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Steve Turre: Still Searchin'

By Published: August 21, 2006
AAJ: One of the songs on The Spirits Up Above is "Dorthaan's Walk," in which Buster Williams' bass line emulates a person walking so effectively. Do you still keep in touch with Kirk's second wife?

ST: Yes, we're friends. She holds a vital position at Newark's jazz radio station, WBGO. I hope she attends one of my tribute shows in August at Dizzy's Club at Lincoln Center.

AAJ: How do you decide on the set list for these shows?

ST: There are plenty of songs to choose from, but I'll stick with about fifteen songs over the course of three sets each night, and I'll throw in a few surprises. My band is good at improvising, if necessary.

AAJ: Who will be accompanying you at the Roland Kirk tribute shows?

ST: Vincent Herring on alto and soprano sax, and flute, Billy Harper on tenor sax, Gerald Cannon on bass, Mulgrew Miller on piano, Dion Parson on drums. I hope to have Dave Valentin guest on the flute for "Serenade to a Cuckoo" and "Bright Moments." And I expect other guests to jump on board to play this challenging music.

AAJ: Sounds like a good time to be had. Steve, you have performed with such a large number of talented musicians—the list is massive. I'll name of some of them, and I'd like you to give me a short phrase about each of them. Let's start with Dizzy Gillespie.

ST: Joyful. Enthusiastic. Made everyone smile with his funny horn

AAJ: Woody Shaw.

ST: A good friend and a top-notch musical genius. He influenced me to find my own voice, and opened me up to harmonic colors and the use of wider intervals

AAJ: McCoy Tyner.

ST: A consummate master of the piano. Ferocious! An integral part of the Coltrane sound.

AAJ: Yusef Lateef.

ST: A big early influence. Drenched in the blues. I love the way he plays the blues.

AAJ: Van Morrison.

ST: I toured with him in the early '70's, but did not play on his recordings He was sensitive, caring, a little shy—a good songwriter. Also explored the roots of the music.

AAJ: Hugh Masekela.

ST: A musician is like a doctor; he should make you feel better. Hugh Masekela is a chief surgeon of the music!

AAJ: Roland Rahsaan Kirk.


AAJ: Tito Puente.

ST: Exciting and compelling.

AAJ: Herbie Hancock.

ST: He can make you a better musician. He's a good listener; in order to play well, you must first learn to listen.

AAJ: Britt Woodman.

ST: Duke Ellington's trombonist—need I say more?

AAJ: J.J. Johnson.

ST: The Grand Master of the Trombone! I played at his funeral in Indianapolis.

AAJ: Pharoah Sanders.

ST: A spiritual force. His playing was feeling transcending technique.

AAJ: Ray Charles.

ST: Pure genius in all styles of music. A smart businessman too.

AAJ: Cassandra Wilson.

ST: Offbeat. Takes the crooked road to uniquely interpret songs.

AAJ: Regina Carter.

ST: At the forefront of her instrument. Wraps traditional and modern styles together seamlessly.

AAJ: Vincent Herring.

ST: One of the fine young tenor titans. Hard-working, and knows the music. Keeps it alive.

AAJ: The list goes on and on and on. Anyone else you care to comment about?

ST: I've been blessed with such good company. I guess birds of a feather flock together. Jon Faddis is a dear friend and a wonderful composer. I played on a record with Carlos Santana a million years ago, called Caravanserai (Columbia/Legacy, 1972), which was fun. Mongo Santamaria showed great passion in his music. One of the biggest influences on my Latin style was Manny O'Quendo. I played in his band called Conjunto Libre, which had four trombones, and it was exciting, explosive music. He was a great mentor. He played the bongos, timbales, and anything else he could get his talented hands on. First-rate! I played with B.B.King at Japan's Mt. Fuji festival—that was fun. There is a great camaraderie amongst us musicians.

AAJ: You have been on Saturday Night Live for over twenty years, and still going strong. What has that meant to you?

ST: For me, it's been an economic stabilizer. Helped me buy my home in Montclair, and it looks great on my resume. The rehearsals are long and arduous, but we have fun. The band is a good group musicians; very soulful.

AAJ: Any favorite guests on the show?

ST: To be honest with you, we're so busy planning and executing our arrangements, we don't pay much attention to the skits and guests. But over the years, I've met some that I liked. Dolly Parton was so genuinely nice. I liked Willie Nelson, Patrick Stewart and the rock band, U2—they are very talented.

AAJ: You work with SNL about half the year, and when that ends, you travel to various jazz festivals all over the world. Do you like the travel pace?

ST: I have gotten used to it. And mostly, I do enjoy different places, different cultures—the people overseas give us a warm reception, and are very knowledgeable about the music. I love the food in Italy! AAJ: Any favorite places?

ST: Last year, I visited Moscow for the first time, that was cool. One of my favorite places is Cuba; it is so exotic, the people are friendly, and it is so quaint. There are some wonderful musicians there. I am touring throughout Europe with McCoy Tyner this summer.

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