by Samuel Weinberg Is the day after Thanksgiving getting you down? Are you blue that the turkey is no-more and there’s still some mashed potatoes caked on your upper lip? Then we’ve got the solution for you: Hush Point—the great quartet which consists of trumpeter John McNeil, alto saxophonist Jeremy Udden, drummer Vinnie Sperrazza and bassist Aryeh Kobrinsky—play tonight at The Cornelia Street Cafe, and have the cure for all your post-Thanksgiving woes. I saw them play in May and was really struck by their dynamic as they navigated through their contrapuntal repertoire. But just as enjoyable as the music, were the witty and quick comments of McNeil who seems to have comedic lines flowing through him with facility which almost matches his trumpet improvisations. With that in mind, I asked McNeil some questions about all-things-Thanksgiving, so you can get a little taste of what I’m talking about. Below you can also stream “Bar Talk” a track written by Udden, from their recent self-titled, Sunnyside release. What is your fondest thanksgiving memory? What is your favorite John McNeil Thanksgiving story? Most of my memories of Thanksgiving revolve around eating and listening to grownups talk about incomprehensible subjects. As an adult, I remember taking the subway from Brooklyn to Manhattan to meet my wife Lolly and take her to the Waverly Inn for Thanksgiving dinner. A man wearing a gray 3-piece suit got on the train and began preaching loudly in some incomprehensible language and gesticulating wildly. At one point, he threw his left arm into the air, causing his suit jacket to fall open, and out fell a large — very large — piece of raw meat. It went splat onto the floor of the train, and the guy went absolutely bananas. Unfortunately, the next stop was mine and I couldn’t see what finally happened. I can only speculate. What comes to mind when you think of a turkey? I think of how dangerous it was to sit next to Grandpa George. If you asked someone to pass the yams or something, he would holler, “Eat something close to ya!” He was hard of hearing and it was really loud. Also, if he had a few drinks before or during dinner, he would invariably at some point say, “Wanna see how an owl looks over a log?” and then grab the hair on the crown of my head and shove my face into the mashed potatoes and gravy. To this day, I duck when someone says the word, “owl.” And years later, when I began to have hair loss, it started on the crown of my head. People tell me this is common, but I know the truth. What is an essential thanksgiving dish that isn’t part of the standard plate? My mother would make mashed baloney sandwiches for some reason. Please don’t make me think about it. How, if at all, will Hush Point help those who come to see you guys play? Both with regard to thanksgiving digestion and their overall outlook on life. If some of our audience has had a traumatizing holiday family meltdown, our joyous contrapuntal flow will engage their mind and help them to displace painful memories from center stage. In addition, Hush Point has been scientifically proven to be an effective antidote for tryptophan poisoning....read more
FROM THE BLOG
Artist interviews, news and more...
by Samuel Weinberg Cornetist Kirk Knuffke’s new record—Chorale (Steeplechase)—showcases a new quartet featuring Russ Lossing on piano, Michael Formanek on bass, and Billy Hart on drums. Throughout Chorale, the quartet works their way through eight of Knuffke’s originals and one cover (the title track, penned by Brian Drye). All of Knuffke’s written music on this date is warm, welcoming, and unpretentious, and the melodies are memorable and moving. I had the chance to talk to the ubiquitous cornetist not only about his new record, but also the rest of his busy musical life below. Like listening to all of his music, the conversation was a singular delight. ——————————————————— Hey, so I’ll just start this off by saying that I really dig this record. I find myself humming all of the tunes from it all the time, especially “Kettle” which I find to be particularly memorable. I guess I have to both bless and curse you for that! [laughs] Well, that’s great! I’m glad you liked it. So I’m interested in the genesis of this band and what your history is with all of the guys in the group. It’s obviously such an amazing lineup. Yeah, well I know Russ the best and have known him the longest—I guess for years now! But most of the playing that we’ve done has been sessions, especially duo sessions at his place. And then I also have played with him a good bit in a band led by the drummer Jeff Davis. We’ve recorded a record with that band, which is not out yet, but will be out soon on Fresh Sound Records—a quintet record of Jeff’s. So although I know Russ really well, I met Michael and Billy more recently. I’ve always wanted to play with Billy Hart, even