Luis Perdomo: Venezuelan Connection

Jason Crane By

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AAJ: You said that with Harold you were studying harmonic and chordal concepts. It sounds like Roland Hanna was the perfect complement to that.

LP: Absolutely. And with Roland, I did a lot of classical, even more than what I did at the Manhattan School of Music. I did tons of classical music, and I also went back and studied some earlier styles of jazz piano, like "Fats" Waller, Scott Joplin ragtime pieces. And a lot of Chopin etudes, a lot of Bach and Brahms. Roland was the first guy I heard talking about "half pedal" or "three-quarter pedal."

AAJ: Explain what those terms mean.

LP: When you play piano, a lot of people just stomp on the sustain pedal. You press it all the way down and then release it. But Roland had a way of pressing the pedal just a quarter of the way, and he would get this echo in the piano. It was great the way his pedaling was. He would play loud, but it wasn't the kind of loud that would make you say, "Stop!" It was a nice, big sound.

And sometimes he would tell me, "Luis, you're playing a lot. You're making a little money. It would be good if you went to Carnegie Hall or Alice Tully Hall [at Lincoln Center] and started checking out different piano players. Classical piano players. Buy a ticket and sit right in front of the pianist so that you can really see what they're doing with the pedals and hear all the tone that they're getting out of the piano."

It was an experience for me to study with Roland because he opened my eyes to the full possibility of the piano. Before, I would sit there and press the keys down and it makes a sound and that's it. Roland said, "No, now you've got to play the bass and make the bass sing." I started thinking of the piano as an orchestra, not just 88 keys. I started seeing it as 88 different instruments.

After I graduated from Queens College, Roland told me, "Now you're getting your degree and you might think that you're ready, but you're not. If you have the time, keep coming to your lessons." He gave me free lessons every week for a year. That was the kind of teacher that Roland was.

luis perdomo

Luis Perdomo (left) with Ravi Coltrane

AAJ: When you graduated, did you start getting calls right away and increasing the number of gigs you were playing?

LP: I guess I really started playing a lot in 2001, which is about the time that I finished taking lessons with Roland. In 2001 I started playing with [saxophonist] Ravi Coltrane. I also started playing with [percussionist] Ray Barretto. I guess at the time, I was also doing some gigs with John Patitucci.

AAJ: How did you meet all these people?

LP: There was friend of mine, a percussionist from Venezuela, named Roberto Quintero. He came to New York and he was playing in a salsa band with La India, the singer. At some point they needed a pianist. He knew I was in New York—this was in 1996. So he introduced me to the musical director. That's how I got the gig with La India. I played salsa for about a year, which was good for me because I wasn't making much money. After that, [Quintero] introduced me to Marlon Simon, [pianist] Ed Simon's brother, who is a drummer. He also introduced me to Ralph Irizarry, who's a percussion player.

AAJ: He's the leader of Timbalaye, right?

LP: Yeah. After I met Ralphie, he called me and asked me to join Timbalaye. I was in Timbalaye for eight years. We did three CD's and a whole bunch of tours in Europe. With Marlon we did a record called Rumba a la Patato (Cubop, 2000). I was in Marlon's band for a while. Playing with Marlon, I got introduced to [trumpeter] Brian Lynch, who was also playing with Marlon. Through Brian Lynch I got introduced to [drummer] Dafnis Prieto and [saxophonist] Yosvany Terry. Playing with Yosvany Terry, I got introduced to [singer] Claudia Acuña and [pianist] Jason Lindner. At some point, Jason needed a sub in Claudia's band, so I subbed. We went to Japan. That's where I met John Patitucci. It all goes like that. It's not like I went to places and said, "Hey, I'm a pianist. Call me." It takes longer this way, but that's the way it works for me.

AAJ: You've been working quite a bit in recent years with two saxophone players: Ravi Coltrane and Miguel Zenón.

LP: Right. I met Ravi playing with Dafnis. And I did a recording with bassist John Benitez called Descarga In New York (Khaeon, 2001); Ravi was on that record. That might have been in April of 2001, and I've been playing with him since.

As for Miguel, the bassist in Miguel's band is Hans Glawischnig. We went to school together. We had a trio and we used to play all the time at Hans's Place, which was around the corner from the Manhattan School of Music. One day the drummer, who was also going to Manhattan, said, "There's this guy at school named Miguel. You should check him out." So Miguel came to Hans's place and we played, and he became a regular. Then we started doing jam session with Miguel, Hans, myself, and Danny Weiss, the drummer. Danny plays with saxophonist David Binney. That's how we all met.

At the time that Miguel started getting his own gigs, he just called Hans and me right away because we knew the music. I've been playing with Miguel since 1999. It's been a while.

AAJ: And you've made three records together.

LP: Three records, and we're about to do another one.

AAJ: I have to ask one question that I probably wouldn't ask if Ravi Coltrane were here. You said the first record you ever bought with your own money was John Coltrane's OM, and now you're playing with Coltrane's son. That must seem like a long way from being a kid on the bus with your Walkman.

