Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a personal perspective on the very best from the world of smooth jazz and classic soul.
Michael Franks is unique. His mellifluous meanderings on life and the things he holds most dear never fail to enthrall and his latest (and 18th in total) album, the entirely delicious Time Together, is right up there with his best work. Not only is it Franks’ first release since the 2006 Rendezvous in Rio but also signals his debut on the excellent Shanachie label. As if to mark the event he has gathered some fine supporting musicians around him and amongst these both Eric Marienthal and Chuck Loeb play a significant part. In fact this sumptuous eleven song collection unfolds like a summer vacation for grown ups and there is little doubt that long after some of this years new music has come and gone Time Together will still be a firm favorite in the Secret Garden CD player.
The intensely personal nature of Time Together is revealed by the delightful ‘One Day In St. Tropez’ where Michael recounts a hitchhiking adventure through Europe during his college years and again with ‘Charlie Chan in Egypt’ that he uses to lay bare his thoughts on America's current foreign policies and it’s presence in other countries. That said this is far from being message over melody and both tracks shimmer with the distinctively restrained vibe for which he is famous. Much the same can be said for the zesty yet relaxing ‘Summer In New York’ whilst ‘Samba Blue’ proves to be a mellow gem that is enriched by backing vocals from the always superb Carmen Cuesta and wonderful contributions from Marienthal and Loeb.
Elsewhere, the title track (a tribute to his recently deceased dog) is nothing short of beauty personified while ‘My Heart Said Wow’ is notable in part for the input of touring band regulars Charles Blenzig on keys, Jay Anderson on bass, David Mann on sax and vocalist Veronica Nunn. ‘I’d Rather Be Happy Than Right’ proves to be a gentle treat and, although ‘Time Together’ concludes with the languidly rhythmic ‘Feathers From An Angel’s Wing’, in terms of personal highlights, the first single to be serviced to radio is the intoxicating ‘Now That The Summer’s Here’.
It again finds Marienthal and Loeb in sparkling form yet just as good is the completely dreamy ‘If I Could Make September Stay’. Reminiscent in mood of Franks’ sensational ‘How I Remember You’ (from the 1993 CD Dragonfly Summer) it checks every box imaginable yet just shading it as Secret Garden top track is the whimsical but totally beautiful ‘Mice’. Brought alive by the vibraphone of Mike Mainieri and sumptuous guitar from David Spinozza, this melodious tour de force will get in your head and not go away.
In common with some of the finest songwriters of what might be described as the ‘modern era’ Michael Franks possesses a unique gift for creating timeless masterpieces that combine eloquent literary imagery with picture perfect musical accents. Time Together is a consummate example of his art and comes highly recommended.
Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.
We are at what is clearly a line of demarcation in our society, where the only thing that can be said with much clarity is that things going forward will be very different than they have been in the past. While that future is uncertain, one of the things that we know is a fact is that our lives, more than at any other time in the past, will be more inter dependent on factors that are global in nature than ever before. Clearly this planet is in need of at least a prayer.
Enter the musical collective Global Noize and their second album, A Prayer for the Planet. Under the collaborative leadership of jazz/pop/r&b veteran, Jason Miles and world class turntabalist DJ Logic, the first Global Noize album was nothing short of a huge exclamation point that very clearly fuzed together the best of the musical styles that we call jazz, funk, rock and hip hop. This was done with an all-star cast of musicians who were contemporary stars of those styles, combined with an all-star cast of musicians from outside of the United States.
Keyboardist extraordinaire Jason Miles has worked with everyone from Miles Davis and Luther Vandross to Ivan Lins, and turntable guru DJ Logic has collaborated with such diverse artists as Phish, Vernon Reid, ?uestlove and Don Byron. The timeless innovators join forces with sensuous Indian vocalist Falu as Global Noize, and release their sophomore album, A Prayer for the Planet on August 23, 2011 via Lightyear/EMI. The album will be released June 11, 2011 in Europe on Art of Groove Records/MIG.
A Prayer For The Planet is Global Noize’s declaration on the state of our world in the 21st century. Featuring appearances by Karl Denson, Mocean Worker, Jeff Coffin, Oz Noy, Jay Rodriguez, Mailka Zarra, Lica Cecata and more, Jason Miles, DJ Logic & Falu have crafted a truly imaginative and compelling album without sacrificing the global groove, melody and innovation that made up the first Global Noize CD.
Bombay, singer Falu (aka Falguni Shah) is widely recognized for a rare ability to seamlessly blend a signature modern inventive rock style with a formidable Indian classically-shaped vocal talent.
