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Steve Turre: Shell 'n' 'Bone Man

By Published: February 23, 2009

AAJ: Is there much assistance from the government in terms of grants or sponsorship to help young jazz musicians with the cost of traveling or accommodation and so on?

ST: Well, they got the National Endowment for the Arts, but that's more for organizations. I think they give more money to orchestras and Lincoln Center Jazz and organizations like that, than they do the individual. They give small grants to individuals, but not enough to do anything substantial.

AAJ: You've been involved in jazz for forty years and you've seen a lot come and go. Do you keep up at all with the new jazz coming from Europe and from other places?

ST: What are you talking about? Are you talking about where it's all straight eighth notes and it's all about 17 and 24 and odd meters and there's no blues in it at all, and there's no swinging and there's no sense of African rhythm? Yeah, I'm familiar with it, but it doesn't make me feel anything.

The music's gotta have the African root—that's where the music comes from. When you cut the root of the tree, the tree dies. As far as I'm concerned, that shit is a branch that's not gonna get any light and eventually it's gonna die, because there ain't no African root in it. They're deliberately leaving that part of it out.

AAJ: Yeah, but if you're from Norway or from England...

Steve TurreST: They got a lot of that in academia here too, and they're promoting that here. Without naming any names, a lot of the stuff here is going that direction and I'm wondering if they're doing it just 'cause it's the flavor of the month or if they really are into it.

I don't know any trumpet player who can play more creatively, and more profoundly technically, harmonically and rhythmically than Dizzy Gillespie. He was the most advanced of anybody I ever heard, of anybody today or in the past.

AAJ: Sure, but he's an exceptional case, no?

ST: Well yeah, but I'm just saying that Dizzy always loved to play the blues. He wasn't too good to play the blues; he wasn't too good to play "Night in Tunisia" every night. I always enjoyed playing it with him but I asked him one night, "Diz, don't you ever get tired of playing that song?" and he said, "No, I'm honored that the people want to hear it and if I don't play it, I know they're gonna be disappointed." He said it's a privilege to be able to play a song like that you've written that means something to people.

And it's interesting because Miles was always evolving and a lot was written about that and it was true—he did one thing and then evolved into another thing, and it was great—but Dizzy did a lot of things too. Dizzy was not just the father of bebop, he's the father of world music. He did records in the '50s with tango, with Persian musicians—well, they call it Iran now—he was the father of Latin jazz, he did records with Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder
. But he would still play all the music. He never limited himself and said, "This is old, that is new," he just said, "It's beautiful."

Miles—even though he would constantly evolve, and I think that's wonderful and it's inspirational—he would always have a groove. Everything I ever heard Miles Davis

Miles Davis
Miles Davis
1926 - 1991
do always had a heavy African feel, in rhythm. The groove was always there; he didn't abandon the groove just to be different.

AAJ: You talked about Dizzy playing "Night in Tunisia" all the time. How much of a consideration is it for you when you come to make a set list for a gig? Are you happy to play the same set or are you always mixing it up?

ST: I'm constantly shuffling the deck. I have different bands that play different things, but I always like to include a blues of one form or another, maybe not always the same tune. I always include a ballad and I always like to include some kind of up-tempo number. I'll do some stuff off my new record, I might do some compositions that I haven't recorded yet, and then I might do a standard. I might do some songs from some of my past albums. It's not a set formula; I'm always shuffling the deck.

AAJ: You've played with a long list of great musicians during your career. Is there anybody who you haven't played with who you would like to?

ST: Well, it ain't going to happen but I've always wished I could play with Sonny Rollins

Sonny Rollins
Sonny Rollins
. But I don't think that's gonna happen because he already has a fine trombone player, Clifton Anderson
Clifton Anderson
Clifton Anderson
, who happens to be his nephew, and I know them both and love them both. And they're friends; they play so well together they don't need me in there messing it up [laughs].

Clifton's been playing with Sonny for twenty-something years, but I sure would love to experience playing with Sonny because he's incredible. I know I'd learn a lot. I also always wished I could have played with Miles, but that wasn't meant to be. The only trombone player Miles ever used was J.J. [Johnson]. And J.J., J.J. did for the trombone what Charlie Parker did for the saxophone; ain't nobody come along yet to surpass what he did.

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