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Steven Kroon: Looking Beyond

By Published: August 26, 2008
AAJ: It was about 2000 that you released In My Path, your first solo album. You seemed pretty busy, it didn't seem like you had any issue getting work, so what inspired you to make that jump?

SK: Deep from the days with my brother, I always wanted to do my own thing too. This is why now I'm concentrating more on my career. Because now, I really like playing what I like and my tunes. I like the guys I choose to be in my band. This stuff is really exciting to me. A lot of this music in my past was stuff that I had accumulated. That CD is not as straight-ahead Latin jazz, it's got a little bit of everything.

AAJ: You've got a pretty stellar group of musicians on that.

SK: During that time, I produced it with one of the guys in the group, Ivan Hampden, the drummer, and man, we just worked great together.

AAJ: Didn't you guys work together with Luther?

SK: Yeah, right, so a lot of this stuff we were doing on the road. After the gig, or something, "Hey, man I've got this idea, I've got the keyboard in the room, come on man." And so that's how the first date became. It was really great, because, if you listen to it, even now, you could play that ten years from now and it would be timeless.

AAJ: I remember listening to an interview that you did with Martin Cohen from Latin Percussion, about the time where you were talking about the challenges about stepping out as a bandleader as a percussionist.

SK: Well, you know, you always try to watch what you say, because people can take things the wrong way. But the norm for most people as a front man is saxophone, or guitar, or piano—the person that plays the melody. The drummers, they're always a little hesitant about it. If you make a record, they expect you to solo on every song, even it's a ballad, you know what I mean?

But they don't realize that a lot of drummers are really great leaders because we're always in the background playing. We keep that groove, our job is very important to make the music feel good. You look back in time, and I think some great leaders were drummers. Mongo was a leader for years, Tito Puente, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, I mean, it goes on and on. An endless group of really incredible leaders that are drummers.

AAJ: Another misconception that I think a lot of people have is that drummers or percussionists are not songwriters. You've definitely been a strong songwriter on all your albums

SK: Each one of my CDs, I do three or four tunes. Me and Ivan collaborated very well on the first one. The one that Jon sings, "Our Love Is Like The Wind," "Lucricia," I think those are beautiful songs. And then on the second CD, Señor Kroon, Oscar Hernandez co-produced with me and I started collaborating with Oscar...and wow, man, Oscar's amazing. Cause you write with him, and he' already thinking of an arrangement. He's really good. On this one (El Mas Alla), I did two tunes with Oscar, and he did one of his own. My main keyboard player when we play live is Igor Atalita; he's on the CD too. I started writing with him. He's really good too. We got a nice vibe. That's how we did "Bobo's Blues" and "Steppin.'" It's really good to know him; I'm going to have a lot of really good stuff coming from him too.

AAJ: Listening to all three albums, I've noticed that there's been a change from a more crossover approach on In My Path to a very straight, traditional Latin jazz by the time you're at the current album. Has that been a conscious thing or something that you've kind of steered towards?

SK: Yea, I got closer to myself. The first CD is from the experience of me just playing with a lot of people. So I would do vocals and I would do something that has a little more funk to it or something that has a different groove. I wasn't worried about that. And at that time, they had more radio stations that were playing everything.

I think what happened too is I wasn't performing with a band either. With Señor Kroon I started performing with a band. Things start crafting more, cause then you want to get a sound. It just kind of developed and evolved, and I think for the most part, I kind of found my sound. I really feel good about what my band sounds like, and what my music sounds like now. I mean, I love all of it, but I really think this is what I'm really going to be doing; this is what my focus is. And I'm getting I'm good response.

AAJ: Well, the new album it's spectacular. I noticed on the latest CD, you've dedicated that to some percussionists who've transcended to the other side . . .

SK: If you don't' mind, I'll explain to you exactly what El Mas Alla is...

AAJ: Please do!

SK: El Mas Alla, what it means, is also beyond, but in Spanish they have double meanings to things. Besides just meaning beyond like we know in English, it means when you transcend to the other side. If someone passes away, they say he went to the other side. So in doing this CD, these last couple of years, as the material was coming along, Mongo died, Don Alias died, Patato died, Ray Barretto died, Dom Um Ramao died, Tommy Lopez died, Tata...It's been amazing how many good percussionists have passed away.

I was saying when I wrote this tune with Igor, I said, "Man, I'm going to name this Bobo's Blues." It's amazing how that came to me man. I felt Bobo played with this kind of a groove.

And then Mongo..."Don Ramon" is for Mongo Santamaria. When he passed away, a couple of weeks later, I was sitting in my car and that melody came to me, I thought about him. I went Oscar, and I said, "Check this out man, I'm thinking about this for Mongo." And he said, "OK, you know what would be a great name, let's not just call it 'Mongo,' let's call it 'Don Ramon.'" Because Don is when you respectfully say to someone who's an older person, you call them "Don," like your father or something. His real first name was Ramon. So we named it "Don Ramon," out of respect.

I was saying, man this is really getting a vibe about all these percussionists. I'm going to have to find a way to include this all into this experience. So I went to my father, and since all my CDs have dual English and Spanish titles, I said to my father, "Hey, Pop, you know, what does beyond mean in Spanish?" He said, "Well, beyond is a little different, it has another meaning too, it means El Mas Alla."

So what happened is, a little over a year ago, my father passed away—I was with him, it was really kind of deep, so in stead of naming it just beyond, I named it El Mas Alla because of him—because he transcended, you know. So, if you notice, a lot of it is dedicated to him too.

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