Thursday, April 25, 2013

An Interview with Jazz Singer Giacomo Gates Part 2

On March 14, 2013 I did a one on one interview with the jazz singer 
Giacomo Gates at his Bridgeport, CT home. We talked about his experiences  creating his career in music, his musical influences, his love of all things hip and his latest record MilesTones, Giacomo Gates sings the music of Miles DavisThis is the second part of that interview. In case you missed part 1 click here.

For my review of the album Milstones on the Huffington Post click here.

NOJ : Despite your love of the great American songbook, there are some interesting characters in the music ( that you play)  that you have identified with, that are not mainstream ... Let’s discuss some of them ... and what appeals to you about their music.

For example you sing Bobby Troupe, what is it about Booby Troupe’s music that you identify with?

GG: Bobby Troupe, interesting guy. He did a lot of things, you know a producer, composer, lyricist, television producer, married to Julie London, you know. A hipster, someone who was mainstream, but also had that edge. He had a sense of humor. He would write about things, what was going on in his life, like Route 66.

NOJ : So he was a storyteller?

GG: Yes he was a storyteller.

NOJ : And you love storytelling. So how did you get to be such a good storyteller?

GG: Because, I’ve lived a lot of stories. That’s the truth man. I like stories, I read, I always did read. I read short stories, long stories, anecdotes, jokes. I think communication is very important, and I’ve heard great storytellers.

NOJ : Another name out there Johnny Mandel? 
GG: Yeah well, great music. That’s a whole ‘nuther thing…movie themes, orchestrations very tasty and yet he had an edge to him that’s not Ferrante and Teicher.

NOJ : So what about Eddie Jefferson (picture below)  that appeals to you so much?

GG: When I first heard Eddie Jefferson sing with a quintet, it just sounded like everyone was having so much fun. The musicians were having fun, you could hear the fun in Eddie, it was a good time. It was a story, there was humor there was history. There were inflections of the horn. He talked about the musicians, so obviously he knew them, he was on the inside. Then the more I found out about Eddie, he comes out of vaudeville. He’s a dancer so he was really in that whole scene… to me that whole era was just very interesting.

NOJ : What about a guy like Babs Gonzales?

GG: I never met Babs Gonzales nor did I ever meet Eddie Jefferson, but Babs Gonzales from what I know from some of the people that met Babs. He was a character, a hustler, a hipster, a piano player, somebody who was always on the move. Funny, he was supposed to be so very funny. Plus he had a real jazz voice to me, a real jazz sound. He was a hustler, and when I found out that Monk chose him to write some lyrics, well that’s good enough for me.

NOJ : Let’s go on the other end of the spectrum. What about Oscar Brown Jr?

GG: Wow! There is a guy who had a great sound….he had stories. He was kind of like an actor, who would slip into personas. He would, you know, acquire an accent. You know, he sang like a snake.  He sang like an old African American cat from the south. He sang very sophisticated. He was all those things.

NOJ : What about a guys like Leon Thomas with his yodeling technique. I hear some of that technique in some of your music off your new Miles Davis record MilesTones?

GG:  Unique. Yeah well I guess he did it first, maybe Moody and the Eddie did it a little bit. Its kind of like a yodel but its almost like a saxophone when you pop one of the valves and the note goes in and out and in and out. It’s an effect… and I don’t try to do tricks. If it adds to the music its an effect, its not just a trick,. I don’t go for it if it’s just a trick.

NOJ : Besides singers you seem to have an affinity for musicians like Horace Silver, a pure piano player, Dizzy a horn player, Dexter a horn player and then you go off the edge and onto Gil Scott-Heron.

GG: But all storytellers. You’re right….but all storytellers. Dizzy was a scat singer, and talk about a sense of humor. Dexter, I never heard Dexter sing, but I think I heard him sing through the tenor. I’ve seen video of him walking onto the stage with his saxophone around his neck, and walking to the microphone and saying to the audience “What’s new. How’s the world treating you?  You haven’t changed a bit, lovely as ever, I must admit” Phrasing, that laid back style.  So many instrumentalists that I dug certainly effected my singing.

