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The Cry of Jay Rodriguez

Michael Blake By

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For me the highlight of this album are Jay's compositions on which you can really hear his melodic imagination sing. During the opening track "Ghost Dancer/Congo Call," sinuous long phrases slither throughout the piece. Tenor saxophonist Billy Harper shadows Rodriguez's flute, sometimes in unison, sometimes in harmony. It seems like these lines are part of a long going conversation that began way back in time.

"It's haunted" Jay says when his fan turns on without explanation. Okaaay... I'm thinking, this is exactly what I want to hear.

I had checked out some videos of Jay playing with the Groove Collective back in the day and recognized a classic lick associated with the great saxophonist Steve Grossman. He touched on that same lick when I heard him at Le Poisson Rouge. I got a kick out of that because he made it sound as fresh as ever. That led us to discussing some favorite saxophonists from the 1980's and Michael Brecker came up. Jay recalled a phone call with the iconic tenor player in which Brecker said he was happy to be working a lot but was still searching for better results. Musically he still yearned for that 'cry.'

"I think we gravitate to things that speak to us. That reminds me of summer days when my parents would play Charanga, a kind of Cuban music. A lot of Latin bands would play Salsa but also a lot of other kinds of music. It's also rhythm, it's like Ornette, I'd play clave but also find the notes inside the piano. I used to want the band to follow when I played through a chord but now I realize that doesn't matter anymore. We're in this place where we have this canvas we create and it is an amazing new thing to be able to do that. I think I've got a lot of that because of Al and Ornette. Because 99% of that has been self-acceptance. Self-acceptance as a musician, as a parent. That has been an amazing thing, knowing what you do, what your limitations are, what I have to work on. Craig Harris is really good at that. He brings the best out in everybody, understanding where someone is coming from really quickly without telling them what to play and accepting it and creating the right recipe on stage and letting it float. So it doesn't become about him. Craig Is very important to me, that's why I invited him to come [Harris sat in at LPR]. His presence reminds me what to do."

I asked Jay, what he thought about the onslaught of musicians showing off their chops on YouTube. And how, despite all his schooling, he avoided copying other musicians.

"I just didn't have the same discipline. It was a combination of different factors. I didn't have the aptitude for that or I didn't have the patience for that. I gravitated to things and transcribed little things that I used and grew from that. I was around a lot of kids who studied piano and they played the hell out of all these Cuban composers. Everyone was studying the classics around me, mostly girls, because at the time it was the girls who would study piano. These YouTube videos remind me of "recital time" and when everyone would perform their works for each other. Now it's like that for jazz. If you practice something really well then... bring out the cameras! People are using YouTube and think it's the same. I think there's a whole thing when there's a lot of young people copying but it's not necessarily about someone posting some new shit they came up with -creating controversy -it serves a different purpose. What I learned later on was: I'm not 'that' but I'm this!

We talked about self-acceptance and that took a long time, along with getting sober, it was like a new exploration of self and trying to find that one thing that made me want to play again. Like when my little boy gets up and is like, 'Daddy let's wrestle' and it's on man, that's the gig! That's the song that day. For people dealing with drug addiction, that thing disappears. So if I'm not going to do this, I want to relate to this world the way it was before I started this thing. Maybe there was a lot of growing up to do. A lot of emotional things that connect with the music. And that's when the whole humanity thing kicked in with how I relate to the world as a father, as a musician and what that means."

Jay and I spoke about many saxophonists whom we revere and also discussed the importance of having a mentor, a personal relationship with a master.

"Today I don't see it as much...I don't perceive it as much. I think that's been the journey. I'm still working...there's so much to work on. With Ornette you were with a master teaching orally, it was a very natural thing. He would rehearse all day, old school"


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