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Interviews

Mark Weinstein: Cuban Roots

By Published: December 22, 2005

AAJ: Julito Collazo gave his permission for the drummers to play the rhythms for the toques de santos in a secular/commercial setting. For the benefit of those who may not have a knowledge of the religion, could you comment on toques de santos?

MW: These are the songs and rhythms that are played for the Orishas in the Santeria religion. When I first brought the project to Tommy [Lopez] and he heard I was playing the melody for Chango he packed up his drums and left. But Julito was a santero and when he said it was OK, Tommy was thrilled to get a chance to play with him. But they played on dance band drums not the blessed drums that were used for religious purposes.

AAJ: And the end result?

MW: The album is incredibly raw, the sound bordering on ugly but the playing is amazing. I don't know how much influence the record had, but Chick [Corea] was playing in a style unheard of at the time, although I hear a lot of that freedom in the generation of piano players that came up in the 80's. When I listen to early Paquito [D'Rivera] and the way sax players play today I can only say Arnie [Lawrence] did it in 1967. I'm not sure how much of an influence I had on trombone players, but to this day whenever I meet a Latin trombonist he treats me with a lot of respect. The drums were and are a unique powerhouse. The swing is enormous; no trap drums, no timbales, no cymbals, just the real deal.

AAJ: As I understand it, only 500 copies were printed.

MW: I believe that was the number. I never received any royalty statement. Although I got paid for the date as a leader and arranger. Those were the days.

AAJ: Cuban Roots was quite progressive for its time. How was the recording received?

MW: The album received almost no air play. Billy Taylor played a few cuts once or twice [on the radio]. But worse, the musicians who I respected the most seemed unimpressed. That was a big part of my leaving the business and becoming a college professor. In 1976 Larry Harlow asked me if I had a sealed copy and it became the basis for the Artol Records release which was the version that most musicians heard. Sadly the master had a skip right at the beginning of Chick's solo.

AAJ: Did you ever imagine that you would return to the music scene?

MW: I only really stopped playing from 1971 to 1974. I tried to get back on the scene with Orisha Suite in 1977 Although I'm proud of the music which is finally available on the CD of Cuban Roots in 1976, I had a lot to learn as a flautist. I scuffled as an academic for 10 years teaching part-time and doing consultant work because full-time college teaching jobs in NY are too hard to get and I wasn't about to leave town. I did a lot of playing with street bands in the '80s and jammed a lot with guitar players. I love playing in the street and in parks. I studied here and there and put in hours and hours every day playing with Jamey Aebersold records. When I finally got a tenure track job at Montclair State University I started self-producing records and did a lot a small gigs in New Jersey and in town.

Algo Más is my eighth CD on flute. Of course to get tenure I had to put in time and energy. Teaching and publishing takes a lot of time and energy and since I don't have to make a living at music I play much less than I'd like to. I'm a lot like the Maytag man, the loneliest guy in town. I'll know I'm back on the scene when the gigs start happening.

AAJ: Prior to Cuban Roots, none of the musicians had played jazz with folkloric rhythms...

MW: No one to my knowledge had ever done that before except for some short sections on some Machito records. When Herbie Mann died I saw in his discography that he made an early record with African drums, but I didn't know about it at the time. Chick had never even heard drumming like that and Bobby was a salsero, unfamiliar with rumba. That gave them the freedom to respond outside the box and not interfere with the complex counterpoint of the drums. Arnie, like myself, considered himself a free jazz player and so, to us, having all of that power and complexity to play with was sheer pleasure. Although I played free, I did know the tradition and tried to play like a sonero. I was also influenced by a Cuban trumpet player, La Florecita who was famous for his playing with drum and voice ensembles in the Carnaval in Havana.

AAJ: I understand that trombonist Barry Rogers was an invited guest, however, he failed to participate. I can't help but imagine how the recording might have turned out had he been a participant.

MW: I originally wanted two bones and alto. I played some of the basic harmonic sketches for Barry and he said that it was my baby. It would have been a very different album with Barry. He never would have put up with the awful recording conditions or the unconcern for the sound. I was not even invited to the mix. But then Musicor might have killed the whole thing. I would have loved to make a record with Barry. And I think he is one of the few people who would have understood what I was doing with Algo Más. But more of that later.



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