when I was a kid. He came out to Colorado and I saw him play when I was about 17 which made a big impression on me. I got to talk to him a bit back then, but I never got the chance to play with him until this session. Michael Formanek is obviously such an amazing bass player, and I’ve always wanted to play with him, so that’s sort of how it all came together. Well yeah, it really worked well. I think that the interplay is really fascinating. What’s really interesting is that there are a number of different generations in this band. Definitely! There are three, if not four, generations. I was thinking about that myself, whether it was three or four. I guess you and Russ are essentially of the same ilk. Anyways, when I’ve seen you play and listened to records that you’ve been on, I’ve always been impressed by the fluidity of your lines and the really organic way in which you improvise. I kind of felt as though the tunes on Chorale were really reflective of that: they’re all very digestible, simple melodic statements. So in light of that, I was wondering how, if at all, your thoughts on improvisation—and how you improvise—translates into how you compose. Yeah, well I think they’re connected. I’ve always felt as though my favorite musicians had a very clear connection between the way in which they improvised and how they composed, and so that’s always something that I’ve wanted to have in my own music. That’s something that Formanek told me he really dug about the session: that all of the tunes were really open and could really breathe. In my experience, I’ve found that people play the best when they’re most comfortable and if someone really provides them the space to play their best, so that they’re not sweating on the music too much. So that’s sort of my concept, and that’s something that I really like to provide for myself, too. I play a lot of complex music, and I enjoy that sometimes too, but there’s something really special about how people can play together if it’s more about the moment that they’re all playing together and not as much about the tune, especially if it’s original tunes that have a different structure than, say, a 32-bar form or something like that. Yeah! And it really feels like you all are playing on this record. It’s really fun to listen to. Sometimes music that is too complex can be a bit off-putting or intimidating, even though I really enjoy listening to it. But there’s something really warm and welcoming in how Chorale unfolds. Well thank you! I got to get together with Russ a bunch and play. Well the interesting thing about this band is that we all live in four different states, so there wasn’t a whole lot of full-band rehearsing that we could do. At the time, Russ lived in Manhattan, although he now lives in Pennsylvania, Michael lives in Baltimore, and Billy lives in New Jersey. And so even though I knew that we would all play well together, what was nice about the music was that we could all just jump in and play it, and it wouldn’t have required tons of rehearsals. Not that those guys would ever need tons of rehearsals on anything, but I think you know what I mean! Right, exactly. It certainly doesn’t seem unrehearsed, though. Some of the transitions are really incredible. I was really struck by this one moment, perhaps my favorite on the record: on “Madly”, right in the middle of the record, Billy plays this last hit and then Russ has this solo feature, where he plays unaccompanied. And it’s just such a powerful moment; it’s amazing how fluid that whole thing is when listening to the record. But what’s really cool is that on the next tune, “Match”, Russ doesn’t play for the first minute or so! I don’t know if that was intentional, but it’s a really interesting contrast. It was intentional and we set it up so it would be just that way, so I’m really glad that you noticed that. It’s really effective, because that’s really such a beautiful statement of Russ’ at the end of that tune, and I think it transitions into some of your best playing on the date, too, and all the more interested because it’s so pared-down. I always appreciate that on records, where people really take a step back and look at it as a whole and try to have an arc. Did you have any broader ones in mind? Or were there any other considerations of that sort? Yeah I was pretty confident going in that I had that figured out and that I had a real arc in mind. I picked out tunes that I thought would work well with each other and work well with the guys. So that was definitely what I was going for. Great! I was also really struck by the one-word titles, with the exception of “Good Good”, which itself is a kind of one-word title. Is that at all reflective of this stuff that we were talking about earlier, with respect to the eye towards simplicity and playfulness in composition? Well someone reviewed and it