Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Steve Turre


           When we lived in New Jersey in the early '90s, I got to hear Steve Turre a lot since he played all the time at a club in Montclair. Being around New York and all the jazz clubs was one of the big reasons I starting thinking about getting back into my horn and Steve was a big part of that. It wasn't just that I dug his playing or that he's, to me, a direct descendant of J.J. and Curtis Fuller. Possibly because of his gig on Saturday Night Live, he was pretty visible at the time and was always being interviewed. In one of these he talked about the history of the instrument and how important players like Vic Dickenson, Lawrence Brown and Dicky Wells were. These were guys I'd never heard of before so I started checking them out which sparked an interest in the trombone's place in jazz that hasn't diminished.

            I can't think of any active trombonist, except Bill Watrous, who's recorded as many albums as a leader but, among the non-trombone loving rabble, he might be just as well known for playing seashells. This was another aspect of Steve Turre's music that was cool to hear in person and one night he explained to me how he made conch shells playable by sawing off the end with hacksaw and fashioning the mouthpiece with dental compound. I'll include my usual musical sample at the end but check him out on YouTube and at his website.  The rest of my Steve Turre story involves some of the local New Jersey, for lack of a better word, "characters."
            The New York - New Jersey area, as most people know, is the U. S. headquarters for an organized crime enterprise with its traditional home office in the Mediterranean. As a result a lot of people around there carry themselves as though a member of this exclusive outfit. Or maybe it's just that the folks who gravitate to this kind of work would have dressed and acted in a particular fashion anyway. In any case, one night, about halfway through Steve Turre's last set, two guys, who might or might not have been gangsters (although one looked more Celtic), came in with what might or might not have been called, in an earlier era, their "gun molls." They were all dressed for a rather expensive night on the town with the more Celtic sporting a three-piece suit, the vest of which was a lighter, different color. He also had on, I swear to God, the first and last pork pie hat I've ever seen which, in the American tradition, he never took off. They ostentatiously installed themselves at a table near the band, settled in and seemed to be enjoying the music. Pretty soon the not Celt began to suggest the band should "play some Sinatra." This continued for a while until I think they either got bored or the set was over. Steve and the band just ignored it but it made me realize that no one playing in a club like this, no matter their stature in the music world, is immune from having to deal with shitheads. Even Pop's, during his famous Town Hall concert with Jack Teagarden, had to tell some jerk in the audience to, "shut up, boy."
            The recording I picked for this post is not only one of my favorite Steve Turre's, it's one of my favorite Curtis Fuller's, who wrote it. When I took jazz combo at USF, "Time Off" was one of the charts we got to do. It was a particular milestone for me because, for the first time, I had to learn how make the changes while keeping up with everyone else, a typical trombone challenge. Steve handles this a bit better than I did. There also a bonus shell performance that I'd encourage you listen to in its entirety.


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