Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Aaron Diehl Trio plays the Velvet Note in Alpharetta, GA

Aaron Diehl, Paul Sikivie and Lawrence Feathers at the Velvet Note
If you bother to take the thirty-minute drive from downtown Atlanta or Decatur to a strip mall in Alpharetta you will be amply rewarded for your efforts. Located in a twenty-foot storefront at 4075 Old Milton Parkway, two doors from a barber shop, is perhaps the best jazz club in the greater Atlanta area.

The Velvet Note, Acoustic Living Room,  Alpharetta, GA
The Velvet Note was a wild dream of a club that started in 2011 with the notion that if you provide people with an intimate space, build into the space top quality acoustics, and feature the crème de la crème of jazz artists, people will come to hear the music. That music would be jazz in all its wonderful diversity. The idea of a successful jazz club seems to be an oxymoron, but manager Tamara Fuller has somehow seemed to make the concept work and work with style.

On Saturday March 26,2016 the featured artist was the great young piano phenom Aaron Diehl and his trio. The band featured Lawrence Feathers on drums and Paul Sikivie on upright bass. In speaking to Mr.  Feathers after the first set he told me the band has been together for about five years. As with any fine piano trio the symbiotic relationship between the three players is a must and this trio had no shortage of symbiosis, often stopping and starting magically like finely choreographed dancers in precise synchronization.

The first set started with the Benny Carter standard “When Lights Are Low.” Mr. Diehl is a dashing young man who almost looks like he could be a model for Armani suits. His playing is as elegant as his haberdashery and his bandmates were equally outfitted in suits and ties. Mr. Diehl is one of those players who, when he sits down at the keyboard, you know takes his art very seriously. He has beautiful facility with both hands which he displayed with unpretentious artifice. His touch can be as light as the most ruminative Bill Evans or as stride-full as Willie “The Lion” Smith. Mr. Sikivie’s plucky bass solo was a nice contrasting voice to Diehl’s thoughtful comping. Diehl also employed repeated two-handed block chord progressions that were very effective.

Aaron Diehl's Space Time Continuum Mack 1094
On his imagistic original “The Flux Capacitor,” from his latest album, Space Time Continuum, Diehl and company quicken the pace and supercharge the audience into the musical time warp. A representation of the excitement and fantastical delight of the Robert Zemekis Sci-fi Comedy Back to the Future from 1985. Diehl’s syncopated left hand creates a memorable ostinato against his probing right hand explorations. Sikivie and Feathers shuffle along at De Loren cruising speed. Mr. Feathers keeping the rapid pace with his ride cymbal, snare and fluttering hi-hat.

Back to the Future Promo Poster
An ardent student of the history of the music, what better way than to show us his own twenty-first century way of re-imagining Fats Waller’s 1942 composition “The Jitterbug Waltz.” Even those in the audience who didn’t know the name of the tune recognized the music’s sauntering melody. Diehl used the piece to produce beautifully flowing glissandi, maddeningly precise repeated motifs showcasing pianistic mastery that was a treat to behold. The trio performed as an organic whole as Diehl expanded on his improvisations around the core of the melody with ever more adventurous expansions. Diehl also used dynamics to great effect as he went form loud and tumultuous to soft and gentle and his whim dictated.  Mr. Sikivie played a particularly welcomed bass solo.

The gentle “Spring Can Really Hang You Up,” made famous by Ella Fitzgerald, was played as sensitive, almost reverential ballad. It is fascinating to watch Mr.  Diehl up close as he plays a ballad like this. His hands are so long and slender and he often settles them tentatively over the keys in anticipation of his next idea or chord, but in a way that makes you feel he himself is not sure where they may land next.He often has his head bowed and his eyes closed as he seems to be channeling the meaning of the song through its unspoken lyrics. A wonderfully evocative rendition.

