This interview originally took aired on September 22, 2009, while Astral Project was touring in support of its album Blue Streak It was subsequently published at Bebopified in October, 2009.
Tony Dagradi is the leader of the group. Playing a number of saxophones, he can surprise a jaded listener by taking the soprano sax places smooth jazzers have never dreamed about.
I had a chance to talk with Dagradi by phone from his New Orleans home, shortly before the group left for its September tour of the Midwest.
LE: You’ve been together, what, 30 years?
TD (Laughing): We started when we were in kindergarten.
LE: Are you all natives of New Orleans?
TD: Johnny Vidacovich and Steve Masakowski, the drummer and guitarist are native. James Singleton and I both arrived in New Orleans around 1977. I don’t know how long you have to be here to be a native.
LE: It sounds like you’re a native now.
TD: Yeah. You get involved in the scene and you’re part of the community, ultimately.
LE: What brought the four of you together?
TD: It was mostly my concept. When I arrived in New Orleans, I had been playing with a great group I had in Boston called Inner Visions. I wanted to have a group, someplace where I could do whatever I wanted. After I was in New Orleans awhile I scoped out the local artists and there were many. I just brought people together that I thought would be a good combination.
LE: Did you move to New Orleans specifically to start a different kind of group?
TD: No. Actually, that wasn’t why I moved here. It was just something I had to do while I was here. I moved to New Orleans because I didn’t want to go back to Boston and actually I only intended to check it out and stay for a short time myself. But… the music scene is so vibrant and so incredible that I just kept staying and staying.
LE: When you brought the other members of the group together, what was your concept?
TD: l had in mind to do something a little more electronic, with electric keyboards, and an electric bass, because this was 1978. I was thinking about Miles. I was thinking about Weather Report. But the more we played it became apparent that our backgrounds and hearts were really in acoustic and very interactive music. So it started out from that fusion place but ultimately went to very acoustic jazz and very interactive music.
LE: It seems you depend a lot on individual contributions from each of the band members for your repertoire.
TD: Absolutely. Everybody writes. I probably bring in about 50% of what we do, Steve writes a lot. Steve Masakowski is a great, great composer. James is a unique composer. Johnny writes probably the least, but when he brings in something, it’s great.
LE: is there any other way the band has evolved over the 30 years you’ve been together?
TD: It’s subtle. From an instrumental and orchestration standpoint, initially we started out with keyboards, bass, drums, sax, and we had a percussionist. As things moved forward in time the percussionist, Marc Sanders, moved to New York. So we were a quartet for a moment and then we added Steve. Steve is the junior member, he’s only been here 20-something years. David Torkanowsky was the pianist, and it turned out that he just got busier and busier doing other stuff, involved in studio work, so when we would go out on tour it would be a conflict. Ultimately we said let’s lose the keyboard and keep it lean and mean as a quartet. That’s the way I’ve liked it the best so far.
LE: You do a lot of the writing and get writing from other members of the band. When you bring in a song, or Johnny does, or Steve does, how do you go about arranging the song?
TD: We rehearse very infrequently, but when we do what happens is someone brings in their music and they have a good idea of what they want. But… everybody looks at the music and decides, or takes a little liberty with it and develops his own part. That sometimes involves the actual arrangement, like “Let’s loose the interlude, or only do the interlude in one place.” So the arrangement itself evolves a little bit at the rehearsal, but then a lot on the bandstand.
LE: Obviously after so much time together you can read each other well. You don’t have to look at each other and say “I’m going to take a chorus now.”
TD: If you talk to John Vidacovich, he’ll tell you he just watches people’s body language. He knows when somebody is going to take that next chorus or not. That’s the way he plays. He watches people and looks to help shape the individual solos by his support. He’s watching body language, listening to what’s happening. There’s a lot of trust and a lot of things have evolved, so that we do know each other’s playing pretty well.
LE: Individually, you have all played with some of the giants of New Orleans music. What did you learn from that?
