MWE3.com Interviews Randy Klein
mwe3: Aside from the different instrumentation, how different is your new duo album What’s Next? compared to your first duo album? Also how did you meet Boris Kozlov and Alex Skolnick and how would you describe the musical chemistry in play on What’s Next? how was the material chosen for the album and how did it begin and end?
RANDY KLEIN: The compositions on Sunday Morning, the first CD from the Two Duos project, are more melody and harmony driven. They were chosen because they fit the two players performing them. Oleg Kireyev has a deep warm saxophone sound and Chris Washburne has a unique facility in all ranges of the trombone. Both are superb all around musicians and improvisers. As I was preparing What’s Next? I wanted to make the CD simply different from the last one. The most important difference was to use two rhythm instruments and the compositions on What’s Next? are written with this idea in mind. The compositions also forced my demands as a pianist to grow.
Randy Klein’s Music on KPFA 94.1 FM
The radio show Early Morning Music with Eddy Pay on KPFA 94.1 FM radio station in Berkeley, CA continues to feature Randy Klein’s compositions: Sunday Morning and Her Beautiful Soul from CD ‘Sunday Morning’ (Jazzheads, 2010), and Inner Voice from CD ‘Love Notes From The Bass’ (Jazzheads, 1996). Thanks again, KPFA!
Jazz Hot Magazine reviews Randy Klein’s CD ‘Sunday Morning’
‘Le pianiste Randy Klein avec ses deux compères tentent de rendre l’atmosphère ”des heures du dimanche matin qui commencent après minuit le samedi, ces heures où les pensées et les sentiments ont la grâce du loisir”, en se basant sur 12 pièces qu’il écrivit en 1988. C’est un pianiste et un compositeur éclectique, composant toutes sortes de musiques, du contemporain à la pop, le jazz n’étant chez lui qu’un à-côté. Mais au piano il est intéressant, il a la chance de jouer sur un magnifique Steinway, avec un phrasé très aéré et assez minimaliste. Le tromboniste est lui aussi compositeur et touche à beaucoup de styles, néanmoins il est très ancré dans le jazz et la salsa. Il a étudié avec Ran Blake et Bob Moses à Boston. Il est également ethnomusicologue. Il possède un son puissant, ample et cuivré. On peut l’apprécier sur ‘Now I Wonder’ ou bien ‘Petits pois’ plus lyrique, dans un style proche de Robin Eubanks. Le saxophoniste russe se réclame de la tradition, de Charlie Parker et de la fusion. Il a commencé en URSS à la fin des années 80 dans le groupe Orlan, assez traditionnel, avant de gagner la Pologne, puis les USA en 1994, il obtint une récompense à Montreux en 1996, et depuis il enchaîne les festivals ; son style est plutôt mainstream avec des impros mélodiques. Il peut être très tendre comme dans le beau ‘Truly Yours’, ou encore le nocturne dans ‘Sunday Morning’. ce sont en fait douze duos, six piano-trombone qui alternent avec six piano-saxophone. Un disque somme toute très agréable et qui permet de découvrir trois musiciens intéressants.’
‘Pianist Randy Klein, along with his two musical friends evoking the atmosphere “of the hours of Sunday morning, those moments when the thoughts and feelings have the grace of leisure”, based on twelve tunes that Klein composed. This is an eclectic pianist and composer, creating all kinds of music, from contemporary to pop with elements of jazz improvisation as a home base. But, what is interesting about at Randy Klein’s piano work is that, he is playing on a magnificent Steinway and he keeps the accompaniment with very airy phrasing and quite minimalist. Chris Washburne, the trombonist is also key to the success of playing in many styles. Though he is very rooted in jazz and salsa, has studied with Ran Blake and Bob Moses in Boston along with being an ethnomusicologist, he has a powerful sound, full and brassy. It can be appreciated on ‘Her Beautiful Soul’ or ‘Le Petit Pois’ more lyrical in a style similar to Robin Eubanks. Also featured is Russian saxophonist, Oleg Kireyev, whose musical influence is Charlie Parker and fusion. He started in the USSR in the late 80s in the group Orlan, quite traditional, before reaching Poland and the United States in 1994, he received an award in Montreux in 1996, and since plays in many European festivals. His style is rather mainstream with melodic improvisations. It can be very tender like the beautiful ‘Truly Yours’, or the tune ‘Sunday Morning’. They are actually twelve duets, six trombone-piano alternating with six piano-saxophone. A disc all in all that is a good listening experience and that reveals three very interesting musicians.’
Randy Klein’s Music on KPFA 94.1 FM
The radio show Early Morning Music with Eddy Pay on KPFA 94.1 FM radio station in Berkeley, CA featured three Randy Klein’s compositions: Sunday Morning and House on the Hill from CD ‘Sunday Morning’ (Jazzheads, 2010), and Morning Mood from CD ‘Love Notes From The Bass’ (Jazzheads, 1996). Thanks, KPFA!
Simons Fellowship – Week #5
This has been a jam packed week. I arrived Monday night at the University of Kansas to begin the second part of my Simons Fellowship at the Hall Center for the Humanities. I hit the ground running on Tuesday morning when I presented ‘It’s About The Music/It’s About The Business of Music’ to freshman and sophomore music majors. Then I went to a rehearsal of a big band directed by Professor Dan Gailey of the Jazz Department. Of course, I worked till the wee hours of the morning on my own writing.
On Wednesday, I conducted a Jazz ensemble through four of my own pieces. The ensemble consisting of three horns, read through the charts and we worked on making them musical. Dynamics was the main principal discussed and worked on. It is a wonderful feeling to teach these young musicians aspects of listening skills. They were playing with dynamics and cooking on the music. Nice!
Thursday morning, I spoke again about the music and the business of music to another freshman/sophomore class. This was a difficult one. The students seemed to be distracted and I really tried everything I could to engage them in some way. I then finally said, ‘How about I just play for you?” I sat at this very well maintained Steinway and played a five or six minute improvisation. I finally connected to them. Music is amazing that way. From that point forward, the students asked questions and were with it. You never know what will work when teaching.
