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Eddie Daniels: 'Sings' Ivan Lins

R.J. DeLuke By

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I love Latin music. You can't be a musician and not do Latin music. —Eddie Daniels
Eddie Daniels, one of the finest of clarinetists during his decades in jazz, is still an active, curious, exploring musician. He welcomes new things. His latest album, Night Kisses: A Tribute to Ivan Lins (Resonance Records), set to be released at the end of July, represents something new for him.

Music is an art that always reveals something fresh for those aware enough to look for it.

For Daniels, the new project lit one fire and rekindled another. He was aware of Ivan Lins, the outstanding Brazilian composer and singer, but was not that familiar. He became fully educated and indoctrinated when producer George Klabin brought the idea and the music to him and he began studying it That started the fire. The rekindling was his reunion with the flute—something he played on occasion, but hadn't used for a real session or concert in over 30 years.

Both his uncovering of Lins and rediscovery of the flute are a blessing to music fans, particularly those who enjoy Latin music and the sounds of Brazil.

"I love Latin music. You can't be a musician and not do Latin music. It's impossible," says Daniels. "I've been a fan of Latin music all my life."

"I didn't know Ivan Lins wholeheartedly. So George sent me the tunes and I fell in love with them," he adds. "I was also thinking, 'Ivan sounds so great, what am I gonna do with this?' It's vocal music. It's vocal, hard Brazilian music, sung by one of the great singers and composers. But as I got into the music, I could feel the essence of it. And it worked for me."

The album comes on the heels of his 2018, Grammy-nominated Heart of Brazil: A Tribute to Egberto Gismonti on the same label, also produced by Klabin. The new one has 10 compositions by Lins, with various arrangers. There are two songs that fit the album perfectly, one—"A Voz Do Povo (The Voice of the People)"— that Daniels feels is pertinent to the political climate today, and another, "Ivante," written for Lins by Bob James, a longtime friend of Daniels, who also plays on the piece.

The music is lyrical, with the Harlem String Quartet providing a lush background and romantic colors. The rhythm section provides superb support. Daniels plays clarinet, flute and saxophone. The sax is something he has often played over the years.

"I was almost thinking that I was singing," says Daniels, recalling the recording sessions. "This album is more of Eddie singing through his instruments. Because Ivan sings so beautifully. That style and the way he does it... I had no connection to Ivan Lins at all before this, other than having heard him on a Dave Grusin record called Harlequin on GRP. I was an artist on GRP at the time. I was in my mid-20s. I learned abut Ivan Lins from him playing on the album. It was a beautiful record."

The Lins music truly touches Daniels, a man who can tear through complex changes of bebop and run down any American big band chart. He says, point blank:"I think it's my best album."

"Because the production is beautiful. The arrangements are phenomenal. The band is great. But I felt like I reached a place where the music got to my heart in a way different from other albums. It calmed me down. It made me sink into the music in a way I hadn't done before... having a reunion with the flute. Loving this music and the band. The Harlem Quartet. All cool."

His choice of the flute is an interesting story unto itself. While the flute is common in Brazilian music, it wasn't automatically brought into the process. Sometimes fate and fortune have their way.

"Most people know me as a jazz clarinetist and a saxophonist on occasion. That's when I joined GRP. Because of Dave Grusin. I was a studio musician in New York, running from studio to studio. Doing solos on records. Billy Joel albums. Sister Sledge. Michel Legrand. I knew Dave (Grusin) because of that. On Angel in the Knight (Angela Bofill, GRP Records, 1979), I was asked to be the saxophone soloist on that record. It became a hit record and a hit saxophone solo. That got me out there. So that's part of my interaction with Dave and GRP and putting solos on records."

He was also playing the flute a bit in different scenarios, which he had studied sufficiently. Grusin brought him to GRP Records. "I said, 'Wow. I don't have to live in New York anymore. If you're born in New York and you're living there 25 years, 30 years. Born in Brooklyn. Brighton Beach. Moved into Manhattan in my late 20s. Running around. I thought, 'I can get out of the rat race of doing commercial stuff and become a recording artist.'"

When he made that move, the clarinet became his focus.