and really didn’t like that they were all one-word titles! I do that a lot and I think it was, in many ways, influenced by Steve Lacy, although he would always say ‘The something’ and it would often just be one thing. And since I play a lot of Steve’s music and I have always really dug that aspect of his music. I also often find jazz titles to be pretty bad sometimes. It’s always funny when they try to be really deep and have songs titled things like “The Oneness of Nothingness” or something like that. Sometimes it’s really hard to name this music, sometimes it’s really easy, but I often think that people try far too hard, and that stuff is really not what I’m going for. At the same time, I really don’t want to call it “Improvisation #2” or something like that. I do think titles are important, but I prefer the simple ones. Well it’s certainly very distinctive. But while we’re on the topic of titles, I want to ask about “Chorale”, the tune: it’s the only song on the record not written by you, it’s written by Brian Drye. I was wondering what your experience with the tune was, why you chose it for the record, and moreover why you used it as the title. I thought that it was a really cool title for the record because there’s four of us, and chorales have four-part harmonies. And using it as the title was kind of a tribute to my buddy Brian, who is a big part of my musical life. When I moved to New York he was one of the first guys that I met. And the way I came to that tune was that we were having these hangs where we would study all of this harmony stuff. I was at his apartment and he handed me the music of “Chorale” and asked me if I wanted to play it on the record. I said “Absolutely” and when we tried it with the band, it worked out great. It’s a strikingly beautiful tune and I love the way it comes together. If you don’t mind I want to talk about some other things that you’re involved in, which are many. Maybe we could start with Sifter. I love the record and maybe you could talk a bit about that project. So I’ve known Matt Wilson for about five years now, and I’ve been a member of his quartet—one of his two working bands, the other being Arts and Crafts—for about four of those years, and we have a new record coming out in January, the quartet plus John Medeski. We tour around a lot and have a lot of fun. We’ve also done a few other things together, like a quartet record with Ted Brown. So we’re always playing together. He did a gig a few years ago called “Topsy Turvy” which was the quartet plus four other people, who were Mary Halvorson, Vijay Iyer, Curtis Fowlkes, and Tia Fuller. This really cool octet thing that we did, just one gig! Yeah I really wish he did some more with that. I heard of that gig and would have really loved to hear the music. Oh man, I know he wants to! It’s pretty hard to get all of those people in one room, which I think is part of the problem. Definitely! Yeah man, I really hope that he does more with that group. Anyways, I met Mary at an Ideal Bread concert, which is another band that I play in. After that, she asked me to sub in her quintet for Jonathan Finlayson, which I’ve done a bunch. It’s always super fun to play with Mary and I’ve always wanted to be in a situation in which I got to play with her more often, like I do with Matt. So after we did the Topsy Turvy gig, the quartet went on the road again and Matt and I were talking about how much we loved Mary and how we both wanted to form a trio. We asked Mary about it, she was very into it, and that’s how Sifter was born. Matt named the band, we all write for it, and I really enjoy playing with them. Great. So maybe we can talk about Ideal Bread. It’s one of my favorite bands. I was just thinking earlier, actually, about how it’s sort of interesting that you primarily play cornet and Josh plays bari, which are both underplayed. That’s an interesting aspect of the band. But in any case, you guys have been doing that for a number of years now. Yeah, I think it’s been seven years, if not eight! When I met Josh I was still playing trumpet, but I soon switched to cornet. Switched back, I should say, since it’s what I started out on. He and I met when I first moved to New York, and he had all of these Steve Lacy charts, copied directly from Lacy’s notebooks. So when I found out about that I was like ‘Oh man! That’s awesome!’ [laughs], because I had been listening to Lacy’s music for years, my friend Ron Miles turned me on to his music when I was young, and so I’ve been well-acquainted with Steve’s music for a long time now. Josh and I had this love of Lacy’s music in common immediately and so we just started meeting at his apartment and playing these tunes down regularly, just playing duo. So I suggested to him that we start a band, and he said that he’d been thinking about that for years. And so that’s how it initially came together. But I told him that we couldn’t have a soprano player because that would be ridiculous, so that’s how the front line stayed just the two of us. Then Tomas Fujiwara and Reuben Radding came in and that’s how it became a band. It’s stayed Tomas, Josh and I the whole time, with just a few bass player changes. Now the bassist Adam Hopkins is in the band and he’s doing really great. But Josh really ran with the band and made it all work. He’s done a great job. Right, he just moved up from Baltimore not too long ago? Yeah, and we had actually done a gig in Baltimore in which he was the sub when he was still living in Baltimore and he did a great job, so when he moved to town, we just all thought that he should be in the band. Cool! You guys have made two records and there’s a third on the way? Yeah, the third is done. It’s going to really be two records: a double disc set and there are a ton of tunes. “Beating the Teens”, is what it’s called, right? Yeah, that’s right. And that title comes from the fact that we’re covering every tune that is from this box set of Steve’s that’s called “Scratching the Seventies”, but most people think that it’s about beating up teenagers which is pretty funny. Who’s the muscle? Tomas? [laughs] Tomas is definitely the muscle! Well I’m really glad that that record is happening and that the Kickstarter was successful and everything. And is Cuneiform releasing it? Yes! Just like the second record. We’re very happy about that. I want to talk a bit about Andrew D’Angelo and your association with him, in Merger and the DNA Orchestra, etc. Yeah, Andrew and I go way back, too! And I actually met Matt Wilson on an Andrew D’Angelo Big Band gig. Oh! One of those early ones? At The Tea Lounge? Yeah, when he was still sharing the band with Curtis Hasselbring! So we did two sets: Jim Black played one set and Matt played the other, and that was the very first time I had ever played with Matt. And within two months of that, I was playing in Matt’s band—it was very quick. The DNA band is just so much fun and there are so many of my friends in that group: Brian Drye, Josh Roseman, and all of my favorite dudes. Yeah, you couldn’t ask for a better band. You just look at the band and it really is the heaviest guys around. Yes, I am very happy to be a part of it. We also did a record years ago and that has yet to come out. It’s supposedly done, and I guess it’s just not been mastered? Maybe this is all part of a plan to build up the suspense or something. I hope that comes out soon. And so we were doing a gig with Josh Roseman’s group in Central Park, that’s called The Extended Constellations or the King Froopy All Stars—it has several names. Anyways, Andrew had left Matt’s band, and I replaced him, and so when we were playing that Central Park gig, Andrew said to me that we should do some quartet gigs, where we could play some swinging music and do whatever else we wanted to do. And then we talked about different people that we wanted to do it with, and it’s been quite a few different people in the rhythm section: it was originally going to be Kenny Wollesen, but he wasn’t around most of the times that we had gigs [laughs], so we had Bill Goodwin which was awesome, and then we’ve had Nasheet Waits do it, which has also been awesome; and we’ve had a few different bass players, but mostly always Ben Street. I hope that Merger can record sometime, too. I think that’d be really great. Yeah, I saw that band with Nasheet and Ben at Cornelia St. except Josh Roseman was subbing for you. Yeah, I couldn’t make that gig—I was still in Europe and I couldn’t get back for that. They did a similar thing, and I’m sure it was awesome. It was, yeah! But it sounded very different from when you’re in the band, which was pretty cool. What’s funny is that we have a bunch of YouTube videos from our different gigs, and this guy from Australia came to a gig of mine, when I was playing at Shape Shifter Lab. He came up to me and said, “I love this band that you have with Andrew called Merger” and I asked how he knew about it, since he was from Australia and he said that he loved the YouTube videos, so even though we don’t have a record, at least the music is getting out there somehow! How do you feel about YouTube, more generally? I’ve heard varying accounts of different people either really liking, or really hating, the fact that so many random gigs are filmed and then are made permanent on the internet. Do you have any opinion on that? Well, those ones in particular were filmed by Andrew to put on YouTube, so obviously that was totally okay with everybody. And then the result with this guy seeing the videos in Australia, I find to be totally awesome. But then there’s this thing where someone is in the audience who’s taping it, and they’re not telling you, and then it gets to be a bit uncool sometimes. And