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Interviews

Don Aliquo: The Man, The Music, The Journey

By Published: July 26, 2010
Later on, I also developed an affinity for the blues, partly out of necessity. I say that because Pittsburgh was [and still is] a heavy blues town. You had better be able to play some blues if you wanted to work! I also had the opportunity to hear and play with Stanley Turrentine a good bit and, I'm sure that didn't hurt either! When he was in town, he would always come out and sit in with Roger, and although I didn't know him well, he was always offering me words of encouragement. There is a video of Stanley and I playing "The Way You Look Tonight" floating around somewhere. Man, I would love to get a copy of that! He had such a great style; he could say so much with just the conviction of his sound alone! I remember playing with Roger at the James Street Tavern and thinking I was really playing my ass off, a real hot shit tenor player. In comes Stanley and he proceeds to play "They Can't Take That Away From Me." All he had to do was play the first couple notes of the pick-up into the melody for me to realize I still had quite a bit to learn! That was a lesson I have never forgotten!

I think I also gravitated towards players who created their sound with a lighter touch—players like Stan Getz
Stan Getz
Stan Getz
1927 - 1991
sax, tenor
, Lee Konitz
Lee Konitz
Lee Konitz
b.1927
sax, alto
and Joe Henderson
Joe Henderson
Joe Henderson
1937 - 2001
sax, tenor
. I really like the nuances of tone you can get by playing lighter—it 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
Michael Brecker
Michael Brecker
1949 - 2007
sax, tenor
[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 like—particularly 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 playing—either 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 positive—not 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
Tadd Dameron
Tadd Dameron
1917 - 1965
arranger
, which I later recorded with organist Gene Ludwig
Gene Ludwig
Gene Ludwig
1937 - 2010
organ, Hammond B3
. 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
Jeff Coffin
Jeff Coffin

saxophone
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.


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