NOJ : If you go back to look at some of the people that have inspired you or even look at some of the people whose music you continue to play, its like a menagerie of outliers in the music.

GG:   I love it. (Laughter)

NOJ : Do you feel you are a bit of an outlier in the music?

GG: I don’t know, maybe. I’d like to be as main stream as possible without being,.. playing to the lowest common denominator. I think everybody that I find interesting; if they were exposed to main stream most people would probably dig it. I grew up with television and my parents used to watch Perry Como, I thought he was terrific. Do I sing like Perry Como? I don’t know maybe thee is a touch of him in me, but I don’t try to copy anybody. I remember Kate Smith, I know I don’t sing like Kate Smith.

NOJ: You don’t look like her either.

GG:   I know, but hopefully I have been influenced by Kate Smith, Perry  Como, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Sinatra, Jack Teagarden, Louis Armstrong, Jimmy Scott, Chet Baker not to leave out the ladies. Anita O’Day, Carmen McCrae, Betty Carter, of course Sarah and Ella. There’s a bunch of people that I have listened to. I am a fan of the music instrumentally and vocally. For me it was like you said, the great American songbook and this music we call jazz. Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, I mean that’s Count Basie by voice.

Jon Hendricks ( pictured above) , what a storyteller. I mean I just played Freddie Freeloader for a bunch of students and Jon (Hendricks) wrote lyrics to everybody’s solos. Cannonball, Coltrane, Wynton Kelly, Miles and then he got four great singers singing these solos and of course, he sings the un-singable solo of John Coltrane.  And all the lyrics are written, they make great sense, they’re philosophical and they fit. That’s the kind of stuff that influenced me.

I’m influenced by Johnny Mercer, you know he told stories and Hoagy Carmichael told stories, but you know Jon and Eddie and Babs they were on the hip end of things. I dug Lenny Bruce, but he didn’t sing and I dug Lord Buckley and Jonathan Winters.

NOJ : Do you consider the hip era the pantheon of cool?

GG: Yeah that was before me too. That wasn’t my generation. I was on the planet in the fifties but I wasn’t hangin’ on the corner.

NOJ : What is it about that era, that hip era, that beatnik cool era that was so enticing to you that obviously affected you in a great many ways?

“The hipsters, the way they dressed…they were clean as the Board of Health.”
GG: Well, you said one of the key words. It was cool, and I’m not talking about the temperatures. That Lester Young Speak. The hipsters, the way they dressed, and I‘m not talking about the guys with the black turtlenecks and the black berets. The double breasted suits, nice silk ties, high shirt collars, nice shoes, wing tips etc.; they were clean as the board of health. And the language that they used was a real inside (language), the squares didn’t understand it.  So it was like,  “Listen we’re over here and were having a conversation and you can understand us but you probably can’t pick up on all this and that’s the way it was meant to be.”  So it wasn’t  to exclude them, you could join, if you could pick up on it. And then like I said,  I grew up in  the era between the hipsters and the hippies. Where the hippies were, they were like out and the hipsters, they were in, very in. They had a language of their own. It was kind of a social revolution. Kind of like the hippies and I was part of them too, that was my era, but they were revolting in a different way.

NOJ : The music of for arguments sake Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Cream, did that all pass you by or did it just not interest you?

GG: No, I used to hang out with a guy, a camera man who photographed for  Rolling Stone (magazine) . I can’t tell you all the concerts I saw. I saw Led Zeppelin live, I saw Cream live, I saw Jimi Hendrix live and the Doors… most of them, I went because of what was going on backstage. When the concert started I was in the lobby because it was too loud. Except for Jimi Hendrix, that was something. I played guitar badly, but when I saw Jimi Hendrix play I said to myself, this is something else….really something else.

NOJ : Do you think his music withstands the test of time?

