When I first moved to New York, I studied ear training with the great Cuban maestro Alberto Socarras. I think Socarras was the first one to tell me about the master of choro— Pixinguinha (who is to Brazilians what Scott Joplin is,or should be, to Americans). Both Socarras and Pixinguinha played the hell out of the flute.
Kent Jordan (who made me practice as a teenager leading by example) plays an unbelievably virtuosic New Orleans flute. (He played on the first ballet I composed for the New York City Ballet,' Jazz Six Syncopated Movements'). I wrote an impossible to play part for him and he didn't even blink at it.
New Orleans people are related to Cubans through red beans and rice and to Brazilians through feijoada and Carnival…..and sometimes through flute.
Socarras would have loved Kent.
I'm writing a flute part right now.
Pixinguinha would have loved him too.
There is snow high on the Pyrenees. We are on a 45 min drive to Tarbes due east of that majestic range. Today we have an all day rehearsal of the music of Sidney Bechet, the Creole genius of clarinet and soprano saxophone. A hell raiser and musical hero in France after WW2, Sidney brought the emotional power and glory of New Orleans jazz to the world. We love playing this music (with special guests Olivier Franc and Bob Wilber (who studied with Sidney) because early jazz is optimistic, hardy, and always fun to play. Wycliffe Gordon is also on this concert, so Vic and I will have a great time playing 3 horn collective improvisation with him.
For twenty years, in Marciac, I stay in the home of Marcel and Christiane. Their three kids are around my age and they have shown me and my kids much love through these many years. All of my kids have studied French and love France because of their experiences in Marciac and in the house of Laberriere. They are family to me. We sit at the kitchen table (Frank Stewart's picture of that same table is in our book Sweet Swing Blues on the Road) and speak in broken Spanish about all kinds of things. When their daughter Cathy is home, she translates, all the while adding her own passionate commentary and arguing with her father.
We talk this morning about: the quality of ham in Bayonne; the various shapes of tomatoes from south america (they pull out a tomato that looks like a pepper and another shaped like a heart); the glories of a pepper festival in the city of Espellete; how they loved taking their kids to the Basque region when the family was growing up; how Basque people adorn the outside of homes by hanging peppers on draped strings (also, I observe, a tradition in the U.S. south). Out comes 4 or 5 Basque cookbooks with commentary on memorable past meals.
We are eating confit de canard and sliced potatoes fried in duck grease. They say you can only get a proper magret in homes because it takes 6 to 8 months of soaking the duck in its own grease and restaurants don't want to take the time. This meal reminds me of the cuisine my great aunt used to make in a little bitty shotgun house on Gov. Nicholls street in New Orleans (my momma and them speculated her recipes came from slavery, well, my great uncle was born in 1883 so that's not far fetched)…. anyway, New Orleans was founded by the French and we eat the same bread and like our coffee the same way and, regardless of economic status, have that same high regard for savory sauces and ornate sugar bowls and taureens.
Marcel and Christiane have been married for 48 years. Yesterday we had a long conversation over a section of roasted pork. This was an intense back and forth about black and white folks and France and America and imperialism and Charles DeGaulle and wars and generations and what people know, want and expect, and progress and, of course fraud and frauds. Cathy and I represent a younger more progressive and liberal (we think) way of thinking. Marcel says when he was young, he was with Gen. De Gaulle who was against all kinds of imperialism (including American) and long before that, he remembers German soldiers occupying his family's house. He is proud of what his generation has achieved and, like most who remember the American effort in WW2, he loves the United States.
In his early 20's (1958), he fought in northern Africa for 2 and a half years. He says war opens you up for life (for better and worse). As we get deeper into a rumination on black and white folks and old and young folks, he becomes more forceful. He says France fought in Senegal and the Congo and Algeria, Vietnam and so on and a lot of lives were lost over trying to oppress people and take their things because their skin color was darker.
He says he understands what is the battle of the races and that the loss of life in those wars made many people in France realize they would rather accept people of different colors and cultures coming together than continue to die trying to prevent it and or trying take people's stuff free of charge (or so cheaply as to be free).
About the generations he says you go to school you think you know something.
You do something (like fight in a war)——you know something.
Today I am working on the 'guts' of one movement of my symphony……. thinking about the late great Freddie Green who played guitar with Basie for so many years. Freddie spent 5 decades of nights playing those steady springy quarter notes that undergirded everyone else's rhythmic flights of fancy. He was the key to the infectious Basie swing. Mr. Green said that his role required a lot of humility AND aggression.
