Monday, May 19, 2014

Turn Out the Stars : The Bassist Martin Wind Plays the Music of Bill Evans: Part Two of my Interview with Martin Wind

Martin Wind Turn Out the Stars 2014

Turn Out the Stars  is a collection of songs inspired or written by the great pianist Bill Evans. The music is written and arranged for orchestra by the German born and New York based bassist Martin Wind. The album features  Wind’s quartet  which includes the multi-reedist Scott Robinson, the pianist Bill Cunliffe and the former Evans drummer Joe LaBarbera, along with the Italian Orchestra Filarmonica Marchigiana under the direction of Massimo Morganti. The lyrical Wind has a soft spot in his heart for Evan's music, as he relates to Evan's classical training and the sensitivity of the maestro's touch.Wind was also classically trained, can sight read quickly and has superb intonation; all attributes that make him an in-demand sessions player as well as a first call studio musician.

The album  Turn Out the Stars  is an ambitious undertaking and Wind has created a sumptuous treat, a seamless combination of swinging ensemble and lush orchestration work. Three of the songs’ “Turn Out the Stars,” “Twelve Tone Tune Two” and the cinematically sweeping treatment of  “Blue and Green” are all Evan’s originals. The Henry Mancini song “Days of Wine and Roses” and the Victor Young composition “My Foolish Heart” were both made famous by Evan’s timeless treatments.  Scott Robinson ‘s” Jeremy” Don Friedman’s “Memory of Scottie,”   Phil Woods “Goodbye Mr. Evans” and Joe LaBarbera’s dedication to his former associate“Kind of Bill” round out the music. The players are all in top form and the music glistens with love, respect  and a deep sense of connection.

I spoke to Wind at some length over the telephone on April 1, 2014 from his home in New Jersey: He is a fascinating and articulate artist. He spoke of his history, his instrument, his influences, other musicians and his making of this fine album.

This is Part Two of this Two Part of the wide ranging Interview. For Part I of this interview click here.

NOJ:  When the great Ellington bassist Jimmie Blanton bowed his famous bass solo on “Body and Soul” it changed the way people thought about how the bass could be used in jazz.  You have an exquisite arco technique. How do you see yourself using it to expand the possibilities in jazz?

MW: I see it as a possibility to extend my voice as a bassist. People actually do come up to me and say “Wow , I have never heard the bass talk to me before.” I like that.  It just happens to be the instrument that I chose.  I want to reach people. I want to communicate. I want to tell my story, as much of a cliché as that may sound,. I want to be a melodic player. I want to play in a way that ...  draws people in.

With the bow it allows me to do things that I can’t really do when I play pizzicato. I can hold long notes and I can do something with those notes while I am sustaining them, which is something every horn player can do. When you pick the note (play pizzicato),  depending on your set up and your string choice,  the note (duration) is between short and very short. ( Laughing)

With the bow I can play sort of like a bebop solo, like Paul Chambers did. Or I can be lyrical-state the ballad, play the melody-like I did on “My Foolish Heart” on this recording or like I did on “Remember October 13th”... with Greg (Hutchinson) and Scott (Robinson). I can tap into a whole different array of sound. I think that is really important for us to engage our listeners so that it is not just that one sound.
I (can) get bored and if I am getting bored by my limited use of sounds, than I am sure the listeners are not very engaged.

NOJ: A bow can also be very poignant. People who really know how to play arco can expand what they are communicating.

MW: Yes. I am amazed that of all the hundreds of jazz bass players that live in and around New York City,.  I think you can count on two hands the people that play jazz bass and get a really good sound with the bow. Boris Kosovo, it’s Christian ( McBride), it’s John Pattitucci, George Mraz is fantastic with a bow,  Robert Hurst, John Clayton of course, but after a while you run out of names.
NOJ:  What are three essential songs that feature the bass and that you have found are important milestones in jazz or that you have found of particular meaning to you as a jazz bassist?
This One's for Blanton : Ray Brown & Duke Ellington 1972
MW: There is the recording with Ray Brown and Duke Ellington, the tribute to Jimmie Blanton ( This One's for Blanton : Ray Brown and Duke Ellington, 1972) that historically is a pretty important one.  “Trichotism,” the Oscar Pettiford recording with Lucky Thompson ( Lucky Thompson Meets Oscar Pettiford, 1956)  is always something that bass players like to shed and learn and play.

Lucky Thompson Meets Oscar Pettiford 1956
 Everybody needs to know how to play  “Donna Lee” ever since Jaco (Pastorious) did that recording even though it’s (on) electric bass. 

The one’s that really impacted me, I have to say there is one track from Ron Carter, playing in Miles' band. It is the Town Hall recording released as My Funny Valentine. It was with George Coleman on tenor. The way he (Carter) orchestrates, and I really mean that Orchestrates. The kind of impact that his lines and his playing and his orchestration had on where the music was going on that group, it was just amazing and it was such a lesson.  I really don’t think that bass players before him  took on that kind of responsibility and shaped the music the way he did in that group. Of course Scott La Faro said, " I just don’t want to play with the piano and I don’t want to just play groove, I want to be the other voice and I think more in terms of counterpoint." But what Ron did (on this recording), I think was beyond that in a way, so that it one of the tracks that influenced me a lot
Miles Davis in Concert My Funny Valentine 1964
NOJ: You have been involved on several motion picture sound tracks. How did you get started in film scores.

