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Interviews

The Frank & Joe Show: Looking for a Long, Happy Run

By Published: May 30, 2004
AAJ: Joe, you don’t use the standard drum set at all in this group.

Joe: Not in this ensemble. We were doing something one day and ironically enough, there wasn’t the standard kit available to us. So I took the djembe and we started using that. And because it’s a thinner goatskin head, it sounded great with the brushes, but it wasn’t a true snare to get in the way of Frank’s playing. It blended well. I used to take the snare drum sometimes and drop the snares and play it with my fingers. But you’re trying to play a hand drum using the snare drum. But this drum [djembe], that is a hand drum. So it became versatile. So whereas with a snare drum you play brushes and try to play hand drums, this is a hand drum, but it wasn’t like I tried to play brushes. It sounds really good.

Frank: He’s really got the whole thing going. He’s got the djembe here, kind of like a snare drum. He’s got bongos over here, kind of like the tom-tom. You have your Turkish ride cymbal. The clave pedal on the left foot. Something on the right foot.

Joe: Occasionally the tambourine, just a color to utilize. But there are more sounds. Even on one of Frank’s records years ago there was a tune we did that let it happen.

Frank: Actually, a couple of tunes on that record.

Joe: Yeah. There was no drum set years ago. It was bongo, shaker, triangle. Natural.

Frank: I’m sort of bummed out you’re not going to see the other percussionist, because he’s a body builder. During the show we feature him. He does a couple of (body-building) poses. [laughter] It’s hysterical.

Joe: And he’s a salsa dancer. He’s a professional teacher. He gets a groove going, he’ll get someone up on stage and dance with them.

Frank: And then Ken Smith. I think he’s one of the greatest young guitar players ever, if not the greatest. He has a law exam today. He loves to learn and he loves to read. He’s not even 30, or maybe just turned 30. He has a master’s in sociology. He has a bachelor’s in jazz performance. He just finished his first year of law school today. He’s on the train to Poughkeepsie. His brother’s picking him up to get him here by 7:45 [for an 8 p.m. hit].

Joe: His colors and textures are just... It’s like what Andy Summers did for the Police. He just fills it in. Like a bowl of cereal, you pour that milk in...

Frank: And Gary Mazzaroppi, one of the great bass players. He’s played with every great guitarist there is. It’s a good band.

AAJ: Is this show something you constantly revise if a tune comes to you, or do you kind of stick to a format?

Frank: Every time we play, we have a sound check or whatever you want to call it. Rehearsal. And each time, I try to try something new, whether it’s a groove, or whether it’s a whole tune that I have, or whether it’s Tom Jones’ “Delilah.” Not that we’ll ever perform it, but what it does is open up the way to say, “Hey, that works.” Like you were saying before, things either stick or don’t stick. So, we’re always looking for new material. But at the same time, we realize we have some chestnuts that we really enjoy playing and we know it’s going to feel good and sound good, so you would never abandon the top material. But at the same time, always looking for new. A few weeks ago we started this thing with an odd time signature, 7/4 instead of 4/4. After a couple times of that, now we came back with a melody to it. Then we add some vocals to it. It’s starting to shape up. So we’re always exploring.

Joe: It’s a work in progress. I equate it to: If you climbed Mount Everest the last 15 or 20 years. Climbing it now with this project, that’s hitting a plateau. Now you’re up there. Now you want to spend a good chunk of time once we’re there. Put the pole in, the flagpole. We’ve arrived. Now let’s explore what this is. So we’re always checking things out and exploring.

AAJ: You’re not afraid to go after pop tunes if you like them.

Frank and Joe: Oh, nooo.

Joe: A great melody is a great melody.

Frank: There’s a new one we’re going to play tonight called “The Bowling Song.”

AAJ: I’m sure you guys know you can get vilified for playing pop tunes.

Joe: That’s OK. That’s alright.

Frank: I think by the jazz press, sometimes.

AAJ: The big discussion now is the Bad Plus because they play some other stuff.

Frank: You know what? The Bad Plus is out there touring all over the place for 80,000 record-buying fans.

AAJ: And they’re far from the first ones to ever do that. For some reason, they’ve stirred up the debate.

Joe: Whenever there’s a rebel, they’re gonna stir things

Frank: That’s a great trio too. They’ve got a great sound. They put on a real good show, I think. I think it’s pretty good. I think it’s pretty cool and, you know, I think it’s also — they have a band. And whenever you have a band, as opposed to just jazz musicians getting together for a couple of weeks a year, I think you’re going to develop a unique sound and unique material, and that’s going to open you up to all kinds of criticism. A lot of it will be really positive, and then a portion of it being negative. The same as if we were to do a Django Reinhardt tribute band. We would have a lot of it being positive, and a portion of it saying, “Geez, it would be nice to see them expand and maybe try a ’70s tune.” You can’t really win, you’ve just got to be honest.

Joe: Enjoy the journey.

Frank: Because for tunes that aren’t normally associated with jazz playing, [they work] if you play them honestly, and it really does feel right, instead of trying to do something because you think it will give you broader appeal. That never works. One of my records is like that. Just very poor production. I was trying to do something that really wasn’t happening. [laughter] Thinking you can market it anyway because it’s “this.”


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