His playing was dependable and flexible like bamboo. I am thinking about that constant stream of on the beat quarter notes (or eight notes depending on tempo) that is found in classical symphonies, tango, and some rock bass parts, in latin music (sometimes on the güiro), marches, and a lot of viola parts. I'm remembering how Mr. Freddie Green told me there's a lot of motion to be found when you're being still.
I guess he was talking about all the little melodies and nuances he would find in that steady stream of rhythm. Or he could have been talking about what those whirling dervishes achieve: through motion——-stillness. I mean the swing is also a circular motion.
Well, Mr. Green was so intelligent and experienced by the time I met him—-no telling where he was going. I should have asked better questions back then.
Onto the stage of the Chapiteau…… 20 straight years. Everybody cheering, Jean Louis, Marcel, Christianne, Noé, Vincent, Sammy, and pretty girls from Gascony named Celine. The seer of the American vernacular, John Fitzgerald Kennedy Miller, has scraped up enough money to get here from Bolivar, Tennessee and he's 'loaded for bear'. And here comes the band and Elliot is doing his absolute trombone thing on 'Mendizorrotza Swing' and chops are flying everywhere.
And Sherman steps into his own arrangement of 'Sweet Papa' Lou Donaldson's 'Blues Walk'——— has people in every corner of the big tent shouting with sanctification in the spaces of his solo and all that Alabama soul in his sound also works in the country region of France…. then Chris takes us to Georgia by way of the chitlin' switch and we know we're gonna have a good time tonight. Carlos starts walkin basic quarter notes way down low and falls deep in the pocket with Ali.
Me and Ryan glance at each other with that "yeah" look. (And Ryan is not given to any gratuitous demonstration whatsoever)….those men are swinging.
Here comes Duke's 'Paris Stairs' and Sean weaving quirky lines of pure harmonic sophistication while Vic adds luster to Jimmy Hamilton's part (Jimmy played on the original recording and he played in the first JLCO). I can see him now telling Vic some obscure clarinet fact, happy that this music is being played still in the world and still to great affect. You should have heard Vince's 'Up and Down' and all the horn Ryan and Vic played.
Young phenom Cafiso sittin in for our brother Ted runs wild on 'Epistrophy' and Printup plays some of the most eloquent muted trumpet we've ever heard on Horace Silver's 'Peace'. Dan puts moonglow on the ensuing improvised chorus over a carpet of velvety saxophones. Before we look up, Vince finds the holler in Monk's 'Bye-Ya'. It feels so good he don't want to stop. Carlos gets loose too, shaking the sweat from his eyes so he can keep playing the bass on this, his beautiful arrangement… Joe has been waiting to do his thang on Thad's 'Counterblocking' and does, leaning back in his chair and digging into the time making the big horn sing.
Then 3 sections of my Abyssinian Mass and we end with '(you got to watch) The Holy Ghost' and sean, Chris and Sherman blow encrusted soul from the bowels of their horns and ali stomps and shakes and shimmies the tambourine and bass drum to kingdom come. All the while dan has been comping and soloing and making his 'I'm here to play' face and that Marciac audience, second to none in the world, takes us higher and higher till we touch the scalding hot notes ryan has been hitting all night and so deep in the pocket we pull away with handfuls of gris-gris Marciac magic. And the tour is over.
But not until Ali parades us down the street with 'the sanctified blues' and Victor renews our faith in what New Orleans did for the clarinet so long ago and still today that Creole spirit lives through him— then kenny dorham's 'stage west' at breakneck tempo allows walter to say what we all know what Carlos said when he kept the time, challenging ali to maintain the superfast tempo AND the form on a mach-speed drum solo and what we (all arched in holy anticipation of a drummed cue that comes unpredictably streaking towards us) joyously reiterate as we strike the final choruses of blazing lines: All Jazz is Modern brothers and sisters. And it's in the minds, souls, and feelings of everyone here and everywhere that knows.
This is what we been doing and still do with ancestral pride and swagger. And our beautiful listeners in the Chapiteau tonight let us feel that it's worth doing again and again….. and the cats are all gone. And I am up at 4 o'clock, after drinking a little armangac with Marcel and Christianne and Jean Pierre and Françoise, in a solitary room working on this symphony, grateful to have had the best seat in the house.
And John Miller is off somewhere in a complete drunken stupor shouting words of encouragement to soloist who stopped playing hours ago but whose guts remain forever in the foamy lather of what was, is, and continues to be. A thing never seen again as Yeats liked to say, but always seen forever (as the real hipsters love to point out). like making love to someone you love.
It never dies. Ever……
It is a week ago from this past Monday morning; we are recording at the Conservatorium de Musica Jesus Guridi in the Aula Magna Isaac Albeniz. Several years ago, I did a big trumpet master class in this same room with about 30 trumpeters of all ages from 6 to 67. The Jedi has been here all last night setting up the space. We are desperate to sound good because we all know this is a golden period for the band, and we want to be documented sounding our best.
