Joe Locke and Frank KimbroughInterview with Frank Kimbrough and Joe Locke
about The Willow (OmniTone 12201)
[with producer Frank Tafuri in July 2001]

Tafuri: So many people, in the two years that Saturn's Child's been out, in e-mails and in conversation, have said to me 'How can these guys top this recording?'  I just had someone, who was looking at the new releases page on the OmniTone web site, write me the other day, saying 'When is their next record coming out, and how can they improve on a masterpiece?'

Locke: Oh, that's beautiful.  That's nice to hear.  That's very nice to hear.  I think the thing about the new CD in how we succeeded in topping it —"topping it" isn't right, it's sounds like a competitive kind of thing.  Artistically, as a statement, we wanted to take Saturn's Child to the next level.  And I'm really, really happy that we achieved that, thanks to our discussion about the music and where we wanted to take it and about augmenting the band with woodwinds and percussion —Tim Ries and Jeff Ballard. 
And with OmniTone giving us the opportunity to take it up a notch sonically with the studio that we used. To record a larger room, the sound is more elegant, more delicious.  And to have the luxury of being able to give the project a proper mix.  So it really, on all fronts, came up a notch.  I was really happy with Saturn's Child as a statement, and I thought it is a beautiful-sounding project, but this one is definitely several notches up from that —artistically, sonically —on many levels.

Tafuri: I think what a lot of people forget about (or maybe never even knew about) when they listen to Saturn's Child is that you went in, spent an afternoon, and just basically did it.

Kimbrough: One of the advantages of The Willow is that we had a little more time.  I think Saturn's Child was done maybe in five hours.  It was done in one afternoon and, as I recall, we had two rehearsals at Joe's place.  In a sense, it was a little more off-the-cuff [than The Willow].  In some ways, we prepared a little more for this one although, in other ways, there's an off-the-cuff element to this one as well, because really there were no rehearsals with Ballard or Tim Ries.  They came in, and they both know Joe and I, so they have a sense of what our sensibilities are…

Kimbrough: Absolutely!

Locke: I didn't have a clue as to what the quartet stuff was going to sound like … until it was done.  I was listening to it in my car on my way to a gig in Pennsylvania just the other day, and I had rented a nice little Mustang, a slick little car with a great sound system, and I'd never heard it in that kind of environment.  And it sounds so beautiful —the quartet stuff (with the percussion and the flutes and the saxophone) and the sound of the piano.  It doesn't sound like a bass player, but the bass player's not missing, because the sound of the lower register of the piano is so rich.

Tafuri: Well, it was amazing.  It was amazing in the studio to hear it, and it's amazing to listen to the record played in different environmental contexts.  I was over in the UK a couple months ago, and I had taken an advance copy with me and was sitting in a wonderful Italian restaurant across the street from Ronnie Scott's (as a matter of fact).  We were in there for a good, extended, Italianesque lunch.  They had been playing all kinds of jazz over the sound system.  I suggested, 'Would you like to try this?" and they put it on.  They had so many people comment on it and the music.  It was fun hearing that, in a rather busy restaurant with people eating and dishes clanking, it still "worked."
So, to talk a little more about that bass "thing"…

Kimbrough: Well, for this recording, there was an extra two feet of piano.  On Saturn's Child, it was a seven-foot piano and, for this one, we had a concert grand and an extra two feet of piano string length.

Locke: And, for the next one, we're gonna try to have a twelve-foot Steinway.

[Laughs from all.]

Tafuri: We always can hope…. The thing I'm wondering is did you do anything differently in your playing?

Kimbrough: No, I think a lot of it had to do with the size of the piano and the size of the room, because then you have the overtones mixing in the room.

Tafuri: Do you respond differently when you're playing a big piano? Does that two feet make a difference?

Kimbrough: Sometimes it does, because you hear how the instrument responds in the room.  So, if you hear something that's particularly great-sounding, you may pay a little more attention to that register of the piano and that aspect of the sound.  It's usually not conscious; it's just something you go to because it's there and it sounds good and you want some more of it.

Tafuri: You've both talked from a sort of technical standpoint about some of the aspects of preparation and change and how you tried to extend Saturn into The Willow.  A few of the cuts have Jeff Ballard on them playing some very tasteful hand percussion and Tim Ries —even doing some multi-tracking —playing a wide variety of wind instruments.  We've been talking about the space and your preparation, but how about the musical selections?  What kind of thought went into the music that was chosen for the album?  How do you see that as an extension of what you were doing [on Saturn's Child]?