In her early years she was trained rigorously in the Jaipur musical tradition, honing her talent for up to 16 hours a day at times. She has performed as a soloist with Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Project and onstage at prestigious venues such as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and the White House.
FREE mp3 download of "A PRAYER FOR THE PLANET" (feel free to post)
Global Noize, which DJ Logic describes as "a hip and eclectic musical journey crossing all boundaries," is an organic, free-spirited sonic brew of some of the best elements of jazz, funk, electronica and world fusion – it is music without borders.
Many great world-class musicians and artists have performed with Global Noize: Fred Wesley, Eric Krasno, Billy Martin, Cyro Baptista, Jeff Coffin, Ian Neville, Bernie Worrell, Me’shell Ndgeocello, Oteil Burbridge, Karl Denson, John Popper, Adam Deitch, George Porter Jr., and Christian Scott to name a few.
The group has performed at a number of festivals from Aspen Jazz and Monterey Jazz Festival to Berks Jazz Festival and New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Global Noize performed an exemplary set at the Jacksonville Jazz Festival last week and will be at the Belleayre Music Festival on July 30 in Highmount, NY and The Falcon in Marlboro on July 31. More tour dates will be added along with a full tour in the late summer through the fall.
Global Noize makes it easy for artists and musicians from wherever they perform to participate in their performance. The group plans to perform in countries all over the world and have local and national artists perform with them as special guests. Ringmasters Jason Miles and DJ Logic have evolved their collective of some of the best instrumental players and vocalists in the world into an aggregation that provides clarity in direction not only for the music but perhaps for our society as well.
You might be tempted to try and categorize the music of Global Noize on A Prayer For The Planet... take a listen, go ahead and try, because you can't do it. It doesn't fit into any of the categories that you already know about.
Global Noize release A Prayer For The Planet on August 23, 2011 via Lightyear / EMI.
“It’s abundantly clear that the brilliant minds behind Global Noize care little for so-called cultural boundaries, and they make no apologies for it.”
- Global Rhythm Magazine
“DJ Logic and Jason Miles haven’t merely epitomized the term, ‘world-music’ with their brainchild Global Noize, but rather redefined what that vague musical classification can encompass.”
“a mind-bending, funky and melodic futuristic look as the world through music… Global Noize offers a musical vision of a world you’d be happy to inhabit.”
D E N I S * P O O L E
‘Just Let Go’ by Patrick Bradley from the CD Under The Sun. Boosted by the star quality of Dave Koz on sax and with sultry vocals from Irene B, this is a song that shows off the more chilled out side of Bradley’s musical persona.
‘Stargazing’ by Bryant Thompson from his brand new album Puzzle Pieces; Smoothly guided by Ron James on alto sax; this melodic gem checks most every smooth jazz box imaginable.
‘Urban Funk’ by Yancyy from his ultra hot CD Sax Chronicles Volume 1. This streetwise cut may well have had the expression ‘urban jazz doesn’t get better than this’ written specifically for it.
‘Rainforest/What's Going On’ by Paul Hardcastle from the much awaited Hardcastle 6. Undoubtedly the best track of 2011 so far, this wonderful blending of his own 1984 blockbuster with what is arguably the late Marvin Gaye’s greatest song proves to be a triumph of Paul Hardcastle’s production genius. Not only that, with snippets and flavours from Hardcastle’s biggest hit, ‘19’, sax from Rock Hendricks and vocals provided by Maxine Hardcastle, this one is out of this world.
‘Music Is The Key’ by Down To The Bone from the band’s debut on Trippin N Rhythm, The Main Ingredients. This is a track that puts DTTB right back to their ‘Manhattan To Staten’ best. In fact this edgy cut says everything about what this legendary collective is all about.
R O N A L D * J A C K S O N
Boney James, Contact, (Verve)
Cole Jacobs, Atomic Escalator, (Independent)
Paul Taylor, Prime Time, (Entertainment One)
Patrick Bradley, Under the Sun, (Independent)
P E T E R * B O E H I
Spring Island - Get Movin'! (2010)
Excellent band from Budapest, Hungary playing picture perfect smooth jazz, special guest is vibes player Dave Samuels. Strong material, top-drawer musicianship and the right spirit make this a superior release. Don't miss it!
Kiku Collins - Red Light (2011)
Female trumpet player Kiku Collins comes up with a great new laid-back release full of top-notch horn playing, complete band and great material ranging from funky to latin to smooth. Her tone is full and well controlled, this lady can play! Very recommended.
