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John Richmond: Creating A Scene For Quality Jazz

By Published: September 24, 2008
The Rhythm Section: One Player Makes a Difference

The house rhythm section—guys who have struggled through thick and thin and supported me through all of this—is John Hart on guitar, Bill Moring on bass, and Tim Horner on drums. That is our basic unit. However, they can't always make it. So we have another group of guys I call upon, and that includes Eliot Zigmund or Steve Johns on drums, Mike McGuirk on bass, and any number of players who we call for the other instrument. Every time you change a person, it creates an entirely different thing.

One of the keys to success, in my opinion, is to have the rhythm section happy with each other. If I have to make a substitution, I usually consult with one of the primary members. When the guys work with each other in other situations and feel at ease on a personal level as well as a musical level, then you have a foundation. In a way I lead the group, but it's sort of a melting pot of things. It will be a completely different band when you change just one person. We're not just playing a tune. Each of us is hanging on every note that the other guys play. The tune is a vehicle for our composite group improvisation. The idea is to create two sets of cohesive music that we, at the end of the night, can say, "You know what, man? That was great!" And on most Monday nights that's what happens.

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Getting Back on the Scene
Discovering a Personal Voice

I was off of the scene for almost ten years. I came back in September of 2006 with Eliot Zigmund, Bill Moring, and pianist Keith Saunders. We made the record [Live at Cecil's, self-produced by Richmond and released in 2007]. That's the group we worked with for about six months. The thing at The Turning Point lets me get sharper as I get back to my form. So now I'm pushing past ninety percent. We musicians learn the basic language of the music, the basic skills of the music, and the skill set of producing music on an instrument. After that, what we need to do is find our own voice, our own interpretation, and our own personal message.

John RichmondIn the beginning you may learn verbatim some lick by Charlie Parker or some John Coltrane run. And as you ingest this vocabulary, eventually it has to come out in a more personal manner. That means you have to throw out stuff and bring in new stuff. And you create things, like in my case, "John Richmond-isms." There's a whole bunch of John Richmond-isms—just things that I play. When I play it, if you know me, you may say, "That sounds like John Richmond." If you don't know me, you may hopefully say, "That guy sounds OK, but who the hell is it?" And that's cool. That's what it's all about.

The good players sound like themselves. They've taken the time to go through and pay their dues and struggle for years—which I did in my 20s and 30s—to live by the sword and die by the sword, meaning play all day and play all night. If I had no gig, I sat in with anybody, anywhere. I always had my horn with me. It takes a number of years to find that communication where you become one with your horn and your art. The identity—one day it just grabs you. You know when it happens, and from that day on, that's who you are.

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Plans for the Second Season of Jazz At The Turning Point Cafe
Final Comments

In constructing the next season, I'm bearing in mind that I want to bring in some other jazz artists. The season begins on September 15th with guitarist Vic Juris. On the 22nd we're featuring tenor saxophonist Jerry Weldon. On the 29th we've decided not to do anything because it's Rosh Hashanah. We're looking forward to Gene Bertoncini on October 6th. Erik Lawrence & Hipmotism, featuring Allison Miller and Steve Bernstein, are coming in on October 13th. It's a group which provides all kinds of eclectic elements. On December 8th we're going to have Rudresh Mahanthappa with Rez Abbasi. It's a very interesting group which melds modern jazz with Indian and Eastern influences. By virtue of the last two groups, I'm pushing the envelope a little this year.

What I'm doing is trying to pay back the music and pay back the musicians, and to create a venue for jazz artists. We want to reach out to the audience and say, "Support jazz, America's unique art form, and keep it alive." We want people to be aware of this music and to come in and really listen.

Selected Discography

John Richmond, Live at Cecil's (Self Produced, 2007)

Photo Credits

All photos courtesy of John Richmond

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