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A window inside the music

Saxophonist Bob Mintzer talks about the conversation of jazz and playing big-band music softly

Posted: Thursday, May 23, 2002

Juneau is invited to a musical conversation.

Saxophonist Bob Mintzer won't simply be playing music Saturday night - he'll be having a musical discussion with three other virtuosos. It will be passionate and lively, sophisticated and straightforward, and each will offer his own insights in the language of music.

"We'll take some of the tunes I write and some jazz standards and have a little conversation - make it up as we go along, which is what jazz is about, setting up certain parameters and leaving room for communication," Mintzer said.

That isn't always the way it works. Mintzer also plays with the New York Philharmonic which demands a bit more structure than a jazz quartet. Mintzer's also a hired gun and has played on more than 300 recordings, working with popular musicians such as James Taylor, Diana Ross and Steve Winwood, jazz players Jaco Pastorius and Michael Franks, and big bands led by Buddy Rich and Tito Puente.

Mintzer's own big bands include jazz luminaries Randy Brecker, Peter Erskine and David Sanborn.

The Bob Mintzer Big Band won a Grammy Award earlier this year for its "Homage to Count Basie." He's also a member of the Yellowjackets, a contemporary jazz group.

Saturday night, Mintzer will share the stage with drummer Peter Erskine, bassist Dave Carpenter and pianist Russell Ferrante.

Erskine, a veteran of the group Weather Report and Stan Kenton's big band, has been at the forefront of worldclass jazz ensembles for 30 years. Mintzer and Erskine went to high school together at the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan and have been playing music together since 1970.

Mintzer said Erskine shares his conversational approach to jazz.

"Peter says, 'Get out of the way of the music and let it unfold - be a participant, but sort of collectively let it happen without imposing your will,' " Mintzer said. "I try not to think about anything but what the others are playing. The quality of the best players in jazz that I appreciate most is the ability to suss out what is going on in a piece, then forget that and pay more attention to where the music is going, then move in the same direction."

Bob Mintzer Quartet

When: 8 p.m. Saturday, May 25.

Where: JuneauDouglas High School auditorium.

Music: original jazz and some standards.

Tickets: $20 for general admission, $16 for students and seniors, at Hearthside Books and at the door.

Workshop: "A Look Inside the Jazz Quartet," 11-11:45 a.m. Saturday, May 25, at the University of Alaska Southeast Egan Library, free.

Mintzer has recorded a dozen CDs with his big band. Just a few weeks ago the group recorded "Gently," the follow-up to the Count Basie homage in a session that Mintzer called a revelation.

"Typically big bands are loud and energetic, with wailing saxes and screaming trumpets," he said. "I really tried to do something else, the softer side of big band music."

Mintzer, who plays flute and clarinet as well as sax, said he used woodwinds in place of saxophones and mutes on the brass. He instructed the musicians to take a gentle approach.

"What I learned was in bringing the volume way down the sound got bigger and wider," Mintzer said. "When music is loud the distortion factor goes up, which obscures clarity. When it's soft it provides a window inside the music. You can see and sense everything so much more clearly."

Mintzer heads to Calgary, Alberta, the day after Jazz and Classics. Then he and keyboardist Ferrante join the rest of the Yellowjackets in Germany for a jazz festival - one of four trips to Europe that Mintzer will make in the next three months.

Jumping between the intimacy of a jazz quartet, the power of a 16-piece big band or a symphony orchestra doesn't faze Mintzer.

"It's all music," he said. "I like to do a variety of things that complement each other, so at the end you say, 'What a great day.' The enjoyment factor is high."

Riley Woodford can be reached at rileyw@juneauempire.com.



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