Diehl and company played another of his originals “Broadway Boogie Woogie,” which he says was inspired by a painting by Mondrian. The song featured some nice solo trap work by Lawrence Feathers who leads the group into a bebop burner. Diehl seems comfortable with a myriad of styles from bebop to stride, hard bop to crossover.

Piet Mondrian's "Broadway Boogie Woogie"  1943

As if to demonstrate the breadth of the pianistic tradition, the group rolled right into Thelonious Monk’s staccato “Green Chimneys” and then onto Bud Powell’s frenzied “Un Poco Loco” both performed with astounding proficiency. Leathers stick and rim work on “Green Chimneys” was particularly impressive. This group can really run on high octane, pushed by Diehl’s fleet fingers, Sikivie’s relentlessly walking bass lines and Feathers subtle but driving trap work.

Diehl chose a song from the underrated pianist John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet fame, “Milano” to do his only solo piece of the first set.  This almost classically inspired piece of music is a miniature masterpiece of shimmering beauty. Diehl played the song at first with a sensitivity that Lewis would have admired, then broke into a stride-like saunter altering the mood from moody to magical.

The trio ended the set with a modal blues driven medley, sprinkled with tidbits of many famous jazz standards throughout which they played to a bustling ovation. Clearly Aaron Diehl is, as one patron put it “the real Diehl,” an elite pianist in a crowded field.  He has mastered a myriad of styles and has an abundance of ability. At age thirty we can look forward to a long and rewarding career from this excellent pianist.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Evolution of a Giant: Larry Young in Paris the ORTF Recordings

Larry Young in Paris The ORTF Recordings Resonance HCD-2022
It is not hyperbole to say that Larry Young was perhaps the last great innovator on the Hammond B3 organ. His trailblazing fusion work with Tony Williams, John McLaughlin, Miles Davis, Carlos Santana and as a leader in his own right would all be part of a seemingly un-matchable legacy that catapulted the organ from the confines of the groove to limitless possibilities of the stratosphere. Tragically he passed away at the age of thirty-eight while being treated for pneumonia, but it leads one to speculate on the endless possibilities his continued development would have brought to the music has he lived.

Thankfully, producer Zev Feldman, of Resonance Records along with executive producers Michael Cuscuna and George Klabin, uncovered this gem of a discovery at the INA (Institut national de audiovisual of France) which oversees the RTF/ORTF (Radiodiffusion-Television Francaise and Office de Radiofussion-Television Francaise) archives that document an important part of his development as a player. This beautifully packaged two-disc set captures Young in Paris sometime between 1964 and 1965 and features a series of ten songs played with different line ups and broadcast over French public radio.

Importantly it marks the period just preceding Young’s Blue Note Years and you can hear the sound that Young was developing, one that would later be honed with such precision on the groundbreaking album Unity. Young, just twenty four years old during these recordings and  is predominantly a sideman on these sessions; a key figure in tenor saxophonist Nathan Davis’ quartet along with fellow Newark, New Jersey band mates Woody Shaw- an amazing nineteen years old at the time- on trumpet and Billy Brooks on drums. These are inspired young black musicians in a pivotal time for Black Americans, ogether these guys just cook, driven by Young’s pulsing B-3 moan and Brooks relentless traps. The music is electric like on Davis’ “Trane of Thought,” which shows how well Young’s left foot bass line could just drive the rhythmic heartbeat of the band. Woody Shaw’s fabled intervallic leaps are on grand display and saxophonist Davis shows his strong Coltrane influence.