that’s happened, of course, to me and my friends a lot. I don’t get as angry about it as some folks do, but I do wish that people asked permission and if it’s cool then it’s cool and if not, not. Or if they’re taping it, it would be more for personal use and not to put directly online. Because there are a few guys who are really avid tapers and they go around and they don’t ever put anything up—they really just want one for personal use, and they’ll give you one, which is nice to have so that you can check it out and listen to it later. Hopefully they keep their word and never sell it all one day, or whatever. But, again, I don’t mind those guys because they’re always asking, and I always say yes. None of these things really hang me up too much, though. Ok cool! So maybe we can talk a bit about your duo project with Jesse Stacken, since those records, like Chorale, are out on Steeplechase and that seems to be a project that you’re pretty heavily involved in. And Kenny played on one of those, too, right? Yeah, Kenny played on one of them, and there’s four total, one of which is not out yet. We decided to put Kenny on it just because we love him so much and thought that it would break it up a little bit. But the duo with Jesse started pretty much immediately when I moved to New York, also. When I lived in Denver, I would play these duos with this pianist named Jeff Cleveland and we would play Monk tunes and things like this. And so when I moved to New York, happily, I was playing mostly improvised music or people’s original music and I didn’t have any outlet to play any Monk tunes or Mingus tunes, because I didn’t—and don’t—really run in those circles. But I heard that Jesse was practicing all of these Monk tunes, so I said to him that we should get together and play some of them as a duo. Then he got a gig at the school where he teaches, and we recorded it, and it turned out really well. And when we were mixing it, John Rosenberg the engineer said that we should send it to Steeplechase, which we did, and they really dug it and wanted to do more records. So it was really just such a fortuitous thing, with this recommendation with John, and that really started this whole Steeplechase connection that I have, that I’m very happy to have. Originally it was just Monk and Duke, but then we decided to branch out, and so we did the Mingus record, and then on the third record it was a bunch of different composers, and then the fourth record will be just Carla Bley and Bill Evans and I think that juxtaposition works really well together. Well, on the third record you guys play one of my favorite Ornette tunes “Free”. I love that tune so much. Funny enough, I saw a video on YouTube of you guys playing it, at Korzo! I think Jesse put that up, though. Yeah. That tune is pretty tough to play, on cornet at least! It’s quick! It is. Ornette and Don Cherry seem to do it okay. Yes, they definitely did. I guess they played that on a Paul Bley record first. One of those quintet things out in LA. I’ll have to check that out, but I think so. I was just delighted that you guys played that tune, gave it some new life. I think often times people sleep on it, but it’s so great. Absolutely. Definitely one of the lesser played ones. That’s another thing about this duo: we wanted to play music by these composers, but we didn’t want to play the classics. There’s nothing wrong with any tunes that Monk wrote, at all, but we didn’t want to record “Well You Needn’t”. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with “Well You Needn’t”, that tune is amazing, but we wanted to do exactly what you’re saying, and play songs by these guys, but do some of the different ones. And some of the more popular ones get in there, too, but it’s definitely intentional to do some more obscure ones. Well that’s really noble. How many more versions of something like “Well You Needn’t” do you need, when there are so many other great tunes which don’t have that sort of canonical basis associated with them. And there could even be a case in which someone listens to your record, having never heard the original, and then gets turned on to the original. That in itself is a huge service. Absolutely. Could you talk a bit about the recording with Ted Brown? I think you alluded to it when you were talking about Matt before. So, the deal with that is that I was always fascinated by Ted Brown. I first heard about him on this great great Lee Konitz record called Sound of Surprise. It’s not that old, although it might be now, but I got it when it was new. I was in high school or something like that. But Ted sounds so great on that record, and I started looking him up and he’s just incredibly under-recorded. He’s on less than twenty records total, as both a leader and a sideman, and he’s 86! He sounds great. Oh yeah! He sounds so great. And his sound