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SFJAZZ Collective: Remembering Miles

R.J. DeLuke By

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AAJ: Must be fun to play in a band with these excellent musicians.

Jones: The other thing that's great is we actually have a pretty large amount of time to put the music together. Every fall we get together and rehearse for basically two and a half weeks. We play six to eight hours a day. You can really get tight in that amount of time.

AAJ: There's something to learn from everyone.

Jones: Everybody has something different that they bring to the table. Some people are really meticulous about what they want. Other people, like me, are kind of loose. I like to lead by corralling different ideas together and putting them into a concise thought. It's really nice.

Zenon: Something like this you can only take things from it. It's been an amazing experience for me, that's for sure.

AAJ: How much of a challenge is it for each of you to come up with tunes that you need for that season?

Zenon: Once you get in the flow of how the band works, you get used to the players and how it works in terms of the rehearsal period. We make the decisions collectively, so we even choose the composers we're going to focus on. Next year, people can choose their tunes, first-come, first-served basis. It usually flows pretty seamlessly.

Jones: I really enjoy that. And I know the cats can play whatever I write, so that's really nice.

AAJ: It's gotta be nice playing other people's charts as well.

Zenon: For me that's the greatest thing about it. It's great to bring your own music and get it played by such a high level of musicianship. But for me, I've always enjoyed playing with other people. That's kind of why I got into this in the first place. It's great to play with so many wonderful musicians, get to play their music and learn about their personalities, their concepts and approaches.

AAJ:This tour features the music of Miles Davis. Does that have extra significance for you, Sean, as a trumpet player?

Jones: Of course. Since I left Jazz at Lincoln Center, I've kind of found myself in many Miles tribute scenarios. The first one was with Marcus Miller's Tutu Revisited tour. After that, Terrence Blanchard and I did a tribute to Miles and his collaboration with Gil Evans. We did that a few times. Then I went on the road with Marcus Miller, Herbie and Wayne and I did another tribute. Now here I am with the Collective doing Miles.

Miles was the first jazz music I ever heard. In sixth grade my teacher gave me the record Kind of Blue and he also gave me Tutu. When I heard that, it kind of changed the trajectory of my life. Although I was pretty young. I was kind of a nerd. [chuckles] My folks wanted me to go into medicine or something like that. But Miles got me. I don't regret it.

Zenon: He's one of the great figures of this music, or any music really. He's one of the first musicians that attracted me to jazz in the first place. When I started getting into the music, it was his records that made me fall in love with jazz. So it's great to explore it. He's such a seminal figure, not only as an instrumentalist, but as a conceptualist, as a leader, as a composer. He dictated the direction of this music for many, many decades.

Jones: Also, as a leader I really like the idea that he chose people to be themselves. His band changed because he allowed musicians in the band to kind of put their own vision forward. That's what I like to do as a leader.

AAJ: [To Jones] On the CD, you arranged "So What." Was that fun for you?

Jones:It was a lot of fun. It was challenging, man, because if you do too much with it, it kind of takes away from what the tone is. The tune is pretty simple, and it wants to be simple. So what I tried to do is celebrate the answer to the bass line a little bit more than the bass line. The bass line is still there, but it's disrupted by the punches. I also took choruses of Miles' solo and created solos for the band. It was a lot of fun.

AAJ: You also did "Hutcherson's Hug."

Jones: I didn't have the opportunity to play in the Collective with Bobby Hutcherson, but one of my favorite stories is that he liked to start every rehearsal off by hugging people. So I thought that was cool. He wanted the spirit in the room to be right. I decided to write a piece based on that hug. It features Warren Wolf on the vibes.

Jones: [To Zenon] You arranged "Nardis." what was that process like?

Zenon: Once I pick a tune, I pick if for a reason. In this case when it came time to arrange the piece I was really into music from places in eastern Europe, especially the Balkans. Almost like gypsy music in a way. Bulgaria. Czech Republic. Places like that. I was checking out a lot of music that had this non-Western element to the melodies. "Nardis" is already embedded in the tune. It kind of called out to me. It kind of flowed in an organic way. I made it fit into what I was working with at the time. I was transcribing a lot of this music, getting into a lot of the phrases and the scales. I just put "Nardis" through the filter of all that folkloric music from those regions, to try to get something that made sense.

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