The band is also featured on two Woody Shaw compositions the driving “Beyond All Limits” and quirky “Zoltan.” The first a skillful demonstration of tight group interplay-clearly owing a debt to the Blakey legacy- with Davis’ muscular tenor voice leading the way and Shaw’s sinewy trumpet lines weaving in and out of complex phrases. The rhythmic surety of Young and Brooks surge is like the endless splash of waves on a beach. When Young solos, his deft use of pull bars and masterful harmonies show the man’s unerring sense of time and space.  On “Zoltan” the cadenced opening by Brooks is reminiscent of a military march. This is a live recording and the energy level is palpable. Young and Brooks lay the modal groove over which Davis-sounding more like Rollins here- and Shaw soar in opposing statements of acclamation with fury.  Shaw is particularly kinetic in the higher register having at times a decidedly Gillespie-like sound to his horn. After a long Shaw solo, Young finally gets his chance to shine playing at first with a restrained, almost muted sound before skillfully adjusting his pull bars to create a wail of urgency that brings the entire song up a notch in intensity. This leads the group into a frenzied exchange with Shaw, Davis and Brooks all trading licks in a flurry of excitement and drama that is just a marvel to behold.  

The Nathan Davis Quartet circa 1964 Photo Credit Jean Pieree Leloir
The group is expanded into the Jazz aux Champs-Elysees All Stars with the addition of French players. Tenor saxophonist Jean-Claude Forhrenbach, trumpeter Sonny Grey, and pianist and leader Jack Diếval, along with Italian drummer Franco Manzecchi and conga player Jackie Bamboo.   Together they tackle Young’s bopping “Talkin’ About J.C.” with a joyful abandon. The extended front line is fluid and precise as they navigate tune’s head. The solos flow solidly throughout. Half way through Fohrenbach takes his turn on tenor with a deeply melodic, Getzian tone to his swing, complimented by Diếval’s piano comping. Drummer Manzecchi is delightfully loose and freewheeling, he and conga player Bamboo push the tempo. Maestro Young holds down the fort with the two percussionists keeping the groove smooth as silk throughout with brilliantly understated comping that is like of carpet of sound-very similar to McCoy Tyner’s work on piano- that sets the scene for the others to make their statements. Diếval and Young have a wonderful interchange of ideas at about the twelve-minute mark, with Larry sometimes laying leading basslines for Diếval’s pianistic explorations. Young’s solo on this is perhaps his most creative of the album probing and exploratory all within the framework of a deep groove. The international group continues with “La valse grise”, a song presumed to be penned by the French pianist and the All Star’s band leader Jack Diếval. The cool blues groove “Discotheque” is more traditional fare. Young creates his own groove with his pedal driven walking bass line and deeply sultry organ comping. Diếval offers a Martial Solal inspired piano solo.  

Perhaps the most striking part of these internationally spiced sessions is the stark contrast in the playing styles of the horn and reed players. The American players being much more under the influence of the Coltrane/Tyner legacy then their European counterparts whose sound is much more rooted in the legato, deep throated tone of Webster, Hawkins and Ellington.

Young is featured on two songs in the trio setting with conga player Jacky Bamboo and drummer Franco Manzecchi, the campy “Mean to Me” and Young’s own “Luny Tune.”  There is an immediate intuitive connection between Young and Manzecchi, with the drummer  being particularly attuned to Young’s lofty explorations. Listening to Young breath life and excitement into the otherwise lackluster “Mean to Me” is just a joy to behold. You can hear Manzecchi playfully responding to Young pushing the harmonic boundaries of the song’s limits.

On the jaunty “Luny Tunes,” Young is at his most creative, laying down a firm bottom and adjusting his drawbars to the perfect gurgling sound, always facile enough to adjust his sound appropriately as he changes direction, all the while Manzecchi is step for step with him accenting at all the correct breaks as if the two musicians were of the same mind.

Hearing Young on piano is a rare treat and he plays brilliantly on the finale titled “Larry’s Blues.” He is joined by French bassist Jacques B. Hess and the intuitive and Italian drummer Franco Manzecchi who again proves up to the task of anticipating Young's excursions. Young is particularly Monkian in his dissonant approach and yet he always keeps that groove. 

The booklet that comes with this cd set is filled with a treasure trove of information and never before seen photographs that just make the whole listening experience so much more complete. Larry Young’s connections to both Eric Dolphy and Bill Evan’s makes for some fascinating reading. Notes and comments by guitarist John McLaughlin and organist John Medski are equally compelling as are recollections from Nathan Davis, the musicians' progeny Woody Shaw III and Larry Young III.  For any student of the music and the jazz organ in particular Larry Young in Paris the ORTF Recordings offer a rare glimpse into the evolution of a truly unique giant of his instrument. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Pianist/Composer Marc Copland rises to new heights on "Zenith"

Marc Copland's Zenith Inner Voice Jazz IVJ101

The definition of zenith is “the highest point reached in the sky by any celestial object.”  Over the years I have always enjoyed Mr. Copland's work. I identify deeply with his musical sensibilities. The pianist has consistently tried to reach his own personal musical zenith, whether it be as a leader or as a much sought after sideman. With his latest recording Zenith he may have accomplished just that.

From the opening bars of "Sun at Zenith” you are transported into a world of thoughtful rumination. Mr. Copland has a wonderfully sensitive touch on his keyboard and here he is joined by his working trio of equally emotive musicians, his long tenured associate Drew Gress on acoustic bass and his frequent collaborator Joey Baron on drums. The trio finds another partner in this evocative music making journey in the form of the trumpeter Ralph Alessi, a musician whose subtle brilliance shines beautifully on this recording. Together these gentlemen make magic happen.

All compositions, except "Mystery Song" and "Air We've Never Breathed," are by Mr. Copland whose style has a floating, weightless feel to it, the perfect platform to allow Mr. Alessi’s delicate trumpet work to soar in the open, both within the band’s elastic rhythms and above them. “Sun at the Zenith “is a testament to the group's one speak-four musicians melding their distinct sounds into one cogent and unified statement of beauty.

Listen to the pliant bass work of Gress on the opening of “Mystery Song,” a Duke Ellington composition hardly recognizable under Copland’s modern arrangement, specifically tailored to be a true collaborative effort for these particular musicians. Mr. Baron’s syncopated drum work is the epitome of subtle force and probing drive. Copland’s piano is rhythmically elegant as it weaves lines of unexpected beauty over the composition’s core rhythmic drive. The effect is intoxicating in the way the group just pulls you along into its sway.
Marc Copeland photo credit unknown

Alessi is a unique voice on the trumpet, a voice that sings in an almost angelic way. Even when he reaches to the outer limits of the trumpet’s higher register it is restrained and purposeful with no tendency toward brashness. 

The “Air We’ve Never Breathed” is a three-part suite that is like a series of tonal conversations that was created by Mr. Copland along with his other band mates. The first features an interchange between Gress’ plucky bass and Alessi’s muted trumpet, subtitled “The Bass Knows.” This proceeds to Copland stirringly creating a series of repeated motifs on piano titled “Up and Over.” Gress and Baron percolate in their own rhythmic soup over which Copland and Alessi have their own distinct conversation. The music vacillates between subdued and animated with each musician lending their individual talents in a show of unified purpose. Baron suddenly transforms the music with a stunning display of precision cymbal work on the final piece titled “Lips.” The relentless cymbal time used as a background for a gorgeous interplay between Copland’s melancholic piano and Alessi’s sorrowful trumpet.

“Waterfalls” is a wonderful vehicle for the pulsating bass work of Gress. No other bass player, with the exception of Christian McBride, sounds quite as robust at keeping such difficult and complex time with unerring consistency as Drew Gress. Anchored by his frenetic heartbeat, the group veers into a driving cascade of sound that finds Alessi at his most intense, pulled along by the gentle prodding of Copland, the unassuming director of the whole production. Baron splashes into the current with his liquid-like cymbal work.

The more traditional “Best Bet” is a composition that features Copland at his most lyrical. The gentle, breezy feel is accentuated by Alessi’s solo work that takes to the air like a bird in flight. Copland’s dancing elegance creates an air of calm beauty that is reminiscent of some of Bill Evan’s ruminative ballad work. His cascading arpeggios fall lightly like lingering raindrops falling on a thirsty leaf. Alessi’s poignantly squeezed notes perfectly counterbalance Copland’s tender sound.

The last cut on this fine album, titled “Hurricane,” has a circular feel to it with Copland’s repeating lines and Gress’ big round bass pulsating throughout.  Baron’s rambunctious drums create the whirlwind background as Alessi’s horn hovers like a scream in the wind. Copland’s piano is at its most percussive with the bombastic Baron filling in between the notes with relentless cymbal crashes, tumultuous toms and pops on his snare. A hurricane of sound that leave the listener anxiously waiting for the impending calm.

Zenith is an initial release from Mr. Copland's recently formed label, Inner Voice Jazz. If this first recording is any indication of what is to come, this label will be a sure source for superbly creative recordings in the future.

Here is a video of some of Mr. Copland's previous work:

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Big Man with a Big Horn : An Interview with Saxophonist Sherman Irby

Sherman Irby's Big Mama's Biscuits

If you have ever had a chance to catch Wynton Marsalis’ Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra “live”, it’s a good bet you have seen the larger than life presence of Sherman Irby upfront in the saxophone section. He is the one who envelopes his alto saxophone with a grizzly bear embrace, making the instrument look almost toy-like in his hands. A superb musician who has a soulful, fluid sound and an innate sense of swing, his bellowing laugh and cheerful personae are just two other reasons to enjoy this affable personality.

Irby grew up in Tuscaloosa, Alabama where gospel and blues made up the predominant music of his early childhood. Making the leap from a teenager playing Gospel in the Reverend James Cleveland’s band to a front line player in the JALC orchestra jazz is a tale best told by the man in his own words. I interviewed Mr. Irby by phone on February 5, 2016 while he was touring with the JALC band in Europe. He spoke to me while he walking the streets in France just after a gig.
Sherman Irby (photo credit unknown)
NOJ: Sherman, thank you for calling and interrupting your busy schedule while touring in Europe, I appreciate it. 

First let's start with where you grew up, Tuscaloosa, Alabama arid what got you interested in music?

SI: Well I grew up with Gospel and blues being the predominant influences that I was listening to in early childhood. By ninth grade I was influenced by two teachers who both played trumpet. One was a big Miles Davis fan and the other a Freddie Hubbard follower so that was a good foundation for jazz.

NOJ: What about the Muscle Shoals sound did that influence at all?

SI: Not really that music was further North and so it really wasn't an influence for me. One of my high school teachers, Dr. Thompson, his brother played in Muscle Shoals a lot, he was a saxophone player, but only heard him once. I played with the reverend James Cleveland (known as the King of Gospel) when I was in high school so that was a strong pull on me early on.

NOJ: What made you choose the alto? 

Grover Washington Jr's Mister Magic

SI: I heard Grover Washington. My aunt had the Mister Magic record and 1 looked at the cover and 1 liked it. Grover Washington was everywhere at that time. You could hear his playing Winelight on "One Life to Live" or "General Hospital" and he would be playing in the background. I just decided "the alto please." I started to learn all his solos when he played songs and all of that, but when I heard Bird that changed my whole vibe.

NOJ: When was that?

SI: That was in the eleventh grade. I heard him on the college radio station. University of Alabama had a radio station that would play jazz like at one o'clock in the morning. I heard Bird play the "52nd St. Theme" "and that just blew my mind. I never heard the alto played like that.

NOJ: So your first influence was Grover then came Bird. That is sort of a reverse history.
SI: Yeah, because of the time, those sounds are what pulled me in. That is what you heard like David Sanborn who was also a big influence of mine back then. When I got to see Grover, I told him how much of an influence he was on me.

NOJ: He was great. He was mainstream, but more than mainstream, he bridged the gap.

SI: Oh yeah he was the real deal. I love him.