TD: New Orleans is the most important city when you start talking about jazz, where it started to begin with. The music was in the air and happening in lots of places, but geophysically, New Orleans is a very unique place. The fact that it’s surrounded by water and totally isolated has helped it to sustain its individuality and culture. There are so many elements, the culture, the melting-pot aspect, there was so much music here from so many different places. That’s why the music evolved here as it did. Given that, there’s a tradition of families – the Marsalises, the Jordans, the Batistes. There are a lot of extended families, so that anybody who’s from here is probably related to a musician. (Laughs.) It’s part of the fabric of the whole city, so that if you’re not related, you probably know a lot of musicians. But I think, to answer your question: We’ve all had a chance to play with Professor Longhair. I’ve recorded with Ellis Marsalis. We all take part in this big community. The one thing that really I found exciting and remarkable when I first got here was that you would go to one gig and it might be a wedding. You would go to another and it might be a funk gig at a club, and you would go to another and it would be a straight jazz gig. And you would see some of the same faces on all those gigs. For me that showed how versatile the individual musicians are and how connected they are.
LE: One of the things I’ve noticed over the last 10-15 years of Jazz fest is how much more interaction there is between all kinds of musicians. You would see someone in a funk group, and then they’d play jazz…
TD: Traditional jazz, gospel.
LE: Lots of one-off combinations to, well, make some money, to entertain people, and for the joy of playing together.
TD: That’s one thing about Astral Project. We all do all those gigs. But.. when we come to Astral Project the environment is such that you can play anything. If you play with a rhythm & blues guy, he doesn’t want to hear you play outside the changes, he doesn’t want to hear rhythmic complexities. It has to be at a certain level to be right, but in Astral Project anything is right, anything is okay, and that’s what we’ve all grown to really love about the band.
LE: That’s how you keep things fresh and interesting for each other.
LE: You teach as well.
TD: I’m a professor of saxophone at Loyola University. Steve is head of the jazz program at the University of New Orleans. So I do that a lot, but this year I’m on a sabbatical.
LE: When you meet with students for the first time, what’s the first thing you tell them about what they need to do to be successful, or to do what they want with their music?
TD: Hmm… The fist thing is to learn how to make a beautiful sound. (Laughs.) I’m not talking about a lot of notes, just taking one note and making it sound beautiful. That would be the first thing. After that, that opens a can of worms. After you’re an accomplished musician, after you can technically play the instrument, then you have to decide what you want to play. What kind of music makes you feel good? I tell my students, if somebody called you for a festival or recording session, what ten tunes would represent you as an artist? That’s a big question. And if you’re a composer, that’s great. You really should be a composer, because that’s how you can make some money. If you’re a jazz artist, you are a composer by very nature.
LE: To change the subject a little bit. People always wonder what artists did during Katrina. The new album, Blue Streak, has parts that are a response to Katrina, just as Big Shot has some tunes that were a response to 9/11.
TD: I think artists always reflect their time. Steve is really good about that. We did a whole suite on Big Shot about 9/11. We were on tour right on 9/11 in someplace like Indianapolis, I believe, and Steve’s sister worked in the World Trade Center, so he was freaking out. There was a lot of anguish and trying to get through with phone calls. It was a very heavy time. For Katrina, what’s really amazing is that we all evacuated, but what’s amazing is that none of our houses were flooded. We all came back and there was damage and debris and stuff but we all had our roofs, but no water got into our houses. We also had a tour planned immediately after Katrina so we met in Chicago after not having been home for three or four weeks and everybody evacuated to different parts of the country. It was really emotional.
LE: You are coming to the Artists’ Quarter for the first time.
TD: Yes. We’ve been to the Dakota a number of times, but this is our first time at the Artists’ Quarter. I’m thinking it might be a better place for people to just listen.
LE: You’ll be playing stuff from the Blue Streak album. Any other material?
TD: Our performing repertoire always includes stuff from all of our CDs. Because on each CD, there’s some… not that any song is better than other cuts on the CD, but some have more longevity in the repertoire. We absolutely do stuff from every one of our CDs.
LE: You’ll have some for sale there.
