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Greg Osby: Q & A

By Published: February 28, 2003

AAJ: It seemed to work ' at least for the core group that became M-Base.

GO: Yeah, a lot of people dropped out quickly, but those who stuck around started to get together and write tunes and play them as a group and talk about new concepts ' writing using different meters, different harmonic structures and progressions, incorporating elements of other styles. Finally we gave it the name M-Base so people would know what we were referring to. It was a catchy acronym. The music industry didn't take us seriously, but we started putting together recordings and shopping 'em to labels and getting some press coverage. So through perseverance, things began to change. It became a pool of like-minded musicians who were all willing to contribute their talents to each other's projects. Myself, Steve, Gary, Geri Allen, Robin Eubanks, Cassandra Wilson and a bunch of others were into it.

AAJ: Is M-Base still active?

GO: Steve is still pretty active in it, and there's still a Web site. But over the years, as many of the people in it became leaders of their own groups, it's been more difficult to get together ' except in smaller groups and one-on-ones. Back then, most of us lived within earshot of each other in the same neighborhood in Brooklyn. But I still hear shards of the M-Base influence in everyone's music. And wherever I go around the earth ' Germany, Japan, Turkey ' I hear musicians who have taken our recordings, transcribed things and analyzed them and are using those same processes in their own compositions.

AAJ: You've been recording for Blue Note for a dozen years, and the relationship seems to be still going strong.

GO: It's been great, because Bruce Lundvall, who heads up the label, lets me go in the musical directions I want to go. And he's defended me and kept me on the label when others more concerned with the bottom line have pushed to get rid of me. And I think it's a relationship that has paid off for both of us over the years.

AAJ: You've become something of a mentor to younger musicians over the past few years, bringing young, talented musicians into your band and helping them develop ' guys like Jason Moran.

GO: Yeah, too many musicians stick in the comfort zone of their own age group ' their peers. But I try and find young talent and cultivate it ' lend my expertise and get them pointed in the right direction. We really need that mentorship, that hands-on approach. And finding young musicians is an on-going process. This current tour will be the last few dates for Jason with the group ' he's gotten such notoriety and has so much activity with his own group. He's been in my group for six years, and it's time. You have to let people go. I was lucky to get him when he was a complete unknown ' now it's time to test the waters with another new group of unknowns.

AAJ: You have a couple of other new musicians in the band on this tour as well, don't you?

GO: Yes, Damion Reid on drums from Los Angeles, and Matt Brewer on bass. They're both in their early 20s. It's a changing of the guard. On this tour I'll be giving them a bit of rope ' not enough so they hang themselves but enough to hopefully wield their talent and develop and have a gainful run in the group. And I'll be out scouting for a pianist after this tour.

AAJ: How do you go about finding musicians for your group?

GO: I get recommendations from musicians I respect and people send me CDs. Then I go check out these guys anonymously ' sitting in the back of the club ' and see what they can do. I've made mistakes and hired great musicians sight unseen who didn't fit into what I do. Musically, I'm unorthodox, and I also have my own value system that has to be addressed, discussed and understood in order for people to flourish within the parameters of the music. There have been various train wrecks over the years, so now I know better ' I get with people before and counsel them.

AAJ: Actually, you hired Jason Moran without hearing him play, didn't you?

GO: That's true, but he actually fits my hiring approach, because although I hired him without hearing him, he came highly recommended by my drummer at the time, Eric Harland. And Jason and I had a marathon telephone conversation, and by his references to pianists like Fats Waller, Art Tatum, Herbie Nichols, Andrew Hill, Duke Ellington, Jaki Byard, instead of the usual 'big three' people in his age group ' McCoy Tyner, Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett. I thought if he's one-hundredth as good as the game he's talking, everything will be fine. I took him out on a two-month tour, heard him play for the first time on stage in Vienna, Austria, and was blown away.

AAJ: What new projects are you working on?

GO: I'm in the studio at the end of January recording a new album. It's going to be unusual for me, because there won't be any of my own compositions on it. I'm going to do rearrangements of tunes with St. Louis themes ' St. Louis Blues,' 'East St. Louis Toodle-oo,' things from the 1920s and '30s. It will be evocative of that era, but with a different spin ' a sound that's very, very contemporary. Since we'll be fresh from the studio, we'll probably play some of that material on this tour.

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