Posted on 8/18/2009at 5:38 PM
I can’t describe the feeling taking to the road with a brand new band. Under my leadership, Ron Blake, Geoffrey Keezer and Terreon Gully are the only guys I’ve traveled the world with consistenly over the last decade. Sure, there’s been a “situation” or two, but I knew that these were special projects that would fuel my return to the CMB. “Inside Straight”, however, would be my new batch of permanent troops….and I loved it!

For starters, it was just a great bunch of guys to be around even if we weren’t playing music. Steve Wilson – the consummate professional. Always on time, had the music memorized, never a bad attitude, never lets consequences affect his playing, quick to laughter. A rock.

Peter Martin – the balancer. The guy who when the flight is delayed or when we get searched at airport security, will give you a silly one-liner to break up the vibe and keep you smilin’. Musically, he studies a song’s DNA and plays it. Nothing more, nothing less. He plays a song the way it should be played. Another rock.

Ulysses Owens, Jr. – the hungry young understudy. Man, I’m so in love with this cat. He is serious. He soaks up information quicker than a google search. A very well-spoken, well-studied young brother, and extremely soulful to boot. As a drummer, he just put it in the pocket. A very difficult concept for some young drummers to grasp, but not Ulysses. He let the music come to him. He didn’t try to force anything. That’s an extreme rarity for drummers of ANY age! I predict Ulysses is going to be one of the next major cats.

Warren Wolf – It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s VIBEMANNNNN!! He can break a set of vibes in a single stroke! He’s the ultimate American male – he likes UFC, WWF, fast food and hip-hop. In case you haven’t seen him, Warren is built like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Consequently, I don’t think Warren knows his own strength. Almost every night when we played the Vanguard two years ago, we’d see him re-stringing his vibes after every set because he hit them so hard, he’d break the string that held the bars together. Because of that, and his gargantuan talent, he’s the band’s superhero.

The “Kind of Brown” tour started with a swing through the west coast. We hit Santa Cruz (Kuumbwa), San Diego (Anthology), Seattle (Jazz Alley), Oakland (Yoshi’s) and Los Angeles (Catalina’s Bar & Grill). All of the gigs were great. Particularly memorable was our four-night engagement at Catalina’s. For it was my first club date in LA in six years. Because of my four-year tenure with the LA Philharmonic, almost of my performances as a leader in LA between 2005 and now were either at the Hollywood Bowl or Walt Disney Concert Hall. Catalina’s welcomed me back with open arms. It was, for me, an unusually star-studded week as people like John Lithgow, Jackie Kallen (my longtime pen-pal) and my old buddies Gina Gershon and Howard Hesseman showed up to hear us. But I was absolutely dumbfounded when none other than MORGAN FREEMAN showed up to hear us. I had no words. When he came backstage into our dressing room, all I could do was chuckle. Sort of like, “Heh, heh. You’re kidding, right? Morgan Freeman’s in our dressing room??? Yeah, right. For REAL??” What can I say? He’s a true soul brother. He hung out with us for a good 20 minutes or so. A lovely man.

After our west coast tour, we headed off to Europe for a back-breaking two-week run. Man, just about everyday we had two flights with a semi-long drive preceding our one hour nap before soundcheck. I’m telling you, we had everyting from flat tires to delayed and canceled flights to “I’m sorry, gentlemen, check-in isn’t until 3pm…” We all were ready to kill someone by the fifth day! Not to mention, because of these new ridiculous gangster-like luggage restrictions on most airlines, I wasn’t able to bring my bass. Ugh…..

Fortunately, almost all of the basses provided were playable. Thank God!!

We had many great nights on the European tour, as well. Cities throughout Italy (Palermo, Torbole, Albinea, Ancona, Rome), the Canary Islands (Terenife, Las Palmas), Portugal (Estoril), Spain (San Javier) and the UK (London) all proved to be worth the grueling travel. Our concert in San Javier was videotaped in Hi-Def. Who knows? Maybe you’ll see it. ☺

Since the conclusion of the European tour, I’ve been home focusing mainly on my (still) upcoming radio show, the Jazz Museum in Harlem (where I recently interviewed Louis Hayes for “Harlem Speaks”), Jazz House Kids and sleeping. Just a couple of weeks ago, I played my final Hollywood Bowl concert as creative chair in a magical concert celebrating the Miles Davis/Gil Evans collaborations featuring Terence Blanchard, Nicholas Payton, Miles Evans, Howard Johnson, Jimmy Cobb, Vince Mendoza and many of the greatest musicians in LA. We played many of the selections from “Porgy & Bess”, “Miles Ahead” and “Sketches of Spain”. It was bittersweet knowing that the next time I play the Bowl, my employee ID won’t work!

I then headed up to what's officially known as "Care Fusion Presents the George Wein Jazz Festival '55' ". (The '55' alludes to the 55th year of jazz in Newport) To the jazz world, it will forever be known as The Newport Jazz Festival. Due to legal issues, "Newport Jazz Festival" could not be used as the official name of the festival this year, but I don't think it matters. The creator and founder of the Newport Jazz festival, George Wein, is at the helm again and it's in Newport, and all the cats were there, so it was all good. I took a trio with me on this trip. It was the same powerhouse trio I played with at the Blue Note in New York a couple of years ago - George Colligan on piano and Billy Hart on drums. We had a very good gig. The next day, a funny thing happened....

I had always been scheduled to do a concert version of my radio show "The Lowdown" during the third and final day of the festival, but for months, we had trouble securing a guest. Considering the list of musicians who were going to be performing at the festival, I figured it shouldn't be THAT much of an issue getting someone, but man, it was rough. The day before, we still had no one secured. I was just about to go into "pre-panic" mode. As I was doing an impromptu interview with someone on the festival grounds, my manager, Andre, lightly nudges me in the side and said, "There's your guest for tomorrow..." That person was none other than GEORGE WEIN himself!! We asked George if he would mind being a guest for "The Lowdown", and he was more than happy to oblige. It was a magical, magical day sitting, talking and playing with him. I am eternally grateful to George Wein for not only being my guest that day, but for more personal reasons that I can't wait to tell in my autobiography one day. (It has something to do with a gig in Philadelphia in 1994. A BIIIIG gig!) Since this was a "concert" version of the show, it was not recorded by Sirius/XM, but it was professionally recorded, so we'll figure out how to get that out real soon.

In closing, I have to make special mention of the last episode of “The Lowdown” taped at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola in New York last week. If I must say so myself, Lou Donaldson and I made an instant classic. For those of you who don’t know, “Sweet Poppa Lou” is not only well-known for his alto sax playing, but he’s also very well-known in the jazz world for his insult humor. He is VERY much the jazz world’s version of Don Rickles. He wasted NO time jumping right into the insults on the show. I cannot WAIT until you hear it. I’m still recuperating from all the laughing.

I’m now on vacation somewhere on earth preparing for a trip to Japan with “Inside Straight” next week.

Talk to you later…..

<< back