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Interviews

George Cables: The Pianist’s Dedication to the Group

By Published: October 14, 2013
AAJ: Let's try to bring it up to the present a bit now. In the last couple of decades, you've been very productive. And despite having had some serious medical issues, you've recently made a number of recordings as a leader.

GC: Yes, I've been excited about that. I have had some health issues that made things seem more urgent. I've been fortunate all my life to have been able to play with some really great musicians. More recently, I've been writing more as well as exploring some of the things that I've written before. So my last record, My Muse (HighNote, 2012), which is dedicated to my late partner Helen, is a trio record, and pretty topical and lyrical at that.

AAJ: That's a wonderful recording by the way. It's so listenable and expressive. When I heard it, I thought of some pianists you haven't mentioned, especially Tommy Flanagan
Tommy Flanagan
Tommy Flanagan
1930 - 2001
piano
and Kenny Barron
Kenny Barron
Kenny Barron
b.1943
piano
, in terms of the combination of lyricism and a tight rhythmic pulse. In your opinion, is that a fair comparison to make?

GC: Those are great pianists, and I'm very grateful to be mentioned in the same breath as them. Kenny is one of my favorite pianists and a great influence on me from years ago. I first became aware of him when he was with Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie
1917 - 1993
trumpet
and Freddie Hubbard. He is both a great writer and pianist, and as time goes on, the added experience has contributed to his elegance.

AAJ: "Elegance" is the word I was looking for to describe Tommy and Kenny as well as your new album.

GC: Yet, at the same time, I don't want to be exactly like them. They have their territory staked out. I don't want to compete with them. But Kenny is just a great pianist, and I love the way he touches the piano...

AAJ: I didn't mean to imply that you were imitating them, only that you share a certain tradition in common.

GC: I think that we're related in some ways. Kenny, like me, likes to go outside the chords. I think we have similar influences. For example, Art Tatum is our pianistic grandfather. And I love the piano. I've been exploring that in another record that we're working on, that we're calling "Icons and Influences," so I can reach back a bit and play some music, let's say, by Dave Brubeck
Dave Brubeck
Dave Brubeck
1920 - 2012
piano
or Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington
1899 - 1974
piano
and Mulgrew Miller
Mulgrew Miller
Mulgrew Miller
1955 - 2013
piano
and Cedar Walton
Cedar Walton
Cedar Walton
1934 - 2013
piano
. Cedar had a big influence on me, and who I identify with because of his work with various rhythm sections. I remember reading that he didn't want so much to be thought of as a great soloist as he wanted to be a great pianist. Like me, his emphasis was on the group. But now I enjoy the whole gamut: solo, duo, trio, quartet, the smaller groups, which makes it easy for me to make my voice heard.

So, I have my various projects coming up. I have a songbook with some of what I've written, but in different settings, like with the young vocalist Sarah Elizabeth Charles. I hope to do part of that in November in my gig at Dizzy's Club Coca Cola. We'll do some trio, some songbook, with Sarah, Steve Wilson
Steve Wilson
Steve Wilson
b.1961
sax, alto
, Victor Lewis
Victor Lewis
Victor Lewis
b.1950
drums
, Essiet Essiet
Essiet Essiet
Essiet Essiet
b.1956
bass, acoustic
. I had been using Steve Berrios as a percussionist, who recently passed away, so Steve Kroon
Steve Kroon
Steve Kroon

percussion
will be there instead. But I'm working on some new pieces as well. And then there's my association with The Cookers. Like somebody said, "There's snow on the roof, but there's still a lot of fire in the furnace." Guys like Billy Hart, Cecil McBee
Cecil McBee
Cecil McBee
b.1935
bass, acoustic
, Billy Harper, Eddie Henderson. Among the younger guys there's Eddie Weiss. Craig Handy
Craig Handy
Craig Handy
b.1962
saxophone
, Gary Bartz
Gary Bartz
Gary Bartz
b.1940
sax, alto
. We've had a close relationship over time, and each one of these guys has been a strong influence on my musical life.

And of course, the Dexter Gordon legacy is very important to me. At the February 2014 Dexter Gordon Birthday event at Dizzy's, the rhythm section is going to be Victor and probably Rufus. For the front line, I have in mind Brandon Lee
Brandon Lee
Brandon Lee
b.1983
trumpet
, Jerry Weldon, Walter Blanding
Walter Blanding
Walter Blanding
b.1971
saxophone
, and Joe Locke
Joe Locke
Joe Locke
b.1959
vibraphone
. It depends a lot on who's available. And then there's "The Art Pepper Legacy," a brain child of Gaspare Pasini, an Italian alto saxophonist. We've used Carl Burnett for that. We had been using bassist Bob Magnuson, but he's had some physical ailment, and I think he's had to retire from playing gigs. We're all alumni of Art Pepper's groups. But we've used Essiet, and it turned out very, very nicely.

So I have my hands in a lot of things. And then I'm teaching an improv ensemble at the New School. In the past, I've had a Herbie Hancock ensemble in which we played the music of Herbie. This year, it's the improv ensemble, which is pretty open as to which music. So far, I've brought in a McCoy Tyner piece, a couple of my own pieces, some Charlie Parker, a great variety.

AAJ: What is the instrumentation?

GC: This year I have alto, tenor, piano, bass, drums, and guitar.


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