I am worried that the room will be too dry (not reverberant enough). In the 1970's, the technology of recording changed to accommodate the newer electronic instruments which sound good going directly to tape (no room sound necessary). The optimal studio became a very dry room so that engineers could conrol the sound electronically without fighting what took place in the room. All ambient sound could be created by artificial echo machines and the like. Tones could be plumped up and everything but soul added by the sound engineer. This innovative step forward gave control over the music to the producers and led to groups recording individual members in separate, isolated spaces relying on headphones to hear each other play. This further liberated us (a few years later) from even having to be in the same studio at the same time when recording. This freedom from the requirements of developing a tone and balancing with other musicians in a room hurt jazz, which places a premium on an individual, nuanced tone and features the struggles and triumphs of musicians communicating and balancing with each other.
One example of this struggle is the drum-bass dynamic. The drums are the loudest instrument, the bass-the softest. The drummer, the most powerful definitive instrument on the bandstand, must fight to play with enough control to allow the acoustic bass to be clearly heard. Just like the power concept in the U.S. Constitution – checks and balances. The bass checks the power of the drummer. Once the bass plugs in, and is as loud as the drums, the drums are free to play as loudly, and a central tension is gone. The characteristics of the music change for the worse. There are many relationships like this in jazz. Get a monitor, and you can play as out of balance as you want (just make the instruments you're drowning out louder in your personal mix, and everything will be ok).
We will be struggling with these issues today because we don't use headphones or anything to impede our hearing. There is a funny saying in the studio, "We'll fix it in the mix." The great Steve Epstein, my producer for many years use to say, "It's not magic. If it sounds good out there (in the room), it sounds good in here. Fix it in the room." We believe in playing in balance and with intensity. That's why we need a good ambient room – to feel good about our balance and general sound.
Well today the room, if anything, is too reverberant.
It's 11am…time to hit. Chano and his men are ready, but no El Piraña. We are ready. The saxophones even had a self- inflicted, three hour section rehearsal yesterday (Sunday), so you know they are chomping at the bit.
Iñaki is ready. This is a dream come true for him as he convinced the city to sponsor this recording. We have never made a record in a studio outside of the U.S., and I am more nervous than usual because I want Iñaki to be happy.
Time to go, and the computers don't work. Down through the years, when stuff doesn't work in the studio, I always feign extreme anger and say, "Two million dollars worth of shit, all kind of college degrees and can't nobody figure out how to turn on a damn microphone." Jedi is 6'7, about 315 pounds…I don't say anything. And I don't want us to lose our concentration over something we can't do anything about. We have six sessions to record a lot of difficult music.
Anyway, El Piraña is not here (he went to Barcelona on the day off). We go outside and start throwing softballs and footballs around…waiting. Two hours pass, an infinity when recording, and the glitch has been fixed. As if on cue, here comes El Piraña as calm as can be (New Orleans musicians are always late too, especially the ones that can play).
We begin. The hall is so reverberant; we have great difficulties hearing each other. Add Chano's men to the mix, and we have a touch of early pandemonium. Ali has anticipated some of these issues. He has learned all of Chano's music from memory because," I don't want to have to look at music and worry about everything else going on." He is crisp and definitive with the cues and groove changes. The drummer is the de facto conductor so his preparation pays immediate dividends. He and Carlos will talk and argue about the tempo and the grooves for the entire session but have a mutual respect and love for each other that fuels the entire band. Slowly we adjust to the room and get "De Cadi" recorded to Chano's satisfaction. Blas sends chills down your spine with his 'deep song' singing, and Piraña is pure root. Tomasito keeps everyone loose. Our ensembles play in two different concepts of time and volume, so there are legitimate challenges for which no one is culpable.
Next, we record the two movements of Vitoria Suite which will feature us, Chano's men and Paco de Lucia. Paco has graciously agreed to play on these movements, and his musical assistant, Javier Limon, is here with a most soulful presence. We do the Bulerías (Paco says it’s really Bulerías por Solea) El Portalòn, so it is.
Normally we play each piece twice and that's it. On rare occasions we have to record more takes. In my experience, we almost always go with the first thing played or maybe the second…never the third or fourth. The first two takes of this piece are too fast and rushing. We decide to do it again at a slower tempo…a drag because at that pace we won't come close to finishing all the pieces.
The hall is hot and stifling. It's summer in Spain, and the air conditioner makes too much noise to be on during takes. It stays off.
