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Gerard D'Angelo: Who's Kidding Who?

DanMichael Reyes By

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AAJ: Has anything else that you've arranged or composed been played or recorded by anyone else?

GD: There have been a few things. I would always write stuff but I would never write them down because I didn't think it was that good. I thought of myself as a working musician whose emphasis was jazz, which I loved the most.

But when I was working with Nat Adderley, I played something that I was writing and he said, "Man, that's great! Put a bridge on it and we'll record it." So I wrote a bridge and we recorded it.

AAJ: What was the name of the song?

GD: It's called "Who's Kidding Who?" All of a sudden, everybody thought it was the hippest song in this little circle of people. Nat Adderley played it, Larry Willis played it with Eddie Gomez and Al Foster, and Red Rodney was also playing. It was this new hip tune that a few people were playing. So I was thinking, "Wow! They really like this thing I wrote."

Vincent Herring recorded it with Wallace Roney. So I have all these people recording this one tune! I'm like, "Hey guys! I have other tunes!" So Vincent came over and asked what else I was writing. So [Herring] recorded another song I wrote called "Holly's Secret," which I wrote for my stepdaughter. Then Red Rodney recorded another record with Gary Dial and myself where I was playing synth. Downbeat reviewed me as a synthesist, I was called a "bop synthesist." The record was called Red Alert (Landmark, 1991).

Red wanted to reach a wider audience so he decided he wanted to more commercial. He liked my be-bop playing so he wanted me to be a part of the record. It didn't pay that much or anything, but I didn't care, if it were free I would have [still] done it. Red wanted everyone to write so everyone in the band wrote. So I wrote a few things and he really liked some of my pieces. There's also this saxophonist, Mark Vinci who recorded a few of my songs. He recorded my song called "Flight of the Feather."

AAJ: Let's move on to the present day. How did your upcoming album come about?

GD: Jana Dagdagan, my publicist, was helping me get my thoughts organized in terms of moving forward during this part of my career. She's a pretty amazing young woman who is inclined both in music and business, and has worked with quite a few notable musicians.

I did a little jazz gig a year ago and recorded it. But I was talking to Jana about a couple of things and she's been a huge encouragement. She also mastered the recording.

AAJ: But you do have a release under Mapleshade with Jay Anderson and Jeff Hirshfield.

GD: Yeah, but that was 20 years ago and I feel like I'm a different player now. I had some great people on the record but I just feel like it was so long ago that it doesn't represent who I am now.

AAJ: So what happened in between those 20 years? I almost feel like you're a musician's musician. Students from Manhatthan School of Music and New School know who you are and speak highly of you. When I interviewed Takuya Kuroda and asked him about his time at New School, he spoke highly of three teachers: Laurie Frink, Bill Kirchner, and you. Why didn't we see more Gerard D'Angelo records between during that time?

GD: Well it had to do more with playing than recording. 20 years ago, I started teaching at the New School and I was gigging a lot. But I was taking all sorts of gigs and I wasn't really thick in the jazz scene. I did play with Red Rodney, Nat Adderley, and Chris Potter but I was also trying to survive in the music business. I was willing to do other gigs and I enjoyed doing other gigs, but I was never the hardcore jazz guy who was just out there doing that.

As much as I loved it tremendously, I never had that kind of confidence that I was that. I was just kind of who I was: this working guy. By the time I hit 40 and I got the teaching gig I thought it was great because I was teaching stuff that I loved to do. When that happened, I began to—without analyzing myself too much—see myself as a teacher and less as a player, even though I was working with Stokes and other people. I don't think I really had the confidence.

AAJ: So it didn't occur to you that you were a good musician despite teaching at two really well respected institutions that students from all over the world wish to attend?

GD: No, that never occurred to me. I always felt and fortunate that I was at those two schools, but I never saw myself as outstanding in anyway. If I had an outstanding quality, then it was my ability to relate to people. During those years, I think I didn't jump out there as much because I didn't really see myself as a really great jazz player. That's not really a good enough reason not to do it, so maybe there's more psychological reasons that's not worth figuring out because where I'm at now is more important.

But a lot of it had to do with my life going into this teaching thing. I was very busy at Manhattan School of Music and I was very busy at New School. So I was thinking, "What am I going to do? These kids all sound great. What am I going to do? Go out on stage and explode?" So in my mind, there were all these great players and students out there so I think I was becoming comfortable in my safe niche. I was hiding out in this niche. I was like, "The students really like me. Let's just behave."

You can easily become comfortable, but I do think it's important to go out there and try things. I do feel that looking back, I had a lot of wonderful teaching and playing experiences. But now, I feel like I want to— I'm a little nervous about it—put myself out there.

So my goal for the next two and three years is to record a lot, put some stuff out on YouTube, try to play, and put myself out there for better or worse. If it were to work, then maybe I can really have a diversified career. Maybe I can cash in on a little bit of a teaching a career and a playing career.

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