I'm sure a lot of things changed since 1975 when you were there but it must be nice to teach at the school where you and your mother before you attended. MS:
Oh man, it's a dream to teach at Juilliard! The level is so high on both sides, classical and jazz. It's an exciting place to be, it's a beautiful building, and of course it's got a lot of memories for me. There's a whole emotional value to it and I'm grateful to have the gig. I walk around there and go into the orchestral rehearsal roomif it's emptyand play the piano for a while. Or I go to Morse Hall on the first floor, which has a Fazioli and I'll sit down and play it. Truthfully, it's the first stop when I go. If I have some time, then I try to go and play at Morse Hall. There's 280 Steinways at the building and it's just a great place. I had great experiences there. I go into the orchestral room and I think about the fact that I was in there rehearsing with Sir George Solti, Karjan, and Bernstein. We had great experiences going into that program. AAJ:
As a teacher at Juilliard, do you think students get enough in the classroom or should they go out and sit behind someone like Elvin the way you did when you were coming up? MS:
Absolutely! I can't say enough for having to go out and "make the scene" as they say and go to clubs to see as much as you can. I'm a little bit too old to go out all the time now. I don't get out to see people play and hang as much as I should because things get more complicated with family and things like this. But I used to be out all night long. There was a scene at Auggie's and now there's Fat Cat and Small's. You kind of have to hang if you want to get into the scene and you just have to be out. But more importantly, yes, you should see the masters play. There are still plenty of great masters that you can listen to. AAJ:
Let's talk about your time with Peggy Lee
I was spit out into the freelance scene after school and I met Mike Renzi and he was a big mentor. He gave me the Peggy Lee gig. Mike was her musical director along with Jay Leonhart
, Grady Tate
, John Chiodini
, and myself on vibraphone. It was a nice quintet that we had for about five years and we sort of broke up. Mike stopped doing it and Peggy got another pianist and I played with her for about seven years and did three or four CDs with her.
Mike Renzi also plugged me into this circle of singers like Mauren McGovern. Rodney Jones also hooked me up with a bunch of singers. Rodney produced a lot of great things. He's one of the most consummate musicians around. He's an incredible producer, writer, person, and spiritual leader. He got me on a Lena Horne
record date with Tony Bennett. I also played with Ruth Brown
for two years because of Rodney. Ruth did a record of standards on Capitol that I'm on and it's very beautiful. Gloria Lynne
was on HighNote and I did that. They're just record dates but I'm grateful for them. I worked with Mel Torme
once or twice.
I got into the freelance thing for a long time and now I'm mostly trying to concentrate on my own CDs. AAJ:
That's a lot of names that you've pointed out. You also did work with the great Larry Coryell. MS:
I was part of Larry's band for seven years. Those CDs I did produce. I produced two CDs for Larry and I played on another one called New High
(HighNote, 2000). AAJ:
What were the two records you produced for Larry? MS:
One of them was on CTI called I'll Be Over You
(1995) and the other one was Sketches of Coryell
(Shanachie, 1996). He liked my tunes. Larry recorded 10 of my tunes. That was one of the most important things that he gave me as a friend and a colleague. AAJ:
How did you get into producing records? MS:
Technology came around and I became pretty apt in the studio. I understand the technology pretty well. Rodney Jones and I actually had a little production company together where we produced some jingles and did some ghost writing for some stuff. We were always really savvy in that way. He's an intelligent and very smart musician. You kind of to be savvy here; the whole business changed. I was an acoustic player, playing classical music and freelancing on Broadway and the studios, then all the sudden the studio scene changed because MIDI came along and the computer thing opened up in the late '80s.
I got a record date in '86 and I was playing around with a MIDI vibraphone. I got a record with George Butler through Wynton. It wasn't through Wyton actually but it was through someone else who introduced me to George and kept saying, "George wants to sign you, George wants to sign you!" I didn't know whether to believe it or not and I said, "Well, let me meet with George and let me see what's going on."
