Jack Phillips: Singer-Songwriter, Recording Artist

Jack Phillips is the leader of the Jack Phillips Band, a songwriter, a singer and a recording artist. He joined us to talk about his album Café Nights in New York, an album that was influenced in short by many nights of listening to the late great Bobby Short singing at the Cafe Carlyle in New York City.

His latest album features Eddy Davis and Conal Fowkes from the Eddy Davis New Orleans Jazz Band featuring Woody Allen.

Who is Jack Phillips?

Well (laughs), I have a running joke with Eddy Davis that I’m ‘John’ by day and ‘Jack’ by night. My name is John Phillips but there’s a famous musician from the Mamas and the Papas by that same name so a friend of mine in London said, “Why don’t you call yourself ‘Jack’?” So that was a couple of years ago I started doing that with my music. So, ‘Jack Phillips’ is supposedly unique in the music business so that’s who I am now, for music purposes.

Can you recall the first album you ever bought?

Oh yeah, sure. It was Elton John’s Greatest Hits. It was from 1974 and I purchased it the summer of ’75. It changed my outlook on music completely because up until that time, I really – I was 12 years old and I had no real exposure to pop music at all. I grew up with a family that only listened to classical music and I studied the piano in those days as a young child. And my mother was a great pianist. And suddenly, you know, I discovered this wild piano performer. My interest in pop music began at that point when I was 12. I remember very clearly when I purchased that record, sure.

Tell us about the influence, or the inspiration rather, for this new album that you have. It’s all original compositions. The title of this album is Café Nights in New York.

Well, I first made my first trip to New York in 1994, I recall. Back then, I had been to New York a few times before as a student but when I came with my wife in 1994 – we had a few days to spend in New York – there were at least three things that I wanted to do. One was to have dinner at the Russian Tea Room. Another was to go catch Woody Allen and the New Orleans Jazz Band at Michael’s Pub. And it was on that evening that I met Eddy Davis and the band. And the other was to go hear Bobby Short at the Café Carlyle. And I absolutely fell in love what Bobby Short was doing. I absolutely loved it. And over the next several years I would make repeated visits to the Café Carlyle. One evening in 1998, I was talking to Bobby and he introduced me to his drummer, Klaus Suonsaari, and we’ve been friends ever since. And so, I moved to New York in 2006 and, from frequenting the Café Carlyle at the end, this time Woody Allen was there – he was playing the Café Carlyle on Monday nights – and I got to know Eddy and the band, including Conal Fowkes. And I’ve been telling Eddy for years that we should do something, let’s just write something together. And it wasn’t until this last year that I got to actually take action and do something. And when Conal and I had at least a couple of tunes, we got together with Eddy and Eddy, you know, agreed to produce the album, and that’s where it really got started. But it was inspired by many, many evenings spent at the Café Carlyle listening to Bobby Short and all that, all that wonderful sophistication he brought to that scene in those days.

The producer, Eddy Davis. What is he like to work with?

(Laughs) Eddy’s fantastic. You know he comes from a composition background. He studied music theory and composition in school, and he’s a prolific writer. I’m willing to bet you he writes one or two songs every single day. And he’s just terrific. He knows so much about music. He knows the history of music and the business of music and orchestration and everything. He was terrific to work with. He understood what I was trying to do and I couldn’t have done it without him. He was the arranger and the producer on the record. I had a very vague idea of what I wanted to do when I was writing some of the material with Conal, but it was really, it was really Eddy’s genius that sort of fleshed it all out and created the beautiful arrangements that are on the album.

A lot of the songs, as you mentioned, they were also written with Conal Fowkes – a couple of them are anyways. What is he like to write with?

I got together with him at the piano and I had some vague ideas of what I wanted to do. I generally walked in with a lyric that I had written and I might have had, for example, the first line of a song. And it’s not that I can’t write music by myself. I do and I’ve written loads of pop songs but I don’t have the skill that Conal brings to it. Conal was able to help me think of chord progressions and chord changes that I couldn’t come up with myself. So he and I sat down together. I would sing the first line and he would help me think through, you know, where the song should go and give me some things to think about, and then it all just kind of felt better that way. The first song we did together was called I’ve got Sophistication Too and that just came together so beautifully.

