A Fireside Chat with Kenny Garrett
“ ...I played with Sting and I played with Guru and I played with Q-Tip, but I also played with the legends of music like Woody Shaw, Freddie Hubbard, and Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers. I have always loved all kinds of music. ”
Once upon a time, Miles Davis recorded Live Around the World, including a catchy version of 'Human Nature.' An unknown Kenny Garrett, all of twenty-eight at the time, was featured on alto. Garrett didn't remain unknown long, recording Introducing Kenny Garrett with Woody Shaw and becoming 'the' alto player with a trio of critically acclaimed releases, Triology, Pursuance, and Songbook. But Garrett soon ran out of favor with the old guard who received his next two releases with less than a lukewarm reaction. Pity, since Garrett still remained one hell of an alto player, which he proves once more on his latest release, Standard of Language. Folks, Kenny Garrett, returned from the critical abyss of being typecast as 'smooth' anything, unedited and in his own words.
FRED JUNG: Let's start from the beginning.
KENNY GARRETT: My father played tenor saxophone, so there was always a saxophone around the house. He actually bought me my first alto saxophone and I remember it vividly because it had bullet holes that had been soldered and I wasn't sure where he got that horn from, but I didn't care. I just wanted to play it. And he taught me a scale and kind of sent me off.
FJ: Perhaps not so much now, but earlier in your career, Kenny Garrett wasn't mentioned without a Miles Davis reference.
KG: I was in Miles' band for about five years. I think that tag will always be there. That is five years of my life. That's the only musical situation that I was there longer than a year. It was a good five years. I have gotten used to that. Some people became aware of me through Miles and then they would come to my concerts. I think that is part of my history and I am proud of that. I am still trying to carve out my own name and my own music. I just look at it as a part of history and it is going to be there. Every time they mention Kenny Garrett, there will probably be some association with Miles Davis, but at the same time, when they mention Herbie Hancock, they always mention Miles Davis, or Wayne Shorter. You get used to it after a while.
FJ: I don't want to buck the trend. In the Kenny Garrett dictionary, what is the definition of Miles Davis?
KG: He is basically this person who did what he wanted to do musically. He was just being defiant about what he believed in and I think during that time, no one was doing that. He was pretty adamant that that is what he wanted to do regardless of what people said. I remember one time, playing in Hawaii and the electricity went out and Miles started playing ''Round Midnight' and everybody was excited. I was excited too because I was waiting for him to get to the bridge so I could jump in (laughing), but the thing is that is what people remembered and that is what they want to hear sometimes. I digressed a little bit, but sometimes I think we are all guilty of trying to hold a person in one place. I was guilty of that too. One of my favorite singers is Whitney Houston and remember she came out with a kind of hip-hop record and I was like, 'Whitney, why you doing that?' Well, she has to change just like everybody else, but we want to hold her to that image and that sound. I think that is why I am a little more relaxed about letting people have their opinion. Some people might want to hear me when I was with Miles Davis. Some people might want to hear me with Art Blakey. Some people might like the way I played with Woody Shaw. That is all fine. It is all a growing stage. I just figure where I am at now is where I am supposed to be and that is what I do.
FJ: African Exchange Student was a nice coming out. It featured your composition, 'Shaw,' written I suppose for the late Woody Shaw.