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Kenny Garrett: Musical Explorer

Jason Crane By

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Expanding the Group

AAJ: We've been talking about the main band, but there are actually more than a dozen other musicians on this album—strings, voices, erhu, percussion. Why did you bring in those additional players?

KG: The main thing is that when I'm writing, I always hear a voice. When I got in the studio, I knew on "Kiss To The Sky" that I wanted voices. Sometimes in music, it's trial and error. I tried out a lot of different things in the process.

AAJ: How did you find an erhu player to do the session?

KG: I told my manager, and he went on the Internet and found a guy [Guowei Wang]. I went down to Chinatown [in New York City]. The guy played one note and I said that's it. He lifted the music. He knew exactly what to play.

Kenny GarrettAAJ: Had he ever played jazz before?

KG: He told me later that he'd done something with [saxophonist] Ornette Coleman, but not in this context. He'd done something a little freer. I think this was the first time he was actually reading music and still having a chance to improvise.

AAJ: What was it like hearing it in the studio?

KG: It was great. I wanted to hear it play the whole song. It's just a little box with two strings, but this guy could make a big sound.

AAJ: Have you worked with strings before?

KG: I've always wanted to do something with strings. I worked with the New Jersey Symphony playing the music of Charlie Parker, but this is the first time I've had strings on my own project.

AAJ: How was it different arranging for strings?

KG: I wasn't really arranging for strings per se. I had a sketch. I did the same thing for voices. I had a sketch of certain things that I wanted to be played, and then I wanted the other things to be loose and free. Every time we played it, I wanted a different interpretation of the song. For example, I'd tell the harpist that I want a lot of colors or a particular run, or I'd tell the cello to play the bottom of the chord. The erhu part was written out. It was the same for the vocals on "Kiss To The Sky." There was a sketch, but when we get to the improvisation, it's about them playing with the musicians. You're part of the horn section now.

AAJ: What do you want listeners to take away from Beyond The Wall?

KG: I want people to take a minute to reflect on the Creator. Let the music take you on a little trip. There are so many obstacles out here to be distracted by, and I think at some point we need to reflect on that.

AAJ: Do you think Chinese listeners would think of this music as inspired by a Creator, or divinely inspired?

KG: I don't know if they would say it like that, but when I hear music that's been around for a long time, I can feel that. I'm always looking for music that has that element. They may not interpret it exactly the same way I do, but I can feel it in there.

Selected Discography

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)

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Photo Credits
Top Photo: Genevieve Ruocco
Second Photo: Jim Semlor
Third Photo: Jose Manuel Horna
Bottom Photo: Courtesy of Kenny Garrett

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