TD (laughing): Oh yes, the economics of touring.
LE: Do you have a distribution deal at all?
TD: No. The last three projects we’ve done, we’ve done on our own. I’ve talked with a bunch of people who are very prominent artists, and everybody’s thinking about not doing a label, because everything is changing so much.
LE: We look forward to seeing you. I imagine there will be two sets per night
TD: Whatever they want. (Laughs.)
LE: Whatever the audience screams for?
TD: Whatever the club owner wants. (Laughs some more.) I’m a hired hand at that point. We’re really looking forward to coming to Saint Paul.
Original interview conducted August 14, 2010.
Vocalist Sophia Shorai is based in the Twin Cities. You may have heard her distinctive, clarion voice in commercials for Target and other corporations, or you may have seen her at The Dakota, Hell’s Kitchen or Honey. Shorai’s voice is a combination of sweet and sultry, and is particularly expressive on ballads like Black Coffee, where the darkness of the tune is only slightly leavened by the sweetness of her voice, and Old Devil Moon. This is a slightly edited version of our talk in the KFAI studio shortly before the Release of her album As Long As You’re Living.
LE: The last time you were on this show was a couple of years ago, when you did the Brazilian album.
SS: Right, called Wave.
LE: Now you have a new one out, Long As You’re Living. Is it just you and Tommy Barbarella.
LE: What made you decide to go with that approach to a record?
SS: Well, I’ve always wanted to do it, and I’ve been looking for just the right piano player, and Tommy and I have had a good rapport over the last couple of years. We have mutual friends, so we’ve known each other and I always wanted to work with him and thought, “What a Perfect Opportunity.”
LE: He’s toured with Prince, Stevie Wonder, Art Garfunkel, Ziggy Marley. He’s also a composer and arranger. A veteran of the music business.
SS: He absolutely is. He’s fantastic, and such a delight to work with. A good friend
LE: I’m looking at the list of tunes on the CD. Long as You’re Living, Black Coffee, Brother Can You Spare a Dime. You also do Hellhound on My Trail, the Robert Johnson tune, as well as In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning, Old Devil Moon and a Hank Williams tune. How did you choose these tunes?
SS: I know, it’s kind of all over the map in terms of songwriters. I’ve just loved many of these tunes for many, many years and always wanted to record them. I thought let’s put them all together. They kind of have an underlying theme of politics, and loss, and also love found, and redemption, so I weaved them together to tell a story. I think it works. I hope it works.
LE: As Long As You’re Living, the title song, is an Oscar Brown tune. Where did you first hear that? How did you decide you like that particular song?
SS: I’ve been listening to jazz since I was a little girl, because of my father. I first heard Abby Lincoln’s version on Abby Lincoln is Blue and absolutely loved the song and then Karrin Allyson, whom I’m completely in love with, also covered it, so I thought “Hey, Whatever.” It sets the scene for the record.
LE: As we mentioned earlier, it’s been a while since you’ve been up here, so what have you been doing in the last 4-5 years?
SS: Well, I’ve been kind of busy. I got my Bachelor of Arts from the U of M in psychology, That took a little too long so I’m glad that’s done. And I got married to a wonderful man. He’s also a musician, Jeremy Gordon, so that was nice
LE: And I’ve noticed that in the last year or so, you’ve been out performing again.
SS: Yeah, I took a little hiatus, and started performing again. Then I hooked up with Tommy and we started working on tunes together last fall, and that catapulted me into wanting to play live.
LE: I’ve seen you performing with Supreme Privacy and some some bands that you put together.
SS: Trying to find my way in.
LE: As you are working with different folks, how does it help you to do so?
SS: Well it definitely allows me to stretch my boundaries and also make new friends and learn about new people and that also inspires me, to have special relationships with musician types. Just allows me to grow
LE: Tell us about the Hank Williams tune.
SS: I think it’s one of Tommy’s favorite songs and definitely one of mine now too. It’s called I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry. It’s a really sad tune
LE: It’s a very sad tune. You take it much slower than many versions that I’ve heard, and certainly much slower than the original Hank Williams version. BJ Thomas had a hit with it in the early 70s, I think, and his was much faster. How did you decide to go with such a slow arrangement?
