A Conversation with Narada Michael Walden
Mike Ragogna: Narada, as The Beatles almost would say, "You say you want an Evolution. Well, you know, we all want to change...ourselves!"
Narada Michael Walden: [laughs] Yeah, that is true, brother. I love that song. That was our high school theme song in 1970.
MR: And your recording career has been a bit revolutionary as well as evolutionary, so yeah! Evolution the album is a culmination of your previous work. How did you get to this point creatively?
NMW: I think the big shift forward was having a new family in my life with new children, which is an incredible blessing. I think it really spawned the creativity for this particular project. Being up on the night shift with the bottles and the diapers and helping with teething and all that kind of thing. It's all mind-opening to me, it's all a new experience and it made me write some happy music and it also lit a fire under me, now I've got to keep this thing going like a young man would, take care of my family for the future. I think a fire got lit, bro.
MR: A fire was lit for you for your whole career! For the amount of achievement that you have and the approach you take producing records, everything that you've done to this point has been energized. And now, with your daughter, you've got someone in your life, which is energizing you from another perspective. How is that energizing you personally, spiritually and creatively?
NMW: To answer your question, in every way. In every way, I have been pushed forward. Here I am right now in the studio back around my drums again at full scale, back to practicing my drums so I can go to New York City next week and play the Iridium and blow people out in New York, light a fire over there with my new music, Evolution and my old hits and some fusionary music that I did early in my life from Jeff Beck and Mahavishnu Orchestra to all that stuff. It's like a full circle in a way. I feel spiritually reinvented, I feel musically reinvented, I feel happy, but I want to say this too: I always knew that music was a gift in my life because I could play music at a very early age, but I also felt early on in my life a connection to the creator, to God, and that music is a gift that I should be happy to have and make others happy with it. That's what I'm also wanting to say to you when you ask about how I feel spiritually, I feel really energized to get out and make others happy with my happiness. That's what I'm talking about.
MR: Your cover of "Long And Winding Road" clearly has a personal meaning to it. Was it maybe about the long and winding road to get to your sweet family life? Your daughter?
NMW: There are a few reasons for that song. One, the one you just stated. Two, I lost a very close brother to me, he was one year and three days younger than me, Ronnie passed away about two years ago, so that's been on my heart. I always think about him gone up in heaven and then here I am, and I talk to him, the song "Long And Winding Road" is also about the people you miss, you've been left here and there's a lot of longing in life, and then also thirdly when I was on the road with Jeff Beck in 2012 we went around the world and Jeff and I both love that song. I cut it for an album because I thought we might use it back in that time, have Rod Stewart sing on it or something like that, but that didn't pan out at the time. When I was making this album I thought, "I've always loved that song, I'll just sing that song and do it." As you said, though, it is about my family, and it has been a long and winding road to get to this point. I also want to say, that's a badass jam. Paul McCartney and them cats threw down, man. I have to give them a lot of love and a lot of credit, man. They brought black artists, black music to the forefront. They told us when they came out that Mary Wells from Motown was their favorite female vocalist and that Little Richard was their favorite male artist. I went to catholic school and all my little white friends went, "What? Who? Who's Little Richard? Who's Mary Wells?" So The Beatles to me have always been on the cutting edge of not only music, but telling the truth about things.
MR: On Evolution, you also covered Richie Havens' "Freedom."
NMW: Yes, brother.
MR: What made you choose that song? Do you have an admiration for him?
NMW: Yes, very much so. In college his album Mixed Bag was out and "Baby Blue" was on there and some other pieces, I like them when he gets kind of sad. I'm a fan. Then I met Richie and one of the last shows he played before he died was in Mill Valley, California, about ten minutes from where I am now, he played the Throckmorton Theatre and of course there he was just doing his thing beautifully. Afterwards I went and hung out with him again and he was such a sweet and humble guy. Then I read a story about how "Freedom" came to be. At Woodstock, the band that was supposed to follow him got all messed up, and he had to buy time to get them on stage, so he did like six encores. For the sixth encore, he just started vamping on "Freedom For The People" and he wove into it some of his gospel things he learned as a little kid, but it's all made up, man! I just love that. He was just making things up to entertain all those folks at Woodstock and get their minds where they needed to be at that time, which was to be free. So here we are now in 2015 and I think it's very much the same way. We need to be inspired to be free in our thinking and open in our hearts. So first of all it's homage to Richie Havens the great and keep his memory alive and keep that great spirit that he gave us going forward.