Well, tell us about the inspiration behind the lyrics on that song, I’ve Got Sophistication Too.

Well, I think that harkens back to my recollections of studying time at the Café Carlyle and probably, more relevantly, listening to Bobby Short and the songs that he sang, many of which were written by Cole Porter and others, Rogers and hart and so forth. And maybe it’s influenced also by the movies of the ‘30s. If you can sort of imagine, you know, an old black and white film with people in tuxedos in their, in their penthouse apartments in New York, stirring martinis and so forth. And that was just all so glamorous to me, and that was kind of  the picture I wanted to paint throughout the album. I was trying to put a little glamour into the music.

There is another song on this album, it’s called The Old Grey Hat, which you wrote. Tell us about that song.

Well, that one was purely inspired by listening to Woody – Woody Allen and the Eddy Davis New Orleans Jazz Band – at the Café Carlyle. Woody has a very distinct style of playing the clarinet. He’s actually a tremendously good clarinetist. In fact, if you – you know, the proof of it, uh, you can watch an old Dick Cavett episode – it’s probably on YouTube – where he played some just terrific clarinet. But in recent times, Woody tries to play the clarinet in a very original, what Eddy calls the ‘crude’ style, very much the way it would have been played perhaps in 1917 or the very early ‘20s in New Orleans. And I was very taken by that. I really admire and appreciate what he’s doing in keeping old New Orleans jazz alive. In fact, if it wasn’t for Woody doing it, I’m sure there would be lots of people who would just not be aware of how great that music was. And so that – I took inspiration from that. I created a little piece of music that was similar in style to some of the pieces that they’ve played there. I, basically, lyric’d around a little motif from at least a couple of his films where he mentions in the films ‘the grey hat’ or ‘the gray het of compromise’ the grey hat of compromise. And so, I kind of wrote a little funny little lyric around that idea and that music that I hear them play at the Café Carlyle.

It’s a really interesting connection there because of, you know, the Café Carlyle, your love of Bobby Short who appears in the Woody Allen film, Hannah and Her Sisters, which makes me curious. Are you a fan of Mr. Allen’s films?

Sure. I do know what you’re talking about. I do know that scene from Hannah and Her Sisters and that was a terrific little appearance that Bobby made in that film. And, of course, Bobby has been in other films too. But yes, I do admire his film work very much. And I don’t think anybody alive has made me laugh quite so hard, and also think deeply about the meaning of life – or maybe, as Woody might say, ‘the lack of meaning of life.’

(Laughs) Do you have a favorite Woody Allen film?

Oh I don’t know. There’s just so many of them. But I was so tickled to have been invited to the Clinton’s … – you know, a couple of years ago when Conal recorded those beautiful Cole Porter pieces that were used last year in Midnight in Paris. And so, I have a great connection with that film. I had been in Paris just a few months before they shot that movie. It’s certainly one of my favorites right now.

Working our way back to your album, Café Nights in New York – our special guest, Jack Phillips – do you have a favorite song on this record?

I think they all, they’re all nice. I think, I think the one that Eddy and I collaborated on called Someone is very nice.

That is a good one.

We had not collaborated together on anything until we did that song together and I sat down at his piano and just came up with the first couple of notes – it was just, you know, it was just two notes. And those two notes suggested an after of, you know, another couple of notes, and Eddy and I said. ‘That’s good. We like that.’ And then because it was just two syllables, I just came up with the word ‘someone’ and we were off to the races. I mean, the song just fell together beautifully. I think Eddy did a marvelous job of arranging it. I think it’s a good song.

When someone listens to this album, Café Nights in New York, what do you want the listener to get from the experience?

Well, I hope that they’ll maybe be transported in time. Maybe they’ll remember a more sophisticated time – or should I say a more glamorous time? – that we all lived, when people went out for dinner, people dressed up for dinner, people when dancing. It was just a, maybe a more civilized time? I don’t know. I hope it, I hope it moves people.

What is the best thing about being Jack Phillips?

(Laughs) Oh, that’s funny. Gosh, I don’t know. Being married to my wife and having a beautiful 11-year old daughter. Those are certainly probably the best things about being Jack Phillips.

Do you see yourself delving more into music like this? Making recordings like this?

