AAJ: Claude Nobbs is a living legend. What can you tell us about him?
JM: Claude has obviously done so much for the music. He does the work of more than one person. He's done an amazing job with the Montreux Festival although in recent years I didn't care so much for the way he kept infusing more pop music into the festival, to the point where you could almost not call it a jazz festival anymore.
George Wein, who was around even before Claude, about two years ago for the Fiftieth Newport Jazz Festival, he decided to do a pure jazz festival. And when I say pure jazz you know jazz is not a pure music, so Latin jazz, funk jazz, blues, fusion, straight-ahead, everything, but all jazz. And he said that having done that he actually had the most attendance and most revenue of all the fifty years, so he realized that he had done all that other stuff for no real reason.
So if Claude wants to do a music festival and then a separate jazz festival and let them run concurrently that would be great, but let the jazz festival really be a jazz festival. But he does so much. He's easy to criticize but really there is so much to be admired about the work of Claude Nobbs, and he's still doing it.
EY: I really consider George Wein and Claude Nobbs as visionaries as far as the music is concerned, dealing with the concerts. Norman Granz is one of the early guys whom really saw the potential of jazz festivals. His shows that he took around, Jazz at the Philharmonic were like touring festivals and it was great. And one thing led to another and now jazz festivals are all over the world.
These festivals got their concept from these guys, the Claude Nobbs, from the George Weins. And needless to say Claude Nobbs is a real character, though I don't think you can operate something as big as Montreux without making enemies or stepping on somebody's toes you maybe shouldn't step on.
AAJ: This year is the twentieth anniversary of Monteiro, Young and Holt. Do you have any plans to mark the milestone?
JM: We wanted to do a celebration concert but Red Holt doesn't feel comfortable leaving the US anymore. That's just the space he's in and you have to respect that. The group is in hiatus now for sure. I'm here, Eldee comes here often enough but Red doesn't come here at all so I guess the next time we do something will be in the States
AAJ: When you were growing up did the potpourri that is Singapore culture influence you musically?
JM: I think I had a unique experience because my dad, although he was a policeman, he used to moonlight as a Hawaiian guitarist and as a jazz guitarist, playing stuff like Barney Kessel and Herb Ellis so that music was around my house all the time. And he had records of Joe Pass with Oscar Peterson and Ray Brown without drums, and Jimmy Smith.
He played country music too, Floyd Kramer, so all these sounds were around me from a very young age. I was learning classical piano at a young age and once I got good enough he would ask me to jam with him. I guess by the time I was fourteen years old I wanted to be a jazz pianist.
AAJ: Who were your major piano influences?
JM: I guess my favorite piano players have got to be Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett and now Brad MehldauI think the most amazing guy out there is Brad Mehldau because he is able to break all the barriers down between jazz and classical. It's just music. It's just great music. There are jazz elements, there are classical elements, when he swings he swings his butt off. He plays the blues and then he's got all this Schoenberg, Rachmaninoff, Ravel stuff there and it's just great music. And the two-handed approach, being so independent like that.
Another pianist I really loved was Michel Petrucciani who died too young, and the country player Floyd Kramerso many influences over the years. I've always felt I was lucky, I got to listen to who I needed to listen to and I got to hang out with who I needed to hang out with, and get good advice from who I needed to get advice from at the right time for my personal growth as a musician and as a person.
AAJ: Ahmad Jamal played here in Bangkok last night. Was he an influence at all?
JM: To be honest, I love Ahmad Jamal. There's no one who delivers a melody on a piano like Ahmad Jamal.
EY: He opened up some doors. The guy, he was serious! And that combination he had back then with Israel Crosby and Vernell Fournier! They'd sit together like beans and corn-bread, just a perfect match! Ahmad would take his hands off the piano and the music kept going on and on between the bassist, who was rhythmic and melodic at the same time, and the drummer.
About Brad Mehldau, the way you were describing him, it just came to mind that that is really part of a legacy left here from the Duke Ellington days. Duke Ellington didn't want to be known as just a jazz musician, he just wanted music. You don't come to my house for just bread and soup, you come to my house and you're going to get a full meal! And that's what Duke was doing, he was doing music and that's what his concept was. When you heard a Duke concert it was just amazing how many types of things he put together and he wanted you to come to hear his music. Not jazz, just come to hear his music.