Luis Bonilla: I Talking Now
AAJ: Let's take a little time to talk about your new album, I Talking Now (Planet Arts, 2009). You may be known in some ways as a sideman exemplar, but you are also a leader and composer, as evidenced by this album, which is quite fantastic with a wide range of material on it. How did this come together and what was your vision?
LB: The vision for the album is being comfortable with where I come from musically. For example, I've never been coy to say that my favorite all-time band ever has always been Led Zeppelin.
I just hear that musicfirst of all, it's very well-steeped in the blues, obviouslybut they branched out and were unapologetic and willing to take risks and have fun with the music and really let it develop. With that kind of vision of what I wanted to accomplish, it only made sense to bring in the people that I did, because they all share a very similar vision, as well. They are all good leaders and sidemen. We have that in common. Everyone plays really well. Everybody listens very well.
Knowing who I was going to get made it a lot easier to finish writing music for that recording and write with the medium in mind. So much is built around John Riley for me. I didn't want to do it unless he was there.
AAJ: He definitely exerts a high level of energy right from the first track, which sets the tone for the whole album. Also, the cover cartoon, looks like something from the Life is Hell series.
LB: That's the idea. I wanted to portray the story of the title track on the cover as well. I could not find the right person to do it. I wanted to try to piece it together with pieces of preexisting artwork, make something crazy. But at one point, I realized it just needed to be drawn out and by the right person, because I can't draw, you know, to save my life.
I happened to be in a friend's restaurant, and, as I was saying good-bye to him, I looked in his office and he had this picture frame with a cartoon, and it was really crazy, very grotesque humor, and I thought, "This is it!"
AAJ: What is the story behind the cartoon and the song?
LB: As I mentioned, my dad was an immigrant from Costa Rica, so he didn't really learn to speak English. It certainly came with a very heavy accent. It almost didn't matter, it would happen at most any meal, but I especially remember around Thanksgiving when there were a lot of people aroundespecially kids, two brothers, cousins, all running around. My dad would be sitting there at the end of the table, having his drink, not really saying anything. His eyes would just start to squint a littleyou could see him winding up. It was just a matter of time before he'd have to slam his fist on the table and say: "You chuttup! I talking now!" [Laughs.] Then he'd say what he had to, sit back and keep drinking his beverage, and the mayhem would repeat itself all over again.
AAJ: A lot of the tunes here are dedicated to members of the family. It is quite clear that family is important to you.
LB: It is crucial. It is paramount in my life. Without that it makes it very difficult for me to feel completely dedicated as an individual. Especially as a contributor to society, for me, having my family as a support system and safety net, I know I have unconditional love, regardless.
AAJ: The tune "Closer Still" is a beautifully composed piece written for your wife. In the album notes you wrote that she is your inspiration. What does that mean?
LB: I just feel encouraged to be better at everything I do, on a daily basis. Whether it's being a better husband, a better father, a better musician, a better friend. Just be a little bit more refined, to think about things a little bit more thoroughly before you say or do themmore discipline, more focus- -to be a better individual for all those around us.
AAJ: How did you meet her?
LB: I was playing at SOB's and I saw her sitting with a friend, who she tried to pawn off on me. [Laughs.] But I wasn't having any of that. As soon as I saw her and she was walking in my direction, it just took my breath away. I saw the little movie in my head that said, "This is your life," and I knew it. You know as soon as it happens. There was absolutely no denying it.
AAJ: You also dedicated the last two tracks to your daughter and your niece. How do the different songs reflect the children?
LB: "Luminescence," for Sophia, I actually wrote before she was born. That was one of those compositions where the melody is something I just heard in my head. Both of them were similar in that way. The melodies would just not go away. When I found out that my younger brother and his wife were pregnant and were going to have a little girl, it was so sweet to me, because it was the first child to make my mom a grandmother. My dad had already passed away. That was the first grandchild of our family. It seemed both sweet and fun.
With "Elise," the melody kept getting longer and longer the more I really got to know her, even just as an infant. She's always been very playful, very demanding! Not from my part of the family, ok? [Laughs.] It's playful and tricky, and a long tune. It's a long melody which, I hope, translates to her life.
Luis Bonilla, I Talking Now! (Planet Arts/NJC, 2009)
Dave Douglas/Brass Ecstasy, Spirit Moves (Greenleaf, 2009)
Arturo O'Farrill and the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra, Song for Chico (Zoho, 2008)
Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Up from the Skies (Planet Arts, 2007)
Luis Bonilla Trombonilla, Terminal Clarity: Live at the Jazz Gallery (NJC, 2006)
Donny McCaslin, Soar (Sunnyside, 2006)
Tom Harrell, Wise Children (RCA, 2003)
Lester Bowie/Brass Fantasy, When the Spirit Returns (Warner/ESP, 2000)
Luis Bonilla, Esucha! (Candid Records, 1999)
George Gruntz Concert Jazz Band/Liebermann, Live at Jazzfest Berlin (TCB, 1999)
Luis Bonilla Latin Jazz All-Stars, Pasos Gigantes (Candid Records, 1991)