In this interview I talk to Bob all about music and vinyl.
When we talked about doing this interview I said I don’t know a lot about jazz. I know about Miles Davis and recently listened to a podcast about Chet Baker which peaked my interest a bit more. What musicians would you recommend checking out for me or anyone else to check out?
Wow, that’s a great question! The best way to answer that is to think about what I was listening to when I first got into jazz. Back in middle school, I spent countless hours going to the library and finding CDs of different jazz artists which I would then record them onto cassette tapes to listen to over and over again. The first jazz artists I did that with were Charlie Parker (nicknamed “Bird”) and Dizzy Gillespie (“Diz”), the two of the biggest pioneers of bebop music! Charlie Parker blew my mind with the extremely fast passages he was able to play with such ease on the saxophone. Dizzy was incredible with his range on the trumpet but beyond that he made me laugh all the time at how he was such a showman, much like Louis Armstrong before him. Songs like “Salt Peanuts” were impressive as much for their humor as the dexterity with which players like Diz n Bird performed on their instruments. But other tunes like “Tin Tin Deo” or “Swing Low Sweet Cadillac” demonstrated the lighter side of the artists like Dizzy with his way of speaking to the crowd during the tunes in his own special way.
I then began listening to saxophone players like Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane. Sonny is another who, like Dizzy, is an incredible player as far as his technique is concerned but also immensely entertaining and he knows how to play with humor and his own rhythmic style. With John Coltrane listening to him at first felt like a religious awakening. An entirely new sound and even a different language emerged from his music. “Giant Steps” was a landmark album with the new chord changes it established and the title track would be one that artists for decades would fall into orbit around with their own musical ideas. But then the incredible, immense beauty that is “Naima” left me spellbound as it still manages to do even to this day.
Another artist that I think those new to jazz would love, and a name I also explored early on, would be pianist Dave Brubeck. The album “Time Out” with the famous tune “Take Five” is quite accessible and I was quite taken by saxophonist Paul Desmond’s sound from the first very notes on that album. Bill Evans is another jazz pianist who I have come to love more and more over time. Evans’ music is introspective and so carefully and beautifully constructed in terms of his choice of chords that provides such special ‘shading’ unlike any other pianists I’ve ever heard. Miles Davis, the trumpeter, of course is another artist that I think someone new to jazz must discover. It might feel verwhelming since he’s played on so many albums but starting with “Kind of Blue” is never a bad idea; it’s a masterpiece and an album that I still spin often as a reminder of what drew me into jazz in the first place.
There are so many other artists to mention here, but I think these are some great artists for someone just looking to get into jazz music. The wonderful thing about jazz is exploring new artists; to this day, I’m still learning about new music and new names I hadn’t listened to before! It’s an adventure all the time to find out just how deep the rabbit hole goes.
Do you play any instruments?
In the fourth grade I started playing the alto saxophone. I really loved it and found it to be so much fun. Practice maybe not so much! In fact, it wasn’t until much later when I was in high school when I started to really dive more into the horn. I was inspired with so many other players around since there was a much bigger music program and my high school band director made learning and music so much fun and I switched over to the tenor saxophone when I was a freshman in high school. Tenor quickly became my main love!
Through the years I’ve been involved in many different projects, most notable was playing in a group called “Os Humanos” that performed Brazilian bossa nova and samba tunes. That was a special role for me playing in that band and I hope to be involved with a group like that again someday. I’ve also played in many different big bands and musical theater productions. When I was in college, I taught instrumental music (flute, clarinet and saxophone) which was very rewarding for me. I hope one day to also teach some private lessons again when I have some spare time. During these tough times where we find ourselves stuck in our homes I’ve been taking out the saxophone a lot more and practicing again which has been a lot of fun.
Why did you decide to start a vinyl themed Instagram?
I started out with my vinyl themed Instagram account to show what I was listening to while I was spinning an album and didn’t really think much of it back then. I had no idea that there was a whole community of other vinyl lovers / addicts(!) who enjoyed records and music as much as I did! Over time, my page has evolved, and I’ve been able to share my passion for writing with displaying whatever I happen to be listening to which has been a satisfying process. Recently I’ve started to share myself playing some jazz tunes on the saxophone – a piece from a jazz album that I really love is usually what I’ll do. I hope to continue doing more of that in the future as well. Over time it’s been incredible to see how so many others in the vinyl community use their pages in all sorts of different ways to show their love for vinyl and music. There are so many creative folks out there but they’re also some of the kindest and coolest people I’ve ever known so it’s been fantastic to get to know so many people.
How long have you been collecting records and how many do you have in your collection?
I’ve been collecting records for about eight years now. I was always interested in them since my father used to play them around the house when I was young. Later on I had a roommate who is a huge collector and I just remembered the special experience of throwing a record on the turntable and ignoring everything for those moments in time. It was all about the ritual it turned out in those moments and the focus was solely on the music. In fact, the very first records I owned I found on a walk when I noticed a neighbor had a couple boxes out at the curb with the garbage. I guess you could call me a trash picker(!), but I looked through them and noticed many classical albums and some jazz, including Miles Davis “The Birth of the Cool.” Even though I didn’t own a turntable I was determined to rescue those records.
I’d say I own close a thousand records right now. My collection is still growing but I’ve slowed down a bit lately and have been trying to spend more time enjoying the ones I already have. Most of the albums I own are jazz records since that’s what I was focused on mainly from the beginning as you can see with my posts. But I do love other genres too like soul, rock, pop, reggae and hip hop music which are styles I’ve loved for a long time too. Over time, I’ve been adding records by artists in those genres to my collection as well.
What’s your favourite vinyl you own and what is your holy grail?
Oh god, that’s one of the hardest questions to answer and it can really depend on my mood at any given time! But I’d say that one of the records I return to time and time again is “Getz / Gilberto.” It’s the most beautiful Brazilian music filled with tunes composed by the singular Antonio Carlos Jobim. Joao Gilberto and/or Astrud Gilberto are the vocalists and the music is so gorgeous and timeless; it transports you away to a different place and moment in time! Stan Getz, one of my favorite saxophonists, plays so lyrically and his tone is so full and his horn just sings. I see that album posted quite often on IG and for me it’s really no wonder! One of the first times I heard a record it was “Getz / Gilberto” and I knew that one day I had to own this music on vinyl.
As for holy grails, I’ve been quite lucky over the years. Early on I was buying up Blue Note records. Price were already getting crazy then and it’s just gotten worse as time as gone by. For me and other jazz collectors, the label is known for high quality sound and the sessions produced were rehearsed first, unlike what some other labels were doing at the time. As a jazz collector, I love Blue Note although there are other labels like Prestige, Impulse, New Jazz, Riverside, Black Jazz, Strata East and many more that also deserve a ton of attention. That said, some of the grails on Blue Note I was fortunate enough to land include Lee Morgan “Candy”, Tina Brooks “True Blue” and Hank Mobley “Soul Station.” On other jazz labels, I have some albums by Sun Ra, a Donald Byrd album on the Transition label and an original Thelonious Monk Plays Duke Ellington on Riverside, all of which I really love.
Holy grails that I’d love to own one day? In the jazz record collector world anyone will tell you that Hank Mobley 1568 on the Blue Note label is a grail. I’d absolutely love to own that one someday, but the prices are astronomical and not headed down anytime soon. The same goes for a Jackie McLean record on the little known Ad Lib label. That one seems to turn up much less often than the Hank Mobley record in fact. I’ve learned to become more realistic though over time with trying to find albums like these and in many cases, same with other collectors, I’ve been happy to own the music through high quality reissues so it’s not the end of the world if I can’t find originals but it’s always nice to dream right?!?
Who’s in your top five of favourite bands?
Another tough one but for me the classic John Coltrane Quartet recorded some of the finest music I have ever heard. I would say the same about the different groups that were headed by Miles Davis, beginning with his work with Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones in the first great Miles Davis quintet that produced some amazing works on the Prestige label.
