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Victor Goines: Liquid And Fire

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The goal of a great teacher is to be confident and comfortable with themselves, so that if they're fortunate enough, their students become better than they [themselves] are
Victor GoinesSaxophonist and clarinetist Victor Goines has been a key planet in the orbit of Wynton Marsalis for more than a decade. He played on the seminal Marsalis album Live At The Village Vanguard (Columbia, 1999) within a week of joining the band, and he's continued to appear with Marsalis and with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra ever since. Goines recorded New Adventures (Criss Cross, 2006) in 2005.



All About Jazz contributor Jason Crane talked with Goines in the spring of 2007 about New Adventures, his years on the road, and exactly how many times you have to have played the bass clarinet to get Wynton Marsalis to hire you.

All About Jazz: This is a very diverse album. From one track to another, it covers a lot of bases. First of all, how did you put this band together?

Victor Goines: I have to give credit where it's due. Gerry Teekens, who is the owner of Criss Cross [Records] actually recommended the rhythm section of [bassist] Carlos Henriquez, [drummer] Greg Hutchinson, and [pianist] Peter Martin. Peter Martin and I go back some time ago in New Orleans when he decided to move there from St. Louis. Carlos Henriquez and I have a relationship with in the Wynton Marsalis ensemble and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Greg Hutchinson has been a favorite of mine for many years, he's one of the fantastic drummers. So the opportunity to record with them is a good feeling. It just made sense, and with all of the music that they have knowledge of, it allowed the music to take a different type of diverse path.

AAJ: Talk about that a little bit. From the very first moment of "Stop 'N' Go," it sounds like a tune that I've always known, even though it's one of your compositions.

VG: "Stop 'N' Go" has the influence of Sonny Rollins. Even the melody is a little riff that I picked up from Sonny Rollins in my transcriptions along the way. So it became a tune that evolved at a concert some years ago at the St. Lucia Jazz Festival. So you hopefully hear the spirit of Sonny Rollins inside of the song. The way Sonny has the freedom of rhythm and the harmonic knowledge to be able to play across the bar lines and through the harmony without any kind of restrictions.

AAJ: And it has a drone in it that gives you more freedom.

VG: It has that drone, which allows the soloists to be able to superimpose harmonic and melodic ideas on top of the drone in the first chorus of their solos, then we go to straight-ahead rhythm changes. But at the same time, that rhythm section was so free that once we got into the regular part of the walking [bass line], they took the opportunity to be out there and explore all of the harmonic and rhythmic background.

AAJ: What does it mean to say a rhythm section is "free"?

VG: In this case, what I mean when I say they're free is that they're so well versed on their instruments and so informed about the jazz language that there are few restrictions. Of course, no one is perfect because it's impossible to have knowledge of all the music that exists today. But these guys have been able to internalize a tremendous body of work, so as a result there are few restrictions that they have to deal with. If I took a certain harmonic direction, I felt that Peter Martin was going to be able to anticipate and find out where I was going to be. Carlos Henriquez—if I took a certain rhythmic direction, he usually jumped into it immediately if not sometimes led me places where I thought I might want to go. And Greg Hutchinson is secure enough as a drummer, period, that he's able to make sure that with all the things that are going on, he's the cement that keeps everything in place along the way. At the same time, [he takes] risks with the band, but [he knows] he can pull it back together whenever we need it.

Victor AAJ: Is listening the key to everything you just described?

VG: Absolutely, because we're having a dialogue on the bandstand. We're having an organic conversation, so listening is a very important part of what's going on. And participating in the conversation is a very important part.

AAJ: How did you learn to listen? It seems to me like people have to acquire that skill.

VG: That's a good question. The answer came to me pretty quickly when you asked that. In my early stages of performing with Ellis Marsalis in New Orleans at a place called Snug Harbor, quite often I would go to the gig and he would call the tunes on the bandstand, he wouldn't call them ahead of time. So it would require me to really pay attention to what was going on. I'd be there with my Real Book, and I'd be trying to turn the pages to the song he would be performing, but he would change in the middle of it.



After trying different things, I realized that wasn't going to work, because he was always going to do something I wasn't prepared for. I decided that I would just listen to what he was going to play and try to learn the melodies on the bandstand. If I wasn't able to catch a melody the first time around, I would stand behind him and try to learn it there. Then, if I still wasn't able to catch it, I would ask him to play some of the melody inside his comping during the bass solo, and he would do that for me. As a result, it became like an ear-training course in real time.



It's just become part of what I do now. To listen to people has become fun, because I like to know what people are thinking and how they function. I believe that the more I know about how someone does whatever they're doing, it gives me that much more of an opportunity to be able to interact with them.

AAJ: You said a few minutes ago that there are times when a member of the band will take you someplace that you weren't thinking about going. When that happens in the studio setting, do you have the freedom to do that?

VG: Absolutely. I think you also have to be willing to take the chance in that situation too, because I don't know about a lot of other musicians, but I don't want to work my solo out ahead of time in the studio. I like to practice the tune so I have some options before me, but I also go in there with the realization that I hired these great musicians to come into the recording session so they can bring to the table what they have to offer. If I go in there and I'm not honest enough to take some chances with them, then I might as well just hire anybody to play exactly what I practiced. So in the studio, I try to take some freedoms and liberties and risks.

Chapter Index

  1. Kindergarten With The Marsalis Family
  2. Adventures On The Clarinet
  3. Joining Wynton's Band
  4. The Art of Playing Ballads
  5. Life Now

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