SS: Well, honestly, this whole record was almost completely spontaneous. Tommy and I talked about it for a month or two and then we got together for about two hours the night before the session and ran through the tunes and then went into the studio. So all of these songs are kind of based on our communication with each other and its almost spontaneous.
LE: But you talked about what tunes you would do?
SS: We talked about the names of the tunes, who wrote them, what they’re all about, not necessarily about how they make us feel, but just talked about them objectively and then went in and did them.
LE: And the decision to do this one so very slow. Did Tommy just say Let’s take this one really slow?
SS: Yeah, yeah. He just came up with this one since it’s one of his favorite tunes, and I just followed him and it worked out perfectly. I think we maybe took three takes of this song tops.
LE: Is there a particular challenge that you face as a vocalist, to sing so slowly?
SS: No I actually prefer to sing ballads. I’m a balladeer, that’s for sure. I feel you can emote a lot more.
LE: I’m reminded of a remark that Jimmy Scott once made, talking to another singer, he said something like, “Go as slow as you want, the band has to follow you. Whatever rhythm you want to do, do it.”
SS: yes, indeed.
LE: When you’re playing with other bands, do you just say, “Here’s the songs that I know”
SS: I have a general book of charts and just throw it at them and hope they can read my charts. I am a piano player so I understand the keys and chords and everything, but I feel bad for my musicians at times, because I’ll pull out a really esoteric tune and they’ll go, “Oh! Well, let’s see how this goes.”
LE: But it’s not that your chart itself has bad penmanship
SS: No, no. I choose very colorful chords…. I’ve heard.
LE: Isnt’ that what jazz is all about, playing some of those colorful chords?
SS: I hope so, yeah.
LE: Tell us about the last song on the record.
SS: It’s called Waters of March and is by Antonio Carlos Jobim. And I figured, what’s a well-rounded jazz record without a bossa nova. Also I’ve always been way too nervous to cover this tune. I’ve known it for years because it’s really wordy and seemingly simple, and you can do so much with it, and it’s such a joyful tune I thought it was a great song to take the record out with.
LE: You mentioned that there are lots of words in that song and there are…
SS: There are. It’s really tough memorizing all those words. I have to make some up all the time. I feel bad about that.
LE: In terms of having to sing many, many words like that, what challenges do you as a singer face, or does any singer face when they have to enunciate so many words.
SS: I don’t want to speak for everyone. We all have our own instrument and use it differently but I have to drink a lot of water, be very hydrated and have to muster up the excitement and hope for the best.
LE: do you find that when you sing it at different times, where you breathe is different?
SS: Absolutely. I like to change it up every time I do it, just to keep it interesting. Yeah and there definitely are a lot of places to breathe. You have to be strategic about where you breathe
LE: You don’t want to run out of breath
SS: That does happen, you just have to fine a graceful way out of it and come right back in.
LE: I suppose you’re finding ways to distribute the CD other than at your gigs.
SS: Yes. It’s actually on band camp right now. It’s bandcamp-slash-sophia-shorai.com You can download it for 12 bucks. You can listen to the whole thing and don’t have to buy it… But you should buy it.
LE: Well, thank you so very much for coming in
SS: Thank you for having me Larry
After 50 years of attending concerts and clubs, and interviewing artists ranging from Allen Toussaint and James Brown to Lenny White and Esperanza Spalding, I was reduced to a star-struck fan last night. The occasion was Ronnie Spector’s Best Christmas Ever, at the Dakota Jazz Club and Restaurant in Minneapolis. Sitting stage-side, I was grinning throughout her hour and a half performance, and thrilled when she reached out to shake my hand.
