Joey Calderazzo: Improviser in Top Form
Further examining the youth movement, Calderazzo opines, "There's all this straight-eight music now, and a kind of harmony has taken over. You have guys that want to be different, so they write all these songs in odd meters, or they want to play standards, but they don't want to swing, so they play a standard in 7/4 instead of just playing it in 4/4. Which is fine. Who am I to tell people how they should play? But for my own thing, I have spent countless hours trying to comprehend how Herbie was able to play like that at that age. It's that good: the lines, the harmony, the compingevery aspect. So [nowadays] Blue Note Records will sign a guy and say he's the next genius? Come on.
"Take somebody like Eldar, who's a hell of a pianist. But he's had to do all of this on his own. He didn't have an Art Blakey or an Elvin Jones or a Wynton Marsalis or a Joe Henderson or Freddie Hubbard or Woody Shaw. He didn't have anybody to say, 'Hey, kid, you don't have to play every fucking note on every solo.' He didn't have that lesson from one of the guys that made it. That's how I feel."
Calderazzo himself had a variety of influences while growing up in New Rochelle, New York, north of the Big Apple. He started studying piano at about the age of 7. At age 14, he was in a rock band led by his brother, Gene. "I was always the youngest in every group. This band I was in, I actually had to get a written note from my mother just to play in this bar. The guitarist went to Berklee and came back and was into jazz. Being that I was 14 and they were 18, they all went to Berklee, and I used to go visit them. That's where I met Branford. I met Walter Beasley and Donald Harrison. I met David Kikoski up there, Jeff Watts. One of those guys told me to check out the Miles Davis groups and the John Coltrane groups. I went out and bought just about every Miles Davis record. Miles was a good one, because he always had a great group and he always had great musicians. So if you check out all of Miles' records, you get to check out Wynton Kelly, Red Garland, Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett."
From Miles, it was Coltrane and McCoy Tyner, who "was really an instant pull because it had that power." Calderazzo explains, "My favorite band was Led Zeppelin, because I loved powerful rock bands. So McCoy was coollike Led Zeppelin, but jazz. Then we go backwards. It's Monk. I really liked Red Garland playing 'Billy Boy' on Milestones. So let me go buy a couple Red Garland records. Then it's Wynton Kelly, and somebody goes, 'Do you know this record?' And I go out and buy that record. I really liked Bill Evans. I lovedand still to today think it's as close to perfect as music can possibly geta record called Circle in the Round (Columbia, 1979). It was 'Love For Sale.' It starts out with Bill playing an intro. It's Trane, Cannonball, Bill Evans and Miles. It is absolutely amazing. So I go out and buy Bill Evans albums. Live at the Village Vanguard, Everybody Digs Bills Evans (Riverside, 1958), you know."
Still a teenager, Calderazzo was jamming with some heavy hitters at the age of 17. A few years later, he met Brecker at a clinic. Kenny Kirkland was Brecker's pianist, but he would leave for a gig with the rock star Sting. Kirkland's career would be somewhat intertwined with Calderazzo's, for a time. In 1987, at age 22, Calderazzo was on the road with the saxophonist. He played on 1988's Don't Try This at Home (Impulse), and his reputation grew. Brecker produced Calderazzo's first disc, In the Door (Blue Note, 1990), and played on it, as did Marsalis.
"When I joined Mike's band. I didn't have any of his records. My musical influences were Miles and Herbie and Chick and Keith and McCoy and Sonny Rollins and Trane. I wasn't into the Brecker Brothers. I knew who they were. Mike wasn't really out playing straight-ahead until the late '80s. He was doing Steps Ahead, and that wasn't really a band I checked out," he recalls. "I was 22. I was still in and out of school and doing gigs and sitting in and running around to all the clubs in New York. I was doing duo gigs, and I put together a trio. I was doing that shit. Then I joined Mike's band. Kenny Kirkland stayed with Sting. It's funny, the two big gigs that I have were Kenny's. Kenny left Mike to play with Sting, and I got the gig. Mike decided to keep me. Then Kenny died and Branford called me. I loved Kenny. He was a great spirit."