"I put the flute down some 35 years ago. Something like that. We moved out here to Santa Fe. I didn't have to be in New York to make albums. I could fly into New York and do albums for GRP and fly to Los Angeles and do recordings for GRP... More than three decades passed and the Ivan Lins project comes up, following up after a record of another great Brazilian composer in Egberto Gismonti."

"However, something happened," says Daniels. "I went to the dentist about a month before coming to LA to record Night Kisses. The dentist did a bone graft in my mouth and said I couldn't play the clarinet for three weeks, because it would pop out the bone graft." A friend suggested he start practicing the flute just in case.

"I had a very good instrument and started practicing it again. So by the time I had to do the recording in LA, I had been practicing the flute for three and a half weeks. I said, 'I love Ivan's music. Why not add the flute to it?' Because it's Latin music and I felt it made a nice color for the music. It adds to it.

"I really got into it. I'm still practicing the flute every day."

Says Daniels, "The opening flute thing, 'A Voce Do Povo (The Voice of the People).' It's like a heralding call on the trumpet, only I do it with the flute. That's the heralding flute. With what's happening in this country. It's perfect for it. It takes it in a slightly different direction while it captures it (the feel of Brazilian music). Part of that has to do with what I felt I could bring to this music. It was difficult for me."

Part of his foray into Latin music years earlier involves another interesting story. It resulted in something few fans probably know. Clarinetist-saxophonist-flutist Daniels was brought in contact with another instrument. It illustrates how complete a musician is Daniels.

"When I was about 23 (early 1960s), I was in the Catskill mountains (New York State) hanging out with Barry Rogers, who is a trombone player who introduced the trombone to Latin music. He played with Eddie Palmieri's band and did all the arrangements. We played together in a band and he taught me the trombone over the summer. I taught him the sax. Guys get bored when they're on a gig for a long time in the Catskills," he recalls with a chuckle. "I took to it very quickly. That September, two months later, he said, 'Do you want to go to Puerto Rico with the La Playa Sextet? Because I can't do the gig.' And I did it. I ended up, because of my summer picking up the trombone—even though it's not an easy instrument at all—I ended up going to Puerto Rico with the La Playa Sextet and playing all the trombone solos and doing all that stuff."

The Lins tribute album is a source of pride. It brought even more satisfaction when Daniels was told of the reaction of Lins himself.

"When George [Klabin] sent the album to Ivan to listen too, Ivan's comment was 'I cried when I heard it.' All the strings kind of made him feel... It lifted him a little bit when he heard that. The music, and how serious we were, he loved it."

For Daniels, it was also a pleasure to have close associates like James and Grusin involved. The three have a history together. He hired Grusin for the project, "knowing Dave, loving his music and wanting to have a guest on the album who related to Ivan Lins. Right after our recording, he was going to the Hollywood Bowl in July of last year to do a big concert with Ivan Lins. So there you go. A lot of connections. That's one of the reasons I wanted to have Dave on the album," he says.

"And Bob James also had connections with Ivan Lins. So it was great. Both Dave and Bob were bandleaders and recording artists that hired me to be on their albums. The exciting thing for me is that they never played together. So I got them—two of my favorite musicians—to play together on this album." They did so on "Ivante."

While the next step after a CD release is usually a tour, the coronavirus pandemic has put a stop to that for all musicians. Daniels was scheduled to play the Detroit Jazz Festival in September. He's been asked to fly there and play with a group, including Bob James, in a room without fans, that would be live streamed via the internet. "But I'm not sure I want to get on a plane to go there. It's kind of dicey right now. (The virus) puts us in the same boat with someone who cuts hair in a salon. In fact, they're better off because they have their regular clientele that will come to them as they open up. With musicians, it's large audiences together. It's going to take some creativity."

So things for the Brooklyn-raised Daniels are on hold for the first time over his many years in the business and his New York roots. He didn't come from a musical household. But his father had a saxophone that he played as an amateur. It was kept in a closet, and the young boy was promised when he turned nine he could have it. That's how his playing started. He added a clarinet to his repertoire over time.

After playing the sax at home, his parents got him lessons with Aaron Sachs, who was a well-regarded player in New York, and married to noted singer Helen Merrill at the time. "I met Aaron in the Catskills. He was playing in a band and my parents decided to have him give me lessons. He became a pretty famous jazz clarinetist. That summer, when I heard Aaron Sachs play some jazz in the Morningside Hotel in South Fallsburg, NY, hearing him play in the band and hearing some live jazz got me so excited."

