Alan Chez: Instrumentalist

This is an interview with trumpet and flugelhorn player Alan Chez. He was a member of Paul Shaffer’s CBS Orchestra starting in 1997. Recently he has started his own band: Al Chez and the Brothers of Funk Big Band. He has also toured with Bon Jovi, Robert Cray, Tower of Power, Young Rascals, Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Maynard Ferguson, Eric Clapton, Dave Edmunds Band, Ben E. King, Sam & Dave as well as other artists and bands.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is with great pleasure we welcome Mr. Alan Chez, trumpet and flugelhorn player with the CBS Orchestra for The Late Show with David Letterman. He also has his own project: Al Chez and The Brothers of Funk Big Band. How are you doing Mr. Chez?

I’m hanging in there. How are you this evening?

It’s great to do this and I’m having a good evening. So, my first question: who is Alan Chez?

Alan Chez – who am I? I’m my mother’s son. Trumpet player, New York City, born and raised in New Jersey, son of Peter Chez who was a country and western singer – called himself Chet Peters. My father was always going around the house playing the guitar and, you know, and singing and doing gigs, uh, with my mom, you know, being a background singer in New Jersey – in Jersey City and Newark area way back when. And then, uh, they started – when I was like nine years old, they had started a, uh, drum and bugle corps in our area. And my two older brothers got involved in that and, of course, when I grew up I wanted to be just like my older brothers which, when I turned nine, got involved and uh, basically got most of, I’d say my chops and musicianship and, from that activity.

Can you remember your earliest musical loves, your favorite musicians?

I’m a Louis Armstrong fan, OK? Only because the one thing about Louis that was so cool – there’s nobody has ever sounded like him since, you know what I mean? Who did Louis Armstrong sound like? Louis Armstrong sounded just like Louis Armstrong. He didn’t copy anybody and there’s nobody, really, who has gotten that individualistic sound down. And that’s what I think is very important in music. We have so many clones today, you know? The kids that are going to college for music and learning X’s and O’s. You know, there is no X’s and O’s, there is no right or wrong, there’s only good and bad, you know, in my book. I have students and kids that come up to me and, you know, ‘Mr. Chez what kind of horn do you use?’ ‘What kind of mouthpiece do you use?’ It really doesn’t matter. There’s no right and wrong, there’s no X’s and O’s, it’s just good and bad. And Louis was great – he wasn’t even ‘good’ but his individualism of approaching music is something that I try to take with my playing whenever I play. I don’t want to sound like anybody except for myself.

Very interesting. Well, with what you said about Louis Armstrong, I have to ask what do you think about Chuck Mangione?

I love Chuck Mangione. I’m a huge Chuck Mangione fan (laughs). I’ve seen him play a couple of times and I have all of his music on, uh, on albums – I’m dating myself here – I have albums and eight-tracks and cassettes and the whole thing. I don’t think he got the props. He’s a great player, a great soloist. And, you know, guys listen to him, yeah ‘Does Chuck Mangione have the hard chops of Maynard Ferguson and, you know, some of these other, you know, guys?’ No, but who cares? There’s so much more to playing a horn than playing high notes, you know what I mean? He had so – he could so – and some of the most beautiful music to come out of a horn that I’ve ever heard.

Definitely a great writer of music as well.

Oh, you know Bellavia and Chase the Clouds Away – oh my goodness! (Laughs) You know? I listen to him and the beauty of his tunes – and the beauty of any great tune – you could be in your car and you put on that CD or that song comes on the radio, and then it just, it takes you back to a time – it takes you back to a smell, to a, to a memory, to a, you know, a period of your life. And just in, in eight bars you’re back there, you know what I mean? Chuck does that to me all the time. I’ll be driving and all of a sudden I’ll hear the beginning of Children of Sanchez (makes rhythmic sounds) and I’ll sound like ‘Oh my god, it’s 1979 again. Here we go.’ You know? And I’m, I’m remembering the people I hung out with, and the smells – that’s what it’s about for me.

When somebody listens to your music, what do you hope that the people that are listening – whether it’s on a recording or whether you’re with the CBS Orchestra or with your own project – what do you want the listener to get out of the experience of listening?