Spector’s voice, with her familiar Whuh Ho Hos, was clear and powerful. She sang and talked with the enthusiasm of a schoolgirl, and donned a Christmas outfit for her encore. She paid homage to a number of her own heroes and friends, including John Lennon (Happy Xmas), Johnny Thunders (“Memory”), and Frankie Lymon (“Christmas Again”). She sang new Christmas songs, chestnuts like “Sleigh Ride,” her hits and a couple of lesser known Ronettes tunes like Paradise and You Baby. It was a treat to hear her do a couple of vocal group gems: “I’m So Young,” a song by the Students that she recorded with Phil Spector, and “Please Say You Want Me,” originally done by the Schoolboys, and at this point, only available as a download from her website.
I didn’t take notes. Didn’t take photos. Didn’t analyze the sound. I just sat there smiling. For an hour and a half I was, along with everyone in the room, deliriously happy to hear Ronnie.
Since arriving in New York City in 1981, pianist Pete Malinverni has established himself as a highly respected artist, earning accolades and a number of four star reviews in Downbeat, and other publications. His recent release, A Beautiful Thing! on Saranac Records shows why. The music is direct, engaging, and creative, whether he’s playing the Great American Songbook, a newer standard by Burt Bacharach or Billy Joel, or a spiritual. His originals feature purposeful, strong melodies. Every note seems in place, whether he’s attacking the keyboard with verve or barely brushing the keys. We had a short talk by phone Saturday morning, November 20, 2010 during my show on KFAI.
LE: In looking at your biography, I noticed you started out in classical music. How did you go from studying classical music to being a jazz musician? What was the impetus for that?
PM: First I should say that I had a really wonderful teacher as a kid. I started with this particular woman back home in Western New York, in Niagara Falls. I studied with this woman from the age of six until I got out of high school. She was a real taskmaster. She insured that I had all the physical, and I guess interpretive, tools that someone my age could have, and knowing how to play classical music. So she introduced me into harmony and to form and all those things. And of course I loved playing, for part of the time, anyway. There was a time in early high school where all I wanted to do was play ball, so that was a bit of a difficult time. But, I enjoyed being able to do it. I enjoyed being able to play. She was Polish, so she had me playing a lot of Chopin, which I really enjoyed.
But then in high school I was invited to play “Rhapsody in Blue” with the school orchestra. In learning that, I found that no one had to force me to learn that piece. I would steal time in school to run to the auditorium and get inside and play the piano and really practice it. That was something I did because I wanted it. So people telling me that it was somehow akin to jazz had me tuning in to the jazz station back home in Buffalo. I heard things on there that I never really thought I’d hear. At that time I was playing in a rock band with some cousins of mine, and having a lot of fun, but it still wasn’t quite fulfilling, musically. When I heard jazz I understood the difference, which was basically that these musicians in the jazz world really were concerned with sound quality, listening to each other very clearly, and really responding. At that time, the rock thing, what we were trying to do was sound just like the record. Anyone who’s played rock music at a young age knows that scene.
I liked the fact that one could be creative but one’s developed tools were very much necessary. All the work that I had done in classical music to develop technique was then absolutely necessary to trying to improvise and at the same time really cooperate with my fellow musicians. So that was it. I was done. Plus the rhythmic thing, the way it feels rhythmically. That’s really essential to all music and for me, that’s the thing that pushed me over.
LE: Now, you’ve been based in New York City for quite a while, and you’ve played with many musicians. Have there been any musicians that you’ve learned particular things from, or have really helped you along in your development as a jazz musician?
PM: Absolutely. First at the piano there’s a wonderful jazz pianist, I’m sure you’re listeners know who Barry Harris is, the great, Detroit born pianist. He offers classes in the city. When I first arrived in New York I heard about these classes and started to go and got immersed in the whole notion of greats with feet of clay, if you will. In other words, humans who still could aspire to this wonderful art form. Harris was very specific in showing and demonstrating the techniques that he had developed, or at least observed. Musically, that was a very important thing for me.
Then personally, I was very fortunate to be able to call some really great musicians to work with me when I started to get my gigs in New York. I always wanted to play with someone better than I. So the first really great musician I called was Mel Lewis, the great drummer, so I had a trio with him and Dennis Irwin, a wonderful bassist, and we played together quite a bit, and I made my first two recording with Mel. We get together to rehearse, and basically I go over to his apartment and listen to him talk. I learned a lot about the real world of being a musician.