MR: Nice, that's a beautiful answer, my friend. Oh, and I guess we could've given Billy Preston a shoutout as the fifth Beatle.
NMW: I want to, now that you bring it up. Let me just say I had a chance to work with Billy Preston, we did a thing honoring Al Green a few years ago in a TV studio. I got a chance to play many songs with Billy, what a sweet man. His breath smelled like cotton candy. To shake his hand was very soft. He was from another world. He played all the stuff, all the blues and all the happy stuff, but he was an extremely tender human being, which I would never had known if I hadn't hung out with him.
MR: I imagine there are many artists you would've loved to produce. Is he one of them?
NMW: Oh absolutely. I would've been at his feet. Right now, five yards from me is the ...Bangladesh with George Harrison, that concept he put together with George and it's phenomenal. He also inspired George to write "My Sweet Lord," and he kept The Beatles together, man.
MR: That's very true and not well-known. So let's look at your single "Billionaire On Soul Street," plus the remixed version that closes the album. I guess because you're so happy with your life right now, this song is like your anthem.
NMW: All I can do is reflect to you that in the inspiration for the music of it, I put some Curtis Mayfield. His sound out of Chicago hit me really powerful. I thought, "How do you make this song a hit?" Well my psyche said, "Curtis Mayfield would turn that out." I just borrowed from my imagination. "What would I hear Curtis Mayfield do, man?" And that's what I did, I just jumped on it.
MR: Is that what you do every time you do productions?
NMW: Yeah, every time, you're right.
MR: Can you give me another couple of examples from the album?
NMW: Well, "Baby's Got It Going On" is a Rick James moment. I think if Rick was with me now, living in the studio, I remember how happy he was in the studio, he'd play everything real loud, everything was real powerful, it was real strong like an NFL linebacker, it had that kind of punch, like a knockout blow. Rick would say to me, "Narada, if I play drums like you play I would write so many songs." He would always talk to me like that. "I would just be writing all the time if I could play the drums like you play." Rick's no longer with us, so I said, "I'll do something for Rick." So I went to my drum set and went to my imagination of what Rick would do with me and out came that jam "Baby's Got It Going On."
MR: It's like having a guest on the album without actually having them be on it.
NMW: Yes, that is definitely true.
MR: What's the story behind "Tear Down The House"?
NMW: Lionel Ritchie and I wrote that together many years ago and I thought, "Well, now's a good time to take that song and revamp it," because I love message of it. I took it and reworked it, it's nice to have something with Lionel helping me. He also helped me write "Me And My Girl."
MR: What about "It's The Sixties"?
NMW: That's really me as a hippie. I love beautiful women with their beautiful hair in the sunlight and their smiles and their fingernails and their legs, everything about them is so beautiful, how God created women is just mind-blowing. So when I think of the sixties I think of the women of the sixties and how their beauty inspired all of these men to write these beautiful songs and just do their very best to turn them on. I think about the sunlight coming through their hair, the meadows and the flowers and the beauty of the whole thing. I'm very romantic in that regard. When I think about the sixties I think, "Yes, touch upon all these things that we did in the sixties, we thought hard for each other and opened up our hearts to each other, we tried to become the stronger people for each other, we crossed a lot of racial barriers in the sixties and tried our best to be drug-enhanced and actually embrace each other. The music showed that. Hendrix showed that. Beatles showed that. Everybody coming forward had a message to try to push the thing forward in their own regard. So my homage to the sixties right now is because it's still happening right now. When I'm watching television, when I'm watching the news, we're trying to do our very best to bring us back together again. My music, our music, is part of the fabric. We need that like we need to brush our teeth. That's all I'm saying man. It's on many levels, women's hair in the sunlight and all the beauty of the sixties meets now, and let's do our very best to love each other--as corny as you can say that sounds is as necessary as it is.
MR: When you see the nastiness coming out of the candidates for the leadership of our country, it's the most hateful rhetoric I've ever heard. I think you're so right about the sixties bringing everyone together, but it seems that things go well for so long and then they fall apart and you have to bring it all back to where they need to be.