I want them to have fun. You know, music basically came from celebration. My life, I’m walking around – I’ve got my family crazy – I’m whistling and, you know, I’m a whistler so I’m always going around, you know, whistling around my house. I’ll go to the supermarket and my daughter will be “Dad – stop.’ You know? ‘Stop whistling.’ you know? (Laughs) And I’m basically a pretty upbeat, happy person and when I have somebody hear me play I want them to feel the celebratory part of me. I want them to feel good about themselves. I want my music to go through their body and hit their soul and make their soul shine.

What a great answer. Now, I understand you were born in Jersey City, New Jersey.

Yes, sir.

And you continue to live in New Jersey.

I’ve always played in New York City and I’ve always lived in Jersey so, to me, I always have to come into the city. I always have to commute in, do my gigs and then, at the end of the night, drive home. I’ve done it since I was, you know, since I was 16 years old. Actually, when I was 15 years old I went the other way. I lived in central Jersey. I started a band with Jon Bon Jovi when I was 15 years old called the Atlantic City Expressway. And we, we had become the house band down at the Stone Pony and the Fast Lane in Asbury Park. And whenever Edgar Winter would come out or Rick Derringer or the Southside Johnny or Bruce Springsteen – we were the warm-up band for them but we were only 15 or 16 year-old kids. But we would get rides down there from somebody’s mom and dad, ‘cause we weren’t old enough to drive, never mind, you know, being in the club playing, but we always had to commute.

Now tell us a little bit about your project, Al Chez and the Brothers of Funk Big Band.

I don’t want this to come off the wrong way, OK? Because, you know, when you get to a certain – I’m not going to say ‘level’ because I don’t like to use levels, and I don’t like to use ‘different players’, ‘this player is better than this one’ but when, when you do certain gigs, when you do a lot of gigs and you meet a lot of different musicians – let’s put it that way – everybody’s good. Everybody can play. The guys I like to play with, I don’t care how good they are, I want guys that can hang. I want guys that I’m gonna laugh with. I want guys that I’m gonna have fun with, that I’m gonna sit next to ‘em and I’m gonna look across the stage and I’m gonna say ‘Man, this guy is having a great time’ and, because he’s having a great time, he’s making me have a great time. Well, that’s what the Brothers of Funk are. They are a bunch of my buddies from Syracuse, New York. We go out and do these big band gigs and play Maynard Ferguson and Stan Kenton charts. We have a blast. I get to sing a couple of songs in it, too, which is nice. I get to express myself, vocally which, uh, is a lot of fun. You know, playing out there with your friends and trying to get people’s souls to shine – for me, you can’t buy anything better.

Just hearing you talk, it’s very obvious you’re very passionate about music.

Well, how can you not be? You know, anything that could, that could change your emotions in eight bars, of hearing something for eight bars – you could be in a terrible mood and listen to a piece of music for 15 minutes, not even 15, 15 seconds and it could change your whole day. That’s powerful. To me, that’s more powerful than any drug or alcoholic product that I’ve ever heard about.

Well, with that said, if you could put it into words, what is it you like about music?

First of all, I don’t like music – I love music. I love music, and it’s not the notes and the rhythms and how hard a lick is or how high the note is or the level of the player – it’s a feeling. It’s just a powerful change of emotion. One of the only things in this world that I believe that can really reach in and touch your soul – that’s what music is to me.

Wow. Well, you know, I was reading about one of the gigs that you had in 1999, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonies. And that just seems like a mind-blowing kind of event: Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Eric Clapton and Elton John.

That was a good one.

(Laughs) Yeah! So, I mean, you can’t get much better than that. I hope you can at least tell us a few of your recollections about that event.

