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Victor Goines: Liquid And Fire

By Published: October 9, 2007
The Art Of Playing Ballads

AAJ: Let's talk about playing ballads. You do a great tune on here called "Petite Fleur," which a lot of people know from [soprano saxophonist] Sidney Bechet. You do it so slowly that it sounds like it's rubato through a lot of it. I think one of the great talents is to be able to play a really slow ballad. Will you talk about your approach to ballad playing?

VictorVG: I heard a recording of Shirley Horn that Branford Marsalis recorded on [You Won't Forget Me (Polygram, 1991)]. Actually, Wynton was on it too, but the particular take was "It Had To Be You." It was the first time I had really heard a ballad played so slow. It was almost as slow as one could tolerate, is the way I describe it. That's how I like to play ballads. The great tenor saxophonist Benny Golson once said, "When someone performs slowly, it's an opportunity for everyone to see everything they have to offer." There's no hiding.

For me, I often tell my students, "You should play a ballad like you're dancing with someone and you never want the record to end." So that's why I tend to play my ballads so slow. It gives me an opportunity to be a little freer with the melodic line, as opposed to the way people play on medium tempo or up-tempo tunes, [where] you tend to keep the rhythm pretty straight. But when I play a ballad, I want to be like liquid that's flowing back and forth. The form of the piece is the container that's keeping it in place, but the music has the ability to move around inside the container as freely as it wants to.

AAJ: What does that require of the rhythm section?

VG: Discipline, because the tendency is for everybody to want to push the tempo. But the reality is you have to be willing to participate. Creativity, because they have to figure out things to do that are going to add to the performance instead of take away from it. And a knowledge of the history of great ballad playing. It puts a great burden on the drummer, because quite often the drummers just want to keep time in terms of quarter-note pulses. But for those that are creative, it gives them an opportunity to address the ballad as if they're a painter and they can use different brush strokes. And I don't mean literally just brushes, I mean different strokes with sticks, mallets and all kinds of things to paint this pastel of different colors inside of the ballad. Greg is a master at that. Herlin Riley is another master at that. Lewis Nash. I'm speaking about people of my generation. Those are three people who really stand out in my mind, who really have the discipline to play slowly on a ballad.

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Life Now

AAJ: Most of the tunes on this record, half or more, are your compositions. Do you have a lot of time to write music?

VG: I don't have a lot of time to write music. I don't spend as much time writing as I would like. But I'm getting better at that now. It's been a conscious decision to try to write more. I tend to write more when projects come up, like most artists. If I don't have something, I generally don't sit down and say, "I'm going to write a tune." But at this moment, we have a concert with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, and the topic is Blue Note, so it's all recording from Blue Note Records, arranged for the big band by members of the orchestra.

The two pieces that I've been afforded the opportunity to arrange are [Woody Shaw's] "The Moontrane," one of my favorite compositions from [organist] Larry Young's Unity (Blue Note, 1965) with [saxophonist] Joe Henderson, one of my greatest influences. The other is "Cape Verdean Blues" by [pianist] Horace Silver. It's given me a chance to work on my arranging skills again. I like to write. I think everybody in the jazz tradition should write, because improvisation is composing in motion.

Victor GoinesAAJ: How much are you on the road these days?

VG: It varies. The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra is on the road about sixty days a year now. That's not including concerts in New York. That's not road time, because there's days off in there and all that. Then I have my own opportunities. I'm in Rochester, NY, tonight to perform. I'm going to Detroit, Michigan, tomorrow from here. I was in Dallas, Texas, last week doing some workshops. So I get a fair amount of that in. Then I travel with [The] Juilliard [School], with my students. I just left Qatar less than a month ago after two weeks there. We're going out to the New Orleans Jazz And Heritage Festival. We have a presence in Costa Rica. We went to Japan the summer before. So there's a lot of traveling.

AAJ: And you direct the jazz program at Juilliard.

VG: Right, I'm the artistic director of jazz studies.

AAJ: What's that like?

VG: It's a great opportunity, because I'm working with some of the finest young musicians around the world. We've had kids from Japan, Cuba, the United States. To see them evolve is ultimately a very fulfilling thing, because of the type of interaction I've had with great teachers myself. I often tell them, "The goal of a great teacher is to be confident and comfortable with themselves, so that if they're fortunate enough, their students become better than they [themselves] are and they have accomplished their goal."

Selected Discography

Victor Goines, New Adventures (Criss Cross, 2006)

Wynton Marsalis, Live At The Village Vanguard (Columbia, 1999)

Victor Goines, To Those We Love So Dearly (Rosemary Joseph Records, 1999)

Victor Goines, Joe's Blues (Rosemary Joseph Records, 1998)

Wynton Marsalis, Blood On The Fields (Columbia, 1997)

Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, Big Band Treasures Live (Smithsonian, 1996)

Marcus Roberts, Portraits In Blue (Sony, 1996)

Wynton Marsalis, Joe Cool's Blues (Columbia, 1995)

Victor Goines, Genesis (AFO Records, 1992)

Photo Credits
Top Photo: Guy Fonck
Bottom Photo: Elliott Simon

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