Mel passed way too young, and from there I hired Vernell Fournier when I would work, and he would hire me when he had work, and we got to travel together quite a bit, and play a lot of the clubs in New York. Vernell, of course had made jazz history with the Ahmad Jamal Trio. He was really great about seeing the positive in things, no matter what they were. He was actually a Muslim and he would quote from the Koran all the time. The things he would say were always in the face of this or that, keep your eyes up, everything’s ok, be positive, keep moving forward. That as well as musical things in terms of form and dynamics, etc. which of course were the great earmarks of Ahmad’s trio, of which Vernell was an important part.
LE: Sounds like helpful advice for being in the music business.
PM: Oh yeah, just being in the presence of someone who’s that great and seeing that it’s organic to them. It’s not some thing that, the thumb was put on the forehead from above and boom, all of a sudden they could do it. It’s a lifelong pursuit
LE: You mention that Fournier was a Muslim. In addition to gigging, you currently also participate in services for two different faith based traditions.
PM: That’s right. On Sundays I’m the minister of music at an African American Baptist Church in Brooklyn, New York, where I’ve been since 1992. It’s called the Devoe Street Baptist Church. There I work with the choir and choose, and lead music for the congregation. Then on Fridays and Saturdays I’m pianist and conductor at the Westchester Reformed Synagogue in Scarsdale, New York.
LE: On your album, A Beautiful Thing!, you do Go Down Moses, and mention that it is a song that resonated with both traditions when you did something together.
PM: Yeah, it’s interesting. I teach at Purchase College here in New York. I’m in the jazz studies program, but I formed a choir of students from all over campus called Soul Voices. Basically, I arrange all the music for the choir and its music from the African American tradition, so we use a lot of spirituals, and I find it interesting to get into the history of what the songs really are. In fact I was just looking at an article in today’s NY Times about the song Come By Here, and how it’s been called Kum By Yah, and now it’s almost a term of cynicism, you know, left and right, when in fact it really had a strong basis in the civil rights movement.
It’s interesting, when the slaves were brought here, they were not allowed to read, and if they were allowed to read anything, it was the Bible. I found that interesting because here are these slave owners giving the slaves a book, whose hero, Moses, led people out of bondage and out of slavery, and vanquished their captors. And I thought, gee, you’re gonna hold somebody, but give them a blueprint for how to get out, that’s really bright. So Go Down Moses and Let My People Go are songs known and cherished by both traditions. For me we talked initially about the classical and jazz thing. I think, like there, and also as in religion, I don’t mean dogma, I mean spirituality, there is so much more that brings people, who seemingly should be on whole other sides of the spectrum, that brings them together rather than separates them. If you look for it. That’s why I chose Go Down Moses. I always try to put one spiritual on every recording.
LE: On this recording, you have a number of originals, such as the one I played just before you came on the air, In the Garden of the Eternal Optimist, but you also have a House is Not a Home, by Bert Bacharach, a Billy Joel song, and a couple of American Songbook standards, My Shining Hour and Sweet and Lovely. But the surprise to me was La Vie en Rose, which is a popular song, though I haven’t heard many jazz interpretations of it. Why did you choose that particular song?
PM: I’ll tell you Larry, the songs you mention all share one thing, well maybe more, but to me, the thing they share most importantly is melody. I think, rhythm is number one but melody is what gets us in the heart. No one ever says when I hear that beat it makes me want to cry, it’s always the tune. There’s something about a tune that really tugs at the heart. When I first moved to New York, I really didn’t know anybody, so I made a living playing piano in fancy restaurants. In that job you have to learn a million standards. You have to learn standards. Which was fine, because I’d go to hear Tommy Flanagan, or I’d go to hear Hank Jones, and they were playing these tunes, so I knew how beautiful they were. So I learned songs and one of the places I was playing was a really lovely restaurant. Quite often people from Europe would come in, so I made it my business to know songs that I liked from various countries, and La Vie en Rose was something I learned. The melody is simply beautiful and I also like the mood of it, it’s a little bit of a cynic’s view of the world – life is rosy, not really. So I liked the subtlety of the message. But for me, the main thing is the melody.