Bob McWilliams from Kansas Public Radio invited me to be a guest on his show ‘Jazz in the Night’ on Thursday night. He played cuts from Two Duos CD ‘Sunday Morning’, tunes from Chris Washburne and the SYOTOS CD ‘Fields Of Moons’ along with some of my favorite recordings that Bob asked me to choose: Sheila Jordan – Falling In Love With Love, Nancy Wilson/ Cannonball Adderley – Save Your Love For Me, Ramsey Lewis – The In Crowd and Oliver Nelson – Stolen Moments. Bob and I had a great time listening and talking about the music. Thanks Bob!
Photos: Randy Klein and Bob McWilliams on
Saturday night was the big event for me. Trombonist, Chris Washburne and saxophonist, Ole Mathisen, happened to be in Nebraska and were willing to make the drive to KU. This allowed us to set up a Two Duos concert at the KU School of Music. The concert was wonderfully received. Chris and Ole both played beautifully. The Two Duos concept was really working and I am most appreciative of the fact that the audience was so wildly enthusiastic. Parts of the concert were videoed. I will have them posted soon.
Photos: Two Duos concert feat. Randy Klein, Chris Washburne and Ole Mathisen at the KU School of Music
I am appreciating this period of my life very much. The silence of Lawrence, Kansas, allows me to focus and keep my rather hectic life in order. Aaah!
How about a shoutout for Complete Silence!!!
More to come …RK
Review: Birmingham Times about ‘Sunday Morning’
Alabama regional newspaper, the Birmingham Times reviews Sunday Morning: “Sunday Morning is magical and captivating. Two Duos is off to a fantastic start”
Review: Jazz.ru about ‘Sunday Morning’
“The new album by pianist Randy Klein ‘Sunday Morning’ was released on the Jazzheads label May 11. On this album Randy Klein plays duets with trombonist Chris Washburne and saxophonist Oleg Kireyev. Kireyev appeared on the second tune and it made me stand still because of his sound - ingratiating, tender and sad. That is the case when the excellent technique of Oleg Kireyev (that I am not going to talk about because there are so many people with good techniques nowadays) was expressed through touching and captivating conversation with Randy Klein.
Jazz duos are not news and they can be called ‘mainstream’. But I was listening to ‘Sunday Morning’ not only with pleasure but with great attention that ‘switched on’ automatically when music deserves it.
With this CD Randy Klein, pianist, composer and President of Jazzheads, begins the ‘Two Duos’ series. Klein and Kireyev know each other for a long time. The CD of the Russian saxophonist ‘Mandala’ was released on Jazzheads some years ago. Another Russian who worked on ‘Sunday Morning’ is photographer Lena Adasheva. She contributes the cover photo plus three black and white photos in the booklet of the album wonderfully showing the working musicians. Great job!”
Vadim Yarmolinets (Russian jazz magazine Jazz.ru)
JazzTimes reviews ‘Sunday Morning’
Review by Bill Milkowski (JazzTimes, September 2010, p.77)
Review: Ejazznews.com about ‘Sunday Morning’
“Set apart from the basic rhythm of the workaday world, our Sunday mornings are often a time of the week unlike any other. Rested and reconnected, we often find ourselves worshipful, thoughtful, peaceful, and playful on a Sunday – or at least refilling those parts of ourselves drained by the business of the week before. Sunday morning is a state of mind. On his latest release, Sunday Morning, pianist and composer Randy Klein has cooked up a batch of music that will likely complement whatever you might find yourself doing on the old school “day of rest.” At our house, we’re happily serving up this music with pancakes, bacon, and hot coffee.
To borrow a term from Hollywood, “high concept” aptly describes Klein’s approach, as he structures each piece as a conversational duet between his piano and, from track to track, Oleg Kireyev on tenor and Chris Washburne on trombone. None of the tunes are particularly long or heavy, and most wrap up their contemplation of some music idea about that Sunday-state-of-mind by the five minute mark. All of the musicians know each other well – Kireyev and Washburne, in addition to playing often with Klein, release through the Jazzheads label, which Klein started. He serves as sole producer of Sunday Morning as well.
The opening track, “Hiding Out,” clocks in as the longest, at just over six minutes, a lighthearted mid-tempo back-and-forth between Klein and Washburne. On the tango-flavored “Truly Yours,” Kireyev is as capable a partner as Washburne, and with these first two tracks the listener understands that Klein’s compositions will fill the musical space adeptly as well as provide moments for each player to come forward and make a statement. A canny accompanist, Klein always manages to take a subtle step into the background when his horn players step up.
Washburne displays his chops in the higher registers in the tense and shifting “I Caught You In A Lie,” and Klein’s solo on this song takes several turbulent turns. The title track builds from a spiky right hand arpeggio by Klein though to some very sweet and melodic lines from Kireyev. “Doo Boo Bop” is as cheerful and brisk as its title suggests, and features some of Washburne’s best playing. The ballad “Now I Wonder” gives Kireyev an opportunity to explore the full range of tones on his tenor, and the recording is so fine, at times, you will feel the saxophonist is in the room with you.
Just as the musicians play off each other within songs, the order of tunes often alternates between bright tonalities and more somber, thoughtful atmospheres. “House On The Hill” again has Washburne working the upper range of the trombone on a song that offers beautiful voicing and harmonies. “I’ve Got An Itch” is build around a vamp that lets Klein and Kireyev scratch their musical sweet spots as much as they care to, and “Lottery Day” is a tune built very much around the same basic structure. “Petit Pois” is a romantic, rubato effort that any two people in love could listen to in a quiet moment of togetherness, and “Her Beautiful Soul” returns to some of the music landscape of “House On The Hill,” but with some of Klein’s best work on the piano. Sunday Morning closes with an outstanding composition, “Fly Free,” a waltz whose melody moves through dissonance and minor chords to a lush and joyful resolution. Again, Klein and Kireyev make the lilting descent into a final phrase that truly makes the listener feel free.
Jazz on a Sunday is certainly a custom for some radio stations and in some homes. A more free-form, improvisational music fits the humor of the day. Randy Klein’s Sunday Morning is certainly music to listen to during the period its title suggests, although you wouldn’t want to do this music a disservice by just having it in the background. Before you put these songs into your playlist and shuffle them in with all the rest, be sure to sit down during a quiet hour and listen all the way through. Your weekend will thank you for it.”
