Monday, October 10, 2016

The Randy Brecker Interview, Part 1

I've been a huge Randy Brecker fan for over 40 years, long before the Brecker Brothers days. Actually, since 1973, when I was deeply impressed by his solos on the "Donato/Deodato" album. At that time, although I was only 10 years old, I'd been exposed to some great trumpet heroes - Miles Davis, Chet Baker, Art Farmer and Freddie Hubbard were my favorites at that time and, not even in my wildest dreams, I could imagine I would meet all of them in person some years later.
But Randy, from the first bars of his solo on the track "Capricorn" from that "Donato/Deodato" album, sounded completely different and original in terms of phrasing and tone. He already had his own sound, his own "message." He already was a stylist. And then I began to purchase each and every record with his name on the credits - albums by Horace Silver, Duke Pearson, Gary McFarland, Mark Murphy, the debut album of Blood Sweat & Tears, and two very special records by a band that blew me away, Dreams!
43 years later, Randy, now aged 70 and a 5-time Grammy winner, is a true living legend, surely one of the best trumpeters not only in jazz history, but in the music history, because he has been an integral part of the evolution of pop, jazz, funk, r&b, rock, everything. An infallible player, Randy Brecker became one of the most-in-demand "studio cats" in the NY scene since the mid-70s, was a member of Larry Coryell & The Eleventh House, and founded The Brecker Brothers with the much missed Michael Brecker, the greatest tenor virtuoso that ever lived.
Randy has played and recorded with the most important names of all genres & styles. From James Brown to Frank Sinatra, from Average White Band to Lou Reed, from Steely Dan to Aerosmith, from Charles Mingus to Elton John, Jaco Pastorius, Luiz Bonfá, Chaka Khan, Tina Turner, Frank Zappa, Carly Simon, James Taylor, Esther Phillips, Aretha Franklin, Bruce Springsteen, Bette Midler, Paul Simon, Eric Clapton, and arrangers like Oliver Nelson, Michel Legrand, Bob James, Don Sebesky, David Matthews and Claus Ogerman. The list goes on and on.
Yesterday, checking my collection, I counted 506 albums on which he plays on. But the famous Discogs website lists 1,053 titles! Plus over 100 sessions as leader, co-leader or featured artist. His "videography" is equally amazing, including LaserDiscs and DVDs as a leader as well as with the Brecker Brothers, the Gil Evans Orchestra, the Louie Bellson Big Band, some gala concerts coordinated by Roger Kellaway for the Jazzvisions series, special projects featuring Charles Mingus' music like "Epitaph" and a concert with the Metropole Orkestra, Frank Sinatra's "Portrait Of An Album" (the "LA Is My Lady" making-of produced by Quincy Jones), Chroma's "Music On The Edge" and, most recently, a Blu-ray with the CTI All Star Jazz Band.
Married to the fabulous sax player Ada Rovatti, the proud father of Stella (their 7-year old princess) and the very talented singer Amanda Elias Brecker (from his marriage with Brazilian pianist Eliane Elias), he currently keeps working as much as ever, recording many splendid albums such as "Night In Calisia," "Dearborn Station," "The Jazz Ballad Song Book," "Randy Pop!", and touring a lot all over the world in different gigs, often playing live 4 or 5 times a week! After recent performances in Europe, Russia and Ukraine, and several appearances in the U.S. in tributes to Phil Woods and Lew Soloff, besides a gig with Lew Tabackin, another one with Chris Parker celebrating the release of an album they recorded in honor of Arif Mardin, and an engagement in Japan with Mike Mainieri's Steps Ahead Meets Soul Bop project, he now starts a tour in China this week.

Needless to say, it's a great honor for me to present this exclusive interview with this brilliant composer and trumpet master, my friend & idol Randal Edward Brecker, to the Jazz Station blog.
Arnaldo: The first time I heard you (and immediately fell in love with your playing) was on the “Donato/Deodato” album released in 1973 on Muse Records. I was 10 years old! You did truly perfect solos, sometimes very melodic, on tracks like “Capricorn,” and other times very adventurous like on the funky “Nightripper.” What do you remember of that album? Did you record together with the rhythm section or overdubbed your parts?

Randy: Well that was early on, so I don’t remember that much, but it was a live date at Sound Ideas Studio in NYC for Muse Records, engineered by George Klabin, and I knew the names, but wasn’t that familiar with their music, so I kind of had to feel my way into it! Ray Barretto, Allan Schwartzberg, Bob Rose, Michael Gibson, Romeo Penque and the bass player Wilbur Bascomb, son of trumpet player Dud Bascomb, were in the band. I was very young!
Arnaldo: “Donato/Deodato” was the first time you were exposed to Brazilian and latin rhythms? Or have you heard people like Antonio Carlos Jobim and other bossa nova masters prior to that recording? Were you familiar with Donato or Deodato?