Well sure! I mean, if the public likes it, if  people get what I’m trying to do, I would absolutely love to do some more of this. I would love to work with Eddy again. I, you know, have a lot of interest. I would love to make another pop record. I would love to make a blues record. But I would absolutely love to do something along these lines again, sure.

For all the listeners out there who would like to find out more information, what web site can they go to?

JackPhillipsJazz.com

Alright, and that’s JackPhillipsJazz.com. My last question is open-ended. For anyone who’s listening to this broadcast, what would you like to say to all the people who are listening in?

Support great music. Support your kid’s interest in music. Go hear live music. They need your support. And it’s because of your support that we can do this.

Mr. Phillips, thank you very much for this interview. It’s been a real pleasure to speak to you.

Thanks so much, Paul, for having me.

TRANSCRIBED BY GAYLE BRAZDA.

Tom “Bones” Malone: Multi-instrumentalist

Tom “Bones” Malone specializes in the trombone, but also plays trumpet, tuba, tenor sax, baritone sax, flutes, piccolo and other instruments. He has been a member of the CBS Orchestra on The Late Show with David Letterman since 1993. As a recording artist he has released two solo albums Standards of Living and Soulbones. Tom “Bones” Malone is a member of the Blues Brothers Band and has played with the likes of Billy Joel, Gloria Estefan, Frank Zappa, Bette Midler, Ringo Starr, Paul Simon, Tony Bennett and too many bands and artists to name!

Ladies and gentlemen, it is our great pleasure to welcome the legendary, the one and only Tom “Bones” Malone. Thanks so much for joining us.
My pleasure, Paul

Who is the real Tom Malone?
Uh, a redneck kid from Mississippi, just started wearing shoes a couple of years ago.

(Laughs) Born in Mississippi. So what was life like growing up?
Well, I started driving a tractor when I was 11 years old. I had my own rifle when I was 11 years old. I milked cows every morning and every night and, uh, hauled hay, picked corn, worked hard in the fields. Uh, it was, uh – we grew everything that we ate except for coffee and rice.

And what kind of music did you grow up listening to?
Well, I started, uh, listening to the radio and it was mostly, uh, blues – rhythm and blues – and New Orleans rock and roll.

And what was your first musical influence that inspired you to want to pick up the horn?
When I was, uh, about 13, I went to the record store, having very little money – I had saved up enough money to buy one record – and this is, believe it or not, uh, this was about 1960, in Hattiesburg, MS there was a record store where you could listen to the vinyl record before you bought it. A vinyl record, uh, is a kind of a flat piece of, um, black vinyl about 12 inches in diameter. You put it on a turntable and it played music, similar to a CD. And, uh, so I listened to this record by a trombone player named Urbie Green and it totally flipped me out. So I bought this record, took it home and I literally learned how to play the trombone from listening to Urbie Green, playing this record and I would just play along with him. So he was my teacher, whether he knew it or not. And I played along with that record for about two years. So I have to credit Urbie Green as being my trombone teacher.

So what was it about the horn? What made you gravitate to it? What was it you liked about it?
I’m not sure, um, what it was. I, uh, I was in the sixth grade and I used to listen to the marching band rehearse on the football field outside my classroom window and I thought it would be cool to play in that band. So I went to – one day they made an announcement on the radio that anybody who’s interested in playing in the band should come to the band hall on Thursday night. So I showed up at the band hall with my brother and my mother and father. And the guy from the local instrument store had a display of instruments – nice new shiny brass instruments and woodwinds and stuff. So somehow I was strangely drawn to the trombone. I picked it up and I could already play a few notes on it. Uh, my father asked how much it was. They guy told him and my father said ‘Can’t afford it.’ and we started walking out the door. The band director grabbed me and said ‘The school owns a tuba. Would you like to play that?’ and I said yes. So I started playing the tuba. Then the following year we got a new band director who was a trombone player. He knew I was interested in playing the trombone so he loaned me his own horn one day. He says ‘Take this home and learn how to play it.’ He showed me where the positions were. So I did. I took it home and learned how to play it.

