You mentioned Saul Goodman. Did you study with him throughout your five years at Juilliard? MS:
Yeah. I studied formally with him for four years. The first year is always a prep year and they put you with Buster Baileyat least in those days. You might take one lesson throughout the first year with Goodman just to familiarize yourself with what's going to come. But from my second to my fifth year, I stayed with Goodman and I became a darn good timpani player. I learned how to be a good orchestral percussionist. What it did was that it got me a lot of freelancing in the '80s and '90s in the studios, Broadway, and all the freelance opportunities in New York. I subbed with the Philharmonic once and I used to play with the American Symphony with all these different ballets.
I used to get a slew of that legit work. But you have to make a commitment eventually and I really was a jazz musician. I really just gained those skills as a classical percussionist during my time at Juilliard because I was there for so long. I played with some of the best conductors at such a high level. I played Mahler's 5th Symphony with Bernstein at Avery Fischer Hall when I was in college. So it really had a big effect on me. Those were amazing times and it was a hard decision in a way. In fact, Saul Goodman got me a job once. He got me a private audition with the Rio de Jainero Symphony. I was his boy. He took Daniel Druckman and me under his wing. Danny's with the New York Philharmonic now and is the head of the classical percussion program at Juilliard. And now I teach at the Juilliard jazz program. AAJ:
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