NMW: Yes, man, I completely agree with that, because nothing stays the same. It's either going forward and getting better or slipping back and getting worse. Because of that gravity and that universal concept we have to keep pushing on and speak up our mind about things. If you don't speak up about things and say, "This is not right," it slips back and you become part of the ignorance.
MR: And you can almost see how it happens out of good intention as well. Sometimes the people who aren't fighting for what's right are just happy in the moment because of everything that's been achieved and it's hard to pull them out of their complacency and tell them the fight's not over.
NMW: Mm-hmm! Well, the universe has a way of waking everyone up a little bit. It's just nature. My mom taught me kindness is everything, so I want also for my music to re-inspire kindness.. Kindness is something incredible that allows a person to open their heart and be nice to each other so we can make progress as a people. You mentioned before about the rudeness and how evil people are coming off, it's mind blowing on that level. We could all use a dose of kindness to relax and take a few breaths and be humane with each other and work things out.
MR: Narada, when you look at the productions you've had over the many years, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Diana Ross, you have been a voice of positivity. It seems like there's a sort of light associated with your records.
NMW: Each one of those records I pray on before I even go into the studio and during the making of. I put a candle or many candles in the studio, put some flowers, inspire my artists with it and the same implications so they can feel calm and they can do their best. It's very intimidating to be a recording studio, mine or any others, it's just the nature of the beast to stand in front of the microphone. The whole process can be kind of daunting. When you relax the artist and burn the candle or incense, give the gift of a teddy bear or anything like that that person can relax to do their very best and you let that spirituality, that light that you spoke of take precedence. The light you're speaking of is actually the spirit, the soul, it's real and if you invoke it and say, "Spirit, come be with us, soul, open up and come be with us," then it will, but you have to prepare yourself for it. The atmosphere must be clean, the spirit won't open up if there's a bunch of trash and rubbish and bullshit, there's got to be a little friendly candle or a flower, and then when God walks into the room you're able to get God on those tapes and on those machines. That's exactly how I feel about it.
MR: Did the artists who you've worked with grow along with you and experience what you're talking about?
NMW: Oh, yeah. It's like being on a card drive together. "We're going to drive from here to Philadelphia together," and you enjoy the whole trip. You enjoy stopping for lunch, or putting more gas in the car, and also the conversations. You hear how they felt about their grandparents and how they feel about their mother and father and then you tell them your life story, where you left home when you were sixteen years old and how you had to work in a sanitarium to make money. You bond. The studio is like being a therapist because all the things that inspire you and trouble you all come out in the studio. In fact, that's why I pray on what I'm going to do. In Whitney's case, I go the piano and play "Walk On By" or "Alfie," one of those things Dionne would've sung and she sings those things and that kind of relaxes her. "Okay, now I'm ready to go and tackle this new song, which I may not even know that well yet because I've been on the road, I've been traveling."
MR: Narada, what advice do you have for new artists?
NMW: Be kind. Like I just said a minute ago. It's underestimated, the power of kindness. I don't care how great you are, if you're not a nice person I don't want to be around you. On the same hand if you're kind and you take time to know how I'm doing and you listen and we can have a rapport then I'm more apt to give whatever I can do for you and whatever you can do for me and we build on things. Truthfully, this is a long business to be in. From the time you're writing a song to recording the song to putting it out in the world, you want to have a longstanding relationship with people--at least I do. So I'm looking for kindness, I'm looking for somebody I can get along with who will like me and I'll like them and we'll respect each other and if I say, "You're flat, you're sharp," they don't take it personally, they say, "Okay, let's do that again." I'm not trying to berate them with my power as a producer. I'm ever aware that we're both here to serve the music. The music is the most important thing, and the music tells us what it needs, like a baby. When you first meet Aretha Franklin you get really intimidated, because I did, and you do, and you would. When you look into her eyes you see fire burning and you will get intimidated. But when your song comes on, it nullifies it, because now she's there to do her best with that song, I'm here to do my best with that song, and our best pours out together and now we're the best of friends working on the same project. I've seen it happen time and time again.
MR: Considering the time you spent with Whitney Houston and the important spot you held had in each other's lives, do you still carry her passing with you?
