Project O: Pushing Creativity, Hoping for Longevity
AAJ: How about on trumpet.
IJ: Louie Armstrong was kind of like a normal sound around the house. Not only because of my mom, but we had really great radio stations around town. When I first started out I was really into the Dixieland bands because I got to lead my own Dixie band. I listened to a lot of Louie and a lot of Bix Beiderbecke. I had a teacher that was really into Bix. Now I understand why. It’s a really great foundation to have that feeling in your playing. I went through the whole process of the guys, from Dizzy, through Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, Woody Shaw, Clifford Brown, Chet Baker, Art Farmer. Clark Terry was a very heavy influence because when I heard him, I just fell in love with his approach and when I met him, in junior high, and saw him live it just through me over the top.
Then I went through all the other guys. Booker Little. Kenny Wheeler. And all the Miles stuff. I had to stop listening to him eventually, because it was just too good. He just played too good. And I wanted to play like that, so I had to stop and take a break. Nowadays, I find I’m not listening to trumpet players. There are some great trumpet players out there, Dave Douglas and Tim Haggans. Some of those guys are really playing beautifully, but for the most part, I’m more drawn to almost other forms of music. More world music. And taking more time to write and figure out my own way to express myself through the instrument.
AAJ: Jon, in your background, you played with a lot of singers.
JW: A fair amount of singers.
IJ: Singers like Jon.
AAJ: Where did you hear jazz.
JW: I was born in Alaska on a tiny little island. So I didn’t get any jazz or anything. The family moved to Seattle when I was young. I went through the band program. In seventh or eighth grade, someone gave me a Louie Bellson tape, one was Rob McConnell, Basie. I fell in love with that. I was coming up in heavy metal bands, as well as listening to Basie and all that stuff. I got bitten by the bug, so I joined the jazz band. I was a terrible player, actually [laughter]. But I knew I wanted to go on in jazz, so in high school I started to take lessons, the year before I went to college, which was at Central Washington University, which is the same school guys like Chris Speed and a bunch of guys went, this little school in the middle of the desert. I studied classical percussion there.
It was a long journey. I moved to Seattle in about 1995. I started working with Ernestine Anderson before I got out of college. The Mills Brothers. There’s a lot of singers.
AAJ: It’s different backing singers.
JW: It depends who it is. Mark Murphy is really a kick to work with. Anything goes, really. If you’re hearing it, do it. And do it with a lot of force and feeling, no problem. Other singers are like, ‘keep it down. Keep out of my way.’ Ernestine was kind of like Mark Murphy. ‘C’mon baby, give some serious groove and lay into it.’ Hit those drums.
AAJ: Who influenced you on drums?
JW: There’s the heavy metal part of it, because I came up in the 80s. There’s Kiss and Iron Maiden’s drummer. Van Halen’s drummer. His brother Alex was the drummer. But then there was the jazz side. At the very beginning there was Buddy Rich and the Count Basie drummers, like Sonny Payne. Mel Lewis was a big influence. Jeff Hamilton. Carl Allen, who I studied with, and Chico Hamilton, who I studied with. Then there’s Philly Joe and Roy Haynes and all these guys. And now, I’m really into Tony Williams and Jeff Watts, Al Foster and Victor Lewis.
AAJ: You guys both have other things going on besides Project O.
IJ: We are all busy with millions of different things.
JW: I’m going out with Maria Muldaur
IJ: Gary is going out with John Abercrombie, Cheryl Bailey. He’s playing with Chris Potter and a bunch of those guys.
AAJ: What do you guys think of the jazz scene in general? Is it easier, harder? Are things better in Europe?
IJ: I used to go to Europe about once a month when I first moved to New York. I see a cutback in that. That’s because they’re going through a transition. I feel like in many ways we’re going through another transition as a result of the way the industry has gone, and the CD burning and all that stuff has changed the finances of major labels and minors. I think the industry has made some mistakes focusing more on vocalists and not taking care of the instrumentalists. What’s going on now is more instrumentalists do have to work harder to get their music out there. Unless they’re being pumped up.
On the positive side of that, I feel like doing something like what we are doing out here is something that just can’t be tossed in the garbage can. It can’t be deleted off the screen. There’s a little more depth to it and a little more strength in what we’re doing as independents. I still believe it’s what you make of it and how much you get yourself out there, and how much your reputation speaks for what you’re doing.
JW: From a local New York side, it’s pretty rough. I was working more when I first moved here. And now we have a series of things that happened. 9/11. And the economic collapse of America has really affected New York, little restaurants and clubs. Doing gigs for $20, $40 because clubs are struggling. Maybe it’s starting to turn around now a little bit. I know it affected Seattle for several years. We’re talking on a smaller scale, rather than the jazz festivals and stuff. And even those have been cut back financially. Talking to people, they’re still working, but for less money.
But, we’re still making music. People are getting jobs, day gigs, or teaching more. Gary Thomas down at Peabody [Conservatory of Music in Baltimore] says people are just begging to get teaching jobs. Great musicians that are usually touring. It’s definitely changing.
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