GG: Uh, I haven’t listened to Jimi Hendrix in a long time, but I know he is still popular and  guitarists are still trying to figure what he played. Who knows were he would have gone, because he used to play rhythm and blues till somebody took him aside and said,    “We’re taking you to England, let your hair grow, dress in psychedelic. Were going to put you with two British rocker cats and we’re going to make a lot of money.”  So he started to play something else, but he still had that rhythm and blues sound and that is what made him Jimi Hendrix.
"Miles was funny, ... if Miles knew you and liked you, you’re solid... I think he said things to provoke people."

NOJ : Let’s go to another iconic image Miles Davis (pictured above) . You have a brand new album out , which I have had the pleasure of listening to about the music of Miles Davis. Some of the music he actually wrote and some of which he made famous by playing it the way he did.  Were you a fan of his music all along. You know Miles was the kind of guy that was always changing. Did you sort of drop out at some point with Miles? 

GG: I saw Miles in the mid-sixties at Fairfield University. And Miles, it was just before the change. He had young cats with him and I was probably, I don’t know maybe seventeen years old. I don’t know who was in the band. But he still wore a black suit with a white shirt and no tie and short hair, he was just turning, some straight ahead, some modal music and some different kind of blowing. I thought it was wild and I liked Miles’ music because when  got  into Miles I was listening to his 1959 music, even though it was 1969, I’m listening to 1959 Miles. As far as being a fan of his music, I like that he was provocative. He would say things.

Miles was funny, he had a great sense of humor and if Miles knew you and liked you, you’re solid. But on some of the interviews that Miles gave, I think he said things to provoke people. One of the things that I heard Miles say was, when he began to play fusion, was something like “I can play better fusion over the top of what they’re playing (the band) than anybody who plays fusion.”  So he wasn’t afraid to say it like it is. All those guys who were really at the top of their game, they weren’t bagging, they were saying I do this and I do it well. Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker they were gentlemen, but they knew how good they were. The change that Miles made….. I remember reading something where a journalist approached Miles and said “You know Miles, I used to dig what you played, but I don’t get what you’re doing now.” Miles leaned over and said to him “You want me to wait for you?” That was great, man. (Laughter).

NOJ : As far as stage personalities go , you are probably the antithesis of Miles on stage. You engage your audience; you bring them into the fold. They are participants in the musical adventure that you give them. Miles used to turn his back to his audience. What do you think about that?

GG: I think that all the things Miles used to do onstage, made people come to see him….’cause Miles was smart. I saw a concert on video….. someone would be playing a solo and Miles would hold up a poster and the name of the player would be on the poster. That’s to be provocative, that’s showmanship. Miles was really a showman, you know he didn’t wear those clothes so people wouldn’t look at him. So he did it a different way.

NOJ : So tell me about this new album. It’s called Miles Tones and one of the songs on it is Milestones and actually you wrote the lyrics to it.

GG: Yes, yes. The only one I wrote the lyrics to.

NOJ : So it’s a Miles Davis with lyrics album?

GG: Right, not all of them, some of them.  Miles recorded from the fifties like “All Blues,” “Boplicity,” “Four,” “Walkin’,” “So What,” lyricized by great singers Oscar Brown Jr., Jon Hendricks,  Eddie Jefferson, Al Jarreau’s lyrics to “Tutu.” Babs and Hanneghin lyrics for “‘Round Midnight.” Miles didn’t write that, but Miles, from what I understand, played that at the Newport Jazz Festival in nineteen fifty something and that made Columbia records take notice (and say) we should record this guy. Miles and Lester Young used to go over to listen to Frank Sinatra to learn phrasing and Sinatra would listen to Miles and Lester for phrasing. I think that’s very interesting. So “I Fall in Love Too Easily” or “You’re my Everything” were two other ballads I chose.

NOJ : Jazz is an incestual music.

GG: Yeah, yeah. And, you know, it’s the same notes, it’s the same lyrics, but everybody can, if you can get inside of it and then show what it does to you when your standing in front of a bunch of people, that‘s what makes it interesting. There are some people who can act it but if it’s for real it’s a whole lot better.