Player A - Our Own Devices (2011)
This group consists of some of Nashville's top studio players who have set out to deliver a polished, radio friendly smooth jazz release. The playing and production are top-notch, the songs are catchy and well delivered, I only wished they would stretch out a bit more. But nevertheless, very enjoyable!
Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke & Lenny White - Forever (2011)
Original Return To Forever members join together for some awesome playing, mostly straight ahead acoustic jazz which was recorded during the RTF Unplugged tour, but on the second CD, there are also some groovier fusion tunes to be found. Guests include Jean-Luc Ponty on violin, Chaka Khan on vocals and Bill Connors on guitar. World-class stuff!
The Brecker Brothers - Straphangin' (1981)
My nod to the past goes to the Brecker Brothers - Michael on sax and Randy on trumpet - who deliver some great funky fusion jazz of the highest order, players are the best of the NY scene and this album remains a classic of the genre. This album is part of the "Original Album Classics" series, you get a box set containing their first 5 CDs for a bargain price, so it's time to revisit their music!
J E F F * D A N I E L S
New Foundation, Goin' Places (Comerboy Jazz / Boom Camp Records) (2011)
Euge Groove, Seven Large (Shanachie) (2011)
Eumir Deodato, Crossing (Smc Recordings) (2011)
Dr. Lonnie Smith, Rise Up! (Palmetto Records) (2009)
Written by The Jazz Gypsy
Playboy Jazz Festival
Sat. & Sun., June 11 & 12, 2011
Good seats still available - Call today!!
2301 North Highland Avenue
Hollywood, CA 90068
In our "new world" where music greats are marketed as having been born overnight we sometimes don't appreciate those music giants and icons that were the pioneers and trail blazers in their respective areas of music. So, it was my extreme pleasure to speak with a true legend, Mr. Ronnie Laws.
During the interview, I was both a fan and journalist and happy to blur the lines between the two. What a joy it was to hear Ronnie talk about how he began, the influence his mother had on him becoming a saxophonist and providing him with the musical toolbox from where he would draw his unique sound from.
Laws also talks about the power of being exposed, even accidentally, to music at a young age, his thirst to learn, the courage to take risks, how to achieve goals and the importance of being principled, adaptable and focused.
It was quite a revealing interview with a lot of sound advice for musicians and people in general.
The Jazz Gypsy: Good morning. I've seen you play and enjoyed your performances many times. I still have your first album in my garage.
Laws: "Pressure Sensitive?"
The Jazz Gypsy: Yes.
Laws: Well, hold on to it.
The Jazz Gypsy: Well, I can get rid of a lot of stuff, but that's not one of them.
Laws: Well vinyl is coming back.
The Jazz Gypsy: Is that right?
The Jazz Gypsy: That's a good thing.
Laws: Yes it is because the quality can't really be matched with digital stuff. It just doesn't sound like vinyl.
The Jazz Gypsy: Well, I've read your background and your musical career started when you when you were relatively young...how did you know you wanted to play the saxophone?
Laws: It wasn't an issue about whether I wanted to play or not, it was a gift that I appreciated at a very young age. Being around in a musical environment sort of propelled me as well. My mother, being very instrumental in directing us musically, exposed us to a lot of different genres of music, gospel, classical, jazz, the whole gamut, blues. So that helped me a lot. Having older brothers and sisters involved in the musical realm, that was inspiring as well.
Jazz Gypsy: Was the saxophone the first instrument that you picked up, because what if you weren't good at that?
Laws: Yes. I remember that my mom was expressing to me her wish when she was in school. She wished that she had taken up saxophone and so in my own way I was saying, "I'll play it for you". So, I just sort of picked it up. My brother-in-law was instrumental in me picking up the saxophone because he played saxophone, not really for self gratification. He wasn't really an accomplished player or musicians. He just did it as a hobby. I used to follow him around and hang out with him because my older brother Hubert was off studying at Julliard and my brother Johnny was in the military so my brother-in -law was sort of like a surrogate brother. I used to hang around him and occasionally he would pick up the saxophone. When I was very young, around 10 years old, I used to watch him, and I was fascinated by him. And, I loved the sound of the instrument. Even though he wasn't that good. [laughter] But one day, I remember him taking a little break from playing and putting the horn on the bed and he went off and was having lunch or something and I picked it up and tried to figure out the keys and how they worked. And the next thing he knew, he heard me playing a scale and he was blown away because he said that with all the time he spent playing the instrument he didn't have that immediate grasp of being able to play a scale, particularly when he first started. So, he was really amazed and he encouraged me. He said, "Wow, you seem to have a good ear for this". So he encouraged me and I asked him if I could keep it and he let me do that. then, I just got an elementary method book and I learned how to play the scales and learned the complete fingering on the instrument and sort of taught myself. Then when I entered junior high and high school I got more formal training. And, the rest is history.