Mark Hayes (ejazznews.com)
Interview for Jazz Inside Magazine New York
Randy Klein interviewed by Jazz Inside Magazine reveals his insights about composing, his new CD ‘Sunday Morning’, Jazzheads, the bussiness of music, his collaboration with the great R&B artist Millie Jackson, his love for music and more.
“If just a few more people get it that improvisation/Jazz is a life force, then I’ve been succesfull”.
Download PDF here (p.14, 38-42)
Full text of the interview:
JI: I think we should start by talking about your new CD, which is “Sunday Morning”.
RK: It’s a duet record from my new series ‘Two Duos’. It is based on the simple idea that that there are two duets on every CD. “Sunday Morning” includes Chris Washburne on trombone and Oleg Kireyev on saxophone. I’ve been writing these pieces for many years and was really never sure what the musical outlet was for them. Oleg came over one afternoon and played a few of them and it sounded really good. He suggested that we record a group of them. So a studio session was planned with the intention of recording an entire album with Oleg. We only got six of them recorded and he had to go back to Moscow. Before his departure, I said to him “When you come back we can finish it. We’ll do six more.” And he suggested, “Why don’t you do six more with someone else?” It was an interesting idea but it really wasn’t what I had thought of. Once I did give it some thought, I said, “You know, this isn’t a bad idea.” I asked Chris Washburne if he was interested. I know Chris for many years. He is a wonderful diverse improvising player capable of playing in many styles. I have co-produced his recordings with the SYOTOS band, and those CDs are released on my label, Jazzheads. Chris said that he’d be up for it. We rehearsed then went into the studio and recorded the six more songs. Actually, I didn’t mix them right away, but during this time I did start to experiment with the structure of the record—how combine the two duets so that it would be interesting. The actual recordings came out very good. I was happy with every track and with the interplay between both Chris and Oleg and myself. I was even pleased with my own playing, which is very unusual. Instead of just mixing it and then going to mastering, I had the idea of combining the process and mixed and master at the same time. That process was done with the mastering engineer, Gene Paul, who’s the son of Les Paul, by the way. Gene was the head engineer for Atlantic Recording Studios during its heyday. Meaning that he worked with the likes of Arif Mardin as he produced Aretha, Ray Charles, and Joel Zorn who worked with Les McCann and Eddie Harris… you name it, they all played in that studio and he was the head engineer for all of those years. I told him what I was trying to do with combining the process of mixing and mastering. Because it is merely a stereo piano sound and solo instruments, not a lot of channels to deal with, Gene thought it was a good idea. It took a little bit of setup to get the sound, but we worked together and it came out really well. It sounds the way we recorded it. It feels the way it felt in the studio, and that was my intention. Once the cuts were mastered, I then began sequencing, which was a very smooth and natural process. The order flowed and to my amazement, I was able to alternate between a trombone cut and a saxophone cut all the way through the CD. It just felt right to go from one instrument to the other and keep alternating back and forth. I was just following the flow and letting it evolve. The recording came out really well and I’m pleased with it. The response so far has been nothing less than spectacular - the reviews have been just wonderful and I’m thrilled with that. It’s also playing on over 100 radio stations. So where the two duos project will go from here is: I’m in the process of thinking of who I want to play duets with. I have a list of people I’m thinking about. Most of the music is already written because I get up and write every day in between everything else I do around here, like running a record company and miscellaneous other things!!! So there’s a tremendous amount of music written for the project and I’m just looking for the right matchups. I would like to have another duet recording out, say, early next year. So that’s where the project is, and it’s ongoing.
JI: Do you know what instrument you want to do the next one with?
RK: That’s a good question. I already recorded a duet with acoustic bass many years ago with Harvie Swartz called “Love Notes from the Bass”. That was the first duet recording I made. Harvie is an exceptional soloist. My search for the next set of duets is based more on the improvising skill of the player rather than on any specific instrument. I rehearsed a little bit with Ole Mathisen, a very exciting tenor saxophone player, originally from Norway, and I have feelers out to others. I do love the sound of flugelhorn and would love to record with that instrument if the right player were attached. I’m not sure yet, it hasn’t come to me and I’m trying not to force it. Maybe there is a percussionist that would be right, but I haven’t found the percussionist who approaches the instruments as a colorist yet. You know, if you’re going to do this kind of playing, the soloist has to really be able to be an accompanist as well so when the pianist is playing, they’re supporting the piano solo and then of course the piano is the accompanist for the solo instrument. It’s not just what I call “the standard piano duo” where the pianist is soloing and then the piano starts comping behind the soloist in a standard way. If you listen to “Sunday Morning” carefully, you’ll hear that that’s not what I do or is it what this record is about. It’s very stylistic, specific and very exposed kind of playing. We performed a concert in April at Klavierhaus and it was very successful. I’ll tell you… I really felt like I was dangling out on a limb, the concentration level is pretty intense - I have to be really awake. So that’s what the ‘Two Duos’ project is. It’s an ongoing project and my intention is to keep it going. As a composer, I have much material to try and experiment with. I’m looking for the right duet partners.
JI: So now all the tracks on “Sunday Morning” are recent or you’ve recorded them in other context?
RK: They’re mostly new except for “Her Beautiful Soul” which was recorded on “Love Notes from the Bass” with Harvie Swartz. And the song “Lottery Day” I think was recorded on the original Randy Klein’s “Jazzheads” record but with a vocalist. I’m also a jazz lyricist, but this isn’t a jazz lyric album. These are instrumental. Eventually I may even do like six cuts with one vocalist and six cuts with another vocalist, which is just a thought which just rambled through my head as we are speaking.
JI: So I wanted to ask you about Jazzheads. When you started the label, it was kind of like the heyday of CDs - the early 90s, right? And I mean now we’re kind of on our way out with that, but at the same time you’ve developed from the business standpoint - so can you talk about how it’s evolved and progressed?