NOJ : Do you have a favorite on this album, that you feel that  where the band clicked?

GG: The one we took off, no, (Laughter)
 I don’t know. I like singing lots of solos so I dug “Four”, I dug singing “Four” where I sang Jon’s  lyrics to Miles’ solo and to Horace’s ( Silver’s) solo. I sing Eddie’s lyrics to “So What” , you know it’s a lot of vocal gymnastics. On the other hand I like to sing a ballad I don’t do anything to, I don’t try any tricks. I just try to let it affect me or I try to remember something might have happened or use my imagination, you know I just try to tell the truth.

NOJ : Your music is getting progressively more modern, chronologically more modern that is. What is your next project?

GG: Oh yeah, I don’t know. Gil Scott Heron was a ball. That was really a ball. But I hear a lot of different things that I like. I can’t help but be a bebopper. I am drawn to it… post bop, hard bop. I like swing music. Gil’s music was spoken word, or rhythm and blues / funk, to me. But Gil comes out of jazz and blues. I don’t know. A lot of the music that is being played today has got a jazz/rock fusion thing.

NOJ : Do you see yourself picking up the mantle for any of the more current music like a Paul Simon or a Stevie Wonder. 

GG: I don’t know. What attracts me is a story a melody and harmonies. There have been a few tunes that have melody and harmony but didn’t have lyrics, so I wrote lyrics. Fortunately for me the people that publish the tunes said solid, we dig it, we’ll give you permission. I wrote some lyrics that I can’t record because they just didn’t get that far, because some folks like to say no and some folks are glad to say yes. We were talking earlier before the camera started to roll about some early Blood, Sweat and Tears. That was jazz, that came fresh out of jazz. It didn’t take a left turn. I don’t know, I don’t close any doors.

I always liked Gil Scott-Heron. Did I ever think I would record an album of Gil Scott-Heron… no. I was approached and I said I would love to do it. There is a few Rolling Stones songs that I like. Rolling Stones got a lot of grit, but they come out of the blues. They wanted to be a blues band, instead they became the Rolling Stones, which was probably not so bad for them. I don’t know (what’s next).

NOJ : You do a lot of teaching. What do you find in the modern student is their interests and do you see some up and coming stars that you feel are bound in the tradition? 

GG: I work with college kids.  I’m surprised at the amount of kids that come in and say “Oh yeah, I know who Chet Baker is.”  I expect them to know Miles, I also expect them to know who Duke Ellington but they don’t, but sometimes they know who these people are, and some more than others and some don’t know anything.    I’m happy to be teaching at Wesleyan and Southern CT State University and Sacred Heart.  Most of these kids have no idea of what this music is all about, but I don’t teach Do, Re, Mi. The catalog lists it as “Jazz Vocals.”   They have to call it something. I would like to call it conversational voice, so I can try to get them to sing they way they sound when they talk.

But I always play someone in the first fifteen minutes of a private lesson.  I bring a bunch of cds and I might play some of the folks we talked about. I might play singer or I might play a horn player, but whatever I play, ninety-nine percent of the time they say “Wow!”  They all know who Frank Sinatra is, but they never heard Frank Sinatra with Count Basie. Sinatra in their head is New York, New York. When I play Sinatra singing  “Pennies from Heaven” with Count Basie live at the Sands in nineteen sixty, they flip. because the music is so good. You know. Some of them can’t read music but they can read the words.  When I give them a lead sheet, something like “I Should Care” and I put Dexter Gordon on, they follow along and after about eight bars they look up and say “I can hear the words in his horn.” Hello! So I’m happy to turn on the light for them. Some of them are pretty talented, some of them are music majors, some of them are not, it doesn’t matter. If they want to take this music and try to be the next Frank Sinatra or Ella Fitzgerald, solid, but I just want them to be aware of this music.

NOJ : A lot of people in the periodicals have been crying about jazz is dying, it has an  older crowd, it doesn’t have the life it once had, its regurgitating the old music.
What is your take on the life and jazz as an art form that is going to go on?

