Joey Calderazzo: Improviser in Top Form
The '90s saw more Calderazzo albums, while he continued to work with Brecker. He even was part of the funky Marsalis band, Buckshot Le Fonque, touring for a short while with the group. It wasn't the type of music he preferred, and he left the unit. It was 1998 when Marsalis' excellent pianist Kirkland died. Calderazzo was asked to step in, and has been there ever since. But he's continued to investigate jazz music and explore its possibilities. He's determined to keep growing.
"I joined Branford's band. He starts playing 'Mood Indigo' as an encore every night, and I never really checked out swing music. Now I'm out buying Duke Ellington records and transcribing those solos so I don't sound like a fool when I'm playing 'Mood Indigo' at a very slow tempo. I got into Nat 'King' Cole. I started getting into Jelly Roll Morton, trying to fill in the holes."
The pianist is still digging playing with Marsalis, but has enjoyed other sideman gigs with other top-notch jazz artists over the years. "It's been a neat thing for me as a sideman. I kind of changed both quartets that I was in. Mike [Brecker] played a lot of my music. Branford is playing my tunes. The communication relationship of what goes on has been developed, and Branford and I have a musical identity together, which is pretty neat.
"When I look back at what my career is, I did albums for Blue Note. My solo career could have been in a different place than it currently is, but I have no regrets and wouldn't change it, because of the music I've made with both Branford and Mike, and those personal relationships as well. It's been wonderful for me. All these years, I've been able to play music that I love playing, and I make a living. I own a house; I have a family. I made a career of playing whatever I want to play. It's pretty neat. I feel kind of lucky. I can bring in a tune to Branford Marsalis and he'll say, 'That's great. Let's record it.' That's pretty cool."
Between the Marsalis quartet and his own trio, the pianist has been booked solid. 2012 will see duo gigs with Marsalis, as well as quartet tours supporting the new recording. And there will be trio activity, including a live recording of his unit, that will likely be released. Calderazzo wants the trio to become well known, to stand out as one of the fine working trios on the scene.
He says, "Nobody knows who [Donald] Edwards is, and the guy is fucking great not flashy, but a great musician. I met him when we needed a drummer to play with Branford one night. Eric [Revis] recommended him. Donald came and played great. I remember thinking it would be really fun to play with him in a trio.
"What I like about playing trio is: it's not a power trio. Everything I've been more known for doing is on the powerful side. Branford's band is still a hard hitting, pretty powerful group. My trio is very loose, very spontaneous. I'll play bebop tunes. I play 'Confirmation' every night. We do shit like that. I have a couple originals I like playing. I'll be on the road listening to Ahmad Jamal's trio and I'll come in and say, 'Let's play this like Ahmad's group.' That's what I do with the trio. It's fun. It's lighter. We can do gigs without any monitors, because Donald's dynamic range is huge. It's another musical outlet for me."
As for a possible trio album, he notes, "I've never put out a live record before, so part of me likes that. Part of me likes the idea that we're stretching and searching. ... I might look into editing some of it, I don't know. It's done. It's a question of putting it out."
Meanwhile, Calderazzo's strong chops and keen sense to explore night by night will be enhancing any setting where he might be found.
Branford Marsalis/Joey Calderazzo, Songs of Mirth and Melancholy (Marsalis Music, 2011)
Joey Calderazzo, Amanecer (Marsalis Music, 2007)
Branford Marsalis, Braggtown (Columbia, 2006)
Joey Calderazzo, Haiku (Marsalis Music, 2004)
Branford Marsalis, Footsteps of Our Fathers (Columbia, 2002)
Joey Calderazzo, Joey Calderazzo (Columbia, 2000)
Michael Brecker, Two Blocks from the Edge (Impulse, 1998)
Joey Calderazzo, The Traveler (Blue Note, 1992)
Joey Calderazzo, To Know One (Blue Note, 1991)
Joey Calderazzo, In the Door (Blue Note, 1990)