Jazz Gypsy: When did you decide you wanted to make it a career?
Laws: I knew at a very young age that that was what I wanted to do. As a kid you have multiple interests. I played a lot of baseball and I loved it but the saxophone was my first love. I felt complete playing that instrument. Even at 12 years old, I had become pretty accomplished on the instrument. In fact, I think, one of the first professional engagements I was asked to perform was with Kenny Rogers, the country singer who is a native Houstonian. My sister was performing as a background singer with him and she was telling him about her younger brother who played saxophone and so he said, "Bring him, bring him to the club, let's check him out". And, that's exactly what happened and I went up there and started playing and he was blown away. So, I got a chance to perform with him and my sister for a couple of weeks. That was an incredible debut for a youngster playing with someone like Kenny Rogers.
Jazz Gypsy: Absolutely.
Laws: [laughter] From that point on, I became more established in the circuitry, the music circuit in Houston and then eventually in all of Texas. Then, I went to college in East Texas, Stephen F. Austin State University then Texas Southern University. But the depth of my musical education and exposure was when I was featured and playing with older musicians. That was really my training ground because I learned so much from people who were much farther advanced than I was. It was like on the job training and I learned fast. I was really inspired by the way that they performed. I had some great mentors growing up with the guys that became The Jazz Crusaders. I used to watch them practice and rehearse when they were teenagers. I used to sit in the corner after school and run over to where they were rehearsing and just sit in the corner and listen.
Jazz Gypsy: That is amazing. And what about Hugh Masekela?
Laws: I joined up with Hugh Masekela after I left Earth, Wind and Fire. I got married around 20 years old and my wife and I moved to Los Angeles and that was like I was almost starting all over again. I had pretty much accomplished quite a bit of a status in Texas and was established and had gotten some write ups in DownBeat from Leonard Feather. And when I used to compete in college in some of the states where they had jazz festivals across the country I got some national recognition. But then, I left college as a junior and got married and moved to Los Angeles and started developing a reputation here and I got a call to audition for Earth, Wind and Fire. They had just left Warner Brothers and they were getting ready to sign with CBS and Maurice had me audition. I was thinking I was going to be part of a horn section and much to my surprise, Maurice just said, "No, I think we'll just go ahead with the one horn". [laughter] Which was pretty unique.
Jazz Gypsy: Exactly.
Laws: So, I was a part of the original group before they signed with CBS and it was a great experience. It was very interesting because even when I was with them, I always had the goal of being a solo artist but I had to work and because I had a family, a wife, to support and a baby coming so I tried to garner as much work as I could. It was a good call to be a part of that group where I developed some very close friendships while being in the group. Larry Dunn, the keyboard player, is one of my best friends and Phillip Bailey, Maurice, all the guys...it was like a family situation. Before signing with CBS, I had decided I didn't want to do that. I didn't want to commit to indefinitely being a part of a group situation so I left and decided not to sign, which was a big, big decision because it was a crossroad of my career and because we were expecting a baby and at that point I hadn't established myself very well financially. So,it was a bold decision to walk off from a group situation because I knew they were going to be epic....a huge, huge group. But I stuck to my guns and decided that if I wanted to be a solo artist I had to direct my efforts towards that so I left and eventually joined up with Hugh Masekela and worked with him for about a 1 1/2 years. After leaving Hugh, I put together all the elements, with the help from the Creator, to sign with my first solo contract with Blue Note Records and the rest is history. [laughter]
The Jazz Gypsy: Well, you've made some great intuitive choices like when your brother-in-law left the sax sitting there and you picked it up, [laughter] , then you deciding you didn't want to be in a group and you struck out on your own. That was a bold decision at that time.
Laws: I enjoyed the experience. Those guys were like family but once you set a goal you have to stick to that, to working towards that goal. I had no guarantee as to how that was going to work out. All I just knew was that I needed to put all my effort and energy into accomplishing that. And, again with grace and help from the Creator it all worked out and I'm very grateful as to how it all turned out for me because it's not always a guarantee that it's going to always work out the way you plan it.
The Jazz Gypsy: Exactly. With so many sax players out there, how is it that you have your own unique sound? How do you distinguish your playing from others?