Randy: Like I said I had heard the names and loved Brazilian music at that time, but hadn’t played much of it yet…first heard Brazilian Music on the FM radio in Philly. The DJ was interviewing Herbie Mann about his trip there, and he was fanatically touting Bossa Nova as the ‘new thing’. He was a fanatic! The music spoke to me right away - I was hooked!
Arnaldo: Around that same time, I started to see your name, sometimes credited as Randal Brecker, on some CTI albums by Don Sebesky ("Giant Box") and Grover Washington Jr ("Soul Box.") Which was your first recording for Creed Taylor? And your first session at the Van Gelder Studio?

Randy: First session, at least as a soloist for Creed, might have been Idris Muhammad’s "Power of Soul" on March '74, arranged by Bob James, with Gary King, Joe Beck, Grover Washington Jr. for the Kudu label. First session at Rudy’s was with Duke Pearson’s Big Band (I was in the trumpet section alongside Marvin Stamm, Burt Collins and Joe Shepley) on December 1967 for Blue Note, then some albums also for Blue Note with Horace Silver (the first one had Billy Cobham, John Williams and Bennie Maupin), and many, many, CTI dates. My first solo album, "Score," was also recorded there for the Solid State label (with my old pal Hal Galper, Eddie Gomez, Chuck Rainey, Larry Coryell, Bernard Purdie, Mickey Roker, Jerry Dodgion and my brother Michael) in 1968! I was there quite a bit. What a great space to play! The studio itself made you play better because of the ambience.
Arnaldo: The first Brecker Brothers album that I reviewed (because I was already writing a jazz column for Rio de Janeiro’s daily newspaper Tribuna da Imprensa at that time) was “Detente” and it was released in my native Brazil. So it has a special place in my heart. Could you please tell me your impressions about that album? I remember Airto plays in several tracks. Who had the idea to invite him to the sessions?

Randy: That was George Duke’s idea. He was a great producer and we had a ball working with him. It was our 5th BB record on Arista and we had recently made “peace” with the label, hence the title of the record. I think there is really wonderful music on that record. Great tunes
and production, with Neil Jason, Steve Gadd, Paulinho Da Costa, Ralph MacDonald, Steve Jordan, Don Grolnick, Mark Gray... George was really a ‘pro’ and was into our music so he really was a part of that CD...oops: (ahem) ‘Record.’…no CDs back then.
Arnaldo: I’ll never forget the night I saw you performing live for the first time, in Sao Paulo, back in 1980, with the Mingus Dynasty band. It amazed me to see you playing in an acoustic concert, very different from the Brecker Brothers style. How was your experience with that band?

Randy: Well, I was with various Mingus bands for around 30 years after he passed and it was always an honor and privilege to play his music. Mingus was a big influence on both we and Mike. His souful compositions and the way he utilized the horns in collective improvisation always amazed me. I also played on Mingus' very last recording sessions, released by Atlantic on the albums "Me Myself An Eye" and "Something Like A Bird," when he was not playing bass anymore, but composing and directing the sessions from a wheelchair.
Arnaldo: The second time I saw you live was also in São Paulo, in December 1983, at Maksoud Plaza’s 150 Nightclub, co-leading a quartet with Eliane Elias that had Harvie Swartz on bass (I wrote a review at that time but now I don’t remember who the drummer was? Victor Lewis?) It was “another sound” once again, different from Mingus Dynasty and Brecker Brothers. What can you tell me about that period?

Randy: Well we were working a lot together then, so the Brazilian flavor was very evident...we influenced each other a lot, and yes the drummer was indeed the great Victor Lewis. We also did a fusion album together for Sonet.
Arnaldo: I also love the solo albums you recorded for Sonet and Denon in the late 80s, featuring your challenging compositions. Please tell me more about those bop-oriented records.

Randy: Both were acoustic dates, hard-bop. "In The Idiom" was fun to do live in the studio, no overdubs, with my heroes Joe Henderson, Ron Carter, Al Foster and the young but great Dave Kikoski who I had heard playing with Roy Haynes. Then we did "Live at Sweet Basil" for the Swedish label Sonet, also great with Bob Berg, Kikoski, Dieter Ilg and Joey Baron. Really really FUN! We actually were a touring group at the time. That album was released in the USA on the GNP Crescendo label.
Arnaldo: The first time I heard you singing was on the “Toe To Toe” album. When did you sing for the first time ever? And on records? It’s a coincidence that some trumpeters - from Chet Baker to Claudio Roditi - like to sing? Better: your decision to sing was inspired, in some way, by Chet?