Recording the way we do really taxes your concentration, you feel as if you're playing for the ages, and every note or musical choice is extremely important. You perform under the pressure of swing time when improvising under any circumstance. When recording you also perform under the pressure of actual time. Time is very limited, and it is not possible for the whole group to re-concentrate on the same piece 3 or 4 times. It loses its freshness.
The music we are playing with Chano and his men today is so unusual, we maintain our interest and intensity as the day wears on. Tomasito takes off his shirt. He jumps up suddenly and does an impromptu dance at the end of El Portalòn. As we fade out, he mutters some funny phrases ending in "It's ok". He does it at the end of the next take, and cats are disappointed. We hate anything like a routine. Cats tease me for saying the same things about songs in our regular sets. We tell him to do something different, and he obliges with another whole commentary and dance.
The next piece, Deep Blue (from the Foam), goes down relatively easy even though the last section has tricky entrances. Thankfully, Chano changed the groove on this one and made it more playable.
The first day is over and we have recorded 45 minutes of music…on schedule. Iñaki is doing better. The Jedi has a long night ahead of him putting the tracks together and tweaking all the tech problems. He has a local production crew who already love him (they call him ‘Pequeñito’). They are astounded by his encyclopedic knowledge of the technology, his intensity, and his warmth. After tonight they will understand something else – the Jedi’s energy and work ethic is unequaled in the free world. We are bone tired. There are two more days to finish ten movements.
The next day we are very businesslike and efficient. We have adjusted to the peculiarities of the room and Jedi is hitting his stride. I break after every take, and the process seems to be very tedious. I tell cats I think we are being too careful, trying to play everything perfect. Vincent says we are going too slow. The other cats chime in, "Yeah man, let's go." I understand what they are saying and make an immediate adjustment. Cats start jumpin’ all over the music. Vic, Sean, Sherman, Elliot, the Equal Opportunity Rhythm Section…everybody is dealing.
We record six movements in a row, and the day is done. Jedi is happy, Iñaki is even more happy and I am relieved even though I know tomorrow will be a hard day because all three of the pieces have peculiar difficulties. I can't sleep for wondering how my chops will respond to #5 (Blood Cry).
We start the next day with me and the clarinets. I know I have to play this correctly the first or second time. Since I had an operation on my lips 3 years ago, my chops are not the same. Sometimes they feel ok, other times……well. On this piece, I have to bend a lot of high and sustained notes. I can hear Ali and Carlos saying I played better when I had a mustache. The first take – I start off messing up. I didn't stop and played it all the way through to figure out where my chops were. We finish and the sax section looks back at me with an expression that says, "You were joking, right?" Right away we go into what has to be the one. It was. Then Vic says, "We messed up one section. Let's do it again." I say, "Oh, no. That's it for me." Ted says, "That one had the feeling in it." They go over that one part without me, and we go on to the next piece, the hardest of the session…
Most jazz musicians act cool and unflustered. We joke all the time, especially in a serious or tight situation. Now, no one says anything. The brass know that the reeds have practiced their parts on the off day, and we also know that we messed up many of these brass pyramids in the concert. It left an unacknowledged bad taste that we are about to wash from our collective mouth. Ali sets the tempo and checks it against a metronome. We start.
Every man is concentrating and determined to let every other man know what he is about in relationship to this hard-ass music. A pure, single-minded sense of purpose engulfs the room and sucks even more air from the space. We try so hard to put an exclamation point on this piece. We start rushing. Ali tries to reign us in by slowing the tempo. We look at each other and he says, "I can't hold them back, man." We are gettin' after it. We adjust to a faster tempo. Then the JLCO shows who and what it is. Ryan Kisor has one unplayable, double high 'A' quarter note on four to complete a brass pyramid. It is played today. Ryan is good luck. He loves to play poker and has the nerves and countenance for it. The brass play two takes of this and miss maybe two or three notes. The reeds are all over their parts. Ali, Carlos and Dan swinging with a willful sharpness. For us, this is the highlight of the session, and we were not bullshitting…at all!
Movement 7 goes down in two takes despite the reed parts in C# which should have been written in Db. Things I never have to worry about: the trombone section (they comes to play); Ali (understands the seriousness of recording); Carlos (policing the groove). The session is over. Dan stays and records his intro. Then, we enjoy relief and satisfaction.
If these posts give you the feeling we are sightseeing, well believe me, that was three days and nights of concentrated work. Whew!
Iñaki is very happy, and so are we. He treats us to one last, excellent repast at the restaurant Sagartoki. "The best tapas in Spain," Iñaki says. We hang for a minute after all the cats have left, enjoying the moment. Iñaki's family is here tonight and so are many of the cats’ wives and girlfriends.
