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Interviews

Kenny Garrett: Back To The Future

By Published: October 6, 2008
AAJ: One of the special moments on this record is "Intro To Africa," which I understand is a sneak preview of a longer work that's coming up. Can you talk about how it ended up on this record and what we might expect to hear in the future?



KG: It's a complete piece, but we couldn't get to the rest of it because it's a little more complicated than just going on the bandstand and saying, "We're going to play that." I wanted to be as spontaneous as possible without people having to struggle to play the music. What I've been doing lately is playing the whole—it's not really a suite—but it's coming from the church, and then there's one part that goes into a jukebox kind of part, then an African part.



AAJ: This tune really seems to allow Pharaoh to find something special.



KG: I think they all allow Pharaoh to get something special, but when Pharaoh heard this song in rehearsal, he knew right away what to do. He's probably done songs like this all his life. I introduced it and he just fell right into it right away. Going back to the first tune, "The Ring"—I was at Pharaoh's house and I came up with this idea of a melody, some overtones that I was practicing on. And he said, "Just keep working on it." So when we decided that we were going to play that week at the Iridium, I pulled the tune out and we started going at it. He was encouraging me to do that.



When you have great musicians, you always try to find a vehicle for them to play. Sometimes you can put people together and it doesn't really click. But for some reason, Pharaoh understands where I'm coming from, and he's always right there.



Kenny GarrettAAJ: I was home at our house this morning while we were having a washing machine delivered. I had this record on loud, and the delivery guy kept walking through the room to get to the basement. After several trips through, he stopped and said, "This is great! What is it?" It was on the tune "Happy People" at that point. I have to believe, listening to the crowd at the Iridium, that the guy who delivered our washing machine is not the only person blown away by the vibe of "Happy People." It seems like everybody loves that tune.



KG: It seems to be one of those tunes that people wait for. We played in France at Parc Floral, and we played this song and the people went crazy. It was like 45 minutes. The next time we went to play there, they had security at the stage, because as soon as we started playing this song, they knew what was going to happen because it was just so crazy. When I travel the world, people wait for this song.



AAJ: Can you talk about the Iridium and why you chose to record there?



KG: The Iridium allows me to be myself and to experiment with different music. Sweet Basil used to be a place like that, where I would play and I had a relationship with the club. This is a relationship [at the Iridium] that I've built with the club over the years, and I play there and feel comfortable.



AAJ: What kind of crowd comes out to a Kenny Garrett show these days?



KG: It varies, because there are so many different CDs. You have people coming for Beyond The Wall, Triology (Warner Bros., 1995), Happy People (Warner Bros., 2002)—they come for all different things. It's hard to say who's in the crowd.



AAJ: You mentioned that you've already moved on, even from this record. What are you working on now?



KG: The band that I'm playing in now consists of an organ, electric bass and drums, synthesizers and Fender Rhodes. It's something I've been wanting to try for years, and I said, "Let me just do it." Like I said, in order for me to move on to the next chapter, I have to close this one.



Kenny GarrettAAJ: A lot of musicians—certainly in the pop and rock worlds, but also in the classical and jazz worlds—when they find something that really works, they do it a lot, because that's what people have come to the show to hear. How does your insistence on moving forward impact your crowd or your ability to draw a crowd?



KG: I think the people who know Kenny Garrett know that he's going to keep moving. If I hadn't had a chance to move, there wouldn't be Beyond The Wall or Pursuance (Warner Bros., 1996) or Songbook (Warner Bros., 1997). I need to experiment. I think the fans come to see what's going on, and I think there's an element in the music that they gravitate towards, no matter what genre it is.



AAJ: This album is on the Detroit-based label Mack Avenue Records. Why did you make the move to Mack Avenue?



KG: I felt that Mack was hungry and they were really trying to find different ways of presenting the music. That's the same for myself. I wanted to find a label that would allow me to experiment with different styles. They're up and coming, they're experimenting, they're open. That's the same thing I'm doing.



AAJ: Does your choice of label have an impact on what you record?



KG: If you have a relationship with the company, I think that helps to allow you to be yourself. It's a business, and people at the record company have an idea of what they think will sell. But the bottom line is having a relationship and being able to do the music that you want to do.



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