UC Jazz Club Favorite Artist, Stanley Jordan sits down for an exclusive personal Interview with Edie Okamoto to talk about his latest CD, aptly entitled “Friends.”
For many years Jazz Superstar, Stanley Jordan, has been known to stretch, push, and actually break musical boundaries. His fans and jazz critics alike have come to expect him to be different and controversial. While his skills allow him to write and perform at levels that astound and thrill – his new CD provides a glimpse into the depth of his understanding of traditional jazz.
On his newest album, Friends, Stanley Jordan takes the time-honored path of inviting a hand picked cadre of special guests: guitarists Bucky Pizzarelli, Mike Stern, Russell Malone and Charlie Hunter, violinist Regina Carter, saxophonists Kenny Garrett and Ronnie Laws, trumpeter Nicholas Payton, bassists Christian McBride and Charnett Moffett, and drummer Kenwood Dennard. The results proved truly outstanding on numbers ranging from a Bela Bartok piece to a Katy Perry pop smash, a heady original blues and three jazz classics spanning swing, cool and modern. There’s a listener friendly samba, an airy spirit song and Stanley Jordan plays some serious piano on a couple of songs, revisiting his very first love, the piano, with newfound confidence and wonder. Listen to samples on Amazon.
Stanley Jordan who tours all around the world about 80% of his time, spent some special times with his friends to produce this instant classic Jazz album: “Friends.” He invited a host of collaborators for this rare gathering of contemporary jazz greats.
During a rare in-depth interview Stanley Jordan who will be in the Bay Area performing at Yoshi’s on October 11th and 12th, tells our UC Jazz Club readers about the cast.
“Friends” Special Guests
“Through my classical background, I developed an early appreciation for violin, and that interest continued even after I got involved in jazz. So it’s no surprise that I’ve been a fan of Regina Carter, because she is an amazing violinist who combines my favorite elements from the jazz side and the classical side. I once read an article about her project in Italy where she played an original Guaneri violin, and in that moment I knew that I would thoroughly enjoy playing with her someday. So I was honored when she accepted my invitation to join this project. Her sensitivity on the Bartok piece is just so exquisite–it makes me cry! And her perfect blend with Ronnie Laws on “Samba Delight” is a fresh, new sound that’s full of lightness and joy.”
Reflecting on working with the violin virtuoso, Stanley Jordan continues, “Regina Carter is an amazing violinist who combines my favorite elements from the jazz side and the classical side. Doing improvisations of ‘classical’ compositions often means spelling out more than just chord symbols. In this case, I wrote out many of the voicings I was using so we could improvise in a cohesive way. The result was a dense page of notes, which was probably a lot to drop on Regina at the last minute, but she rose to the occasion admirably. The sensitivity of her playing is so exquisite–it makes me cry. The first is “Romantic Intermezzo,” based on the theme of the 4th movement of Bela Bartok’s “Concerto for Orchestra.” This deeply stirring piece features Regina Carter on violin and I am featured exclusively on piano.
No question about it–Kenwood Dennard is a drummer’s drummer. I hope his performances here make many more people aware of his incredible gifts. As a progressive rock fan, I loved his work with the band Brand X back in the 70s and I used to watch him perform with Jaco Pastorius in the early 80s. His creativity is unsurpassed. In fact, every time we play together he does something new that I’ve never heard before. We’ve played together for over 20 years now and he just keeps getting better! He knows his music inside and out, having a deep background in harmony and music theory in general, so he understands what I’m doing and he knows just how to play with me in all situations. Listen to how he adjusts his playing perfectly for each song. That’s why he is the only drummer on this album. I knew I would be in good hands. “Bathed in Light” is an original that feels like a “spirit song.” I had Kenny Garrett and Nicholas Payton on horns and Christian McBride on bass in a softer turn than the swinging opener “Capital J.” On the inspiration behind the music and title, Stanley Jordan muses, “The splashy guitar chords bring out the meaning of the title. Sometimes when we’re bogged down in the details of things, we get depressed. But when we put things into proper perspective, the clouds part and we see a rainbow. I was having one of those moments when I wrote this song.” On “Bathed in Light”, when we got into the studio I realized the song needed a keyboardist, but I had not hired one for the date. Mirroring the Zen of all this, Kenwood Dennard played live drums and keyboards simultaneously! He played the drums and the keyboard at the same time live in the studio with no overdubs!