Locke: The most important thing for me was for [The Willow] to be an extension of the mood concept of Saturn's Child, the focus being on beauty and melody or the intrinsic beauty of a melody.  It was having that be focal.  We wanted it, as with Saturn's Child, to be a languorous, very open, very beautiful, not-too-much-in-your-face kind of energy.
Having said that, it was funny how it worked out.  As with Saturn's Child, there are two cuts on the record that have more energy, as if to say 'Life also has this aspect.'

Tafuri: Well, that's the session as an organism.

Locke: Yeah, yeah!

Tafuri: It's like many things.  It's like baking bread or whatever.  You put all the carefully selected ingredients in and —though you can control certain aspects of it —after all,  it sort of takes on a life of its own.

Locke: What I like so much about the cuts that have more energy or where the tempos are faster (as in "Highland," a composition of mine that's more through-composed, or with "Pick Up Sticks," a composition of Frank's that has more aggressive percussion) is that they're nice departures from the rest of the record, although they work with the rest of the record.

Tafuri: And they're still not "in-your-face."

Locke: Right.

Tafuri: I mean, I think that's the key: there's that energy, but they're still not in-your-face.

Kimbrough: I remember one interesting thing in the rehearsals we had: that everything was pretty malleable right up until we went into the studio.  I remember Joe saying on one occasion and I remember myself saying to Joe on one occasion at least, "I don't know if this is going to work. I don't know if this is right." 
You just have to check it out and see what happens.
One thing I tell my students at school is, "It pays to be prepared to be unprepared."  Because there are certain aspects of any performance or any recording or anything that you're going to do that you're not going to have control over.

Tafuri: Right.

Kimbrough: So, if you're prepared —just to be ready for those surprises —then you can deal with those things.  There's nothing that I dread more than a session where everything would be preordained.

Tafuri: Cookie-cutter.

Kimbrough: There's no spontaneity happening.  That's dreadful to me.  Like I said, we prepared by rehearsing, but then a lot of the things we were rehearsing, we didn't even know if they would work or we didn't know how they would turn out … like that tune "Pick-up Sticks."  I had written that, and I had no idea if it would work in this situation or not.  I think Joe had questions about "Truth Be Told," whether that would be right, and that's a lot different than a lot of the other tunes on the record.

Locke: And it works great.

Tafuri: Well, I heard years ago a definition for "good luck":  Good luck is preparedness meeting opportunity.

Locke: Mmm, mmm, mmm.  Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Tafuri: So, if you're prepared, and an opportunity comes along in a session, and you got your licks together, and you got your chops sharpened and you're ready to "do the do," then exciting things happen.

Locke: One of the great things about being a musician and being at the place I am in my musical life and having colleagues like Frank [Kimbrough] and like yourself [Frank Tafuri] is being able to realize musical dreams.

Tafuri: …and visions.

Kimbrough: Yeah.

Locke: Yeah. I remember being at an age where everything was a dream, a lofty dream that was way off in the distance.  It's nice to be at a place now where we can talk about an idea and then we can implement it. 
That's what OmniTone is responsible for: It's for implementing the artistic idea.  It was a great experience to have this idea and then have it made concrete in the studio on those two afternoons, to be able to go into a wonderful studio and then bring in people like Jeff Ballard and Tim Ries, who are world-class musicians, to create this work of art.  I recall, in particular, my experience from doing The Willow was one of enjoying the process —of just being there.  I remember saying to myself how much I'm enjoying being in this process right now, where the process —and maybe this is happening in my life now for the first time —can really be internalized.

Tafuri: It's really great when you can enjoy the process, when you can be "in-the-moment," when you're not scuffling with, like, whatever —trying to learn the tune or get the lick or capture a technique or interact or get over your fear or do whatever.  When you can be in-the-moment and enjoy being in-the-moment, that definitely comes through in The Willow.

