." Clark was on a break, eating his dinner in the dressing room. Clark sees me—he calls me "Rads." And he shook his head and said, "Rads, I don't know—all these young bloods coming in— I just don't know." And I said, "Well, CT, the only thing you can be assured is they're all coming in here to figure out who's number two." I really felt that way. It was always amazing to see these guys come in, and no matter how much a young cat will play—and I mean, God bless them, these guys were playing some incredible, heavy trumpet. But anyone who thinks he was going to cut Clark Terry, I mean, it's just not humanly possible. But he's always gracious. Whoever the young trumpet player on the scene is—he would let that guy climb up on the stand and go to town. And he would never undermine anybody. I think it's got to be the greatest honor in the world to have gone up on the stand and have Clark hand you your head. He's the king—the king of jazz. He's so inspiring.
There was a huge concert honoring Clark at St. Peter's Church in New York not long ago. So many great players—everybody was there. Clark has had so many challenges to his health in recent years. It was so heart rendering—they showed a video of CT there in bed giving a lesson to Justin Kauflin, the young blind pianist who was a finalist in the Thelonious Monk Competition. I was talking to Helen Sung the other day, who said that CT's giving lessons on Skype now. Here's a guy who gives and gives and gives. Clark gives with complete love. It's pure love. He doesn't expect anything in return.
AAJ: You were talking earlier about your other early influences back in high school in Hawaii. I understand there was someone else of special note from those days—Barack Obama, who you went to school with in Honolulu, at the Punahau School.
CH: Yes. I'm a supporter of President Obama, and I'm proud to say that I admire him. Growing up in that time in that place, we shared a common experience. He's two years younger than me. Ours was a fairly small school, and we had the same teachers. We weren't friends, really, but we had some mutual friends in common. The band room and the basketball courts were right next to each other. I love to play basketball, and it sounds like an excuse, but I broke my left hip when I was in 9th grade and had six pins put in it, and I wasn't really supposed to play. But I kept playing a little pick-up basketball, and I played a little pick-up ball with him. He used and abused me. He was good. I learned after a while he always goes to his left.
Also, President Obama was in the choir at school, and I have the yearbooks to prove it. I was in the orchestra, and every Christmas we would always do the Hallelujah Chorus together. So, I'm one of the few people on the planet who has actually gigged with the President. He may be better at basketball, but I'm a much better trombone player than he is.