NOJ: You got into Bird, what about another altoist like Cannonball Adderley. I know you did an album, Work Song—Dear Cannonball

Sherman Irby's Work Song-Dear Cannonball

Cannonball Adderley (photo credit unknown)

SI: Yeah, I mean who doesn't play alto and love Cannonball Adderley. Cannonball is the man. I like the swing feel that he plays. The way he uses harmonies, especially after he played with Miles and 'Trane and the band. They just started trading and learning from each other. The way he approached it was very interesting.

NOJ: So he came from Florida, but you never heard him growing up?

SI: Not at all. That wasn't until college when I got a chance to listen to his recordings.

NOJ: What about Jackie McLean?

SI: I heard Jackie McLean when I was in college. I heard him in I believe it was Piedmont Park (Atlanta). I remember he donned the stage; he had a white suit on. I think Freddie (Hubbard) was supposed to be on the gig with him, but Freddie didn't show up. He played the whole gig by himself. Cedar was playing piano, Billy Higgins (on drums), I don't know who it was on bass, it might have been David Williams. Hearing him play that alto, I had to meet him afterwards, and his son Rene was so cool with me. We walked around town together,he told me a bunch of stories, and we had a real understanding. Jackie gave me a book with his warm up that I still use, that I teach kids today. A warm up that really changed my sound.

NOJ: So Jackie did influence you? 

Jackie McLean (photo credit unknown)

SI: Oh yeah sure.

NOJ: So now I'm hearing Grover and David and Cannonball and Bird and Jackie. What about outlier altos like Lee Konitz?

SI: Yeah I heard Lee a little bit later. See I like Paul Desmond. In high school that is what I affiliated with jazz until I heard Bird. I liked the way Paul Desmond's sound was, I mean I studied classical saxophone, and there was something about his sound. He used a vibrato more like Donald Sinta and Eugene Rousseau who I listen to a lot. So I dug him. Really and truly during and after college my main influences were trumpet players- Dizzy Gillespie, Kenny Dorham and Donald Byrd. Donald Byrd was first, and then Kenny Dorham and Dizzy just kind of took over. They had such command of harmony and rhythm and soul. I had to get some of that.

NOJ: Where did you go to college?

SI: I went to Clark Atlanta University. I studied under Dr. James Paterson, a saxophone player.

NOJ: I just moved to Atlanta from the Northeast and recently did an interview with Gary Motley from Emory University.

SI: That's my man.

NOJ: Clark has that radio station,WCLK(Clark Atlanta Jazz Radio) that many local people are apparently moanin' about because it changed its format and now plays a formulaic playlist. Are you familiar with that?

SI: it's frustrating. I'll tell you how it was. That was the place for us, guys who were learning jazz at Clark. There was a DJ or he was a program director, his name was Bobby Jackson. Bobby Jackson was originally from the Cleveland Ohio area, he came to Atlanta and had a big influence on us young jazz musicians who really didn't know anything. I used to come by his radio station during his show. He would say to me "take a record." I would pick a record, he would say "read it out loud, read it and now give me the record and I am going to play some tunes for you." "You need to know who Ernie Henry was; you need to know who Donald Bird was." and so on. I learned so much from that man.

NOJ: Interesting a DJ?
Bobby Jackson
SI: That's right a DJ and I'm finding out there is a lot of musician; out here who have also learned from them in every city that they went to.

NOJ: Since you studied here in Atlanta I know you know that the area has many music schools and jazz programs in the area like Clark where you went but also, Emory, Kennesaw State and Georgia Tech to name a few. But the sad truth is there are so few places for these student musicians to play.

SI: It's so different when I was there; things were starting to breakdown at that time. Russell Malone was there, we talk about it all the time. There were older musicians there who would stay on you and cuss you out. They would make sure you would learn the right stuff. My greatest teacher was Danny Harper; he is still there. He is a trumpeter who teaches at Miles College in Birmingham, Alabama, but still lives in Atlanta. Danny taught me so much about the music and about what being a jazz musician was all about. about having the integrity to play the music.

