Sunday, July 10, 2016


Tenor saxophonist Houston Person won’t go on the record to acknowledge if “Chemistry,” his new duet recording with Ron Carter out on High Note Records, is his absolute favorite collaboration with the famed jazz bassist. For many moons now, Houston has been the reigning sage of soul-jazz, quick-witted improvisationally, on top of owning a tone on the sax that’s lush and sophisticated. As for Carter, chief among his legend is having blessed upwards of two-thousand jazz albums as a sideman, and for decades carrying the title of most revered jazz bassist of all times.

 Houston did acknowledge, however, that he loves each duet recording equally. Person and Carter started working together in the early 90’s. Since then they’ve recorded sixth highly-touted duets. On them, the duo used every square inch of their jazz acumen and boundless virtuosity on well-known standards that jazz musicians, according to Person, rarely perform nowadays.

“Chemistry,” has standards such as “Bye Bye Blackbird,” “Young and Foolish,” “I Can’t Get Started,” and “Blue Monk”. Person and Carter are in excellent form, and the standards sound freshly minted in their care. A few weeks ago, Person spoke with I Dig Jazz via telephone about “Chemistry,” his reverence for Carter, and what jazz lacks at the moment.
When did you and Ron Carter start collaborating?

We go way back. I met Ron at one of our union meetings for musicians. I've always been a big fan of Ron. He took his band and me on tour in Japan, and we got to be real good friends. We found out we like a lot of the same things like Scrabble. We'd play Scrabble to pass the time. Warming up before a concert I'd be playing songs, and he would play with me just bass and horn in the dressing room. He knew the lyrics to a lot of tunes. We liked a lot of the standards and the old jazz tunes. We started playing a lot of those tunes. We developed a mutual respect for each other and the music. I'm making it real short and brief for you, but we're just sort of good, good friends.

Chemistry”  is your sixth duo album with Carter.

People like them, people really like them. I have to give praise to the record companies for letting us do them, and the record companies keep asking for them, so Ron and I keep doing them.

You guys performed only standards on this album. Was that a decision you and Carter made not to record any originals?

I would pick the tunes. We would set up the tunes that we wanted to play. Some of our earlier duo albums we did a lot of jazz classics. The last two albums we did standards. We enjoyed that, and Ron being the great accompanist that he is, is the anchor for everything. He adds fresh life into all of those songs. Sometimes, I like to play those tunes that everybody thinks are outdated. I'm still dedicated to the jazz classics too, the real jazz tunes.

How do you and Carter pump new life into standards and classic jazz songs?
One thing is I would play the melody, and the harmonic structure Ron added to it. He can add different harmonies to the tunes. Sometimes, we do different tempos and different rhythms.

Over your career, you've played in a lot of different contexts. Are there particular challenges just playing in a duo situation?
There are no challenges. You see, I got a good partner, that's the first thing you want to do. I was told a long time ago when you get in a band, make sure everybody in the band is better than you. What that meant was make sure you have great musicians with you.

Ron adds so much, so many ideas rhythmically, little motifs then he will give you different little things he will set up for you. You just got to be alert. That's the fun and joy of playing jazz. When you're playing with the great Ron Carter, you find something to play. That's the challenge staying in tune and staying on the message that you're trying to deliver.

What made “Chemistry” extra special was legendary jazz engineer/producer Rudy Van Gelder’s involvement. How excited was he about working with you and Carter?
He loved it, man. We've been together, Rudy and I, for 40 years I've been recording with him. He's just great and still gets excited about doing sessions. I say this all the time; he's the producer. He's my producer because he has helped me throughout the years. He keeps me on the ball. Rudy is a hell of a guy. He's been the world to me; he's been very nice to me over the years and taken care of me.

Is this your favorite duet with Carter of the six?
I'm going to tell you the truth; I like them all.

You’re 81 now, you're still playing a lot of horn, and you're touring like crazy. What keeps you going?
I love playing. I love the music, and I think I'm making a contribution. I like helping the young guys, and giving them advice and mentoring them, and I like meeting people and different cultures, and breaking down barriers. There are so many barriers out there, so musically we try to tear them down.

I read that Detroit is one of your favorite cities. Do you have any fond recollection of working in Detroit?
I love Detroit. When I went to Detroit, when I was pretty much starting out and people stuck with me. The people there, they helped me so much.

Who are some of the people? Are you referring to the musicians there?
I worked at Mozambique, and I did an album featuring Detroit musicians Eli Fountain, then Wild Bill Moore. You got to get a copy of that, man. You will hear the whole feeling that was going on back then. I did some Motown stuff, too. I played Baker’s. Detroit was very good to me. Detroit gave me my first big record. Yeah, so I owe a lot to the people of Detroit.

You've seen jazz go through many changes. What's your thoughts on where the music is today?
I know where it should be.

Where is that?
We need to put the fun back in it. We need to be reaching out to the community more. We need to put the dance back in it. We need to put the Blues back in it.

When did those elements get lost?
I don't know. What do you think?

I like where the music is right now. I think there are some good players out there…
No, I'm not talking about the players. I didn't mean that. I'm not putting any player down. Man, you've got some bad cats out there now. I was just saying we need not be so serious about it. Okay, you can play, now let's have some fun. That's what I'm saying. See, your parents are people who back in the day, they used to go out dancing. They would be dancing and having fun.

Today the emphasis seems to be on virtuosity.
Yeah. That's what happened when we let the dance go. You can't dance. You had to sit and listen. The music stopped being fun, and then people started moving over to rock and roll or something else. You just ask anybody in Detroit about how it used to be there. I was there back in the day. It was different. That's what I'm saying. Put the blues back in there and let's have some fun.
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