An interview with Scott Reeves: There continues to be great new talents on the horizon … Videos

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Jazz interview with jazz trombonist Scott Reeves. An interview by email in writing.

JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?

Scott Reeves: – I was born in Rockford, Illinois. At age 10 I moved to the Chicago area where I lived until I left home for college. My father used to play trombone and there was one stashed in the back of his closet which he never played anymore. In 5th grade students were invited to join the school band program. While I was attracted to the saxophone, it seemed so complicated with all of those keys, while trombone seemed easier. LITTLE DID I KNOW IT WAS PROBABLY THE OTHER WAY AROUND J

JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the trombone?

SR: – Although I enjoyed playing trombone in school band, in the 8th grade that I went into a record shop and picked up a recording by a guy I’d never heard of named “Count Basie.” That record, “Easin’ It,” blew my mind by the power of its swing and ensemble playing. It changed my life and I decided I wanted to become a professional jazz trombonist. In high school, discovering Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane sealed the deal. Two other recordings that similarly affected my life were Miles’s “E.S.P.” and Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme.”

JBN.S: – What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the trombone?

SR: – I have been fortunate to have some great classical trombone, jazz and composition teachers. During high school I studied with a Chicago trombonist named Ernie Passoja. During my college years at Indiana University, I studied classical trombone with Lewis Van Haney (formerly with the New York Philharmonic), Thomas Beversdorf (formerly with the Pittsburgh Symphony), and Dee Stewart (formerly with the Philadelphia Orchestra). They totally reformed my technique so that many years later, my playing continues to improve. I was also mentored by David Baker, a former jazz trombonist and one of the great jazz educators. He taught me the basic of jazz improvisation and jazz arranging. Later on I studied classical trombone with Dennis Smith (L.A. Philharmonic), took a couple lessons with jazz great Woody Shaw, and studied “Effortless Mastery” with pianist Kenny Werner – who totally changed the way I practiced and thought about music.  I owe all of my teachers so much gratitude and have tried to share everything I learned from them with my students.

JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?

SR: – Although I have always been jazz player (sometimes to the chagrin of my classical teachers who didn’t approve of the way I tongued and articulated notes), the ideal of the ‘pure, open’ sound of classical trombone playing was something I aspired to – full, rich, clear…without tightness, constriction, sounding raspy or over-blowing the horn. There are many fine trombonists I admire who play differently, but this was the path I chose.

I had many technical issues to overcome, but learning to support the air with the diaphragm muscle while keeping the throat and chest open and relaxed opened up my sound, coupled with firm corners in the embouchure while keeping the center of the lips vibrating freely. I think about sound all the time and continue to work on it. I remember someone telling me that “the first thing the audience hears is your sound – the second is your sense of time – and only a few people will be able to hear what you are doing harmonically or melodically.” So sound always comes first.

Over the years I believe I’ve developed my own individual sound, based on the principles my teachers imparted. In particular, in addition to playing two different sized Rath trombones, I have two unusual brass instruments that almost no one else plays – the alto flugelhorn and the alto valve trombone. I love soloing on those two horns and find I am able to express my own unique voice on them, perhaps better than on the trombone. It is hard for me to get past the influences of J.J. Johnson and Slide Hampton on the trombone, but the two valve instruments open up new possibilities in my mind. They are both pitched with an Eb fundamental, but I learned new valve fingerings so that I wouldn’t have to transpose when I play them. I think I hear a specific sound for each of my 4 instruments and have spent a lot of time figuring out the right mouthpieces and how to get the best sound out of each.

JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?

SR: – That’s a great question because at this point in my life, I’m concentrating more on rhythm than I am on harmonic/melodic vocabulary, which is perhaps the reverse of what I did when I was younger and didn’t have much jazz vocabulary. Earlier in my career, I would practice scales and arpeggios, but I would endeavor to accent notes on the ‘upbeat’ so the scales would swing harder. On the slide trombone, I would also try to use the natural articulation of the overtone breaks so that I didn’t have to tongue every note. Using the natural overtone breaks, along with use of the duddle tongue, are the two main ways a slide trombonist can hope to keep up with fast tempos. Frank Rosolino was a master of the overtone articulations, while Carl Fontana was a master of the duddle tongue.

I’ve always felt that very fast tempos are my Achilles heel and have had some embarrassing public performances (including one at the Village Vanguard) where I was undone by my lack of comfort in that area. I work with a metronome at uptempos, and try to feel the time not as a fast 4/4, but as a moderate 2/2 or even a slow “1,” in order to get my body and mind to relax. I continue to work on the overtone breaks and duddle tongue (or on my alto instruments –  valve technique). I also continually remind myself that I don’t have to try to play constant 8th notes. I listen to records by great players from the 20’s and 30’s who didn’t necessarily have perfect technique, yet they were able to play musically at fast tempos by using syncopation, simplicity and space.

It is also VERY important to listen closely to the drums and bass when playing jazz. I love the piano and rich harmonies so much, that I try not be seduced them. I try to stand close to the drums and focus on what I can do to hook up with their time feel. One of my students recently showed me an app with a very good drummer playing in different grooves and tempos. I’m going to look into practicing with that. Just horn and drums – that would help cement things.

JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now?