NOJ: After college how did you progress as a musician? What was your trajectory?

SI: I had received my degree in music education, but I didn't want to teach at the time. Personally I thought that if I started at a band program like at a school I would probably still be there now thirty years later, because that is usually how it happens. I start working at a parking lot, parking cars and doing valet parking. At night time I was playing in Atlanta and I landed a gig with Johnny O'Neal the piano player. Taurus Mateen the bassist who now plays with Jason Moran, and used to play with Freddie(Hubbard). So he told Johnny about me. He told me to come and play and Johnnie's going to love you. So I came and played and Johnny said "you are part of the band." That was a step in my education. That was in 1992. I graduated Clark in 1991.
Johnny O'Neal
NOJ: So that was your first working gig?

SI: Yeah that was my first true working gig. I left there as the scene had changed, places started closing up. "Jeff's Jazz," that was a great jazz club in Atlanta, closed down. Johnny O'Neal left and I needed work, so a friend of mine called me and told me about the cruise ships, he said he could get me in on that. So I went down to Florida and I started working for Carnival Cruise.

NOJ: Plus you must have been exposed to and played with so many guys, right?

SI: I met so many guys my friend Andre Rice, who I went to college with, he is still with the Basie band. There were a lot of guys there, that's how I met Russell Gunn. I remember when he left to go to New York and join the big band Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. So I used that time to study on the cruise ships. I needed to prepare myself, I wanted to come to New York. I studied tunes, I studied style I worked on my clarinet and my flute. Just trying to get focused and ready, save a little money and be ready for New York. I came to new in 1994.

NOJ: Is that when you came to join the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra?

SI: No I came with no gig. I came here and was completely broke within two weeks. I heard musicians at "Smalls" and I got in and started playing and started to get a reputation.

NOJ: At "Small's" you were playing in the trio and quartet format right?

SI: Yeah trios, quartets, jam sessions everything under the sun.

NOJ: That was more like hard bop going on?

SI : Yeah mostly and original compositions too. We were playing off each other's tunes. It was a real leaning and sharing of information that was going on there. That was 1994 basically to 1995. In the middle of 1995 I joined the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. I did some gigs with Wynton (Marsalis) and I joined the band and I did that for two and a half years. Off time I was still playing at "Small's" and other clubs in the area. I then left that band to join Roy's Hargrove) band. That was an experience. That was probably the best musical experience I ever had, especially in a small group setting nothing even to compare to that. In that band we had Gerald Cannon on bass, Willie Jones III on drums and Larry Willis on piano along with me and Roy. There were other variations in the very beginning, Ron Blake was still there, and we had a long period of time when Frank Lacy was with us.

NOJ: What kind of music were you playing then?

SI: I hate to put a label to it, but mainly hard bop but anything from bebop, to hard bop and even some funk to it at the end. It was mainly a vision that Roy had, kind of based on what Cedar Walton was doing, everybody was kind of following that mood at the time. After that I was fortunate to join, at the end, Elvin Jones’ band. He had Carlos McKinney on piano, Gerald Cannon on bass, Mark Shim on tenor and sometimes Delfeayo Marsalis on trombone. Then I started to do more things on my own. I was with Blue Note records for a while. I was doing gigs and started playing with Papo Vasquez and his Mighty Pirates Troubadours, another completely different experience. Papo is one of the Latin Jazz all-stars. He played with everybody from Dizzy Gillespie's United Nation's Orchestra to Tito Puente for many years. He has done all kind of stuff. He is a true master; he plays trombone in the band. When Duane Eubanks left I took over his spot. I played with Elvin at his last gig at Yoshi's in California. That was in 2004.

NOJ: Did you guys record anything with Elvin?

SI: No. We were supposed to go to Japan and come back and play the Blue Note in New York and he passed away before that. He was my heart. He used to like to pick me up all the time, the biggest guy in the room he liked to pick them up.