“I opened Friends with the straight ahead original “Capital J” (as in “jazz with a capital J”) featuring Kenny Garrett on tenor saxophone and Nicholas Payton on trumpet. So much of the great jazz I grew up with was built on a strong horn line.” Jordan remembers. “In the spirit of those great classics I wrote this tune. I first heard Kenny Garrett when my band was on the same bill with Miles and Kenny played in his band. Kenny combines a deep musical knowledge with a natural and effortless facility. My favorite part of “Capital J” was just comping behind the horns. My first experiences hearing Kenny Garrett were in live concerts when my band was on the same bill with Miles Davis and Kenny played in Miles’ band. He was always one of the highlights of Miles’ show. Since then I’ve always wanted to play with him. He is one of the more creative sax players around today. The level of his musicianship is astonishing! He combines a deep musical knowledge with a natural and effortless facility. In this way he is always a joy to listen to, yet his concept is so deep that you can listen repeatedly and find new things. His solo on “Capital J” is a thing of beauty. When we were in the studio preparing to record “Capital J” and he started warming up on the chord changes I remember thinking how grateful I was that he was there because he was absolutely perfect for that song.
Charlie Hunter is a kindred spirit because he is someone who, like me, has found his own path for approaching the guitar. Our approaches are similar because we both wanted to expand the instrument into a more polyphonic, “orchestral” direction. But although we’re similar conceptually, we are complementary in another sense, because he is more like a bassist who also plays lead and I’m more like a lead player who also plays bass. This makes it easy for us to play together. On Friends we collaborated on “Walkin’ the Dog,” a hip trip to Bluesville which recalls the great B.B. King and also offers some edgier things going on around the fringe. I am so thrilled that got to collaborate with the groove master Charlie Hunter again. Our paths have crossed in many jam band situations and venues. We both play multiple parts at once, but he plays more in the lower range while I play more in the higher range, so we complement each other very well. On “Walkin’ the Dog” Charlie and I play the melody in unison first then the second time he plays the melody while I play a counter melody of parallel dyads harmonized mostly in fifths, giving it a modern sound that provides a cool counterpart to the gritty main melody. A while ago I went to see him in Flagstaff, AZ and he invited me up to sit in. We just fell naturally into a compatible musical space playing his tunes. Since then we’ve talked about doing something together, and here it is –hopefully just the first of many.
Ronnie Laws is a remarkable and versatile musician who is at the crossroads of many musical worlds. He pulls it all together from be-bop, deep-pocket funk, Coltrane-inspired pentatonics and sweet ballads. His sound and style give him an original and very recognizable musical voice. When I showed him “Samba Delight” he remarked on how much he liked the tune. It felt really good to hear that, because I composed it with him in mind! We have been on the same bill in various live settings and we have always played together whenever possible. It was a true honor to have his contribution on this project.
Russell Malone is unquestionably one of the top jazz guitarists of our time. He can play straight-ahead as well as anyone out there, which really comes through on “Seven Come Eleven”. And with his breezy melodic sense he is a very soulful and listenable player. He combines a playful imagination with a mathematical sense of structure and line, making him ideal for the atonal improvisation “One for Milton”. He had recently been doing a lot of playing with Ornette Coleman, so he was already primed for the kind of free improv that we created together on that day. His “out of the box“ free style has always been one of my favorite aspects of his playing. This jazz super standard “Seven Come Eleven,” is a song made famous in Benny Goodman’s band as a feature for electric jazz guitar pioneer Charlie Christian. Bucky Pizzarelli played a rousing solo on it, and Russell Malone was great as he provided a cool yet uplifting spirit.”
This was our first chance to play together, making it a dream come true for me because I have admired his playing for many years. He was very sensitive as he adjusted his approach to each song, playing just the right part at all times. “Christian McBride‘s amazing tone, his flawless, crisp execution, his strong melodic concept and his deep sense of swing make him one of the greatest jazz bassists alive today. His sharp mind and generous spirit and attention to every detail really come through on both of the songs he did with us.
A take on Claude Debussy’s “Reverie” in a jazz context features my road trio of Charnett Moffett on bass and Kenwood Dennard on drums and me. The group has been performing this for many years, which explains the fluid ease with which we weave through it. We pretty much stuck to the form on this one except for a brief modal improv, which was obviously not written into the original composition, but I feel that it gets across the meaning and spirit of the song. Charnett Moffett and I go all the way back to the Bay Area free jazz scene of the late 60s and early 70s. I used to see him perform as the youngest member of the Charles Moffett Family when he was 8 and I was 15. These were formative years, and the Moffett Family were my “Jacksons of Jazz”. Charnett Moffett and I have been working together since 1985 and there is no bassist on the planet who knows me better than he does. I knew I could depend on him to be the primary bassist on this project, and he came through with flying colors. He displays astonishing versatility as he approaches each tune in just the right way and he nails it all, from straight-ahead to samba to blues and everything else. His technical skills are unsurpassed and his creative imagination and sheer musical brilliance are an inspiration. There is no one else like him!
On Capital J, Nick’s tone is fresh and full of life, and he creates interesting, complex improvisations while still leaving plenty of space.I had wanted to play with Nicholas Payton for a long time, and here I finally got my chance. The experience lived up to all my expectations and more because both his musicianship and his spirit were such a joy to connect with. His playing is so melodic, so facile, and just so musical! His tone is fresh and full of life and he creates interesting, complex improvisations while still leaving plenty of space. In this way he combines many of my favorite aspects of both Miles and Freddie, yet he has his own sound and style. I used to play trumpet a bit and it’s still one of my favorite instruments. Sometimes I feel like taking it up again, but then again, I’d much rather just listen to Nick Payton, because he is saying it all!
To me Bucky Pizzarelli is a jazz icon. I play jazz guitar, but Bucky Pizzarelli is one of the creators of the genre. I can hear so much history in his notes, and yet his sound is always fresh. He is a seasoned veteran whose chops are still very much intact today. I also joined up with Bucky Pizzarelli and Russell Malone to swing the classic “Seven Come Eleven.“ When I first told Bucky Pizzrelli that I was thinking about doing “Seven Come Eleven,” he just lit up! I love the old time 3-way-improv we played toward the end. There’s a point in “Seven Come Eleven” when he pours on the fire and starts playing this furious chord-melody passage that just keeps going and going, and it would have surely brought an audience to its feet in a live setting. In contrast, listen to his tender acoustic guitar rendition of “Lil’ Darlin'”. So beautiful! It was a great honor to play with such a legend. I had wanted to record with him for many years and I’m blessed to have finally gotten the chance to do so. He’s also a great guy. He brought a positive, cheerful energy to the sessions and he was an absolute joy to work with.
Mike Stern and I cut our teeth in the same scene in New York in the early 80s. Even back then I felt he was one of the strongest players of our generation. He’s brilliant, creative, sophisticated and so well-schooled, that to play with him is an inspirational experience! Once we jammed together on “Giant Steps” in a hotel at a jazz festival in Canada. He knew the changes inside and out, and he glided through this complex tune with the greatest of ease. His playing was so impressive that ever since then I have wanted to record this song with him. On this project I finally got the chance! And not just his great playing but his eager, youthful spirit comes through. His style is interesting and complex–not to show off but just because he loves to explore the infinite possibilities of music.
Friends closes on an ear-turning note with “One for Milton,” a heartfelt yet adventurous tribute to one of Stanley Jordan‘s most beloved music teachers, composer Milton Babbit (1916-2011), who passed away as Stanley Jordan was preparing to record Friends. He tell us: “I studied theory and composition with Milton at Princeton in the late `70s and early `80s. He was a giant in his field and he left a big impression on me – musically and personally. In Eastern spiritual traditions a guru is someone whose very presence confers enlightenment. Milton truly fit this description. Russell, Kenwood and I created this from scratch as an improvisation. I’ve always been a fan of Russell’s more experimental side, and I’m glad that it got a good showing on this recording. We didn’t try to imitate Milton’s style, but in the spirit of his music we did take an atonal approach. There are parts that sound to me a bit like Milton’s teacher, Arnold Schoenberg.”
Reflecting on the wealth of music inspired by collaborating with the amazing talent on Friends, Stanley Jordan concludes, “This collection truly speaks to my belief in the integrationist spirit in music. When you integrate styles, you combine them into something new while staying true to the original sources. True friendship is also integral, because it involves mutual respect.
Our true friends are like mirrors revealing the diversity within each of us, and at the same time their acceptance gives us the courage to share our true selves with the World. I am so humbled and grateful to all of these wonderful musicians who graced this project.”
We thank Stanley Jordan to make room in his busy schedule for this sit down interview to share his latest stop in his world-wide journey. He also told us that he feels more at ease with himself and the world than ever before – in part – perhaps due to the arrival of his very first grand-child by his now also famous musician/performer daughter, Julia Jordan, early this year. With a loving family and great friends life is good.
We encourage all UC Jazz Club member to come out for his shows on October 11 and 12th, 20011 at Yoshi’s in San Francisco. Stanley Jordan looks forward to spending time with you again and thanks you for your on-going support!