Well, tell us about your early days of playing with Brenda Lee.
Well I, I uh, I also started playing trumpet and saxophone, and I got a call one day when I was in college in Hattiesburg to play lead trumpet with Brenda Lee. I guess they didn’t have anybody in Jackson that could hit the, the high D. So, I hitch-hiked up every night and it paid $16.00 a night. I never got a ride back until the sun came up so I spent a lot of time thinking about the music business and a music career between 2 A.M. and 6 A.M. every morning that week. It was a great experience though. The music was great. Brenda Lee had, uh, her hit, I’m Sorry was out and her Rocking Around the Christmas Tree, uh, was a big hit at the time and – it was in December – so, uh, I thought I was in top of the world. And I didn’t mind all the hardship. I didn’t sleep much that week but, uh, I had a great time and, uh, just got more into being a musician.

You’ve played so many styles of music. Could you ever pick a favorite genre?
I just like music. To me it’s all sort of the same, whether it’s jazz, rhythm and blues, rock and roll, Latin, Jewish music, whatever it is – symphonic music, it’s all sort of the same to me. And there’s certain rhythmic differences and certain interpretation differences, as far as from the viewpoint of an instrumentalist but, uh, I like it all. And it doesn’t matter what instrument I play, I just like to play.

Well, speaking of liking it all, you’ve toured with acts as varied as Woody Herman, Doc Severinsen, and Frank Zappa. Which tour have you been on that was a favorite?
Uh, Blood, Sweat & Tears tour of Europe in 1973 was a big favorite of mine. And the five-week tour with the Blues Brothers in the United States, with John and Danny, in uh, around uh, in the vicinity of May and June 1980 was, uh, a special tour as well. Also playing with Billy Cobham’s band. We did a European tour and we did a West Coast tour where it was Billy Cobham and Weather Report. So those were, uh, those were memorable tours. And The Band from Woodstock – do you remember them, Paul?

Yeah, I’ve heard their recordings.
I, uh, played with them in the summer of ’76. And in the fall of ’76 we did the movie, The Last Waltz.

Amazing stuff. What was it like working with Frank Zappa?
Frank Zappa was an amazing guy and I really miss him. He died very young but – he died at 52 – and during his, uh, career he put out 60 albums. Uh, he was a crazy guy when he hit the stage but when he was off-stage he was like an organized businessman. He ran a very strict rehearsal, no fooling around. So, uh, he was kind of like two different personalities. But he was also a very nice guy off-stage, too. Like, if you went over his house to hang out he was very cordial and had a great sense of humor. And he was pretty much self-taught in his music.

I wanted to talk a little bit about Gil Evans. What was he like and how did he mold your life?
Gil Evans became my musical father. Um, I was in New York, I had this cheap apartment where I was crashing and, uh, a friend of mine from NorthTexasState, named Hannibal Marvin Peterson, came up to town. He was playing with Rahsaan Roland Kirk and he also started playing with Gil Evans. One night he had – he was crashing on my floor at my apartment on Broadway – uh, one night he had two gigs. The one with Rahsaan Roland Kirk was a paying gig and the other job, with Gil Evans, didn’t pay anything so he sent me in to play trumpet with Gil Evans. Uh, that night was Gil Evans’ 60th birthday. I met, uh, his son, Miles Evans, who was eight years old at the time. I also met several musicians who changed the rest of my life – a trombone player named Dave Bargeron, a trumpet player named Lew Soloff, um, David Sanborn, Howard Johnson, Herb Bushler, uh, Bruce Ditmas, Billy Harper – these are all people that opened doors for me for the rest of my life.

Now, you just listed several artists – and this is probably going to be a tough question – when I looked over at your bio and your resume, I couldn’t even list all the artists you’ve recorded and performed with. Is there any that have been especially thrilling?
Well, I was especially thrilled to play live and record with James Brown. He was always a hero of mine.Also, Little Stevie Wonder when he was 16. He was, uh, a big impression on me. He could play a bunch of different instruments so I figured “Well, why can’t I?’ Also, Ray Charles was a big inspiration to me. There’s lots of other people, too. It just goes on and on. Uh, I can’t really single anybody out as being the number one but I’m also very fortunate to have played with, uh, these music visionaries.

