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Bob Mintzer: Amazing Reach

Bob Kenselaar By

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Reaching other people with the music - that’s an amazing thing... I know when I hear great music, it makes me hopeful and inspired and optimistic, and that’s a great way to influence people.
For about half of his four decade-long career in jazz, Bob Mintzer has been a member of the Yellowjackets, one of the most enduring, distinctive and creative bands in contemporary jazz. But, oddly enough, this association is a relatively small slice of Mintzer's remarkably multifaceted life in music as a saxophonist, bass clarinetist, composer, arranger, educator and leader of his own big bands and small groups. For Mintzer, the phrase "busy as a bee" certainly applies.

Born in 1953 in New Rochelle, New York, a town that sits just two miles north of New York City, Mintzer has been an active professional jazz musician ever since his college days at the Manhattan School of Music. Beginning in 1975, he had a two-and-a-half year stint with the Buddy Rich Big Band, where he started writing and arranging for large ensembles. His playing and writing experience there led to a spot with the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra. By the early 1980s, Mintzer was leading his own big band, performing at Seventh Avenue South, the legendary New York City club owned by Randy Brecker and Michael Brecker, and recording for Digital Music Products (DMP), one of the first fully digital recording labels. He joined the Yellowjackets in 1991, bringing a straight-ahead jazz sensibility to a band that had already begun blending such flavoring in with its earlier R&B and fusion sound. Other important associations Mintzer has had over the years include such musicians as percussionist Tito Puente, drummer Art Blakey, bassist Jaco Pastorius and Gil Evans, in addition to session work for Aretha Franklin, James Taylor and many others.

Mintzer has written some 200 arrangements for big band. He's recorded more than 30 albums as a leader and played on hundreds of others. His Homage to Count Basie (DMP) won a Grammy award for best large jazz-ensemble recording in 2001, and, in all, he's has been nominated for 13 Grammys for his solo work, big-band CDs and work with the Yellowjackets. He's been based in Los Angeles since 2008, when he joined the faculty of the University of Southern California, where he now heads the jazz studies program and holds the Bowen H. "Buzz" McCoy and Barbara M. McCoy endowed chair in jazz.

The Bob Mintzer Big Band began an association with the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild MCG Jazz label beginning in 2004, after a long relationship with DMP that resulted in 12 albums. The band's fourth release on MCG is a Brazilian-flavored recording, For the Moment (MCG, 2012).

All About Jazz: What inspired you to focus your big band on the sounds of Brazil with For the Moment?

Bob Mintzer: The idea for this CD came about from meeting Chico Pinheiro, a great guitarist, singer and composer. We had a very modern-day kind of meeting-online, on Facebook initially. Somebody recommended I check him out. I went to his Facebook page and listened to his music. I was very taken with it, and I left him a message. It turned out he was a fan of mine and had done his final project at Berklee on my writing. We had lunch when I was still living in New York and talked about doing something together. The first thing we did, I played on his recording There's a Storm Inside (Sunnyside, 2010). And it was soon after that that I started to think about doing a Brazilian big-band project. I looked to him, and he was eager. Chico contributed two original compositions and also performs on "Corcovado," and he sings and plays guitar beautifully on those. Marty Ashby plays guitar on the rest of the album, and he's a beautiful player as well.

With my own writing on the CD, I focused on different cities and places that I've been to in Brazil that have their own indigenous style of music and rhythms, and this inspired me to write a bunch of original tunes as well as arrange some of the standard tunes typically associated with the Brazilian songbook. We went to Manchester Craftsmen's Guild in Pittsburgh, did two concerts and recorded them, and hence we have this CD. It was really a nice experience-very challenging and inspiring to work with Chico, a great, great musician. I think, sonically, this may be one of the better records I've made. The woodwind writing and the textural elements really turned out well on this one. It's a nice-sounding record that features a lot of musical devices and great playing.

AAJ: One of the tunes on the album, "For All We Know," might not seem an obvious choice for the Brazilian theme, but this was inspired by Claus Ogerman's original arrangements for Joao Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim. Is Ogerman an influence on your writing?

BM: Yes, indeed, clearly. He really was an innovator in terms of orchestration and using such a vast array of colors and textures in arranging.


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