Laws: [hearty laughter] That's a good point. I get asked that a lot...all the time actually throughout my career I've always been asked that question. I can only attribute it to expressing, through the instrument, my personality, your personality, who you are. The instrument is only what it is. It's just a tool to express yourself. Whether it's the human voice, the violin, the guitar, the drums or whatever, it's just a tool or a channel in which you can express your personality, and your feelings and who you are. Also, I've always appreciated..well I came along during an era and it was paramount that that you have your own unique style and your own signature as an artist. Not necessarily sounding like someone else. You know we are all influenced by other artists or our environment but for the most part I've always wanted to be unique and express how I felt through the instrument...so it just comes out that way.
The Jazz Gypsy: So, not being a musician myself, all I understand is that there are notes on a page and you line up four saxophonists and they have the same notes to play but when you play it it's different.
Laws: [hearty laughter]
The Jazz Gypsy: How do you do that? That's like magic to people that are not musicians. [hearty laughter from both]
Laws: Well, you know, ask Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder ...why is it that they are unique.
The Jazz Gypsy: But that's a voice. That's different. How do you do that with your instrument?
Laws: Well, I guess you can say I am singing through my instrument. I'm projecting....I've gotten that comment from some of my peers who are musicians. They say, "Ronnie, actually you are singing through your instrument". Even when I sing vocally, the phrasing and the way I enunciate is similar to the way I play, so maybe that has a lot to do with it.
The Jazz Gypsy: Okay, so I'll accept that. [laughter by both] Also, I was reading on your website where you received a lot of flack for the type of music that you were doing. How would you look back on that now seeing how music has evolved?
Laws: Well, I didn't receive a whole lot of criticism. I received very little criticism but the criticism I did receive was mainly by people that really didn't know or appreciate my complete background. They had this vision of me following in the footsteps of my brother who was known as a straight ahead, classical musician. And, I've had classical training as well. But the point is I come from different genres of music as my musical experience....when you play with Earth, Wind and Fire, Hugh Masekela, you know. I grew up listening to blues frequently, listening to Ella Fitzgerald, B.B. King, and then you had the Motown era during the 60's. So I grew up in that. So when I play, it's genuine, it's not pretentious it's not just doing something to be popular. I'm just trying to express my musical experience and I drew from all different genres of music and different eras of music. So you're going to hear blues and some r&b, you're going to hear some jazz and a little classical in what I do because that was all a part of the music culture that I grew up in.
The Jazz Gypsy: You know, I think that's what explains your sound. It's a blend of all of that. And some times certain things are emphasized a little more than others.
Laws: That's very, very true. Actually, I'm very thankful for that...to be diverse and to have that versatility. I've always said...well, I equate it to almost being bilingual where you can communicate on all different levels.
The Jazz Gypsy: Yes! [every excitedly] Yes, that's what it is. [laughter] I think you explained "your sax voice" in a way that I can understand it a lot better because we hear it but we just didn't know where that was coming from, how you did it. [laughter from both]
Laws: It's just a gift, like I said. You're right when you talk about the human voice. I look at different singers and then there are musicians, you listen to... John Coltrane and you immediately know who that is. B.B. King can play one or two notes on his guitar and you say, "That's B.B. King". [laughter] It's a very unique gift and not many musicians or artists have that. That's why I look at it as a gift and I consider myself to be very blessed to have that.
The Jazz Gypsy: Also, you've been able to build and sustain a life-long career in the industry. How do you stay balanced and what advice do you have for young musicians?
Laws: Being adaptable doesn't equate or necessarily mean compromise. It means that you are selective as well as you are progressive in your thinking. You are progressive and you are open for other ideas that are offered to you or what you see or hear. So you sort of decipher how you want to incorporate that with what you do. We are all influenced by something, outside elements. Its about how we want to incorporate it into who we are, how do you want to fit it into what you do. So that's the way I Iook at it. And, there's a discipline involved and a social responsibility you should have as an artist. You just don't do anything to be popular. I really feel you have to be a principled person and understand that your music carries some weight because it impacts people and you should use that in a responsible way not to encourage stupidity and being irresponsible. So I try to put into my music some value, something positive and constructive. Something that's not good. For young people you have to prepare yourself and to set goals about what you want to do. You can't have a goal and walk through life aimlessly. So if you set a goal, work towards that goal and stay focused then 9 times out of 10 you're going to accomplish it.
The Jazz Gypsy: I love, love, love your answer to that. It really applies, not to just young people, and not just musicians but to people in general. That's excellent what you said.