Bags packed and in the truck at 12am. Fernando, Irene and I are in the car at 1am on our way to London…16 hours.
Before we pull off, Iñaki wishes us safe travels. We watch him walk slowly down the desolate, night-lit street, full of emotion. He crosses the avenue, and we feel his contentment with increasing intensity as he fades into the distance. He has taken care of us in the highest style as he has always done. I tell Fernando how much I love and respect Iñaki. Fernando says, "Yeah, that's one bad motherfucker, boy."
Yeah, he is.
Last week I received the gold medal of Vitoria. Iñaki told me to make sure I was on time for the ceremony. I was. For all the honors I have received, I'm always embarrassed by any official type of public recognition. When I was younger I would clown during the reading of the citation. Now, I just stand uncomfortably there. At one point I wanted to just not accept any awards, but my mentor Albert Murray said, "The ritualistic giving of awards allows a community to come together in celebration of what is significant for them. The ceremony itself, its reenactment, places present day heroes in the context of past heroism and says, 'our values still resonate in the present' which gives confidence for the future." I now accept awards graciously. The last time I had an official ceremony in Vitoria, a female journalist informed me that my pants were unzipped. That was 6 years ago and I still remember it. It's hard to quietly zip up your pants at a public ceremony.
This time, I made sure everything was tight. We arrived at the medieval center of the old city, and there were guys with green and gold embroidered, medieval guard uniforms holding formidable looking battle-axes. The mayor, Patxi Lazcoz, was young and energetic, and I had a wonderful (and beautiful) translator. This ceremony was unforced and lyrical. It was a radiant Sunday morning, and everyone was dressed up. Reminded me of the South and so many Sundays with people all dressed up with their best clothes…all colorful. We would get our clothes for the year from the Sears catalog, and you always had something for Sundays.
Gen and Stew are there. Gen is my assistant and office manager and everything. She was George Butler's secretary at Sony (when it was CBS) in the early 80's. Branford and I were 19 and 20. We used to go to the office just to see Gen. It broke our hearts when we found out she was married, but her husband, we just call him Stew, is one of the coolest people on earth. He doesn't come out that often, so to see the two of them and their two college roommates in Spain was a treat and a comforting touch of home.
Mayor Lazcoz read the citation in a warm and brisk manner. I looked at Gen for reassurance that I wasn't talking too long in accepting the award – Gen and Susan John (our director of touring at JALC), between the two of them I get a sense of when to stop. Chano then played for me an exquisite "Solea Blues". I loved the fact that he played at this. He always brings a good time with him, and when he started to play, it became a great time. This was a hip ceremony— not all stuffy. Members of city council were there. I thought about the city council of New York. I love them because they ARE the communities they represent.
We went to an outdoor reception under a tent. Very soulful. Food and drink excellent. The dedicated volunteers and hard working staff of the festival were there. There was a big Styrofoam sculpture saying ‘THANK YOU WYNTON’. I joked in my mind about how I would send a picture of that to my sons when they start telling me how I didn't do this or that. There was much lively conversation about politics, and Señor Javier Rojo, President of the Senate of Spain (from Vitoria), won the sartorial splendor award. We joked and compared shoes, ties…it went all the way down to the cuff links. He is a very gracious and humorous man. We had a spirited repartee about American politics.
I took pictures with other recipients of the gold medal. Each one has made some important contribution to the city: Amelia Baldeon in archaeology, Eduardo Anitua in biological investigation, Joaquin Jimenez in popular and folk traditions, and Inaki and me in jazz. I was the first non-Spanish to win. Of course, with the legacy of American slavery and being from New Orleans, I might have some Spain in me.
After taking pictures with the Festival staff, a smaller group went to IKA to eat. They understand about food there. We had a lively, lively political 'discourse' over some special tuna and local rioja. The discussion got so heated at one point, I forgot I was 'company'. Senator Rojo has a passionate way of discussing the issues (something I always relish because it makes you feel alive and is real education). That was a great lunch.
As the repast ended, the Director of Protocol, Señor Gosu Alberdi (himself with a deep blue, three-button suit that he appeared to be poured into and spit-shined shoes so well polished, I checked the position of my tie in them) told me three things: – Do not misconstrue the heated nature of the debate as disrespect. – Thanks for being well dressed. – Learn more about Spanish politics.
We all laughed while acknowledging the truth in those words. Senator Rojo and I exchanged cuff links, and we all saluted each other as we went off into the late afternoon, down the glorious, sun-drenched avenues of Vitoria, well equipped to face the night.
I had to be super-organized for the next day. We were recording Chano's music, then movements 4 and 8 which would be augmented with Chano's group. The Jedi was in town and we had to adapt to a new recording environment.