GG: I’m smiling, because he I can’t help think of Thelonious Monk. When somebody asked him “Monk where’s jazz going?”  and Monk said “ For all I know its going to Hell.” You know, I think that is a great quote. Again, those guys were provocative. I think that  a little bit of both is happening. I think that yes, the original audience for this music is growing older. Yes there is a new audience for this music.  Some of the younger musicians, because they grew up in a rock and roll frame of mind, when they play this music they can’t help but fuse what they grew up with. So its’ going to attract another group, a younger audience, I think. Jazz is supposed to evolve, that’s what they say.

I have a certain parameter of what I like. I can’t help it, I’ll be honest. Jazz is evolving, I’m not looking to make a left turn. I like evolution. I don’t know if there is another innovator but from what I understand, the last vocal innovator was probably Betty Carter and the last instrumental innovator was probably John Coltrane. I don’t think either one of them set out to be innovators. Maybe something will happen, maybe something won’t.   I would like to see this music continue, after all there’s only twelve notes.

NOJ : Thanks so much for your insight and your time.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

An Interview with the Jazz Singer Giacomo Gates Part 1 of 2

With the recent release of his latest album MilesTones, Giacomo Gates sings the music of Miles Davis, I thought it would be timely to do a interview with Jazz Singer, which he graciously conducted with me on March 14, 2013 at his home in Bridgeport, CT


NOJ : You are now a CT resident.  Have you been raised and born here?

GG: Yes I was born and raised right here in Bridgeport and lived here until I was about 24 or 25 year old, when I went to Alaska to work construction for what I originally thought was going to be a year.

NOJ :Let’s get back to your early childhood though. You have said in past interviews that your Dad played violin and was a pretty good whistler. Was he your musical influence?

GG: In some ways…he played classical violin and gypsy violin, but not for a living. When he would sing, he kind of sang like Cab Calloway. He was born in Italy and brought here at a very young age, grew up in West Haven, CT. A talented guy….between music, he started out repairing cars and then ended up building sport racing cars, eventually doing metal sculpture. He only made it through the fifth grade but he ended up lecturing at Yale on torch metal sculpture. He eventually moved to California in 1966 and continued with metal sculpture full-time.

NOJ :Getting back to his musical tastes. What did your Dad listen to that influenced you?

GG: He used to listen to big bands. Of course Basie, Ellington, Fletcher Henderson, Cab Calloway and with that music, I heard singers like Jimmy Rushing, Cab, and later Joe Williams. I took guitar lessons and started playing when I was eight, so I was around the music early on. When I was sixteen I would play weddings, but back then the music (expected at weddings) was
the (Great American) songbook. So I got hip to this music even though it was not the music of my time. I used to get hollered at by the other band members, because I would mess up the chord changes because I’d be distracted by the words and lost my place. I thought the lyrics were interesting, they were attractive to me.

NOJ :So you played guitar. Did you sing in those early wedding bands?

GG: No. I did sing, but not in the wedding bands. I’d sing standards; I’d sing do-wop on the corner with four or five guys. I grew up around the ( music of) the Stylistics, the Temptations, Smokey, Marvin Gaye and James Brown, but my
friends would were listening to the Rolling Stones and the Doors, and so was I too, but at the same time I was also listening to Dexter Gordon, Thelonious Monk and Count Basie and Sinatra, Lambert, Hendricks and Ross…. so that‘s what I really dug.

Of course when you’re a kid and you’re hanging out, you listen to what everybody else is into.

NOJ : Having played guitar has it influenced you with the kind of players you’ve had play on your albums? Good Players like Vic Juris, Tony Lombardozzi and lately Dave Stryker three stylistically different players have all played on your records?

GG: I hope I have an ear for good musicians whether it be guitar, piano or whatever it may be. When I walk down the street I hear a rhythm section in my head anyway. I can’t help it.

NOJ : I read someplace that you went to mechanical engineering school for a little bit. Was that something your father encouraged you to do? 
GG: When I went to high school, you’re supposed to go on to college. My father didn’t care if I went to college or not. He was not a fan of education, but I was encouraged by my mother.

