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Greg Adams: Cool to the Touch

By Published: June 21, 2007
AAJ: You employed some great musicians on this project, on the track, "Felix the Cat, you had a horn section that included some of the best sax players. I think that was a very fresh idea.

GA: Whenever I write arrangements I have always used a lot of trumpets, trombones and saxophones, it is my signature sound. After I left Tower Of Power I basically took that sound with me because I don't write arrangements for Tower Of Power anymore. I thought it would be kind of hip if we used five saxophones in contrast to the trumpet. So I just threw it out there and asked these people who I have known for years, if they were game and interested in coming into the studio and doing it. So I got Eric Marienthal, Boney James, Richard Elliot, Mindi Abair and my saxophonist Johnnie Bamont. We had a saxophone quintet—two altos, two tenors and a baritone—and it was like a big band setup for the saxophone section of a big band.

A lot of people ask me if they did their parts separate or if we did it all together, and of course we were all in the studio at the same time. We had set up the session in the valley [Los Angeles] for noon and Mindi had a TV interview in Hollywood at eleven; she was not going to miss this session for anything. When she got to the TV studio she said that she had to leave by eleven-thirty to get to a very important recording session. She was a little late but she got there and we all had a ball.

On the cut "Life in the Key of Blue, I had Tom Scott playing—he is one of the greatest tenor saxophone players in the world. Paul Jackson, Jr. played guitar on the record, Leland Sklar on bass and Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, who used to play with Sting and he still sometimes does. We are all old buddies we have known each other for years. I think I have known Paul the least amount of time but Vinnie and I go back about twenty years. It was so cool to have those people on the record. I was so grateful that everyone was able to get their schedules together to come and do this. It made it a little more special.

AAJ: It is always great to have that element of camaraderie.

GA: I always work with my co-producer and co-writer James Wirrick who also plays guitar and keyboards on some tracks and basically is a programmer. You know you have to get people on your records you just can't sit in a room with ProTools and hammer out drum machines; we did that on my first record and while it sounded good, the sound today has grown into a more organic state. I have a great band that tours with me and I always use them on so many tracks.

AAJ: Surely, if it isn't broken, don't fix it.

GA: Everyone is on a track, at least one, so that they are part of the whole thing. We tour quite a bit; it really is a great band.

AAJ: Your song "Burma Road is one of my favorite songs. All the great trumpeters have a distinctive tone. What do you feel gives a trumpeter that ability?

GA: "Burma Road is one of those songs, that keeps on giving; it withstands the test of time. That song is ten years old and it still gets tons of radio airplay, as much airplay as "Smooth Operator, which was my first single off of my first solo album [Hidden Agenda (Sony Music Entertainment/Epic, 1995)]. It is amazing, I play it live and it is a great song to open it up for solos, and it really gets going. I think it really appeals to that world music scene.

The uniqueness of a trumpeter's tone or the versatility that sets him or her apart and gives that special brand that they bring to the table is, in my case, less is more. I try to say it in fewer notes and make those notes count so that the listener is able to imagine rather than have to take in data. I can play fast and furious and I can bebop with the rest of them but my approach is such that the listener needs to take relax and take it all in, and decide what they get out of it. On "Burma Road it is so minimalist what I do except for the solo, and even so the solo is very melodic as opposed to acrobatic. The bottom line is you need to practice to find your niche.

AAJ: That is what makes that song all the more intriguing. You have arranged numerous songs for countless artists. What does that process entail? How do you go about channeling what you perceive to match with an artist and what the artist hopes that you can provide them?

GA: It is kind of funny. Since I was in high school, I have always had a knack for writing. During the last two years of high school my teacher would go in his office and grade papers and whatever he needed to do while I basically ran the jazz band. I wrote and I learned from my mistakes, I was pretty much self-taught; I just had that flare for it. When I got into Tower of Power that was a five-piece horn section, and so they wanted me for that talent that I had. They needed someone to organize it and I brought that to the table. I molded it and made the sound my own.

We started to get calls from people to do recording sessions. Linda Ronstadt's manager, Peter Asher, knew this record producer who was working with Elton John. There was a famous horn section, whose name I will not mention, and they were on the track and Elton John did not like what they contributed. Linda, who we knew, told them, "You know they ought to try Tower of Power. We ended up doing that which was one of our first really high profile recordings; Caribou (Polygram Records, 1974) was right after Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (Polygram Records, 1973). After that, we were getting calls left and right, we started to work with everybody.

What I found out is the key to being a good arranger is being a chameleon—you have to change your colors and adapt. You must have a sixth sense about what the artist is looking for, and many times the artist or the producer will have ideas, which are always very welcome. If you really want to shine as an arranger you have to give them what they are looking for and I have been fortunate. There have been a couple of times where I have had to do a rewrite but even then that tests your ability to work under pressure. That is the whole thing—you have to be flexible and adaptable. It has been a great experience to work with so many people.

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