The Mendizorrotza is packed and steaming tonight. We play with a lot of passion, and everyone wants to rise to the occasion even though my lack of planning has hurt us. But as the hours pass, chops, heat, concentration, lack of preparation and fatigue begin to congregate. Not good. It's like the game of chess, when you see bishops and knights congregating around your king, Hmmmmm…
The first three movements are great. The fourth, "Bulerías El Portalòn", features Chano's men and ends with Tomasito and Jared dancing their behinds off. The audience goes justifiably crazy. This is a real example of virtuoso musicians and dancers coming together and enjoying each other’s craft at a very high level. We try to impress and inspire each other and invent new things…always new things. Of course, people love Jared. He is brilliant and so for real. That one piece was 15 minutes long and felt like a good ending to the concert…only 8 movements to go and Chano's "De Cadi".
Movements 5,6,7, and 8 are the most difficult logistically. I have a lot of little problems in 5 (Blood Cry) which features the tpt. and clarinets. Then 6 (Big 12) gets away from us in the brass. It has many complicated bell tone patterns and a long form that requires concentration. We hate messing up a big brass part because the brass and woodwinds always tease each other. This competitive ribbing goes back to the earliest big band jazz which featured call and responses and riffs juxtaposing reeds and brass. We accuse the saxes of taking up most of the rehearsal time. Actually, reed parts are generally more difficult because the reeds function like the violin section in a symphonic orchestra and carry most of the melodic material.
Whew! We had a hard time with it.I always say don't judge something as you're playing it because: 1) it takes your concentration away from what is being played (never leave what IS for what should have been). 2) you're under too much pressure to accurately assess what's going on. 3) even if you're messing up, everyone else could be making up for you. 4) you lose your enthusiastic discovery of what's coming up and destroy your receptiveness to the immediate inventions of the improvising musicians around you (the best part of playing jazz).
Still, it's hard not to observe yourself messing up.
Here comes the 7th section, (“The Tree of Freedom”). The tree of Guernica is very important to the Basque people so this piece has a very difficult piano intro, a lot of intricate woodwind filigree in the treacherous key of C# major (something I know our saxophone players doubling on flutes and clarinets will love) and has been played only once and so on. However, our audience stays with us, and we acquit ourselves well in a difficult situation in public. Our guys have handled their business and did what they know how to do…play.
Chano's piece goes well. His musicians, El Piraña, Blas, and Tomasito live this music. After flying in and waiting all day, they light up the stage. The people here love them and with good reason. Chano has discovered a very unique and earthy way to combine flamenco and jazz at the root. He is one of the few people on earth that can actually fulfill the principal requirements of both jazz and his native music. Most musicians from other cultures play jazz, the first thing they discard is blues- the second is swing—-the two most definitive essentials of this music. After flying in from Russia, he stands backstage and intently checks out all 2 hours and 30 minutes of our set. When he comes on, they give us a needed shot of energy.
27 hours after realizing we did not know all of the music we had to play, our band has travelled 400 miles, rehearsed 4 hours, learned or relearned 4 new pieces, played a 3 hour concert for 4000 people, addressed the particulars of all types of grooves from 4/4 swing to samba to bulerias, Ryan has hit over 50 high G's, Ali has had 2 hours of sleep and did not miss one cue, Dan handled his difficult part on movement 7, Joe got all the entrances in movement 8, and we did justice to Chano's music to his satisfaction…all at 1 o'clock in the morning and in 95 degree heat! I'm proud of my men.
The audience stays with us and the 3 hour concert is successful, even if sloppy. Iñaki is happy. We go back to the hotel, and a great jam session is brewing. There are local people spilling out all into the lobby and street, just loving the informality and romantic freedom of it all.
I went to my room and worked on my symphony, then couldn't sleep…I hate messing up music. Tomorrow will be Sunday. A day off.
One of the cats calls me, "Man, you need to come get a piece of this session."
"Man, y'all gon' hold it down…just like you did tonight."
We left Valencia at 7:30am. We are on the road again—- 5 hours from the east cost to the Basque region in the north, to Vitoria. On the way, we stop at a roadside cafe in Teruel. Local families everywhere with kids running all around. Having fun, then too much fun, then crying, then having fun crying. Teruel is on a eastern mesa in the middle of nowhere. To honor its obscure location, Spaniards have a popular saying that the town later adopted as a slogan, "Teruel Exists". In Valencia, the temperature was 22°C. Two hours later in Teruel——11°C.