Kimbrough: Speaking of being in-the-moment, when [Joe] and I were in California a few weeks ago playing, there were a few instances where we were playing standards.  There were a few standards we played on our concerts, and they were things that weren't really rehearsed, but they're part of our common vocabulary.  It's not something that we really thought about doing; it was really, in a way, our of pragmatism that we were working them into these concerts because people would recognize the tunes and so forth.  And that's a place where that [being in-the-moment] came into play: where it's very spontaneous, and you're realizing something maybe you didn't realize the day before.  You know?

Tafuri: Well, Joe, you did some really creative things, I remember —you were talking about "Pickup Sticks" earlier —where you were actually doing things with the sticks that I think you sort of spontaneously came up with in the studio.  Actually clicking the sticks…

Locke: …playing with the handles of the mallets as a percussion instrument.

Tafuri: Right, because I remember that as we moved through the takes, there was kind of an evolution of things like that that happened.  And even in the mix things evolved. 
We had fun this time in the mix: the way the percussion was used and the way in which some of these things came together.  They took on an additional "life" in the mix.

Locke: You were interesting in the studio on how you mixed the percussion on "Pick-up Sticks," because you had a really dramatic vision of how the cajon should enter and leave, and how hot it should be in the mix and how subtle it should be in certain places.  The cajon is really dramatic in that. 
And, at the end of Tim Garland's song "The Moon for Her" when the percussion enters for the first time, all of a sudden you have this "heartbeat" that starts; it's a dramatic entry.

Tafuri: It's fun.  I think a lot of people —and I'd have to say more so for you, Joe —were surprised when they heard Saturn's Child.  In a lot of ways, what Frank did on it is what Frank does —I mean, you did some different things [, Frank], but it was in the style of how you play —but everyone was talking about how 'oh, this is a much cooler, more relaxed Joe, instead of the frenetic Joe.'   But I think people are going to be continue to be surprised —in pleasant ways —with this record with the kinds of extensions that we've made here.  The focus is still the duo —

Locke: That was another goal we had, too: not to be a quartet, but an augmented duo.

Tafuri: I think that really comes through. The other thing you do on this, which you didn't do on Saturn, is you play marimba. The other album was strictly vibes.

Locke: It was nice to play some marimba on this record.  It makes me want to do it more.  I love the sound of the instrument, and it was captured so beautifully on this recording.  It's a beautiful-sounding instrument.  I'm with a company now called "Ross Mallet Instruments," and they kindly gave me the four-and-one-half octave concert grand marimba that you're hearing on this recording.  It's beautiful.  I plan to play more marimba in the future.

Tafuri: Cool.  Well, may we talk about the tunes a little bit?
It's interesting that on this record, except for the tunes that are not your own, you pretty much split up [the composing credits on] the tunes.
One we've already mentioned —where did "Pick-up Sticks" come from?

Kimbrough:   "Pick-up Sticks" was something I was actually thinking about using for my Noumena group.  That's what the original idea was: was to use it for that group. And, for whatever reason, I though "Maybe it'll work with the duo."  So, I was looking for material and then, all of a sudden, it worked.  So, actually, I think that's the newest tune of mine on here; it was probably written last fall some time, because the sessions were in December, so I probably wrote it in October or November.

Tafuri: Well, it was funny, because when we were in the studio doing it and we were talking about tunes and you said you were going to play this thing called "Pick-up Sticks" —and we've got the "sticks man" in there —I thought it was Joe's tune.

Kimbrough: Well, the title actually comes from Joe.

Tafuri: Oh.

Kimbrough: He was going to write a tune called "Pick-up Sticks."

Tafuri: Aaahh...

Locke: I was going to write a song called "Pick-up Sticks" that was going to have a rhythmic momentum, and I was actually thinking about the children's game pick-up sticks —something with a jumble, something with some percolation in there connoting the sticks in a jumble on the ground.

Tafuri: Well, that's were you take the sticks and you throw 'em and they're all in a pile, and you try to remove them one by one without disturbing the rest of the pile, right?

Locke: And I was thinking about writing a song with that idea in mind, and then Frank brought this song in, and I said, "That sounds like 'Pick-up Sticks' to me.'"

Kimbrough: And, of course, I can never title my tunes, so …

Tafuri: You two are collaborating on so many levels — it's unbelievable.

Kimbrough: So, Joe says, "Maybe we should call this tune 'Pick-up Sticks,'" so that gave me an out from not having to wrack my brain for a title.

