INTERVIEWS SAMMIE ROBERTS
A NEVERENDING JOURNEY'MY VOICE - LIVING THE DREAM is the debut CD of jazz saxophonist SAMMIE ROBERTS, yet it feels like his eleventh or twelfth. Mixing clever re-interpretations of jazz classics and a couple of original compositions, the CD is the perfect background music for an evening by the pool with a glass of merlot. It's not easy to recall an instance where just five songs took you someplace wonderful. The moody interpretation of DUKE ELLINGTON's 'COME SUNDAY, the bossa nova rhythm of CHARLIE PARKER's 'MY LITTLE SUEDE SHOES', and a most irresistable take on SUMMERTIME will have anyone sinking comfortably into their pool chair. Balancing out these re-workings are 'TELL ME WHY MONICA' with it's frantic, insistent percussion and the positively swinging 'COURTNEY'S BOUNCE'. The only thing that disappoints is the CD's brevity.
JAZZ SAXOPHONIST SAMMIE ROBERTS
TALKS TO ROCKWIRED
ABOUT HIS E.P. 'MY VOICE - LIVING THE DREAM'
FINDING HIS VOICE
AND THAT NEVERENDING JOURNEY CALLED MUSIC
INTERVIEWED BY BRIAN LUSH
ROCKWIRED spoke with SAMMIE ROBERTS as he was about to go into the recording studio. Here is how it went.
Now that the CD is out there for everyone to hear, how do you feel about it?
I'm impressed with the support that we were able to get for it in terms of distribution. JIMMY ROBERTS is a great producer. He's worked with people like ROD STEWART, and CARLY SIMON for years and to have someone like him in the studio with all of his experience helps with your confidence as a performer. It turned out really great. In fact, a lot of the pieces on that CD were done in one take.
So it all came together pretty easily.
Over a period of time, yes.
On this E.P., you chose three covers. What drew you to those songs?
I picked tunes where the melody would be recognizable and SUMMERTIME is a song that does that. I love ballads and COME SUNDAY is this real church-y type ballad that I've always loved and then I picked up the tempo with the song 'MY LITTLE SUEDE SHOES' by CHARLIE PARKER. I picked that one because it was the first tune that I learned on the saxophone.
Th E.P. is balanced with two original tracks, 'COURTNEY'S BOUNCE' and 'TELL ME WHY MONICA'. Would you like to talk about them?
'COURTNEY'S BOUNCE' is about my son. It's got a swing sound to it and it's upbeat and positive. When I was writing the tune I was thinking about my son growing up, and all of te changes that he's gone through. 'TELL ME WHY MONICA' is a piece written about going through these experiences in music and being faced with challenges and asking 'why?'. The tune takes a smooth jazz approach, but it's rooted in a really strong melody.
In your bio it says that you were raised in the east coast but mostly in Brooklyn New York. Explain.
I was born and raised in New York for a period of time, then my parents moved to Charleston, South Carolina in a retirement area near Myrtle Beach. When I grew older, I went back to New York. It's nice place to be from with all of its music and culture.
You started out playing trumpet before you picked up the saxophone.
Playing trumpet was an interesting experience. It's easy for people to think that the trumpet is an easy instrument because it only has three valves, but it's the most difficult to play. It's very hard on your body because of the metal on your lips. Growing up, MILES DAVIS impressed me. I liked his attitude, his music, and his whole approach. I read about him and studied his music. At the time, I played the trumpet in this junior high school band and I remember getting a bute, but when I brought it to class, I was told that I couldn't use it. So I got discouraged. When I got older, I heard FRANK MORGAN play the alto saxophpone and I made the decision to get rid of the trumpet and pick up the alto saxophone. I had an opportunity to meet FRANK at a jazz festival and had become friends with him over the years. He encouraged me to practice and to listen to lots of different music. I fell in love with the alto saxophone because of him. He just passed away in January of this year and I had the privilege of organizing a memorial event for him. It was the only one on the west coast. There were performances by 12 musicians from fifty years ago who recorded with FRANK, lived with him, and grew up with him. It was a great event at the JAZZ BAKERY in Los Angeles. It was because him that I picked up the saxophone. It's the closest thing to the human voice.
You sort of answered this question, but growing up, what sort of music got to you?
I like ballads. My mother liked a lot of ballads and jazz music. She was an artist and she always had music playing while she was painting. That was what I had grown up with; a lot of jazz standards, show tunes, and things like SIMON & GARFUNKEL.
What inspired your move to Southern California?
It wasn't because of music. I had an opportunity to do some consulting. I was doing consulting for a major communications firm back in the late 1990's. When that project ended, I was offered the opportunity to move to either Tennessee or Oklahoma. After being given those two choices, I decided to stay here. I fell in love with California. It's not like New York, but it has the same diversity and it gives you the peace that you need and the quiet time to reflect. It also gives you exposure to different regions that you'd never experience if you live in New York.
I read somewhere that you describe music as a neverending journey. Would you care to explain?
Everytime I pick up the horn, I feel like I'm going to learn something new. I feel like I can always do better. Like JOHN COLTRANE said 'you'll never learn it all'. A musician like SONNY ROLLINS is still learning. FRANK MORGAN is a prime example of that. When I met him, he performed fabulously at this concert for two and a half hours. After the show I tried to get him to come down to a jazz spot in Charleston. I asked him what he would be doing later that night and he said that he was going back to his room to practice. When he said that, it just stuck with me. As a musician, you never really arrive. You're always growing and evolving. The voice that you have today will change and be stronger - just like our speaking voices. We don't have the same voice that we did fifteen years ago. It's a journey where you never ever arrive.