Bob Mintzer: Amazing Reach
BM: The situation there came out of meeting a producer who was doing some things for BMG in Japan. I think I had just joined the Yellowjackets and was interested in doing a little small band project separate from the band. I just thought that doing a tribute to Jaco, who had such a profound effect on my musicianship, seemed like a good idea, and they liked the idea, so that's how that all came about. I did a second project for BMG, Twin Tenors (Novus, 1994), where Michael Brecker and I played together.
AAJ: One curious thing about the Yellowjackets is that you'll still see it referred to as primarily a fusion group. With the earliest iteration of the band, that was true, but it seems pretty much straight-ahead jazz lately. Do you characterize it as fusion in your mind?
BM: I don't bother characterizing it. I mean, the band's been around for over 30 years now, and it's taken on a life and momentum all its own. It's just a Yellowjackets sound. There are courses taught at major universities on the music of the Yellowjackets. It's gone so far beyond the original fusion genre. In a band that's a collaborative effort like the Yellowjackets, whenever there's a personnel change, the music changes accordingly. When I got in the band, I brought a straight-ahead sensibility to what was already there. The music sort of goes well beyond categorization, I feel. And we leave it at that. Everyone is a prolific composer, and everyone is encouraged to contribute compositionally. We try to come up with music that's compelling and interesting to play, and it's Yellowjackets music, for sure. Many people say they hear a couple of bars, and they know that it's Yellowjackets. The way we approach rhythm and melody and harmony and the way we interact-all of those little details-that's how music works.
AAJ: You have a very active touring schedule with the band.
BM: Yes, we recently went to Shanghai and Beijing.
AAJ: You're so busy. You're one of the great sax soloists around, arranger, composer, educator-how do you juggle everything?
BM: I have a pretty full life. I think a lot of it is time management-pacing yourself and organizing your time. Sometimes it gets hectic, but I've been doing this for many years. It's nothing new.
AAJ: You're also working with other groups aside from the Yellowjackets and the big band. Are you still working with a quartet?
BM: On occasion. Since I've moved to Los Angeles, I've been playing with Peter Erskine, Alan Pasqua and Darek Oles a good bit. We're all on the faculty at USC. I still would like to play some with my guys in New York, John Riley, Jay Anderson and Phil Markowitz, who did In the Moment together with me. Lately, I've also been playing with an organ trio. I did a CD called Canyon Cove (Pony Canyon, 2010) with Larry Goldings and Peter Erskine. That was a lot of fun. I try to keep it interesting. I do a fair amount of big-band guesting and some orchestrating for different people. I just did an orchestra arrangement for Toninho Horta for a concert with the Philharmonic in Sao Paulo. I love Toninho's writing and playing, so that was a real joy. I wrote a piece for tenor saxophone and concert band, called "Go," and we play that a couple of times a year, and that's a lot of fun.
AAJ: You also have a working big band that you put together in L.A., too.
BM: Yes, I put a band together out here, just to play locally. But I've taken L.A. guys on tour, too. In June I took a band to Tokyo to play the Blue Note there for four nights. It was mostly New York guys, at least in the horn section. Lincoln Goines from New York came; he was on the CD, a great all-around bassist who really does the Brazilian thing very well. Chico Pinheiro came. And from L.A., Peter Erskine and Russell Ferrante came. Bob Sheppard, a saxophonist, and John Daversa, a really fine trumpet player, came on the trip, both from L.A. I like to mix it up and play with guys I have long-standing relationships with, who can really play the music. Some of those people happen to live in New York, and my friends in L.A. also play great. So, it was a really a very nice gathering to get the New York and L.A. guys together.
While the scene is smaller in Los Angeles, I have to say that there's a very vibrant, interesting scene out here-guys who are really trying to play some music. From what I see, with the glut of musicians in New York, some of the better players there are starting to reconsider the whole mindset that New York is the only place to be if you're going to play jazz. There's a nice scene out in L.A. And the weather is good. There are options nowadays. Plus, from the standpoint of a working jazz musician like myself, you go to the airport, you get on a plane, and you travel around. So, in that regard, you can live anywhere. There are compelling reasons to live in a nice place.