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George Cables: The Pianist’s Dedication to the Group

By Published: October 14, 2013
AAJ: A lot of the best jazz training happens at the New School.

GC: Right. There are great instructors who really care what happens with the music and the young musicians.

AAJ: Things are pretty exciting for you.

GC: Yeah, they are. I'm busy, I can tell you that.

Getting Personal

AAJ: I always ask the musicians about their personal life, because, as Charlie Parker said, "If you haven't been through it, it won't come out of your horn." You mentioned your partner Helen. Tell us about her.

GC: Helen passed away from pancreatic cancer in November, 2010. I still feel her presence. We were together for 28 years. No kids, probably by choice.

AAJ: I know you've had your own medical issues. I understand you're doing very well right now.

GC: I was on dialysis for about five years, which of course made traveling a little more difficult. I was on hemodialysis, so I had to be on the machine four hours each of three days a week. But you do what you have to do, but then I had a kidney and a liver transplant.

AAJ: Were the two transplants done together?

GC: Yes. It's like when those utility guys come out on the street to fix the electric or gas lines underground. They open up the street, and close it up, and then another crew comes in and does the same thing! So the liver team comes in, they do their work, they close you up, and then the kidney people are right behind them! I had it done at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York. The first was in 2007 and then in 2008 they replaced the first kidney transplant. I can't get over how well the new kidney has worked, and in my last tests, everything was perfect!

Not too long ago, I went to the 20th anniversary of the Mt. Sinai liver transplant unit, and I was so impressed with the progress they've made in that field. And they have to deal with the fine line between medical care and experimentation. There are many risks involved. The dedication. So many critical decisions to make. And when I was there, they really took great care of me.

AAJ: Were any of the medical staff into jazz?

GC: Yes, a few of them were, and one in particular was into piano music.

AAJ: Jazz is about the story of our lives. And Coltrane famously said, "Music is my spirit." Having lived life fully, and with all the experiences and issues you've had, and all the remarkable people you've met, do you have any over-riding perspective on life?

GC: I'm just really amazed at all the wonderful things that have happened in my life. I try to take things as they come and just try to be the best person that I can be, and just do what I'm supposed to do now. You know, you have times in your life when you kind of screw around, but at this time in my life, I just try to take things as they come. There are things that I just can't define, but they're there, and I just try to go with them. I don't understand everything, but I just try to be positive. The spirit is in everything. Life is all around us, and you just try to be in tune with everything. Basically, I just try to be in tune with what happens, and music is a great part of that. Music is how I express myself and whatever it is I have in me. I'm not arrogant enough to say, "I know this is what it's all about." Life is a wonder, and I'm a small part of that, and I'm just trying to be whatever I can be.

AAJ: Being in the now, in the zone, in the spirit, in the wonder. It's like being in a great jazz group!

GC: Right! Exactly! I've had wonderful friends. I've been blessed by being close to some of the greatest musicians in the world. Still, sometimes, when I think about it, I wanna say, "Why me? Why did this happen?" But I never take my blessings for granted.

Selected Discography

George Cables, My Muse (HighNote, 2012)
Dexter Gordon, Night Ballads (Uptown, 2012)
Art Pepper, Live in Osaka, 1979 (Widow's Taste, 20012)
George Cables, A Letter to Dexter (Kind of Blue, 2006)
George Cables, Alone Together (Groove Jazz, 2000)
Dexter Gordon, Live at Carnegie Hall: Complete (Columbia Legacy, 1998)
George Cables, Skylark (SteepleChase Records, 1995)
George Cables, By George (Contemporary Records, 1987)
George Cables, The Big Jazz Trio (Eastworld, 1984)
Art Pepper and George Cables, Goin' Home (Galaxy, 1982)
Art Pepper, Live at the Village Vanguard (Contemporary Records, 1980)
George Cables, Cables' Vision (Contemporary Records, 1979)
Bobby Hutcherson, Conception: The Gift of Love (Columbia, 1979)
Art Pepper, Friday Night at the Village Vanguard (Contemporary, 1977)
Art Pepper, The Trip (Contemporary, 1976)
Art Blakey, Child's Dance (Prestige, 1972)
Curtis Fuller, Crankin' (Mainstream, 1971)
Max Roach, Lift Every Voice and Sing (Atlantic, 1971)
Joe Henderson, At the Lighthouse (Milestone, 1970)
Woody Shaw, Blackstone Legacy (Contemporary, 1970)

Photo Credits
Page 2: Steven Sussman
Page 4: John Kelman
Page 6: Richard Conde

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