Locke: Yeah, that's right, that's right…

Tafuri: Well, that's cool.  I love that tune, because it's such a different tune, and you even play some marimba on that.

Locke: And the bass lines are doubled the piano and the marimba, so it was a great song for the marimba.

Kimbrough: I would have to say that, whether it's discernable or not to the listener, there's a certain Maria Schneider influence to that tune, because I've been playing some music with her group that was sort of written in odd meters.  I've been involved in playing this music with her, because I usually don't write in odd meters.  So, this was a departure for me (in a sense), and I think I would have to say that her influence was present there.

Tafuri: I want to come back to Maria, in a second, for a very important reason. But first, you were talking, Frank and Joe, about how you had the bass line doubled in the piano and marimba "Pick-up Sticks," and I have to go right from that thought to "Highland," because there's this thrilling stuff that happens in "Highland" — especially the ending of it — where you're doubling each other. And I don't remember for sure — I'd have to go look at the notes, but I want to say that that was a first take.  I mean, I don't think anything went past two or three…

Kimbrough: I think we did about six false starts, but then we …

Locke: … played it all the way through. I was forgetting to pause on the fourth bar of the tune. Thanks, Frank.

[Laughter all around.]

Kimbrough: We were actually having such a problem getting through the first section of it that I remember we paused for lunch and then came back and played the whole thing. It finally just played itself down; it was the first complete take.

Tafuri: I was just having this discussion about two weeks ago with David Baker how lunch changes things.

Locke: Food!

Kimbrough: It does.

Tafuri: He actually said "food."  "Food changes things" and, in my experience, not always for the positive, but in this case it really worked.

Locke: Yeah, definitely.

Tafuri: That's such a thrilling tune.

Locke: That's my tune that I wrote on a Scottish tour on a day off in the highlands, and I wrote it quite a long time ago.  I chose it for this record. It's sort of the "Trouble Is a Gorgeous Dancer" of The Willow.  On Saturn's Child, we had a composition of mine called "Trouble Is a Gorgeous Dancer."  It was the more virtuosic, more through-composed, more "notey" kind of piece, and I thought it would be nice to have something like that on this record, too.  It's a real fun piece to play.  It was fun to record it; it's fun to play live.  It's a bit of like a tour de force.

Tafuri: It sounds like the highlands!  It does to me.  We'll have to take it to Scotland and see what the Scots think, eh?

Locke: [In a not-so-bad Scottish brogue] Aye, it's an idea dead brilliant, laddie.  [Back.]  But I'm happy with how it came out, and it's got some momentum, it's got some life.  I think "Pick-up Sticks"  and "Highland" are the two departures ... and "Truth Be Told" is also —

Tafuri: — they're departures in other ways —

Locke: — they are, but those are the two tunes that kind of perk you up a little bit on the record.

Tafuri: They're great.

Locke: I'm really happy about how my piece — speaking for myself as the  composer — came out on the record.

Tafuri: Scintillating.  Absolutely scintillating.  (I suspect you'll find that word in the liner notes somewhere.)  Well, we were talking earlier about Maria Schneider, so I suppose we should talk about the title track ,"The Willow," by Maria Schneider.  And you [, Frank,] have been playing on her Orchestra records.

Kimbrough: I'm on three of their four albums; I'm on Coming About and Alegressé and the live record that I hope will be coming out before too long.  "The Willow" is a tune that I've played with her band ever since I started playing [with them].  I remember playing it with her on the first rehearsal back in '93.  I've always loved the tune, and it's a tune that had never been recorded up to that point.

Locke: Until we recorded it?

Kimbrough: Until we recorded it.  It has been since; now it's been recorded live at the Jazz Standard, and it's that record that'll be coming out…

Tafuri: But, maybe…

Kimbrough: As far as I know, this'll be the first release of that tune.

Tafuri: Wow.

Kimbrough: It's a tune that normally features the bari sax playing the melody. So, we gave that part to the alto flute and bass clarinet.

Locke: Alto flutes —

Kimbrough: Alto flutes and bass clarinet.  Then Joe and I sort of doubled up the harmonies that the horns play.  Maria was kind enough to give me a score, so that I could make sure I had all the harmonies correct.

