Wynton is helping Jazz at Lincoln Center turn 25 this year by compiling a book of photos and stories that will celebrate these exciting years. He’s asking cats in the band to write a couple short recollections. I thought I would share mine here.
When Wynton asked me to compose a long-form piece for the band (Portrait in Seven Shades), I decided to dedicate each movement to a different iconic painter. For this project we collaborated with the Museum of Modern Art, whose love and support of jazz, and rich collection, made it a perfect relationship. The Museum allowed me to visit at off hours, to enjoy the artworks with very little distraction. One time I brought my soprano sax and played for a few minutes in front of Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. When I finished - the last sound still reverberating around the room - I glanced over to the doorway; there stood a security guard, smiling and nodding his head.
Jazz is about community. It is also like a big family. Many of us in the band are fortunate to have parents and siblings who are great musicians, and whenever we have the opportunity, we invite them to be part of our music. Vincent, Ryan, Walter, Elliot, Wynton, Cone, Warm Daddy, and I have all had a family member play with us at some point, and it is always a special occasion. A few years back the band was performing in Orange County at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, and my father Dick drove down from L.A. with my mother to hear the concert. I told my dad to bring his trombone, just in case. During the second set, Wynton, aware of my father’s presence, made a heartwarming speech about family, and invited my father to come join us. All of a sudden, we see a man in his late 70s literally jogging up the isle and on to the stage, his horn in hand ready for business. “Blues in C - One, two, one, two three, four...”
Playing the Blues
Jazz is an opportunity to know who you are. Blues is an opportunity to know how you feel. I remember an occasion where playing the blues with the JLCO taught me a lesson. It was on my very first tour with the band in 1998. We had just finished our first set, during which I had played a solo on the slow blues by Mary Lou Williams, “Big Jim Blues.” I had built up my solo using a slew of cliché licks and obvious bluesy devices, and got good “house” finishing the solo, wailing on a high note. On the intermission I was backstage, feeling pretty good. Wynton came up to me. “Hey, man, you sound good, but you need to find more of YOU in the music. Blues isn’t about playing what you think blues should sound like, it’s about letting us know who you are. You need to trust yourself more. You’ll get it. But you sound good, man.” I was feeling a bit dejected. Victor walked by and saw us standing there, recognized the vibe, and said, with a supportive smile “I’ve been there.” Then Warm Daddy walked by, and said “Don’t worry, it’ll be cool.” I have not played the the blues like that since.