MW: I think it was a recommendation, and that is always the way it is. Somebody has to trust you and believe in you and put you in these spots. That person is Bill Mays,somebody who has helped me a lot during my career.  He is on my first two trio albums. Obviously he is an incredible pianist and composer and arranger in his own right. I played with him in Europe before I came over here to the United States. When I moved here and  was a student, even while I was in the program at NYU, he started to recommend me to singers and to people like Sandy Parks. Sandy is a contractor in the movie business. I got my first part on camera in a movie called “Mona Lisa Smiles.”  I was playing in the big band in the wedding scene. While I was there, I had all those hours (waiting around on set) until you have those ten minutes when you are actually on screen in front of the camera. Sandy and I  spoke. I told her that I had a symphony background and that I used to play in a symphony orchestra all the time. From there she started inviting me to the recording sessions for  movies like ( the Coen Brothers)  True Grit and other movies.

I always like to sneak into the recording booth after a take and see how the music matches with the image. To be there and listen, a fly on the wall when one of the directors are having discussions with the composer. I mean that is just priceless for somebody who want to be a writer himself.

NOJ: How did you break into the active New York Jazz Scene?

MW: I don’t know what that really means. It is not like I am appearing at the Village Vanguard and I am on the cover of all the magazine’s all the time. To me it means I feels  like I have the respect of my peers. I can make a living teaching and playing. Nobody in our business is going to be wealthy or rich by any means. Just the fact that I can live here comfortably. I can support myself and my family... that means I succeeded. There were several elements that helped. Bill Mays was very instrumental  by recommending me  to people who have never heard my name before. That is what it takes, somebody to say this guy, why don’t you use him for this rehearsal or that little gig and then that little gig turns into a bigger gig or the next recording. That is how things work. Another element was NYU. When I started there, it was not really a big program, so right away I was the best bass player in the program. They had a really great master class series. They would invite the most amazing jazz musicians to the school that would end up playing with us students. I was twenty-six, twenty-seven years old so I wasn't a beginner anymore.  I was in New York two weeks and I found myself playing with Joe Lovano and it was just fantastic! I was like, " Yeah that is what I came here for!"  Michael Brecker came, Bob Mintzer came, Joey Baron and Dave Douglas came and the list just goes on and on and on. Not that everybody would hire me on the spot. People have to hear you , they have to meet you, they have to see you again and again, until they finally remember your name. You know it is a long process.

NOJ: In an interview you once said that playing with drummer Matt Wilson was an inspiration, what is it about the irascible Wilson that is so inspiring?

MW: Where do I start, the list is so long. There are many things that make him such an influence. The way he embraces everything that happens around him . He embraces it without any judgment and he loves everything that comes his way and turns it into gold. For me that was incredibly important because I started to trust my instincts when I was with him. He would let me know” Martin, what your feeling, what your doing is wonderful so keep doing it.” So it was really a confirmation, he was so instrumental in the search of my voice in that sense.

Then the way he leads bands. It’s really simple, and what is so mind boggling is why more people aren't leading bands like that. He says I’ll pick the musicians that I love playing with and I pick the songs I want to play. Then I just get a gig and put everybody up on stage and I see what happens. (Laughing)
It really is that simple. I mean really you picked these musicians for a reason, hopefully not because they would play for fifty bucks less than better musicians.  You picked the musicians for the way they interact, for the way they sound. So then why go up on stage and tell them how to play?  You already gave them a vote of confidence by hiring them so then let them get up there and let them go with the material and embrace it. I have been trying to do that more and more whenever I am leading my own groups.

NOJ: He (Wilson) does have a very special childlike joy that is very infectious.

MW; Yeah, absolutely. I don’t know how many workshops or master classes where I have been with him. It seems like you just can’t tour together anymore just by playing concerts. You go out there and play at colleges, or you play at the performing arts centers and you then you always play a workshop the next day or the day of the performances. You play with the students. I have been with him many times and I have heard what he says to the students. He says, "Don’t go to the instrument with the attitude that you know what it is, what it means to play the drums or any other instrument." He comes to the instrument every day or every time he plays and he says " Wow, that is a drum set, let me see what I can do. Let me see if I can figure out how to play it." That is his childlike sense of discovery that he has been able to maintain, that sense of curiosity. That too has been a really great lesson for me.

Matt Wilson photo by Michael Jackson
NOJ: You have been teaching at NYU since 1995?

MW: No, I started as a student in 1996. Then while I was a student they asked me to teach non-majors and that was the first thing I did and that was the beginning of 1997. I’m still doing it, in the meantime I have moved onto mainly teaching jazz majors and ensembles.

NOJ: And you’re also teaching at Hofstra University?

MW: Yes. I have been doing that for two and half to three years.

NOJ: So how do you balance being such an active musician, a composer/arranger a band leader, film work and a family man. How do you balance all this?