And you’ve also made recordings of your own songs, like the album Standards of Living. How did you pick out the songs for that?
Well, that was shortly after Gil Evans died. I played with Gil Evans from – uh, for the last 15 years of his life. He passed away at 75 and it was somewhat unexpected. Uh, I had many conversations with Gil about arranging and I actually arranged the songs that were on his albums, where he got the arranging credit and that, to me, was the ultimate compliment – to say that my arrangements were done by Gil Evans. Anyway, I, uh, wanted to play some jazz standards with musicians who had played with Gil Evans, who were in his regular band, and I wanted to replicate something of his voicing system. I came up with a, a Gil Evans voicing system and I put that into use on the album, Standards of Living.

Who is your favorite trombone player?
Wow, that is a tough question. I would have to start with Urbie Green, who taught me how to play. I’m also very impressed by the late J.J. Johnson. Bill Watrous, Conrad Herwig, uh, a 28 year old guy named Michael Dease up in New York. This guy is just amazing. Uh, and uh – wow – and uh, Bill Reichenbach in Los Angeles. Uh, there’s Jim Pugh. There’s an amazing number of great jazz trombone players up here. Robin Eubanks. Uh, wow – the list goes on and on.

You mentioned earlier about the Blues Brothers. What was your experience like with the Blues Brothers?
Uh, I started out with them from very, very first meeting about the Blues Brothers. I was the arranger for the Saturday Night Live band in 1978. I was called into a meeting with Danny and John. They came up with this concept of two guys who were orphans, that played blues and lived in Chicago, and they were sort of, uh, ne’er-do-wells. They wore the same size suit which was too big for one guy and too small for the other. They were just developing the characters at the time of this meeting. So, they wanted an arrangement of a song by James Cotton called Rocket 88. So I wrote out the arrangement and we rehearsed the band and we, we did the song for Lorne Michaels with the hopes of getting on Saturday Night Live that week. Well, we were not successful. We did not get on the show. The next week John and Danny and I met again and they were still hot on this idea of these two characters. So we – I wrote another arrangement of Hey Bartender. We did it for Lorne. Lorne said ‘Frankly, I don’t see anything funny about the Blues Brothers.’ So the following week we did not make the show. The third week, after read-through, Lorne said ‘The show is three minutes short. What are we going to do?’ He’s tearing his hair out. John and Danny jumped on him and said ‘Lorne – the Blues Brothers!’ So we got on the show. The response from the audience was amazing. We got letters and cards and phone calls which led to another performance of the Blues Brothers. Pretty soon, we had a record deal with Atlantic Records. We formed a band that was separate from the Saturday Night Live band, and went out to Los Angeles and did a live recording. The recording sold three million copies. And we got – then Danny started writing a movie script and the next thing you know, we’re doing a movie. And this was all from an idea that almost didn’t get on the air in the first place, almost never got off the ground. So – and also, I have to say that Danny and John were very nice to keep all the musicians in the movie. In most Hollywood productions of this sort, uh, they would get the band to do the sound track and then get some actors pretend to be the musicians. But Danny and John said ‘No. We’re not doing this unless the band comes with us.’ So I have, uh, Danny and John to thank for being in that movie, The Blues Brothers. John told me one day that he was going to make me the most famous trombone player since Jimmy Dorsey. And uh, as most of you know, Jimmy Dorsey was a saxophone player. (Laughs) So I never had, never had the heart to tell John that part of it because I knew what he meant. (Laughs) He was really, uh, a big-hearted guy and if he decided you were his friend, you were his friend for life, and he was a faithful friend and, uh, I really miss the guy.

What do you think about the album Briefcase Full of Blues?
Uh, it’s a, it’s a live album. It was recorded at the Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles. At the time, the Universal Amphitheater was an outdoor venue and uh, there were, there was a lot of edits in that album. There were nine nights of performance and the producer, Bob Tischler, uh, incorporated at least three nights’ performance into each song. He would find the best verse and the best chorus and the best instrumental, the best intro, and he, uh, after listening to all these things carefully So there was a lot of post-production as far as the editing of this album was concerned. But I have to say that it is one of my favorite albums and there are a lot of hard-core Blues Brothers fans out there that agree with me.

