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Rufus Reid: Composer, Educator, Bassist, Gait Keeper… And Prophet

David Hadley Ray By

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AAJ: So which do you prefer, Finale or Sibelius?

RR: Finale, mainly because that's the one I know. I think it's, in one sense, it's even a more powerful program than Sibelius.

AAJ: I'm trying to decide which one I want to make that jump to.

RR: Sibelius is much friendlier at the outset, but they've learned from all the mistakes of Finale coming up, now we have the processors because that's really where our problems were because the computers couldn't process fast enough all that information. Nowadays you can get a Steinway "D" piano. That's just a program by itself. You can dump it in and you get the sounds. I mean, the sounds are a thousand times better than they used to be and they still sound like midi, but you can make it sound pretty damn good now! They're using them in movies and stuff.

AAJ: Have you ever thought about composing anything for movies? Has anything like that come your way yet?

RR: No, unless it was a documentary, I never tried. I'm too slow. I'm not fast [at] producing, so I would be in trouble I think. I guess, In the back of my mind I'm a little intrigued, but I don't see myself there.

AAJ: But, if an offer comes up, you will consider it?

RR: It depends on when they would need it, and what it's about, and how much creativity I would be given. I have to be honest, I have thought about it at some point, but I've seen enough negative things happening to people because they weren't fast enough, and I've gotten spoiled from that first time of BMI saying "what do you want to write?" There's only one person who's asked me, that I've gotten a commission that said, "Well, you can write an arrangement for me, or you can write an original for me." So, I said, "well, if it's all the same, I'll do the original, if I can." He said "Okay, fine." But, then he said, "Well, you know, I want to feature my bassist and saxophonist, and you know, it's something like Paul Chambers and John Coltrane." So, he's already...

AAJ: Putting in limitations on what you can do.

RR: Yeah, or I have to go down that alley. Which I ended up doing because it was my original piece of music, and I still use it. But, that's the only time. And he didn't say how fast, slow, or what key, just, "think about this..." That's the only time I ever had to do that.

AAJ: I want to put something to you about J.J. Johnson. I listened to his work with Kai Winding... And I listened to the work of Dizzy with Melba Liston... I always found it interesting because of the bass clef. Did J.J. Johnson ever play anything that illuminated his approach, I mean, from the perspective that he played an instrument that operates in the bass clef. I'm sure there were many things but, did you ever hear something and say "oh, that was an interesting riff" or hear a lick or pattern that jumped out at you? A motif? Anything? I'm alluding to possibly a singular riff, or a phrase possibly?

RR: Well, yes. Can I pinpoint one of them? I don't know if I can or not, but J.J, that was the very first record that my brother gave me. My very first real jazz record called Walkin,' by Miles with J.J., Horace Silver is on it, and Percy Heath is on it, Klook... Umm, I was fifteen, but little did I know that eventually I would be playing in France with Percy Heath, and then play with J.J. over nine years. You know, being with him, there were two or three years in between, where his wife became ill and had a stroke and died. And eventually, he got married again, and then he shortened his life. But J.J. was a composer. He played like a composer, he wrote like a composer. Meaning, If you're doing something here, he's definitely doing something different [over] here. So you can see, he thought like that as he played. That's why J and K, because of the way they used the trombone, those lines would be doing all kinds of arrangements and they improvised. He was a very meticulous man. and dresser, but everything he played was very well thought out. Not to the point where he thought stuff out, but he had an immense vocabulary of just getting around the horn. He was very melody-oriented and phrase oriented. So, everybody loved him for that.

Slide Hampton, they all thought he was a genius, just because of that, but that's the way Slide played. I mean, you could take and transcribe their solos, print it, and put it up on the wall. It was that good. His solos were satisfying, all the time. So, I was going to say they were all great, but, they were all satisfying. And if you can satisfy consistently. I mean they're some people that say, that was the most incredible thing I've heard. And some that say "yeah, yeah, well, it's okay." but, when you look at the whole thing? Whew! That's what you want to be. I mean, I think anybody would love that. But, to answer your question, I probably have stolen ideas and little licks, that's what we do! I mean, then you figure out what did you steal?! I mean, you don't even know what you stole, I mean, you just like the way it sounded! Because the best transcription is when you whistle it, and then play it. The schools, the kids of today, they transcribe it, they write it. they try to scuffle to write it down as they hear it. They haven't even internalized the solo.You should be able to listen enough to it that you can whistle it, play along with it, it and sounds like stereo, because you got all the inflections, even the notes he didn't want to play, but you played them anyway... Because intellectually, you might say, "that's a funny note." I mean they talk about Miles... "That's a funny note he played," but, he made the whole thing. Well, he did it again, so I guess he meant it, but nobody really knows? But , the true transcription is to be able to sing along with it, note for note, and then the next thing is to play it. And then, when you want to archive it, then you write it down.

RR: To me, that's it in a nutshell, for all of us. I've been listening to some of the older records and I say, "Man, there's so much great music out here. It's almost like, do I have the audacity to compose new music?" You know? And yet, we need it. All of those guys that we revered, they're still out here, still composing. Still writing, because we need new music. Eddie Harris was one of those people writing all of the time. People were telling me about Dave Brubeck was encouraging to me when he listened to Quiet Pride. He told me that he felt the music was "real" American music. That truly made me feel great coming from him.

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