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Interviews

Steve Nelson: Vibing

By Published: August 1, 2006
AAJ: Okay, Darryl and Duane, who were promoters at the time.

SN: Yeah, in the original Horizon.

AAJ: Is that where you first met Mulgrew [Miller] also?

SN: Mulgrew and I actually met a little later, even though I had known about him. We met a little later, but actually it was through Rutgers, too, in a sense, because we met through Bill Fielder, who knows Mulgrew very well. He actually brought Mulgrew up to Rutgers one day and we played all day, man, and that was it. From the first time that we played together it was magic, man, and we've been playing together ever since. We immediately hooked up musically; we synced so perfectly that I knew that we were going to be playing together for a long time. So, that's how I originally met Mulgrew—I can still remember that same day, actually, but even then the years go by and you forget how things came about and how they developed and everything, but eventually Wingspan came about and we've been doing it ever since. But that's how I met him through William Fielder.

AAJ: Who else were you playing with when you first came to the New York area?

SN: I was thinking about Donald Brown, as well. There was a period there where I was recording more with Donald than anybody else. I think I've did about five records with him, so I was always doing a project or something with Donald and that was really one of my main recording experiences was with him. All through those records Early Bird (Sunnyside, 1987), Cause and Effect (Muse, 1991)—I think there's one called Cartunes (Muse, 1993); there's one we did with Alan Dawson called, I think The Sweetest Sounds (Jazz City, 1988). You know, I did a lot of recording stuff with Donald.

AAJ: How did you meet Donald? Did you meet him through Mulgrew?

SN: I actually think I met Donald through James [Williams] and that's why I wanted to discuss James, too. All during that period there, I guess it was the period around the eighties, mid-to-late eighties, I did a lot of playing with Donald and also with James, who I think introduced me to Donald. You know, all up in Boston, mostly, at those clubs The Willow, Sculler's and those kind of clubs and James used to play gigs up there all the time and call me for them and he and I and Alan Dawson did a lot of those gigs and John Lockwood would do them. I think that's where I first met Antonio Hart; it was up there, up in Boston he came and did one of those gigs with us. That was a whole network in itself because I had met James and James introduced me to Donald. Then I met Billy Pierce up there and Lockwood and [Bill] Mobley and all of those guys. So the whole relationship with James was real important because I met a lot of cats and played a lot of great music.

James had written a lot of great tunes that we played, so I actually wanted to make sure I said something about that. That was before the I.C.U. thing that he had started. That was all just before that. After that I think he got kind of busy with that band, so I didn't play with him as much, but before that played with James quite a bit. And Donald as well, doing things on the road; go up to Claremont Farond and play. We'd do quite a lot of stuff together. So those two cats, Donald and James, were definitely important cats along the way.

AAJ: They're both great writers, too.

SN: Absolutely!

AAJ: So you got to play some music you hadn't played before while playing with them.

SN: Play a ton of music I hadn't played before. They had very large books, man, they both were cats that were always writing music and their books were thick [laughs] with tunes. So, that was a great thing.

AAJ: Did you consider yourself to be a good reader before that or did you have to get your reading chops together for their bands?

SN: Oh no, I'm still a terrible reader to this day, so it was a little tough, but it was much more easy for me because I knew those cats' playing so well, so it made it easy to play the music because I knew their style so well, so it wasn't quite as difficult to sight read because I kind of knew where they were going and I knew what their style of writing was, so it wasn't quite as tough. But some of the things were pretty tricky; I had to work on them. It was a challenge, in a good way, because I had to put some time in on some of those things. Both James and Donald wrote some great music. So that was all during the eighties. Actually, I met Geoff Keezer through James Williams and I did with Keezer, too, around that period. I think I did three or four CDs with Geoff. So then what else?

I think a little before that—I had always wanted to play with Jackie McLean—he was on my list, man, of players I had wanted to play with so bad and I had never gotten to play with and I must have put some positive energy out there 'cause lo and behold one day I got the call to do his date. So that was one of the greatest experiences for me—to do that.

AAJ: That was the Rhythm Of The Earth (Antilles, 1992) record.

SN: Yeah, Rhythm Of The Earth, yeah, with Steve Davis and the guys. So that was just a tremendous experience for me just to be hanging out with Jackie at the rehearsals and stuff and to do that date, so that was also ...


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