LE: Well, I want to thank you for calling in. We’ll sign off with La Vie En Rose. I’ve been talking with Pete Malinverni.
PM: Thanks to your listeners, too.
Original interview conducted 7/17/2010
Glen David Andrews is a rising star in the New Orleans firmament. But there are rising stars and there are RISING STARS. In fact, he was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame as a “Future Hall of Famer” in November, 2010. He has recorded a gospel album and a traditional jazz album, but is just as likely to drop some funk into his performance. You may have seen him in HBO’s Treme.
The charismatic trombonist with a deep baritone voice first came to the attention of folks outside of the Big Easy at the 2009 Jazz Fest, where he electrified the Gospel Tent, singing traditional gospel songs with a brass backing. People were jumping up and down, reaching out to touch him. He implores folks to get up, move, scream, and they willingly do so, as he proved at his performance at the Dakota Jazz Club and Restaurant the evening of this interview. Normally polite Minnesotans were on their feet as soon as he came on stage. They stood throughout the performance and shook whatever they had, mightily. It was a sight to behold. Earlier in the day, he came to the studios of KFAI, where this on-air interview was conducted. It’s been slightly edited for clarity.
LE: Good Morning
GDA: Good Morning. How’re you feelin’?
LE: I’m feeling good How’re you feelin’?
GDA: I’m Happy to be here, and I’m ready to wake everybody up in Minnesota and Minneapolis/Saint Paul this morning
LE: You grew up in a highly musical family, a network of musicians. Jessie Hill was your grandfather, and your cousins are James Andrews and Trombone Shorty, so it seems you grew up around music.
GDA: I grew up in the historical Treme neighborhood, which is the oldest black African American neighborhood in the US. It’s where jazz was founded. I literally walk up Basin Street every day, and while I’m walking up Basin Street, I get to play the song Basin Street. I am part of a huge musical family with James and Troy. Grandfather was the great Jessie Hill, who as you know, wrote the catalogue for Ike and Tina Turner, Sam and Dave, and his own stuff. Being born and raised in Treme, twhen I grew up in the 80s, I was blessed to have the privilege of seeing the end of all those guys that brought the revival of traditional jazz back. And I was able to see that, and I was able to see their jazz funerals and I still was able to play with some of them. I’ve been around it all of my life, and I’m pretty much in heaven right now.
LE: Was there ever a time when you didn’t think of being a jazz musician?
GDA: Nah. You walk out the door of my place in Treme, and my grandmother ran two of the most popular bars in town. So my entire life was surrounded by music, including my cousins, and my brother who played in the Rebirth Brass Band. His mother used to do Fats Domino’s hair, (she was) his exclusive hair dresser. Across the street, the preacher is my first cousin, and has a huge band in music. So I’ve been around it all my life. I can actually remember when I first saw the Olympia Brass Band, I knew I was gonna be a musician.
LE: How did you choose the trombone?
GDA: I didn’t. Trombone Shorty gave it to me. I was a drummer first. I was about 14 years old, going down the street, and he asked me, “Are you still playing with your brother and them?” I said, “No, I’m gonna come play with you.” He said, “Okay, but since you’re tall, you have to play the trombone.” He gave me a horn at 14. I’ll never forget. He asked me for it back about a year later, “You ready to give that horn back?”
LE: You brought your trombone with you.
GDA: Oh, everywhere I go. This is my wife.
LE: You ready to play something?
GDA: We have to play something to wake y’all up this morning. I hope you enjoy it.
(Plays and sings the traditional spiritual, A Closer Walk With Thee, accompanied by guitar and trumpet)
LE: That’s a very traditional song. You’ve been called someone who has one foot in tradition and one foot in the future.