MW: I don’t know you just hope for the best. Sometimes it is a huge challenge. I can tell you that it doesn't always work out. Here is a typical example; I was recently asked by Bill Mays if I wanted to go to China with him for almost five weeks. I did  the right thing and I brought it up to the head of the jazz department and he said, well you can go ahead and do that but you’ll have to take the semester off. Well if I did that I would  lose my health insurance. So if I lose my health insurance and I have to pay for health insurance for the whole year for myself than I am actually losing money going to China for five weeks.  As much as I would love to be there with Bill. That is an example where it just sometimes doesn't work out. I’m still here in both places and it is because I don’t just say, screw it I want to do this tour and I will worry about the consequences lat. I also feel a kind of  responsibility to my students, to see that they should get their money’s worth. When my children were younger all of this was so much more difficult. Now they are both teenagers.The last two, three or four years I felt that I could really travel more again, take on more things. because they are both more independent here at home.

NOJ: I assume you have a favorite instrument that you like to use. What is it, where was it made? How old is it? And how difficult is it to transport such a large instrument when you travel both internationally and locally?

MW:  The instrument I am playing is a two hundred year old Tyrolean instrument. The Tyrolean area is the south of Austria and the North of Italy. It is really old and I have been playing it since I was nineteen years old. It was my first real instrument and it happened to be my high school band's instrument. I  don’t want to say they gave it to me, but I paid very little, and I had no idea what kind of instrument it was. It has been my sound and been my instrument for so long. I played classical solo concertos,all those orchestras I played with that instrument and I traveled with it all over Europe. Right now, I think the last time I took it on a flight was probably ten years ago. I am not flying with that instrument anymore. I’m just bringing it to any gig that I can reach by car. That’s pretty much the reality of most travelling bass players. Unless they work with somebody like Diana Krall or so, we just have to play basses that are being provided to us. I am actually in the process of finding a different solution, you can actually take the neck off  some basses and a lot of colleagues are doing that now.

NOJ: I have seen George Mraz use a Charton bass which has a removable neck. I think there is a link to it on his website. I don’t think it is a full size bass.

MW: I’ll check that out for sure.

NOJ:  How does electric bass fit into your repertoire and do you feel it is a separate instrument that requires its own separate set of techniques?

MW: Well there are some techniques that are very unique to the electric bass, like the whole slap/funk technique, that everybody was doing it when I started playing. I don’t know if you ever heard of  Mark King? He was playing with a British pop band called Level 42 in the eighties, and he was like the European slap master. I am not really playing it all too often, I just play electric with Janis Sieigel at the Blue Note when she had her cd release. On the album, Christian McBride plays the electric bass on the track. I had a great, great time, I wish I could play more electric bass, but that’s just New York for you. Again you have so many players that everybody has to be so specialized. You know if you need an electric bass player you can get so many great guys. I think if you are a good upright player it shouldn't be a problem for you to play electric bass decently. The other way around that is a whole different story. Being an electric player and trying to play upright is certainly challenging.

NOJ: Certainly guys like  Stanley Clarke and Victor Wooten have taken it to another level.

MW:  Stanley (Clarke) , John Patitucci , Christian (McBride) these are some examples of people. Really it’s amazing how good they are on both axes.

NOJ: Are there any contemporary bass players that you would care to mention that you admire or are they too many to mention?

MW: There is always Ray Brown and Ron Carter. To me they just define what we are all trying to do. To me Marc Johnson is just incredibly underrated. I think he is one of the most melodic players out there, unfortunately he doesn't play that much in town anymore. I am sad that I missed Gary Peacock when he was in town because I also grew up listening to him in Keith Jarrett’s trio. He is a very melodic and a very emotional player. I love Charlie Haden and what he has done in Pat Metheny’s trio and on so many other things. Right now I really enjoy listening to Scott Colley, he is a wonderful musician. Larry Grenadier is amazing. Your right there  are so many out there.  John Clayton is still an influence and  he plays so beautifully.  Really young guys, I love Christian McBride, Ben Wolfe, Ben Street  all  wonderful players. Richard Davis, who just won the NEA jazz masters award,  the hippest big band player ever cause he never played bass like he was a playing with a big band. My colleague and neighbor Rufus Reid is a good friend and he doesn't stop improving and learning. Now he is becoming this great writer and composer. So the inspiration that you have here in  front of your doorstop its  just such a unique environment here in New York.

NOJ: Let’s talk about your latest project Turn Out the Stars music written or inspired by Bill Evans. What is it about Evans music that inspired you to work on this project?

Bill Evans Trio Waltz for Debbie 1961
MW: For me the most important, the initial exposure to him was the live from the Village Vanguard album Waltz for Debby from 1961  and that first track “My Foolish Heart” just really struck a chord with me, because how lyrical it was. I found that all my experiences playing European, romantic, classical music was captured in his touch and his approach. I just loved it. I don’t know how you explain it, I felt a connection. I felt wow, we might have the same background. Later on I found out that his family was half Russian and I’m sure he did play Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich and all that music.  That was what really drew me in and then I found out about all the great bass players that he worked with Scott (LaFaro) , Eddie Gomez, Marc Johnson and Chuck Israels and there was just so much to discover. Another thing was his work as a composer. I think “Turn Out The Stars” is just an amazing tune. It is one of the greatest songs ever written.

