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District Jazz

Joe McCarthy & The Afro-Bop Alliance

By Published: June 8, 2004

AAJ: He’s one of the most in-demand session players around DC and Baltimore.

JM: Yeah he plays everywhere; on a lot of recordings. He’s actually written a lot of music and we’re exploring some of his stuff right now to try and work that in. The recording we did...we wanted the first one to be really strong so we used stuff that we knew was strong.

AAJ: You have some very distinguished guests of this genre on the record. Namely Arturo O’Farrill, Ray Vega.

JM: Well yeah, that’s kind of a very interesting story. When Felix went to the Smithsonian Jazz Café and gave Randall Kremer, the guy who’s in charge there, a copy of our demo CD he called me and he really liked the disc. He wanted us to come in and play there a couple of times. He decided that last summer was gonna be like a Latin jazz summer. And he wanted to bring in three heavyweights. And Randall is very friendly with a woman named Laura Hartman, who is Ray Vega’s manager. And at that time she was also managing Arturo. So we had Ray come down and Arturo seemed to be interested too and I had gotten some music from Michael Mossman for the band and I asked him if he wanted to play and he said sure, he’d love it. So each time we would play, word would get back to other musicians that our band was great. That lead to Dave Samuels guesting with us. Ray was playing in his band at that time and so I guess he told him about us and so he wanted to come play. So a lot of that stuff just kinda fell together and we really owe a lot to the people at the Smithsonian. They opened the door for us and a lot of people heard us there.

AAJ: You had the classical training to play vibes and marimba but you also are an exceptional set player. Is it possible in this music to be both a set player like ‘El Negro’ and a vibes player like Samuels? Or do you have to make the choice?

JM: That’s a good question because I had made a decision a while back (after seeing guys like Dave Samuels and Gary Burton and other who play at that level) that as far as the keyboard playing, I was gonna only take that as far as my classical training because I knew that to really master it, I would need another lifetime. I mean, Ed Fast, is a very good vibes player and a very good drum set player. I decided after getting’ into the military and having to make a living playing classical music that I wasn’t gonna have enough time to play well enough on both of ‘em to satisfy myself. So I let the experts handle the mallets. I mean, I can play fine in a classical or band setting, and I do work out a lot of things at the piano, but I still need another two lifetimes just to get the drum set together.

AAJ: The last thing that I personally find both hilarious and a total drag is that you guys had to change the name of your band very recently.

JM: Without going into too much detail, basically, I picked a name for the band that was previously occupied by a record company on the West Coast – Cubop. And I was advised that it would probably be a smarter move in the long run to come up with a new name. We decided to come up with a name that still encompassed the same vibe but was definitely unique. And behold: Afro-Bop – obviously a combination of the Latin and the jazz; and the ‘Alliance’ thing just being a group of guys committed to make something happen musically. Since the record was supposed to be a springboard for the group, we started with a clean slate. Granted, it’s a harder name to remember – longer name.

AAJ: A-A-B-A. Song form just without the second ‘A’.

JM: That’s right. Or ABBA. Without the other B. ( both crack up )


To find out more about Afro-Bop Alliance, visit their website which is curiously still www.cubop.com .



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