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Interviews

Bob Mintzer: Amazing Reach

By Published: November 12, 2012
AAJ: Taking things a few years forward, you formed your own first big band in the early '80s. It started out at Seventh Avenue South, the club owned by Randy and Michael Brecker. Had you met them around that time?

BM: I knew them already. When Mike and Randy Brecker opened Seventh Avenue South, several of the people who wound up playing in my big band were playing at Seventh Avenue South with their own respective small groups. I was sort of summoned to round up a bunch of people who were playing there and put them in a big band for this little event. Without realizing it, I had formed something that was going to be very long lasting, but I didn't know it at the time.

AAJ: Your playing as a sax soloist is compared to Michael Brecker's, from time to time.

BM: Yeah, it's inevitable, and I'll be the first to admit it. He was a huge influence. We were good friends. We played together periodically, and I admired what he did. In fact, in a lot of the session work I was doing around New York, the producers would say, "Can you do a solo like Michael Brecker?" He pretty much set the standard for contemporary jazz/R&B saxophone playing. I think I'm the kind of person who absorbs things quickly, and just being around him, I absorbed a good deal of what he did. We all have our influences. I do think there are things I do that are different than what he did, although I can't even begin to do some of the things he did. He was a total virtuoso. We had a lot of common influences- Coltrane, Stanley Turrentine, Junior Walker, Sonny Rollins, Joe Henderson. I think he certainly went well past that initial sound that he created. He developed and grew not only as a player but as a composer. I'd like to think that I've done the same. It's tragic that Michael died so young, but on a positive note, if there is such a thing, he left an incredible legacy, not only as a musician but as a human being: a great person and a great artist.

AAJ: Not long after you formed the big band, you also started your association with Tom Jung and his company, Digital Music Products.

BM: That happened a couple of years later. I met Tom in '84, and he actually came by Seventh Avenue South. He heard the band, and he was just starting this digital compact-disc label, which was one of the first. And he needed a band-a large ensemble to kind of showcase what he was attempting to do, which was to display very textural, dynamic large-ensemble jazz music in this new digital domain. That was a great opportunity for me, because not only were jazz fans interested in the music but there was the whole high-end audiophile community who, due to the fact that there were so few CD titles available at that time, were buying up any and all CDs of any sort of quality. So it was a built-in market for those first couple of CDs we made for DMP, and they did very well.

AAJ: You were talking a little about the work you've done in other contexts-rock, pop and symphony orchestras. How do you like working outside of the jazz context?

BM: Well, I love to play, and I always enjoy the freedom that working affords you. I've always been interested in all kinds of music. I love James Brown and Tower of Power. I love Igor Stravinsky. I like medieval music, Afro-Caribbean, Brazilian and African music. I like folk music. So I have the sensibility and skills that allow me to do session work, and I did it. It was available, and it was challenging. I enjoyed it and, as a result, had the opportunity to play with Aretha Franklin, James Taylor, the Bee Gees, Steve Winwood, Queen-with all sorts of stylistically different artists. I played some really great music with some great people. With jazz, where I'm a composer, producer and artist, it's a different kind of thing. There's a different focus. It's more about improvisation and playing in a way that's determined by me, whereas as a session player, you're called upon to go in and fit into this pre-existing scenario and try to play your best in an appropriate way that serves the music.

AAJ: Do you find different session opportunities now that you're in L.A.?

BM: I didn't really come out here to do sessions. I came out here to teach at USC. I did the freelance thing in New York, and I sort of feel it's on to the next chapter. The way I spend my time nowadays is writing and playing with the Yellowjackets, my own groups, writing for various-sized ensembles where I'm incorporated in a playing situation, generally my own. That's what most interests me, and I think as we get older, we try to zero in on areas that are most interesting and stimulating.

AAJ: We haven't talked about your bass clarinet work. When did you start playing bass clarinet?

BM: I started bringing it around the sessions in the late '70s. I found a way to amplify the instrument with a Barcus Berry pickup, so I was able to compete volume-wise and hear myself a little better. When I got called to play with Jaco Pastorius, that seemed like a really great opportunity to play the instrument, because he frequently would play melodic lines and needed a bass instrument to kind of take over the traditional bass area. And the bass clarinet is ideal for that due to its low range. So I really started to develop a sound and conception playing with Jaco. It was sort of a logical place to go, being that I was a clarinet major. I spent all that time on the instrument. It's a great instrument to play. I don't play it so much, but I really enjoy it when I do.


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