RK: I’ll give you a brief history. Jazzheads began out of my complete frustration of trying to get signed to a label as a composer and a pianist. I tried everywhere. I submitted and submitted and submitted. I had agents submitting, it was really frustrating. Then a friend of mine said “Why don’t you just make your own CD?” Now I know I was ahead of the curve. Now everybody makes their own CDs, but no one was doing it at the time, but I did. After it was completed, I sent it to a guy named Al Julian who used to work for Concord. Al took a box of them and he sent them out to a bunch of friends of his who happened to be in Jazz radio. Then one day I’m sitting in my kitchen and Michael Bourne on WBGO plays three of the cuts. Doin’ dishes and listening to my music on WBGO… doesn’t get better than that!!!! Michael said, “Normally I get CDs mailed to the radio station but this one came to my home from a friend of mine and I played it at home and it’s really a good record—I’d like you to listen to it.” And then he played 3 cuts and I said, “Okay, I’m on my way. Of course I had no distribution, I knew very little about the business, how it really worked.” That was my first year. Then I slowly began adding my own CDs along with other people’s CDs. I think I got really serious about the label about six years into it. I started to learn about how distribution works. I started to think of Jazzheads as a real business, and I started to learn everything I could about how this business works. I started to ask the question, ‘Who were the distributers that I wanted to be with and who actually paid their bills because a lot of distributers don’t pay? I think the label has close to seventy releases now. We release them not only for physical distribution, which still exists—people still buy CDs, not as many, but we released them as digital releases as well. The numbers have changed over the last couple of years because there aren’t as many people buying physical CDs, so you print less. Also, the advertising as changed as you guys has probably seen. There’s less magazine advertising and more web advertising. I am constantly figuring out how to balance it. How do you keep your website up to date and all of the internet aspects of the industry and how to reach out to new audiences? You know about all of the social networking and all of that, and that’s something as a label we’re constantly doing. We have all of the stuff - Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Tumblr, and blah, blah, blah. We keep spewing the stuff out about the artists and CDs on the label and every once in a while, something kicks in. Mark Weinstein, for example, the very fine musician and flute player, we have five or six CDs released by him and an interesting thing happened to an older CD. You see, sometimes the release bombs… it doesn’t catch on. Sometimes you put out a record and you really believe in it musically, you love the cover, everything is right, you do press promotion and radio promotion, yet no one cares, and it’s very frustrating. It happened, actually with this Mark Weinstein release. The bad news of the story was when he put the record out, it didn’t make much noise. It was a record called “Straight No Chaser”. A really good record, really sublime playing! Then two and a half years later, “Straight No Chaser” starts to sell - it gets picked up by some radio station which is a syndicated program, all of a sudden, “Straight No Chaser”, for three months in a row, begins to sell. I call Mark and say “Mark did something happen that you know of that we should be getting sales from Straight No Chaser?” And he said, “No I don’t know of anything.” And I said, “Anything… anything at all? And he said, “Well, I got an e-mail from some syndicated station about six months ago saying they were thinking about playing it.” I wrote the station an e-mail and it was exactly what happened. So, this older release that didn’t make much noise when it was first released started picking up sales for him. That’s the surprise factor that happens in this business. It is because of the internet and because of the way radio stations work these days. Chris DiGirolamo, Jazzheads’ publicist and I laugh about it all the time - it’s like Christmas Eve when a review comes out, the review you’ve been waiting for a year. There’s an internet radio station called Whisperings, it’s just for solo piano, it’s been around for a pretty long time. I’ve known about it for years. Solo piano and improvised piano only. I submitted my solo piano records to the program 14 months ago and about month 11 I get an e-mail saying “I really like cuts 1, 3, and 9” on this CD. I’m going to put them into our rotation.” Eleven months went by! I forgot I submitted it. But that’s how this industry is. Another even funnier story is I have this song that was recorded on the first Randy Klein “Jazzheads” record with the vocalist, it was a song called “But Not Today”. I had met some jazz vocal teacher in Canada and gave this person the lead sheets. And over the years I’d get an e-mail or two saying “Hi, I just gave this to so and so and they’re gonna sing it in a club.” Just recently, that song, “But Not Today” got recorded on some album in Canada. It came out 20 years ago! So the music, once it’s out there, it takes on a life of its own. If you believe in it, you keep promoting it; it eventually comes back and rewards you a bit. That’s how I approach the label, too. I never think of a record as, like pop music, the record is dead. I hate that expression - it just doesn’t exist in the Jazz form. That’s what’s really joyous about it. You can keep pushing a CD, you can keep putting music out there, and if it’s good, you find a whole new audience. There are some cuts on Chris Washburne and the SYOTOS first CD that I still listen to, that I still think are great cuts - as with Mark Weinstein and Dave Frank CDs, another artist on the label who plays solo piano. The artists who stay on this label know they are as well taken care of as they can possibly be. I’m very hands-on about it. I don’t want things to go wrong for them. I have a deep respect for musicians. Because I’m an artist on the label as well, I want my artists to be treated just as well as I expect to be treated. So, being a guinea pig on your own label is not a bad thing. It makes me work a bit harder and I see it through the eyes of the players. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Jazzheads has also been to the Grammys for the first time. The percussionist, historian, band leader, musician extraordinaire, Bobby Sanabria released his “Big Band Urban Folktales” on Jazzheads. It was nominated for a Grammy in the Latin Jazz category. We didn’t win, but it opened up many doors for Bobby as well as Jazzheads. I am expecting more releases from Bobby Sanabria in the future. Jazzheads also releases the music of Manhattan School of Music Jazz Department. Recently recordings with Dave Liebman and Justin DiCioccio and the Manhattan School of Music Jazz Orchestra I set up an arrangement so that profits from the sale of these CDs go back to a scholarship fund at MSM. So, Jazzheads has been around almost 18 years now, is still growing and I am very proud of the music that has been released. More to come!!!!
JI: I want to talk about your composing because it’s a huge part of what you do. When did that start for you?
RK: I think I started writing melodies as a young kid, but I really didn’t get serious about it until I was in my late 20s, which, for some people, I’ve been told, that that’s late. I know some composers have been writing since they were teenagers and earlier. I was always a side man. I never really thought about writing very much and the fact that I started late in life didn’t occur to me until this conversation. Hmmm? So, I started writing and my writing in the early years was mostly pop and R&B tunes. I have a about a dozen or so cuts by artists like the great Millie Jackson, who is one of the leading R&B singers from the late 1970’s and early 80’s, she has over 40 albums out. Her recordings still sell to this day. I also have some early Hip Hop records and at the same time songs recorded on Sesame Street. Go figure!
