As a young student I had the opportunity to study with, hang out, and play with some of the finest musicians on the planet. Their message was clear: check out everybody, but find your own voice. This recording is made in “Tribute" to my teachers; the people that helped me to unlock the gifts that made me into the musician and the person that I am today. As I have grown, I have always felt that I did not fully appreciate how lucky I was to study with these iconic-legends because at the time, it was all so natural. Well, I appreciate it now. I also appreciate that my violin playing, aeronautical engineer father, (whose mother was also an accomplished violinist), and my physician mother, (whose father was a trumpet player with the big bands in Birmingham, England in the 1940’s), permitted me to do whatever I thought was right, as far as my education was concerned.What a gift that was, and I discovered later, very unusual. I love them for that. I was always encouraged and advised to seek out the finest possible. I never forgot that lesson. That’s how I along with my co-producer, friend, and colleague of many years, the great vibraphonist Mark Sherman, selected the musicians for this recording. There are no finer players, (as this recording will attest), then Kenny Barron on piano, Rufus Reid on bass, and Carl Allen on drums. I am very grateful to the many people who made it possible.
I was given the opportunity to study with a great deal of different musicians growing up. I encourage all young musicians to do this today. When I was 13, I began studying saxophone and harmony with the great Frank Foster. He used to let me sit in on any of his gigs I could come to. That’s where I met and began to study with George Coleman and Frank Wess. I will never forget how nice and encouraging they were to me. A little later during high school, I began playing some gigs with Dizzy Gillespie’s nephew Craig Glanville, whose beautiful family introduced me to the master himself. I will never forget the times I got to play with Dizzy. He gave a copy of his book which I still have, “To Be or Not to Bop" after a performance with the McDonald’s Jazz ensemble directed by the great Justin Dicioccio on the Merv Griffin TV Show.
For piano, I was sent to learn from the great icon, James Williams and during the same period with the fantastic Harold Danko. It was an amazing time. The great Gil Evans himself called me to rehearse with his band which, at that time, I found very surprising. I’m still not really sure how he got my number. I still remember the note my mom left saying to call him back. I didn’t believe it at first. The experience I had later playing with his band, (then under the direction of his son and my friend Miles Evans) each Monday night at Sweet Basils, will be a part of me for the rest of my life.
For clarinet I studied with Ben Armato of the Metropolitan Opera. I met him, and was accepted as his student, after soloing on saxophone at Lincoln Center with the Guggenheim Concert Orchestra. He helped me prepare, audition, and get accepted to the Julliard School. He was very disappointed when I told him I was going to accept a full-scholarship to University of Miami, to study with the sax player that the tremendous Michael Brecker told me was one of his most important teachers, and colleagues, the great Gary Campbell. He helped me and so many others to explore Slonimsky’s Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns, using a passing tone, triadic system that is a definitive concept. The last time I hung with him he was actually practicing a whole other thing that he had developed. What a great program Whit Sidener was running at Miami at that time.
After coming back to New York, I attended the Manhattan School of Music, where I remember being very impressed by my friend the great Gregory Hutchinson who was at the time was the young drummer in the concert jazz ensemble. The next stop for me was at the New School created by the fantastic saxophone player, educator, teacher and friend from the time that I was 13, the great Arnie Lawrence. I did received a BA from what I will always consider, his school. What I most remember about the experience was hanging and playing with my good friend at the time, the great Brad Mehldau, and taking classes taught by Jimmy Cobb, Reggie Workman, not to mention a few jam sessions with Marcus Miller. Other students and friends included Roy Hargove and Small’s owner Spike Wilner, just to name a few.
It while getting a MA from Queens College that I began taking saxophone lessons, and studying composition and arranging with the legendary Jimmy Heath. He taught me so much. That’s why so many of his composition are featured on this recording. It’s a “Tribute" to him, and to all my teachers. Thank you, thank you, thank you.