Laws: Well, that's straight from the heart and having done this for a long time. Everyday is a challenge though, every day. Because you have elements out there that are counter to what you are trying to maintain and achieve. So you have to stay focused.
The Jazz Gypsy: So, I have two more questions for you. You will be performing at he upcoming Playboy Jazz Festival on Sunday, June 12th with Harmony 3 that includes Walter Beasley and Stanley Jordan. Have you played with them before and what can we expect?
Laws: I've played with them before. In fact, Stanley and I, back in the 70's and 80's, we've done several concerts together and have been featured at the same festivals. And Walter and I, over the last 15 years, developed a good relationship as fellow artists. You know he's one of the younger saxophonist that I really have a lot of respect for because of the way that he carries himself and the way he's maintained his career. He's a music professor at Berklee School of Music in Boston. But beside from that, when we first met, we sort of hit it off and I'm a lot older than he is [laughter] but we have similar approaches to what we do musically. So it's going to be great working with them as a package because I came up with the name Harmony 3. It's a package that's won't just feature Walter Beasley and Stanley [Jordan]. In the future, it may alternate with other people that I've worked with over the years that I want to include as part of that package.
The Jazz Gypsy: That will be great.
Laws: So if Stanley or Walter, because of scheduling, won't be able to perform on the package, there will be other people I will bring in as an alternate. So Harmony 3 is inclusive of my friends, those I have a great deal of respect and admiration for that I've worked with over the years. And, it may even include some new and upcoming people that I have a great deal of respect for. It's a formula for presenting some of the iconic people that I have worked with over the years that for some reason or another don't get the type of exposure or respect that they deserve. That was the concept of putting this package together.
The Jazz Gypsy: I love that. That is excellent. Is there anything else you'd like to tell me about?
Laws: That's about it. [laughter by both] Well, I have a young son that's a very accomplished saxophonist. My goal is to be more active in promoting some of the younger artists and musicians and to try and be a mentor to some of the young musicians that are coming up, and share my experience with them and hopefuly help to direct them in the right way.
The Jazz Gypsy: I think I saw your son perform with you. Is his name Javone.
The Jazz Gypsy: Yes, I think it was at the Inglewood Jazz Festival.
Laws: Yes, he was just a teenager then. But he has really matured so I'm trying to help get his situation moving. So he's forming a group and has a CD project in the works and I want to be as much encouragement to him as I can as well as to other young guys that are coming up like that.
The Jazz Gypsy: Well, Ronnie, thank you so much for your time and all that you said.
Laws: My pleasure.
Written by The Jazz Gypsy
-Free Playboy Jazz Concert, Sunday, June 5, 2011
-The 33rd Annual Playboy Jazz Festival
Details at: http://www.playboyjazzfestival.com/
New music by Ndugu:
-Ndugu Chancler Old Friends Live
The Jazz Gypsy: Good Morning, Ndugu. I've seen and enjoyed your performances many times and most recently it was at Disney Hall for the Sacred Music of Duke Ellington concert. It was fabulous. The audience loved it, but what was that like for you?
Ndugu: There's a whole connection to Duke that goes back to 1971 for me. The first time I saw Duke Ellington was in Newark, NJ in 1971. Duke Ellington and James Brown were on the same program in a ballroom in NJ. I saw the band and later that year, I went to Europe with Miles Davis and we shared the bus with Duke Ellington. So that was the first connection where I got to hang out with everyone in the band, and hear them play every night.
Later in the 80's when Mercer Ellington, had taken over the band, the same thing happened when I was in Europe again. So when we did this sacred music concert, the spirit of all those guys that Duke had written that music for started coming out in me. And the first one was Harry Carney playing that baritone sax. I was wondering, how would Duke write all this music for the baritone sax and then I remembered Harry Carney and it was like the spirit of Harry Carney was coming back to me and I was seeing all of those guys playing that music of Duke. So I saw Cootie Williams [trumpets], Harry Carney, Paul Gonsalves [tenor sax]. I saw all of those people. So when I really got into the music of that sacred concert it was based on honoring those legends
The Jazz Gypsy: For the audience, we were speechless because we've never seen anything like that before.
Ndugu: It was an honoring of Duke in that music for us. So we got, probably more out of it, musically and spiritually than the audience did because the audience was looking at it from a musical standpoint and we [the musicians] were looking at it from a whole evolution, emotional and spiritual standpoint.
The Jazz Gypsy: That leads me to my next question. You've played across the whole musical spectrum, from pop, traditional jazz, smooth jazz, r&b, rock & roll, blues....you've played with everybody. What are the similarities and the differences in the music itself and and then how do you approach each genre of music artistically?
