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  December 2008
"Jazz Feature Interview" Curtis Haywood
Interview By Baldwin "Smitty" Smith

curtis haywoodJazz Monthly:   Well, I am just excited to welcome to for the very first time an incredible sax player.  He is an artist with a vision and a voice that can be heard and seen in his great new project.  It is a self-titled project that can be heard anytime, anywhere; it is that kind of vibe.  Please welcome the incredible and amazing Mr. Curtis Haywood.  Curtis, how ya doin’, my friend?

Curtis Haywood (CH):  I’m doing great, Smitty.  Are we supposed to hear applause?  (Both laugh.)

Jazz Monthly:  Oh, man, I get that question from time to time.  I don’t know.  Maybe I need to think about the introductions because I’m just kind of speaking from the heart, but they always say “Man, those are great introductions.”  I don’t know.  There’s something about that. 

CH:  Oh boy, well, you’ve definitely perfected it.

Jazz Monthly:  Oh, well, thank you.  I’m just speaking from the pump and just letting it fly because it’s all about the artist and what I’m feeling.

CH:  Right, right.

Jazz Monthly:  Yeah, so how are you doing, man?  I’m loving the record and it really has such a realistic vibe.  It’s true to the heart and it says something about the artist.  When we talk about an artist wanting to be heard and wanting to express themselves, I think you nailed it with this record.

CH:  I’ve been playing music a long time and as I told someone just yesterday, I get people coming up to me, young and old, and I just kind of have to chuckle inside when they kind of inquire about taking sax lessons or they start hinting at getting in the game. I just say they have no idea of the commitment that it takes to make something like this happen.  Even if you want to play a horn or music as a novelty, there’s a serious, serious commitment immediately as to how much you really want this, and with that said, I’ve wanted it all my life.  I’ve wanted it since I was in grade school.  I’ve excelled at it, have a passion for it, and my music has to have some thumping back beat because I don’t want anything wishy-washy, too light.  It’s gotta have strong, strong character.

Jazz Monthly:  Well, I think you hit it spot on with that because it definitely carries that strong vibe.  And speaking of wanting this and having the passion to be an artist from the time of grade school, now your first love was the trumpet, am I right?

CH:  Well, yeah, that’s the first instrument that my parents brought home for me and my mom shared this story with me years later that I didn’t want to go to sleep without it, and I kicked and screamed and scratched and I just did not allow her to leave and go without it.  I slept with it finally and so right from there, even with again the passion, that’s a gift, that’s something that you don’t acquire, that it comes with the package.  It definitely comes with the package.  So yeah, I excelled from grade school.  I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder, so to speak, because I just knew that this is what I was supposed to do.

Jazz Monthly:  Well, I think that’s a very cool thing.  So would you say that the trumpet, your first instrument, was somewhat your best friend at that time?

CH:  At that time, yeah.  I didn’t stay on it for too long.  I stayed on it long enough, you know, I learned it, and then I switched to drums.  I don’t remember why.  And I switched to drums again enough to learn it and know how to play it, and then I switched to saxophone as well.  I think possibly now I know why.  The saxophone was just too big for me.  I think I simply just couldn’t hold the darn thing and so my parents switched up and then we came around full circle.

Jazz Monthly: Yeah, let me ask you something about having that kind of strong passion for an instrument and wanting to perform at an early age because sometimes I ponder this in that do you feel like it takes that kind of strong passion and commitment to really see it through?  And I mean taking it to the next level at an early age, because at an early age we sometimes are somewhat indecisive about what we want to do and what direction we want to go.

CH:  Right.

Jazz Monthly:  Do you feel like that passion is important at that time to really continue to stay with it?

CH:  It comes with the gift and when you are naturally gifted with whatever it is, whether it’s music, sports, the passion comes from the gift.  The fact that you’re accelerating from it just naturally that when you immediately find that you have a natural—that it’s clicking, that it’s working for you, then the passion drives the gift.  So the gift is simply right up front that you recognize that he’s good at this and obviously this is a much deeper message behind this as far as parents needing to have that kind of exposure to their child for them to even find and stumble upon this gift.  So it’s a twofold thing, but once the exposure is there and then you stumble upon the gift of finding out that this kid has a knack for this, then once you find something that you like, you fall in love and then the passion kicks in and the passion then drives the gift that you just found.

Jazz Monthly:  Great point. I totally get it, and parents are a key element to this whole mix of what’s happening in a young person’s life when they discover the gift.

CH:  Absolutely.  I studied right along with my dad, so that was my quality time with him; we went to music class together, because I had the best of both worlds.  I had music in school—thankfully they still had music in school at that time—and then I studied privately outside.  And there was a school that my dad and I went to.  I don’t know if you know anything about the East Coast, but we had something called the Jazzmobile on the East Coast.

Jazz Monthly:  Yes, I know. Beautiful program.

CH:  Yeah, well, that was in Manhattan.  Brooklyn had its own Jazzmobile so that’s where I was from.  I came out of the Brooklyn school as far as the Jazzmobile is concerned.  So my dad and I, we studied together, we practiced together, and what better way to reinforce what you’re doing than to say “Hey, my dad, he likes it, he’s doing it,” so to answer your question, absolutely, the parents are number one.  They’re at the top of the list.

Jazz Monthly:  Ooh, I like that, man.  Well, that’s definitely food for thought for parents out there that are discovering those gifts that their children have, be it sports or just a gift of communication, all of those things, I think they’re important to discover, and then get behind it and nurture it.  Yeah, I think you’re right on.  So now talk to me about developing a voice and a need to be heard because once we discover the gift and then we start to really add more layers of substance to the gift that we have, and I think another key to that is what are you trying to say with what you have?  Talk about how you discovered that and the direction you pursued with that.

CH:  Early on, as far as having a voice, the guys who I really took to, my earliest influences, kind of go back to come forward, all had super screaming strong voices.  My first influence was my namesake, King Curtis.  I don’t know if you’re familiar with him at all.

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