Locke: So he could kind of reduce the score.  But, just to say this about Kimbrough: It was a brilliant choice of composition for this particular instrumentation.  I mean it was a brilliant move.  It was perfect for this project.  I couldn't think of a song that would be more perfect than "The Willow."  It's a beautiful tune; it's really so Maria, it's so her.  She's such a beautiful composer, and it's such a lovely tune, and it's so perfect for this instrumentation.  How the piano and vibes are hand-in-glove and then, over it, comes this beautiful melody with the alto flutes and clarinet… through the power of overdubbing.

Tafuri: Actually, that's a little departure, too: to have the overdubs on this album.  As long as we're in this vein, the other composition - and I really don't know who brought this to the session —

Tafuri: And that's interesting: everything is divided down the middle, the composed tunes and even the "non-original" tunes you brought to the session — the Tim Garland composition "The Moon for Her."

Locke: Tim Garland is a wonderful friend of mine. He's the saxophonist in the Origin Band, Chick Corea's sextet, and he's a dear friend.  He's based in London.  And this is one of the most beautiful pieces I've ever heard. It's a song based on an Eric Carle children's story about a father who brings the moon down for his little girl.  It's called "The Moon for Her" — the name of the song, not the name of the story.  It's about the theme of acquiring the moon for your child. It's a beautiful, beautiful piece of music.  It was recorded by Tim on his Made by Walking CD on Stretch Records, and we did it on tour together. 
When it was time for this record, I said we just have to do this song; it's such a beautiful piece of music.  And it's a beautiful song to start the CD with, because it introduces the other members of the band late in the piece.  So, it starts with the duo — almost as an extension of Saturn's Child — then, halfway through the piece, enter the saxophone and the percussion saying 'this is an extension of Saturn's Child, but we're doing something different.'  So, I think it's a good introduction to the new CD.  Plus, it's a beautiful piece of music, and Tim's just a fantastic composer.  He writes very challenging music, but that's also very, very heartfelt that has an emotional impact and an emotional immediacy that I really love.

Tafuri: Which is what the duo has. Which is what Saturn's Child had. So, it's a very appropriate way to bring all those things together … and extend.
It's amazing to hear how that tune sounds right after "Midnight" [the last tune on Saturn's Child] .

Locke: Oh, isn't that interesting?

Tafuri: What I did recently was I listened to the two CDs back-to-back.

Locke: Wow!

Tafuri: As one extended set.

Locke: Wow, that's interesting!

Tafuri: Now, there are sonic differences and there are other kinds of things, but just listening to it musically — the way "Midnight" ends and the way we pick up into this — it's like you could almost hear the whole thing as one big suite.

Locke: That's an interesting thing to do, actually.

Tafuri: I mean, I don't think we planned it that way when we were sequencing it.

Locke: No, no.  Of course not.

Tafuri: But it was an exciting little thing to hear happen.

Locke: That's nice for me to hear, about how we were even more successful at making the new project an extension of the previous on.

Tafuri: I love the fact that we have that extension, but there's still are so many really great duo pieces.  Even though the number of tunes is about evenly divided between the quartet and the duo stuff, you brought duo tunes in and you really did them.  For instance, "Just Suppose"…

Kimbrough:  "Just Suppose" is an old tune of mine.  It's probably —

Tafuri: He wants to say it's the oldest tune.

Kimbrough: No, it probably is.  It's probably twenty years old.

Tafuri: Wow.

Locke: I didn't know that.

Kimbrough: I think I wrote it in maybe '82 or something like that.

Tafuri: So, in some states, it's almost not legal.

[Locke and Tafuri laugh.]

Kimbrough: It's funny, because I originally wrote it as a waltz, but I never had an occasion to record it or even perform it.  It's one of those tunes that's been in my workbooks for years.  And I'd never forgotten it — or, actually, maybe I had forgotten it — and Ron Horton came up one day (he's sort of the [Jazz Composers] Collective's archivist — you know, you go to his apartment, and he's got every piece of music he's ever played in his life, filed away somewhere)—- so, he brought this file into me one day and said "I found some of your old tunes, and I wondered if you hadn't even forgotten about some of them."  I pulled this out.  I hadn't really forgotten it, but it was pretty far back in the recesses of my memory.  So, I decided to rework it a little bit.   We play it in 4/4.  Again, it's a very old tune and one that I've always wanted to find an outlet for, but just never quite found it.

Tafuri: So, this is the debut of this tune really - the recording debut, anyway.