Someone commented on how could I leave out “Time Remembered.” I just saw a review of Turn Out The Stars in  Jazz Inside, the reviewer said  some listeners  might be upset about the tunes that I didn't arrange ( from the Evan's repertoire). I mean how many cd’s am I supposed to do. I can only do one cd at one outing. He (Evans) was such a prolific writer and I cannot do it all on one outing.

So (Bill) touched me with his sound anyway and that‘s the most important  thing that we relate to. It comes before we analyze what it is we are listening to. Does that sound good? Does that hit a chord?  Is that something that I can relate to? Is that something that makes me feel good? His piano touch had that impact on me and I was hooked, it was that simple.

Bill Evans photo credit unknown
"His piano touch had that impact on me and I was hooked, it was that simple."

NOJ: And the bass players that he played with  LaFaro, Gomez, Johnson these guys were all fantastic bass players.

MW: Classically trained.

NOJ: All classically trained?

MW: I don’t know if Scott was, but certainly Eddie and Marc studied with classical teachers with the bow and the whole nine yards.

NOJ: I was taken by the sort of bossa treatment that you gave to your arrangement of "Blue and Green" on Turn Out the Stars . What is it about songs like "Blue and Green," like "Round Midnight" or even Mingus’s “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” that seem to ring such a lasting bell in our collective memories and consciousness?

MW: I think part of it they have a certain melancholy or sadness to them that give them a certain depth. Some of my favorite composers like Mahler for example, he wrote some of his best works because his daughter passed away. So out of this grief he wrote these heart wrenching songs, compositions that people will still feel two hundred years from now. That is such an amazing thing that through music people can relive what the composer went through. That is really powerful stuff. The compositions that you mentioned, I don’t really know the background of "Blue and Green" but it’s not a happy song for sure.

NOJ: Yes your right I guess there is a certain pathos to these songs.

MW: Yeah. “Round Midnight” it’s a minor song of course and “Good bye Pork Pie Hat” was written for Lester Young. It was a farewell and I am very receptive to that kind of suffering or mourning put into musical notes. I remember playing once, one of the greatest concerts I ever played in my life was a year after Leonard Bernstein passed away, and it was in dedication to him. We played the second symphony by Mahler which is a killer with the choir at the end. The first ever program was a Berg’s Violin Concerto which was dedicated to Mahler’s daughter, played by Gidon Kremer ( click here) He played it with such intensity that was just scary. He was making faces like he was going through that same sense of loss again and I was scared. I was never exposed to that kind of emotion before on an artistic level.

NOJ: What was it like playing with Joe L:aBarbera who was in Bill’s last trio? How did it affect your interpretation of Bill’s music?

MW:  We met through Bill Mays. I think we had some concerts in Naples, Florida. So that was the first time I met Joe and we really liked playing together, but we really didn't get too many opportunities to do so. We stayed in touch and would see each other at a festival or on the jazz cruise. When I had this opportunity come up to write for this orchestra and I was able to convince them to go with that theme. It was such an easy choice to ask Joe. He is an amazingly complete musician. I never had to tell him to play softer or louder or anything. He knew exactly where his place was in that musical landscape that we tried to create together. He wouldn't really make any suggestions like “Oh Bill would  there like to have had it played like this or that way." He respected us enough as musicians to not give us any guidelines. What he did say after we played those concerts ( in Italy) was "Bill would have really loved this."I thought that was a great compliment and a wonderful thing for him to say. The composition that he contributed is just a beautiful gem.

NOJ: How did you Bill Cunliffe and Scott Robinson meet each other and get together for this project?

MW: Well the quartet has been in existence for several years. We recorded  the album Salt 'N Pepper. 
Martin Wind Quartet Salt N' Pepper  2008
For that recording I had Greg Hutchinson, who I had played together with the singer Dena DeRose. Then Tim Horner became the regular drummer of the quartet. He is the drummer on the Get It  album, the cut I sent you “Rainy River” is from that album.  That quartet, Bill Cunliffe, Scott,Tim and myself toured in Europe a couple of times too.

 I try to get Joe as the drummer whenever we are presenting this particular Evan's project with the quartet.  Scott I used to hear every Monday night in Maria’s (Schneider) band, which had their residency at the club Visiones, which was right around the corner from NYU. Then I also heard him play with pianist Frank Kimbrough. He always struck me as so different, so unique and always himself. No matter which style or whose music he would play, he always would sound one hundred per cent like Scott Robinson. I thought that was such an incredible talent  to bring to any project. Such an incredible accomplishment. I mean I can try to play traditionally and I can try to play free, but I am not sure if my personality will always come through when I am playing in those different styles, but Scott does it effortlessly.  I just thought  I want to play with him more and he became the voice of my music. When I write music I am trying to imagine what he is going to do with it. Just like Duke wrote for his guys like Ben Webster and Paul Gonsalves and those guys.

