Do you like to work fast in the studio, or do you prefer to take your time?
I'd just as soon get things done as quickly as possible -- for obvious financial reasons, of course, but also because jazz is traditionally a live music. We were lucky enough to get good takes on the first or second time through each tune on this record, so it was a fairly quick process. That's not to say I don't appreciate a record that is more "produced." I just can't afford to make one at this point!
Let's talk about improvisation for a minute. Who first introduced the concept to you -- was it in a classroom situation, or did it come from listening to players like Michael Brecker?
I can remember being in the 5th grade and embellishing the simple melodies in my lesson book. Truth be told, I wasn't the greatest reader, but I definitely remember some "creative interpretations" on my part. Luckily for me, my teacher at the time -- saxophonist/clarinetist Dave Lambert -- encouraged me to play the music how I heard it… once I could play it the way it was actually written, of course! I certainly was not aware that what I was doing was improvising. I think that term first entered my vocabulary one summer during high school when I was at the Eastern U.S. Music Camp at Colgate University, and a fellow student introduced me to the blues and pentatonic scales. Coupled with my recent discovery of Brecker and David Sanborn, those scales started my study of jazz improvisation.
There's such a sense of history listening to you play, both in a group and as a soloist; I've always said I hear Stan Getz in your playing, as well as Brecker. Do other artists and their approaches to music (and, in particular, to soloing) go through your head when you're writing or playing?
Thank you, that's really an incredible compliment. I've certainly done a fair share of listening and transcribing of my saxophone heroes over the years. In addition to Brecker, I've spent a good amount of time studying the music of Hank Mobley, Joe Henderson, Sonny Rollins, and John Coltrane, to name a few. I assume that subconsciously their influence is present when I am improvising but I wouldn't say I'm thinking in particular about their individual approaches.
I try to incorporate as many of the influences of the music I grew up with, regardless of genre, in what I write. In addition to the metal and progressive rock of my youth -- I was way into Joe Satriani, Metallica, Rush and Pink Floyd -- I've definitely been influenced by music being made by artist such as Brian Blade and his Fellowship band, Ben Allison and Dave Douglas' various ensembles and the late Esbjorn Svensson and his trio. I was devastated to hear of his passing last year. I'm inspired by the way all these artists combine jazz music with the influence of the popular music relevant to their own lives.
The thing I love about your soloing is watching you develop an idea, and then find new avenues to explore and expand on that idea. What's going on with you when you're in that space? What's happening to you physically, mentally? Do you have a plan when you solo -- not a completely sketched-out scenario, obviously, but like a starting point and a goal -- or is it all in the moment and a surprise to you?
I don't have any plan when improvising, other than trying to interact with what's going on around me and hopefully build to some sort of musical climax. I'm trying to do as little "thinking" as possible and just go with what I'm hearing, both in my head and around me. This, of course, results in varying degrees of successes, but more times than not, taking this approach has been beneficial, both musically and artistically.
I've had the fortune of playing with my regular group on a weekly basis for seven years now, and my favorite moments are always when the four of us are creating together, as opposed to one soloist playing while the others act as accompaniment. That only happens when the four of us are tuned in to one another and willing to put the music first, rather than playing whatever licks we've been practicing lately. As a soloist, this requires a great deal of restraint, but there is nothing like the feeling of the four of us creating together in the moment.
Ever since the beginning, you've handled all the promotion for your CDs. For those musicians who've thought about doing it all themselves, what's the experience been like for you? What kind of a learning curve did you have to climb? What kind of mistakes did you make, and are those mistakes inevitable?
I've learned that writing, recording, producing and promoting your own CD is a lot of work. It seems like with each successive release, that workload increases. One would think the opposite would be true, but I'm realizing that I'm learning new things with each recording and the responsibilities for each CD seem to multiply. It's that "The more you know, the more you don't know" type of thing. I guess this is my own learning curve, and I like to think of my previous efforts not as mistakes but as steps in a long, long journey of learning how to reach a larger audience.
Where's the most amazing place (i.e. radio station, country) you've heard your music has been played?
The internet has enabled me to send discs all over the globe. For a while I tried to keep track of everywhere that was playing the music, but I lost track. If I had to name just one place, I would say Greece. There is a journalist/DJ there who has been a huge fan and supporter of the music since my group's first album. This is a long running joke with the guys because George Muscatello talks about his Greek heritage all the time. I think if we ever toured over there, he'd be some sort of rock star.
As we mentioned earlier, Michael Brecker has been a major influence on your sound; on Riverview, you cover Don Grolnick's "The Cost of Living," which Brecker also recorded. What was your approach to that song? Had you played it before, either with your band or with someone else?
Don Grolnick has always been one of my favorite composers, and that song in particular always struck a chord with me. I have some bootleg recordings of a show Brecker did at the Van Dyck that contain some incredible renditions of that song, and I added it to my repertoire just after he passed. We basically recorded the same arrangement that he was playing live and had recorded on his debut record.