NMW: I carry her memory with me daily. She was the one that I knew getting involved in the beginning that it would be an incredible ride. At first, I said no, I didn't even have time to work with Whitney because I was so engaged in producing Aretha Franklin's albums, but the company was so insistent, they said, "No, Narada, you want to make time to work with Whitney. She's Cissy's daughter," and of course Cissy Houston was very close to me from my first album Garden Of Love Light, she sang background on that album. They said, "Whitney's going to be a big star and you'd better just take time." So we worked together on a song called "How Will I Know." In working with her in New York I was just completely moved. I saw what everybody was talking about. It was just that she was so strikingly beautiful, just from the start there you would look at her and be like, "Wow, you are just flawless." Then she goes into the studio and started singing "How Will I Know." I wrote the song to have a really high note at the very beginning and she just nails it and keeps on nailing the song all the way through. In one or two takes she was done with the whole song. I'm like, "Wow." Then she comes back into where I'm sitting in the control room and sits back in the chair all relaxed like it was a piece of cake. That's really unusual. most people are a little insecure, need a little pampering, not her at all. She was completely confident, to the point where she was smiling and laughing at me being befuddled by the whole thing. [laughs]
MR: You've had a personal relationship with all of your artists, right?
NMW: Yeah, man, it is personal!
MR: Considering your early work with Mahavishnu took such a different approach, who could've predicted the rest of your career! Might you look at it like that as well?
NMW: This is a wonderful question, thank you for asking it. I come from Kalamazoo, Michigan, where we love music. It's just in the water. Everybody plays music on some level. In Detroit the shoeshine man might play guitar in Motown smash. Everybody does something in music in Michigan. I don't know if it's a combination of the white, the black, the native Americans coming together, it's like a Heinz 57 going on, but they have a sense of music in them, they love the music. It's also because of winter time. You're locked in your house and you cant' go out very long, so you practice your music and listen to music. Listen to Nina Simone, listen to Dave Brubeck, listen to Cannonball Adderley, listen to Patti Page, listen to Johnny Mathis, listen to every, every, everything. When I met Mahavishnu, I was prepared to play with him because I had listened to his music and done my homework based upon my life. Then he taught me how to play in odd meters to the highest degree. Playing in five, seven, nine, eleven, but not always hitting the downbeat on the one, let it go, go rounds and rounds and feel the shape of the odd meter. He was a master teacher and I learned to travel with him in those worlds, but once Mahavishnu Orchestra had ended then my solo career began and I wanted to be Michael Walden, so I did some fusion like Mahavishnu would do, some pop, some soul, whatever I am as a person came out.
Then as I grew as an artist and my third album I was told, "If you don't have a hit we're going to drop you," from Atlantic in 1977. In 1978, I released "I Don't Want To Dance With You," a dance record, because disco was the biggest sound in the world at that time and I couldn't fail, so I turned to disco and I had a smash. Then I had more hits. My fourth solo album was called The Dance Of Life and I had a hit called "I Shoulda Loved Ya." More dance music. I realized I could take what I'd learned from Mahavishnu, that same spirit and power and shake a club by just dancing. It was so strong that it was almost like playing jazz, but just keeping a four on the floor going. So I learned I could combine those things. Then I learned the power of black audiences. For black audiences, you can say, "Aw yeah, are you feeling me? Get up!" They want to be excited, so when you start playing that music hard for them they love it. I had to learn that whole world opening for Patti Labelle And The Bluebelles and then opening up for Chaka Khan and opening up for Brothers Johnson, that's a whole other world from the Mahavishnu Orchestra audiences. I'm very happy I got a chance to learn all those different audiences. One thing unites them. They love powerful music.
What I want to say is, through those experiences I learned I could produce hit records, which I've always loved, and God blessed me with being able to work with people like Stacy Lattisaw and Angela Bofill and then once I got some smashes all the phones started ringing and I started taking advantage of the people calling me and I made a lot of hits, but I love the radio and I love top ten music, it's a science to me, what becomes a hit, what's hot, what's no, what the flavor of the week, of the year is and how to be inventive in it, how to invent [growls coyly] in it, how to make the funk stank in it, how to take James Brown funk stank and make it so it's appealing to Jackie Onassis. I just love making things swing, but I learned over time that in the pop world it's all about that chorus. If a chorus is really strong then you can have success. As a drummer I still keep my chops going, I still keep myself playing because I love that. I'm just turned on by all kinds of music.