NOJ: Trying to imagine what Scott would play is a little difficult. ( Laughing)

MW: Well yeah, you are right. In a way it is absolutely pointless. When we are playing on tours, to play a one-nighter even a weekend is one thing, but then a really incredible experience was to play with him night after night. He would do one thing one night and it would work amazingly. A lot of other people would go right back to that (the next night) because they know it worked so well. He would never step into that trap. He would surprise you by doing the total opposite and try to make that work. I think that’s ..his secret, but I think it’s been a great lesson to me. Try to do something, stand in front of the blackboard like it’s all new. 

Bill Mays, Martin Wind, Scott Robinson and Matt Wilson photo by Rolf Kissling 2010

Bill Cunliffe I met through John and Jeff Clayton when Jeff used to live in New York before he went to the West Coast. He said Bill is a wonderful pianist who is on the West Coast and has tried to move to New York. So we started playing. He has that same love for classical music, he is a wonderful classical musician. He has that beautiful touch . He knows so much music, between Ellington and  Monk and all the Great American Songbook writers, but yet he wants nothing more than to take a left turn, play free and then swing again. We all share that sense in that we like to do all of those things.

NOJ: The release of your new album will also be the launch of your new record label “What If Music”. Why did you start  your own label and do you hope to expand it to include other artists?

MW:  You know about expanding it to other musicians, maybe we should talk again in six months or so when I can assess how much money I lost on this one (Laughing). But seriously,the trend has been going that way. You know Dave Douglas didn't really need to start his own label and Dave Holland didn't need to start his own label. They would always be able to find a label to release their projects. In my case it was just that, nobody really want to go for it. Maybe because they thought, you are never going to bring this back to the  States with an orchestra. They might be right. I hope they will all be wrong, because I have some leads and hopefully there will be some performances here with orchestras in the United States. The bottom line for me is that I really believe in the project and I wanted  to document it. It is not like it’s so great the world has to hear this. Only I know how much work I put into this, into writing the material, organizing the tour and all of of the other things that go with such a production. Now I feel like, alright, I have documented it and there will be some people who will  like it and now I can move on. If I have a chance, I might write more for orchestra, but I wanted it to be out there. So far the reactions have been very, very positive because it is different than so many other things that are being released.

NOJ: You are having your release at the Kitano on May 30th?

MW: The official release is May 20th, that is when it is supposed to hit the stores, all those thousands of stores out there. The release weekend  is May 30th and the 31st of May that weekend at the Kitano  Actually we  be in CT in Ridgefield  on June  1st at  Sarah's Wine Bar at Bernard’s  Restaurant.  I’m sure it will be fun.

NOJ: Will the entire quartet be performing this music at the live gigs?

MW: Bill Cunliffe will be touring in New Zealand so I asked Bill Mays to play with Scott and myself and I will be flying Joe LaBarbera out for the east coast performances.

NOJ: Will you be performing  this program with an orchestra at some point in the States?

MW: Well it’s not really official yet,  but I have a couple of dates in the beginning of November at a fantastic high school outside of Chicago called New Trier . They have a high school musical program that is really on a college type level with incredible support by parents. Really amazing, they invite a professional big band there every year, I was there with the Banger Jazz orchestra once. It’s really a fantastic program so they want to present this project there in November and very much hope that this will be happening. I’ll let you know when it is confirmed.

NOJ: So what other projects do you have in the works, this is your main project right now?

MW:  This is the main focus right now, but I’am very much engaged in the duo that I am doing with Philip (Catherine). We are going to be doing a second recording soon and I want to write some new music for that.

Something else that might be of interest to you, I just became part of a new group  Matt Wilson and Anat Cohen and myself  called NY3.  We just recorded and will be at the Village Vanguard in June for a whole week.  There is some other things like I have been working with Dena DeRose and Matt Wilson . She is working on a new album that is a tribute to Shirley Horn and we will be playing some concerts in support of that album. The pianist Ted Rosenthal just released a new album of Gershwin material that I played on and will probably support with some live gigs with him at Dizzy’s and the Kitano. A lot of doing my own project, but playing with all these musicians as a sideman is very, very fulfilling too.

NOJ: Well thank you for being so generous with your time and good luck with your new album..

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Turn Out the Stars: Part One of an Interview with the Bassist Martin Wind

Bassist Martin Wind photo by Rolf Kissling
The bassist Martin Wind has established himself as a first call sideman since coming to the United States from his native Germany in 1996. At NYU he studied arranging and composition with KennyWerner, Mike Holober, John Clayton and Jim McNeeley, whom he credits as great influences. Having worked  extensively as a classical musician, Wind has exceptional sight reading skills, an impeccable arco technique and  great intonation making him an in demand sessions player. He is also a dedicated educator, teaching master classes and ensembles at  both NYU and Hofstra over the last twenty years.

