Bob Mintzer: Amazing Reach
AAJ: You mentioned majoring in classical clarinet. What made you decide to do that?
BM: I was a clarinet major when I went to Interlochen. That's how I got into that school. I had played a fair amount of clarinet in school, and outside of school, I was playing guitar in rock-and-roll bands and messed around with saxophone just a little bit. I was a classical-clarinet major in college, too. I didn't really study jazz in college. Jackie McLean had just arrived at Hartt when I was there, and the jazz component was minimal. Most of what I did in school was classical. I did jazz outside of school. I was listening incessantly to recordings. I was sitting in and eventually working with the local jazz groups around Hartford and going down to New York as much as I could and play with people and meet people. And then, when I transferred to Manhattan School of Music, that jazz program was pretty minimal as well. It was just a big band, and there was one little combo class, and that was about it for jazz. The rest of the school was classical. In those days, jazz education hadn't really taken hold yet. There were programs at North Texas State, Miami University, Berklee, of course, and not many others.
So, for me, at Manhattan School of Music, I found my way through the jazz world outside of school, sitting in and hanging out and jamming. I'm actually glad it all worked out the way it did, because my experience with classical music really carried over and informed my jazz playing and my playing in general. It also gave me some other skills that allowed me to work in symphonic and chamber music while I was waiting for a jazz career to get going. Ultimately, the clarinet fell by the wayside, and I found myself wanting to play more and more saxophone in a jazz context.
AAJ: Whom do you count as your influences on saxophone?
BM: Initially it was John Coltrane, Joe Henderson and Sonny Rollins, Eddie Harris. Shortly afterwards, Lester Young, Ben Webster, Dexter Gordon, Sonny Stitt, Hank Mobley, Wayne Shorter, George Coleman, Al Cohn, Zoot Sims. I mean, anybody and everybody. And I'm still working on it, still delving as deep as I can into the rich history of tenor saxophone. Stanley Turrentine, who was an acquaintance, was a big influence on all of us. In fact, I had my students transcribe one of his recordings with Shirley Scott recently. What a great, beautiful player. The way he combined R&B and bebop-a melodic, swinging, beautiful player. Everybody, anybody, all of the above have influenced me, and I think once you get serious about playing this music, you make a point of being thorough in your research.
AAJ: But you've really developed your own sound.
BM: That's always hardest for the person doing the playing to realize. Everybody has their own sound, and I think that those who really persevere and play a lot tend to develop more of a sound, I suppose, just out of having the experience of playing with people. You come up with something that eventually becomes the way you sound. You can still hear influences in anybody's playing. I think as a composer and player, you stumble onto things, you discover things. You put the notes together. You gather the people together to play. You play repeatedly, things happen, and hopefully, you as a musical personality emerge.
AAJ: One bit of experience you had very early in your career that ties in with the Brazilian sound on For the Moment was the work you did in 1974 with Deodato, the Brazilian pianist and composer who made a big splash by mixing jazz and pop music.
BM: That was actually my first gig out of Manhattan School of Music, playing with a four-man horn section at the height of his success back then. We did a bunch of touring, and it was very interesting to play in that kind of ensemble and travel the world. I went with him to Japan, Canada and all over the U.S. It was a beginning, and, of course, once you get on a band with that kind of visibility, people hear you, and word sort of gets around. That, and also playing with Tito Puente's band and being on the scene in New York, helped me to be considered for the Buddy Rich band in 1975.
AAJ: How did you like working with Buddy Rich? He had a reputation as a tough taskmaster.
BM: He could be really tough and at times unreasonable, but he was all about the music and all about playing great. Once you got past the yelling and screaming, you quickly realized it was all about playing your best. I'm forever grateful, number one, to have the opportunity to play every night and travel the world and, number two, to write my first big-band arrangements for that band. That was an incredible experience. And, to counter some of the usual stuff you hear about Buddy, he was extremely supportive of my writing and playing. He was very generous and very giving in that regard. I played with Buddy for two and a half years, and I made a little different kind of name for myself through that, touring and playing, not only as a member of the band but as a writer/arranger. When I got off of that band, I got a call to join the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, I think in part based on the fact that I was a writer and a player.