Kimbrough: Yeah, I think nineteen years after it was written.

Locke: It's like its "coming-out party."  It's the "debutantes' ball" for this tune.

[Laughter all around.]

Tafuri: Another one of your tunes, that I think I've heard before, is "Forsythia."

Kimbrough:  "Forsythia's" another old one that's probably almost as old as "Just Suppose."  I think I wrote it (whew) not long after I arrived in New York.  I may have played it sometime in the past when you may have heard it, but this is the first time it's been recorded.

Tafuri:   Wow.  Another one.  Like its subject, it has a real Spring feel to it - the springtime budding of the little "four sisters."

Kimbrough:  "Forsythia" was an eight-bar tune.  As I was looking it over before we recorded it, I added a bridge to it.  The bridge was written (something like) sixteen or seventeen years after the A section.

Tafuri: So, if we do like classical compositions where you show the years in which it was composed, it'd work out to about a bar-a-year.

Locke: It's like the building of the great pyramids.

Tafuri: What is it now, then? I can't recall.  Is it A-B-A.

Kimbrough: It's A-A-B-A.

Locke: A beautiful tune, a beautiful tune.

Tafuri: Speaking of beautiful tunes, I really love "Broken Toy."

Locke: Well, bar 5 of "Broken Toy" I wrote in 1974, and the first bar I wrote in…

[More laughter.]

Locke: I wrote bar 5 and then filed it.

Tafuri: But "Broken Toy" — and I don't know, we've never talked about this — in some ways reminds me of, it's an extension of, "Empty Chalice" [on Saturn's Child].

Locke: Hmm, wow. 

Tafuri: I hear a connection between those tunes.   I mean, they're not the same — they're different kinds of tunes, but…

Locke: They both come from very painful [experiences, they have a very painful] genesis.

Tafuri: Wow.

Locke: Yeah, they come from a place of sadness.  And, so, it's really interesting that you would say that, because that's the connection: what fed the inspiration was sadness.  In "Broken Toy," it's feeling like a broken toy, a human feeling like a broken toy.  I don't know.  All I can say about that song is that the title came to me first, and then, what I wrote, is what does it feel like to be a broken toy.  And that song came out like "Saturn's Child" [the title tune on Saturn's Child] did; I sat at the piano, and it came in five minutes, fully formed.

Tafuri: Wow.

Locke: But it was the title —

Tafuri: You ruminated on it for a while —

Locke: The phrase came into my head and then the tune came out.  I didn't have to think — even once — about what to do in the next bar, you know?

Tafuri: I love the record in general, but for me it's one of the most beautiful moments on the record.  I think in it there's some really special stuff happening.  I would have to say the other beautiful moment — and I think we were all sort of breathless in the studio after the playback of it — was "For Duke."

Kimbrough: Oh, yeah.  That was the one take.

Tafuri: I mean, we were all just silent, man.  It was one of those "moments."

Locke: That's Frank's tune, and he pulled that song out at Caramoor, I believe.  I don't think I'd ever heard it, and he pulled it out.  We were playing at the jazz festival at Caramoor —

Tafuri: July of 2000 — just about a year ago —

Locke: And, not to be overly sappy here, but he said, "Let's play this song." And I didn't know it and, at Caramoor in front of a lot of people, I was shaken by how beautiful it was.  I was moved by playing that song, but almost like I was a member of the audience listening.  I think it's a great song, because it's incredibly simple — almost to the point of where you go 'I've heard this before' but you haven't, but there's a familiarity there.  There's something that resonates of some place very familiar.

Tafuri: It's very evocative (without being derivative) of Strayhorn.

Locke: Very evocative.

Kimbrough: You could almost hear Johnny Hodges playing it.

Tafuri: I mean, it's evocative of Strayhorn, and it's evocative of Ellington.   I've heard a lot of great players, who've played lots and lots of Strayhorn and Ellington, say it's hard to say where one stopped and the other one began.  They were really very complimentary. But that tune — what was the genesis of that?

Kimbrough: That's a tune, the sort of way it happened — I don't really remember how it happened — it was probably a tune that was written in five minutes.

Tafuri: Wow.

Kimbrough: At the piano or maybe not.  But it's a tune that came out fully formed. And I find that playing it, the less you play —

Locke: Yeah.