NOJ: You are a big man and when you hold that little alto you like smother that horn. You remind very much of Cannonball with the way he almost bear-hugged his horn. You have a lot of soul coming out of that horn.

SI: Thank you.

NOJ: Tell me about your experience with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra?

SI: It was something else. There is nothing else like it in the world. We played music from all different styles. You find out how great this music is by playing all the different scores we play. You get to understand how great a musician Don Redmond was, you get to realize how killing Benny Goodman's band really was. You understand the writing style and artistry of Duke Ellington and what he was able to accomplish in his life. You understand the history of the music arid how it relates to what we were doing in the nineties and how it relates to the future. The more you study the past the more you understand where you have been and where you are going. It's been the biggest education for me, not only are you playing with the best musicians in the world-most all of them have been leaders in their own right- but we all come together to do this. Most of us actually arrange and do a great deal of the music for the band.

NOJ: So it is more organic and less repertoire?

SI: Yeah it never stops. Right now I am trying to finish my ballet (based on Dante's Inferno) that I started in 2013. We performed the first act in 2013 and now we are looking at finishing the next two acts and performing those. Ted Nash is putting out another big project he did called "the Presidential Suite." There is a lot of things like that that propels the music for yard while still swinging and deep in the blues. It is like an experience of a lifetime to be able to do all of that.

NOJ: What is it like to play in a big band as a section player as opposed to play as a solo artist in front of your rhythm section in a smaller format? 
Saxophone Section of JALC

SI: In the big band you are playing the music as it is written in front of you, but you are communicating with people all across the bandstand and finding your place within it. It is like life, you are on this big Earth and you are part of it and what you do affects everybody else. You're trying to find your space within that but to groove with everybody else so we achieve a common goal of Peace and Love. It's that kind of feeling. So you are part of a community of people just trying to go in the same direction and it's hip. The economics has made it harder to hear this sound and develop this. It is a shame that that has become an issue. I am glad that we are able to do it and we are starting to inspire more and more people to start groups and do more big bands. It's good for the music. The music was started with it — the bands of Count Basie and Duke Ellington- before all these small groups got going it was the big bands that started that sound. We need that now so I am glad I am part of that now. 

NOJ: I just did a piece that featured three big band albums and demonstrated how they were ushering in a new era of big band music. It's interesting to see this despite the economics.

SI: The music was built and flourished during the depression, so we can make things work when there isn't a lot of money. We have to have the verve to do it.

NOJ: Right know we are speaking to you and you are in France with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Is this a European tour?

SI: Yes, we are on a six-week tour that will take us throughout Europe and then we are on to Australia and New Zealand.

NOJ: That is quite a whirlwind and then you come home and will be playing with your own group at Dizzy's in New York?

SI: I am coming back on the thirteenth of March. Then I have a week off and then we play Dizzy's March 24th through the 27th. I start the gig on my birthday March 24th. I will be forty-eight so it should be fun. I'm trying to slow down this year. 

NOJ: Who will be playing with you on that gig?

SI: Eric Red will be on piano, Gerald Cannon on bass, Willie Jones s III on drums and Vincent Gardner on trombone. It is a band that I started doing the music of Art Blakey. We did a three-night stand at Dizzy's about three years ago. It is an unusual style because its alto and trombone and I like the way it works. Vincent has that thing so it works. I'm going to stick with this band, we call it "Momentum" and we are going to keep it going.

NOJ: Are you writing more? You mentioned you’re still working on your ballet.

SI: Yes, I am doing a lot of writing, actually I’m going back to my room now and continue working on the ballet. For the gig in March I am going to write most of the music for that featuring the band. With the big band I am finishing the ballet which is based on Dante's Divine Comedy. We performed the Inferno already and I am working on Purgatory and Paradise. We are talking about releasing the whole finished work in the next two years.

NOJ: I let you get back to your hotel and off the streets. Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you.