Let me start by saying that every moment I spend playing music is a memorable one. Of course when you are performing with a well known musician you are more conscious of trying to remember the moment but the truth is good music knows no names. I get asked the question a lot about who are the people I’ve played with that stick out in my mind. All the jazz that I like seems to come from groups in which the musicians played together for a very long time and I think it’s influenced my own philosophy and approach to playing jazz. I like the familiarity of playing with the same people because of the higher form of communication that only comes from playing together for years. It’s the unspoken things that happen spontaneously in the music and can’t be written on the chart. The moments that stand out the most are ones with my own trio, that’s when the music just plays itself.
“It’s the group sound that’s important, even when you’re playing a solo. You not only have to know your own instrument, you must know the others and how to back them up at all times. That’s jazz.” — Oscar Peterson
I do have memorable moments from playing with some well know jazz musicians, too. When I played with Slide Hampton he called the song “Laura,” which I didn’t really have memorized yet. Luckily the bass player helped me out through the first chorus. Slide could play an entire solo comprised completely of quotes from other songs and sound good doing it!
Playing with George Garzone and Jerry Bergonzi was such a thrill. They are both heroes of mine. I was probably overly conscious of comping behind their solos since I know how picky they are about what harmonies are played underneath their improvisations.
Playing with Arturo Sandoval was a study in Afro-Cuban music. He was such a joker, but became very serious as soon as the song was counted off.
Terri Lynne Carrington was all business when we met briefly before performing for a tribute show, we just played one song and it was a blues. After my solo she looked at me with a big smile of approval, and I felt like we were friends.
Kevin Mahogany and Rebecca Parris are both world-class singers that I’ve had the honor to perform with on multiple occasions. They aren’t only great singers, they are master musicians.
One of the more memorable musicians I performed with was Jon Faddis with the Ryles Jazz Orchestra, in which I held the piano chair from 2000-2004. I remember he came in and completely changed the sound of the band. He conducted us with so much positive energy – even we couldn’t believe how good the band was sounding. He was also a comedian but when he took a solo it was like jazz truth, everyone wants to play like him but nobody can — he had quite an aura! He counted off one song so fast and I was hoping he wasn’t going to make me take a solo. Of course he pointed to me for the first solo and he kept encouraging me to take more and more choruses, I felt like he was testing me. After my solo he looked at me with this big smile then at the end of the song he made me stand up and take a bow again. I don’t think I will ever forget that.