Thursday, July 30, 2009

Jazz Improv Interview with Michel Camilo regarding Blue Note...


(Excerpt from Jazz Improv Magazine Volume 7, Number 3)

JI: I remember in our last conversation we were talking about how you came to the U.S. and you were somewhat apprehensive because you didn’t have everything all lined up.

MC: That’s it, exactly, but I think the last drop was when I was playing as the youngest member of the National Symphony Orchestra of the Dominican Republic. I was playing in the percussion section, which included the piano and the vibes and the celesta as well as the timpani and the snare drum and all that. They brought reinforcements - musicians from New York, to reinforce the symphony for the whole four-month opening celebration of the theater. That’s when, in the middle of the rehearsal, I sat down at the piano and started playing some jazz. And some of the American musicians that were there came to the piano and said, “Wow, man, you’re pretty good. You play jazz also?” “Yeah, I play jazz. That’s what I want to do.” One of them who was an incredible percussion player from New York, Gordon Gottlieb invited me to visit. He became a very good friend of mine. In 1975, he took me around to all the jazz clubs in New York. I came and visited and he made me fall in love with New York. That’s when I decided I should be here. I should come and try to make it here. So in 1979—it took me four years, of course, to do that, but when we finally took the plunge, me and my wife Sandra came to New York to see what would happen. We set ourselves a goal of five years to find out what the possibilities were - if we could survive and if I was going to be able to make a name in the jazz field. In the meantime, I also went to Julliard. I kept on studying, which was nice - because everything didn’t really start happening until 1981, ‘82. In the meantime, very little happened, just my name started getting around among musicians. It’s good, because that gives you a chance to hone your skills and go to the clubs and sit in like everybody else does. You make the rounds and try to connect with the musician community. It takes time. But also I think it makes you get better and practice hard and be ready for that opportunity and play in different bands and know everybody and keep on really studying. I studied with Don Sebesky, for example, big-band writing and contemporary arranging in those years. That was very important. In the meantime, the way I survived is I was playing a Broadway show. I auditioned for a Broadway show that needed a player that could play classical, popular, and jazz. That was a show called Dancing, which required a piano player that could play Benny Goodman’s “Sing, Sing, Sing” in the opening of the third act. It required a piano player that could play the Bach-Busoni “Toccata” onstage in the first act. I played there for four years. And that’s how I was able to pay for my studies.

To read the full interview, click here:

No comments: