“Jazz Monthly Feature Interview” Curtis Haywood
Interview By Baldwin "Smitty" Smith
Jazz Monthly: Well, I am just excited to welcome to JazzMonthly.com 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.
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.
Jazz Monthly: Yes indeed.
CH: Out of the 60s and into the 70s, and he had this sound was just so ridiculously unique that you heard him screaming out of wherever he was playing. And then two of my other strong influences, Grover Washington Jr. and David Sanborn, had very key influences in my life. And I’ll never forget there was a show on one day and there was a horn section there and David Sanborn was in the horn section and I heard his voice, like distinctly out of that horn section I heard his voice totally apart from every other voice, so I say that to say this, back to kind of the passion that drives my voice, I always wanted, even in talking to people, wanted to be the unique one that when people walked away from me that they just kind of nodded their head that Curtis was saying something a little bit extra than other people, and that has a lot to do with your personality as well.
Yeah, I love to joke, I love to laugh, I’m a bit of a comedian, and when you have that intertwined in your character, you’re gonna stand out because there are certain gifts which, again, I had to also grow into feeling comfortable in whereas when I was coming up—with the school I went to, they were very strong on big bands, horn sections, big bands, so they weren’t, say, big on soloists. So I say that to say this: me finding my voice as being a soloist, I had to kind of grow into feeling comfortable with that and that people wouldn’t think that I was better than them. I just had to feel comfortable with the fact that I didn’t feel I was doing my best in a horn section and I had to grow into feeling comfortable with that. So finding a voice for me, it came natural, again, with just my overall love for what I was doing. Before I even had a soprano saxophone, I borrowed a friend of mine’s soprano saxophone in high school and he wasn’t really serious about it and he let me hold it somewhere like in January and he didn’t come for it until like June, the end of the semester, and I ran with it. I mean, I fell in love with that horn immediately from day one.
Jazz Monthly: Wow. Well, that’s impressive because when we think about expressing ourselves, like you mentioned, we find that in entertainment there are so many voices, there are so many personalities, and I think it’s so cool to see how that is expressed through song and through music, and people gravitate to what they like, and so there’s an audience out there for every musician if they’re true to their voice and true to their heart about what they’re trying to say and what they’re trying to express to others. I think it’s very cool. So speaking of solo artists, you joined a band, you guys formed a band in the 90s, Joshua.
CH: Yes, yes. That was not the first band I’d been in, but that was the first time that I was part of a unit that really had a mission and that really was seeking to put ourselves on the public forum, on the public map, so to speak. So yeah, Joshua was a very, I mean, you can hear sound bits from my Web site if you go on the discography, but the sound was very Yellowjackets, very Yellowjackets if you want to say Spyro Gyra. That whole flavor is basically where Joshua was heading.
Jazz Monthly: Yeah, and it’s a very cool vibe. I think there are some great sound bites on your site, by the way. I really love those sound bites. So when you moved from Joshua to a solo artist, what did you take from that band that really helped you to solidify yourself as a solo artist?
CH: Well, how should I say this? I didn’t necessarily take, at least for this first album, the musical sound because my sound for this first album is very different than what Joshua was on that album. I took more of a learning experience than I did the musical sound, and I say that to say this because the funk R&B sound, you know, the King Curtis, the David Sanborn side of me, wasn’t being heard in Joshua, and it wasn’t a bad thing, that just wasn’t the strength, the flavor of the band. So in this, my first solo album, I sought to give seed to that voice, that side of me that wasn’t necessarily heard as strong coming out of that band. So it was more, to answer your question what did I take out of it, I sought to really truly establish the other side, the other voice of me, and quite honestly was more commercial, more marketable, more commercial as far as the public was concerned.
Jazz Monthly: Right. That’s a nice segue into the album because it’s a self-titled album and it’s 12 great songs, and I just wanted to ask you about one song in particular and that is “Journey” because I think that is a fantastic track. I mean, they’re all great tracks, even the covers are great, but that one, when I listened to “Journey,” I got very curious as to your voice with this one and it seemed like it was a statement that was different from any other statement of the other tracks.
CH: Yeah, “Journey” was, well, first of all, the songs do have meanings behind them in terms of a message because in life it’s not the destination where you end up that’s more important, it’s the journey. It’s, well, what did you learn on this journey to where you were ending up? Yeah, you’re a millionaire but how did you get it?
Jazz Monthly: Right.
CH: So that’s really the first thing I have to say as far as that’s concerned. Musically that song kind of grew out of the love I have for the group Fourplay. That flavor, it was pulling from them in me and I basically really, really went with it. As a matter of fact, my producer, he wasn’t exactly thrilled with it because you kind of go back and forth with your producer as far as what’s gonna sell and what’s gonna be the most commercially acceptable song, so we came to an amicable compromise as to what kind of a song should go, but yeah, and with that song I have background vocals on that song as well.
