Bob Mintzer: Amazing Reach
AAJ: Another important collaborator for you more recently has been the vocalist Kurt Elling.
BM: He sang on the first three big-band CDs that we did for MCG. On the first one, Bob Mintzer Big Band Live at MCG (MCG, 2004), there's version of the Herbie Hancock tune "Eye of the Hurricane" that's just blazing. Kurt sings about 20 choruses in his solo, vocalese like you've never heard before anywhere. I still marvel at that whenever I listen to it. He's great- extraordinary. In fact, I just took him to Japan with my big band. We did a bunch of those arrangements that I did on my CDs over there. He's one of the best male vocalists I know. He sings like an instrument: such exacting pitch and beautiful phrasing, such a bright guy and has so much to say.
AAJ: The Hudson Project (Stretch, 2000), with John Abercrombie, Peter Erskine and John Patitucci, is another notable live recording of yours.
BM: That was a great band. That was put together by the D'Addario company. We were all in one way or another associated with their family of products. I was endorsing Vandoren reeds at the time. John Abercrombie and John Patitucci used D'Addario strings, and Peter was endorsing Evans drumheads. So D'Addario sponsored this tour and made a record out of one of the concerts. I had played with these guys quite a lot over the years, and it was really fun to get together with all of them.
Playing with a guitar instead of piano was great-a different animal- and makes you play a little differently, especially with somebody like John Abercrombie, who's such a kind of line-type player. He's very contrapuntal, not always playing chords but sometimes playing melodies as accompaniment to you soloing. I enjoyed that a lot. John was one of the first musicians I met in New York, back in 1971. He lived in a loft down on Warren Street, way downtown. I used to go down there and play with him and Richie Beirach, Jeff Williams, who was a drummer who lived down there, Marc Copland, who was formerly Marc Cohen and a saxophonist, now a pianist. They all lived in there, and it was great playing with them.
AAJ: Another interesting recent recording you've made is with the Turkish pianist and composer Fahir Ada Koglu, Faces & Places (Far & Here, 2009).
BM: That was a challenging project. He wrote very ambitious music in odd meters. We play in odd meters with the Yellowjackets quite a lot, so I was fairly at home there, but this guy's a real virtuoso writer and player, and that was an interesting project to do.
AAJ: What other recordings that you've made stand out in your mind?
BM: The first big-band record I made, Incredible Journey (DMP, 1990)-that was sort of a new thing, a new way of recording, where we got all the wind players in a circle around one mic. It was a great band. Just the way the music was captured was pretty unusual. The first couple of records we did for DMP were interesting. I did a record called One Music (DMP, 1992) with the members of the Yellowjackets, which was another interesting record. My writing is a little different on that, for some reason. Maybe it was just the combination of where I was coming from with the members of the Yellowjackets, sort of taking them in another direction.
AAJ: On your records with MCG Jazz, the notes mention that some of the proceeds go to the programs that the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild sponsors.
BM: Yes, the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild is an organization that provides different kinds of training for inner-city people, young and old. They have a culinary school, a horticulture school, they teach courses in the fine arts and music. They tutor students and have adult education programs. It's quite an interesting and important organization. The jazz arm of MCG grew out of the interest of Bill Strickland, the founder, who is a jazz fan. It started out as a concert series. They have a beautiful 400-seat concert space down there, and eventually it expanded outward to a recording situation. All the concerts are recorded live, and they've been putting out CDs for a lot of these concerts. It's just a great organization that's there for all the right reasons. They do a great job as a record company, and it's run by musicians. They're very sympathetic to how this all works and how it should go. I feel very fortunate to be associated with them.
AAJ: Do you have any other big projects coming up?
BM: There's the new record the Yellowjackets are doing a couple of months away. I have another big-band project I'm starting to think about, and I want to do another organ trio record in late spring with Larry Goldings and Peter Erskine. I have a couple writing projects, something with the WDR Big Band in Cologne in February, and I'm supposed to do something for two classical soloists and one jazz soloist with a big band in Austria next summer. I'm supposed to go to Brazil with Vince Mendoza and a 10-piece ensemble to play some of Vince's music. I played on Vince's last record, which is extraordinary. He's amazing. And at USC, I'm going to take the school big band to the Jazz Education Network conference in January. So a lot of things are in the works. Yeah, I think that's more than enough.