I'd been aware of Brad Goode, but not of quite what a superlative player and band-leader he was ? till I reviewed his album Nature Boy, released on Delmark earlier this year. With his quartet of Jeff Jenkins on piano, Johannes Weidenmueller on bass and Todd Reid on drums, this is an album where conception and execution, form and content, are perfectly matched. The leader's bright, articulate trumpet, placed in the context of a variety of compelling grooves, plus his four new original compositions, create a great artistic success ? though as we'll see, he's sceptical about that "artistic" terminology.
The album is probably towards the more avantgarde end of Goode's output, and he plays in a wide variety of stylistic contexts. The trumpet quartet format found on Nature Boy is not so common ? Booker Little's Legendary Quartet album is one template for it ? and I asked Brad how it arose. "In my earlier career, I always played jazz with other horn players", he explains. "In 1997, I left the life of a full time musician to enter the education field. Although I practice more now, and play many jobs as a trumpeter, I rarely perform small group jazz. When I do, it's as a sideman or as a guest with a house rhythm section. I've just become used to being alone in the front line. That's really all it is. That, and economics."
I felt that the album was very well-conceived, and that a lot of thought must have gone into devising the programme for it. But not the last time with this musician, I was a little thrown by his response: "I try to do my recordings as quickly as possible, usually in one four-hour recording session", he explains. "I don't believe in listening to the tape during the session. Most often, I do two consecutive takes of a tune and move on. I try to balance the set ? tempi, rhythmic styles, metre, etc. Usually I don't decide what to record until I'm at the studio. Regarding original material, I don't do it if the players haven't played the tunes with me previously. The standards are chosen when I ask the rhythm section for suggestions. If anybody isn't totally comfortable with a tune, we won't play it.
Brad Goode was born in Chicago in 1963, and was classically trained on violin from the age of four, switching to guitar and cornet at eleven. He had lessons with Ellington's trumpeter Cat Anderson, then studied trumpet at the University of Kentucky. After moving back to Chicago in 1985, he began working with veteran tenor-player Von Freeman, and was featured with such players as Red Rodney, Al Cohn, Eddie Harris, Ira Sullivan, Frank Morgan, Don Lanphere, Curtis Fuller, and Jack DeJohnette.
His early trumpet heroes, apart from Booker Little, included Dizzy Gillespie, Clifford Brown, and Don Cherry. But once he entered the Chicago jazz scene at the age of 20, he explains, he really stopped paying attention to recordings. His main influences were the musicians that he was working with, or listening to in person, such as Ira Sullivan and Red Rodney: "I used to love hearing Kenny Wheeler when he played with Dave Holland's group. I was very influenced by Paul Smoker, who lived in Iowa and performed in Chicago frequently. But my main musical influences were saxophonists, particularly Von Freeman, Eddie Harris, and again, Ira Sullivan".
"My formal training was in classical music", Brad continues, "focusing on being a recitalist rather than an orchestral musician. At the University of Kentucky there was no jazz program. My teacher was Vincent DiMartino, one of the great virtuosi of our time, a fantastically gifted teacher?But I've rarely used my classical training in performance. I get a lot of calls from symphony orchestras to play principal trumpet on 'Pops' concerts, but they need me when the music is more commercially oriented. I just finished a run with the New Orleans Opera, playing on West Side Story." Classical music's major influence on him has been in his approach to composing and orchestrating. For instance, one of the original compositions on Nature Boy, "Nightmare of the Mechanized World", is a two-part invention, for trumpet and bass, over three simultaneously occurring polytonal chord cycles. That may sound heavy, but the result isn't.
He regards Chicago tenor-player Von Freeman, father of Chico, as "the greatest living improvisor". They recorded together on Inside Chicago for SteepleChase. "People are divided on their reactions to his playing", Brad explains. "You either get it, or you don't. To me, he is a prophet. Von is still going strong at 85, playing each Tuesday at the Apartment Lounge, as he has for 40 years." Freeman chose to stay in Chicago, while others became famous by going to New York. This process continues, and many of Brad's peers went on to successful careers there ? Jesse Davis, Eric Alexander, Ron Blake, John Campbell, Jacky Terrason. "Chicago has a chip on it's shoulder regarding New York. Chicago musicians resent the fact that the 'New York Stamp' can make careers, while they labour in relative obscurity," he explains.
