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George Cables: The Pianist’s Dedication to the Group

George Cables: The Pianistâs Dedication to the Group
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Anyone who is serious about jazz will tell you that George Cables belongs in the pantheon of the greatest jazz pianists. Everyone, that is, except George Cables. Exceptional in every way, he is yet a team player. He sees himself as part of the rhythm section, and has always emphasized the group over the soloist. He has worked extensively since the late 1960s with many of the legends: Art Blakey
Art Blakey
Art Blakey
1919 - 1990
drums
, Art Pepper
Art Pepper
Art Pepper
1925 - 1982
sax, alto
, Freddie Hubbard
Freddie Hubbard
Freddie Hubbard
1938 - 2008
trumpet
, Woody Shaw
Woody Shaw
Woody Shaw
1944 - 1989
trumpet
, and Dexter Gordon
Dexter Gordon
Dexter Gordon
1923 - 1990
sax, tenor
, to name a few.

An integral part of the jazz legacy and history, Cables is now building a portfolio of albums and concerts as a leader and composer/arranger. He is a revered teacher and a true piano master. But musically, he always comes back to the group experience. When he plays, he listens actively to the other musicians and studies their intent. Cables conveys a feeling of being inside the jazz scene, a personal view that resonates with the music itself.

All About Jazz: We'll start with the desert island question. What recordings would you take to that desert island?

George Cables: I'd take some John Coltrane
John Coltrane
John Coltrane
1926 - 1967
saxophone
. I'd probably take A Love Supreme (Impulse!, 1965). A couple of Miles Davis
Miles Davis
Miles Davis
1926 - 1991
trumpet
records, maybe At Carnegie Hall (Columbia Legacy, 1961) the one with "My Funny Valentine," and "Stella by Starlight." Probably Billie Holiday
Billie Holiday
Billie Holiday
1915 - 1959
vocalist
's Lady in Satin (Columbia, 1958). I haven't mentioned any pianists yet, have I [laughter]?

AAJ: No, you haven't mentioned any pianists!

GC: I wanna go back to Trane again. I'd take his Ballads (Impulse, 1963) recording, which I really love.

AAJ If you were forced to take a piano album, which would you take [laughter]?

GC: Well of course, McCoy Tyner
McCoy Tyner
McCoy Tyner
b.1938
piano
's Inception (Impulse, 1972). And how silly of me, I almost forgot. I would take almost any Art Tatum
Art Tatum
Art Tatum
1909 - 1956
piano
record.

AAJ: I was waiting for that.

Early Life and Coming Up

AAJ: Let's go back to your childhood and adolescence. What were your earliest musical experiences? I know you grew up in New York City, but I'm not sure which neighborhood.

GC: I was born in Brooklyn, in Brooklyn Hospital in 1944, and my first address was 244 Gates Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant. I was there for about seven years. The next address was on Chauncey Street, between Ralph and Howard Avenues. And then my family moved to St. Albans, Queens. I lived there for about ten years.

AAJ: I believe Jackie Robinson lived there.

GC: Yes, he lived in the Addisleigh Park area, as did a lot of musicians: Mercer Ellington
Mercer Ellington
Mercer Ellington
1919 - 1996
trumpet
, Count Basie
Count Basie
Count Basie
1904 - 1984
piano
, Milt Hinton
Milt Hinton
Milt Hinton
1910 - 2000
bass, acoustic
, Brook Benton
Brook Benton
Brook Benton
1931 - 1988
vocalist
, James Brown
James Brown
James Brown
1933 - 2006
vocalist
, Charles McPherson
Charles McPherson
Charles McPherson
b.1939
sax, alto
, and Paul Jeffrey
Paul Jeffrey
Paul Jeffrey
b.1933
also lived in that general vicinity. I think at some point, McCoy Tyner was in Springfield Garden in the area. At that time, however, I didn't know them. Ray Copeland
Ray Copeland
b.1926
lived in Hollis, Queens. And Jackie Byard also lived in Hollis. I remember running into him at a Waldbaum's supermarket pushing his shopping cart! But, by the time I started playing seriously, we had moved to the Laurelton-Springfield Gardens area.

AAJ: So how did you get interested in music?

GC: My mother played the piano. She was an elementary school teacher. She played the piano in the house, and played organ for her church. I remember as a little kid trying to mimic her, reaching up to the keyboard. And that was also how I started to get interested in music in general.

AAJ: Did your parents play music on the radio or records?

GC: TV had replaced radio by then. But I would sometimes listen to pop music, or even classical, which I was studying on piano at the time.

AAJ: How old were you when you started taking formal lessons?

GC: Well, actually in nursery school I had some lessons [laughter]! But then I went to the Little School next door to the Brooklyn Academy of Music. They had piano teachers, and, as I remember, one of them even attempted to teach a little bit of music theory. But it wasn't until later when I went to the High School of Performing Arts that I really got into theory.

AAJ: How did you get your first taste of jazz?

GC: I think it was in a high school class. I had two friends at Performing Arts, Larry and Richie Maldonado, the latter of whom later became Ricardo Ray, the "Piano Ambassador" who worked with Bobby Cruz. And there was a tuba player, Larry Fishkind. These guys were already familiar with jazz, and Larry turned me on to Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
1917 - 1982
piano
's Town Hall Concert recording. Richie gave me some basic instructions in improvising, using the chords and the notes from the scale. Then I picked up the Art Blakey
Art Blakey
Art Blakey
1919 - 1990
drums
Drum Suite record, with Ray Bryant
Ray Bryant
Ray Bryant
1931 - 2011
piano
and Oscar Pettiford
Oscar Pettiford
Oscar Pettiford
1922 - 1960
bass
on one side and the regular Messengers on the other: Jackie McClean, Bill Hardman
Bill Hardman
b.1933
, and Sam Dockery
Sam Dockery
Sam Dockery

piano
. And then there was Dave Brubeck
Dave Brubeck
Dave Brubeck
1920 - 2012
piano
's record Take Five that was accessible to me. So these were basically my first exposures to jazz, when I was in high school between 1958 and 1962.

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