Kenny Garrett: Back To The Future

Jason Crane By

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Kenny GarrettAAJ: I was home at our house this morning while we were having a washing machine delivered. I had this record on loud, and the delivery guy kept walking through the room to get to the basement. After several trips through, he stopped and said, "This is great! What is it?" It was on the tune "Happy People" at that point. I have to believe, listening to the crowd at the Iridium, that the guy who delivered our washing machine is not the only person blown away by the vibe of "Happy People." It seems like everybody loves that tune.

KG: It seems to be one of those tunes that people wait for. We played in France at Parc Floral, and we played this song and the people went crazy. It was like 45 minutes. The next time we went to play there, they had security at the stage, because as soon as we started playing this song, they knew what was going to happen because it was just so crazy. When I travel the world, people wait for this song.

AAJ: Can you talk about the Iridium and why you chose to record there?

KG: The Iridium allows me to be myself and to experiment with different music. Sweet Basil used to be a place like that, where I would play and I had a relationship with the club. This is a relationship [at the Iridium] that I've built with the club over the years, and I play there and feel comfortable.

AAJ: What kind of crowd comes out to a Kenny Garrett show these days?

KG: It varies, because there are so many different CDs. You have people coming for Beyond The Wall, Triology (Warner Bros., 1995), Happy People (Warner Bros., 2002)—they come for all different things. It's hard to say who's in the crowd.

AAJ: You mentioned that you've already moved on, even from this record. What are you working on now?

KG: The band that I'm playing in now consists of an organ, electric bass and drums, synthesizers and Fender Rhodes. It's something I've been wanting to try for years, and I said, "Let me just do it." Like I said, in order for me to move on to the next chapter, I have to close this one.

Kenny GarrettAAJ: A lot of musicians—certainly in the pop and rock worlds, but also in the classical and jazz worlds—when they find something that really works, they do it a lot, because that's what people have come to the show to hear. How does your insistence on moving forward impact your crowd or your ability to draw a crowd?

KG: I think the people who know Kenny Garrett know that he's going to keep moving. If I hadn't had a chance to move, there wouldn't be Beyond The Wall or Pursuance (Warner Bros., 1996) or Songbook (Warner Bros., 1997). I need to experiment. I think the fans come to see what's going on, and I think there's an element in the music that they gravitate towards, no matter what genre it is.

AAJ: This album is on the Detroit-based label Mack Avenue Records. Why did you make the move to Mack Avenue?

KG: I felt that Mack was hungry and they were really trying to find different ways of presenting the music. That's the same for myself. I wanted to find a label that would allow me to experiment with different styles. They're up and coming, they're experimenting, they're open. That's the same thing I'm doing.

AAJ: Does your choice of label have an impact on what you record?

KG: If you have a relationship with the company, I think that helps to allow you to be yourself. It's a business, and people at the record company have an idea of what they think will sell. But the bottom line is having a relationship and being able to do the music that you want to do.

AAJ: You said earlier that Nat Reeves has been on just about every one of your records. What is it about Nat's playing that makes him a good fit for you?

KG: The first thing is that he has a terrific beat and a beautiful sound. But the second thing is that he's my friend, and we go way back. We came to New York together. I have ideas, and when you perform with someone for years, you write something you think might challenge them, but at the same time, they might bring something new to the table. I think with all my friends, I try to write something that will really challenge them or some music that will inspire them to create something. With Nat, we just have this relationship, and I know that he's going to give me what I need.

align="center">Kenny Garrett

AAJ: You seem to be having a great time making music and challenging yourself to do new things.

KG: That's true. The challenge is trying to find something that will motivate you to keep going. One of the biggest lessons I learned from Miles Davis was just to be yourself and to keep going. I'm trying to write a story. And in this story, every time I close a chapter there's something new that happens. And that's life. I've traveled the world. I was recently in Taiwan, Thailand, Japan and different places, and I try to bring some of those influences and experiences in with my music. I don't try to separate, I just try to say, "This is part of who I am and I'm sharing it with the world." Like on Beyond The Wall, where it was Asia and Africa and jazz together—if I hadn't had an opportunity to go to China, I don't think that would have come to fruition.

AAJ: What's coming up next for you?

KG: I'm going to play at the Iridium, then in DC, then I'm going out with this band with [pianist] Chick Corea and [guitarist] John McLaughlin and [bassist] Christian McBride and [drummer] Vinnie Colaiuta. So I'm looking forward to that. I'm also looking forward to writing more music for the new band and trying to come up with some new concepts.

Selected Discography

Kenny Garrett, Sketches of MD (Mack Avenue, 2008)

Kenny Garrett, Beyond The Wall (Nonesuch, 2006)

Kenny Garrett, Standard Of Language (Warner Bros., 2003)

Kenny Garrett, Happy People (Warner Bros., 2002)

Kenny Garrett, Old Folks (WestWind, 2001)

Kenny Garrett, Simply Said (Warner Bros., 1999)

Kenny Garrett, Songbook (Warner Bros., 1997)

Kenny Garrett, Pursuance: The Music of John Coltrane (Warner Bros., 1996)

Kenny Garrett, Triology (Warner Bros., 1995)

Kenny Garrett, Stars & Stripes Live (ITM, 1995)

Kenny Garrett, Threshold (Warner Bros., 1994)

Kenny Garrett, Black Hope (Warner Bros., 1992)

Kenny Garrett, African Exchange Student (Atlantic, 1990)

Kenny Garrett, Prisoner Of Love (Atlantic, 1989)

Kenny Garrett, Garrett 5 (Paddle Wheel, 1988)

Kenny Garrett, Introducing Kenny Garrett (Criss Cross, 1984)

Photo Credits

Top photo: C. Andrew Hovan

Middle Photo: Jazzboo

Bottom Photo: Bill King

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