AAJ: In music, as it is in life, those who build you up, ultimately tear you down.
KG: I'm just an artist who is trying to come up with some music and I try not to get caught up into that. I realized that a long time ago. If you play something that they like, they embrace it. If you play something that's a little bit different or a little more experimental, they might not embrace that. The main thing is that when I go to sleep or when I wake up and I look in the mirror, I am fine with myself. I do musically what it is that I feel at the time. I just do that. I don't justify it or explain it. It is just what it is.
AAJ: Because a backlash started to swell with portions of Simply Said, culminating with Happy People, which was considered 'smooth jazz.'
KG: I don't know because I didn't pay any mind. I didn't read the articles about that. I just do music. I just put it out there and I know that there are some people who are going to embrace it and there are some people who are not going to embrace it. The main thing is that I am doing what I want to musically. First of all, I think a lot of times, people just don't understand Kenny Garrett as a person. They don't understand that I played with Sting and I played with Guru and I played with Q-Tip, but I also played with the legends of music like Woody Shaw, Freddie Hubbard, and Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers. I have always loved all kinds of music. I think they just kind of missed that or they decided that they wanted to hear a certain thing and that is fine, but I just do what I am feeling at the time and I just let people decide what it is that they want to decide.
AAJ: But admittedly Happy People was not merely a 'departure.' There is a reason it received as much airplay as it did from radio stations called 'The Wave.'
KG: Well, Art Blakey used to say that everyone has an opinion and as far as my music, I have the opinion that counts for me. I know what it is that I am trying to convey to people, but like I said, some people will get it and some people won't get it. I have fans who come up to me and they only heard African Exchange Student. I have some who come to me and listen to Simply Said. I have some who come to me after listening to Pursuance. Everybody has their favorite CD or CDs and my thing is that I just keep moving on. A friend of mine called me the other day and he just bought Happy People. It has been out already and now it is time for a new CD, Standard of Language. Sometimes the artists are moving a little quicker than some of the fans are. I think the main thing is if you find something you like by Kenny Garrett, that is fine, but just be open-minded because that is how I am. I am open-minded about life and about music and that is all I am interested in doing at this time, just playing music that I enjoy. There will be some people that say that Kenny Garrett is back. He is playing Standard of Language. That is fine. I am there at that point. I might be some place else on the next record, but I am not really concerned with that. For example the title track of Simply Said was played on forty-two of the 'smooth jazz' stations and that is fine. My intention wasn't to be 'smooth jazz.' My intention was to play music. They embraced that and that is cool, but I still have to do the next record. I just love music. I listen to, of course, jazz. I listen to hip-hop. I listen to Japanese, Chinese, Middle Eastern music, a lot of different styles of music. To me, I just try and incorporate that in there. I had a great teacher. Miles was my teacher. I definitely learned a lot from him, but I was always open-minded about music and that is the reason I ended up in the band.
AAJ: As with the majority of your recordings, Standard of Language features your own compositions.
KG: I usually just write tunes. I am always writing. I can actually go into the studio tomorrow and I can have another CD. I just love writing and I am blessed. The music just comes to me and I figure at that time, it is best just to record it. I just basically write. I like the whole flow of the CD. It is the picture that I wanted to depict. I don't have any favorite songs. They are all my tunes and they all have different reasons. There is 'Chief Blackwater,' which was inspired by McCoy Tyner from The Real McCoy, 'Passion Dance.' 'Doc Tone's Short Speech' was dedicated to Kenny Kirkland and 'Kurita Sensei' was actually for a Japanese teacher I had in Japan. I was there for two weeks. Then you have 'What is This Thing Called Love?,' where we actually changed our harmony up and it was one of those challenging tunes that everybody wanted to play and we had to document it. Then you have 'Native Tongue,' which was a lighter kind of tune that I wrote right before the session. There are just different meaning behind them. I just like the whole concept of the CD.
AAJ: A handful of the tracks were recorded during the weeks after 9-11.
KG: We didn't put it aside, but we definitely had to get to the music because we were out in L.A. and we were scheduled for three days in the studio and it ended up being four days. We recorded eighteen songs in that time. I think the main thing that helped us get focused was Bobby Hutcherson, who read through me and understood what I was trying to deal with. My approach was to be serious. This was a serious incident and I felt that I needed to be serious, but what he wanted to do was lighten it up. Play music and not make it that serious. He found a way. He is a great storyteller. He had people laughing and that broke the ice. We knew we had to go to the place that we go to really focus in on the music and once we got there, it helped. But in the beginning, we were running back and forth to the television, trying to figure out what was going on. To me, it was a serious approach.
I've always loved jazz ...my mother was a classical pianist and my aunt was a blues singer, who was managed by Clarence Williams (Bessie Smith's producer). As a young boy, they introduced me to people like Louis Armstrong, Sarah Vaughan, and Jimmy Smith
I've always loved jazz ...my mother was a classical pianist and my aunt was a blues singer, who was managed by Clarence Williams (Bessie Smith's producer). As a young boy, they introduced me to people like Louis Armstrong, Sarah Vaughan, and Jimmy Smith. We hung out at my Aunt Kate's Soul Food restaurant in Harlem after the matinees at the Apollo where I listened to their stories. I knew I wanted to be a jazz musician from then on. My mother wanted me to play piano, but my Aunt bought me a guitar. I've been playing ever since.
At my mother's early prompting, I first sang Blue Velvet at my Catholic elementary school...and all the nuns came running in and asked me to sing again, so I knew I must have sounded pretty good. I've been singing ever since.
I met Tony Bennett in Miami and he inspired me to return to New York. He was a great mentor.
The best show I ever attended is mpossible to say, I've seen so many great shows. From Tony Bennett to Pat Martino, Return to Forever to Weather Report...I've seen some great performances.
My advice to new listeners is don't let jazz intimidate you, the music has something for every listener and it is our American gift to the world.