Eventually it happened months later and when I met George he said he spoke to Wynton and asked if he knew me. George wanted to do something with vibes with a new young vibes player. So he did this record of mine called A New Balance
(Columbia, 1986). It has a pop tune in it called "Changes in my Life" that many Filipinos and South East Asian people know because it was big hit there. Later in life I found out that it sold 60,000 CDs by someone else who recorded it and that it was a big hit there and that I was due all kinds of money. It's got 10 million views on YouTubeit's ridiculous. I make no money from it. I make shit money from it; it's ridiculous. Everybody in the Philippines posts videos of this song and that means 10 million people listen to this song for free. It's pretty messed up but it's all right, it's good publicity.
Some great things came from that record. "Changes in my Life" did very well but more importantly, I got a big publishing bump from it because 10 seconds of one cut that I did was picked up on General Hospital
, the soap opera. It was just pulled out of the library. They somehow stumbled on my record and used it. It was just a stroke of luck. I made about $60,000 from publishing. AAJ:
Out of all the people you've played with as a sideman, which one jumps out at you the most? MS:
Certain ones you can't compare. The most influential on my life, career, and my development as a musician I would have to say Elvin, Saul Goodman, and Buster Bailey. If you're talking about my biggest influences as far as learning the music then Kenny Kirkland, Rodney Jones, and Mike Renzi. As far as superstar singers like Tony Bennett, they're great. It's been a privilege to play on a Tony Bennett record or a play a little tour with Liza Minelli as a percussionist.
They're just fun gigs. The most important stufffor meare the jazz gigs, and they rank a little higher for me. The ability to be able to play who you are... you can quote me on this: I'm just trying to play the truth of who I am. That's what it's all about; when you're just trying to play the truth of who you are. And the truth of who I am turns out not to be a full time percussionist playing freelance gigs with Liza Minelli, Broadway shows, jingles, and studio work. They're all good and fun to do sometimes when there's a craft to it and a true art to doing it well. But at a certain point you have to make a commitment to something and at a certain point I made my commitment to playing jazz and the educational profile. I like teaching and I like doing workshops. I have a great system for improvisation that I use to teach people how to negotiate changes and I enjoy bringing it to them. AAJ:
Let's move on to Project Them
, your newest album with your old high school classmate, Bob Francheschini. MS:
As you know, Bob is one of the most consummate horn players on the scene. He's always been one of my favorite players, and we went to high school together. We used to listen to Coltrane on 11. Paint was peeling off the walls of his apartment when we listened to Coltrane when we were young. We're one and the same. We come from the same place and we were both chosen to play this music. I kind of feel like you're chosen in life for this.
We were young together and we always wanted to have a thing together. We had a thing together a long time ago when we were younger, but now that we're older we finally found a way to get it. So we started a band [with] Lenny White
I had this manager in Europe and he wanted me to get very high profile drummer. I had a lot of records out with a quartet that I've had for many years with Allen Farnham
, Dean Johnson
, and Tim Horner
. It's a beautiful quartet. we played some beautiful music, and recorded some great records. We've had Michael Brecker
as a guest and Joe Lovano
as a guest, but I guess they really wanted a high profile name drummer.
So I got Lenny White who I met on a record date with David Chesky
. We did this unique record of percussion with Lenny, Jamey Haddad, and me. The [music] was all improvised. AAJ: Explorations in Time and Space
(Chesky, 2011) right?
MS: Yeah, it's kind of an interesting out
project that Dave put together. We did that and I got close with Lenny because we hung in the studio for two days. So I called [White] for Project Them and we went to Europe for a nice tour. We did about 10 days worth of gigs and it was great. When we got back, we had another tour and for logistical reasons we had to switch to Adam Nussbaum
because Lenny wasn't available. Adam and I bonded really strongly. We come from Elvin and we come from the same place in many ways and it was just fun.
Coincidentally, we ended up recording at the end of nine concerts with that band with Adam and Martin Gjakonovski who was the bassist. We got Martin because we needed a European bassist [due] to the budget. Martin had played with Adam on some other situations and I decided [Gjakonovski] would be a good call. So we went with him and we did the tourboth with Lenny and Adam. He's an excellent bassist and he lives in Cologne, Germany.
[Gjakonovski] did the two tours and the end of the second tour we just recorded. We did another tour this year; we returned about a month and a half ago from Europe for about eight days in Switzerland. The record is doing okay.