MR: So essentially, your album Evolution is a culmination of things other artists taught you in addition to your own musical and life experiences?
NMW: Yes, absolutely. That's how life should be, I believe, and that's how I've tried to digest the experiences I've learned through being with these people and move forward. All of the people I've worked with, it's all been a learning curve for me. I'm very much a student, I'm very much in awe of the talent that I've been able to be in the same room with, from John McLaughlin to Carlos Santana to Jeff Beck to Aretha Franklin to Sting to Stevie Wonder to Ray Charles. Ray Charles broke me down, man. I carried Ray Charles' live album in the snow when I was a ten year old kid, the live album with "What'd I Say" and "Dry My Own Tears" and "Frenzy" and "Tell The Truth." When I got with him I said, "Ray, I carried your album in the snow," I started singing one of the pieces off the album and he said, "Stop, man! I wrote that piece by my hand and that's me playing the alto sax solo." You go, "Damn, Ray." You think, "How could this guy do all that?" but he wrote the book on all of it! I take Ray Charles forward in my heart. I've got a big picture of him on my wall over here. I take forward Clarence Clemons from Bruce Springsteen who opened my doors when I first moved into the studio. I take forward all of my experiences with great love and great devotion and gratitude. I'm very grateful I can be here and be relevant. As Stevie Wonder would say, you've got to keep it current. It's funny how life goes, dance is big all over again.
MR: How do you move forward from this point on?
NMW: My evolution is just to stay happy. I realized there is a great power in being happy. Happiness is a discipline. It's not always easy to maintain it because we break down and we cry and we get sad about things and get disappointed, but I know that God can sail my ship really easily if I'm happy. If I'm happy and I take the time to put the rudder up and the sail up and catch that wind of God's grace to help me keep going forward in life as opposed to getting down on myself and just stopping. I don't want to stop, I want to keep going and enjoying this ride. I know when it's all said and done I want to be able to say, "Lord, everything you have asked me to do, I had fun doing it. I had a ball!" I'm so happy I was born in the fifties where I could hear the music of Little Richard, all that great music that came out in the fifties I was there to hear it. Then in the sixties I heard Hendrix and I got to play with John McLaughlin, one of the baddest guitar players to ever live. I played with Nina Simone at Carnegie Hall. All these things are just blessings in my life. I'm very grateful, and that's how I go forward with gratitude.
MR: Beautiful. And how could you be happier than you are now?
NMW: I really do want to go around the world and play live shows and pack houses. I love that aspect. Yeah, you've been in the studio, but get out into the world and play live with your band, too. I like both sides, man.
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
SHAINA TAUB'S "WHEN" EXCLUSIVE
According to Shaina Taub...
"I've been grappling with this song for a couple years. I began the lyrics in the months after the Newtown massacre, sobered by the chillingly routine media response to such an unimaginable tragedy, aghast at the lack of swift legislative action, and brought to my knees by sadness for the families. I first composed the music in the wake of Eric Garner's death, while actually hearing marchers shouting in the street below my Brooklyn window. I continued writing it in the aftermath of a seemingly endless wave of shootings, and one question persisted as I wrote: when will this ever end? I'm not yet a parent, but I wonder... How will I explain to my child a country where this kind of killing is the norm?
"I still hadn't finished the song when I heard an older woman speak at a protest against gun violence in Union Square, and as she passionately called to the crowd, it hit me. This person has witnessed decades of blind eyes turned away to senseless bloodshed and still she has not given up hope for a better day. But here I am, still in my twenties, already defeated and resigned, whining about when it will ever end. She made me realize the answer to my question is another question, bringing to mind the ancient wisdom of Hillel, 'If not now, when.' After hearing her, as I sat at my piano wrestling my hope and rage into a melody, I kept asking myself, "What kind of song do I make now? A lament like the one I'd been writing? Or a rallying anthem? Or both at once? How can I use words and music to inspire and heal in the face of this volatile world? I've decided to open my new record with WHEN because there is nothing more urgent to me as an artist than this question."
Shaina Taub's upcoming album Visitors is coming digitally in early December. For more information: http://shainataub.com/home.
