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The Frank & Joe Show: Looking for a Long, Happy Run

R.J. DeLuke By

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AAJ: Was that from your parents?

Frank: Yeah. I was playing lots of gigs with my dad, playing rhythm guitar. He was a banjo player. Then I started hearing stuff like Van Halen. I said, "Wow. Listen to that!" And Hendrix. I just wasn't exposed to it because my father didn't listen to Hendrix.

Joe: My first exposure to jazz was Gene Krupa into Benny Goodman into Count Basie. I appreciated it because the drumming chair was challenging. That excited me. I have an older sister. She was listening to the pop music of the day. So because of that, that opened my ears up to the pop music of the day. Just to hear a great melody and explore that and seeing what's going on musically there. So it was natural to go on to another horizon.

Frank: Also, I'd hear Charlie Byrd, his trio records. It was great, because he would pick Beatle tunes and have nice little things going on. "Listen to that. You can play some Beatles tunes in a jazz way." But then Hendrix was like, "Wow!" We'd get some of that. Then we started turning up, at one point. After we got done with a jazz gig we'd go up in the studio and put the Marshall on and get Mark Eagan to play bass and crank out on some original compositions. Never really performed it, but it would be so much fun to play that music together, you know, rather than "Seven, Come Eleven" by Charlie Christian and Benny Goodman.

Joe: The other thing is, this isn't something that's brand new; it's almost musically come to fruition right now with the quote-unquote Frank and Joe Show. Because years ago on other projects, during a sound check, we would play and interact and catch grooves and play tunes in this style, Frank and Joe style, 10 years ago. And we'd look at each other like, "Wouldn't it be fun to put something together and really be doing this?" So it's been a work in progress. It almost subconsciously was moving in that direction.

Frank: A thousand gigs later... [laughter]

Joe: And Frank went from playing with Ringo Star and Madonna and Hank Jones and many people in between. And we mentioned Hendrix. I got to play with Noel Redding, his original bassist. < B>Frank: And Cab Calloway the next night.

AAJ: Frank, you played with Ringo Starr and Madonna?

Frank: I was on a record with Ringo. A Leon Redbone record. The Madonna experience was a big flop of a film she did called "Bloodhounds of Broadway." So I was in the soundtrack and the filming. And I remember we all got food poisoning. I actually got to have lunch with her. We were sitting at a table and I was 19. And I was like, "Wow. Madonna. Wow." Whew. It was funny. She was pretty normal. So it was a great experience. I'm just lucky to have had those opportunities. When you think about it, breaking out to be a musician, number one, is like, "What are you, nuts?" But then to have those kinds of opportunities, it's just real fortunate. It's been a slow process to kind of get to where we are now.

AAJ: Now that you got the thing together, is there any set intent? Was it more of a plan than people might think? Or less structure?

Joe: There's no structure, but there's every structure. To me it's innate. We know each other well and the sound, and what we've been weaned upon, it all comes together. For me, it's almost an automatic, innate response. But that didn't come overnight. It came from all these years of doing things. There's that signature. So for us, it seems automatic and natural, but it was a long time coming.

Frank: I think too, being musicians and freelance musicians where we have to do things with all these other people, it's hard to have a structured plan. Although you do have structure to the music and you have your ideas and you try to move forward, the furthest you can go with structure... Yet at the same time there is structure to open up for opportunities to come in. There's no set way to go about having a successful act. It's not easy. You've just got to work hard and believe in the music, I think. That's the start for me, anyway.

Joe: All those various opportunities, they allow you to experience different situations and I think you eventually start extracting your own voice and your own sound.

AAJ: Frank, you pretty much play acoustic with this group?

Frank: Yeah, I have an amp on stage. It isn't miked. It's my little monitor. And in a smaller venue like this [The Egg] it works where you don't have to use any mics, because once you start micing things, you've got to mic everything. So we're keeping that acoustic thing in the smaller venues. But I do have that amp on stage so we can hear it, so we don't have to deal with five monitors. That seems to work well.

AAJ: Joe, you don't use the standard drum set at all in this group.

Joe: Not in this ensemble. We were doing something one day and ironically enough, there wasn't the standard kit available to us. So I took the djembe and we started using that. And because it's a thinner goatskin head, it sounded great with the brushes, but it wasn't a true snare to get in the way of Frank's playing. It blended well. I used to take the snare drum sometimes and drop the snares and play it with my fingers. But you're trying to play a hand drum using the snare drum. But this drum [djembe], that is a hand drum. So it became versatile. So whereas with a snare drum you play brushes and try to play hand drums, this is a hand drum, but it wasn't like I tried to play brushes. It sounds really good.

