- Please tell me about the musical scene in New Orleans while you were growing up, as you began playing professionally at a young age.
New Orleans was and still is home to some of the most talented musicians in the world. There is a strong social aesthetic in the music there. It’s all about the people.
- Throughout your career you did several tribute projects of your own (Gumbo Nouveau, Dear Louis) or with other people (Fingerpainting, Mysterious Shorter). How have these people whose music you covered affected your sound and conception? How have they each made an impression on you?
I don’t know if projects make an impression, but rather life makes the impression and inspires the project. By the time the music comes out of the horn, it’s done – time to move on to something else.
- What are some of your favorite releases by other performers, old and new?
Stevie Wonder; Earth, Wind and Fire; Miles; Anita Baker; Clifford Brown; Wayne Shorter; and D’ Angelo are amongst my favorite artists. Their output is pretty consistent. I like artists who you can chronicle their development by way of the material they release.
- You’ve had some great musical figures that you have learned from – pianist Ellis Marsalis and your father in particular. How do you feel that they really illuminated for you things about improvisation and presentation?
It’s all about life, never about music. Experience begets music. Great teachers learn how to inspire one into finding their own way. It’s all in you; the issue for the teacher is how to put you in touch with it.
- Please describe the creative process behind Into the Blue.
No process at all other than to create music that was true, beautiful and sophisticated.
- What tend to be the biggest challenges when you are writing?
I don’t have many challenges these days compositionally. It’s not that I think I’m great or anything, it just that I’ve learned not to write if I don’t hear something. I always want the feeling of flow in my compositions – truth. I write until I can’t hear anymore. Earlier on the challenge for me was to write inspite of not believing in my tunes. If you can learn to write past that, I believe you can write in any given situation.
· Sonic Trance was a record that was some sort of departure for you. Please describe your transition from straight-ahead jazz to the much more expansive approach you brought to the form with this record (including Into the Blue).
I don’t look at Sonic Trance as a departure, but rather an inclusion of ALL the music that I love. Into The Blue is that idea presented in a more concise fashion.
- Most jazz purists frown on rock or any other form. They seem to be adverse to acid jazz or fusion. Do you find that kind of mentality is healthy for jazz or does it convey an elitist message?
I feel that there is enough room in jazz for everyone to have an opinion of their own. People have had that argument from the beginning about what is and what is not jazz. My question is, does it really matter? What I think would be healthy for jazz is if people spent a lot less time thinking about it and more time enjoying the music.
- How do you look on your first record From This Moment?
I feel it’s a respectable snapshot of where I was at the time. It’s about as true of a record as I’ll ever make. I was completely untainted at that time. It was just a collection of the tunes I thought of as my best, played by some of my favorite musicians in as many varied styles as I felt comfortable representing at that time.
- Through the years, you recorded and performed with Wynton Marsalis, Dr. Michael White, Christian McBride, Joshua Redman, Roy Hargrove, Doc Cheatham, Joe Henderson, to name but a few. What are some of the most memorable musical moments or collaborations you’ve had?
Playing with Clark Terry, Ray Brown, and Roy Haynes has been amongst the most inspiring experiences. Christian, Josh, and Roy are my peers. I believe we’ve all learned from one another. Dr. White gave me a lot of my first gigs; both he and Gregg Stafford really looked out for me. I only got to play with Joe once, but that experience was a dream come true. The thing I did with Jill Scott was really cool.
- What memories do you have of working with Doc Chetham? That collaboration has won you a Grammy.
The Grammy was just the icing on the cake. Doc was a soulful cat. He was real; a gentleman. You’d be hard pressed to find someone around these days who exudes so much class. Warm person, warm sound.
- What is your opinion on Ken Burns’ Jazz series?
I didn’t see what all the controversy was about. I felt is was nicely done. Did it represent all of what I feel is important about jazz music? No, but it was Wynton’s and Ken Burns’ thing. It’s their right to focus on whatever they like. Whomever had a problem with rather or not it was a “fair” representation historically has the option of making their own documentary. Complaining rarely solves any problem. For the couple of weeks it aired, America was transfixed on the series. I feel the jazz industry lost a big opportunity when they didn’t maximize the opportunity to capitalize on all the airtime jazz was getting.
- To my opinion the music industry is more focused on releasing archival material rather than moving the music forward. What is your opinion on this?
The industry can’t move the music forward, the musicians have to do that. The industry is what it is, always has been, and always will be. The industry doesn’t have a vision, they’re only interested in the bottomline and finding fomulas for success. The industry’s success is based on the artists, not the other way around – unless we’re talking about talentless «icons» who the industry likes because they have no vision. They’re a blank slate that can be molded into an idea. But that’s not music; that’s a product – which confuses some people. I believe there are too many cats waiting around for something to happen. That day will never come. Musicians have to bring what they want into existence. If the artist doesn’t have an idea how to get their music to the people, it’s very unlikely that someone who knows absolutely nothing about music will. A good example of an industry head who can bring the music forward is Russell Simmons. He’s passionate and willing, something lacking with a lot of folks on the business side of things. If jazz could find someone ambitious and savvy like that to get the music to the people, then we’d see something!
- Long time ago the primary venues for jazz used to be nightclubs which were the places where jazz fans and jazz musicians came together. How much do you think the orientation toward special events like annual jazz festivals, seasons with one-night-only concerts changes the way audiences relate to jazz?
I think a variety of venues is important to the viability of the music. I don’t believe it hurts. Some people like small, intimate settings; some opt to be outside in the sun with plenty folks. The more types of places cats can play, the better. I think the way musicians play, and the way these clubs, festivals, and performing arts centers are run has more to do with how the music is received than the venue itself. Again, it’s about people.
- What is the biggest challenge in building a jazz audience?
I don’t know if building the audience is as much of a problem as sustaining interest. If you can get folks there, sustain their interest, move them – they will build your audience for you. I just think that there’s too much jazz out there that’s not moving people in a real way.
- What are the biggest challenges you face as a musician today?
If I had no more challenges, I’m not sure what I would do. Struggle is a blessing. Something’s wrong when everything seems fine. I will say that, in my country, there’s a lack of appreciation for art in our culture that is a direct result of the disintegration of music programs in schools. Kids today have no idea how a double-bass looks, much less how it sounds. There’s no value in the amount of discipline it takes to be a virtouso. There is, however, widespread appreciation for the skills it takes dance around on stage with six-pack abs.
- What do you envision for the band and future projects?
I try to have as little to do with where I’m going creatively as possible. I don’t want to get in the way. There maybe something out there larger than I’m capable of imagining and if I get too involved, it just might not happen.