Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey: Three-Way Street
RM: No, we care nothing about genre, and yes, we consider ourselves a jazz band. To me, all my jazz heroeswell, not all, but the top ten: they didn't care about genre either. Ellington did not care about genre. Louis didn't care when everybody was calling him a sellout for singing pop songs in the early thirties. 'Trane didn't care when he played "My Favorite Things and everyone said he sold out then. I think genre is a silly roadblock. But I think we're firmly in the jazz tradition. I'm biased, but that's what I think.
JS: If you're going to be closed to all change in jazz, all the harmonic and rhythmic changesif it stays the same too long, it's going to be dead music like classical.
AAJ: Repertory music.
BH: That's why we play some repertory music, like the Mingus one. The Mingus is a very jazzy moment. He's such an underrated composer. Good grief; all you have to do is learn the tune and then Mingus comes down and plays it for you! He's discounted all the time! Years ago, I remember a couple mags did articles on jazz composition throughout the ages and sometimes he wasn't even mentioned.
AAJ: Well, it's Mingus and Ellington, isn't it? The two big guys for composition.
RM: Those are the guys. For large ensemble especially. As for "Halliburton Breakdown I definitely wrote that after being newly slayed afresh by some of the Bird and Dizzy recordings. The really early ones, where their unison stuff is like a bolt of lightning; it's ridiculous. So the head definitely came from that, and the goal for the improvising came from Miles' biography. There are eighty pages where all he talks about is Bird, and at one point he says, "the best I ever heard that guy is before he was recorded, in '43, '44. He said he would have people jumping up and down on tables screaming "hallelujah, but he never played longer than sixteen bars! He was in the Earl Hines band. His solos were sixteen bars maximum, and the house would be completely demolished at the end of those sixteen bars. So my idea was, okay, let's try to do that, keep all the solos short, keep the table going around and try to make a very succinct statement. Now, live, it has opened up and we do play a little longer. But on the record it was sort of trading sixteens, trading thirty-twos, something like that.
AAJ: There's not really a long tune on this record. There's no "Walking With Giants. "Santiago is really shorttwo-and-a-half minutes.
RM: "Santiago actually got abridged for the record, which I'm a little bummed about. When we were rehearsing that tune, we played Joel all of our contenders the day before going into the studio, and discussed them. On that one, he really liked the A section but didn't like the bridge as much. That bridge is half the song, because in the initial statement, you state the A theme, state the B theme, restate the A theme and then you begin improvising. You improvise on the A theme until it developsthen, tempo change, improvise on the B theme for almost as long, if not longer. Then recapitulate to the A theme. So if you take that A theme out, there's not much left! I like the stuff on the record but that tune has a lot more of a cinematic, epic quality in its original state. And that's how we play it live.
AAJ: You stuck that section back in?
RM: Yeah. And when we were recording it, I was the composer; I could have put my foot down. But I was thinking, "why the heck did we get a producer anyway, if we're not going to trust his objective judgment? So I took a chance and went for what he suggested.
JS: Including the song order. He came up with an order that would have been completely out of our tendencies. We probably would have started with something like "Halliburton or something like that. He came up with a pretty interesting lineup that eases you into it, which is kind of from a more mature, made-about-a-million-records point of view.
BH: Joel did that? I thought [executive producer Kevin] Calabro did the whole order.
RM: They did it together. They sat down in the office and figured it out.
AAJ: I really love the tune "Wonderful on this recordyour version of the Brian Wilson song. That's yet another of my all-time favorite songs that you managed to choose to cover.
RM: You actually knew that?