Kimbrough: The better.

Locke: There's a brilliance in being able to write like that.  It's what a great song should be.  It's simple, and it hits, and it finds an emotional impact that comes through loud and clear and in a beautiful way with simplicity that anyone can understand.  Even someone who doesn't know jazz from country music can hear that melody and be affected by it.  That's really beautiful.

Kimbrough: It's a tune that could be played by a kid.  There's nothing involved technically in playing it, but I think life experience is what informs the tune … more than technique or more than any kind of notes you can play.

Tafuri: Well, I know for myself, even though I like a lot of different kinds of musics, at heart I'm a melodist.  It's great melodies.  I mean, I can even hear the melodies in what Cecil Taylor plays.

Locke: Of course.

Tafuri: Some people look at me like I'm out of my mind —

Locke: And I would have to agree with that —

[Laughter all around.]

Tafuri: But for other reasons — not about Cecil.  But it's just one of those beautiful, even stunning melodies.  The more you do to it, the more (in some ways) you detract from it.

Locke: Yeah.

Tafuri: I remember a few years ago, I was singing with an Irish choir, and we did this concert around St Patrick's Day, and they had a special soloist — a woman — who came in to sing.  She sang "Danny Boy," and she tried to sing it like Aretha Franklin.

Kimbrough: [Cackles.]

Tafuri: And just about destroyed the tune.   I mean, I love Aretha Franklin's singing; don't get me wrong.  But, well, it's like a great opera melody.  You take some of the really delicate, beautiful things from opera.  It stands on its own.  You can't tamper with it.

Locke: Well, I'll tell you, I was spoiled by playing "Saturn's Child," the title track from the previous CD.  I was spoiled by playing with Frank, because I've played it since with other people where it becomes (in the hands of other pianists) where it becomes a vehicle for improvisation for showing how much and how "bright" they are.  Then it hurts me to play "Saturn's Child."  It almost hurts me to play "Saturn's Child" with almost but anybody Frank, because [with the others] it becomes just a springboard for improvisation.  Whereas, when I play it with Frank, he understands how to play that song.  And it's not a lot about being a springboard for lots of notes; it's about honoring the melody.

Tafuri: Well, you're focusing the energy in different places … in turning a note.  I mean, you can't get real technical about it, or it destroys it, when you start talking about playing a particular phrase or dynamic or whatever ... but that's what it all goes into.  I think it's the energy that's turned into the piece that leaves it radiant.

Locke: Yes!

Kimbrough: I think most tunes — if they're good tunes — tell you how to play them.

Tafuri: Well, Monk's tunes did that.  Anyone who really understands Monk's music knows that.  They take on a life of themselves — that "organic" thing we were talking about.

Kimbrough: And everybody has something different to bring to a tune.  Sometimes I think that if musicians listened to what the tune had to tell them - a little more than "hey, how many notes can I play" or "how far can I abstract this" or whatever have you — the tune tells you.

Tafuri: I wish a few more singers would pay attention.

[Laughter all around.]

Tafuri: OK, We won't go there, but …

Kimbrough: Well, it is a disease, right? Well, it sounds like a disease.

Locke: I was going to say that Frank has a way of keeping the harmony consonant and finding a beauty in the consonance, not having to depart and put in substitute changes (which is more than capable of doing), but I like the way Frank finds his way through the piece, keeping things consonant.  There's something, there's the magic of all this music, there's something about Frank's overall approaching to keeping the music consonant and finding beauty in the original harmony of the composition.

Tafuri: Absolutely.

Locke: That's the beauty of "For Duke" — the consonance and the harmony.

Tafuri: And still the tension in it, the tension and release.  It's still in there without getting dissonant.  — "Truth Be Told."

Locke:   You still have to write down the lyrics for that, Frank.

Tafuri: I got about 80% of them done.

Locke:   Mr Tafuri ... I still want those lyrics.  I mean, you were working on 'em in the studio.

Tafuri: OK.  "Truth Be Told" — talk about "organic."  Talk about taking on a life of its own, I mean, that really did.

Locke:   That tune was something that I wrote with more of an R&B ballad kind of vibe, but then I thought it's extremely melodic, but it's something I would have normally saved for another project.  But I love it on this record.  And it shows that the duo — this band — can groove, you know?

