When did you decide you wanted to be a musician?
I’ve been playing since I’ve been about 10 years old. It was always fun for me – as a hobby and extracurricular activity, but it didn’t really dawn on me that I could do it professionally until I was 16. I took a music theory class and I got to learn the science behind music and how it all worked, chord progressions, really focusing on how everything fit together. The next year my band director gave me his copy of Coltrane’s My Favorite Things. It hit me like a ton of bricks and I wanted to try to do that. Between discovering that album and jamming with local bands at the time, which again, I just thought of as a hobby. People much older than me were calling me to play with them and I figured there must be something to it. From there I went onto music school at Indiana University.
Who have been some of the most influential people in your life?
People that I’ve interacted with and have been fortunate to play with: Von Freeman, Steve Coleman who has been such a great source of inspiration and information, Branford Marsalis who I got to hang out with a number of times and talk about life, music, philosophy, and his approach to things. And also the great guitar player Bobby Broom, who spent several decades playing with Sonny Rollins, lives in my town. Beyond that, I’ve learned something from every musical situation I’ve been in. The vast majority of my musical situations in gigs have been good and positive so I’ve learned a lot from musicianship, stage presence, how to pace a set, from other band leaders I’ve worked under. Even the ones that were not so good, I’ve learned a great deal on how not to do things. But there’s a lesson in everything.
Who are your musical inspirations?
They run the gamut from Coltrane to Sonny Rollins, Hank Mobley, Lester Young, Charlie Parker, James Brown, Prince, George Clinton, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Kendrick Lamar. I like everything! I like all genres and use it as a springboard for my own creative projects. I like to play with all different kinds of people as well. I learn something from each person I play and listen to on those recordings.
What are some of the most challenging experiences you’d had in your life as a musician and how have you overcome them?
Staying motivated. There are ups and downs with every job. As musicians, we get to be creative and play with other people. There are periods I’m super-busy and periods where say in the winter time, things taper off a bit. I used to get really frustrated and worried during those times. What I’ve learned is that those are the times you have to buckle down, start writing, start thinking, booking more gigs, calling clubs as a bandleader, going to jam sessions, exercise, spend time with family, etc. Those are the times you have to really focus in on other things other than playing a gig. There’s time during the down time where I’m trying to stay active. Other times when things get busy, it’s that much more active.
Do you have any memorable performances?
A couple. My quartet recorded a live album in 2011 at a venue called the Mayne Stage which was this old refurbished theatre in Rogers Park. We recorded a live album that we put out in 2012 called A Group Effort. It was great night for a number of reasons. It was the first time we worked with our current producer: Joe Tortorici. Officially, it was the third gig that our current drummer had played with it was a live recording of all new songs. We were pretty excited – came out without a hitch. Technically and musically, it came off pretty well.
In September of 2016 we played the Chicago Jazz Festival for the first time. We’d been trying for years to get in, almost given up, and then we got the call to play last year. It was one of those great days that just sticks in your mind. Everything that could possibly go right went right: weather, crowd was fired up, they were really receptive to what we’re doing.
Plus, we’ve had several great recent performances touring behind our newest record, Boundary Issues. This past summer alone, we’ve done numerous, club, festival and concert dates,
Over my career, in addition to my own projects I’ve gotten to work with people like The Temptations, Sheena Easton, and Common. I’m lucky in the sense where I can do my own creative thing and fit in. I get to be “Mr. Jazz Visionary” with my band, but then I can fit in as a utilitarian journeyman with various local people and national people. I’m lucky in that respect.
What has been the most fulfilling aspect of your life as a musician?
Just being able to work in different situations. I’m a jazz musician, listen to this stuff all day. Plus I’m always refining my craft - transcribing recorded solos from the 1920s to the present, working on my technique, etc. All important things to do, but I also like the fact that I’ve grown up listening to a bunch of different music. Friends - both musicians and non-musicians - have hipped me to music that I may not have listened to regularly. Because of that I’ve been open to all kinds of music. I’m lucky in the sense that I’m able to fit in in various places and make a half-way decent living doing what I love to do.
I’m getting a little bit better every day and hopefully I’m getting better as a musician and as a person, which informs the music. If you’re a good person, your music will sound better and your playing will sound better. I’m trying to walk that line between it all.
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