SR: – Early in my development I practiced a lot of patterns, scales and arpeggios. My teacher, David Baker, started me on this path in college, specifically bebop scales and diminished modes and transcribing solos. Woody Shaw also gave me patterns based on pentatonic scales and intervals of 4ths moving in different ways. After I began teaching at various colleges, I tried to organize everything that helped me so that I could share it with my students. Ultimately this became the basis for my text, “Creative Jazz Improvisation,” which is now in its 4th edition from Prentice Hall, Inc. In 2000 I moved to NYC and began writing and playing for Dave Liebman’s big band, so I studied his chord-over-chord approach. This opened up my ears to bitonal harmonies and accepting more dissonance harmonies. However, having been through this discipline, I now am now more concerned with practicing rhythm, creating a coherent melody and learning tunes. So what you practice can change during your lifetime, as your needs as a musician change. Part of the growth process is understanding your strengths and weaknesses and devising strategies for dealing with your problems.

JBN.S: – Many aspiring musicians are always looking for advice when navigating thru the music business. Is there any piece of advice you can offer to aspiring students or even your peers that you believe will help them succeed and stay positive in this business?

SR: – Everyone has to follow their dream, yet at the same time be aware that only a few people will be able to make a living playing jazz. It helps to have a broad palate of skills and abilities. Many of my friends in NYC work Broadway shows or do wedding gigs to make ends meet. And many established artists are becoming more involved in teaching.

JBN.S: – Аnd furthermore, can jazz be a business today or someday?

SR: – Although I sure the older generation always says this, I feel that it becomes more difficult than ever before to be a working musician. The 30’s – 70’s were probably the heyday of work, at least for horn players. Not only do most people stay home and watch T.V., but the rise of Internet/Facebook/Twitter is totally changing the scene. There is SO MUCH information out there there it is very, very difficult to get noticed through the din and it takes so much time away from the creation of music to work your way through those different media. I am now considering hiring someone to do this for me so that I can get my life back. And technology changes so fast. I recently recorded my first big band album as a leader, which involved 10 years of writing and tremendous work in realizing the project which led to the CD “Portraits and Places.” Now I find out that many younger fans don’t even own a CD player, not even on their computer. And everyone wants to get your product via a free download. It’s not easy.

JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?

SR: – With all the emphasis on passing standardized tests in the public school system, education in the arts has suffered greatly. I get college students who never had sufficient training during high school. They’ve never heard of Stravinsky or Charlie Parker. They’ve never had an ear training course. True, jazz standards are a half century old, but the more you study them, the more you realize just how well crafted they are in terms of melodic development and harmonic progressions. They have become part of the standard repertoire of all jazz musicians. On my first trip to Japan I could not speak with most of the people I was playing with, yet everyone knew the same tunes. Standards are a universal language that everyone can converse in. And if they tire you, put them in an odd meter or re-harmonize them – they become brand new.

JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?

SR: – When I listen to Trane I hear his spirit. You feel this with all great artists. When you play or write music you are expressing your inner self. You can tell whether a musician is telling a story, bringing people together or just showing off the licks they’ve learned. The way to play music better is to lead a more conscious, compassionate life.

JBN.S: – What are your expectations of the future? What brings you fear or anxiety?

SR: – There continues to be great new talents on the horizon. Recently I’ve been able to do some gigs with my son, Eric, who is a drummer. I find it invigorating to play with younger musicians who bring so much energy and new ideas into the music, while being able to share the experiences I’ve had over the years. But I fear for the job prospects for younger musicians; there is less money and fewer gigs. I always try to give my students ‘heads up’ about the business end of things.

JBN.S: – What’s the next musical frontier for you?

SR: – My second big band album as a leader, “Without a Trace,” will be released by Origin Records in March, 2018. It features my compositions and arrangements and I solo on both slide trombone and alto flugelhorn. I continue to try to find work for my quintet with saxophonist Rich Perry and my 4-trombone/3 rhythm band “Manhattan Bones.” Both groups have records on the market which I try to promote. I recently started a sextet with Bill Mobley and Jon Gordon playing the music of Memphis composers, such as Mulgrew Miller, George Coleman, Donald Brown, James Williams, Harold Mabern and others. And after 38 years teaching full-time at the college level, I’ve started a ‘phased retirement’ program at the City College of New York in which I will only teach during the spring semesters. This gives me a lot of time to write new music, practice and travel.

JBN.S: – Are there any similarities between jazz and world music, including folk music?

SR: – I guess jazz is folk music. And it originated from a fusion with musics from around the world, most notably Africa and Europe. Now we see influences from different Asian and Indian cultures enriching the music.

JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?

SR: – In the past few weeks I’ve listened to Billy Child’s “Rebirth,” Steve Wilson/Lewis Nash “Duologue,” Jim McNeely “Paul Klee Suite,” Woody Shaw “Bemsha Swing,” Eric Satie “Complete Piano Music,” Rufus Reid “Quiet Pride,” Maria Schneider “The Thompson Fields,” Donald Brown “Born to Be Blue,” Bob Brookmeyer “Standards,” Duke Ellington’s “Queen’s Suite,” and Ralph Alessi “Quiver.”

JBN.S: – What’s your current setup?

SR: – Rath 10 trombone with a modified Curry 12C moupiece, Rath R3 slide & R4 bell with modified Curry 7 mouthpiece, Mirafone alto flugelhorn with custom mouthpiece, and an alto valve trombone with an Edwards alto bell and a restored 1910 valve section with custom mouthpiece.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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