JI: Yeah, I saw on your site, I was kind of surprised. Black Sheep, Lil Kim.
RK: Yeah. Well, Millie Jackson—you know Isaac Hayes, right? Well Millie Jackson and Isaac Hayes were probably the first two rappers in the mid 70s. Hip Hop came in like 82, 83. Millie Jackson and Isaac Hayes were doing it more as monologues with music in the background in the late 70s, and I was Millie Jackson’s keyboard player from 77 to about 80. We traveled all over the world.
JI: How did you get that gig?
RK: A bass player friend said Millie Jackson wants to add a keyboard player to her group, are you interested? I had no idea who Millie Jackson was, I needed a gig. So I said sure, I’ll take the gig. At the beginning I had no idea what I was doing, I had never played much R&B. But Millie was patient and she liked some of my playing. I turned out to be a good R&B player because of her. After three years of playing that style, you get really good at it. It was a really funky rhythm section including the drummer, George Morelin who was the drummer for the Isley Brothers. I mean, this was real R&B. It was the early 80s; this was pre-computer so nothing was done with programs like Logic or ProTools. None of that existed. It was—you played and you made it cook! You just have to put yourself in a prehistoric space for a moment. Yes sometimes I feel prehistoric. So as that musical part of my life ended, another musical part of my life started to emerge, actually two musical parts at the same time. One was jazz - I went to Berklee College of Music - the record that got me into Jazz was Ramsey Lewis “The In Crowd”. And the other musical part was musical theatre due to the fact that my mother took me to all of the great shows from around 1960 through 68. Those shows included Fiddler On the Roof, Promises Promises, Golden Boy, If I Had A Ball, Camelot, How To Succeed and many more. I saw them all as a kid. I had that kind of buried deep down, suppressed inside of me. I auditioned for the BMI Musical Theatre Workshop around 1982, and I’ve been a member ever since—almost 30 years. What the workshop does is: You present a song from a show you are working on and usually the song fails—for many reasons, most of them dramatic. Some musical, some lyrical, but mostly dramatic. It is rare that a song does succeed. It’s a workshop of about 30 or 40 writers—we’re all musical theatre writers, we all present to each other, and the idea is to make the song work from the stage. The way that it’s done is through critique. Two things happen—one is that you develop a pretty thick skin. Ugh! It’s all suggestions so that the writer can take the suggestion and either tries it or not. It just depends on the writer. The workshop has been influential in my writing, though I have had to learn how to keep the genre separate because musical theatre and Jazz are really two separate idioms—I have to be really careful about this because if you’re writing a Jazz tune and it has too much of a theatre melody in it, it does work—so you have to just know the vocabulary like anything else. I live in both of those worlds. I have written a number of shows; one was produced in Europe, called “Move”, a dance musical. I’m currently in the process of trying to get a new original show produced called “Flambé Dreams” which is a riot. It’s a really funny show about a guy who comes to New York to live his great dream of becoming a Maitre’d. The score has about 18 songs in it including a song titled, ‘New Jersey’ which is where I am originally from. I admit… true. Fort Lee! Ha….
JI: So you wrote the story line and the music?
RK: I wrote the score. I collaborate with a very fine librettist/lyricist named Mathew Hardy. On any given day, when the phone rings in this office, it can be from JazzInside Magazine, a collaborator talking about if so and so is going to sing this song, what is the other actor going to do? or about publishing, distribution, songwriting, new CDs, old CDs …. you name it… It’s all over the place - but it’s pretty interesting. In terms of the pop world, I don’t write that music anymore. I think radio doesn’t play this genre of songs much anymore and the artists that do record pop/R&B songs are so few and far between it’s like playing the lottery to get a cut. So that was just one period of my composing life. I write all the time so I’ve written way over 1,100 pieces of music, including a hundred or so songs for a children’s TV show called “Ticktock Minutes” which won some Emmys. I am most proud of a new work which has been in development since about 2000. It is titled, “Lineage – The Margaret Walker Song Cycle”. “Lineage” is based on the poetry of the great American author, Margaret Walker. Her work is about the African American experience pre-civil rights and through the civil rights period. She was in the circle of other authors such as Langston Hughes and Richard Wright. The song cycle has come out slowly. A song or two a year. The cycle has 12 poems set to music. It is difficult music to compose. Recently, I have been performing them in concert. Mostly in Universities. University of Kansas and James Madison University. Margaret Walker’s most famous poem title, ‘For My People’ is scheduled for a premiere next April 2011 at James Madison University with a chorale of about 75 voices and a full rhythm section to accompany it. It is a lofty work, about 20 minutes. As a composer, I am most proud of this work. It is the real deal. My intention for the song cycle is for it to be performed every February during Black History month.
JI: So at one point, I guess, composing was more – you had an end in mind when you first started out because it was just an opportunity. And then eventually it grew into something you really did for yourself for the love for it, it seems like.
RK: Well I didn’t write for Millie Jackson, I wrote songs, she just happened to choose one. I was just aggressive. I can tell you what happened; I had been collaborating with a lyricist named David Sackoff. We wrote about 60 or 70 songs together over a year and a half, and one of those songs was titled “Feelin’ Like A Woman” which we demoed. I brought it over to Millie Jackson one day during a rehearsal, and I said “I don’t know if you’re looking for songs or not for your next album but here’s a cassette.” She thanked me and was very kind about it. In truth, I was a nervous wreck about presenting it to her. After the rehearsal ended, I went home and the phone rings and its Millie and she said “I’m recording your song. I love this song, it’s a great song. I’m going to record it.” I was always writing for myself but I wanted to be successful, so I showed my work.
JI: You just happened to be feeling like a woman.
RK: It is a really good R&B ballad. I’m really proud of that song. Actually, David Sackoff was aware that I was working with Millie Jackson and thought carefully about her as a singer. She was, even then, rapping about being a woman who had strength to be more of a feminist. So the lyric worked for her. It is a great example of writing specifically for a vocalist.
JI: What about all of the children’s music you have written?
