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The Cry of Jay Rodriguez

Michael Blake By

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Jay's ability to play a lot of instruments is admirable. I told him about the time I got to play at Jazz at Lincoln Center. I took the gig because the other band on the bill had the master soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy in it and I wanted to meet him. I had a tenor and soprano sax and bass clarinet with me and he says, "man that's a lot of girlfriends." I thought of that when I saw Jay moving gracefully from the saxophones to flute to bass clarinet. Back in the day the studio scene in NYC was one of the few opportunities for freelance musicians to make a good living. Now that scene has pretty much dried up but there are more TV talk show bands than ever.

"Maybe it's our calling of sorts. We dealt with our circumstances. It's actually to our advantage because it strengthens our voice. I like that story about Lacy. I'm a big fan of the original Saturday Night Live band because they sound so great. I played with The Roots. It was really good to do it. I think we come from a generation where the music scene was different. When I was a kid there was this whole thing about doing studio work. I thought the only way to make money was to do everything and Paquito D'Rivera was like that, he's a ridiculous arranger and doubler, so this was my view, to be multi talented."

After we spoke I began to recollect about so many good times we had together. Sunny days in the city when a friend would pick us up and we'd drive around for hours listening to the radio and talking about music. Or how we'd set a rendezvous time on the uptown platform and ride up to Harlem then go back to his loft in the flower district and practice together. Jay was working with the top Salsa stars of the day including Tito Puente, Jose Alberto and Celia Cruz. Eventually he would be playing in Ray Barretto's band with whom he recorded a marvelous album called Ancestral Messages. He was also working with the gifted trumpeter Charlie Sepulveda who, on Jay's recommendation, took me in as his sub.

Some years went by and Jay got busier playing with the Groove Collective, Bill Ware, Medeski, Martin & Wood and many other successful artists. I began playing in the Lounge Lizards and we didn't see much of each other for a long time. However there was a sax quartet gig that I'll never forget at St Mark's Church. He came in at the last minute with his old baritone sax. It was barely holding together and during the concert it completely stopped working. These things happen so we saxophonists often use whatever is available and improvise a repair to get through the gig. Jay asked out to the audience if anyone had a rubber band. A gentleman got up and walked up to the bandstand and pulled from his pocket what appeared to be a baseball sized roll of rubber bands. Rubber bands of every size and shape! It was just the type of luck that Jay would have. After that he played a solo that raised the roof. Maybe it was a little theatrical but he sure connected with that audience in a beautiful way.

He still dreams of having a music school where he was born in Barranquilla, Colombia. I always felt that Jay's talent was equally matched by his passion. He can tap into a mysterious kind of wisdom that allows one to grasp the essence of humanity. Even if that thing he speaks of can only be realized for a split second, it is far worth the effort, and more. As Jay so eloquently phrases it in his liner notes to Your Sound:

"There was a time long ago, I was told, that one could hear the murmur of the stars. This is what my song, 'your sound' is about. But that is just my sound and thoughts about it. We will all hear different things within. Listen for your sound in it.The sound in me is vibrating and speaking with the sound in you. 'Your Sound' is sacred. I wish you 'Your Sound' and your awareness of it in your terrestrial lifetime and beyond."

Photo credit: William Brown

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