Don Aliquo: The Man, The Music, The Journey
I think I also gravitated towards players who created their sound with a lighter touchplayers like Stan Getz, Lee Konitz and Joe Henderson. I really like the nuances of tone you can get by playing lighterit can be really romantic and very personal. As a younger player, I probably "swept that under a rug a bit," especially during the '80s and early '90s, when everyone was into sounding like Michael Brecker [saxophone]. Oddly enough, I never really wanted to do that. I guess I didn't hear the sound that bright, and his playing was so beyond where I was, I came to an early conclusion of "Why bother?"
In some ways, he was the shit as far as inside/outside playing is concerned, though. I do love the energy, drama, and ambiguity (or whatever you want to call it) that that approach to harmony brings to the music.
AAJ: Although you somewhat downplay the importance of "formal" lessons, Eric Kloss is such an enigmatic figure in the music. What was studying with him likeparticularly since he is visually impaired?
DA: I studied with Eric for two semesters sometime in the early 1990s while I was getting my master's degree at Duquesne University. I can only describe it as a joy. He is one of the kindest people anyone could hope to study with, and although his blindness made some aspects of formal study unusual, it really didn't present much of a problem. It wasn't like I went to Eric to play from an etude book or something! Actually, it was wonderful because it put the focus where it really belongs as a jazz player: on using your ears!
The lessons took place at his home, and most of the time was spent playingeither two saxophones or comping for each other on the piano. I especially loved when we would play tunes together and trade musical ideas back and forth. Inevitably, I would try and play the most outrageous stuff I could come up with and he would, time and again, either fire my idea back at me, or come up with something even more outrageous built upon my idea! He was all about stretching and being creative as a musician. He had a great spirit and was always positivenot an easy task for a teacher with a large private studio (now that I can say)! Of course, this was really good for me because I had a side of my playing that was more concerned with being "correct" than creative. Actually, I am always interested in how other players balance that issue. Getting back to Eric, however, I always thought of him in those lessons as being "the fastest alto in the west," a real gunslinger! His mind, ears and chops were at an equally remarkable level! I guess this is why I remarked that I learned more from listening to him than learning anything specific.
I do remember two specific things we worked on, however. One, he showed me the changes to "On a Misty Night" by Tadd Dameron, which I later recorded with organist Gene Ludwig. Secondly, at that time Eric was really into teaching improvisation using modes. This was new territory for me because I was really more of a chordal player at the time. I still have and treasure some of the material he shared from those lessons. I wish I had tapes of those lessons, actually, but I was never one to be that organized.
I don't think I have played with another saxophonist who played that fearlessly with such a command of the instrument until I met Jeff Coffin shortly after I moved to Nashville. Jeff and I have engaged in many a musical joust from time to time and he often reminds me of Eric. The fact that Eric more or less dropped out of the jazz scene is certainly a mystery to me. I never really talked to him about it, but my guess is it is complicated. Maybe because he began his career so young? His early career and recordings certainly were an inspiration to many.