AAJ: Isn't not having a working band an Achilles heel?
KG: Well, as a leader, you always try to have a regular band of musicians who understand what you are trying to do conceptually. Every time you change, it changes the music a little bit, but I think it is also a learning experience. It teaches you how to become a better bandleader and how to deal with different personalities and how to make it gel. I remember the first time joining Miles Davis' band and we had a guy who was from the R&B and a guy who was from hip-hop and I was from the jazz school, but he knew how to get what he was looking for. That's the thing that I've learned, that no matter who is there, we can always play music because I am listening to what it is they can offer to the band. At that point, it is almost like Duke Ellington. I take their strengths and turn it into the music. I make the music sound as good as it can sound. I have so many tunes and so many directions that I can go, it has never been a problem for me, but it has been a learning experience. A lot of times, the younger musicians that I have in the band, their generation is from hip-hop. That is what they want to do. What I try to do is expose them, just like Miles exposed me to some different music. If I tell the drummer who is playing with me now that I want to hear the latest beat. I want to hear the beat by 50 Cent. He is going to know that. If I tell them to play me a beat by Elvin or Tony Williams, they may not know that. So I tell them to check these records out. I think they like the fact that we are playing all different styles of music in the context of a jazz band and I think a lot of musicians are happy about that because they can find everything there. They can go to the bakery and get an assortment of things for them to eat. I think, for me, that is what I liked about music.
I was first exposed to jazz when I was tiny. My earliest memory is watching Ella Fitzgerald scat on a Christmas special when I was no older than four. Like many who are from tiny towns, my first extended exposure was listening to the high school jazz band when I was a kid
I was first exposed to jazz when I was tiny. My earliest memory is watching Ella Fitzgerald scat on a Christmas special when I was no older than four. Like many who are from tiny towns, my first extended exposure was listening to the high school jazz band when I was a kid. For some reason I remember an arrangement of Hey Jude they did. My first real exposure was Stan Kenton in the Smithville, MO high school gym. Kenton and the band director there were old friends, so he would play there from time to time. My dad took me without telling me where we were going and it was the only show he ever took me to. I remember that Bobby Shew played Send In Clowns and I damn near levitated I was so excited. The huge sound and amazing chords floored me. I believe I was 13 at the time. I immediately started practicing and taking lessons. Music became a passion and nearly a career. I also listened to Dick Wright's Jazz Show on KANU every night. I can't even start to explain what I learned lying in bed listening to Dick talk about jazz. I met him once when I was struggling to put together a solo for Joy Spring playing in a combo at KU. Stopped by his office and asked for recommendations. He showed up at my jazz ensemble rehearsal the next day with a tape with example solos. What a kind man Dick Wright was.
My advice to new listeners is to stop worrying about what music is important and focus on music you like. I spent quite a bit of my music life listening to important music I didn't necessarily like. Must say I have quite a bit more fun now listening to music that I deeply enjoy. Some of it is even important.
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