Now we're talking about huevos fritos, olives, cured ham, blood sausage – Spanish soul food. We ask the proprietor for some Tabasco (Wes Anderson says civilized people bring their Tabasco with them) and he grunts and walks away. Fernando says, "Damn! Man of few words, brother." Three minutes later he comes back and places a bottle of New Iberia, Louisiana Tabasco on the table and walks away. "That man is really talking now," says Fernando. "Loud and clear."
In these posts, I generally touch on highlights of our tour from my perspective. The next three days was what we actually do…..there was not even 30 minutes to post anything.
We get in around 1 o'clock in the afternoon. Rehearsal is at 3. Vic, Sherman and I go immediately to Saburdi, a local tapas place a few blocks from the hotel. We assess what has to be accomplished in the next few hours. Movements 6,7,8 – any one of which would easily take up a full rehearsal (3 hours). Then movement 5 which requires only me and the sax section on clarinets….. Later, we will perform all 12 movements and Chano Dominguez's 20 minute suite, "De Cadi a New Orleans."
I apologize. We just laugh and shake our heads.
It's now 6 o'clock and we have gone over 2 1/2 of the four pieces. Everyone is a little testy. Our rehearsals can seem like pandemonium to someone who is used to normal rehearsing. We are getting the music together and different sections work out their parts at the same time. We rehearse quickly knowing that everyone is always figuring their part out. In New York, we also sometimes have kids running all around adding to the stew of seeming confusion. Most of us arrange and know how the orchestrations should work and cats mainly ask me note questions.
"Is this a G or a G#?"
"Man, I don't know, play it? Yeah G."
Ali and I go back and forth about one groove or the other or the tempo or the need for an accent here or there. He got about two hours sleep last night. Many times you get so much energy and exhilaration from a gig you can't sleep. Carlos talks about the need to define the components of one particular groove or another. Ali says what he is doing is right and Dan doesn't say anything. (That's the rhythm section.)
Vic is always checking notes and almost always finds things that need to be changed. Ted is being driven crazy by the intonation. Sherman is
'personalizing' his parts with all types of 'Alabamaisms'. Walter is checking his instrument and Joe is playing hard passages over and over making it impossible to talk about what we are rehearsing. (That's the saxes).
Vince adds his own little scoops and bends to his parts which Chris and Elliot imitate and laugh about when stylishly executed. (That's the trombone section—- all over 6'2 and the most easygoing people in the world.) If I can't figure out a note I wanted, we ask Chris. He can hear "a rat thinkin' about pissin' on cotton".
The trumpets never say much. Ryan, Marcus and I have played together for about 15 years and Sean fits in so easily and plays so well. The 6 years he has played with us has passed very quickly. We are worried about our chops and especially Ryan's (he plays lead). Even though we know he is a freak of nature with all the unusual technical skills he possesses, 4 hours of rehearsing, then a 3 hour gig hitting all kinds of high g's all night and soloing is more than a lot of a lot. We tell him to play things down the octave or lay out but he plays them anyway. Marcus and Sean are good natured and have a lot of pride, weighty tones and a rich sense of the music, and the importance of what we are doing. They will be ready.
Chano and his group Tomasito (dancer), Blas (singer), and El Piraña (cajòn) wait for us to finish. Chano is coming from St. Petersburg, Russia but is very cool about waiting. Playing with them is like being with extended family for real. They are like New Orleans musicians—-soulful and laid back.
We also have our secret weapon – tap dancing genius, Jared Grimes. We don't get around to rehearsing with him, but he is such a natural that his mere presence on the stage will create instant electricity. I had called him late the night before to go over the Bulerias rhythm he would dance in one of the pieces. He will be right.
Finally, we finish. It's after 7 o'clock and the gig is at 10. Barely enough time to eat and shower, iron our clothes and get over to the Mendizzarotza to swing.
We have played here 10 times over the last 21 years. Iñaki Añua is the life of this festival. He is a man of the highest order, of hospitality, of dignity, of integrity, and of achievement. Over these years, we have developed a deep bond and tried many different types of shows. From an infamous 3 hour young people's concert (the translation got us) to a swing dance (who is swing dancing in the Basque country?) to this show tonight. The TV lights are very very hot. Chops are gonna be flying everywhere. Iñaki asked me 11 years ago to write a small blues for the festival. Now the 12 movement piece (that incorporates all kinds of Spanish musical concepts, sweet and sanguine memories of this city, places, basque attitudes and in the words of Chano, "He who forgets the blues is lost") is finished.
The Mendizorrotza is a 4000 seat indoor arena/stadium. It is always hot. Tonight is no exception. It is packed and people are ready to hear what we will play in honor of their city.