LP: It's funny, but I don't really see Ravi as related to John Coltrane. He's just Ravi. We'll be on the road, drinking some beers, and he's Ravi. The only time I realize he's related is when I go to his house and he's got all these pictures that you've never seen because they're personal pictures, and you think, "Oh wow, this guy is related to John Coltrane." And sometimes it sounds funny when we go somewhere and we get to the hotel to check in and they say, "You're with the Coltrane quartet." [We say,] "No, we're with Ravi's quartet. We're not with the Coltrane quartet."

AAJ: "Yeah, it's me and Elvin and Jimmy."

LP: Right. [laughs] But Ravi's music is so different. He's got his own thing happening.

AAJ: Let's talk about your own music. You've released two really fine records: one called Focus Point (RKM, 2005) and a new record called Awareness (RKM, 2006). I want to talk about Focus Point first. It actually brings together many of the people you've just been talking about—Miguel is on the record, Ravi is on the record, Roberto Quintero. Talk about how you got to make this recording and how you chose the band.

LP: I'd been offered [the chance] to do a few records in the past, but usually the people that asked me wanted me to do a straight Latin record. A lot of them even said who should be on the record, the instrumentation, and the tunes that I should play. That stuff is great and I grew up playing it and I know it inside out, but that's not what I want to be doing. I don't want to do a record just playing Latin jazz standards. A lot of people used to say, "You said 'no' to a record date? You must be crazy!" I said, "I might be crazy, I might be wasting a good opportunity for myself, but that's not what I want to do." It felt good saying no.

When Ravi got his record label, I don't know if I asked him or he asked me, but he was the first guy to say, "You want to do a record? Cool. Do what you want. Choose the music that you're going to play and the people that you're going to play with. Rehearse the music and let's get together and do it."

AAJ: All but two of the compositions on Focus Point are your compositions. That must have felt good.

LP: A lot of the music I'd written when I was going to the Manhattan School of Music, I didn't just want to put it away. I wanted to put it on record. When I wrote that music, I might have written it for a combo concert or something, so we got to play it only once. I also had some music that I wrote when I was going to Queens College.

AAJ: Let's talk about the new record, Awareness. Hans Glawishnig is on bass and Eric McPherson is on drums. On about half the record, it's almost a double trio, except with just one pianist. There's Nasheet Waits on drums and then—one of the most amazing stories to come out of the jazz world in recent memory—Henry Grimes on bass. He's back after being literally missing for decades. Where did the "double trio" idea come from?

luis perdomo LP: I always loved the sound of two basses. I think the first time I heard two basses interacting with each other was when I was fifteen and my teacher leant me a record by Cecil Taylor called Conquistador (Blue Note, 1966). It's funny because Henry Grimes plays on that record. That was the first time that I heard two basses and the first time that I heard Henry Grimes play.

For this record it wasn't something that I was thinking about for a long time. It just occurred to me one night to do something with two bassists and two drummers. I thought of the trio that I was using at the time, which was going to be Hans and Eric, but when I was thinking of the double trio, I either thought of [bassist] Alan Silva or Henry Grimes. I wanted Hans to be laying down the groove and somebody else floating on top of it.

I had just seen a concert with Henry Grimes and [bassists] William Parker and Alan Silva and Sirone. Four bass players and the saxophonist Charles Gayle. I saw Henry and kept it in my mind that I wanted to play with Henry Grimes. I called him and he agreed to do the record. He was very nice. I spoke to his partner; they were both very gracious.

As for Nasheet, I had heard Eric and Nasheet play together many times. They grew up together in New York. So when I thought of the second drummer, Nasheet was a natural. I wanted the two drums to sound like one big drummer with four hands and four feet. And I wanted one bass to be laying down the groove and one just floating around. Then I had the choice of playing with the groove or out, playing free or with the changes. It worked out real well.

When I told Ravi, he said right away, "Great, let's do it." In the beginning, I was a little bit concerned whether it would work out. But I had a feeling that it was going to work out. It worked out real well.

Selected Discography

Greg Tardy, Steps Of Faith (Steeplechase, 2007)

Brian Lynch, Spheres Of Influence Suite (Ewe, 2006)

Luis Perdomo, Awareness (RKM, 2006)

Yosvany Terry, Metamorphosis (Kindred Rhythm, 2006)

Brian Lynch, Conclave (Criss Cross, 2005)

Luis Perdomo, Focus Point (RKM, 2005)

Dafnis Prieto, About The Monks (Zoho Music, 2005)

Ravi Coltrane, In Flux (Savoy Jazz, 2005)

Miguel Zenón, Jibaro (Marsalis Music, 2005)

Miguel Zenón, Ceremonial (Marsalis Music, 2004)

Ray Barretto, Homage to Art Blakey (Sunnyside, 2003)

Miguel Zenón, Looking Forward (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2001)

Photo Credits

Top, Third Photos: Courtesy of Luis Perdomo

Second Photo: Mariah Wilkins Artist Management

Bottom Photo: Marek Lazarski
About Luis Perdomo
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