RK: Other things just happened because once you’re in the industry; you start to get known for certain things. I think the theatre writing helped me write for children’s music, like for the PBS stuff that I did. I was a theatre writer; I understood how to write for a dramatic action and I knew how to write for a specific character or voice. That’s what theatre writing does, you’re writing for a dramatic action that has to get from an A to a B. Something has to happen, an action. The children songs were one-minute songs that taught one thing sung by a puppet named Dr. Ticktock. For “Ticktock Minutes”, we wrote about many subjects, from ‘GPS communications to the ‘Five Food Groups’. Wrote close to eighty of those one minute songs. Won an Emmy for it as well! I’m always trying to push the envelope. I think that comes from me being an improvising player. I think there is an influence there. I don’t think one style really lives inside of me independently of the other. Sometimes there are melodies that are influenced by my musical theatre writing in some of my Jazz compositions. Overall, I love beautiful melodies. Always have.
JI: Are you able to say “Okay, from 4:15 to 4:45 I’m going to create music”? Can you do that?
RK: I wish. I could, but it’s not how my system works. I flip from one thing to the other. I have like 20 things going on at one time; I have a score that’s up on my computer over in my studio right now that’s eventually going to be a Jazz tune for something. It feels like a funky Jazz tune. I have a script that’s sitting on my kitchen table that’s half read that I have notes on. I have another piece on my Steinway that I am working on. I know it seems to be a bit chaotic, but for me I feel great when I bounce from one thing to the other. Small spurts of creative energy all day long. I am very lucky to have this ability and I do take it very seriously.
JI: Eventually it all gets done?
RK: Yes. Amazingly so! Every writer is different. We all have different methods of getting the notes out of our heads. I think there’s a certain amount of schizophrenia to all of this. I seem to have a lot of different personalities that are emerging and I’m happiest when they’re all spewing forth at the same time. The creative energy comes in spurts as I mentioned. Each project moves forward in small steps. I can go back to the computer and work on the funky jazz tune. I’ll watch part of a ball game. I love baseball. I’ll walk to the piano and write a few more notes. I’ll go over to the kitchen table and read part of the script and make more notes on it. Eventually, all the projects get done and then there are more assignments after that. I’m driven to do this. I finish the script and then I know that the next step is to call my collaborator and have a discussion about the notes that are in the script. I know that once the funky jazz tune is complete, I have to create lead sheets for it so I can bring it into some rehearsal somewhere. There are always a lot of projects in different degrees of completion all over the place in my life. That’s just how I function. Maybe that’s why I do pretty well as the owner of this label, because everybody involved is so different. Many personalities that I associate with. Mark Weinstein, Chris Washburne, Dave Frank, Bobby Sanabria and more. Bobby is filled with energy. I know if the phone rings at 1 in the morning it’s Bobby Sanabria because he’s on a clock that doesn’t relate to normal clock time. When I first started working with Bobby, it bothered me, but then I started to realize that if he had an idea and he wanted to run it by me, I should be there for him. Hands on way of running Jazzheads. Lots of personal attention. It works. Again, if I have to work on one project until it’s finished, I do it but I don’t like to work that way. Makes me irritable. When I’m in the recording studio, I like short sessions - except when I’m doing my own recordings. I could live in the studio until I collapse.
JI: I forgot to ask you about that before. Are you able to just do a few takes right in a row, or do you need to get away from that for a while?
RK: No, I like to play and play and play and play. I love the recording process and because I have so much experience in it from pop recording, and in the old days you used to spend 18 hours in the studio as a norm. Once I get in there and I have my coffee set up in front of me and something to munch on, I’m there and I can stay. I can do a 10 hour session, a 12 hour session. Most sessions these days are 4 hours, 5 hours. When we produce Chris’s records with the SYOTOS band, we do 2 day marathons. That’s a different situation. That band plays together all the time, they’re very well rehearsed… tight. The rehearsal really takes place during the time that we’re getting microphone sounds, and it’s just kind of tightening things.
JI: So another one of your roles as the record label owner is you kind of act as an overseer.
RK: Yeah… I get to hear a lot of great music. Lucky me and it is because I of this diverse background in music that I have. The one thing I left out of the Millie Jackson story is that after she told me she was going to record the song, I really wanted to go to the recording session to here the song being recorded. At the time Millie recorded in Alabama with the Muscle Shoals rhythm section and the Muscle Shoals horns. So I shyly asked “I would really love to come to the recording session, is that allowed?” She said, “Absolutely, but you’re not going to be doing anything. You can’t record in the session because even though you’re in the band, I use the Muscle Shoals rhythm section and these players.” This wasn’t an issue for me. I went to the sessions, I was quiet and observed. And… I did this for three of Millie’s albums, from 1977-80. She allowed me to be at these recording sessions. I sat on a couch in the studio and I observed how records were made. It was a master class. And because of that experience, I spent a good percentage of the next 20 years in and out of the studio cutting anything from Jazz to musical theatre. You know, when you spend that much time in the recording studio, you learn how it works. And it is because of this background, I have many musicians coming to me with a similar type of musical problem…they say “It sounded really great when we recorded it, but this mix doesn’t sound so good now.” After I listen to it and analyze it, I say I think the reason why is this or that and I think I can help them solve their problem. Sometimes it as simple as an effect that was put on the instrument. For example, a piano will be placed in a big reverb chamber— my question is, ‘Why would you do that? Decisions made in mixing have nothing to do with the way the pianist was hearing it in the first place. So why did you do that? “Well the engineer thought it was a cool sound or they want to make the Jazz CD have more of a pop feel…ugh…yuck…” Then what usually happens is the artist says, “I’m not happy with it because it doesn’t sound like how we played it.” We then start again and we have to remix it. I try to be really true to what the artist was hearing. I’ll ask the pianist,”Were you hearing the piano this way?” If they say no, we work the sound until it matches the sound the player was hearing. I am very happy when I hear, “That’s how I heard the piano in the studio.” Now we’re on track. It’s the same for each instrument, bass, horns, percussion, and each drum. Once you get the sounds up and you get them to be the way it felt when recorded, then you mix them in terms of the level you were hearing them and who should be featured at any particular moment of the recording, also understanding instruments like a trumpet or a flute have a frequency that is brighter than a bass solo. So, you want to make that fit within the recording as well. I try to compensate for that without altering the true sound of the instrument. This is the true art of recording. That’s why recording engineer/producers like Phil Ramone, Gene Paul, and the late Arif Mardin make such great CDs recordings. It is because they’re authentic to the sound of the recording. They’re not trying to make something what it’s not. That’s very hard to do because in the electronic world you can make a piano sound like lots of things. Really! So, I have a lot of recording experience. John LaPorta was a teacher of mine at Berklee and he used to say “When you don’t know, ask the musician. They know what they want to sound like. Ask them. How does it sound to their ear?” Let’s try to recreate the musical moment. That’s what happens when you do multitrack recordings of Jazz projects. What was in the original take is what it was and not something else. Sort of simple when you think about it.
