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Steve Turre: Shell 'n' 'Bone Man

By Published: February 23, 2009

AAJ: What do you mean when you say they are allergic to the blues?

ST:They deliberately don't reference it, and in a lot of cases they can't play it, or didn't learn to play it and therefore put it down. They act like it's old, but the blues is an expression of life, and life doesn't get old—life goes on.

AAJ: Do you think that a lot of musicians today associate the blues with outdated, outmoded music?

ST: The blues is never old. You see, there's two kinds of music, good music and there's the other kind. Are you going to tell me that Mozart is outdated? Are you going to tell me that Duke Ellington

Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington
1899 - 1974
is outdated and old? I hear a lot of new writers today writing stuff for big bands and I still haven't heard anybody come close to what Duke Ellington wrote.

They can't play it, so they say it's old, but you see there's a trap there, and that is by calling something old and saying, "I gotta be something new," they're setting themselves up because in ten years, what they're doing now—somebody else will say that's old. Why have you got to do something new? Why don't you just do something good? Do something with feeling, something that makes people feel and not just say, "Oh, that's interesting."

AAJ: There's another great tune on the album, "Para El Comandante," dedicated to [multi-instrumentalist] Mario Rivera

Mario Rivera
Mario Rivera
1939 - 2007
. He was an exceptional musician, but an unsung figure to a large degree. How would you rate him in the pantheon of Latin jazz musicians?

ST: At the very top, with the greatest of the greats.

AAJ: Why did he only ever record the one album as a leader, El Comandante (RTE, 1996)? Why do you think he was not more prolific as a leader?

ST: That's a good question. I don't know. You know, the music business is a strange thing, but most of the time it doesn't have a lot to do with music. Sometimes it has to do with being in the right place at the right time.

Mario was from the Dominican Republic, not from the United States. He worked his way up to greatness by playing with Machito's band, by playing with Tito Puente's band—all the greats—but I don't think the music business perceived him as a leader, even though he was a leader. He wasn't given that opportunity. He used to have a meringue jazz band that I played in called the Salsa Refugees, which was very innovative. I haven't heard anything like that before or since.

AAJ: Am I right in thinking that the Salsa Refugees never recorded a CD?

ST: Yeah, not really, no.

AAJ: Are there any live recordings in the can that might see the light of day?

ST: There's some probably. Maybe [drummer] Phoenix [Rivera] has some. I think that would be the source.

Steve Turre

AAJ: Let's talk a little about trumpeter Sean Jones

Sean Jones
Sean Jones
, because the other musicians on Rainbow People are well known, Jones less so.

ST: Sean is the baby of the session [laughs], though he certainly isn't a baby. I like the feeling he plays with, and his concept is more than one-dimensional—he's not a one-dimensional player. Some players may have a great sound and they play that same sound on every tune, but he's not like that; he's very flexible. He can play the blues and he can play very modern; he has a lot of stuff going for him. He's an exceptional trumpeter.

AAJ: Do you have a regular touring band these days?

ST: I do a lot of different projects according to the situation, the gig, the budget. I do a lot of quartet, and then I'll do quintet, and I'm doing a new project, a Latin jazz project.

AAJ Can you tell us a little more about that?

ST: We're performing in a club called Smoke in New York on 106th and Broadway. We're going to record live and I'm probably going to do this with my own label, unless a record company picks it up in a positive way. It's going to be piano, bass, drums, congas and trumpet, trombone and, of course, shells. Ray Vega

Ray Vega
Ray Vega

is playing trumpet, Arturo O'Farrill is playing piano. From Cuba on the bass is Yunior Terry, and from Cuba on the congas is Pedro Martinez, and on drums is Ernesto Simpson, another one of the great Cuban drummers.

AAJ: Is Cuba a country that you visit a lot and play in a lot?

ST: I used to go there a lot before the '04 elections and Bush closing it off. Americans can't go there; you get fined a lot of money. You know it's funny, they say they don't have diplomatic relations but they have a consulate there—they just don't call it a consulate, they call it an attach é. And they have an ambassador but they don't call it an ambassador. They have this great big house—this big compound—they even have marines guarding it. This is in Havana.

AAJ And they also have a rather notorious prison as well, let's not forget.

ST: Yeah, Guantanamo. I'm not even talking about Guantanamo. That's a whole other issue. Bush just slammed the door—not even any cultural exchange. We used to go down to the festival in Havana as cultural exchange, but they won't let Cuban musicians come to America anymore, and we can't go there. It's stupid, man. It's pointless. It serves no purpose, and it certainly doesn't bring any good will. But I don't think those people are interested in good will.

Fortunately, they got voted out. The American people finally woke up. There are still a lot of—I call them haters. They have to have somebody to hate; they have to hate the communists, or they have to hate the Muslims; they gotta hate black people, they gotta hate somebody. Now that's old. You know, I never refer to Bach or Mozart or Beethoven as old because it's still beautiful. But that is not beautiful [laughs]. And that's not healing people or making the world a better place.

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