In other genres, I’ve always loved the music of David Bowie. His sound changed so much over his career and it’s a wonder that I found so much to love about his music from each of his different periods! Right up until the end of his life, Bowie kept changing and exploring new musical territory when you look at an album like “Blackstar.” I think that’s one great mark of incredibly talented artists – they make sure to always surround themselves with other talented people to keep growing and continue to feel inspired! The jazz drummer Art Blakey always said about the musicians in his band: “Yes sir, I’m gonna to stay with the youngsters. When these get too old, I’m gonna get some younger ones. Keeps the mind active.” Art Blakey’s bands are among my favorite as well because so many jazz artists came out of his bands that went on to success in their own groups: Lee Morgan, Wayne Shorter, Freddie Hubbard and Benny Golson are just a few examples.
As far as other genres are concerned, it’s just too hard to narrow it down for me. I love the music of Curtis Mayfield for his amazing voice and socially conscious messages. The mystique of music by Pink Floyd, the positive and upbeat tunes by Bob Marley and The Wailers and the eclectic vibes of bands like The Talking Heads. Jimi Hendrix is another favorite and one of the great guitar / rock innovators to have ever played the guitar. What these artists all have in common is that they all had their own unique voice or sound, no one else was anything like them!
If you could have dinner with any musician from any time who would it be and why?
I’ve thought about this question a lot! I’ve always been a fan of Thelonious Monk. I find him to be such a fascinating character and I have written about “the modern genius of modern music” and his music on many occasions. To sit down with Monk and pick his brain about music and get a chance to ask him a few questions would be really an intriguing occasion for me if it were possible. Also, I’d be curious about what he would order and talking to him about events in the world (past, present AND future), not just about his music. That’s really one of those “if I only had a time machine” questions when you think about it.
Any recommendations on movies, tv shows or music?
There have been many movies made about jazz artists, some have been excellent, and others sadly have missed the mark. I really enjoyed the recent documentary about Miles Davis called “Birth of the Cool.” It was a very fair and accurate portrayal of Miles Davis and much less “Hollywood” than some of the others I’ve seen. I also really liked the Chet Baker biopic called “Born to be Blue.” I feel that Ethan Hawke was excellent in the role of Chet Baker and you really get a sense of the anguish he experienced in his life as a drug addict and someone who had been knocked down so much but still tried to find a way to have his musical voice heard. Another great jazz documentary about one of my idols, John Coltrane, is called “Chasing Trane.” I feel so strongly that everyone should try to see this film to understand Coltrane as an artist and more so as a human being which helps understand even better the ‘how’ and ‘why’ behind all of the music he created that inspires me time and time again.
Lastly as far as jazz goes, there is a series on Netflix called “The Eddy.” It’s a drama but the actors are all real musicians and it’s the story of a jazz club in Paris. “The Eddy” is focused on the owner of the club and his struggles and the tragic death of his very close friend. We get to explore each of the characters, and I think the show was very well done. It weaves together human elements so well with jazz music which is all original and written for the series.
As for music, other than what I’ve mentioned already, I love Chick Corea and Return to Forever. Any of their albums are worth owning, but I really love “No Mystery”, “Romantic Warrior” and their self-titled album. Also, anything Pat Metheny has ever done I love too – most notably the first album called “The Pat Metheny Group” on the ECM label and of course “Bright Size Life.” Brad Mehldau is a pianist that I heard perform with Joshua Redman at one of my first concerts ever when they toured for Redman’s “Mood Swing” album. Recently I’ve been listening a lot to the album he made with Chris Thile. He also recorded two albums called “Metheny Mehldau” that are excellent, and another favorite of mine is “Blues and Ballads.” Lastly, the music of Kamasi Washington, another contemporary jazz artist, is wonderful and thankfully I saw him in concert not that long ago before it was no longer possible to get out and hear live music. Kamasi also has important, relevant social messages in his music like the piece called “Truth.” During every one of his concerts he provides these meaningful words which I’ll end with here – “our differences are not something to be tolerated. They’re something to be celebrated.”