Wind's music has has run the gamut. A lifelong collaboration with his best friend and fellowFlensburg, native, the guitarist Ulf Meyer, has produced over six albums since 1993. An enduring collaboration with the pianist/composer Bill Mays has led to at least five albums using different group iterations. Wind  has toured with Matt Wilson’s Arts and Crafts Quartet promoting Wilson's release An Attitude for Gratitude.  I was fortunate to catch this group at Dizzy’s last year and I was taken by the easy swing and seamless rapport that Wilson and Wind had on the bandstand. Wind credits Wilson for “being so instrumental in the search of my own voice…” Wind has led his own quartets for the last several years and recently he has been working with the iconic seventy-one  year old Belgian guitarist Philip Catherine, a duo that recorded the album Duo Arts, New Folks and he will soon be doing a second album with the iconic guitarist.

Perhaps the bassist’s  most ambitious project to date has been his soon to be released Turn Out the Stars, a collection of songs inspired or written by the great pianist Bill Evans. Written and arranged for orchestra by Wind, the album features  Wind’s quartet and the Italian Orchestra Filarmonica Marchigiana under the direction of Massimo Morganti.

The album is a sumptuous treat, a seamless combination of swinging ensemble and lush orchestration work. Three of the songs’ “Turn Out the Stars,” “Twelve Tone Tune Two” and the cinematically sweeping treatment of  “Blue and Green” are all Evan’s originals. The Henry Mancini song “Days of Wine and Roses” and the Victor Young composition “My Foolish Heart” were both made famous by Evan’s timeless treatments.  Scott Robinson ‘s” Jeremy” Don Friedman’s “Memory of Scottie,”   Phil Woods “Goodbye Mr. Evans” and Joe LaBarbera’s  dedication to his former associate“Kind of Bill” round out the music. The players are all in top form and the music glistens with love, respect  and a deep sense of connection.

I spoke to Wind at some length over the telephone on April 1, 2014 from his home in New Jersey: This is Part One of this Two Part Interview,

In preparation for this interview I had asked Wind to send me some of his music. Music that he felt was representative of his work and that he was proud of. 

NOJ: I enjoyed the selection of music that you sent to me.They included “Rainy River" from Get It:  "Remember October 13th (tribute to Ray Brown) from Theresia with the Jazz Baltica Jubilee Ensemble; "Fjord Skies”with Ulf Meyer from the album of the same name and  "Blue and Green"  from you latest Turn out the Stars all were really beautiful.

Photo by Rolf Kissling 2010
MW: Thank you. You know I didn't spend hours on this; it was like, alright what is it I have in my computer that I can send out to you… I think it really represents all the different elements that are part of who I am as a musician and all the different styles that have influenced me. Really, coming out of the Ray Brown school of playing with this groove and swing, but then a lot coming from playing ... for all those years with that willingness to break free from all that and play free.

 I really love film music; I see movies or things go by as I write. Theater music like “Rainy River” and like “Blue and Green”. You know “Blue and Green” is a ten bar song. There is not really all that much there… I mean it’s fantastic, it’s one of the greatest songs ever written, but to write the arrangement for Turn out the Stars was much easier because the song gives you so much already. It’s a really long form and you play the song twice or three times and you have a a five and a half minute arrangement. But “Blue and Green” takes about twenty three seconds and then you’re through once. So I really felt that to derive all that new material I was just really pleased with how it came out.

NOJ: You grew up in Flensburg, Germany?

MW: Yes the most northern city in Germany.

NOJ: Near the Danish border I take it?

MW: Five minutes.

NOJ: You were born in the late sixties and you lived there through the late nineteen nineties.

MW: I was born in (nineteen) sixty-eight.

NOJ: What inspired you to pick up the bass?

MW: It was really my high school band director. I was playing the guitar; I was dedicated but not really.  It became apparent to me that that was not my voice. Then I was asked if I wanted to play electric bass in my high school big band. I thought I can give it a shot, it’s not like I’m becoming a bass player. But then that is exactly what happened.

Bassist Niels-Henning  OrstedPederen
I started playing electric bass and started taking lessons with a classical teacher. Actually a classical bassist who put those classical bass etudes in front of me and my electric bass. I really needed to learn how to read music and get some decent left hand technique. He kept bothering me that I should learn a real instrument, meaning the upright bass. It was a little snobby; he didn't really consider the electric bass a real instrument.  The other element that made me move to the upright bass.was that,within the high school big band, we had a trio of baritone sax, drums and piano who would play without bass because they didn't want to play with electric bass.  When I started to bring the upright to our big band rehearsals they started to say oh yeah, okay now you can play with us. It was the piano player who wrote out the walking bass lines for me. We would play all Charlie Parker stuff, so that was really how I learned to play walking bass because he wrote really great lines for me.  I would play those same lines over and over again. From the beginning when I started playing the upright I started playing in the high school orchestra. We had a good orchestra. So that explains how from my earliest beginnings I always played classical and jazz and funk and everything in between.

NOJ: What bass players were your role models when you were growing up in Germany?

MW:  My earliest influence on the upright bass was that same classical bass teacher. He was from the United States. I guess he somehow ended up staying in Germany after his military service.  He was a jazz bassist who ended up playing in an orchestra and he was your typical frustrated orchestra musician, who retired early because he kept getting all kind of physical and mental ailments from being so unhappy.