"I didn't really play much avant garde stuff when I lived in Chicago", Brad continues. "It's kind of funny; I was something of a square peg there ? too far out for the bebop guys and too conventional for the avantgardists." That might still be the case with Nature Boy, I reckon. "I did get to play with a lot of the AACM guys in various jam sessions over the years, and I always enjoyed it", he adds.
One of the trumpeter's first opportunities to work with name players was an invitation to join Lee Konitz and Don Lanphere ? two former Chicagoans ? at the Jazz Showcase in 1986. The all-black rhythm section was Jodie Christian, Donald Garrett and Wilbur Campbell: "For anyone familiar with Chicago players, this means SMOKIN'!", Brad exclaims. "Dropping bombs, broken time, wild sub chords, the works. I was so excited and nervous I couldn't sleep the night before opening."
In the year of Barack Obama's extraordinary election campaign ? I am writing these words on election night, in fact ? Brad comments on the racial divisions of the new President's adopted city. He says that Chicago has long been considered the most polarized city in America, and its neighbourhoods are highly segregated. As a young white musician living on the North Side in the 1980s, many of his white friends expressed concern for his safety on his nightly visits to South Side sessions and gigs ? where, incidentally, he felt totally accepted by the black jazz community: "I became friends with the great bassist, Tiaz Palmer, who had just left Ahmad Jamal's trio and moved home from NYC to the South Side. I invited him to my loft on North Halsted Street to rehearse, and he asked me if he would be safe walking from his car in my all white neighborhood. I was stunned ? this was the first time I was able to come to grips with my own ignorance about race in America. Another musician who was super warm to me, and went out of his way to help me get gigs, was pianist Alvin Farrakhan, brother of Nation of Islam leader, Louis Farrakhan", Brad adds.
At this time also, as he explains it, he learned a vital truth about listening to the rhythm section. "During my years as a bandleader on the North Side, I always hired the South Side players. Everyone knew that the drummer was the heart of every great jazz group in Chicago. Usually, discussions of disappointing gigs centred around the effectiveness and groove of the drummer. All of the experienced musicians exhorted the younger players to 'play off of the drums', which meant you focused your attention on rhythm, above all else. Today, I often hear academically trained players debating where the drums and bass should play on the beat; who should lead, and so on. In Chicago, every young bass player was told, in no uncertain terms, to follow the drummer. Drums on top, bass in the middle, was accepted as totally objective fact citywide."
Brad also has reservations about the way that today's musicians think that a jazz gig involves writing fresh, original material, rehearsing it once, and taking the stage with their heads buried in music stands. He was taught that reading charts is the most amateurish and superficial way of performing jazz: "I need to know a song to a great depth before I perform it", he explains. "In this way, the performance can become an adventure in exploring new possibilities, rooted in spontaneity and interaction, rather than in presentation or style. I have no real arrangement or version of any particular tune. What I have is familiarity. None of the standards on Nature Boy were rehearsed, and they are all first takes. I find that many musicians, both in my generation and those younger than myself, have missed this element."
Some players say that whatever they end up doing with a song, it has to refer back to its original essence in some way, but Brad disagrees. "Capturing a song's 'essence' is never really a concern for me. My goal is to use the song as a means of expressing my own essence. The more familiarity that I have with the material, the less I have to consciously think about specifics; ie. chords, form, notes, etc. My desire is to prevent the left brain from interfering in the process of expression. When a musician reads chord changes from the page, he/she is automatically crippled by the visual cues that stimulate the left brain?A song that one uses over a period of years becomes like a familiar pathway. If the musician has negotiated the path successfully many times, then the next level is to find new steps to take on that path. For instance, Miles recorded much of Wayne Shorter's material, but really only used the simplest, like 'Footprints', in his performances. He played the same book of basic standards throughout the 1960s. What changed was the interpretation."
Brad Goode now teaches at the University of Colorado at Boulder ? and judging by his highly articulate sleevenotes, I would guess that he's a great teacher. Certainly he aims to subvert the standard diet of the jazz programmes ? though when he discusses race, entertainment vs. art, cool vs. hot, dixie vs. bop, too often the students seem to prefer to be told what to play over an altered chord. He feels that the fact that he never studied jazz formally gives him a slightly different take compared to the academic model: "As a student, I never transcribed solos, and never used scales. When I entered academia , I realized that those two things pretty much accounted for the sum of the standard methods".