Jazz Monthly: Yeah, it’s a very nice song.
CH: Thank you.
Jazz Monthly: I was particularly interested in “Rain Song” as well because I think here’s where the beautiful voices and the great instrumentation of this track is so gripping that you could put this song on anywhere and I think people would gravitate to it instantly to ask “Who is this person and what is this song about? I want to know more about this song.” Talk to me about how you composed that song because I think it’s beautiful.
CH: There was a kind of funny joke behind this song because I initially wanted to name it “From Rain to Sun,” signifying difficult times coming through the storm, working through the storm of whatever you were going through at that time of your life, your personal life, and then my producer, he kept forgetting what I was naming it so he kept saying “What’s that rain song? Yeah, let’s get back to that rain song,” and he just kept saying—he couldn’t remember that I named it “From Rain to Sun,” so then it started to click and I was like, you know what? That’s got a nice ring to it. So I named it “Rain Song.”
Jazz Monthly: But that song has some special meaning, though, doesn’t it?
CH: Oh, absolutely. That song really, really hits home to me because what I stated about coming through the storm, working through coming out of gloomy times, that song is my personal prayer for the continent of Africa and more specifically the country of Ethiopia that’s been ravaged with famine for decade upon decades, and if you know any history about early African history, many historians can show that the origin of man has very dear takings to coming out of Ethiopia. So that’s my personal prayer that rain in a literal sense would come to that country and then in a more put your money where your mouth is, I take proceeds from the album and donate it to two organizations that brings relief efforts to Africa. One is called Self Help Africa and the other one is Feed the Children. And so that message is really, really driving that song and I have to agree with you that that song really, really captures my heart. I really poured a lot out into that song.
And then to my fans and to whoever listens, it’s also again another, for you, the individual, that wherever your life has become desolate and barren and you’ve hit a rut, whether it’s emotionally, spiritually, relationship wise, physically, wherever your life you’ve hit a stumbling block in it’s my prayer that you would be able to work through it and see sun in your life and that in a sense that would bring new seed and to bud a new seed in your life. That’s really my prayer for you and hence music is not just all about listening and having fun.
There’s a healing aspect to music that we’ve all said it transcends language, it transcends culture, race, creed and everything, and if it does do that, then you have to say then there must be a healing component because of all of the ravaging wars throughout the years between the races and the creeds and the colors. So then if this transcends that, then there must be a healing aspect to music that does that because nothing no one on earth has ever been able to transcend like music does the racial barriers, so there has to be a healing element and that’s truly what the underlying message to all of my music is saying and it brings.
Jazz Monthly: Yes, I think you’re so right in that music definitely has therapeutic values, and I guess we should say that music that is directed in that way has therapeutic value because there are different elements of music, there are different factions, and there’s different intent with music in that whatever touches the heart and mind affects the rest of the body, and so it’s all about how it affects us.
Jazz Monthly: But I think the way you compose your songs, I think it really does have therapeutic values and that’s a very cool thing, and I really would love to see more research and use in that regard because I think music has a healing power that would totally enhance the medical field, but that’s another subject. (Laughs.)
CH: Well, you know, it is another subject, but I’m gonna touch on it real quickly.
Jazz Monthly: Oh, sure, go ahead.
CH: I’m in this program right now seeking to get my Masters in music therapy. There is a whole country of schools that have programs in music therapy and we deal with people from as far as having autistic mental disabilities to mental retardation and severe physical handicaps, and it is amazing and why I say it is amazing to see before your eyes what we’ve all theorized and talked about and said, but to see people who have never spoken before begin to speak, Smitty, I’m telling you, it is a sight to see and if you wanna talk about sending chills up through your spine, it is absolutely amazing the therapeutic value that you’re tangibly seeing. We’ve all seen it with people who have all of their limbs and all of their senses, but to see people who have been disparaged with mental or physical handicaps to see their lives change, that is the true test of the healing power of music.
Jazz Monthly: Yeah, well, I certainly want to invite you back to talk more about this subject soon because it is a subject that I am so interested in and have such a passion for because I think there is so much there that is untapped and that is not available to the public. I think the knowledge of it and the advances of it is not available to the public, and I think that is something that is huge that we have not tapped into to really take advantage of. Now tell me a little bit about how people can get your record.
CH: As of July 22nd the CD was actually re-released nationwide in the stores. It is available on the East Coast in J&R Records in New York. It’s in Virgin record stores. It’s across the nation in Barnes & Noble. On the West Coast it’s in Amoeba stores. There’s one in Berkeley, there’s one in Hollywood, and I think there’s another one [San Francisco], so it’s there. I went personally and checked it out to make sure.
Jazz Monthly: (Laughs.)
CH: And then of course online it’s at Amazon.com, iTunes, Rhapsody, and at a whole plethora of online downloadable sites.
