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Wycliffe Gordon: What This is All About

Esther Berlanga-Ryan By

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Versatility is an important part of a well-developed artistic soul. The arts provide a wide range of outlets of expression that can be nurtured and grown into their finest results. Music could very well be a reason to believe in the extraordinary, and jazz musicians are no exception; they might even be a norm. It is the dream of every artist to create freely, as improvised notes are gathered in an instrument and then exposed to the world at a moment's notice. And here comes jazz: wide open doors, windows letting all that sunshine in, and the ability to take a deep breath right before the soul allows the magic to materialize in the form of music.



Trombonist Wycliffe Gordon knows what versatility is all about, although his humbleness won't allow for cocky behavior. One of the best trombonist of his generation, and one of the finest in jazz history, this composer/musician/teacher carries a heavy torch with the steadiness of an old soul and the conviction of a man who knows what matters most: the music and all that jazz.

Former member of the Julliard faculty, the Wynton Marsalis Septet and Jazz at Lincoln Center, and a participant in the recent production of the recovered old film Body and Soul, are just a few key words easily associated with his talent. The release of Cone and T-Staff (Criss Cross, 2010)—with trumpeter Terell Stafford, pianist Mike LeDonne, bassist David Wong and drummer Kenny Washington - Vocals—is the continuation of a non-stop successful career and an open invitation to enjoy some extremely well-played jazz. This is an album of solid solos, and elaborate, straight-ahead tunes by Duke Ellington, Illinois Jacquet and Wes Montgomery, among others (including one by Gordon himself), and a perfect flow of creativity that keeps the feet tapping and the soul yearning.

All About Jazz: How many hats do you wear these days?

Wycliffe Gordon:: Well, I'm performing, I'm an educator still doing clinics and master classes and workshops, arranging and composing, conducting...three or four hats, I guess [laughs].

AAJ: That sounds like three or four thousand to me. Which one defines you the best?

WG: Either one would define me best, because all of them are components of what make the whole. I like to play, but what am I playing? I love to teach. I am teaching methods that I developed playing and the playing is a combination of the things that I teach about and that I practice. So it is all interconnected. So I don't even separate them. The education is just as important a part of me as writing and composing music and playing and performing the music.

AAJ: What's your take on music education?

WG: I think in order to perpetuate anything you have to educate people about it. It's important for educational institutions to provide a good foundation for our young people to learn about the music we are playing, so that it will continue happening in the future. Jazz is art. So just like you would study Picasso or anything else, you study jazz.

AAJ: Can you picture yourself without music?

WG: I don't think so. No. That would be a very short answer. Music is a part of my existence. Actually breathing, moving and actively living. No, I can't picture myself without music.

AAJ: Your interest in the trombone started at a very young age.

WG: I wanted to play drums but my mom said that she didn't want any drums in the house. Kids make too much noise as it is. So when my older brother brought the trombone home I wanted to play it too because it was something new, it was nice, it was shiny. [Laughs]

AAJ: And you didn't think it was complicated?

WG: Yes, very, very difficult. But I wanted to play it. Since my mom wouldn't let me play drums, I said "You know what, I want to play trombone, I'll play that!." And she got me one.

AAJ: Are you a competitive person?

WG: No, I'm very competitive with myself, not necessarily with others. I challenge myself to try to get better than I was last week. So I am competitive that way, but I am not in competition with anyone else.

AAJ: Please talk about your father and his influence in you as a musician.

WG: He passed in 1997. He was my introduction to music. He studied piano, but he studied classical music. We had classical music in the home growing up, but he would play in church in Georgia, gospel music. He didn't particularly care for jazz. He would turn the radio on, public radio broadcasts, and country music would be playing. So he didn't develop an interest in jazz until later on in life. But classical, like Chopin, was his first choice.

AAJ: So with that kind of classical music influence in your home, how come you ended up playing jazz?

WG: Classical music at home, gospel music at church and country music on the radio. When I was twelve, my great aunt had passed and everything was given to the family; she had a record collection of jazz music. I used to go out to the garage and listen to the old records; Count Basie and a lot of New Orleans music; that was my introduction to jazz, that's how I got into it.

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