Ndugu: Great question. The jazz in me affords me the luxury of being able to cross all the channels particularly because jazz was the impetus that inspired me to want to start playing and have my own voice. The other genres were the genres of being contemporary and being popular. So, when I'm playing, I always take the jazz approach to try to bring something new while honoring the tradition of what ever that music is.
Also, my generation came up listening to radio and radio was everything....Jimi Hendrix, Horace Silver, Cannonball Adderley, Sammy Davis Jr, Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Motown, Sly and the Family Stone...it was all that mixed together. So, you didn't draw a line that said this is jazz and this is rock. It was all music. Later on they started segmenting the music to give it different divisions and genres but we looked at all of it as just music. And, you go back to what Duke always said, "There's only two kinds of music, good music and bad music". It's not genre specific. For me, I've always enjoyed listening to and playing all kinds of music, so, any time I play any genre or any style, I try and honor the lineage of that style while bringing something fresh. I take the jazz approach of being open but honoring the tradition.
The Jazz Gypsy: There are a lot of drummers in the world and you are listed in the top 25 and in many people's minds you are in the top 2. What makes your sound unique and how do you distinguish your playing from others?
Ndugu: Roots. Let's start with the roots of it based on the African concept but my approach to playing the drums is not just with the drum being involved in it. My approach is ....I look at myself as I play drums but I am really playing all of the voices of the music that I hear through the drums. So it's not always from a drum perspective. Because the drum perspective, a lot of times, people get so into the drums that they don't get into the music. And, I always try and honor the music through the drums. So anytime I'm playing, I'm trying to get the maximum amount of music out of what I'm doing.
The Jazz Gypsy: You also wear a lot of hats...producer, composer, clinician, teacher, musician. As a teacher what makes a good student and as a student, what makes a good teacher?
Ndugu: A good student is anyone that is receptive to learning. What makes a good teacher is the ability to adapt to translating the message of the lesson to your students so they get it. So, not [just] having a formalized way of delivering what ever the lesson is but being able to adapt to your students. I have to be honest with you, I teach a black student differently than I teach a white student and I teach a white student differently than I teach a Latino student because you have to make it all relate-able to who you're teaching and come to them on a level that opens the flood gates for them to be receptive to receiving the knowledge.
The Jazz Gypsy: I read that you started playing the drums at 13.
Ndugu: Yes, and that was late. The reason for that was because I wanted to play [the drums] since age 6 but the school system denied me because they wanted me to play a different instrument. So I just held onto the passion and let it lay dormant in my body like a virus.
The Jazz Gypsy: So, how were you able to start [playing] at 13? And, how did you already know you wanted to play the drums?
Ndugu: How did I know I wanted to play the drums? I still don't know where that came from because I was born and spent the early part of my childhood in Shreveport, Louisiana. I had never seen a band. I had never seen any drummers and I didn't know any. I think it was, well, you know how they say "Your gift is given to you and you have to recognize it". I think I just recognized it and let it lay until I had the opportunity in school to start playing. Then, once I started playing, that was confirmation that that was exactly what I wanted to do.
The Jazz Gypsy: Also, you played with some jazz greats from the very beginning. How did that happen?
Ndugu: Being in California and being mentored around jazz greats. I was around Harold Land, The Jazz Crusaders, Stix Hooper, Gerald Wilson, growing up and living in the same neighborhood with these guys. And, having role models that I idolized led me the right way. The guys that I was idolizing and following were jazz greats.
Stix Hooper mentored me a lot. The Crusaders lived down the street from me. So I got a chance to see what great people were. I also met a local musician by the name of Eddie Gamus, a saxophone player and he had consistency with going to work everyday playing music. So I knew my focus was on going to be a well-rounded, consummate professional. And, that was just from growing up in LA around all of that music. I moved to New York for a while, but New York wasn't my cup of tea because LA gave me the luxury of courting with and playing with all of these names.
The Jazz Gypsy: So now what advice would you give to young musicians, particularly about how to stay balanced and how to build and sustain a lifelong career in the industry?
Ndugu: The first thing is listen to as much as you possibly can, remain open, remain humble and get a life. There is more to life than music. And, it's life that makes the music.
The Jazz Gypsy: That's great advice. Now, turning to the upcoming Playboy Jazz Festival, you'll be performing with The Cosby All Stars [featuring Geri Allen, George Bohanon, Dwayne Burno, Anat Cohen, and Babatunde Lea] again. How many performances have you had at The Playboy Jazz Festival?
Ndugu: With Cos I'd say about 15 to 18...I stopped counting because this has been going on since the 80's for me. But, Cos and I go back to about 1972 and I've been in different musical situations with him. So, I lost count. [laughter] Cos and I have a strong connection because we were born under the same birth sign, our temperaments are similar so we compliment each other and we respect each other musically and as people.
The Jazz Gypsy: And you must also have a good sense of humor because number one, you're always smiling and also Cos is very funny.
Ndugu: Well, you know what? I'm happy because I'm one of the few people in life that has been afforded the luxury of building a life and doing a career doing something I love. So that's the beautiful thing. So when I hit the stage I'm happy if they're 5 people or 105,000 people. I'm happy because people come to see me. They enjoy it and I enjoy it. I don't expect them to enjoy it if I don't enjoy it. That's like feeding someone a bad meal and assuming that they're going to like it and you don't [like it].
The Jazz Gypsy: I love that analogy. [both laughing] And, I've gotten some bad meals. [more laughter]
Ndugu: You know what I mean? "Well how does it taste? I don't like it but you might like it?" Uh uh.
The Jazz Gypsy: [extended laughter] I love that. Also, just two more questions. You have an upcoming event this Sunday, where you will be working with Patrice Rushen. That's a long time relationship, tell me more about that.
Ndugu: Oh! That goes back to high school. I'm a couple years ahead of Patrice. Patrice and I were in the band at Locke High School. But Patrice and I used to just practice together. Just the two of us. We didn't have a bass player that played with us. We would just get together and practice together because we had the same fervor and spirit of wanting to accomplish and become music greats. So our association goes back to then. I remember her first records while I was on tour and coming back into town and doing records and all of that. So we go [way] back. Patrice is like my little sister.
The Jazz Gypsy: Is there anything else you like tell me about, any thing you're working on, or any special projects?
Ndugu: I have my two CD's out now. Well, I have my CD and then I have another CD with me co-leading this band called "high TIME" that is four college professors that got together one weekend and made some music. The name of that CD is called Morning Walk.
And then my CD, "Ndugu Chancler, Old Friends Live", I'm playing vibes and percussion exclusively. So, that's the other side of me that a lot of other people really never get to experience. I play vibes and the other percussion but I have been noted so much as a drummer that they forget that there are so many other hats that I wear that look equally as good as the drum hat that they always tend to want to forget about that.
I've had a lot of success as a songwriter as a producer and as a percussionist. And, at this juncture in my life, I'm trying to explore all of those things more.
The Jazz Gypsy: I did have a chance to listen to both those CD's and I thoroughly enjoyed both, but I was surprised when I heard you playing the vibes.
Ndugu: Well, I started doing that in high school and made a few records early on in the late 70's and 80's doing it. But again, when people know you for doing a certain thing they want you to do that exclusively. So, I'm slowly trying to slide all the sides of me into the mainstream so people know that. I'm kind of like Marcus Miller where I do this and I do that AND I do this.
The Jazz Gypsy: Thank you so much for your time, I'm looking forward to seeing you at the Playboy Jazz Festival this year.
Ndugu: I'm looking forward to it too. I'm starting to get a little excited. It was great talking to you.
See Ndugu and many others this weekend, as well as June 11 & 12th.
PLAYBOY JAZZ FREE COMMUNITY CONCERT AT WARNER CENTER PARK IN WOODLAND HILLS
Sunday, June 5, 4:00-8:00 PM
-1+One Featuring Patrice Rushen and Ndugu Chancler with Special Guest
-Johnny Polanco & The Amistad Orchestra
-Nikhil Korula Band
-The Calabasas High School Jazz Band
The 33rd Annual Playboy Jazz Festival
Saturday, June 11
-The LAUSD All City High School Big Band
-Ambrose Akinmusire Quintet
-Cos of Good Music with Geri Allen, George Bohanon, Dwayne Burno, Ndugu Chancler, Anat Cohen, Alphonso Johnson, Babatunde Lea
-A Night in Treme - The Musical Majesty of New Orleans
-SFJAZZ Collective Celebrating the Music of Stevie Wonder
-Eddie Palmieri Salsa Orchestra
-The Roots with special guest Terence Blanchard
Sunday, June 12
-Pullum High School Big Band
-Geri Allen and her Timeline Band
-Lee Konitz New Quartet
-John Scofield and Robben Ford
-Bill Cunliffe and the Resonance Big Band
-Still Black, Still Proud: An African Tribute to James Brown
-Harmony 3 with Ronnie Laws, Walter Beasley, Stanley Jordan