A Conversation with Fourplay
Mike Ragogna: What? Fourplay's been around for 25 years? The hell you say!
Bob James: You gotta love it! Here we are, Mike. Humbled by the math, but still thinking of adding some more arithmetic.
Nathan East: Hi Mike! It's hard to believe 25 years since we started Fourplay but as they say "time flies when you're having FUN!"
Chuck Loeb: Yes! Amazing...let's do this!
MR: Cool. Before we get into the material on Silver, what are your thoughts about reaching that milestone?
BJ: Looking down at the roses beats pushing them up.
NE: When you embark on a career-defining journey with a gathering of musical-champions, in an exhilarating atmosphere like the vibrant music industry in 1990, it's celebrated with the kind of energy that makes a milestone like this more likely.
CL: My situation in the band is unique, in the sense that I am the newest member of the band, and I'm just celebrating my fifth year as a member. This offers me some insight from a different perspective of the 25th anniversary. Back at the inception of the band I was a fan of all of the original members individually, and was just totally knocked out when I heard the collaboration on the original CD Fourplay. And so, I can offer my perspective as both an avid observer, and a member. I think the thing that contributes the most to the longevity of the band is the continual striving for excellence in all the facets of creating contemporary jazz: composition, improvisation, production, performance, and a strong connection with the listening audience. I know that the band hit those marks in the first 20 years, and it is my hope that they've continued to be met on the three CDs I have had the pleasure to have been involved with, including Silver.
Harvey Mason: From the outset of Fourplay, we insisted our project would not be a "one off" as we intended to follow the longevity model of the Modern Jazz Quartet, commonly known as the MJQ. The synergy was so very special why not continue making this great music. Twenty-five years is indeed a group milestone achieved by few, I'm proud and happy we've reached it. From my perspective it has certainly come quickly.
MR: Do you have some favorite memories of the collaborations or touring or recordings that you could share?
BJ: Our music is smooth, velvet-soft. Serene in expression, yet fiery in character, it projects an entrancingly delicate radiance and is also flexible and very resistant to contaminants. It can be tailored to perfectly match with individual moods in order to enable the best possible aesthetic results. Thanks to its unrivaled craftsmanship, our music not only stirs the listener's senses, it also plucks emotionally at their heartstrings.
NE: I could fill the rest of this page with favorite memories. From the very beginning, it has been a thrill to be in the studio creating music with musicians that I had admired from a far for so many years. I'll never forget driving Patti LaBelle to the studio and showing her our track of "After The Dance" and she just started singing along with the track these amazing vocal parts and I grabbed the nearest microphone and asked if she would sing those parts on our record. It was surreal! Needless to say she did a fantastic job and that was a BIG record for us! Another highlight for me was singing with Chaka Khan on our duet version of the Isley Brothers classic "Between The Sheets."
CL: There have been many high points, but on our recent tour of Asia, we finished the with three nights at the Blue Note in Tokyo. We played two sold-out shows each night, featuring repertoire from the history of the band, and songs from the Silver CD. The band was connecting on every level, and the audience was just amazing. This, for me culminated in my favorite memory of the been so far.
HM: I will always remember the joy and excitement of that first Fourplay session. Upon signing, I immediately began writing what became the first tune specifically written for the band. At our first repertoire listening session, everyone decided it should be the first recorded. That tune, titled "Midnight Stroll," has become a Fourplay classic and fan favorite, still a part of our currently performed library. I will always remember Mo Ostin, then president of Warner Bros. Records, visiting as we recorded that first project. The exhilaration and anticipation at the label was obvious as we were bombarded with request to "hear a taste."
MR: When did you know Fourplay was going to "stick"? And what's the secret behind its longevity?
BJ: We blend our music, with each member contributing 25% highest quality ingredients produced solely from pure authentic American origin. We reside on the various biodiverse regions of the unique U.S. biosphere. The almost 1000 styles that originate here infuse our melodies and lend them their unmistakable jazzy aroma.
NE: First and foremost, friendship! We all get along so well on and off the stage, our wives hang out together, our kids come out to the shows so it's definitely a family affair.
CL: After listening to the first CD the first time. As I mentioned before, I believe it is the common conviction to strive for excellence, and the ultimate respect and friendship that each member has for the others.
