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Conrad Herwig: There's Nothing Else

Bob Kenselaar By

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AAJ: In addition to North Texas State, you also attended Goddard College and got a degree in ethnomusicology.

CH: Afro-Cuban ethnomusicology. I went to North Texas State for four years, and then in my last semester I ended up going on the road with Clark Terry, which was a dream. Then I came to New York and pretty much right after Clark Terry, I moved on to Buddy Rich's band. And right after that I was with Toshiko Akiyoshi and then I started with Mario Bauza and then Eddie Palmieri, and by 1986 I did my first gig with Frank Sinatra. One thing led to the other. So, I was never able to go back to North Texas State to finish my degree. But I found that Goddard College had a cohort program where you were on site at the school for a short period, followed by distance learning. So, I was able to study Afro-Cuban music, which really exited me, and finish my degree while working around my schedule as a musician.

I don't think it was my parents' dream for me to leave school. But you have these forks in the road, and for me, I just had to go with Clark Terry when I had the opportunity. And the blessing for me is that Clark Terry has been like an uncle to me. He has helped me in my career. I love him as much as my own family. He's the most wonderful human being on the planet. When he was living in New York, I would get a phone call from him out of the blue, and he'd say, "I'm listening to you on the radio right now." Clark is such a warm, wonderful guy.

I was working with Clark Terry again some years ago with Branford Marsalis and Byron Stripling in a band billed as Clark Terry and the Young Titans of Jazz. I joked that I felt more like a "tired titan" than a "young titan." We were working at Birdland and all these trumpet players were coming to sit in and to honor Clark, guys like Randy Brecker, Terrell Stafford, or maybe Roy Hargrove. Randy played beautifully, and I said, "Randy, that was great." And Randy said, "Yeah, but Clark will cut you in five notes or less." Clark was on a break, eating his dinner in the dressing room. Clark sees me—he calls me "Rads." And he shook his head and said, "Rads, I don't know—all these young bloods coming in— I just don't know." And I said, "Well, CT, the only thing you can be assured is they're all coming in here to figure out who's number two." I really felt that way. It was always amazing to see these guys come in, and no matter how much a young cat will play—and I mean, God bless them, these guys were playing some incredible, heavy trumpet. But anyone who thinks he was going to cut Clark Terry, I mean, it's just not humanly possible. But he's always gracious. Whoever the young trumpet player on the scene is—he would let that guy climb up on the stand and go to town. And he would never undermine anybody. I think it's got to be the greatest honor in the world to have gone up on the stand and have Clark hand you your head. He's the king—the king of jazz. He's so inspiring.

There was a huge concert honoring Clark at St. Peter's Church in New York not long ago. So many great players—everybody was there. Clark has had so many challenges to his health in recent years. It was so heart rendering—they showed a video of CT there in bed giving a lesson to Justin Kauflin, the young blind pianist who was a finalist in the Thelonious Monk Competition. I was talking to Helen Sung the other day, who said that CT's giving lessons on Skype now. Here's a guy who gives and gives and gives. Clark gives with complete love. It's pure love. He doesn't expect anything in return.

AAJ: You were talking earlier about your other early influences back in high school in Hawaii. I understand there was someone else of special note from those days—Barack Obama, who you went to school with in Honolulu, at the Punahau School.

CH: Yes. I'm a supporter of President Obama, and I'm proud to say that I admire him. Growing up in that time in that place, we shared a common experience. He's two years younger than me. Ours was a fairly small school, and we had the same teachers. We weren't friends, really, but we had some mutual friends in common. The band room and the basketball courts were right next to each other. I love to play basketball, and it sounds like an excuse, but I broke my left hip when I was in 9th grade and had six pins put in it, and I wasn't really supposed to play. But I kept playing a little pick-up basketball, and I played a little pick-up ball with him. He used and abused me. He was good. I learned after a while he always goes to his left.

Also, President Obama was in the choir at school, and I have the yearbooks to prove it. I was in the orchestra, and every Christmas we would always do the Hallelujah Chorus together. So, I'm one of the few people on the planet who has actually gigged with the President. He may be better at basketball, but I'm a much better trombone player than he is.

Selected Discography

Conrad Herwig, A Voice Through the Door (Criss Cross Jazz, 2012)
Conrad Herwig/Richie Beirach/Jack DeJohnette, The Tip of the Sword (RadJazz, 2011)
Conrad Herwig, The Latin Side of Herbie Hancock (Half Note, 2010)
Conrad Herwig, The Latin Side of Wayne Shorter (Half Note, 2008)
Conrad Herwig, A Jones for Bones Tones (Criss Cross Jazz, 2007)
Conrad Herwig, Sketches of Spain y Mas (Half Note, 2006)
Conrad Herwig, Obligation (Criss Cross Jazz, 2005)
Conrad Herwig & Brian Lynch, Que Viva Coltrane (Criss Cross Jazz, 2004)
Conrad Herwig, Another Kind of Blue: The Latin Side of Miles Davis (Half Note, 2004)
Conrad Herwig, Land of Shadow (Criss Cross Jazz, 2003)
Conrad Herwig, Shades of Light (Steeplechase, 2002)
Conrad Herwig, Hieroglyphica (Criss Cross Jazz, 2001)
Conrad Herwig, Unseen Universe (Criss Cross Jazz, 2000)
Conrad Herwig, Osteology (Criss Cross Jazz, 1999)
Conrad Herwig, Heart of Darkness (Criss Cross Jazz, 1998)
Conrad Herwig, The Latin Side of John Coltrane (Astor Place, 1996)
Conrad Herwig, New York Breed (Double Time, 1996)
Conrad Herwig, The Amulet (Ken Music, 1991)
Conrad Herwig & Richie Beirach, Intimate Conversations (Ken Music, 1990)
Conrad Herwig, With Every Breath (Seabreeze, 1987)

Photo Credits

Page 1, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Mason Gross School of the Arts; photo by Larry Levanti
Page 2, Christopher Drukker
Page 3, Jos. L. Knaepen
Page 4, C. Andrew Hovan
Page 6, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Mason Gross School of the Arts


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