We begin the 3 hour concert…
The renowned and brilliant architect Calatrava is from Valencia. He designed a cultural complex and science center which is an iconic masterpiece. The “City of the Arts and Sciences” is the modern architectural jewel of Valencia and that artist's spectacular tribute to his hometown. This complex is on the "Paseo de Artes y Ciencias" which runs along side a magnificent, flowing 10 km park, the "Jardin del Turia".
Our gig overlooked a portion of the park. We have played here several times and remember a gig with Chano Dominguez 3 or so years ago that produced an eventful "hang" afterwards.
A resident took great relish in describing 'Fallas', a colorful Easter festival. Citizens are sponsored by local businesses to build enormous puppets (which portray public figures, mythic entities, or some unique, topical artistic creation). The puppets are paraded through the 'old town' to cheering throngs. Ladies are dressed in traditional garb, and men are just there (that's what he said). After the parade, these enormous works are displayed in various squares and parts of the city. The festivities conclude when all but the one deemed the best (by a panel of experts) are burned.
It was not Easter, and I failed to realize that the Vitoria concert was the next day. We were supposed to play the whole suite and were not ready. Talk about a coach putting his team in a bad position. Ishould have detected the urgency in Sherman's voice when he said, "We need to get that big 12 together" (Big 12 is the 6th movement of 12). The biggest drag about not flying is travelling without the cats. If we had been together everyday, no way I would have slept on the pressing importance of rehearsing for the gig in Vitoria, not to mention the recording. The most enjoyable part of the road, besides playing, is the bond between bandsmen. Playing and travelling with the same cats year after year gives you an unusual closeness; especially the playing, because even the most anti-social person must share himor herself with the other musicians and the audience in order to play something meaningful. "Hear and be heard". Anyway, after sound check in Valencia, I realized we had to rehearse 4 hard-ass pieces the nextday. Impossible in many situations, but with these men, I was worried but not overwhelmed.
The concert in Valencia was a good gig in a very live hall. Some halls are perfect for classical music but give us acoustical problems. We have to play a lot softer to hear and be heard in proper balance. After the gig we fellowshipped over some spirits in the hotel bar for a minute then Joe and I went over the music for tomorrow (one piece has very tricky entrances).
The next day would begin with a 7hr drive to Vitoria. Valencia to Vitoria.
Whew! It was 4:43 in the morning and Irene has the wheel. We were driving through France on our way to London.
Spain was a wonderful experience…but very, very busy. I had absolutely no time to do anything but play and write and record. Julio Marti most often promotes our concerts in Spain, and the vivacious Marjorie Hernanz is our guide on the road. We have played El Festival de Jazz de San Javier many times and are always met with tremendous enthusiasm. There is a real following for jazz here that has been cultivated by this festival. This is the people's affair. It is a thriving community cultural event.
The venue was an outdoor ancient Greek-style theatre of about 1600 seats which sits in the heart of a down-home neighborhood. We sound checked in 95 degree heat (the sax section had towels over their heads). The hotel was about 25 minutes from the venue so we bring our clothes and negotiate —- ironing them, having them ironed, borrowing belts— collar stays— cuff links, and even sometime cologne ( Vic calls it 'smell sweet'). The meal before this concert is always memorable because it is served with warmth and hospitality at large outdoor family-picnic style tables.
We played a swinging concert and are brought back for several encores. We could hear very well (unusual in an outside venue) and many solos were imaginative—-Ted Nash and Chris Crenshaw come to mind most immediately, but the rhythm section really caught fire. The Equal Opportunity Rhythm Section went to work that night ladies and gentleman…..and this was the right place for it because people there love to swing.
At the end of the concert, Ms. Josefa Hernandez and festival director Alberto Meca presented me with a shining gold and mahogany plaque "in recognition of my life of contribution to the arts and in gratitude for the fine concerts we have played here." I was also given a sailboat souvenir that symbolizes the town's tradition of fishing in the life sustaining Mar Menor.
I am told to remember this soulful place upon seeing this symbol. Our bassist, sage of the Bronx, Carlos Henriquez said some words in Spanish on my behalf (he jokes constantly so I never know what he might do or say, but he is always funny) and people laugh. We swung some more…I am told that the city has only 31,000 people and our 1400-something attendance represented a large percentage. Mr. Meca said that every year the local cognoscenti say, "Bring them back. That's the real thing." I met with Mr. Meca's beautiful family and some cute local families whose kids play music. Before leaving, a friend named Maria who comes to all of our concerts here calls to me beyond a tall gate in her raspy sing song voice, "Hola! Weentone. It is me, Maria. Past this gate. Come out here." We struggle with limited language but communicate a warm and contented feeling.
Time for the hotel and tomorrow…