He has a standard speech for the youngest students on their first day of Improvisation class: "I congratulate them on entering Show Business and advise them that music is meant purely for entertainment purposes. I warn them against thinking of themselves as 'Artists' and advise them that if they don't think that Jazz is just one helluvalot of fun they should change their major field immediately. I have found this to be the best attitude in which to create an environment of creativity. I also tell them that I couldn't care less if they learn to improvise ? whatever that means ? but they should not even dream of graduating if they don't intend to become excellent instrumentalists and performers."
He calls his teaching method "The Ear as the Primary Weapon": "Of course, I advise the student that it's much better to play by ear than to think of all of this [technical] stuff. However, by labouring over the correct technical approaches you are actually training your ear to hear the good information. Later, the goal is to go to the left brain and to trust it."
"We all have licks", he continues. "It's better when they're your own licks. My licks are a part of what makes me distinguishable from other players. At our gigs, if Ira Sullivan caught me starting to get stiff and weird, he'd lean over while I was playing and say in my ear 'Stop thinking'. As I grew to trust him and to trust myself, it was like a magical incantation. I tell my students: 'Thinking is for the practice room. When you get to the job, just play.'"
Goode is eloquent on what he sees as the dangers of "jazz as art": "[Saxophonist] Ernie Krivda says that Jazz lost it soul when the musicians on the bandstand stopped trying to entertain the fans and dancers in the ballroom and started trying to impress the fellow with the goatee and beret, who leans over the piano player, saying 'Go ahead man, stretch out!' I strongly feel that the reason why most Americans hate jazz is because the musicians don't really consider themselves to be entertainers. I'm not exaggerating when I say Americans hate jazz ? I live here. Jazz accounts for 2% of total music sales yearly, and 75% of that 2% is Smooth Jazz."
Chicago experienced a boom in the club scene during the 1980s and 90s, which was good in providing work ? but the downside was that nobody really came to listen: "We were just sonic wallpaper. In order to make it through the gig we had to completely shut the audience out of our thoughts. We played only for ourselves. Many of us, in our naivete, thought that all of this working-out and training would someday lead to more successful performing careers. But the only ones who moved beyond the maze were the singers because they're better entertainers."
"If jazz is presented to an audience, it is entertainment", he continues, trenchantly. "But most jazz musicians, post bebop, only consider the integrity of the music. They play as if their audience understood the complexities of modern harmony ? most contemporary players are so fixated on harmony that they subjugate rhythm, melody, texture, development and lyricism. Everyone's so concerned with being hip that they forget to be entertaining, or if you will, communicative. Trying to impress the guy wearing the beret and goatee?The students coming out of these Coltrane factories all sound the same, and it's boring to me."
"Really, I'm with Zappa, and everything I say could be in jest, or maybe not", he adds.
Brad explains that he has about ten finished but unreleased album projects. I ask what he feels about the decline of the CD format. "In the old days, making a record meant something special", he argues. "It was reserved for those who had worked their way through the ranks, gained approval of their peers, and garnered the attention of one of the few record companies. Now, anyone can make a CD." He believes in live performance, more than ever: "Digital recording technology makes it easy to cheat. With editing programs, auto-tune, etc., the public can't really tell from a recording what's real and what's been carefully constructed to sound as if it was real. The only way you can tell who can really play is by hearing live performance. The decline of he label system will probably be the best thing that ever happens for people like myself. It will be the great leveler, putting us all on an even playing field.
His latest release, Polytonal Dance Party, is what he describes as a "polytonal funk quintet": "Every chord is a bitonal construction. It's wild sounding." A polychord consists of two different chords played simultaneously. They're familiar in contemporary jazz harmony, but Brad's sonorities were so extreme, he explains, that "When I started asking musicians to read these chords, they wanted me to go away and die." However, in guitarist Bill Kopper, pianist Jeff Jenkins, bassist Kenny Walker and drummer Anthony Lee, he found some like-minded players. The results are more extravagant that Nature Boy, maybe not so much to my ? er ? taste, but always intriguing. As one would expect from this eclectic yet completely accomplished musician. And in case anyone should get confused on the question, it's certainly not "art", just pure "entertainment" all the way?
"POLYTONAL DANCE PARTY" will shortly be released on Origin Records