We’ve done the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with, uh, Paul Shaffer and the CBS Orchestra for – boy, we must have done the last 24 or 25 of them. We do them every year. That one was a really good one because, being a Jersey boy – come on. Bruce Springsteen. Playing in New York. Billy Joel. They’re all my guys. They’re all the guys, when I went to high school that’s what I was listening to. And to say that Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel are influences of mine, which they are, is kind of strange because I’m a trumpet player. And you don’t – you wouldn’t really think of Bruce Springsteen or Billy Joel as an influence to a trumpet player but they’re in there. They both created music that has touched me in ways that when I create music and when I play music, I come back to that. You know, that gig was really good. Bruce Springsteen played a couple of songs. I don’t know what song it was we played – it was 1999. We played one song with them and then we weren’t playing anymore with them. And he played a couple of songs with just his band, and all of a sudden he went into Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out. And the horns looked at each other, we’re like you know, come on. We played this song a thousand times in cover bands growing up. Let’s go. And we just played it with Springsteen, and he turned around when the horns came in with a look of ‘I love you guys.’ (Laughs) You know? So that was – it was great. It was great.

It sounds it. Take all the listeners back to the time that you met Paul Shaffer and Will Lee. That was 1986. What was your impression of these gentlemen when you met them?

Well, those are the guys – those are the cats. You know, Paul Shaffer – Paul Shaffer is a genius. He has an encyclopedia in his head of music that is second to none. And Will, Will is just a bass machine. Just knowing them from and seeing them on TV and knowing their reputation – I, I really didn’t know them, either of them, personally – me and Bruce Kapler, the saxophone player on The Letterman Show – we were playing in a club and Will and Paul were going to the club. They had heard about us from another friend of theirs and they were going out – when the Letterman show does reruns, which is about 10 weeks a year, they do reruns – the band was going to do gigs, like jazz festivals, and they wanted to hire a horn section. I think they wanted to hire the Tower of Power horns and then they heard me and Bruce play and they said that us two, the two of us, are – I’m trying not to compare us to the Tower of Power horns ‘cause I did that gig too and that was a heck of a lot of fun – but the two of us sounded like five horn players and that’s why they hired us to get involved with that.

Now, just being in this band, the CBS Orchestra, you guys get to play with some of the best musicians in the world, and there has to be so many surreal experiences there, but if you had to name one – if it’s possible to name one – tell us about the one artist you played with where you had to pinch yourself and say ‘Tell me this is real.’ (Laughs)

I have two and being a trumpet player, the first one – Maynard Ferguson. I was out on the road doing the Bon Jovi/Aerosmith rock and roll tour. I was 23 years old. I had a pair of tight leather pants. I had a big long perm (laughs) and I’m going into my car and I’m listening to Maynard Ferguson records (laughs), CDs. And to get to play with Maynard after all that time was, you know, for a trumpet player, come on. That was great. Another trumpet player, Arturo Sandoval, who came on the show – you know, Arturo, he’s the man – to me, that’s the greatest trumpet player, uh, living today. You know, he’s, that guy can do it all. And he’s coming on the show. We’re playing Night in Tunisia and we’re, you know, Sandunga, and all these different tunes of his. And I go home and I know that, a couple of days before, I know he’s going to be on the show, and I find out what tunes he’s going to play and I get the CDs and I get the chart and, you know, and I go in my studio and I practice and I practice, and I get it down. And, of course, I’m learning the second trumpet part because it’s Arturo Sandoval. Well, I get to the Letterman show and I get my charts and I put them up there, and I get them on my stand and he walks up there, as nice as can be, and he says ‘How are you doing? How are you?’ And he looks at my charts and he goes, uh ‘You have second trumpet part there.’ I say “Yes, yes, yes. You know, I’ve gone over them, you know. I’ve practiced, you know, and I hope I’m going to do you justice.’ He goes ‘Oh no. Oh no.’ He goes ‘You young man, me old man. You play first trumpet part.’ (Laughs)

Oh, wow.

And I did. I was, like, oh boy, here we go! (Laughs) And absolutely had a blast with him. What a nice man, what a great gentleman, and what an ambassador to music he is.

I’ve had the chance to interview a couple of your fellow band-mates on the show – Anton Fig, Bruce Kapler, and uh, there’s a couple more that have expressed interest. So I’d like to know, is there someone in the band that you feel closer to?

