Jim Rotondi: Trumpet Man Seeking New Pleasures

C. Andrew Hovan By

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Technically able to execute whatever his creative muse so dictates, Rotondi is a polished artist who speaks with conviction and a strong emotional base that makes his music immediately appealing.
Part of a new breed of mainstream artists who have managed to carve a niche among the bustling and often overwhelming New York jazz scene, trumpeter Jim Rotondi has developed quite a resume working with a long list of jazz luminaries that happens to include Charles Earland, George Coleman, Mike LeDonne, and Cecil Payne. Part of a small coterie of like minded artists; Rotondi has recorded often for Criss Cross Jazz both as a leader and a sidemen. Together with Eric Alexander and Steve Davis, Rotondi helps form the front line of the hard bop collective One For All, in addition to co-leading the ensemble Full House with pianist David Hazeltine. The latter group, which draws on a diverse set of influences including the electronic innovations of the '60s and '70s, works every Thursday night at Smoke and is readied for the release of their debut recoding.

While in neighboring Louisville for a Jamey Aebersold clinic, Rotondi took the stage for two nights at Cincinnati's Blue Wisp where he and the Phil DeGregg trio locked in tight for some great mainstream fare that never failed to impress from one tune to the other as well as from one set to the next. Technically able to execute whatever his creative muse so dictates, Rotondi is a polished artist who speaks with conviction and a strong emotional base that makes his music immediately appealing. A week later, Rotondi was back in New York and we were able to briefly chat by phone and catch up on a number of things including his two new records.

All About Jazz: Let's talk about your two new records, The Pleasure Dome and New Vistas because they're both actually quite different.

Jim Rotondi: Well, first of all, if you look at the recording dates they were recorded within three weeks of each other and that for me is unprecedented. A record date for me is a big process and I like to have a much stuff prepared to be really ready for it and so to be prepared for two dates was a lot. As for The Pleasure Dome , [producer] Marc Edelman and I had talked about doing something because it had been over two years since my last one for Sharp Nine, Destination Up. This record went through many different personnel configurations before the one that ultimately ended up being used and originally we had talked about doing a quartet date with a lot of standards and try to make it a very accessible record for many markets. The addition of Jesse Davis on alto sax came about because Ira Gitler had produced a Charlie Parker tribute at Birdland about a year ago and I though that I'd like to have him do a few tunes on this record date. I think he was to be on two cuts and then as we got more into it I decided I heard him on a lot more tunes.

AAJ: I find it interesting that you haven't really picked the typical standard tunes, like you do Joe Henderson's "Step Light" and Billy Taylor's "A Bientot."

JR: The Joe Henderson tune is actually an arrangement I did for the electric band Full House that David Hazeltine and I co-lead. We actually have an upcoming release on Nagel Heyer and so that'll be our debut release for that group. I'm really excited about that because people need to find out about the group. We're really playing at a high level, but drawing from different sources.

AAJ: It's interesting because you have Dave Stryker with his Shades of Miles band and there's people like Stefon Harris doing funky grooves with a Fender Rhodes and so it seems like there's a market for the more electric types of things now.

JR: I think so too, but if you start going down the list everyone has that kind of project now- Nicholas Payton, Roy Hargrove, Joshua Redman, and Christian McBride has had one for a while. But with the exception of Christian's group, this band actually came together and started working regularly every week at Smoke in October of 2001.

AAJ: So you're not jumping on the bandwagon.

JR: We're really not, we just never got a record release, but we've been doing it for a long time.

AAJ: Well let's get back to the new records. You know, when I saw you playing in Cincinnati last week, you mentioned to me how much you had been wanting to work with Chris Potter who appears on your new Criss Cross release, New Vistas.

JR: Well, being able to record with Chris was something that I had wanted to do for a long, long time. In fact, pretty much ever since I started working with Gerry Teekens. I had recently been checking out Chris on various things, but especially on that Steely Dan record Two Against Nature. I mean, his playing on that record is burning and to have that kind of playing on a pop record is really inspiring to me. I knew he was going to bring something a little different to the table, not only in his playing but also in the tune I asked him to bring in. That tune of his that we did is definitely different than anything that I had ever recorded in several ways. Compositionally it is 'out of the box' in terms of the solo format and the kinds of chords and voicings he got were very different. I enjoyed working on that a lot.

AAJ: Yeah, the whole record really lives up to its title in terms of the diversity of material and grooves.

JR: That whole band came together based on what [producer] Gerry Teekens and I had talked about. We both had some ideas about people that we had always wanted me to work with. I think he wanted Bill Stewart and I was glad to do it because I had thought about doing a quartet date with Larry Goldings' trio some time ago. Gerry then suggested Sam Yahel because Larry lives in California and so it was logistically easier to have Sam do it. And then I have more musical associations with Peter Bernstein than any of the other guys on the date. We've done a fair amount of things together over the years.

AAJ: I like that you have picked a few more tunes that don't get done on a regular basis, like "Firewater" and that Duke Pearson line. I'm a big fan of Pearson's writing.

JR: You know I recall reading a few years back where someone called Duke Pearson the most underrated composer on the Blue Note label.

AAJ: Makes sense to me. Now let's go back and touch on some bio information. You're from Montana and I'm guessing there's not a lot jazz-wise going on there. How long did you stay there?

JR: Only as long as I had to (he laughs).

AAJ: I mean, I've been out there and there's not much going on.

JR: Yeah it would be a negative number in terms of the musical thing. I left there when I graduated from high school, but I was fortunate because I had so much music in my family so I was not completely devoid and was set in the right direction before I left.

AAJ: So you went to college and studied music?

JR: I went to the University of Oregon but I was basically spending my father's tuition money on records at the time. But seriously, I hadn't declared a major and he was kind of wondering about it. But there was this little record store in Eugene, which is still there, that sells all used vinyl for really cheap so I would go down there at least twice or three times a week. So that was my big vinyl time.

AAJ: Do you still have all those records?

JR: I have all of it and I'll never give it away either. I mean, I still think they sound better.

AAJ: Well, my turntable is always spinning so I can relate.

JR: Yeah, I have a Rega P2 and since buying that I've kind of re-discovered my vinyl because of it. I had a pretty bad turntable before this one and Peter Washington set me in the right direction because you know he's a serious audiophile.

AAJ: Very interesting, I didn't know that about Peter. Well before we go too far off topic, is there anything else that you'd like to mention about upcoming gigs, record dates or whatever?

JR: Well, speaking about Chris Potter, who I don't get to really play with hardly ever, we're doing a Bird tribute at Smoke the weekend of August 27th and 28th with Anthony Wonsey and Willie Jones and we'd love to have people know about that. I think it's going to be happenin' and it's a small club so come and hang out. Other than that, you know I'm just glad to be in business.

Visit Jim Rotondi on the web at www.jimrotondi.com .

Photo Credit
C. Andrew Hovan

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