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Alvin Queen: The Move, The Groove and The Beat

By Published: October 2, 2007
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George Braith/Grant Green/John Patton

AAJ: Multi-reedman George Braith was also present at the Birdland Gretsch event. He offered you a place in his band which at this time also included Grant Green and John Patton. This is one of my favorite line-ups which George has had. Did you have a chance to record with George or Grant at all? In looking at an overview of your career there is a wide variety of playing situations in which you participated, but all seemed somewhat based in a sort of soul-groove feel or a progressive hard-bop thing. Was your time with George your first foray into music which went a little further out? George is a definite one of a kind, and like yourself seems in his music to be comfortable with incorporating some of the same sonic base elements. Did your time with all these various artists up to this point add things to your artistic palette or was your artistic evolution more of a solitary inner thing?

AlvinAQ: George was really the one to discover me at Birdland and to put my music through the test. I really have a lot of respect for George because he was the one to help me to develop the mind and the sense for putting things together.

When George bought me into his group it had some very powerful guys and I suffered a lot because my chops were not strong enough at the time, but they also took the time with me to get them right.

Try to remember that the Hammond B3 is a very strong instrument, and when you add John Patton to the mix, it's even stronger. Grant Green only wanted to know if you could find a groove. He was all about closing his eyes and asking you to help him find that groove. It used to be funny, because after Grant's solo he would turn around say "You are that bad motherfucker, and I would just smile, because I knew I was doing something right.

George was the one who introduced me to so many people at this time. He's the one who would take me by Elmo Hope's house.

I can remember a gig I did with George at the Blue Cornet in Brooklyn, and he had Larry Young on piano, Ernie Farrow on bass and me on drums.

I was with George when he decided to change his form of music by letting the organ go and then adding piano and bass. After this, George decided to only use bass and drums. He was always the guy to say to me "Free up the time and drop the two and four on the hi hat.

I had this same experience with Joe Henderson. Joe uses to love for the time to flow, without the hi hat on every two and four, that's what I like about Joe Chambers. He's a master at this and whenever I get a chance to check Joe out, I'm sitting right there.

The only recording I ever did with George is part of his private collection, and I think that someone should definitely speak with him to get them out on CD. I was the one who originally helped George to build his club Musart down on Spring St. during the '60s and early '70s.

I can remember Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane use to go there to rehearse and play together, and I also received an offer from Sonny Rollins at this time to join his band at George's place. Many people used to come by, for example Roy Haynes, Janet Getz, Evelyn Blakey, Joe Lee Wilson, Freddie Hubbard and Cedar Walton. Lots of musicians began to have lofts around this time, were you could play all night.

AAJ: Would it be safe to say that at this point you had appeared more in live situations than you had on record? Do you have a preference for one over the other?

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Playing Live vs. Studio Recording/Drum Sound

AQ: Yes, that's true, I never looked at it that way, because I have been having a lot of fun during my life, expanding my horizons with music and musicians, and it really doesn't matter to me whether I'm on record or not.

This gives me more reason to lead a group because I haven't been overexposed this way, and I have a lot to offer, and most of that you'll begin to hear on my own records. I have a treasure chest full of stuff to share with the world that I received from some of the greatest musicians who ever lived; they gave me the material during the years I worked with them.

I prefer to play for a live audience, and if it's being recorded, it's definitely great to capture this if possible, as these are some of the best recordings. This was the case with the live album at the Domicile in Munchen [Impact (Strata East, 1975)] with the Charles Tolliver Quartet in 1972, the same for the Loodrecht Jazz Festival in Holland double record set [Live at Loosedrecht Jazz Festival (Strata East, 1973)]; these were classic recordings which opened doors for me in Europe and America.

AAJ: When reading about rock & roll and sometimes with saxophones in jazz, equipment is discussed. Not as often though with things other than horns, unless it's an article in a trade specific magazine (Drum World etc). Do things like types and brand of stick matter to you? Has the size or configuration of your drum setup changed over the years or with whomever you are playing? I know they are constantly coming up with new materials to make mouthpieces and things with, new types of mics and ways of recording. Have you tried anything new and cutting edge which either didn't work or that became part of your working setup?

AlvinAQ: We are living in a world which tells us from day-to-day, that this is better than this. I really don't believe this because the best set of drums that I ever had were Gretsch from the 1960s. The wood they made the drums with at that time was much better than today.

I don't hear a real drum sound anymore on most recordings. What I hear is a drum sound which is put together by the sound engineer. The studio today has modern equipment and the engineers are from today; most don't have a foot in the past.

My sound is coming from only four drums; this is what I use mostly, and my set up never changed. My last recording [I Ain't Looking At You (Enja, 2006)] was mixed by Pete Bernstein and I, and I'm the one to push the levels of the drums up without using any compression on the instrument. I also told the engineer how to set up the microphones to get the sound I wanted.

I don't need an engineer to make my sound for me. I know what I'm looking for, and analog recordings are much better for jazz. Normally digital recordings make everything seem sharp to me, and that's not the sound of the drums that I remember.

I'm a true jazz lover, and I haven't heard anything better today than I did years ago for me to want to change my setup. I remember when you used to be able to get the whole set of drums in a car in 1963 without any problems at all. Now you need a van to go to the gig. It's just not possible to get the drums into a car.

I have been using Vic Firth sticks for many years, which the company has been providing me with, and they're the best—a small version of the 7A.

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