Q&A with Saxophonist Eric Person
AAJ: Pharoah Sanders recently stated that he was giving up "doubling" (ie. going from tenor to soprano sax) in concert, due to the problems of keeping the soprano in tune. What is your secret to "doubling"?
EP: Funny thing is, I've never had problems keeping the soprano in tune. I don't even have problems playing my e-flat sopranino in tune. Of late, I've been adding horns, that being tenor saxophone and flute. Secrets? I don't really have any secrets, but I would say that keeping the horns in great shape is important to being a consistent performer. Also, being on top of the condition of the reeds is a must. Warming up my horns well, and playing them earlier on the day of performance is very important. I would say don't let the gig be the first time that day that your mouth touches your instruments. Some guys don't love all their horns the same either, so that can cause problems. You must practice all your horns! Also, horns get cold fast on the gig. When you're not playing the horns, keep the mouthpiece cap on. You could chip that perfect reed! Between songs quickly blow some hot air and maybe a quick, quiet phrase into the instrument and check for sticking keys. Doublers really have to tune all horns well and listen for acute tuning changes on the gig.
AAJ: You have been involved in some of the pivotal bands of the last decade or so. Please speak on each band and what musically you came away with?
EP: Ronald Shannon Jacksons' Decoding Society was my first touring and recording situation. It was dynamic, funky, and mean. His music is very misunderstood, like Miles Davis' 1970's rock period. At its best, the gig was fun. I learned many things, and since it was my first big gig, I soaked it all up. I learned things about the business of music that I take with me today. Shannon said, "be original, create something, they must come to you to get your recorded masters." Gary Bartz told me the same thing. So that's what I'm doing with my own label.
Chico Hamilton was a real gentleman. A happy person. Fatherly. Underrated. Chico was always encouraging me to gig and record as a leader, and he didn't fear featuring any musicians whole talent. He would record a guys songs too. He was a fair man. He had great energy.
Dave Holland's music was challenging. It was serious music. Odd meters and stuff. Great players on the gig. My musicianship went way up. It's the kind of gig that develops every facet of your playing. And that's rare these days. It was kind of conceptual. It took a lot of liberty in that band. I made it my own, and even took it over at times. Me and Jean Jackson used to make those endings soar. It was great while it lasted.
The World Saxophone Quartet was an important group in the 1970's. By the time I got in the band it was being overlooked, even disrespected. People were saying that since Julius Hemphill was gone, the spirit and the meaning was gone. We made a nice recording, Moving Right Along, and that to me was the high point. The group didn't work much, which was a shame. But playing next to those masters was a treat. They helped me see the value in extending my range as a saxophonist. The gig was very helpful to me.
AAJ: Why did you embark on producing your own label?
EP: First off, I want to say I'm very thankful for the shot that Soul Note Records game me by releasing my first three CD's. But after the third release I was very frustrated. I felt there was no real marketing over there. Mistakes were being made that I couldn't change, and I felt powerless. I didn't like that feeling. I wanted to have a hand in every phase of making and releasing a CD. The pictures, the art, the concept, the studio, the engineer and the musicians. It's more work, but I know I'm moving forward. I make the plan, set goals, and I develop relationships. It's the personal touch and it works for me. I'm building with each record, and this way I have options. I can license the recording to a label, and still own the masters. I'm truly inspired by the whole process. It's not going to be everybody's thing, and that's cool. Betty Carter, Sun Ra, Charles Mingus, Chick Corea, Charles Tolliver, owned their own labels, and I encourage others to do the same.
AAJ: Do you still keep in touch with the current goings on in St. Louis?
EP: When I go back to St. Louis my father always bugs be about sitting in and playing at some clubs. I usually stay in touch with some musicians that way. But if I hear that a musician is really playing, I try and check them out. Meta-Four has played in St. Louis a few times over the last few years. A few DJ's at WSIE and Dennis Owsley at KWMU play my music. For jazz, it's really a slow town, not a strong scene. That's why the cats who can play well have to get out of there. I miss the legends. Saxophonist and composer, Jimmy Sharrod, and drummer, Big Joe Charles, both of whom passed away in the mid 1990's. Nobody could play as fast as Big Joe, and he was over 300 pounds! Jimmy's writing was something else, really special. But St. Louis makes me sad now. I love visiting my family, but the city, like many cities in America, is dying. The building I remember as a kid are now burnt out, tore down, or empty. It depresses me. I hope they get it all together.