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Victor Goines: Liquid And Fire

By Published: October 9, 2007
Joining Wynton's Band

AAJ: So it's 1993. You come up and play the bass clarinet with Wynton. What's next?

VG: I went back home after that. I was still teaching at the University of New Orleans. Fall semester starts in 1993, then in October I get a call from Wynton. It's a Saturday afternoon and I have a gig with his father that night as we've been doing for the past couple of years. He says, "Hey man, I need you to come on the road with me for a little while." I said, "OK, great." To myself I'm saying, "Oh, man, I've been waiting so long for this call." I said, "Well, when do you want me to come?" He said, "Monday." I said, "Monday? I've got class Monday." He said, "I just got off the phone with my father. I should have asked him. I'm in Maine. Call my dad and ask him and call me back."

So I get off the phone and call his father. His little brother Jason answers and says, "He's sleeping right now, getting ready for the gig." I hang up the phone and think about it for about ten seconds. I thought, "Man, he's calling somebody else right now. I'm calling and getting a ticket to come out." I called him up and said, "Send me the ticket. It's going to be OK. I'm going to figure this out." So he sends the ticket.

In the meantime, I've got that gig that night that I mentioned, and I haven't told his father yet. We're talking about someone I have the greatest amount of respect for in the world. I wasn't going to just disregard the program we had established. So when I saw him that night, I said, "Wynton called me and asked me to come on the road." He said, "I should have known that's what he was going to ask you when he called. I don't know why I didn't think of it." I said, "He wants me to come out Monday." He said, "What did you tell him?" I said, "I told him 'yes.'" He said, "Good, if you'd have told him 'no,' I'd have been upset with you. That's what you've been shedding for, right? What's the problem?" I said, "My classes." He said, "We'll have to figure out how we're going to cover those classes."


So we worked out a system with Ellis Marsalis and Harold Battiste and Charlie Blancq, where I FedExed assignments daily back and forth from the road. Wynton had asked me to come out for two weeks. That was the agreement. After about ten days, Wynton was like, "Can you come out another two weeks?" I said, "OK, I've got to call your dad but I'm sure we can work it out." Now it's in November. After a month of that, he said, "Can you come out two more weeks?" Now we were at Blues Alley, because he used to play there every December, then he'd go to the Village Vanguard. So we go through all of November and all of December, two weeks at a time. As the New Year was about to turn, he said, "Why don't you just call the accountant and have him put you on payroll?"

I took a leave of absence from teaching for a semester. But they told me that by March 1 I had to make up my mind. They said, "If you don't contact us, we're going to assume you're not coming back and your contract will expire." We were in Asia. The day before March 1, we were in Taipei, Taiwan. And because I was going to do the gig as long as I could before Wynton either fired me or told me he wanted me to play permanently—which he hasn't told me to date, but I'm still in the band [laughs]—I decided when I left for that tour that I would print up two letters to the University of New Orleans. One said, "Thank you for the opportunity to have this leave of absence. I'll be returning in the fall of 1994." The other one said, "Thank you for the teaching opportunity. I regret to inform you that I will not be returning." I waited until the morning of March 1 to fax that [second] letter to the jazz studies department. I decided that if I got fired, I'd have to deal with the consequences. Jokingly, I tell people that I'm still on the road two weeks at a time. [laughs]

AAJ: It must have been like a whirlwind on that initial tour, jumping from country to country, gig to gig, with this teaching job you're trying to juggle back in New Orleans.

VG: Yeah. At that time, we traveled eleven months of the year. We took one month off, but we traveled twenty-five days out of every month. We only went home to really take care of whatever you had to take care of at home. But we knew that the first of every month, we were going to be out touring. But I tell you, they were some of the greatest times in my life, I have to say. When I first joined the band, [saxophonist] Walter Blanding and I were there at the same time for a brief period of time, as a transition. Only for four days. So when I was preparing to come out, I asked Wynton, "What can I do to prepare?" He said, "Nothing. There's nothing you can do. Just come out."

So when I got out there, my first gig was the Iron Horse in [Northampton] Massachusetts. When we left there, I had maybe two more days to learn the book. He had "City Movements" in there. He had "Blue Interlude" in the book. He had a couple other large works. And then he had another book that was just smaller works. Just so much music, it was so much to learn at one time.

Quite often, we'd be on the bus traveling from midnight to six in the morning. And we'd all hang out after the gig, maybe listen to the gig or watch some videos together. Then, about 2:30 or 3:00, cats would start one-by-one going to bed. This was one of those tour busses that had a lounge in the front of the bus and the back of the bus. So by 2:30, I was in the back of the bus shedding. Every once in a while somebody would poke their head in and say, "You OK back there?" I'd say, "Yeah, man. It's a lot of music. I've got to learn this music for tomorrow." So literally, I was practicing every night on the bus, from 2:30 in the morning till 5 or 6, because I was determined I wasn't going to lose the gig because I didn't know the music. That took place many times.

Some of those recordings from Live At The Village Vanguard, those were from my first week with the band. The "Black Codes From The Underground" recording, where I missed that little transition part and have to live with that forever, that was my first week in the band. But it was interesting, because the first time I played the Vanguard, it seems like every young tenor player in New York must have heard that the gig was open. It was like vultures converging on a piece of meat lying in the desert. They were like, "Oh, man, we're coming to get this gig." I was like that piece of meat, still alive, saying, "I'm not dying easy, man. Y'all can come out, we're going to fight, it's going to be a battle, but it's not going to be an easy one."

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