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Interviews

George Cables: The Pianist’s Dedication to the Group

By Published: October 14, 2013
AAJ: And of course you've worked for many years right up until now with another great drummer, Victor Lewis
Victor Lewis
Victor Lewis
b.1950
drums
. You've highlighted the drummers. Are they the center of interest for you when you perform?

GC: I play a lot with Victor, who is a very creative player and into dynamics. We worked with Dexter back in the day, and often since then right up to the present time. I feel very comfortable with him. I do think that when I play the piano, and I'm comping, I have a close relationship with the drums. The piano is a percussion instrument, so I learned very early to work closely with the drummers.

AAJ: Let me ask you about Art Pepper, whom you worked with extensively. First of all, was Pepper part of that scene you've been discussing?

GC: No. What happened was, I moved to California, where I worked with Freddie Hubbard
Freddie Hubbard
Freddie Hubbard
1938 - 2008
trumpet
. He was amazing. It seemed that whatever he wanted to play, he could play. He had a lot of fire and integrity. Great sound and facility. He also played very good piano, which helped him with his concepts. And while in L.A., I worked with Art Pepper. I had previously met Lester Koenig
Lester Koenig
b.1918
, the founder of Contemporary Records, when I worked with Joe Henderson
Joe Henderson
Joe Henderson
1937 - 2001
sax, tenor
just before Freddie. Orrin Keepnews recorded Joe, and we did At the Lighthouse (MIlestoone, 1970). Lester was involved on that record, and he also recorded Woody Shaw's Blackstone Legacy (Contemporary, 1980) which included me on the gig. And then he got me together with Art Pepper, and we did a record called The Trip (Contemporary, 1976). And that was a milestone for me. It was the first time I got to play with Elvin Jones and David Williams and Art Pepper, all together, at the same time!

AAJ: I had no idea that Elvin worked with Art Pepper!

GC: Oh, yeah! One record we did, Live at the Village Vanguard (Contemporary, 1970), was Album of the Year in Japan. Elvin Jones and George Mraz
George Mraz
George Mraz
b.1944
bass
were on that one.

AAJ: I recently listened to a CD of a concert you did with Pepper in Japan (Live in Osaka, 1979, and it blew me away! I think Billy Higgins was on drums, and Tony Dumas
Tony Dumas
Tony Dumas
b.1955
on bass. Incredible performance.

GC: I spent a few years with Art, and some of them overlapped with the years I spent with Dexter. I worked with Art when Tony Dumas and Billy Higgins were the rhythm section with drummer Carl Burnette. And bassist David Williams and Carl were in the rhythm section. At the time, another pianist would sometimes play with Art, a guy from Bulgaria, Milcho Leviev
Milcho Leviev
Milcho Leviev
b.1937
piano
. I think Art may have done some work with Stanley Cowell
Stanley Cowell
Stanley Cowell
b.1941
piano
. I remember Hank Jones
Hank Jones
Hank Jones
1918 - 2010
piano
also worked with Art.

AAJ: Did your first work with Dexter occur after he came back from Europe in the late 1970s?

GC: Yeah, it was around '77, and he had already done the famous record Homecoming at the Vanguard, which had Woody Shaw and his band on it. Ronnie Matthews was the pianist. Woody Shaw and Todd Barkan recommended me to Dexter. So when Dexter came out west and played in L.A. and San Francisco, I played with Dexter at the Keystone Corner in the latter city. We hit it off, and that was probably one of the greatest musical relationships for me. I think of Dexter as my musical father. For me, Dexter and jazz are almost synonymous. He represents what jazz is. That is what inspired my album, A Letter to Dexter (Kind of Blue, 2006).

AAJ: That's quite a compliment, even for Dexter! So what was it like to work with him?

GC: It was just fun, because he wanted to be leader and also just wanted to play. He was very creative and arranged our choruses. We had a quartet that really developed, with Rufus Reid
Rufus Reid
Rufus Reid
b.1944
bass, acoustic
on bass and Eddie Gladden
Eddie Gladden
Eddie Gladden
b.1937
on drums. Dexter had a few specific things he wanted, and he would tell you that, but he would also just roll with the band. We became an incredible group because we were really tight. Dexter finally felt he had his own group that had his own voice. The rhythm section really worked well together.

I remember that one day he gave me a piano solo on a ballad, and the band suddenly stopped playing! I had no accompaniment, and I just started playing my solo piano, and I wasn't used to doing that, but I kept finding things to play and really stretchin' it out and being fairly free, and playing rubato, and out of tempo. And Dexter encouraged me for taking that risk, and I'm grateful for that because he helped me find out what I can do playing solo.

AAJ: That's interesting, because you had already been playing for many years with some of the greats. But something clicked in, and you got into a new groove.

GC: I had been playing with Joe Henderson and Freddie Hubbard using electronic piano and keyboards, so with Dexter, I returned to playing acoustic piano, which I really liked.


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