HM: I wouldn't say there's a need to play with others to stay creative. As most collaborations are formulated by producers or labels to stimulate careers, create new interest and combine fans for increased record sales. This experiment is often met with mixed results. The members of Fourplay find time to play with other artist but we always seem to find our way back with renewed commitment and enthusiasm. As I stated earlier, it was our original intention to remain together. Respect, friendship, musicality, commonality of purpose and democracy have been factors that have kept the three founding members together. The influx of guitarist has been a factor as we've adjusted and shifted with each change, adding new ingredients to our mix. I believe we've now found the perfect piece to our band and I hope Chuck remains until the end, he's perfect in every way.
MR: On to Silver. You're lucky, you almost got a horrible "Hi-yo Silver!" joke...aaaaand you just did. Then again, you named your group "Fourplay." Very brave.
BJ: Four guys walked into a bar. One of 'em observed, "if we had we one more guy we'd be making hamburgers!" If I am willing to take the blame, it seems like I should be in line for a little credit also. Therefore, I plead guilty. After all these years fewer misspellings are finally occurring. "Fourplay" is short, descriptive and prevents any danger of us being criticized for being too serious.
NE: Haha! Well, the simple story, four guys playing music together...Fourplay. Bob James gets the credit for coming up with the name. He was an executive at Warner Bros Records when we all got together in 1990 to record his solo album called Grand Piano Canyon. When he heard the magic of the quartet in the studio, he suggested forming a band and signing with his label and even had the name Fourplay.
HM: Quite simply, of course, we needed a name which we all submitted but Bob's entry of Fourplay found its way to the top. It magically and alluringly described the music produced at that time in a bold and seductive way. We all loved it! As time has passed we've questioned whether we might change the name or if the name has prevented musically unknowledgeable critics from taking our music seriously. But 25 years later, we remain Fourplay.
MR: So, what do you think of this whole Silver thing? You like it?
BJ: With this Silver anniversary compendium, all elements are brought to their inevitable climax. The dolce vita is transfigured and becomes a true paradise on earth. Uplifting and stimulating, it radiates delight and happiness. Sensual, joyful, and confident.
NE: I love this album! We tapped into the real spirit of the quartet and after 25 years of Fourplay, we finally have sax on this record! Or friend and musical brother Kirk Whalum is featured on the track "Precious Metal" and he plays like an angel! We welcomed back to the studio our two former guitarists Lee Ritenour and Larry Carlton who both played brilliantly!
CL: There's always a tendency, when promoting a new project, to say that "this one is our best." However, I think that is best left for the public to decide. But I can say honestly, that I am extremely eager and proud to share this music with my colleagues, family, friends, and the public, and I enjoy listening to this music repeatedly myself. So I guess you could say I like it.
HM: I love this CD! It's an eclectic collection of original songs which displays the outstanding diversity, musicianship and passion of Fourplay. Silver is heartfelt creative music from four serious musicians intended to touch the souls of its listeners and harmonize mankind regardless of where they may be.
MR: What were some of its high points during the creative and recording processes? Any personal favorites? Any songs that turned out way better than you imagined?
BJ: My new composition "Mine" is an elixir of pure seduction. With pulsating rhythm and adventurous soloing, It expresses a new masculinity in its rawest interpretation.
NE: All of them! The process and results amaze me every time. When you witness how ideas are interpreted and expanded upon to arrive at the final version it's a fantastic process.
CL: The way the band records in the studio is an amazing process to me. I just love the way each member contributes ideas, while being respectful of the composer's vision of each composition. One of the songs, took quite a while to come together... Bob's beautiful tribute to Horace Silver "Horace." We finally got the right take it about 1:30 in the morning The very last night of our sessions! And yet, that performance, in it's very pure quartet setting, to me captures the essence of Fourplay. Our engineer, Don Murray, and became the fifth member and with a superb mix that highlighted that pure band sound to a tee.
HM: As a rule, most our tunes turnout better than the composer envisioned because of the selfless and enthusiastic input from every member.
MR: These days, and after knowing each other for so long, how do your personal relationships with each other affect the music?
BJ: Personal relationships are strictly forbidden in the Fourplay workplace. On the other hand, camaraderie is encouraged if not in excess.
NE: Well, sometimes we discover that we have similar listening habits and choices which translates to being able to almost finishing our fellow band mate's musical sentences.
