Joe DeRenzo: On the Comeback

Walter Kolosky By

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AAJ: You are very effusive in the liner notes on these last two CDs about all the help and support you have received from your friends.

JDR: Without the friendship and talents of the other musicians neither CD would have happened. Since the early 1990s my friend from college, pianist Tom Zink, had been putting together his own recording studio and by the time I contacted him in 2003, he'd produced several CD and soundtrack projects. I hadn't spoken to Tom in nearly fifteen years. I tracked him down through the Internet. Tom and I had worked together with jazz guitarist Brian Hughes in the early 1980s and he was the only one I wanted to do these projects with.

AAJ: There was a time when the jazz business could afford many record labels. Some of them had their own signature sounds. You would almost buy the record because of the label!

JDR: ECM and CTI were jazz labels that influenced me a great deal. Airto, Hubert Laws, Deodato, Ron Carter, Gabor Szabo and Joe Farrell along with George Benson made some amazing albums for CTI. And the packaging was so cool. ECM had that very European sound that was so different with albums by Ralph Towner, Eberhard Weber and Jan Garbarek. Of course Keith Jarrett's solo piano albums were revolutionary. I was so blown away by Towner's Solstice (ECM, 1975) album.

AAJ: The arrangements on the new CD are wonderful. Joe, you are also a very fine drummer. But there are no drum solos on this record to speak of. Generally, though not always, drummer's albums feature at least a little bit of showing-off.

JDR: Some drummers heading up a band might take that tact. And it's for that reason I didn't put any drum solos on the CD. There is a bit of one on "Dealing with my Demons towards the end, but the idea of using a CD project as a platform to feature one's drum chops is a bit predictable. I always want to go in the opposite direction from peoples' expectations.

I remember reading an interview with Roman Polanski about how he hates it when someone notices a particular shot in one of his films. It made him feel as though he hadn't done his job by making his technique disappear. I don't want anything distracting from the spiritual element the whole band is trying to create. I try to communicate an ideal circumstance and paint a picture with sound for the listener. People have told me the music sounds like a film soundtrack. That's the best compliment I can get. When I first heard Weather Report, the music created these vivid images in my mind unlike anything I'd experienced. I try and shoot for the same.

AAJ: If you were forced at gunpoint to recommend only one tune from core beliefs, what would it be?

JDR: The most satisfying track on the CD for me is "Second Sunday in August. It was the song that began to define the Weather Report sound and, oddly enough, was from their second album, I Sing the Body Electric (Columbia, 1972). Their version has more of a melody repeating throughout, but I wanted to have the sax stretch out and improvise more. Bob Mintzer did a great job on soprano as did Tom Zink on piano and Kevin Axt on bass. Kevin amazingly counterpoints Tom's lyrical piano part. Brian Hughes plays this intro on an Iraqi instrument called the oud.

The interplay between the musicians on a song like that is so important. After the first little section the rest of the song is Db sus. If you're not all listening to one another, there's a good chance a lot of musical toes will be stepped on!

I just have to mention "The Umbria Suite. I found a bootleg DVD of a Keith Jarrett solo piano performance from The Umbria Jazz Fest back in the mid-1970s. It was little more than a month before the sessions for core beliefs and, realizing that I didn't have enough material for a full album, I was scrambling for some more songs. I couldn't get the music from the solo concert out of my head and after a few listens I noticed three distinct ideas Jarrett was exploring. I started to play around with them on the piano and the idea for arranging them into a suite shortly followed.

Once that was done I got together with my friend and pianist Russell Ferrante to go over my little idea. He's got such a great foundation of the blues and gospel piano. These are signature attributes for Jarrett's style. Andonis Tsilimparis put his amazing voice to "Part III, and I'm very happy the way it all came together.

AAJ: You've recently signed a new recording deal.

JDR: I signed in January with ESC Records. My first CD release for the label is entitled Dante's View, referring to the point of interest in Death Valley National Monument. The cover shows the view of the valley below looking down on Badwater, an expansive salt-flat and the lowest elevation in the western hemisphere. It's one of my favorite places on earth. They've done a great job with the artwork too, which includes a few of my portraits of the other musicians.

Joe DeRenzo

AAJ: What is different about the music business this time around?

JDR: The big difference is the avenues of self-promotion via the Internet that weren't available before. Websites like CDBaby, Garageband and music pages on MySpace are incredible tools for networking with other musicians and introducing yourself to the world. Of course you still have to send out promo materials and write press releases, but the computer has made any kind of self-publishing so much easier. As far as disadvantages, if you're doing what you love to do, there aren't many. It's an amazing time to be making music as far as I'm concerned.


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