Wednesday, December 7, 2011

"The Revolution Will Be Jazz"---An Interview with vocalist GIACOMO GATES

KIRPAL GORDON: As a journalist with a Wyatt Earp 'plex, I keep my eye, not my back, on the door. Having seen you play the Blue Note as well as Flushing Town Hall with your band, I can tell you that no one was going anywhere, whether the actual exit or “the astral adios.” From ages eight to eighty, your audience was into the music.

GIACOMO GATES: Thanks for that! I’m very comfortable in a “live” situation, and feel the energy of the audience and the band. Call it interaction.
KIRPAL GORDON: Though a great performance is no guarantee of CD sales, your new recording on Savant, “The Revolution Will Be Jazz---The Songs of Gil Scott Heron,” has been the number one selling CD in jazz for over six weeks and has been in the top twenty for over thirteen weeks.  What’s the ride been like? 

GIACOMO GATES: I don’t know about, nor have I made any claim to, the number one selling CD in Jazz, but regarding airplay, “The Revolution Will Be Jazz---The Songs of Gil Scott Heron” did sit at the #1 slot as the most played jazz recording on National Jazz Radio for six weeks. No other Jazz record did that in 2011, although it’s still overlooked.
I can say that the musicians who played on the recording, Savant Records, and producer Mark Ruffin and myself were very happy to see that radio dug it as much as they did. To me, that also means the listeners dug it too. I was told by many radio stations that they would receive many positive phone calls when they spun it. We got amazing feedback from listeners, fans, other musicians, and folks in the music bizness. The concept was the idea of Mark Ruffin, and I picked tunes that I could connect with and John diMartino wrote great arrangements. I’m very grateful for all that happened. 

KIRPAL GORDON: In this CD you’ve somehow fused the soulful spoken word-song thing of Gil Scott with the vocalese of Eddie Jefferson, the depth of Kurt Elling, the rich baritone of Billy Eckstine and the scat wonder of Ella Fitzgerald with your own unique approach to erase the separation between then and now while bringing into the musical mainstream elements long considered too experimental to sell records. Did anyone tell you it couldn’t be done?   

GIACOMO GATES: The recording took place in November of 2010, and Savant picked it up in March of 2011.  This was not designed to be a tribute to Gil…this was supposed to be a gift.
Gil left the planet in May of 2011.
I didn’t know I did any of that. It wasn’t my intention to sound like any of those folks, although I am obviously influenced by Eddie. In the tunes that I chose, Gil’s words were up to date, right on time. Some of it is stone serious, some is humorous, some is romantic.  “Show Bizness” is funny and true, so is “Madison Avenue.”  “Winter in America” is so about right now…so is “Gun.” “This is A Prayer For Everybody In The World” is a beautiful prayer, or wish, to lay on someone. “Legend In His Own Mind” is great fun and the truth!  New York City” is valid today, and so is “Lady Day & John Coltrane”…..“Is That Jazz” is a question that lots of folks are asking today, including me. All the tunes are pertinent to the world we live in today, and Gil’s music is not a stretch to put in the jazz vernacular. Gil said that he comes out of rhythm and blues, and jazz.
No one told me it couldn’t be done, most thought it was a very good idea. The music is big fun to sing, and it’s easily performed for large outdoor venues….high energy.

KIRPAL GORDON: Although you have great pipes, a great band, five killer CDs and have played and sang with many jazz legends, you’ve spent quite a few years in the trenches of blue collar labor gigs like working the Alaskan pipe line. What were those early years like up in towns like Fairbanks?

GIACOMO GATES: I went to Alaska in August of 1975, when the Pipeline was about half finished. It was a wild “boom town”…a wild west show… hard to explain in only a few paragraphs. I spent a year doing many kind of odd jobs before I got “real work”…. out of a Union Hall, doing what I already spent several years doing in Connecticut, running heavy equipment. Some jobs odder than others….worked a night shift in a liquor store, (from 9:30pm to 5am) roofing, drove a tour bus, hung sheetrock, worked in a couple of gambling joints, as a relief dealer and bouncer, moved furniture, carpenter’s helper, etc. Along with Pipeline work, I worked on road jobs, landing strips, and dams.
Great experiences, in places where most people never get to go…Aleutians, Brooks Range, North Slope, islands off the coast of northern Alaska on the DEW Line.
And also did some seasonal stints in Washington State, Arizona and on drill rigs of the coast of Louisiana.
 Front Cover
KIRPAL GORDON: You are also quite involved in jazz education.  How’s that going?

GIACOMO GATES: I’ve been teaching at Wesleyan University for twelve years, and taught at The Hartford Conservatory and The Neighborhood Music School, all in Connecticut.  While traveling, clinics and master classes are available, colleges and several groups of singers have put together the opportunity for me to work with a group, along with an accompanist or rhythm section. It’s not always about people wanting to sing professionally, many times students are interested in the history, the musicians and singers who were innovators and left a mark. 

KIRPAL GORDON: When can folks next hear you play and what plans do you have for touring?  How can fans at Giant Steps stay tuned to what you’re up to?

 
GIACOMO GATES:  The website, http://www.giacomogates.com/ is usually up to date, and an itinerary is available.

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