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Alvin Queen: The Move, The Groove and The Beat

By Published: October 2, 2007
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Nilva Records/Oscar Peterson/Current Line-Up

AAJ: In 1979 you joined another long tradition of musicians starting their own labels, naming your Nilva Records. Your roster of artists is impressive (John Hicks, Big John Patton, Junior Mance, Ray Drummond, James Spaulding and many others). How big a company is Nilva, and how "hands on were you in the company's operations? Where can jazz fans find these records now?

AQ: This was not the musicians' company, this was my own company which I had started here in Europe with the help of my wife. When I first returned to Europe I made so much money within the first two years I decided to do something with it, and this is how the company started.

I learned a lot from Charles Tolliver and his company Strata East, and I had the same ideal. I went after all the artists in the New York area that recording companies were not recording, and that's how I ended up with so many different musicians. They were all friends of mine who I'd worked with in the past.

I made over seventeen recordings for the label, but was never able to get worldwide distribution, so this, coupled with the worldwide changeover to the compact disc, made things very difficult. Many of these records have still yet to be converted.

I still have different copies available, and you can also find them at special LP collector's sites on the internet and in some specialty stores. I'm trying to work out a deal now, where you will definitely see them on the market again as CDs, within the next year or so.

Alvin AAJ: You joined Oscar Peterson's trio, but also became leader of your own group, Alvin Queen & The Organics. You seemed to have waited to front your own group. Did you find playing and touring different, participating as the leader?

AQ: No, I just thought after some thirty-five years it was time for me to do for other young musicians what was done for me. I spent 2½ years with Oscar Peterson at the request of my late friend Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen, who also arranged for me be a part of the original Kenny Drew Sr. Trio.

Most of all the people I've worked with in the past are dead and gone, so I have to try to keep their legacy alive.

Niels and I used to have our own group together many years ago, and Oscar always loved the way Niels and I accompanied him during our performances. I don't think being a bandleader will be difficult, because I have a lot of respect for the musicians around me, and I realize that I couldn't make it without them.

You have to learn how to let them make you now. You did it, and now it's important to showcase them, so that you yourself will continue to live on. It's a chain.

AAJ: Did you aspire to a permanent roster or a revolving cast of musicians for your group? Is there a preference on your part for either way?

AQ: I feel there are certain people who understand me for what I'm trying to say musically, and they definitely know who they are when they're accompanying me. I feel I have the best front line now, with Jesse Davis and Terrell Stafford, really couldn't be any better, and I also have Pete Bernstein on guitar who really knows what he's doing and he's also such a nice person to work with.

I knew Mike LeDonne from a tour with Milt Jackson some time ago, but he was playing piano at the time, so I never knew that he could play organ. When I decided to put this group together for the recording, I said, "Who can I get? and someone mentioned Mike LeDonne. I said "Mike LeDonne is a piano player, so they said "Try listening to him on organ, so that's how that happened, and he really gave me what I needed.

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Club Scene

AAJ: There seems to be a resurgence of desire for cities to have small jazz/supper clubs. Places like New York, L.A, San Francisco and even Toronto are making an effort to showcase local talent but also important but not as well-known names. In Europe the more well-known players seem to play the larger festivals and venues, I imagine it is to a certain extent a matter of financial logistics. For me though, jazz loses a little of its power the bigger the venue. I can enjoy McCoy Tyner at some enormous festival, but there is more enjoyment and a sense of communion in a smaller, intimate setting. Do you have a preference for venue size?

Alvin AQ: I like small jazz clubs where the musicians don't need all this electronic equipment like a PA system. Jazz was created in small clubs where the feeling was like being in someone's living room and you've invited your own guests who love the music.

The first they need to learn is that the original Birdland was a place in New York that employed people who knew something about the music, and knew all the musicians who'd be coming by, it was not about the money.

If the club wasn't filled up for the second set, they'd tell the customers to please stay and just pay for your drinks and enjoy yourself. Now, you go to a club and when a musician shows up to speak with one of their friends who're playing there, the staff doesn't know who you are and they don't want to know!

I only hope that they send the staff to school, to teach them about jazz musicians before they put them on the door, because if it wasn't for the musicians producing music, there wouldn't be any reason for people to go there—just think about that.

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