I was born in Pittsburgh, PA on August 31 in the late 50s. I can remember being a small child and hearing my brother, who was a child prodigy, practice his trumpet. My mother told me that as a baby I would sing what my brother, Clark was practicing and he practiced the Vivaldi and Haydn trumpet concertos so much, I can still hear the tones of his trumpet to this day. My brother went on to play with the illustrious Air Force Academy Drum and Bugle Corps,while also teaching himself, piano, bass and guitar and after the stint in the Air Force freelanced for many years in the music and recording business. He’s presently working on his own compositions and his first recording. Clark and my parents were my first music influences and to this day my brother remains one of my greatest music inspirations.
The jazz thing all started with a Louis Armstrong 8 track tape. I didn’t hear much jazz music before the age of 11, my father was a classical music nut, and that’s the only music that I heard around the house. But I’ll never forget that Louis Armstrong tape. It was the sides with Louis singing Hello Dolly, and Mack the Knife, man, that stuff grabbed me, I wore that tape out! I had found my music.
Since I only played clarinet at that time, (I started alto in 9th grade at the age of 13), I dug the clarinet on Louis’ recordings, and I found some Benny Goodman and Pete Fountain at the library. But my teachers were classically based, and I didn’t get any formal jazz studies. I had a Jamey Aebersold record in High School, and then I found this Charlie Parker record in the band music library, which I “borrowed”-it was “Live at Massey Hall” and I used to go to sleep every night playing that record, I had no idea what was going on, but I knew it was some bad stuff! A college cat turned me on to David Sanborn around 1976, he was just making his first albums, and I liked them a lot. Dave influenced my playing, in fact, I learned some of his licks and a coupla tunes off his “Sanborn” recording and played it in a talent contest, my first year of college. I’ve always said, it’s too bad I was bitten my the Charlie Parker bug, I probably would have made more money as one of the early Sanborn alto cats!!!!
I love Sanborn’s playing, I always have, he has a story to tell, he sings with his horn, I believe because of his life experiences (his personal battle with polio), that he brings those emotions and soul to his music. I’ll never forget when I went to see Sanborn in concert in my hometown of Pittsburgh (land of the jazz giants) at the Leona theater. In those days, Dave was the contemporary jazz was different, players took long solos, and the interaction of the group was happening then. Dave was fresh off of his studies with George Coleman, and he liked to stretch. That was one of the musical experiences that made me want to play music professionally. It was kinda hip for me when years later I met Dave on a gig I was on.
In the following years, during my studies of Biology and Chemistry, I became bitten with Bird. Bird became it for me. I tried to sit on my sax case, just the way I saw Bird do it. I took about 6 lessons with Mark Kirk, a student of Phil Woods, in the Poconos, and although I couldn’t grasp at that time what he was showing me, later, I realized how deep those few lessons were. I came to the first lesson with all my books, and Jamey Aebersold records, and the first he did was throw all the books off the stand, and said, let’s start. That was deep. Then he gave me an exercise of Phil’s to learn, and told me that I needed to learn how to play chords on the piano.
A year later, I transferred to University of Pittsburgh, where my father was teaching Oral Surgery. I started a music program, and started studying with Nathan Davis. At the same time I was enrolled in undergrad at Pitt, Geri Allen was in the grad school, going for an Ethnomusicology degree. Leon Dorsey (Lionel Hampton, Art Blakey), Ned Gould (Harry Connick Band), Dave Budway, Andy Fite, Frank Mallah are all from the Burg, and are my age. Geri was always a special player, though I never considered her a bopper, she always had her own thing. Man, I remember she invited me over to her apartment one evening for a vegetarian dish that she had made, and I noticed there wasn’t a piano in her crib. I asked how did she live without a piano around, and she told me that the music is in her, it’s always with her. More deep stuff.
I was a slower bloomer than some, although under Nathan I got some stuff together. I was getting into Bird, and had a few Bebop epiphanies during this period. I was practicing about 6 hours a day, just before the time period where I tried just to waste my life away. Ah, youth. But anyway, I had a good sound, could read well from the clarinet studies, and all of the practice amassed a pretty good technique, but I still didn’t know quite what to do with it.
I only played alto in Pittsburgh. I played a lot of Lead Alto, in fact I remember one day when Joe Williams was the guest artist at Pitt, and we were rehearsing, and he stopped the saxophones, and said to them, ‘Hey, play that like this guy playing Lead here, let’s do it again.’ Man, that made my day. Once, Nathan had me play baritone on a gig, and I also borrowed a tenor from the school to mess around with, but I was an alto player.
Nathan was also good friends with Grover Washington and James Moody, and he brought them to the Pitt Jazz Seminar regularly, and I started to dig Grover around that time too.
In those days, I wanted to play in and out, I was diggin’ Jackie McClean, Eric Dolphy, Bird, Trane, Mike Brecker and Miles I also had this Gary Bartz live record that I loved, I dug his thing, it sounded like Trane on alto. I was influenced by one of the baddest trombone players that I ever have known, a cat in the Burg, Frank Mallah. This cat had learned about 400 Blue Note solos, and could play along with the records with them. This cat plays more bone than anyone I know. He came up to NYC for a little while and hung with Jerry Weldon and Ned Gould, played with Slide Hampton a few times ,but went back to the Burg.
Like I mentioned before, Pittsburgh is the land of Jazz Giants, the birth place of Earl Fatha Hines, Errol Garner, Roy Eldridge, Art Blakey, Mary Lou Williams, Billy Eckstine, Grover Mitchell, Stanley and Tommy Turrentine, George Benson. Pittsburgh has a rich jazz history and you had to play to be there. Some of the young cats my age, were more advanced than I was, they were transcribing solos by the end of high school. Local cats around then included Eric Kloss, Kenny Blake, the great Roger Humpries, Petey Henderson, and Carl Arter (playing piano those days).
Mallah had me listening to Bird and Miles. He didn’t dig Stitt, Mobley or Cannonball as much, so believe it or not, we used to skip over those solos!!! I was coming around about the same time as the great jazz revitalization period, that was heralded in by Wynton and Branford Marsalis’s appearance on the jazz scene.