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Michael Carvin: The Making of a Master

By Published: July 30, 2012
Carvin first encountered Keith Loftis at a master class at Southern University. "Keith was a freshman in college. He was studying with Alvin Batiste
Alvin Batiste
Alvin Batiste
1932 - 2007
, who is one of the greatest clarinetists and reed men." Sometime afterward, Loftis moved to New York and, by chance one day, saw Carvin walking down Broadway. He introduced himself again; Carvin gave him his phone number and told him to keep in touch. "And he would call me, and say, 'Mr. Carvin, I just finished junior year, now working on my master's, and so on. So, when I was looking for a tenor player, and I said, I'm going to call Keith. He came by my studio, and I showed him how to listen to the ride cymbal. I explained to him, get on top of my beat and ride it, man, like you're surfing. You don't have to match me. Just get on top of it and find the spot—the beat—that you like, and just ride it. And just let it be."

Carvin also produced Loftis's CD, Simply, Loftis (Long Tone Music, 2011), which features trumpeter Roy Hargrove
Roy Hargrove
Roy Hargrove
, who went to high school together with the saxophonist in Dallas. "It's a good record, man. I really like it. And I'm really proud that Keith allowed me to be a part of it. Especially for one of his first major records." Carvin is very impressed with Loftis's musical development. "Keith, in my opinion, is one of the greatest horn players of the 21st century. He doesn't sound like anybody else, and that's what I really like."

Born in Tokyo, pianist Yayoi Ikawa has lived in New York for the past eight years. After finishing a Bachelor's degree at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music, she's now pursuing a Master's in jazz performance, composition, and film scoring. "I dig her a lot," says Carvin, "because she understands my concept. She can really get to the things that I really hear." As a whole, Carvin has high praise for the entire group and for young musicians now coming up overall. "They are great young players. But the musicians are different now. Younger guys now are really ambitious, and they are well trained—well schooled."

Carvin emphasizes both independence and collaboration in his approach. "The way I arrange my music—even if it's a standard—it won't make sense unless everybody holds their ground and plays their part. Because we are one, not four. It's four different sounds, but we are playing one rhythm. I like space. For instance, we play "I Remember April" so you can really hear the melody. I hear the horn player, in this case the tenor player, as a guy on the top of a camel as we're moving through Egypt, and he's playing what he's seeing. He's painting his picture. There are other things that are always constantly moving—the background landscape that comes from the rest of the band—but they shouldn't interfere with his journey." Visual conceptualization fits into Carvin's music other ways, as well. "When I see music, I see horizontal and vertical. The so-called front line guys, the horn players, they have to be horizontal, because that's the way the music is written. Drummers are vertical. It's like you're on a beautiful beach with your beautiful bride, enjoying yourself for a while, but then you're bored to death, because you're looking at the horizon and you don't see nothing but the ocean meeting the sky. Then all of a sudden your beautiful bride says, 'Look, there's a ship on the horizon!' And you look and you don't see it right away, but then it gradually comes in view, and there's the ship. Now it's exciting, isn't it? That's how I arrange my music. The horizontal is boring. The vertical is too strong on its own. The trick is in the mix, at the right time."

With the Lost and Found Project 2065, a trio setting with Jansen Cinco and saxophonist Antoine Roney
Antoine Roney
Antoine Roney
sax, tenor
, Carvin took a very free, conceptual approach without traditional structures in a set of seven original compositions. "We rehearsed for three days, and we never played a note. I only explained the concept. I wrote the music with no time signature and no bar lines, because I never wanted us to be at the same place at the same time, unless it happened spiritually, which I knew was going to happen, because we would be forced to crawl inside of each other and stay inside, to try to figure out where we were going and what we were doing. For a whole note on one of the pieces, under the note I wrote '500 years.' Under two half-notes, I wrote '250 years.' Jansen said, what do you mean, '500 years'? I said, 'We'll maybe you'll play the whole note for 500 years. I don't care. It doesn't matter. It's your part.'"

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