Jazz Monthly: Yeah, I love the artwork. Nice shot of you on the cover. That’s cool.
CH: Thank you.
Jazz Monthly: Yeah, man. And talk to me about the band, the cats that really supported you with this great record. Just run down the roll call.
CH: Well, if you want to say the most notable guy who’s on there who’s played with a whole plethora of anybody who is anybody was Artie Reynolds on bass. He actually played on several tunes. He played on “Rain Song,” the favorite. He played on “Springtime,” which is another nice groovy drive-with-the-convertible-top-down kind of song. Artie has played with I can’t even begin to start naming how many people he’s played with and who he’s been the backup for. I believe he did something with most, most recently, actually, Earth, Wind & Fire came out with like a Broadway play and he personally got picked by Maurice White to be the lead bass player for that, so what better way to get signed off on as far as getting your thumbs up of approval from Maurice White?
Piano I have Johnny Mercer. I had actually a couple of keyboardists. Phenomenal, I mean, Johnny Mercer, Fred Lamour, and these are guys who are in terms of the public pretty much relatively they’re not any particular named person, but these guys are phenomenal. Fred Lamour played on a song called “Missing You,” which is actually one of my favorites. And if you listen to “Springtime” and all of the nuances that he puts in that song, it’s just—it’s off the chain.
Jazz Monthly: Oh yeah, that’s why I love that song, man. That’s a great track.
CH: And if you know anything about music, it’s all about who your supporting cast is gonna be.
Jazz Monthly: Yes.
CH: Your supporting cast can make or break you.
Jazz Monthly: Yes, absolutely, and you’ve got some great supporting cats on here, man, I mean, because there’s a great vibe with this supporting cast and yourself. There really is and it shines with the music. So tell me about what’s happening with Curtis now. What’s happening with Curtis Haywood? What’s coming up?
CH: Back in September, I did a little opening for Melissa Morgan and Melba Moore. They were actually in concert together. Just this past Saturday I opened up for Harold Melvin’s Blue Notes.
Jazz Monthly: Yeah, man. “If You Don’t Know Me By Now.” (Both laugh.)
CH: So I’m hanging with the old school crew, you know?
Jazz Monthly: Yeah, man, that’s sweet.
CH: So right now I’m trying to get this Masters program under my belt as quick as I can because I’m not gonna be able to do it once I start hitting the road full-time, which I’m aggressively seeking to make my presence known out on the West Coast. I went out there back in August and I was gratefully enough to be able to play at Spaghettini’s, which is the really hot spot out in the Valley, so right now I’m hitting both coasts. I’ve got a little East Coast in there, the New England area, Boston, and Hartford. They have this thing out there called Organic Soul. It’s a radio station out there that’s promoting the Tri-State area out there. And like I said, I’m really trying to make my presence known in the jazz festivals. Out in California they have them—they’re a dime a dozen out there.
So the whole plan of action was to get to put a solid enough project together that it would break airwaves, that it would catch people’s ear, and then hit the ground where, as they talked about Obama, to do the grass roots, to get the grass roots following, so I’m basically trying to hit it from both ends of the pendulum and let the album hit the airwaves and let it do what it do, so to speak, on the airwaves and then I would hit the ground and then try to back it up.
Jazz Monthly: Well, I will say this, man, you are well on your way. You have a great history, a great album, and I see a very bright future for you in the music business because you bring your heart with the horn and that is so key to success in this business, and I really appreciate what you’ve done, congratulate you on this great record, and I hope we get back together soon and talk some more about the music and about music therapy. I really look forward to doing that.
CH: Yeah, I really do and I’ve listened to hundreds and hundreds of interviews of musicians over the years and obviously I’m not gonna name any names or anything, but I always sat there just kind of wanting more in terms of conversation. They were phenomenal musicians, but I just, like you, I love people, I love to talk, love to laugh, and I’m really hoping that that will endear the public to drag them into my world.
Jazz Monthly: Well, I totally think so, I really do, because there’s such a huge gravitational pull to that kind of vibe, which is why I really think you’re gonna be successful, and I feel like you already have been but I think greater success awaits you, so just keep doing your thing, keep your flava strong, and keep making great music, my friend.
CH: I appreciate it. I really do appreciate it.
Jazz Monthly: Yes indeed. We’ve been talking with Curtis Haywood, a great new album, it is self-titled, and I must say it is the epitome of the universal language of music because it has something there for every audience and I highly recommend this album. Curtis, once again, thank you so much for spending some time with The Smitty and keep doing your thing, man, and all the best to you in 2009 and beyond, my friend.
CH: I thank you so much, Smitty, for giving ear to a new voice and I really, really do appreciate the time and the effort and the space on your page.
Baldwin “Smitty” Smith
For More Information Visit www.curtishaywood.com and www.myspace.com/curtishaywood
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