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George Wein: A Life in Music

By Published: March 28, 2006
AAJ: Yeah, I love when you say that, about when you hit that B flat, that note, whatever it was?

GW: And he says, "bravo .

AAJ: He says, "bravo, that's a great story.

GW: Absolutely.

AAJ: Thinking of some of the people you've played with from the early years of jazz, you know, you're now one of those who went through that transition from swing to bop. There are not too many of you guys around anymore; I'm talking to you now as a player.

GW: I still don't play bop, but I can play with the boppers if I have to. I don't play bop myself, but you know, I can rhythmically and harmonically stay with them, which I couldn't do a few years ago. It's just that I love music and I listen for artistry in musicians and I don't care about styles. I mean if a man is an artist, he conveys it through his playing. Unfortunately, so many of the kids playing today are not artists, they are students, and they come out of music school and hey, it sounds like they come out of music schools and it's very difficult because nobody plays with that wonderful, that subtle swing—that swing that Duke and the great bands had.

AAJ: Do you think it's disappeared completely or?

GW: I think it's more or less disappeared except with people playing revival music, you know. And the young players do not know how to swing. They don't feel the music that way and when I say swing, I put that in quotes, because they swing in their own way.

AAJ: Yeah, right.

GW: Everybody can swing; rock 'n' roll swings, you know. Fusion jazz swings, but I'm talking about that subtle swing that defines the so called swing era, it's disappeared.

AAJ: Yes, except like you say for revivalists or repertory jazz orchestras.

GW: Yeah, Wynton Marsalis is trying to keep it alive over there, but his young players, they do it, but they are not comfortable with it. When they go to a jam session, they don't play that way.

AAJ: But, there are guys like [tenor saxophonist] Harry Allen and guitarist Joe Cohn who have a group that swings, in your sense of the word.

GW: Oh, it's a wonderful swinging group. Harry Allen is great. He is a very underrated tenor saxophone.

AAJ: Who else do you think is underrated these days among younger players you've heard?

GW: I always thought Warren Vaché was a great, underappreciated talent. And [trumpeter/composer] Randy Sandke is becoming a force in the music world, you know. A lot of the modernists are picking up on Randy because he's working both ends of the street, and he is reaching out to a lot of people.

AAJ: There are quite a few players like that out there, like Greg Cohen on bass.

GW: Oh, he is wonderful, he plays with you know ....

AAJ: He plays with everybody from John Zorn and Ornette Coleman to Kenny Davern and Tom Waits, and all the trad jazz and swinging guys too.

GW: And Greg agreed to play with me at Feinstein's, he said it's an honor, but he can't, he is going to Japan with Ornette. So Jay Leonhart is doing the gig.

AAJ: Well, Greg is the kind of guy who does it all. Another one that I like in that same way is [multi-reed and brass player] Scott Robinson.

GW: Scott is brilliant, he is just brilliant. He plays with everybody and he also plays everything. Greg and Scott, and Randy, they are steeped in the total music, the ecology of the music. They are steeped in the traditions and learning all the time, new things, you know. But the best young player, relatively young, who can go both ways, is [trumpeter] Nicholas Payton. He is powerful. He has got the power of the old musicians and can play Armstrong feelings and play and improvise naturally in an Armstrong mode and then, go and play with Elvin Jones, it makes no difference.

AAJ: Yeah, he even does some things where he works in the hip-hop format.

GW: Well, that's very sad, I'm sorry.

AAJ: Roy Hargrove has done a couple of those things too, has his own hip-hop, funk band, RH Factor. I think of Roy the same way you think of Nicholas Payton, the guy that can really play it all, go both ways.

GW: He is a beautiful musician, Roy Hargrove. He plays ballads beautifully and he has got sensitivity towards playing. These kids are good. They just don't always know what to play. They went into music to make a living and they are trying different things to make a living. And I hope something works for them. They are all doing fairly well, you know.

AAJ: What about younger piano players? Who do you like?

GW: There are so many good young piano players out there. I mean you've got people like Bill Charlap and Brad Mehldau who are fantastic players. And you've got Jason Moran and you've got Ethan Iverson with The Bad Plus. You have got a Cyrus Chestnut I mean we can go on and on and on about the piano players, you know, Eric Reed, I mean they all can play.

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