Frank: He's really got the whole thing going. He's got the djembe here, kind of like a snare drum. He's got bongos over here, kind of like the tom-tom. You have your Turkish ride cymbal. The clave pedal on the left foot. Something on the right foot.

Joe: Occasionally the tambourine, just a color to utilize. But there are more sounds. Even on one of Frank's records years ago there was a tune we did that let it happen.

Frank: Actually, a couple of tunes on that record.

Joe: Yeah. There was no drum set years ago. It was bongo, shaker, triangle. Natural.

Frank: I'm sort of bummed out you're not going to see the other percussionist, because he's a body builder. During the show we feature him. He does a couple of (body-building) poses. [laughter] It's hysterical.

Joe: And he's a salsa dancer. He's a professional teacher. He gets a groove going, he'll get someone up on stage and dance with them.

Frank: And then Ken Smith. I think he's one of the greatest young guitar players ever, if not the greatest. He has a law exam today. He loves to learn and he loves to read. He's not even 30, or maybe just turned 30. He has a master's in sociology. He has a bachelor's in jazz performance. He just finished his first year of law school today. He's on the train to Poughkeepsie. His brother's picking him up to get him here by 7:45 [for an 8 p.m. hit].

Joe: His colors and textures are just... It's like what Andy Summers did for the Police. He just fills it in. Like a bowl of cereal, you pour that milk in...

Frank: And Gary Mazzaroppi, one of the great bass players. He's played with every great guitarist there is. It's a good band.

AAJ: Is this show something you constantly revise if a tune comes to you, or do you kind of stick to a format?

Frank: Every time we play, we have a sound check or whatever you want to call it. Rehearsal. And each time, I try to try something new, whether it's a groove, or whether it's a whole tune that I have, or whether it's Tom Jones' "Delilah." Not that we'll ever perform it, but what it does is open up the way to say, "Hey, that works." Like you were saying before, things either stick or don't stick. So, we're always looking for new material. But at the same time, we realize we have some chestnuts that we really enjoy playing and we know it's going to feel good and sound good, so you would never abandon the top material. But at the same time, always looking for new. A few weeks ago we started this thing with an odd time signature, 7/4 instead of 4/4. After a couple times of that, now we came back with a melody to it. Then we add some vocals to it. It's starting to shape up. So we're always exploring.

Joe: It's a work in progress. I equate it to: If you climbed Mount Everest the last 15 or 20 years. Climbing it now with this project, that's hitting a plateau. Now you're up there. Now you want to spend a good chunk of time once we're there. Put the pole in, the flagpole. We've arrived. Now let's explore what this is. So we're always checking things out and exploring.

AAJ: You're not afraid to go after pop tunes if you like them.

Frank and Joe: Oh, nooo.

Joe: A great melody is a great melody.

Frank: There's a new one we're going to play tonight called "The Bowling Song."

AAJ: I'm sure you guys know you can get vilified for playing pop tunes.

Joe: That's OK. That's alright.

Frank: I think by the jazz press, sometimes.

AAJ: The big discussion now is the Bad Plus because they play some other stuff.

Frank: You know what? The Bad Plus is out there touring all over the place for 80,000 record-buying fans.

AAJ: And they're far from the first ones to ever do that. For some reason, they've stirred up the debate.

Joe: Whenever there's a rebel, they're gonna stir things

Frank: That's a great trio too. They've got a great sound. They put on a real good show, I think. I think it's pretty good. I think it's pretty cool and, you know, I think it's also—they have a band. And whenever you have a band, as opposed to just jazz musicians getting together for a couple of weeks a year, I think you're going to develop a unique sound and unique material, and that's going to open you up to all kinds of criticism. A lot of it will be really positive, and then a portion of it being negative. The same as if we were to do a Django Reinhardt tribute band. We would have a lot of it being positive, and a portion of it saying, "Geez, it would be nice to see them expand and maybe try a '70s tune." You can't really win, you've just got to be honest.

Joe: Enjoy the journey.

Frank: Because for tunes that aren't normally associated with jazz playing, [they work] if you play them honestly, and it really does feel right, instead of trying to do something because you think it will give you broader appeal. That never works. One of my records is like that. Just very poor production. I was trying to do something that really wasn't happening. [laughter] Thinking you can market it anyway because it's "this."
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