Take Five With Billy Carrion Jr.


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Meet Billy Carrion Jr:
I've been around music since I was in my mother's womb. My dad— singer, Billy Carrion Sr. —would play sounds of Batacumbele through headphones over my mom's belly. My first saxophone experience came at nine. After being taught to read and write, I started my musical journey. At 16, I was performing with the likes of Robbie Ameen, Ned Sublette, and Pete Rodriguez. Through that experience, I got a taste for what my life could be like if I worked hard enough. 15 years later, I've made music with some amazing cats in many different genres. Today, I have started to run my own projects.

Baritone saxophone, bass, and various hand percussion.

Teachers and/or influences?
I've only taken a few lessons in college with saxophonist Allen Won. Because it was my first formal training, we butt heads at first. Once we found a common ground, his approach went away from a methodical approach into harnessing my love and passion for music, and my natural sound on the baritone. Instead of drilling, he helped me pave my own path to a better performer. I never studied after Allen Won; with so much music to listen to, there's plenty of lessons to learned.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...
I knew music was for me the second I played my first real gig. There was an indescribable feeling that happened, which still pops up. It's a feeling of connection on an unconscious level. Several people and me are placing well- tuned sounds in rhythmic flow, creating emotionally stimulating waves that can alter a being's thought process.

Your sound and approach to music:
My sound is everything. When I first picked up the baritone, I spent hours and hours playing long tones. I also made a weird decision to not listen to baritone saxophone players for sound, but to everything else. Of course I listened to the masters like Harry Carney, Leo Parker, Hamiett Blueitt, and Mario Rivera, but I wanted to sound unique so I also checked out Jaco Pastorius, Jan Garbarek, and Pablo Casals.

I originally approached bass because the bass lines I was writing were all over the place and impossible to play. I figured if I could learn to play the lines I wanted to play, then it must be playable. A friend needed a sub, and the I got the fever. My electric bass tone is a mix of all my favorite players including Jaco, Paul Jackson, Paul McCartney, James Jamerson, and others. For my straight ahead tone, I really dug the vibe that Tarus Mateen has brought to the table in the trio. I also guys like Steve Swallow, Gary Peacock, and Eddie Gomez. Both of my basses are custom made and tailored for a personal sound.

Your teaching approach:
I've only had a few students in my lifetime so far, but my approach has always been the same. Through logical conversations, I developed the "bumper bowling method." It was my funny way of saying that I let students be free to explore the instrument safely. Figure out its doohickeys and make cool sounds. Every student came back with crazy results, and this raw energy to learn more ways to make more sounds. From there, each kid differed in his or her approach based on personality. If they are more towards books, I start with feeling music, and vice versa.

Your dream band:
I would love to be able to play and record for a group that had Giovanni Hidalgo, John Benitez, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Papo Vazquez, Pete Rodriguez, Wayne Shorter, Anthony Carillo, Al Di Meola, and Efrain Toro. That group could play anything, any place, anywhere, anytime. I would write simple melodies and let their genius create on the spot.

Favorite venue:
My favorite place to play so far is the Heineken Jazz Festival in Puerto Rico. I actually just got to do it with Henry Cole's Afrobeat band last year. And being on my home island playing a fusion of island roots and evolved jazz just brought an amazing feeling. I'm really hoping to do it as a leader sometime, especially with my Rican Rebels Ensemble.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why?
It's hard to pick a favorite, each session brings a different vibe. I guess sessions in particular I would mention as my favorite were with a local band called Jak Tripa. It was a band formed of people with diverse backgrounds to create music with the intent of moving people. I was placed in a different position for each song. It a challenge for my technique but was a blast to play. I played sax, keys, percussion, and sang backup vocals.

The first Jazz album I bought was:
Jerry Gonzalez, Ya Yo Me Cure (Sunnyside, 1995).

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?
A different and rebellious perspective on just about anything pertaining to music.

Did you know...
I'm obsessed with old school video games, the '80s Transformers, and comics.

CDs you are listening to now:
Janelle Monae , Electric Lady (Bad Boy, 2013);
Jon DiFiore, Yellow Petals (Third Freedom Music, 2014);
Viento De Agua, Opus IV (Self Produced, 2013) .

Desert Island picks:
Batacumbele, En Aquellos Tiempos (Disco Hit, 2011);
Miles Davis, The Cellar Door Sessions (Columbia, 2005);
Keith Jarrett, My Song (ECM, 1978);
Ray Barretto, Ricanstruction (Fania, 1979).

How would you describe the state of jazz today?
I think jazz will always remain a main factor in music. I believe jazz can use more equality, ranging from who's playing in the clubs, to what demographic the mainstream goes for.

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?
In order to keep jazz alive, it need to be respected but the country it was created in, and taught within our regular history. It's one of the only genres of music created on American soil. I also believe having a requirement to read and write music for all children is needed. That way when the time comes—when sounds of one genre becomes more pleasurable than others—there's a better chance that it was a choice based on feeling and not payola.

What is in the near future?
Well I'm in the process of mastering an album I did with closest friend Jon Di Fiore on drums, Luke Celenza on piano and keyboard, and myself on baritone saxophone. It's called Three Free (Self Produced) and will be out March 9th. I also finished recording a crazy electric jazz record with a group I run called the Hidden Jazz Collective with guitarist German Gonzalez, Campbell Charshee on keyboard, Jon Di Fiore on drums, Carlos Maldonado on percussion, and myself on bass. I'm just the front man, but we all have an equal interest in composing and performing in a unique ensemble that modernizes the fusion jazz of the '70s.

I'm also having a really cool 30th birthday show on March 9th at Trumpets Jazz Club in New Jersey. I'll be joined by my normal band, and special guests Bruce Williams on alto saxophone, Papo Vazquez on trombone, and Matthew Stewart on trumpet.

What song would you like played at your funeral?
"The Show Must Go On" by Queen.

If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a:
I'd be another type of musician.

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