Interview by Artistic Director Don Lucoff
Q: When did you first enter Rahsaan’s orbit?
A: In the fall of 1966 I went to see Roland Kirk at the Jazz Workshop in SF on a Sat night. I went to say hello after the set as I was really moved by his performance. He invited me to come and play with him at the kiddie matinee the next day (Sun). After that, he asked me to stay and play that evening. We exchanged numbers and after that, when he would come through town, he’d ask me to come and play with him in the local clubs.
Q: Being from the Bay Area, you had a lot of time with him in and around the Keystone Korner, what was that scene like?
A: Well, initially I used to work with him at a club on Divisidero St. called The Both / And. Later, after I was living in New York and joined Rahsaan’s traveling band, I played with him at the Keystone Korner. Keystone kind of picked up where the Both/And left off, bringing in the best of jazz. I sat in with Art Blakey at Keystone Korner and Art asked me to join the band and come to NY. Then I played there with Rahsaan, and Woody Shaw + Dexter Gordon. Also with “Bishop” Norman Williams and Charles Moffett. It was really jumpin’!
Q: What was the musical take-away playing in Rahsaan’s band?
A: Follow the Spirit! Go with the Feeling — he would always “take you there”.
Q: You have played with many prolific artists who have passed, Bobby Hutcherson, Woody Shaw, Ray Charles, among others. But you choose to carry the torch for Rahsaan. Please speak to that spirit.
A: Rahsaan was the 1st Grand Master to “take me under the wing” and look out for me (or as they say in academia mentor me). I learned too much from him to write out like this. I am honored to have been asked to play his music and keep it out there in people’s ears. I feel he never got his due when he was alive, but he was a musical force like no other. I also perform tributes to Woody Shaw and J.J. Johnson, two of my other “mentors”.
Q: You have been playing Rahsaan’s music for many years, how has it evolved for you personally and how you apply it to the ensembles you put together in tribute?
A: Well, Rahsaan’s musical force is still with me (even if I’m not playing his music per se). I found out about playing sea shells when I played with him at the Both/And in 1970! He made me aware and schooled me on the importance of the Lineage of our music, he would say, “As far back as you can go will directly affect how far forward you can go.” That stuck with me. I don’t just play one style or era of the music, but draw from the whole pallet. When I put together music to present “Rahsaan’s Music”, I keep it authentic – to represent it (not only in sound but in spirit) it the way he did it. I don’t “re-harmonize it”, or “re-voice the three horns” that he played at once, or as the critics say as a selling point – “re-imagine it”. It does not need re-imagining!