keeps getting more grounded, and keeps maturing. Nobody tries to play the tenor like how he does anymore. He’s just got this really ghostly sound, kind of eerie, but light and flexible. He sounds especially great in the higher register. And he made his last few records for Steeplechase, the last one of which is called Shades of Brown. So I talked to Nils about making a record with him, and I didn’t even know him at the time. So I found him online and wrote to him saying, “Hi my name’s Kirk, I love you music! Let’s make a record together”. So he said okay, and told me to come over and see if it works, and so then he came to my apartment, and brought a bunch of his music. We rehearsed duo a bunch of times, really working out those lines because they’re very tricky. And then we put the band together, and he definitely wanted to play with John Hebert and Matt. It’s so great when things come together like that. And it feels so great on the stuff that I’ve heard. Yeah and the funny thing about that record is that it’s almost a live record. There were only one or two second takes on it, it’s almost all first takes. On pretty much all of them, we just played them down, looked around, and thought that we didn’t need to do them again! The whole record was made in literally less than two hours. How many takes did you do for Chorale? How long did that recording process take? Well that was actually a fairly similar story. Over half of that record is first takes. The only tune that we did multiple takes of was “School” because we did a number of different arrangements of it. But yeah, that was pretty fast. Every record that I’ve made, under my own name, has been recorded in a half day. And that’s how Nils likes to do it. My other quartet and trio records were all made in a half-day. Do you have any other things that you’re involved in that you want to talk about? Anything you’re excited about? Recordings? New bands? Absolutely! There are a lot of really good things brewing. I have a new trio with Mark Helias and Bill Goodwin. We’ve played a couple of times and it’s just really amazing. Both of those guys are just encyclopedias of music. Whenever Bill says something about his life it’s just incredible. Like he says things like, “When I was playing with Tommy Flannigan…” and I’m always like “Hold on! Tell me about that story!”. He starting playing with George Shearing when he was 25 and then ever since then he has been doing something amazing. The first time I ever saw Bill play, he was in this video playing with Art Pepper—and I’m a huge Art Pepper fan—and then I really had to find out who he was—I love playing with Bill. And I’ve been playing with Mark for years, as well, in my groups and he’s also put together a quartet a couple of times with Tim Berne, me and Mark Ferber. I hope more comes of that band! But I plan on recording that trio in March of next year. Then there’s another band I play in with Jeff Davis and John Goldberger that we call “Denver General” and that’s all free improvisation and those guys play amazingly. We recorded that band and that’s being edited right now; we’ll find a way to put that out somehow. I also made a duo record with Jamie Saft which came out really well, and we’re currently looking for a nice home for that record. He played acoustic piano through an echoplex and then he played Rhodes and then a whole host of other synths whose names I don’t remember. I also play in Allison Miller’s band Boom Tic Boom and she’s talking about recording soon, too, so hopefully that happens. And another group that I play with, and love, is Matt Pavolka’s band. He’s recorded that, too. That has Mark Ferber on drums, Loren Stillman on alto, Jacob Garchik on trombone. That record will come out, I think March, and it’ll be on Fresh Sound. Yeah he’s a madman! Absolutely. So much stuff going on. I love that guy. Brian Drye’s band recorded a second record which should be coming out soon. As I mentioned earlier, Jeff Davis’ Quintet record, which is live at Cornelia St is really exciting—that has Russ, Eivind Opsvik, and Oscar Noriega. What’s some recorded music that you’ve been listening to recently? Well, another person I didn’t mention I was going to record with with Karl Berger, and I’ve been listening to his record Strangely Familiar which is on Tzadik and it’s 17 little piano miniatures that he wrote. It’s all really beautiful. I recently got Myra Melford’s new solo record, and I play with her in Allison’s band. Myra is great! And so fun to play with. I’m always buying Henry Threadgill records as they come out, because I’m a huge fan of his. I’m also always listening to early jazz, like Henry Red Allen and Louis Armstrong. So these are things that are right on top of my CD player, so I know that I’ve been listening to them. Let’s see: there’s a George Adam’s record here, Hand to Hand, and I really