CL: There's a huge amount of respect and affection between the members of this band, with each member encouraging the others to just be themselves. But that is not all. When I joined the band, it was explained to me that it was a true democracy in that each decision that wasn't reached immediately would be voted on. Often we are in agreement, but when the decision is three verses one, the mutual respect we have for each other makes us confident that the right decision has been made. I have observed that encouragement and confidence from Nathan, Harvey, and Bob from day one.
HM: I believe the music is enhanced because of the interpersonal relationships of the band members. We can feel each bandmate giving his all to support each other as individuals step forward at different times in a song or a performance.
MR: In the 25 years since its creation, what has changed the most about the band and its material and recorded performances?
BJ: We rue our sadly diminishing immaturity.
NE: The biggest change for me has been the complexion of the overall sound especially as it relates to what each of the three guitarists bring tonally.
CL: I can only comment on my five years, but I think what stands out to me is the risk taking in both choosing material, and performance consistently.
HM: Obviously, the guitar changes have affected the material and recorded performances of Fourplay. We've totally embraced each change and I feel it has contributed to the longevity of Fourplay. There is a basic sound, which has continually shifted with each new guitarist. We've implored each to be themselves and resist emulating past guitarist.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
BJ: Our motto is: "In order to break the rules you must first master the rules."
NE: Always "go for great" and try to be as original as possible so you stand out from the pack. It's also important to do what you love and to love what you do.
CL: Practice and work on your music incessantly, and always strive to connect with what you love about music in every single musical setting that you find yourself in. And, of course, listen to everything.
HM: Trust your instincts, be yourself, resist copying and employ every ounce of passion in your being!
MR: What about Fourplay are you most proud of?
BJ: We take great pride that in all our projects we painstakingly monitor the entire production process, from the blank music composing sheet through to the finished laminated CD product, which fulfills our mission to create moments of joy through the fascination of the "element of groove."
NE: I'm really proud of our body of work, the sonic representation of our music and the quartet's distinct personality.
CL: To have been able to be successful, and also true to an artistic vision.
HM: The elements of truth, respect, teamwork, friendship, love of music, supreme musicianship and democracy which has sustained us all these years. I believe the loss of anyone of these by any member will spell the end of Fourplay as we now know it.
MR: I guess this question is on the same level as "What is the meaning of life?" But what is jazz now?
BJ: Jazz is an extravagant experience to be savoured every day. The unique counterpoint elevates natural contours, profoundly improving elasticity & tone. The complex harmonies create a transformative satiny smoothness and a silken texture. The results, timeless!!
NE: I'm feeling like jazz is becoming a limitless all-inclusive expression of freedom. It's become a art form of merging styles and a reflection of current cultural awareness.
CL: To me, it is what it always was: improvised music based on the pulse of an infectious rhythmic groove, sophisticated harmony, melody and composition, which retain simple power to touch people's hearts & souls.
MR: By the time you release Gold--see where I'm going here--what changes will have happened to Fourplay's music?
BJ: We have deliberately turned away from regulated workaday routines and follow no fixed agenda. That's who we are!
NE: Fourplay will always be committed to delivering a top-notch musical experience every time we step into the studio. We're constantly listening and fine tuning our harmonic repertoire in a quest to discover new musical ground.
CL: They will be on guitarist number 16?
MR: Ha! So, Fourplay, what do you expect Fourplay's legacy will be?
BJ: The unique Fourplay brand will elucidate the simplest worldwide solution for communicative listener-friendly jazz improvisation. In the spirit of our original pioneers, we will continue to surprise with fresh new ideas and innovation.
NE: Well, at the moment, Fourplay is a quartet with a quarter of a century of artistry with a penchant for modern jazz working their magic in the studio and on the world stage. Our commitment has been to maintain artistic credibility and provide a high-end listening experience to be enjoyed by all ages hopefully enriching the world of music.
CL: Not wanting to be glib, I think this should be determined by the listeners. But one can hope that is the fulfillment of all the attributes I listed my answers above.
MR: You promise to give me an interview for Gold?
BJ: If I still have my teeth.
NE: Yes, I already have it marked in my calendar in the year 2040!
CL: God willing!
HM: I promise to give you an interview for Gold if you're around when it's recorded!