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Alex Norris: King Band Geek

George Colligan By

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AN: It seems as though there is a lot of emphasis on classes in jazz programs, but there are not enough experiences where students are playing all the time. That needs to change. But some students take the initiative, and they do flourish because of that.

GC: Talk a little about some of the great sideman experiences you have had in New York.

AN: Well, initially, I toured with some bands like the Glenn Miller Band, which was actually a great experience. And I lived in London for a while because I was working with a band called Incognito. I was part of Betty Carter's Jazz Ahead , and I was a part of that up until she died, and I was music director for that eventually. Being on the scene at the club Augie's, which is now Smoke, I got to play with a bunch of great musicians, like Joel Frahm, Joe Strasser, Sam Yahel. I did a gig with Carl Allen's quintet, I was with Avishai Cohen's International Vamp Band. I played with Greg Tardy's quintet for a while.

I neglected to mention that one great band that I worked with in Baltimore was the Rhumba Club; through working with that band, I met the great bassist Andy Gonzalez, whom Rhumba Club had hired as a producer. So Andy later hired me to play with Manny Oquendo and Libre. And that led to a lot of other Latin Jazz experiences; playing with Marlon Simon's group, and with Ralph Irizarry and Timbalaye, which I played with for a long time.

I replaced trumpeter Jeremy Pelt in bassist {Lonnie Plaxico}}'s band, which was extremely challenging. His compositions were so difficult, but I made playing his music a part of my daily practice routine. Not only is his music physically challenging on the trumpet, but it doesn't really lend itself [harmonically] to traditional types of chord notation. There might be ten chords in one bar, so it's difficult to really make the changes. Lonnie would give me a piano chart, and I would improvise using that as a guide. But also, interestingly enough, it forced me to use some old school techniques: The New Orleans players, didn't just use the chords to improvise; they used the melody and what the rhythm section was playing to improvise. So Lonnie's music forced me to think outside the box of just playing the chord changes.

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