Probably Bruce Kapler. Me and Bruce have played together – oh boy, we started in a band, La Bamba and the Hubcaps – I think it was 1982? So I’ve been playing in different projects with Bruce. My first Letterman show in 1986, backing up Toni Childs was me and Bruce Kapler. The Jon Bon Jovi Slippery When Wet tour was, you know, it was four horns. Bruce was on that with me. Uh, we’ve just done a lot of stuff together. He’s like my older brother. I love him.

Here’s the mushy part of the show. When we asked Bruce that question, he said ‘Alan Chez.’

(Laughs) Wait ‘til I see him.

Well, you know, there’s an album project that you have planned for the summer of 2010 and so, tell all the listeners out there about the album project. And also, there’s a fan page where they can keep up with you – I just joined the fan page on Facebook page – so tell everyone about that, how they can, uh, find out more about the world of Alan Chez.

We’re starting to go in the studio with the Al Chez and Brothers of Funk Big Band, trying to get material together, you know, some cover tunes, some original material, trying to put something together and just get it out there. There’s different kinds of big bands, you know, there’s the high-powered big bands, there’s the swing big bands, there’s the Michael Bublé big bands. I want a big band like I’ve been saying, you know – that reaches into your heart, touches your soul, massages it and then lets you on your way. And that, through my music and the music that we create with the Brothers of Funk, makes you feel like you’re a better person. That’s my goal. Now, how do we do that? We’re working on it (laughs) but that’s my goal. That’s my goal. It’s not to just to have somebody say ‘Hey, I like that tune.’ I want it to affect you. You know the tune, you know. You hear (sings) ‘I can see clearly now the rain has gone …’ You listen to a certain song like that, if you don’t feel great when that song is over, you’ve got to listen harder (laughs), if that’s the case. I want to create that type of music. Like I said, it’s not a million notes, it’s not the hardest, it’s just a feeling. You know what I’m talking about?

Yeah, absolutely.

That’s what we’re going for with the Brothers of Funk. On Facebook, there’s a Brothers of Funk fan page. Come on on, you know, get on there. Come and say hello, drop me a note. Some people made us these really, really great T-shirts that we have for sale on that site also. They’re black T-shirts. On the front is says ‘Al Chez and the Brothers of funk Big Band’ and on the back it just simply says ‘We want to’ and then in big letters it says ‘FUNK YOU’ (laughs). I know you want one. I’ll send you one (laughs).

(Laughs) Yeah, yeah I do. You’re a mind-reader. (Laughs) I have two final questions before we go. What is your all-time favorite meal?

I’ve got to go with a big bucket of crawfish. That would be me. A big Cajun meal. Crawfish etouffee or live crawfish and some red beans and rice and some bread on the side. Right there, that’s my guy.

I’m going down to New Orleans in a couple of weeks so you’re getting me psyched for it.

(Laughs) Go to Mother’s right there on Bourbon Street and just go nuts – go nuts for me.

All right (laughs). Well, my last question: this broadcast goes out all over the world. What would you like to say to all the people that are listening in?

I would like to say life is an easy thing if you let it. Just relax and let life come to you, you know? There’s a lot of uptight peoplein this world and one of these things we do as musicians, which I think we should do as musicians – kind of living for the sake of living. It’s a beautiful world out there, man, and most days are really beautiful if you let them. There’s a thing called a ‘10/90’ program, OK? It’s not a program, it’s just a belief, and it is that 10% of the things that happen to you, there’s nothing that you can do about those 10% of things. They’re going to happen to you. You’re going to hit a red light. You’re going to run into somebody you really don’t care for, you know? But the 90%, it’s what you do with that 10% that’s been given to you, you know, that you can’t change. Yeah, you hit a red light. So put on the radio and groove, you know what I mean? You see somebody that you don’t like? Well, drop it, you know? And go up to them and say ‘Hey, what’s happening?’ You know what I mean? I’m all for the positive of everything. Have a great day. Have the most awesome day that you could possibly have. You know why? Because tomorrow, that day is gone. You only get one day at a time. You only get one day a day. And everybody should try their best to make that the best day that they can.

That’s very well put. Well, Mr. Chez, thank you so much for this interview. On behalf of all of our listeners, it’s been great.

TRANSCRIBED BY GAYLE BRAZDA

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