Randy: I'd been singing on records since the second ‘Dreams’ record for Columbia in 1971, "Imagine My Surprise." Will Lee was supposed to sing that song, but he was playing bass, so I did the ‘work vocal’ since I had written the tune and lyrics, and everyone liked it! Then I started writing lyrics to all my tunes like Horace Silver did, and would write and sing one or two tunes on the Brecker Bros or my solo records… nice to take a break from the playing the horn which is a good reason why a lot of trumpet players sing! And yes I liked Chet, Bob Dorough, Mose Allison, Dave Frishberg and singers like that. Yes, trumpet players like to sing because then we can rest our tired ‘chops’!
Arnaldo: I like your rap (as Randroid) on the Brecker Brothers Reunion Band? When Randroid was born? Do you listen to rap and hip-hop albums?

Randy: Well, Gary Bartz gave me that name in Japan where we were touring together. He would amble over early in the night, look into my eyes and say: “Randroid are you in there yet? No? OK I’ll come back and talk to you later!”…then after a couple of rounds later in the night: “Randroid you’re in there! C’mon let’s hang!!” And yes hip-hop is an influence but I can’t say I follow it that much, just the really exceptional rappers who are also musicians like Kendrick Lamar.
Arnaldo: We all know you did hundreds of sessions as sideman. I always liked your solo on a track titled “Morocco” from an album that my late friend Yusef Lateef recorded for CTI (at Van Gelder) in 1979. When I produced a CD compilation titled “CTI Acid Jazz Grooves”, in 1998, I’ve included “Morocco” mainly because of your perfect solo. Do you remember that?

Randy: Sorry, don’t remember that one. Usually the artist wasn’t there and there were A LOT of sessions, so they would all run together…They were always great tho’! Great musicians, great arrangers and the great studio!
Arnaldo: Rudy Van Gelder was my favorite engineer ever. He left Earth recently. Could you please share some stories that you lived at his mythological studio?

Randy: You couldn’t touch anything or he would kill you… Once [trumpeter] Bernie Glow’s earphones were too tight so he bent them and they broke in two! Rudy was fuming but it couldn’t quite say anything because it was ‘Bernie Glow’ But the next day he wrote DO NOT BEND HEADPHONES on each one!
Arnaldo: One of my favorite jazz videos ever is that CTI project “Chroma: Music On The Edge”. I have attended some of the rehearsals at SIR Studios in NY, in October 1990. It was filmed in Japan when that band toured her under the name of CTI Superband. Some months later, before the LaserDisc release, I watched the video when Creed Taylor showed it to me at the CTI office in April 1991, and I remember how he praised your solos and also the Bob Berg solos. How did you became involved on that project? Do you think Berg was in the same style of Michael Brecker?

Randy: I was working a lot for Creed and Jim Beard, and they probably put the band together. Mino Cinelu, Dennis Chambers, Mark Egan, Mark Ledford, Bob Berg, Mike Stern, Jon Herington. Great band! I had already been playing with Berg a lot. We had a quintet that went to Europe a few times and eventually recorded "Live at Sweet Basil." He and Mike practiced together a lot, but he had his own sound and was great too. We miss him...I live out where he lived in East Hampton so we were very close to him and his family.
Arnaldo: Jim Beard, whom I consider a genius, was the Chroma arranger. I know he played with you on "Toe To Toe," that I had the privilege to hear with you in advance in Sao Paulo, back in 1989. When did you work with him for the first time? How did you met him?

Randy: Don’t quite remember... probably some CTI stuff. We went to the same school Indiana University at different times, he’s also from Philly and he was the’ hot new cat in town’ - so we were destined to meet! Jim Beard did a great job producing "Toe to Toe" for MCA, with Bob Mintzer, Bashiri Johnson, Victor Bailey, Darryl Jones, Regina Belle... We had the same manager, Christine Martin, so maybe she was involved in introducing us. I think he is a genius too.
Arnaldo: Speaking of CTI, your latest project for Creed Taylor was that CTI All Stars Tour in 2009. Who invited you? Creed himself? Were you familiar with those tunes from classic albums by Freddie Hubbard and Stanley Turrentine? Have you watched the Blu-Ray that was released from the Montreux concert? Van Gelder did a gorgeous mix!

Randy: Creed indeed invited me himself along with Niels Lan Doky who helped put that tour together, and it’s a very nice Blu Ray disc, with Hubert Laws, Airto, Flora, Todd Bashore, Mark Egan, Jeff Watts, Bill Evans. George Duke, John McLaughlin and Jamie Cullum sat in. The very first night with little rehearsal! Really no rehearsal - we had just flown over and we were too tired to rehearse! Yes, I was familiar with the classic Freddie-Stanley records! Tried to keep them in mind during the concerts! A lot of stuff we were supposed to play didn’t work out for one reason or another….it was all last minute! Rudy was the best as far as sound and mixing! There will never be another like him.
In the second part of this interview, to be published next week, Randy Brecker talks about his most recent albums and tours, his musical marriage with Ada Rovatti, and his next projects. Don't miss!

More images related to the topics in this interview

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