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Wycliffe Gordon: Keeping the Spirit and the Letter Alive

By Published: September 16, 2009

Wycliffe GordonAAJ: You've been working on a movie, a documentary with Leslie Hayman.

WG: It's a documentary about my life. And it started last year when we went to France with the Wynton Marsalis Septet, which was the group that I started with in 1989 ... By 1995 our relationship was so strong musically and, even more important even, as a family because we were at the height of our traveling on the road, close to 300 days out of the year. So we celebrated everything from birthdays, our birthdays, kids being born.

Back to Leslie—she wanted to start with that. She also got some footage of my teaching. She wanted to get the educational side, working with kids, so she got that footage at Stanford. Then she flew over to capture our rehearsing in France; from the rehearsal to the stage. And then she was able to capture something I did at a church, that side of me. But also did something with a pop band or a funk R&B band when we did classic stuff by Stevie Wonder or James Brown. So she got that because that was some of the music that was popular when I was growing up.

AAJ: How did your relationship with bassist/vocalist Jay Leonhart

Jay Leonhart
Jay Leonhart
come about?

WG: I first saw Jay on a cruise and I was completely enamored by the fact that he was doing a one-man show. And I walked by and thought it must be rough to keep your audience 45 or 50 minutes. And 35, 45 minutes later, everybody was still laughing and cracking up. And I wanted to check him out and see what he was doing. And every now and then we'd play on shows together...and then we'd do a duet together. And it would always go off pretty good. So we started thinking we have to do something one day. We said it for about three years and then we were at Jack Kleinsinger's Highlights in Jazz and the response we got was great.

So we started out with a CD and did everything 50-50. We booked the studio. I went to his house and rehearsed. His wife made sandwiches. We rehearsed a lotta, lotta music. But the recording had the feeling that we wanted to get. You know, just of having fun.

AAJ: You don't often lead groups it seems.

WG: Right. I don't have a regular working band, so every now and then I'll get a show and put together a quartet or like the show I did at Columbia University with a larger group [in February 2008]. I just went to my hometown to do a fundraiser with Jessye Norman for her school in Augusta, Georgia. And it was so good to go and just be a featured artist. It was almost like being a sideman. I just had to show up and play. And most of the time when I go there and this has to be in place and this person has to be here and the hotel. So the bandleader [Dave Frishberg

Dave Frishberg
Dave Frishberg
] that did the song "I Just Want To Be A Sideman," it's hilarious.

Selected Discography

Wycliffe Gordon and The SBS All-Star Band, A Tribute to Storyville (Sidney Bechet Society, 2006)

Wycliffe Gordon/Jay Leonhart, This Rhythm on My Mind (Bluesback, 2006)

Wycliffe Gordon, Cone's Coup (Criss Cross Jazz, 2005)

Wycliffe Gordon/Eric Reed, We (Nagel Heyer, 2001)

Wynton Marsalis, Live at the Village Vanguard (Columbia, 1999)

Wycliffe Gordon, Slidin' Home (Nagel Heyer, 1998)

Photo Credits

Page 1, G.F. Aquilino

Page 2, Kris King

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Download jazz mp3 “Greensleeves” by Wycliffe Gordon