Brosella: Kenny Garrett
The US saxophonist Kenny Garrett, this year’s highlight at the Brosella folk and jazz festival, has made music with the likes of Miles Davis, Art Blakey, and Brad Mehldau and has won an array of prestigious awards and prizes, including a number of Grammys. His formula for success: “Always hold fast to the essential, pay attention to the groove and the spiritual, and remain true to yourself.”
When he was just eighteen, Kenny Garrett went on tour with the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Soon afterwards, he was a member of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra. The eye-catching names on his CV include Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, and Herbie Hancock. He was a member of the legendary Five Peace Band with Chick Corea, John McLaughlin, Christian McBride, and Vinnie Colaiuta, and he also played on Guru’s Jazzmatazz, Vol. 2: The New Reality. In short, the saxophone player who was born in Detroit in 1960 learned his trade from artists who wrote key chapters in jazz history, but was also around when jazz took new directions. And by now, he in turn is a model for later generations. On recent albums such as Seeds from the Underground and Pushing the World Away, Garrett has shown that he takes that key role seriously.
By working with major artists from different generations, you have come to occupy a pivotal position between the jazz of the past and the latest developments. How do you keep up with the constant changes?
Kenny GARRETT: Often, it’s through tips I get from people around me. On top of that, I also try to go to gigs in clubs on a regular basis. And if I have the time during festivals, I hang around to listen to other groups and artists. Stage presence is still, for me, one of the most important factors for evaluating someone’s potential.
What was the most important lesson you learned from your older predecessors?
GARRETT: Always hold fast to the essential, pay attention to the groove and the spiritual side of the music, and, above all, remain true to yourself.
You are someone who attaches great importance to the quality of the sound. What do you make of the fact that these days people usually only listen to music in the least optimal circumstances?
GARRETT: It is a subject dear to my heart. That young people don’t buy records any more, but just download and listen to music that way, is a sign of the times. It is unquestionably a completely different experience. And they want everything immediately. My generation still reads sleeve notes and wants to know the story behind the music. Is that better or worse? It is a development you can’t prevent, but I still prefer my way of doing things.
On Pushing the World Away, you pay a tribute to big names such as Chick Corea, Chucho Valdés, and Sonny Rollins. In America, jazz musicians often take the past more seriously than in Europe, where the perspectives are different. How do you find that?
GARRETT: That you see things a bit differently is normal, given that jazz started off here. But recognition of the older generations still matters. You can’t just ignore someone like Rollins, who is still playing. I still find it enriching and inspiring that I can phone Chick and exchange musical ideas with him. Life passes so quickly. So tell them now how much they mean.
On your website I read, “Don’t look for me to sound like my last record. I’m shifting – following what my spirit feels.”
GARRETT: I want everything I do to remain stimulating for myself and also for other people – otherwise, there is no point.
You brought out your first record thirty years ago. Are you satisfied with what you have achieved so far?
GARRETT: It’s funny you ask. During a recent photo session, they had placed my earlier CDs in the studio “at random”. That was an ideal opportunity to look back, with a number of surprises among them. I have to admit that there were some numbers whose titles I no longer remembered. But I am happy with where I am. I have reached a point now where I can develop all my ideas the way I want and in the appropriate context. Above all I have the right musicians around. In the past, I had to develop my ideas in a variety of groups. Now I have no problem mixing jazz, funk, African rhythms, and Caribbean influences without it being questioned.
13/7, 23.00, Theatre Stage
BROSELLA • 12 & 13/7, 15.00, €5, GROENTHEATER/THÉÂTRE DE VERDURE, Ossegempark/parc d’Osseghem, Laken/Laeken, www.brosella.be