Jazz master lays down good things for fans
By Derek Paiva
Advertiser Entertainment Writer
|||Wycliffe Gordon Quartet
7:30 p.m. today Ko'olau Golf Club Ballroom
7:30 p.m. Saturday Orvis Auditorium, University of Hawai'i-Manoa
$15-$20, each show
Also: Gordon will give a free lecture at Salt Lake-Moanalua Public Library, 10-11 a.m. Saturday
"People were like, 'Wynton Marsalis is coming to the school! He got Grammys in classical AND jazz music!'" said the trombonist, recalling a week in the life of his 1986 sophomore year at Florida A&M. "I was, like, that's cool, but I was listening to Louis Armstrong! I wasn't really impressed by his accolades and commendations."
Still, Gordon went to the workshop (he was a music education major, after all) and found the trumpeter "cool and down to earth." When Marsalis asked Gordon, along with some other student jazz musicians, to lay down something good, Gordon tossed out a wicked New Orleans-style blues phrase improvised on the spot.
Impressed by the kid's creativity (if not his still-rough sound), Marsalis gave Gordon his phone number, and hooked him up with his friend, pianist Marcus Roberts, for some practice.
A year later, Marsalis invited Gordon to play with his jazz group at a Texas club. Eight months later, it was Blues Alley in Washington, D.C.
"I still didn't think I was playing anywhere near their level of musicianship," said Gordon. "But (Marsalis) saw the improvement."
A few months after playing on Marsalis' 1988 "Crescent City Christmas Card" album, "Wynton asked me, 'You wanna stay out here and play for a while?' " recalled Gordon, chuckling. "I thought about it for a good 10 seconds and was, like, 'Yeah!'
Gordon joined the Wynton Marsalis Septet in the summer of 1989. Months later, he was in the Marsalis-directed Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra.
Suddenly, Wycliffe Gordon was pretty damn cool himself.
A master improvisationalist with a sound as clean as the shine off his trombone, Gordon will perform two O'ahu shows with his Wycliffe Gordon Quartet today and tomorrow. The performances are the final stops of a weeklong statewide concert tour, which has also seen the full-time Juilliard jazz studies department professor lead a handful of free workshops, lectures and children's concerts.
"I do educational activities every place, and in every city I visit," said Gordon. "That's the thing that was missing when I was in school."
Gordon's first and only trombone lessons outside of his on-the-job training with Marsalis were from his high school band instructor, who tried to teach his charges the finer points of jazz and Duke Ellington between stage band performances of Michael Jackson's "Beat It." Gordon also honed his craft listening to his great aunt's old jazz albums.
"There are band directors teaching that are not exposed to jazz," said Gordon. "Yet every high school band director is expected to have a concert band, marching band and jazz band. How you gonna have a jazz band if you don't know what jazz sounds like?"
Gordon passionately believes in requiring college music majors to take jazz education courses. And that's whether they're seeking music careers in performance or teaching.
"Jazz courses in college are an elective," said Gordon, his voice raised in disbelief. "In college, we had to study the four periods of classical music. But we're in America. And America's classical music is jazz music!
"In Japan and most of the European countries ... they've made jazz part of their college curriculum. We're behind in America (and) this music is ours! It belongs to us!"
Gordon exited the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra in July 2000 to pursue solo projects and a longtime goal of teaching. He has since recorded six albums as a leader, three albums as a co-leader, and appeared on a number of jazz compilations. In 2000, Gordon was tapped to compose a new score for Oscar Michaux's lauded 1925 silent film "Body and Soul."
The 34-year-old Gordon has held the Jazz Journalists Association's Trombonist of the Year honor for two years running, and tours regularly during Juilliard school breaks. His masterful work with Marsalis and LCJO remains available on more than 20 CDs they collaborated on.
"I'm still in contact with Wynton," said Gordon, insisting there were no hard feelings over the trombonist's LCJO departure. "They called me to do something the other night, but I was on a cruise ship. But if I'm available any time they call me, I'll definitely go and do something."