You represent the living legend of jazz – your music has always been a mixture of various music genres that you skillfully combined into your own way of music making. If you look back, which musical genre had the greatest influence on your music career?
When I first began making music my first love was the bebop of the 40s. My father Armando had many 78 RPM vinyl recordings in our apartment. I listened to Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, the Billy Eckstein big-band, and others. I was then introduced to classical piano music at the age of eight years. In the early ’70s I became fascinated with the music of Stevie wonder and Joni Mitchell. At the same time my love for Latin and Flamenco music especially was growing. So you can see I had a wide range of interests and still do.
Jazz-rock or fusion are the first synonims that come on someone’s mind, when they hear your name. Could you tell us when (in your opinion) jazz and rock started to mix with each other? Was it during the Filles de Kilimanjaro sessions or later? Describe us your experience with Miles Davis and other musicians that you played with at that time.
Miles was definitely looking for new ways to communicate his music. When I worked in his band from 1968 through 1971 he was constantly trying new ideas. He also began to introduce electric instruments into his music. I think Miles and the music that came from the musicians who came through his bands in the ’70s formed the basic elements of a new blend of musical styles.
Do you still feel criticized because you helped to electrify jazz music – as we know, many jazz fans criticized mixing of jazz and rock, but you always returned to acoustic form of playing, as you also do with electrified music. Which form do you prefer more?
I love all kinds of music and art. I have always liked to try blending different sounds and different rhythms. I enjoy working with musicians who have special creativity. I take pleasure out of always learning something new.
You were a member of a fusion supergroup Return To Forever. What actually changed when you started to use electric instruments and different rhythms, and what was the reaction of old and new listeners (fans)?
In the ’60s and the ’70s music was in a constant flux and change. I think it still is, actually. One might have to wait 20 or 30 years or even more to be able to evaluate what happens in the changing of a musical culture.
The first two recordings I made with Return to Forever had a certain sound and rhythm. The rhythm section combination of Stanley Clarke and Airto Moreira made an interesting Brazilian jazz flavor applied to the compositions I wrote for that band. The third recording titled Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy made an abrupt change of styles to a more electrified and rock sound. The audiences we played to always seem to be changing. Their tastes changed as the music changed it seems to me.
You dedicated all of your life to music. Do you think any genre of popular music (including jazz) could have the real power to change the world today? If the answer is yes, how? Do you think that recent Mr. Obama’s re-election will help your country and the rest of the world to get out of the current global crisis? Where, in your opinion, lies the political statement of jazz music?
I believe music is a positive force for good. Artists can remind people of their inherent creativity. Art and all good things can be “contagious” and spread its positive effects. People normally like to be productive and live happily. Anyone who creates and promotes this kind of positive life I support.
Could you introduce us to musicians, that will play with you on the 21st of November in Maribor? What can audience expect? What will you be performing?
I am honored to have Christian McBride and Brian Blade playing with me in this trio. They are both bandleaders and composers in their own right and have recorded with the best musicians in the world. This is the second tour we have done together and it’s always a lot of creative fun to play with these two genius musicians.
Another question – you collaborated with many respectful jazz musicians – could you name some of the artists that you really liked to work with, and tell us why. Which music do you prefer to listen – could you also name a few of younger jazz musicians, that you are really fond of?
I’m happy to say I am very rich with musical friends. I have had the honor and pleasure of making music with many great artists and genius musicians. This, without a doubt, is the richness of my life.
We are fortunate that the world is filled with young creative musicians that carry forward the beauty of music culture. These are the musicians of the future and I learned a lot from them.