The first album that I really listened to that he gave me was Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen and Philip Catherine. The great bassist from Denmark. It was unbelievable; I thought ,wow, everybody plays jazz bass like that. I had no idea how exceptional he was in his command of the instrument, in his perfect intonation. How he would play melodies on the bass, you know? He would play themes on the bass. Later on I found out, he is really unique in that sense. He was really one of the first to do that stuff. So he was one of my earliest influences ... other than electric bass players that I listened to before I started playing the upright.

NOJ: You have worked with Philip Catherine recently haven’t you? It’s funny how things come around.

MW: I mean, I’m telling you, when I was asked to do this recording for Act Records with him, yeah it was really for me like coming (around) full circle. It has been an amazing journey playing with Philip and hearing all those stories when he used to be playing with Niels. I’m going ... in a couple of weeks to play with him. We have another tour in October and that [project is really taking off too!

Photo Credit  Olff Appold
NOJ: There are a few European jazz bass players that seem to have been accepted in the American jazz scene. Of course Niels was, Eberhard Weber, Mirsolav Vitous, George Mraz and, Dave Holland. have all made their presence felt. Why do you think there are not more European jazz bassist active in today’s American jazz scene?

MW: Hmm, that’s a good question. I mean I can think of several European bass players that are hear right now. It seems like several guys come here play for a few years and then they go back. Honestly I can only say from my own experience. When I moved to New York City, nobody had been waiting for me. I mean this is New York City, you have the greatest bass players in any style here and so if you want somebody to sound like Ron Carter, ask Ron Carter. So it took a while for me to feel I was really part of the scene and that I didn’t have to take every job that was coming my way. You know it takes five or ten years to establish yourself to the point where you feel you have carved a little place in this great scene for yourself.

NOJ: Part of it is you have to want to accept being here, which is not easy, people have to establish roots here to embrace the situation.

MW: Absolutely. What helped me do that was I started a family here too! At a very early point of my time here, I was still a graduate student at NYU and I found myself a father with the responsibility of a child and being a jazz bass player in New York City.  It all worked out and I have two teenage sons now. I think you’re absolutely right, at a certain point it was not just the music that kept me here. Because you will have your ups and downs and when nothing (career-wise) is going on, you always have the family and a network of friends,... That was really important.

NOJ: Is your wife from here?

MW: Yeah, she is actually a New Yorker. She was born in Astoria Queens. She is fifty percent Greek. Of course,she said I am never going to move to New Jersey and we have been here ( in New Jersey) for eleven years now.

NOJ: Let’s talk a little bit of your relationship with guitarist Ulf Meyer. You have recorded a half dozen albums with him.and by  now you must have a near telepathic connection.  How has this relationship expanded your own musical vision?

MW: Well when I met him, you know he is ten years older than me, we were both from Flensburg. When I started playing he was the local hero.  His two idols, still to this day, guitar players that have most influenced his work the most, are Pat Metheny and Philip Catherine. So both of us were listening to those duo recordings of Neils and Philip. They had a huge impact on us. Just ... how comfortable they were playing material that was not your typical jazz material. They would pick a very simple Danish folk song and play it; give it a Latin spin or whatever. That had a big influence on us and I think you can hear it on that sample “Fjord Skies” that I sent to you.

NOJ: Metheny did Missouri Sky with Charlie Haden . I thought hearing you and Ulf, there was a similar type of rapport.

MW: Well he is my best friend and I’ve learned a lot playing with him. I think as a bass player playing duo. That is what we have been mostly doing over the years playing duo. It was a really important experience for me, because it prepared me for my experience with Philip (Catherine) now. You know in the beginning you always think that you have to play more, because there are no drums or because there is no other harmony instruments, and it is really the opposite. The less you play, the clearer your lines are,  the stronger the music will be. But that has taken me years to figure that out and Ulf was really instrumental in that.

NOJ: Since your debut album Gone with the Wind from 1994, a trio date, up to and including your latest album, Turn Out the Stars,  music written or inspired by Bill Evans, which was played with your quartet and a full orchestra, how do you feel your music has changed over the last twenty years?

MW: I don’t know if it has changed. I am happy to report that I still listen to my old recordings. I am just happy to see the kind of growth that I went through as a musician.

NOJ: Do you feel like you have become more interested in composing and arranging as you have progressed?

MW: Absolutely. The writing, the composing and arranging has become a bigger and bigger part of what I am focusing on. There are many factors that helped. I studied composition and arrangement with some really wonderful teachers through NYU. With Jim McNeely and Kenny Werner being the two most important ones. And Mike Holober and Tom Bours. Every once in a while I would ask John Clayton for advice.  I saw him with his big band in Europe. I went to the concert and even right before a concert John would take a half an hour and look over  my orchestra charts with some suggestions, so he has been an influence for many, many years. I actually met him twenty-five years ago in July at the Port Townsend Jazz Camp in Washington in 1989. We were there as part of the National Jazz Orchestra of Germany.

To me it was like not only be a good bass player but to be as perfect a musician or as well rounded a musician as possible. Which to me meant writing your own music or writing for strings or big bands.  I am really happy that I was able to document all those steps over the last few years. 

NOJ: Your music has been described in reviews as being romantic, lyrical, sensitive and even contemplative. Are these fair descriptions of how you see your music?

MW: They are certainly one side of who I think I am.  The other side is the groove element, there is nothing like playing with a great rhythm section, playing with a drummer that you really have a hook-up with and create a sound with. A piano player like Kenny Barron it seems like riding a Rolls Royce or something like that. I always had that, but I think as a result of my classical background, having played Mahler symphonies and Brahms and Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev and all those great composers, that is a big reason why I have that lyrical, romantic side to my music world as well. I absolutely live with that, I don’t have a problem with being called a romantic dinosaur or whatever. Is it something that should go out of style? I don’t think so.

NOJ: How difficult is it to write for an orchestra with so many disparate voices as you have done on Turn Out the Stars?

MW: I think because I spent literally years as a classical bassist in Cologne and all the other youth orchestras that I played with, I must have spent hundreds if not thousands of hours playing in symphony orchestras. So I think being a string player myself, I had a pretty good sense of how to write for strings. What I really had to learn was how you write for woodwind section. How do woodwinds work and how does a brass section work and then how do you write for percussion and how do you write for harp? So those are the kinds of things that I had to study. I would go to the NYU library and take out scores and orchestration books, and one of the really important tools is the music notation software that I was using. What was so helpful was I would study, I would listen to scores, I would listen to symphonies and take ideas to my arrangements, and then listen back to what I had written on my notation software. I just don’t have the kind of experience that a Johnny Mandel has or a John Clayton has. To put some stuff on paper with a pen.  Guys like that hear what they write. I don’t know if I would be able to accomplish what I did without the help of the Sibelius notation software.

NOJ: Nicole Mitchell once told me she   can hear all the voices in their head and she has to get them down on paper. Is it like that for you or is it a more mechanical process for you?

MW:  I play the piano a little though I am really not a piano player.  I hear really well in the horizontal sense in the linear sense and so if I hear a line or write a line for say a flute player or an oboe. I have a pretty good sense of what that sounds like. But going from top to bottom, if I have to envision what a big chord that is being played by a whole section, that is the kind of stuff, that I wasn't as good at. The feeling for the different colors that you get when you mix and match different instruments.  It was a beautiful experience, I loved it, it was like I was going back to school but there were no teachers. The score and the great composers were my teachers there.

NOJ: Who do you credit as your biggest inspiration in composing and arranging?

MW: You are not talking about in the classical world but in general?

NOJ: Yes.

MW: I can tell you who some of my favorite composers are and I think just having played their music for so long has been the greatest learning experience. I mean there is no way around Bach. That is Bach with a "gh" and not with "ck" like people pronounce him here. Arguably the greatest composer ever to walk the face of the earth. I played so much of his music and I still do every day, I think he has been a really great influence. Probably one of my favorite composers of the twentieth century is Prokofiev because I had the experience of playing some of his music with Rostropovitsch when I was a student and that really gave me an inside look. He actually knew Prokofiev, so he would tell us how Prokofiev would want to have his music interpreted. That was an amazing experience. The man that wrote the liner notes to the new album, Turn Out The Stars, Jim McNeely; I have had the pleasure of working with him in his trio- although he really doesn't play enough because he is so busy writing. I played a tour with his ten piece group when he released an album called Group Therapy,  a fantastic recording. I have been playing with the Vanguard band off and on. To me Jim is the greatest big band writer of our present (time), along with Maria (Schneider) and Vince Mendoza. He was a really big influence. He also taught probably the best college course I ever attended, which was called “The Jazz Orchestra.,” so he is an influence. I think that Vince Mendoza is a phenomenal arranger.

NOJ: Jim McNeely is the current arranger/conductor of the Village Vanguard Jazz orchestra?

MW:  Yes. What we play there is say seventy-five percent Thad’s( Jones) music, there is a lot of (Bob) Brookmeyer’s music, but probably more of Jim McNeely’s work than Brookmeyer’s.  He is probably the second most prominent composer in their book. I never lose track, I just hear his roots. He is not afraid of writing music that swings. You say to your sometimes that “oh my God he is still writing in four- four time.” But it can still be current, it can still be modern, it can still be music from today, why can’t it not swing anymore? 
Benny Green, Martin Wind and Matt Wilson photo by Rolf Kissling

That is what I love about Matt’s (Wilson) bands, you know he is not afraid to do that, to swing. You can still be free and go in all kinds of directions and be hip and modern and all that. So that is something that I really like about Jim and Matt. I think Pat Metheny is a wonderful composer. I always liked the cinematic qualities of his compositions and I also liked the music he writes for his group and not only the straight ahead stuff. I also associate with the Americana, lyrical approach, so they all had an influence on my writing and arranging.

Part Two of my Interview with Martin Wind will be posted next week.

Martin Wind will be bringing his quartet , with Scott  Robinson, Joe LaBarbera and  Bill Mays at the piano chair, as Mr. Cunliffe is on tour,  to the Kitano on May 30th and 31st for the New York debut of the album’s material and on June 1, at Bernard’s in Ridgefield , CT.  Mr. Wind is working on being able to perform his Evans’ project with full orchestra in the United States sometime in the near future.