GD: Yes, because that's when you're out there. That's when you're out there and you really start to get your ass kicked and you really start to develop as a player. That's when you learn how to comp as a pianist. I really hope that gigs for younger people happen again, because for me, that's when I felt I really started to develop much more. Again, if you take the extreme like Glasper then that's different, but I was just one of the regular kids. I was just trying to learn this thing so it took a lot of time.
But you need that time. A lot of my students come in and they want to be really good at be-bop by the end of the year and I'm like, "Take your time and let it grow." But I understand that, I remember feeling that way myself.
AAJ: You took numerous gigs throughout your career, is there anything in particular that stands out?
GD: There was a lot. I was playing with Gary Smulyan during my early years. I was playing with someone who was a naturally gifted person. He had photographic memory, he could bop ass off, he digested every Julian "Cannonball" Adderley
and Bird record he ever bought and he went on to become a really successful musician. It was really great for me to play be-bop with him constantly in those early years. I always tried to play kind of like him in my own way and try to capture that energy a little. So he was really wonderful.
I had a gig in Bermuda and Garry Dial and I worked in separate hotels. We used to get together after the gig and play all night. We were in our 20s then and we would take out index cards with ii-V's in every key and play all night long. We made up exercises for each where I would comp and play bass lines and he would solo. The chord changes could go anywhere and he would just have to solo and he would do it for me. We would try to make it sound like bop, except we didn't know the changes we were playing and it was really more about playing by ear.
I had experiences playing with Red Rodney, who is a legend and that was wonderful. I played with Nat Adderley. I played with Nat for a year in Florida and he would tell a story on every show. On every gig he would get up and tell a story.
Red Rodney was wonderful, and I realized it was really about the art of being good and not being different. Rodney's solos weren't that much different, but they were really great. A solo was a work in progress. It was almost like he was working on the same solo every night. I realized that everyone has [his or her] own way of perceiving it. For Miles Davis
, it was about being different and new rather than being good. Although Miles was great, he was willing to take a chance for it to not be good rather than playing "Stella By Starlight" his whole career. Bill Evans on the other hand, played "Stella By Starlight" for 30 years and made it really good. It's a different [philosophy] for different players. Bill Evans played "My Romance" throughout his entire career. I learned a lot of from Red Rodney. Chris Potter
was in the band with Red and I never experienced anything like that kind of playing.
But an outstanding moment for me was playing with Brian Stokes Mitchell, which was not a jazz gig. He was such an outstanding singerhe won a Tony for Broadway- -and he just got this gig at the Lincoln Center. Believe it or not, he heard me during a holiday party; it was like a scene out of a Hollywood movie. We were at a Christmas party and my friend had a piano and he told me to play, so I sat down and I just played for a few hours and no one was really listening. I didn't really know anyone at the party so I didn't really care and I just sat there and played. Eventually a guitarist started playing with me and I didn't think anything of it. A year later Brian Stokes left Broadway and his [regular] pianist was very busy for the gig so he thought about me from that party. He called up my friend Gregory Generet and he called me up and gave me the gig.
So he gave me the gig on the basis of hearing me play during a party. We got together and we really worked well. That was great for me because having done all the gigs I've done in the past really allowed me to be able to play with him because I had to play Broadway style, I had to play jazz, solo piano, I had to play with an orchestra, the Boston Pops, all these different orchestras, and duo. I had to play with him duo in front of 2,000 people; you have to smash that thing up. He wants sound, he wants it big and Broadway.
Suddenly I realized that I acquired skills that not even really great jazz players could do. The benefit of doing a lot of music is that it makes you function well in a variety of commercial settings. There are so many types of music. If you put me on a hip hop gig with Eminem, then they'd probably fire me. So everything has it's own specialty. It was a great time with Stokes and I played with the National Symphony Orchestra in D.C. It was Marvin Hamlisch conducting.
Another great moment was going over to Japan and playing with the Glen Miller Orchestra. We travelled all over Japan and we were really well received. It was really fun to travel and be able to do that. I like gigs that had nice venues.