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Interviews

Joey Calderazzo: Improviser in Top Form

By Published: December 19, 2011
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 comping—every aspect. So [nowadays] Blue Note Records will sign a guy and say he's the next genius? Come on.

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"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
Art Blakey
Art Blakey
1919 - 1990
drums
or an Elvin Jones
Elvin Jones
Elvin Jones
1927 - 2004
drums
or a Wynton Marsalis
Wynton Marsalis
Wynton Marsalis
b.1961
trumpet
or a Joe Henderson
Joe Henderson
Joe Henderson
1937 - 2001
sax, tenor
or Freddie Hubbard
Freddie Hubbard
Freddie Hubbard
1938 - 2008
trumpet
or Woody Shaw
Woody Shaw
Woody Shaw
1944 - 1989
trumpet
. 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
Donald Harrison
Donald Harrison
b.1960
sax, alto
. I met David Kikoski
David Kikoski
David Kikoski
b.1961
piano
up there, Jeff "Tain" Watts
Jeff
Jeff "Tain" Watts
b.1960
drums
. One of those guys told me to check out the Miles Davis
Miles Davis
Miles Davis
1926 - 1991
trumpet
groups and the John Coltrane
John Coltrane
John Coltrane
1926 - 1967
saxophone
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
Red Garland
Red Garland
1923 - 1984
piano
, 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 cool—like 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 loved—and still to today think it's as close to perfect as music can possibly get—a 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
Kenny Kirkland
Kenny Kirkland
1955 - 1998
piano
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
Sonny Rollins
Sonny Rollins
b.1930
saxophone
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."


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