I liked English, I liked grammar, I liked journalism, I liked writing, I liked photography, I liked art but I was terrible at math. So what do I do… I go to engineering school…..because nobody said to me you better have a math background. So the first year I go to engineering school I’m getting physics, chemistry, algebra, trigonometry, I was struggling.

I dropped out of school and got a job in CT in construction, starting as a laborer. I started driving trucks. I started running loaders and dozers and driving tractor trailers and it was fun. I liked the outdoors and I still like the outdoors. But around here it was all reconstruction, dig up road, reshape it repave it, and that was the kind of construction I was familiar with. Then I heard about the Alaskan pipeline and I thought there was a real adventure that’s some real construction.  I gathered up some work clothes and about three hundred dollars and bought a plane ticket. People told me you can’t do that. You don’t know anybody and you don’t have a job.  I spent eleven months kicking around Fairbanks before I got the job I was looking for. I was going to give it a year and I got a job out of the (union) hall, building a road…. and they flew us to the job and we had to build our way out. It was the real deal. And that was the beginning.

NOJ : How did you make that transition from Giacomo Gates machine operator to Giacomo Gates singer?

GG: I never made a transition. I always dabbled in music. You know my father played the violin, but he always said, “Learn a trade, learn how to do something and do music, but do it for fun.” And I did, I sang for fun, I played the guitar for fun, I played in a couple of bands. When I got up to Alaska I played guitar and I’d sit-in somewhere. I wasn't expected to play like Joe Pass, not even close. I could play the blues, played a little chromatic harmonic and sang a little and I did it for fun.

"When it starts to become a job, and I know what’s going to happen, I’m gone."

NOJ : Did your fellow construction workers hear you sing and encourage you to try it full time?

GG: I can remember a couple of superintendents hearing me playing  guitar or singing and I was maybe thirty years old at the time and they were maybe fifty, and they said to me.. “…where did you get that music from, that’s not your generation?” They got a kick out of me playing and being interested in songs written 1939 or 1941.   I finally got involved in a festival in Fairbanks. The festival they had was a two week festival of classes. So whether you were a singer or instrumentalist or an ice skater or photographer or graphics artists, they taught all kind of art. I got involved in a vocal course that was taught by Chris Calloway, Cab’s daughter.  Usually, I was somewhere remote; I worked all over the state, in construction camps. I was up on the coast, dam jobs, landing strips, etc. 

I happened to be in town talking with a girl I knew and she knew I sang.  When I say I fooled around with music, I mean I took it seriously but I wasn't going to do anything with it. Then I got involved with this festival and I sang with a couple of small ensembles and some of the instructors said to me…"You've got your own sound, but you’re not going to get heard up here.   I said  “I’m not trying to get heard up here, I live up here.”  But at the same time I been a couple of places, I was in Washington state for a year, I lived in Arizona for a year, I went to Lake Charles, Louisiana for a time. And then I went back to Alaska to work.

NOJ : Did you sing in all those locations? 

GG: Yeah I would sit in.  I had kind of gotten my belly full of the adventure part the work was pretty much gone….the Pipeline was built….a lot of the roads were in.  When it starts to become a job, and I know what’s going to happen, I’m gone.

I decided to leave there and come back to Connecticut.  When I came back in the late eighties, early nineties, there was a scene. You know Philadelphia, Hartford, New York City, Boston, Rhode Island, New Jersey, there were things happening. After I got myself working locally I tried to get myself working regionally.

I caught the tail end of it where I could get in my car and go to New York and Philly, then to Pittsburgh, and Toledo, Ohio and then to Cincinnati and like that…. and it was fun. 
NOJ : So what do you consider to be your first big break?

GG:  My first big break, I’m still waiting for. (Laughter)
I don’t know… probably the first large festival that I did locally was the New Haven Jazz festival, probably about fifteen to twenty thousand people. 