How did you get hooked up with Paul Shaffer?
Well, Paul Shaffer and I met, uh, at Saturday Night Live when the show started in 1975. I was a member of the Saturday Night Live band from, uh, the very beginning for the first 10 years, and I was also the musical director, from ’81 to ’85, for the last four years of that 10 years. Uh, so Paul was the piano player on the original show and we met and we’ve been good friends ever since. Paul also – Paul and I also became the arranging team. If there was any comedy team that needed some music, Paul and I would rehearse with the actors and actresses and, uh, make a tape and then I would write an arrangement based on the format that we did in the rehearsal. So we’ve been, actually, an arranging team for quite a few years. Um, so Paul, um – later, later when I was a music director I got a call from a lady named Liz Anderson, who was my unit manager at NBC – she filled out the union contracts – she says ‘I have a new job.’ I said ‘Congratulations. What is that?’ and she says ‘I’m the associate producer of the David Letterman Show.’ And I said ‘What is that?’ She said ‘You’ve never seen it. It comes on real early in the morning, like seven in the morning. But we’re going to move the show to late-late night and I understand that – I know that you already have a job, Tom – but can you recommend somebody to lead a four-piece band and be a personality?’ Paul Shaffer had just returned from Los Angeles – he was in a sitcom called A Year at the Top with Greg Evigan. So Paul was sort of – after that show got cancelled, he was sort of just right back in town with not much going on, so I gave her Paul Shaffer’s phone number. Uh, two or three weeks later, I just happened to see them on the network feed rehearsing downstairs for this new David Letterman show, with a great band – with Hiram Bullock, Will Lee and Steve Jordan. Will Lee, as you may know, is still with the Letterman show, and Steve Jordan was the original drummer with the Blues Brothers. So, uh, Paul and I go way, way, way back. Uh, it was coincidental that Paul called me to join his band at CBS in 1993, when the show moved from NBC to CBS. And I never told Paul that story until after I was working here at CBS.

Is there someone in the CBS orchestra you feel a closer friendship with?
Well, uh, of course Paul ‘cause we go way, way back. And, uh, Will Lee, uh, and I were neighbors down in Greenwich Village for 20 years and, um, I have to say that, uh, he and I are very close friends. We’re also playing in a band called that Fab Faux for about 13 years now. It’s a Beatles cover band, based out of New York but we’ve been playing all over the United States. It’s, uh, five guys including Will Lee and Jimmy Vivino that, uh, sing and play the rhythm instruments. We also have, uh, a four-piece horn section and a violin and a viola – excuse me, a violin and a cello – that play with us and supplement the string synthesizer. So, it’s the only Beatles cover band that I know of that does the huge George Martin production songs like Penny Lane, Got to Get You into My Life, uh, Yesterday – all the real, uh, super duper, uh, arranged songs. The Beatles never performed those songs live because they could not – they didn’t have the extra instruments.

I keep waiting for you guys to come to Atlanta (laughs).
It’s just a matter of time. Do you know any promoters?

Uh, (pauses) I might. Let me do some thinking on that.
Let’s hook it up.

Who has been your favorite guest musician to play with on the Letterman show?
Wow! Well, there have been so many over the years but I guess it comes back to, again, to Ray Charles and James Brown. But I also, uh, enjoyed playing a song with Blues Traveler and um, um, Aerosmith – oh my god, now the list goes on and on and on. It’s really hard to, uh, nail me down on some of these questions, Paul, but they are very intelligent questions and I wish I had a really, really exact one-word answer.

If you could put it into words, what is it you like about music?
Wow. Everything. Uh, I like the rhythms and the harmony and I like playing and I like listening to it, uh, and uh, I just like everything about music.

I have two final questions for our special guest, Tom “Bones” Malone. What is your all-time favorite meal?
My all-time favorite meal?

Yes, sir.
Catfish.

‘Cause you’re a Mississippi guy?
I think, yes, my redneck is showing (laughs).

My last question for Mr. Tom “Bones” Malone: what would you like to say to all of our listeners?
Uh, to all your listeners I’d like to say keep listening to good music.

Well spoken. Well, Mr. Malone it’s been great to connect with you.
It’s totally my pleasure, Paul. We’ve been trying to schedule this for quite a while and, uh, it’s really a pleasure to talk with you.

TRANSCRIBED BY GAYLE BRAZDA

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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