Greetings to all of you Wide-Open Jazz and Beyond readers. I've just returned from a one month European tour with the great funk trombonist Fred Wesley of James Brown fame (who I'll write about in a future article). We played many of the summer festivals including the world-famous Montreaux Jazz Festival. As I was roaming the halls in the backstage area I ran into an old friend of mine that I hadn't seen in a while, the incredible saxophonist Kenny Garrett. We greeted warmly but unfortunately had no time to talk, as he and his band were just about to go on stage. I had a little time before my set was to begin so I decided to stay and hear his new band. Man did they smoke the house down. From the very first note you knew they had really come to play. They were definitely taking no prisoners that night. I was thrilled to hear Kenny sounding so great. When we first started playing together over 15 years ago I knew that Kenny was destined to do great things and make a highly respected name for himself in the jazz world.
We first met in New York City in the mid-80's when we were both hired to play some gigs with the great Japanese bassist Kiyoto Fujiwara. We had both been in New York a few years already and had both come from the Midwest, Kenny from Detroit and I from Racine, Wisconsin. This was of course before Kenny got the gig with Miles Davis and even before he got the gig with OTB (Out Of The Blue) where he first started making a name for himself. He was just another great struggling saxophonist on the New York scene. He used to come over to my house and rehearse and what I remember the most about Kenny from this time was his curiosity. He was constantly asking questions about what I was doing harmonically or he would want me to show him some hip voicing that I was using (he's a good pianist as well) or he would want me to show him some unusual scale to improvise with. And whatever I would show him he would immediately incorporate it into his playing. He was amazingly fast and creative with whatever he learned.
We recorded three very cool albums together with Kiyoto Fujiwara's Manhattan Graffiti band, all of which have unfortunately gone out of print and we also toured a couple of times in Japan together. Like me, Kenny is very fascinated by the Japanese culture (I've been over there about 40 times now) and unlike me he speaks Japanese very well. We used to try and speak together in Japanese, which was pretty funny. Soon after we recorded our third album in 1993, Kenny began to get a lot more famous and he needed a lot more money to go on tour with the band (you know when those lawyers and managers get involved the price starts to go way up). The great Thomas Chapin, who I wrote about a couple of months ago, replaced Kenny.
Kenny Garrett is an amazingly talented musician who plays equally phenomenal in a wide variety of styles, from straight-ahead to funky to avant-garde. Check out any of his great recordings on the Warner Bros. label, they're all worth owning. And don't forget to go out and support live music, Kenny is something else to hear in person. See you next month.