Tafuri: One of the things I like about that tune — and several tunes on the record — and part of it is a tribute to the piano itself, part of it is the way it was recorded, and part of it is Frank, but it's amazing how many times in the studio and in subsequent listenings to this you forget that there's not a bass on this record.

Locke:   Right.

Tafuri: I mean, especially on this tune.  [Sings a motif from bass line.]

Locke: Yeah, it sounds so fat, and, yeah, it's a groove tune.  It's something I would record with electric bass and drums.  It's really "in the pocket," and I'm really glad we recorded it.  Somehow it works.  It's a departure, but it really works.

Tafuri: It's an extension.

Locke: I really love the fact that Tim Ries, who had only received the music the night before, when we were preparing to record that song, I expected that he'd play tenor or soprano or flutes on the record, and he said, "No, I brought my alto because that song 'Truth Be Told' really wants to be played on alto." And I appreciated that he had done some research, he had gone over the music the night before and then had that contribution to make of 'Wow, that melody wants to be played on alto.' So, he plays alto on this one cut, and it's great.  That's the voice for the song.

Tafuri: Well, that's part of the genesis and the coming together of the elements and the surprises that come out of that process.

Locke: And it brings me to the point that I just couldn't have thought of two better guys to augment this duo.  I mean, Ballard is so organic and is such a beautiful spirit and so giving, and Tim Ries is an absolute genius.  How he approached every single song — not like "I'm gonna play my shit, but — I'm gonna find what the song tells you.  Like Frank said, 'the song tells you what it needs,' Tim Ries' approach is a perfect example of that: 'I'm gonna play what this song requires.'  And he does that on every single song on the record, and yet his voice — he himself as an artist — comes through loud and clear.  It's amazing.

Tafuri: There's amazing respect for the tunes, and there's amazing respect, in all the quartet tunes, for the duo.  There's deference given to the duo in every tune without being submissive or subjugated.  I think that really comes through on "Now I Lay Me Down."

Locke:   I was just thinking the exact same thing.  I think what Tim plays on that song is, to me, perfection.  There's the right amount.  He plays the melody, and yet he finds places to give it little extra nuance.  Whether it's a little cry at one part or something else, he puts himself in it.  He takes the notes off the page and puts them into this living environment.  I don't know how to find words for it, but he takes the notes off the page and makes them live.

Tafuri: My feeling is we captured a very special moment in that solo.

Locke: Yeah, it's amazing.

Tafuri: And it's funny, because I can use another session that you were involved with [, Joe] , on the Steve Slagle session for New New York, he plays this alto solo on "What Goes Around Comes Around."  He plays such an amazing solo — again, one of those "special" moments captured.  He said he'd never played it before, and he's tried playing it again a bunch of times afterwards, and he can't get it back.  We caught that moment, and it's like what all of us musicians — even amateur musicians — live for: to have that moment when everything just comes together. 
I feel like there are special moments — really special moments — on this record, and that's one of them ... the way Tim plays on that.

Locke:   I agree with you.  I didn't think of it until now, but that — maybe of all the recordings I've made — that that might be one of the most special moments captured in the studio, like a moment that's captured for posterity.

Tafuri: I think there are a lot of special moments.  I mean, listen to "For Duke."  I think there are a lot of things throughout.  I mean, the exhilaration in various places in "Highland" and especially at the end of it, there was this tremendous soaring energy, and it never got "in your face." This tremendous energy.  I remember we were all bubbling at the end of it.  Wow!  You know, livin' on the edge.

[Laughter all around.]

Tafuri: Special record.

Locke: Yes, thank you, Frank.

Kimbrough: And it requires acknowledgement of all the contributions of everybody concerned from the piano tuner to the engineers to, obviously, Tim and Jeff Ballard.  Ballard came in without a drum set, but with the hand percussion and gave everything such a beautiful ambiance.

Tafuri: Well, that was beautiful, that was such a great idea: to not have him on a set, to have him doing accents and "color and commentary" and, in some places, adding a whole new angle on this thing or that.  And we're lucky to have him.

Kimbrough: That's right, lucky to have him in town for a few days.

Locke: I feel lucky that [Frank and I] are able to keep this dialogue going. I feel lucky to have OmniTone documenting this, for me to keep this dialogue happening with Kimbrough.  It's a special relationship.

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