Even with early lessons, Daniels "wasn't playing jazz or improvisation. Just basic study on the saxophone. It only took 300 years to get me where I am today. I wasn't listening to any jazz. I didn't know any jazz. Just hearing an occasional sax solo come out of a Frank Sinatra record."

Nonetheless, he carried on. At the age of 12 he had a local band with an accordion player and drummer. "Since we lived on the seashore, we called it the Shore Trio. That was my first band. They were great. Danny Diamond was a great accordionist. Ron Olsen was the drummer. It was kinda cool. We played little gigs. It wasn't real jazz. I'd be improvising, but I didn't know what I was doing."

As he added clarinet, Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw were influences. As Daniels started to meet more local players, discussions turned him toward the music of Stan Getz, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Bill Evans and Charlie Parker. His life took more of a turn toward jazz. He was digging in on his instruments; learning and developing.

By his early 20s, Daniels started doing Broadway shows, playing in the pit orchestras, including "Mame," with Angela Lansbury. He got a call to do "The Dick Cavett Show" and join the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Big Band at the same time.

"Thad and Mel heard me playing on one gig that I did at the Half Note and I got hired to be in that band when I was 24," he say. "I was playing with Tony Scott at the Half Note. He was a clarinetist and he wanted me to play the saxophone. It was a very good quintet. Thad Jones and Mel Lewis came into the club. I didn't even know who they were. They were checking the scene out. A week later, I got a call and was asked if I'd like to join the band. Of course, I did.

"That kind of opened me up to the world, with other musicians hearing me play and me mixing with other musicians. Getting to know them and them getting to know me. Because I was in the Jones/Lewis band I got called to do 'The Dick Cavett Show.' I was a young guy who could play clarinet and saxophone. Very flexible. So I got in Bobby Rosengarden's band on 'The Dick Cavett Show.' That's how my career took off. I was now a commercial musician. Doing studio work. Playing solos on Billy Joel albums, Paul Simon. A bunch of albums. I give supreme thanks to Thad and Mel for putting me out in public."

He was on a European tour with Thad and Mel that included trumpet great Freddie Hubbard. "We were on tour driving through the Black Forest (a forested mountain range in Germany) with the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis band. We stopped at this place. They wanted to record a jam session with Freddie Hubbard, me, Roland Hanna and Louis Hayes. That's that record called The Hub of Hubbard (MPS, 1970). It was quite a shock to me," he says, marveling at the past.

"You suddenly get thrust into a situation. There I was playing at the Half Note, one of my first gigs ever on a live jazz stage. Then Thad Jones and Mel Lewis come in and they hire me. Luck of the draw. That led to going on tour. Being on a record with Freddie Hubbard. Being on Thad and Mel's albums. Which gave me visibility. That's what it's all about."

Daniels has played in a number of bands and led his own during a strong career that made him one of the important players that people need to hear. His versatility on his instruments certainly helped, especially before he became clarinet royalty.

"I loved each one of those instruments as I learned each one of them. I identified with each one of them, I was a sax man when I was playing the sax. When I get into the clarinet, I'm a clarinetist, man. It's not like I'm doubling, as musicians would say. I probably spent 10,000 hours with each one of them, at least, before I got out into the public playing them," he says. "I'm loving all of it. It's my voice. Music is the voice, not the specific instrument."

As for jazz, Daniels loves "the spontaneity of it. Like our conversation. You don't know what I'm going to say and I don't know what you're going to say. You never know. It enables you to go deeply into yourself."

Daniels is an enthusiastic, vivacious talker and an affable story teller. It seems like there are not many periods where he sits still. Musically, there is no sitting still.

"I've had a full career. But I want more. I want to refine what I've been doing all these years and make it better. Make the music more representative of what I am on a deeper level. The eternal, internal quest. Once we all get out of quarantine, there may be a future for all of us. Maybe we'll be able to go get a haircut," he jokes.

"The future for me? I'm still practicing. I'm ready! If they call me, I'm ready. I will play. I will play better. And I will surrender to the music even more."

Photo Credit: Paul Gitelson

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