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Interviews

Michael Carvin: The Making of a Master

By Published: July 30, 2012
Carvin was drawn to Pharaoh Sanders by the saxophonist's connection to John Coltrane
John Coltrane
John Coltrane
1926 - 1967
saxophone
. "I always admired Trane, but Trane died before I got out of Vietnam. I wanted to touch everybody that worked with Trane; that's why I worked with McCoy and Alice Coltrane
Alice Coltrane
Alice Coltrane
1937 - 2007
piano
and Pharaoh and Cecil Taylor
Cecil Taylor
Cecil Taylor
b.1929
piano
. I wanted to try to get as close to Trane as I could and try to figure out, what did he have? What was it?" Carvin's work with Sanders included Elevation (Impulse!, 1974), and as a result of their collaboration, the drummer made another important discovery beyond the self-knowledge that he got from McLean. "Pharaoh introduced me into the spiritual way of playing the drums. He showed me something else that music can do as a healing force."

The drummer was in search of other kinds of personal and musical development when he joined Dizzy Gillespie in the late 1970s. "Dizzy Gillespie was an innovator, man. I wanted to work with an innovator, to be in the presence of an innovator, to watch how an innovator goes about his business. How does he craft what he's doing? After a while, I noticed when I watched Dizzy play, before he'd execute a phrase he was going to use when he was improvising, he'd finger it on his horn. Then he'd play it, and later, he'd finger that same phrase—the whole phrase—but he would only play a part of it, the part he wanted you to hear. He was fingering the whole phrase to keep his cadence and his time. I was like, 'Wow!' So, I do something like that in my drum solos. I'll hear rhythms and visualize playing them, but I won't play the whole phrase."

"I also had something to give to Dizzy, but I couldn't release it until I had been with him for at least six months or a year, get to know him. He started opening up to me, telling me about working with Chano Pozo
Chano Pozo
1915 - 1948
congas
"—the great Cuban percussionist who was one of the founders of Latin jazz. "We were working at a club in Munich, German in 1979. He came to my room at about 4 o'clock in the morning, because Dizzy never slept. We were talking about the 6/8 clave, and that whole Cuban thing. And I said, 'John, can I tell you something?' I didn't call him Dizzy, I called him John. He said, 'Yeah.' I said, 'I don't know how to tell you this, but you've never played "A Night in Tunisia." You play "A Night in Cuba," with a 6/8 clave. That rhythm is not played in Tunisia. Tunisia is in Africa.' I sang out the rhythm they play in Tunisia for him. So then, I arranged that song for Dizzy Gillespie, and that was the way he played until he died. And that's the same arrangement on my Marsalis Music CD. Every time I play 'Night in Tunisia,' I play that arrangement. You see the guy on the camel's back in Tunisia moving through whatever he's seeing. Since I don't play congas, I play the rhythm on the high hat, eighth note triplets."

Another important early association for Carvin was with Freddie Hubbard. "It was Freddie, Junior Cook
Junior Cook
Junior Cook
1934 - 1992
saxophone
, George Cables
George Cables
George Cables
b.1944
piano
, Kent Brinkley, and me. When we opened up at the Village Vanguard, Miles Davis
Miles Davis
Miles Davis
1926 - 1991
trumpet
came to see us there on opening night, and every night that week. After that, we left for Europe for about six weeks. There's a new DVD that just came out from that tour"— Freddie Hubbard, Live in France 1973 (Mosaic, 2012).

Carvin has had many other notable collaborations over the years. One that stands out in particular for him in the last decade was with violinist Billy Bang
Billy Bang
Billy Bang
1947 - 2011
violin
, who had something special in common with the drummer. "Billy Bang was putting a band together—beautiful concept. He wanted to get some Vietnam veterans together, and he was writing beautiful music. The music is unbelievable. We made two albums, on Justin Time Records out of Montreal [Canada]. Get both of them." Bang was working with saxophonist Hamiet Bluiett
Hamiet Bluiett
Hamiet Bluiett
b.1940
sax, baritone
when he was putting the Vietnam project together, and Bluiett recommended Carvin. "I had done several records with Bluiett, but I didn't know Bang, because he moved in a different circle. You know how New York is."

Before hearing the music, Carvin was hesitant about working on a project with a Vietnam theme. "I don't make a point to be around Vietnam veterans. I don't do Memorial Day. I don't go to the wall. I don't deal with any of that. So, I didn't know how I was going to react to some other cats after all this time. So, my beautiful bride Rhonda Hamilton said, 'Well, if you don't want to do it, don't do it, but at least go and meet him and check it out.' And I dug Bang. He wrote some gorgeous music, man. He had a beautiful ballad called 'Moments for the Kiamia.' K-I-A-M-I-A. That's 'killed in action, missing in action.'"


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