GDA: Being born in the neighborhood I was born in, and being around all those great musicians, I pretty much understood what traditional jazz was all about. Going to Preservation Hall, listening to the Humphrey Brothers. Actually knowing them, and being able to perform with so many great musicians You could do football, you could do basketball, but for me it was always music. But then, being around all those old people, I was hearing stories of who they were, who they hung out with. All those huge jazz stars were still in the neighborhood, because all their band members, and their friends lived around there. It’s a cesspool of culture.
LE: What do you hope to do with your music?
GDA: For me, I hope to take it to higher and higher heights. You know there’s many different ways I could go, but for right now it’s all about different kinds of music, especially with the CDs. I did a gospel, a traditional jazz, just did a live one, kind of funk. Now it’s time for blues-rock. I’m pretty much touching on every genre of music and being able to record with everybody and hopefully be able to do one-night stand around the entire world.
LE: That’ s very ambitious. I saw you last year at the Jazz Fest last year just tearing it up at the gospel tent, and then I saw you a few nights later at the d.b.a club, creating a ruckus there, so that’s entirely a possibility.
GDA: I think as long as I keep the right band. You have to be willing to open your mind up to new music, and, at the same time, new music is always great, but you still have to swing those tunes like Tiger Rag and Muskrat Ramble. You can’t let those tunes die off.
LE: You’re playing at the Dakota this weekend.
GDA: That is huge, for me to be able to play there. When I walked into the Dakota last night, it was pretty late and they treated us extremely wonderful. But to walk in there… I had just talked to Gaynell and Cyrille Neville, of the Neville Brothers. Cyrille is one of my mentors and someone who’s been a big inspiration and who’s had a big impact on my life. The first thing his wife told me was “You are really making a way for yourself, because you’re playing at the Dakota Jazz Club.” The first thing I told her was, “I ain’t never been to South Dakota.” She said “No, the Dakota Jazz Club.” I looked it up. After 25 years they have everyone playing, even Mavis Staples has come here.
LE: They’ve got Dr. John coming up, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
GDA: It feels good for me to be here this weekend. I think I should be playing in top jazz clubs and look forward to everybody getting me back up here. But first I want to woo y’all to convince you, yeah we’ve got the right one.
LE: do you have another tune to convince us?
GDA: Oh yeah, this is a great tune. We’re gonna try this one and we’re gonna dedicate this to my ex-wife.
(Plays Saint James Infirmary/Saints Go Marching In, singing many humorous off-the-cuff asides)
LE: You have a way of improvising words that works quite well.
GDA: I believe that music is always telling a story and you can’t always tell the same story. But to improvise is what God is putting in your heart and your mind. Sometimes there’s a certain way to move your trombone, but sometimes I just like swinging it. I just take the feeling and duplicate it through the notes in my horn and in my voice. And if it tells me to scream, I’m gonna scream, and if it tells me sing low, I sing low. My goal is to make you cry, laugh, be happy, swing, dance, that’s what I’m here to do. And until I do that, my day is not done.
LE: there might be some folks who can’t make it to the festival but want to learn more about you. Do you have a website?
GDA: You can always go to GlenDavidAndrewsband dot com. Our website is always updated, but we stay in touch with everybody through FaceBook, which has a Glen David Andrews page. What we’re trying to do is get one hundred thousand people all over the United States to sign up for my Facebook between now and the time we release the next record, and we’re asking everybody to submit songs they think I should sing, mostly from Levon Helms. So if you know some great Levon Helms songs, please send them in to me, and when we tally up the votes in a few months, the ones they pick are the ones we’ll do, only with our arrangements.
LE: We have to close off. Thank you for being here.
GDA: Thank you for having us.
This blog will feature interviews with musicians, as well as occasional reviews of performances or recordings. It will feature quite a few jazz artists, since I host a weekly jazz show on KFAI radio in Minneapolis/Saint Paul. But, it will also feature interviews that I’ve done with R&B artists, rock n’ rollers, vocal groups, and others that I have talked with over time. And, from time to time, I will post about a new album or performance that I’ve attended. Now to work.