In early 1990’s, maybe 1993, One of the first travel gigs I did was the Clearwater Jazz Festival in Florida. I had a cassette, remember those, and I sent the cassette to the cat and I remember him ‘cause I still speak with him once in a while, a guy named Frank Spena. He used to run Clearwater Jazz Festival, so I sent this cassette and low and behold my phone rings. He says “ Hey man, I like what your doing….wanna do the gig?” Next thing I know I’m on a plane and I m looking around and I see Randy Brecker, Ramsey Lewis, sat across the aisle from Dennis Irwin and I’m thinking, “Wow, a lot of cats are on this plane.” I guess that was the first real travel gig that was an important date to me.

NOJ : So in order to get these gigs you have to self-promote. You have to send audition tapes so to speak? 

GG: Yeah, but I had been a fan of this music ever since I was a kid. For me, the way to make this happen was to come back here, get some experience on the bandstand, learn a repertoire, polish my craft, get some ink, get a bit of a reputation, get some experience, get some gigs, maybe get a recording or two and then be able to approach a manager or an agent and say here’s what I have, I’m kind of established, can we make something happen?
In other words I thought the way to make it happen was to grow through and with the music, and then from there if somebody says  “Ah you got a foothold, your doing it right or you doing it correctly” whatever. But the way to do it is to first establish a business plan, then get your self out there and learn on the scene, learn on the best stages in the world, which is not the way I still believe is the way it happens, not for me it doesn’t.

NOJ : Are you disappointed in the way it has happened for you?

GG: No I did it the way that I felt that I needed to do it.

NOJ : Would you recommend that method for other people coming up?

GG: I would recommend becoming a computer wizard. (Laughter)
I guess, I mean, I think that in order for you to show up, you better be able to bring something to the table. So, you know, I love the music, so I mean if something happens, solid. But my whole picture of it was…. when I went to New York in 1990, I knew Thelonious Monk wasn't walking around, but I was hoping I’d bump into him.

NOJ : Well you did bump into some people because you have played with Max Roach, Lou Donaldson, Billy Taylor, Richie Cole. How did those type of gigs come about where you actually got into playing with these kind of people?

GG: Yeah well, funny stories. You know interesting ways that it happened. You can’t plan it. Richie Cole had a gig in a little club in the south end of Bridgeport the first year I came back here . I’m sure you’re hip to Eddie Jefferson. Wow, Richie Cole… let’s go down and listen to him. I know some people in there,
One guy’s an alto saxophone player and he walks up to Richie after the gig and says, “Hey man, I got a friend here who does a lot of Eddie Jefferson material.”   So Richie comes over to me and says, “Hey man, you should have come on up.”

Well I know that most musicians are not that fond of somebody sitting in, especially a singer, because they don’t know what is going to happen. So I didn’t do that, but after a while, I found out that I had to do that.  Because if you want to get up on the bandstand with them, you have to let them know that your interested.

I met Max Roach at a workshop up in Amherst, Mass. I got into an ensemble that was being led by Max. You know,  “Good afternoon Mr. Roach, my name is…” and going through  my head is,  “Wow, Max Roach.” Well he says “ OK what are you going to do?,” and I had to sing something with this quintet so I said I’ll do, “Lady Be Good” and I sang the head. The instrumentalists take their solos then I come back in and I start to sing the Charlie Parker solo with lyrics by Eddie Jefferson. Now Max is running this quintet  and when I start to sing that, Max pulls the drummer out of the seat and sits down to play. And I’m singing and thinking  “ Wow Max Roach is playing drums, while I’m singing! “ When its over Max says to me, I’ll leave out the expletive, “Hey man, I ‘aint heard that ___ in a long time!”     I got encouragement from him and he says, “What else you got?”
So some of the people that I have looked up to, and have their LP’s, you know…. I’m 16 years old.  Lou Donaldson…. got LP’s of his and end up meeting him and he let me sing a tune. Now I go to listen to him and he says “Hey Gates you want to sit in?”  Finally I had to tell him “I came for a lesson, I didn’t really come to sing. I know who you are and I respect what you’ve done” And he says “Never mind that, you want to sing or not.”