JI: I want to go backward now and ask you a few kinds of perspective questions. Can you talk about your initial love affair with music? When it all began for you, when you really just kind of fell in love with music. What started that for you?
RK: That’s easy for me. I’ve thought a lot about it. There’s a picture in the Jazzheads logo of a little boy reaching up to a piano. That’s me. It was when I was either four or five years old in my grandfather’s house, where I lived till I was eleven on the top floor with my parents and sister. I was reaching up to the piano. I started to play duets with my mother. My mother played piano. We would play everything from show tunes to songs out of this book, “Americana”. Things like “Camp Town Races”, Stephen Foster songs. Real traditional music. This is how I grew up. Music was part of it. And of course there was the year when we had to listen to the cast album of “Fiddler on the Roof” every night for dinner. Oy!! It began when I was young and it has never stopped. I’ve had internal arguments with it—it’s a big responsibility when you have a love affair with something. It makes you have to figure out how you love other things at the same time. You can quote me on that, it’s hard. Actually, it’s really tough.
JI: And it can make everything else pale in comparison.
RK: It can. You have to really work hard at balancing it. I think of myself as a fairly normal person. Especially if you have family and responsibilities in other places than just the music, you can’t be a total egomaniac. But your ego is involved in it. I always new music was it. There was no question. The music kept on emerging. I think that I just never knew what the path would be. I never would have thought in a million years, I’d own a label, be a successful pianist, composer, and write pop, musical theatre, Jazz and now a song cycle all in one lifetime. I’m a lucky person.
JI: Did it always go without saying for you that you would do music full time; this would be your life? Or did you have to make a decision at some point not to go on a route more expected from society. This is what I’m meant to do; this is what I will do.
RK: When I went to Berklee, my parents wanted me to get an education degree rather than a composition degree because I’d have something to fall back on. I’ve never taught in public school but during those Berklee years I did audit every one of the music composition classes I could. I think my father wanted me just to have some kind of security, but it never worked that way. I just followed the path. I said “I want to be a musician, I love this place, and I should be allowed to do what I love.” I don’t think I literally thought those words, but I think I did those words. I did what I wanted to do. I’ve always been a musician. My high school yearbook consists of signatures and wishes that say, “You’re going to be a musician, you’re a great piano player.” I’ve been living my dream. I’m a lucky guy. Let me tell you, I’m lucky.
JI: So you told me how it all began for you and how it was never a choice, it was always just want you loved to do but, in the same way, I’ve dated people who say “Why do you love me?” and it’s like “I don’t know, to me you’re a beautiful person. It’s hard to articulate why.” I guess I can. In the same way, do you think you can articulate why you love music, why it makes you feel so good? Is it something that you can actually express in words? Or just kind of the way it resonates in your body?
RK: Well one is the way it resonates and feels which is indescribable in words. But at the same time, I think when you’re an improvising player and music comes through you, there is a feeling that I have been given a special gift. The gift that I was given to be able to sit down at the piano and play and make it musical, it’s instant improvisation, instant composing. I had two teachers that really pushed it and recognized it from an early age, and it wasn’t until I was in my 30s that I started to get really serious about, or even recognized the fact that this was a gift or just how wonderful this was. And, that I was able to share this with other people. When I am told… “I love that record, I love this music.” or “That improvisation is so gorgeous; it makes the work and the responsibility all worthwhile. What music does if it works correctly is it takes you on a journey. I’m one of those few who is fortunate enough to be able to lead that journey. It is kind of a weird way to say it but anyone who is an improvising player has this ability. As far as when you are actually playing, as I said with my CD Sunday Morning, its death defying. You’re totally exposed. You have to be totally open, it’s like you’re standing naked in front of your audience. I’m not saying that’s what you’re supposed to do but it’s how it has to feel in order for it to work.
JI: You were talking about how in order to transmit what you’re capable of transmitting, you have to be okay with the fact that you’re completely exposed and vulnerable and kind of naked, as you said.
RK: That’s in a perfect world.
JI: I think so any people have the talent but they don’t have the personality to be able to exploit that talent in the best way possible. And I also think some people can get better at exploiting that talent as they grow as a human being. Do you have a natural potential to be able to do that?
RK: I think it’s the latter for me. I think I’ve become better at knowing myself and finding out what I really need as I have gotten older. I just think I’ve improved because I’ve worked at it. Maturity has a lot to do with it too. I think it took me a long time to figure out that I should be putting this music out there, why is it sitting on a table behind your piano? Put it out there and just see what people think. So when these reviews come in and someone says it’s playing all over the place, I’m very proud, I’m almost in shock that anybody likes it. I mean, think about it, it’s a trombone and piano record. So, there’s part of me that’s just kind of shocked by it all. It’s almost like I didn’t have anything to do with it. Does that make sense?
JI: Yeah, sure. It’s something spontaneous.
