Last summer, Eddie Locke called me and said he had a tape of some kids he wanted me to hear. I went to see him and he told me that these kids were between eight and eleven years old and that their teacher was and is Gannon Asip a friend of Eddies and a student of Barry Harris. When Eddie played me the tape I was amazed. Eddie told me that when Gannon asked Barry to play a concert with these kids , he cried when he heard them sing his song, “These Are The Things We Need”. Other musicians like Bill Finegan and Sir Roland Hannah were equally moved and astonished when they heard these kids sing and I thought about some gigs Eddie and I had done a few years earlier with Mike LeDonne and Dennis Irwin. I had been looking for an opportunity to record that group and it seemed a perfect fit to have these kids come and sing some songs they knew with us. I called Gannon from Eddies and we decided to record.
It was really a homecoming on a lot of levels for many of us. Eddie has been like a father to Gannon, Mike and myself. And playing music with these kids who bring such a sense of joy, honesty and freedom was especially meaningful as it was only a few weeks before my wife Jennifer gave birth to our first child. There are many other connections between the musicians as well. Eddie and Barry grew up together in Detroit ; Kenny and Ronnie played together for years in Johnny Griffin’s group, and Mike, Peter, Dennis and Kenny have worked together in many different contexts.
Mike and I have been friends for over ten years now, and Eddie introduced us. Mike is one of the most honest and soulful musicians I know, and a great piano player. No less a giant than Oscar Peterson has said that Mike is one of his very favorite pianists and that is really saying something!
Dennis Irwin is a great bass player and musician. He’s coming from the tradition in a very strong way, but has played in a lot of different musical settings, including groups led by John Scofield and Joe Lovano (two of my favorites). To me, what Dennis Irwin is doing is what I try to do. Stay open, listen to everything, but don’t forget where you came from.
Eddie Locke, along with Eddie Chamblee and Phil Woods has been one of my musical fathers and I was so grateful to have had the opportunity to record with him. The great drummer Billy Hart, once told me that he wanted to study brushes with Eddie; high praise indeed. Eddie’s knowledge, experience, presence, support and love have meant more than words could ever say. He got me my first apartment in Manhattan, housesitting for a neighbor, hired me for gigs, and had me sit-in with him on a gig with Roy Eldridge (!) at the day school where Eddie teaches and organizes jazz concerts to introduce kids to the music. Those kids just love him. Last year Barry Harris gave Eddie a Lifetime Achievement Award in jazz at his yearly symphony space concert. Eddie had no idea that he was going to receive this award and was overcome with emotion. But when he was asked to speak, he quickly recovered to give a rousing speech on how Barry should be running a jazz school, and presenting jazz concerts in high profile situations, as opposed to others with more media hype or shallow degrees. And that’s everyone’s favorite quality about Eddie - he always speaks the truth.
That first day at Avatar studios with this band, the kids, friends in the control room and Barry overseeing his piece was a thrill!
The next week we went to Mike Brorby’s to record with LeDonne and Ronnie Mathews on piano , Dennis on bass, Kenny on drums, and Peter Bernstein on guitar. I’ve known Pete since our days at Augies, playing with Larry Goldings, Bill Stewart and others in the mid-to-late eighties. Pete is so musical, again very grounded in the tradition, but open. He’s also a prolific listener. Bill Charlap and I recently joked that every time either of us goes to a club to hear music, Pete’s always there. His demeanor and playing are totally devoid of ego and he’s a pleasure to work with.
Kenny Washington, along with being a great drummer, is one of the hippest D.J.’s around. When I asked LeDonne about a drummer for this session he emphatically suggested Kenny. Then I remembered that Kenny and I grew up some years apart in the same neighborhood on Staten Island - Stapleton. He has as much knowledge on the history of jazz as anyone and also brings with him a producers sensibility and perspective.
I’m really glad that Ronnie Mathews was able to be part of this recording. He’s on the first jazz record I was ever given, Dexter Gordon’s “Homecoming” (thanks Margaret!). Ronnie and I met about four years ago when Don Sickler called me to sub on T.S. Monk’s sextet. Ronnie has a depth of feel and feeling, and a weight of meaning and understanding to his playing that is truly rare in this day and age. I told him a couple of years ago that I had never heard anyone play Monk’s music as well as he does. He thanked me, but then said that he had recently been given the complement of a lifetime when Nellie Monk said the same thing to him. Ronnie has also just published a book on Monk’s music
As for the music we recorded, the kids inspired us all, but especially on Barry’s piece. Gannon said he thought that that song should be sung on the steps of Congress and at the White House as a national anthem for kids - I think he’s right. S.K.J. was from that session as well and was written by Milt Jackson, who LeDonne has worked with for years. On the second day of the recording we played some originals, and an arrangement of “Isn’t It Romantic” by a great pianist, musician and friend Bill Mays. Then we played a couple of Monk tunes with Ronnie.
I wanted this project to represent a part of myself that I hadn’t recorded as much, but really, at my core, is a big part of what I do. I always look to find common ground with the tradition and the present, but on this project, the tunes and forms leaned more toward the tradition than I had in the past. For me it was about the inspiration I’ve received from musicians like Doc Cheatham, Jay McShann, Benny Carter, Milt Hinton, Jimmy Lewis, Mel Lewis, Jackie McLean, Charles McPherson, Eddie Bert, Ben Riley, Kenny Davern and the others I mentioned (and the others too numerous to mention). Just being around these people, playing music with them, or even just briefly talking with them has taught me things and inspired me in ways that no school ever could. They are all very different, but have a common and timeless gift that transcends words like “style”, “modern”, or “traditional.”
Norwegian Saxophonist Jan Garbarek once told me that every day he gets up and listens to Ben Webtser and Johnny Hodges, and that his favorite saxophone player is Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis. I got such a kick out of that because, first of all, Garbarek is a totally different kind of player from those guys, and secondly, “Lockjaw” is Eddie Chamblee’s favorite too. To me, that just confirms my belief that content, or feeling transcends form, style, generational, and any other assumed or mythical boundaries. For me it’s never about styles, but it’s about trying to stay rooted and bring something personal to the music, whatever the context.
The connection to history or tradition, and the feelings and experiences it teaches is something I’ve always needed as a player and listener. And regardless of style, form, or context, I think that’s something most music and most of us need.
Jon Gordon - March ‘99