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Steve Turre: Shell 'n' 'Bone Man

Ian Patterson By

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The feeling of the music is more important than the idea. The rhythm of the music is more important than the notes.
Steve TurreFew can match Steve Turré's skill as a trombonist. His technical mastery, which has seen him win five Down Beat polls, goes hand-in-hand with a deep respect for the music that has gone before him, and over the course of forty years he has honed his skills with some of the best. Since his formative experience as a teenager playing alongside the great saxophonist/flautist Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Turré has gone on to play with many artists including Ray Charles, B.B. King, Woody Shaw, Art Blakey, Dizzy Gillespie and McCoy Tyner.

His versatility has also seen him collaborate with Latin jazz greats like Tito Puente and Hilton Ruiz, and he can also be found playing in Cuban maestro Arturo O'Farrill's orchestra. Turré is also an acclaimed shellist, or conch player, extracting warm lyricism from this unusual instrument of the seabed. He could probably get a tune from an old kettle. The release of Rainbow People (HighNote, 2008), which brings together an outstanding group of musicians, shows Turré in all his musical guises, and finds him in irresistible form.

All About Jazz: Rainbow People sounds like a very relaxed session, but just how much work was it to bring these musicians together and produce this record?

Steve Turré: Well, the music was actually the easiest part; probably the hardest part was scheduling because everybody is so busy. All the guys have got their own bands, and it was hard to find times when everybody could be in the same place on the same day.

AAJ: When you write, do you write with particular musicians in mind, or do you write the music and then try to find the musicians?

ST: Both ways; sometimes I write the music but sometimes if I know a certain musician is going to be present then I write something for them as well.

AAJ: What was the process with Rainbow People?

ST: I didn't just sit down and write for this record date; I write constantly, all the time. Things come to me and I put them down. I did a couple of tunes for the date but I have a lot of tunes that I haven't recorded.

AAJ: On this record, the voice of [pianist] McCoy Tyner is present in the Tyner composition "Search for Peace" and also in pianist Mulgrew Miller's chords and some of his playing and the writing. How big an influence has McCoy Tyner been in your music?

ST: Big time, a big influence. So is [trumpeter] Woody Shaw. I know his influence is present. Part of the reason you heard that is because we were playing with the modal concept. Mulgrew Miller and I used to play together with Woody Shaw, and [saxophonist] Kenny Garrett sometimes played with us too. Woody's music was modal—not entirely, but a lot of it. We were drawing on that experience and of course McCoy and John Coltrane were really innovators in that realm. I think that's why that feeling came out. There's all kinds of stuff on the record—some Latin stuff, some blues—but to be sure, McCoy's influence was in there without a doubt. I've worked with him a lot and I have profound respect for him.

AAJ: You mentioned the blues—that's another vein that runs through a lot of your music, and also again on Rainbow People. Where does your blues come from?

ST: Oh, different sources. I've played with a lot of people that have influenced me in that realm—[saxophonist/flautist] Rahsaan Roland Kirk in particular. I've played with B.B. King, I've played with Ray Charles, and [while] coming up, I used to listen to a lot of blues—and not just Albert King, B.B. King and Muddy Waters. I used to love the way [saxophonist] Yusef Lateef played the blues. He was a favorite of mine.

AAJ:You mentioned Rahsaan Roland Kirk—his influence on you is well documented and you started your career with him. I know he introduced you to playing the shells, but I'm curious to know where he learned to play the shells.

Steve TurreST: Well, he didn't really play shells plural; he had a shell. He had all kinds of different sounds, man, he would blow whistles and ring bells and have a siren, and every once in a while he'd just pick up the shell and blow it. It had a real beautiful tone and I was really enthralled by the tone quality, by the sound of it. So he introduced me to the sound of the shell and I got one and started experimenting with it, and I discovered that if I put my hand in there I could change the pitch, and one thing led to another.

AAJ: There's a beautiful Ray Charles tribute on the album, "Brother Ray," and you succeed in capturing the voice of Ray Charles very well, particularly in the plunger solo...

ST: On a lot of my records, he was a big influence. You know, a lot of the younger musicians today are allergic to the blues—and that's the foundation of our music, so I don't quite understand that—but I'm proud to play the blues. I enjoy playing the blues.


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