So I’m knocked at some of the folks that I listened to as a young kid on records... and was accepted by them. A lot of them have since left….I’m gassed to be accepted, because I’m from a whole ‘nother generation, a different era. I guess they were glad to see somebody who still singing that stuff.

This concludes part one of my two part interview.  In the next part we will find out about Giacomo’s musical influences, his love of storytellers and discuss his latest release MilesTonesGiacomo Gates sings the music of Miles Davis
You can read part two of the interview by linking here.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Michael Blanco's "No Time Like The Present"

Bassist Michael Blanco’s second album as a leader titled NoTime Like the Present, offers nine compositions by the young and talented musician. Hailing from the School of Creative and Performing Arts in San Diego, California, he moved to New York City in January of 2000. Since then, Blanco has played or recorded with several of the rising young stars of the New York City jazz scene and been a fixture in the orchestra pit of many a Broadway show, including The Book of Mormon and the revivals of stalwart shows like Grease and How to Succeed in Business.

On No Time Like the Present he has assembled some stellar players, all making their mark in the New York music scene. They include the multi-reed player John Ellis, the guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg, the drummer Mark Ferber and the pianist David Cook.
The music, all composed by the bassist, includes some interesting twists and turns, all executed with precision and taste.

On “Dutch Kills” you are treated to some tight front line playing by saxophonist Ellis and guitarist Kreisberg, two formidable musicians, who negotiate the quick paced lines of the melody with precision and uncanny unanimity. Blanco’s bass solo is full and buoyant. Elllis is a master of fluidity on his solo and Kreisberg’s comps are spot on.  Mark Ferber’s floating drums serves to anchor the piece without impeding its flight.

The title song “No Time Like the Present” is another case in point. Blanco, Ferber and Cook set the ostinato vamp allowing Ellis and Kreisberg execute the darting melody line. After a sweeping guitar solo by Kreisberg that features some quixotic runs, the group takes off in a deeply swinging double time pace featuring Elllis’ tenor. Ferber creates his own special magic with powerfully driving fills that float above it all to a tasty conclusion.
“You Really Shouldn’t”, though totally different, has the feel and swagger of Monk’s “Well You Needn’t.” Kreisberg’s electric guitar chords create some interesting discordant, Monkish-like sounds along the way as Ellis plays around the melody. Pianist Cook plays in his own disjunctive solo as Ferber and Blanco keep the rhumba beat.

The dreamy “Midnight” finds Kreisberg’s using his echoed guitar to create a sensitive sound that lies somewhere between Dick Dale and Bill Frisell. Ferber is particularly subtle here laying down soft crashes in between delicate brush work and feathery rolls.

Throughout the album the front line of Ellis on saxophone and Kreisberg on guitar are especially in tune with each other, showing impeccable timing in executing difficult lines in tandem. This is especially notable on tracks like “RSVP” a medium tempo swinger that just nails it. Ferber and Blanco work so well together with such marvelous elasticity that they make the swing feel seem so easy to attain.

On “Smithlike” saxophonist John Ellis picks up his soprano, displaying some spidery lines that are light, soaring and carefree. Pianist Cook’s solo is his most interesting on the album, moving back and forth on ideas before settling with a particular direction. Blanco has a strong bass solo where his fingers dance on his strings with warm, pliant pizzicato authority.

“Emily”s Wedding “ is a Blanco reconstruction based on the memorable opening line of  another classic,  this time Johnny Mandell’s “Emily.” Though nicely played, the song is a languishing ballad that does nothing to improve upon the original. “Postcard” is a song that features Michael Blanco on solo bass playing a repeating line that could be catchy but goes nowhere. The finale of the album is titled “Ellis Island” which returns the band to the unison front line playing that seems to be its forte. Jonathan Kreisberg ends the song with a cooking guitar solo that expands into a nice flurry of arpeggios, as Cook, Ferber and Blanco keep the rhythm cooking.