like that. I’m always checking out Art Ensemble and a lot of Sun Ra records. What are some places that you like to go hear music in New York? Well, I love Barbes and I really love what James Carney has done at Korzo. Those are the two places that I end up most frequently. I’m happy that Korzo has allowed James to keep doing it, because a lot of places get scared away during the crazy jazz night! What would be the perfect omelet for Kirk Knuffke? Wow! The perfect omelet would definitely have a lot of pork in it. Pork products are my favorite. A lot of bacon and definitely some onions. I’ll finish with this: what do you look forward to for the future? You’ve named a lot of great bands that will be recording, but maybe some things outside of music. Well, I’m most looking to my fiancee Madeleine getting to move to America! We’re waiting on the visa for her to move from Italy. We actually met at a Jeff Davis gig at Barbes. So that’s the thing that I’m looking forward to most. And beyond that, I love being in New York and play music with my friends....read more
I interviewed drummer composer bandleader human Chico Hamilton in 2008, when I was 21 and he was 88. I was just beginning the editorial side of Search and Restore.com, which was then a very new website with a very poor backend design, but a very big heart. Chico had me over to his house and we spoke and here is that interview. He just passed away at the age of 91 and was doing it his way until his final breaths. Always leading (over 60 albums to this own name, and almost zero albums as a sideman), Chico Hamilton ushered countless sounds and musicians into the world. He continued this until his final breaths. The words below, re-read by me for the first time since their initial release into the internet ether, resonate with an astounding ring of humility and knowledge. His speech is a vacuum of cynicism, and a demonstration of the immediate grasp he has on what matters to him most. That was what drove his creative process and his hunger to connect with other musicians and ears in the world wide world. Read on, then go pick up any number of Chio Hamilton’s albums and connect. ——————- Search & Restore: Well, I checked out the new record, and I like it a lot. Chico: How come? S & R: Well, it has a drive to it. In the way it’s played, but also in the quality of the recording. A lot of the times, modern records, I think they sound too shiny. And maybe it’s because you’re a drummer and know what you want, but I listen to it on speakers, I listen to it on headphones and there’s a serious push to it, the drums are really there, and that carries over to the overall push of the songs. Chico: Well I do my own mixing. S & R: How long have you been doing that? Chico: (long pause) How old are you? S & R: I’m twenty one years of age. Chico: (laughs) I’ve been doing it over twenty one years… I’ve got an exceptionally good engineer; he listens to me, he knows my sound. Unfortunately most engineers don’t know anything about drums, or drum sounds. Everybody wants everything muffled. It can’t be muffled, you know. I think my instrument’s a very melodic instrument. That’s the way I’ve always played. So, I try to get sounds out of the instrument. The way you can do that is by acquiring a touch, and once you acquire a touch, it becomes yours, nobody else’s. Physically, it’s impossible for two drummers to play alike because, you got long arms, I got short arms, you got short legs… S & R: Have you always been behind the board as well as behind the drums? Was it out of necessity that you started producing your own records? What prompted you to make the move. Chico: When my manager Jeffrey Caddick and I formed our label Joyous Shout over 20 years ago, that’s when I really started. But before then, when I started recording under my own name, I didn’t record for anyone else. I wasn’t interested in recording with anyone else. S & R: Interesting… Chico: Well, you know…why help them! (laughs) Man, I really consider myself as being blessed. Because, I think music is one of God’s wills. God’s will will be done. I don’t make muic for people, I make music for the music’s sake. I believe that all music should be played and made exceptionally well. And every time I make music, I’m doing the best I can, whether I sound good or bad or any different. Plus it doesn’t matter where I play, the men’s room, I don’t give a shit. S & R: On the new record, another thing that stands out is the rest of the band. Chico: I don’t have a band, I have an orchestra. Bands, like cigar band, rubber band (laughs). I like to refer to us as an orchestra because I think we do a lot of melodic ensemble playing. S & R: There’s definitely that dynamic vibe on the record, the first track alone won’t give it to you right away. It takes its time, and there’s that feeling throughout the whole album, where there’s always something there, but there’s a wide variety of arrangement and contour to what’s there and how you put it together. And the majority of the orchestra is significantly younger than you. Chico: Everybody’s younger than me, the whole world’s younger than me man (laughs). S & R: Even so, in the jazz recording environment, people tend to have their people. It seems like you often bring new people into the situation. Chico: That I’ve done, I’ve been fortunate along those lines. It works both ways, they seek me out, I seek them out. When I have need for another player, I reach out, and other players that wanna get on my gig and my sound, they reach out to me. What’s dynamite— I don’t go out and jam anymore— is the fact that I’m down at the school, I have the opportunity to hear a lot of new talent. S & R: Let’s talk numbers, how many records does this make for you? Chico: I don’t know, maybe fifty or sixty? S & R: Exactly. So how do you keep it fresh? What was your approach to writing this new album, was there anything significant that you put in the forefront, in terms of compositing it, arranging it, and producing it? Chico: Once I’ve played something, I’ve had it. Then I gotta try something else. I just consider myself as being blessed, I’m able to come up with ideas. I spent at least ten years doing nothing but commercials. S & R: Recently? Chico: I came here in 1966, from London, to do a commercial. I was in London with Lena Horne, and we were working at Talk of the Town at night, and in the daytime, I was on set with Roman Polanski, doing the film Repulsion. He’s the best director I’ve ever worked with, because he never forget why he hired me. The hippest thing about writing for films, is when not to have music, and he let me control those music cues. S & R: You’ve really seen more decades of the music go by than most people, and have a pretty unique perspective as a composer now who has seen so much, and are still creating in this new technological age. Chico: You know, in a sense, my music hasn’t changed. It’s still melodic. And the bottom line, is it swings. S & R: What do you like to listen to? Chico: I listen to all of it man. It takes all types of music to make music. I listen to all of it, but I don’t dig all of it. I dig good, honest music. Regardless of what form it’s in. I like country and western, rock, pop…if it’s happenin’ it’s happenin’. If it ain’t happenin’, it ain’t happenin’. (Points to a line drawn on a newspaper) See that line? That’s the difference. That’s how thin it is, between noise and music. What’s music to me, might be noise to you. S & R: I suppose that’s why you haven’t conceded anything, and why the music hasn’t changed. Chico: Exactly. That’s why I stopped playing for people. You can’t please em man. So rather than get my feelings hurt… S & R: Having introduced such innovative players as Jim Hall and Eric Dolphy into the world. What was it like seeing them come and go, and see the reactions in the music after they’ve gone? Chico: When they left, they left for a reason. They left because it was time for them to go. I’ve never fired anyone in my whole career. When it’s time to move out on your own, I encourage you to. S & R: Musically, who raised you? Who put the music in your head? Chico: I was very influenced by two players, and they were both with Count Basie’s Orchestra. One was Prez (Lester Young), and one was the drummer Jo Jones. I met Prez in California. At the time, I was taking some drum lessons from his brother, Lee Young. When Prez left Basie and came to Caliefornia, that’s when I met him, and through Prez I met Jo Jones…which was dynamite. When I was around 8 years old, my mother took me to the Paramount Theatre in Los Angeles to see the Duke Ellington Orchestra. And that’s when the band would set up as a pyramid, and Sonny Greer, the drummer was on the top. And he had more drums than a drum store man, but everything he touched made music. I was impressed. Eight years later, I was in that same seat. I played with Duke when I was sixteen years old. Sonny hurt himself, and at that time I was a hot shot drummer out in LA, and they sent for me to play. I played about a month with em. S & R: How’d it go? Chico: Shit, it went! I didn’t get fired. S & R: At this point in your life how to do see things going, looking back and forward? Chico: I’m just trying to get my health together, man. I’ve spent a hell of a lot of time in the hospital. I’m tired of being laid up. It’s a drag to have to depend upon other people to do things for me. It’s not me, you know? I was out all morning on my walk, and all I did was walk around the corner and back (laughs). But that’s good man, God is good, he’s letting me walk. Laying in that bed, that bed will kill you. So I gotta stay in shape, those drums will kick the shit outta you. They make you stay in shape....read more