Justin Vasquez Interview Page 4
Jazz Monthly: Yeah, “drama” is the right word. It’s almost like he is his own conductor… the shadings… and the subtleties and dynamics. He’s really a great player. Tell us a little bit about your harmonica player. There were some beautiful harmonica solos on your album.
JV: On a couple of the songs, I wanted to have this “singer/songwriter” aesthetic, but without the singer. I wanted to have a lead instrument be that voice. I had played with Gregoire Maret a few months before the recording and I knew he would be perfect for, “End Of The Day” – which I basically wrote for Gregoire. He has this way of playing “time”… it’s sort of this “floating” thing. It really is beautiful. No one else, that I know, has that sense of time – much less on the harmonica, which is a difficult instrument.
Jazz Monthly: Yes… and the beautiful vocalist, Gretchen Parlato, right?
JV: I’ve known about Gretchen for a while, but the moment I wanted to get Gretchen on the record… a great friend of mine, Walter Smith – another great tenor sax player – had a song on his debut record called “Kate’s Song.” He played a solo, and then had Gretchen come in and sing the exact same notes over his solo. From what I understand, she came in the day of the solo and sang over him right after his solo. It’s amazing. It sounds like another instrument on top. It doesn’t sound like a saxophone or a vocalist… it became this “other instrument.” That was the moment that I knew she would be perfect!
Jazz Monthly: She sure was! You know, I mentioned earlier that you only had one brief rehearsal, and even with that brief rehearsal you didn’t even get through two tunes. It reminds me in another sense, of the comedian Jackie Gleason – who of course, did the “Honeymooners.” He never wanted to rehearse. He didn’t like to rehearse because he felt that once you rehearse, it kind of puts a squelch on your creativity. You know, in other words, “Let’s save it until the cameras are rolling.” So in your case it’s “Let’s get it down; let’s go over it. But, once the microphones are on... Justin and the band “Now Let’s do it!”
JV: You know, you hear something about “first takes,” and that there might be some inaccuracies on them. But it kind of has “something” in terms of the emotion or the “moment” that it captures, that subsequent “takes” might not have. These guys are all absolute professionals. They came in and had everything together when we were recording it. It wasn’t like they were sight-reading this music. They checked it out earlier with some recordings that I gave them… and it was like, “Here are some of the “tricky” spots and this is how it’s gonna go… and let’s just play it! The record is the result of that.
Jazz Monthly: Yes. It sure is. Let’s talk about some of the cuts on “Triptych.” One thing I noticed is that on every piece you’ll start with an idea and just kind of go from there. No section is actually repeated. It doesn’t follow any “predictable” pattern.
JV: Well, with “Triptych,” I just conceptualized that this song would constantly evolve. A “constantly evolving melodic narrative.” That’s the way I would describe it. Where nothing is ever repeated… something may come around again... but it will be slightly altered and slightly altered in a way that it will move naturally to the next part.
It was sort of a challenge for myself because I had never written anything like that before. I certainly listened to enough “classical” music and enough “other” kinds of music where that’s taken place; I wanted to push myself compositionally.
Jazz Monthly: The one thing I noticed, Justin, from the moment you hit “play” on the CD player there’s about two minutes of “ground work” before you… YOU even arrive! (laughing)
JV: Yeah. A couple of people have said, “ Why didn’t you start off with something where you’re the first note they hear?”
Jazz Monthly: I really like what you did.
JV: I wanted this record to be about my musical intent more than my playing or anyone else’s playing in general. I feature everyone in different spots, but I really wanted it to be about the larger picture – not just me playing a bunch of notes.
Jazz Monthly: That’s wise of you too. You’re utilizing all of these great musicians and great talent.
JV: Yeah. It was a bit of a gamble on my part to do that, because a lot of times when people are first listening to a record… as they say, “ You only have a minute or so to capture someone’s attention before they move on.” But if you stick with it, the music will take you on a journey that I think you wouldn’t get – if I just went and played a record of “standards.” People have already done that, and frankly have done it better than I’ll be able to do it.
Jazz Monthly: Plus this is your project, and keeping with the title of it, “Triptych” you’re creating a “three paneled expression” of your music. Speaking about “standards,” I would like to talk about one of my favorite tunes that I think you did beautifully. It was the tune by Bronislaw Kaper. It came out in the early fifties… I think 1952… from the movie; “Invitation,” and you describe it as sort of a dark, brooding, dirge rendition.
JV: One of the things I’ve done for years now is, I take a “standard,” – it’s an exercise a lot of people do. You put these standards in new context with “arrangements” or “de –constructions,” or whatever you’d like to call them. This melody’s so beautiful, I just wanted to put it in a completely different context. As much as a different context as all the records I’ve heard it on. Playing it very slow with this real dark harmony. Most of the time it’s either heard in a “Swing” tune or some version of a “Latin” song, or something like that. I though this would be something different… a different concept.
Jazz Monthly: One of the things that I know is dear to you is… playing a ballad. You really are “exposed” when you play a ballad. Right?
JV: Well, I think it is one of the more difficult things for a musician. Every aspect of your playing is put in the spotlight: your sound, your phrasing, your development… and your time – especially at slow tempos. It’s something I do work on and I have to work on it a bit more. Playing fast and having chops, that’s easy for me and I think that’s easy for anyone. You just have to practice and be consistent, but don’t practice any faster than you can play “cleanly.” Playing a “Ballad” is an art unto itself.
Jazz Monthly: Sure is. But I tell you. You are really a fine musician, at any tempo. One of the great cuts on here too is “End Of The Day,” which we mentioned earlier. Growing up in South Texas, this track has some of the “Country” roots of Justin Vasquez.
JV: You know, I’ve never really actively listened to “Country” growing up. I was certainly surrounded by it – George Jones, Conway Twitty, Willie Nelson. Being surrounded by this music, and being able to say something very “true” about your experience… I think “Country” music does that very well.
Jazz Monthly: Well, Justin, this project “Triptych” is a fine piece of work by anyone’s judgment.
JV: I really appreciate that. I always say that I can only play as good as the people that I’m surrounded by. I have to thank the guys that I play with on the record and the guys that I play with every day in different bands, just as much as the work that I put into it myself.
Jazz Monthly: Alto and soprano saxophonist, composer, Justin Vasquez. We do urge all our readers here at JazzMonthly.com to get “Triptych.” Well thank you so much, Justin, for sharing your beautiful thoughts and your beautiful talent with JazzMonthly.com.
JV: Thank you Joe, and thanks to everyone at JazzMonthly.com.
For More Information Visit www.justinvasquez.com
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