RK: I just don’t feel I own it. Yeah my name is on it, I own the copyright. I understand the business aspect of it, but there’s also a part of me that just feels like it came through me, I do not own it, and I have to give it out to the rest of the world. You learn this concept. There’s also another factor that I think leads to your question, which is what I call the comfort zone. The comfort zone is where most people like to stay and they don’t like change. They rely on artists to do the change for them. That’s kind of a lofty concept, but artists, improvising musicians are willing to go to the uncomfort zone. But what happens is, once you live in the uncomfort zone just for a fraction of a moment, it becomes comfortable. Then you live there for a few minutes and then you go to the next place. That’s what improvising musicians, in fact, that’s what all artists who are pushing the boundaries are doing. They’re doing it for people who cannot do it themselves. It’s a different way of thinking about this. It also is part of the responsibility of what this is all about. If you’re given a gift, regardless of what that gift is, and I believe everyone is give a gift at birth, I think its beat out of a lot people by the time they’re three, or even earlier sometimes. The person who is lucky enough to have retained his or her gift, regardless of the form, it can be painting, sculpture, music or dance, it doesn’t necessarily have to be Jazz, they then live with a double edged sword. One side of it is the joy of being able to be creative. It’s joyful to sit at the piano and improvise. I am the luckiest person in the world to be able to do that. But at the same time, the other edge of this sword is that it is a major responsibility because you have to get up every day and push yourself into the uncomfort zone. That’s really what’s going on here. There are some musicians who push continually, and then there are some who take it to a certain place and then they stop. They can’t go anymore, something happens to them psychologically that doesn’t allow them to go any further. It’s very complicated. It’s very individual.
JI: Kind of retract.
RK: Right. And I know people who have had major successes in their 20s and 30s, and after that they never went any further. Whereas I think the people more like myself who, I feel like my big successes are yet to come, I feel like I’m just about to break out, and my music is just about to get discovered, that it’s been kind of sitting dormant and mostly my own fault for not being more aggressive about it or not understanding that it was time for it to come out years ago. So I just think I’m feeling like I’m just on the verge of something that’s gonna happen. I’m waiting for whatever’s next. Meanwhile I get up in the morning, start writing again trying to push myself into the uncomfort zone.
JI: Yeah, some of my favorite musicians, as they’re getting older, I feel like maybe technically they’re getting better, but I almost feel like creatively they’re getting worse. And it’s the opposite with other players. They get more creative and less technical as they get older.
RK: I agree with you. Different peaks or plateaus. There’s one very famous pianist that I heard recently, and I love his playing, but I felt like as he’s aging he’s not really saying anything new. Sometimes musicians just need to stay in their comfort zone, and he found his at a certain point and he’s just staying in it. That doesn’t mean he won’t leave it—he may wake up one day and do something different. But there are many pianists that I feel I looked up to as I was climbing this ladder here, and I feel like they haven’t moved forward. They’re just living on their laurels. Again, it doesn’t mean they’ll stay there - that’s the other part. It doesn’t mean that. Because you never know what someone’s life cycle is going to be like. I’m just saying to you that I feel like for my musical life - “Sunday Morning” is merely the beginning. Chris DiGirolamo says to me all the time “You’re going to have to approach this as if you’re 19 years old and you’ve never been reviewed before, regardless of what your track record is.” He says this to me every day on purpose to keep me levelheaded, and it works. When I get a review and I know the reviewer didn’t get my music, I just let it go… at least I’m getting reviewed. I am grateful that they mentioned my name.
JI: Is there anything else you’d like to talk about that I haven’t already prompted you for?
RK: I guess that I do feel that after all of these years, as I said, I’m starting over again. I was lucky enough to write some songs, pop songs, with a lyricist named Ron Miller. Ron Miller wrote the standard, “For Once In My Life”. You know… Stevie Wonder, Tony Bennett… He also wrote “Touch Me in the Morning” for Diana Ross, but “For Once in My Life” is his big claim to fame. He died last year, he was in his 80s. He would always say to me, “Hey, man. I always feel like I’m auditioning.” I think of that all the time. I always feel like I’m auditioning. It keeps me straight and I don’t have to worry about ego or anything like that. I wake up in the morning and I play the piano and I write, and I do the best that I can. I’m trying to put out really good music of my own stuff as well as on Jazzheads. That’s what counts to me. And, if it makes a difference - if a few people learn from the music and the listening audience expands, if just a few more people get it that improvisation/Jazz is a life force, then I’ve been successful.
Review: Audiophile Audition July 23, 2010 about Sunday Morning
Musician/entrepreneur unveils duo vitality in an impressive collaboration.
As an accomplished composer, producer, record executive, performer and creative force in a broad spectrum of arts, Randy Klein has made an enormous contribution to the music scene. He has composed numerous documentary scores (many of them award-winning), a poetry adaption cycle, and various theatre music. He has recorded several solo jazz improvisational albums for his own label, Jazzheads. Klein has demonstrated a fervent commitment to musical exploration with an inspired and eclectic perspective.
The album Sunday Morning could have been a clichéd predictable concept. However, Klein has chosen to reflect a wide scope of moods with twelve original duo improvisations with trombonist, Chris Washburne, and saxophonist, Oleg Kireyev. In this format, the music exhibits a changing ebb and flow that contemplate thematic diversity.
On the haunting, “Truly Yours”, Klein’s delicate tango lines, allows Kireyev to counter with a soft atmospheric framing, often in dual melody lines. On two rhythmic pieces, “Hiding Out” and “I Caught You In A Lie”, the interaction changes as Washburne plays against the piano, showcasing a sharper tone, and swing cadence. A straight ahead jazz opus, “Lottery Day” switches the piano and saxophone dynamic to a rollicking and joyful rendering, with some interesting time changes. The same transition in style elevates the delicate and moving “Petits Pois” as the trombone and piano mold a graceful construct.
Klein’s play is both complementary and artistic. His uplifting solo on the effervescent “Doo Boo Bop” boasts a spirited technique, while the nuanced ruminations on “Fly Free” has a gossamer quality. Despite a two-instrument context, the melodies are interpreted with great detail, allowing for supple, yet piquant exchanges. Sunday Morning is the first release in the “Two Duos” series.
Robbie Gerson (Audiophile Audition)
Review: Allmusic.com about ‘Sunday Morning’
Having worked extensively as a composer for television, movies, and theater, pianist Randy Klein founded his Jazzheads label in the early ’90s as a vehicle to feature his compositions along with CDs by other jazz musicians. Sunday morning is an unusual concept, consisting of a series of alternating duets with trombonist Chris Washburne and tenor saxophonist Oleg Kireyev. The two guests absorbed each of Klein’s compositions as if they were part of their regular repertoire, engaging in brilliant call-and-response exchanges with the leader. Washburne is featured on six tracks, starting with the playful “Hiding Out,” which teasingly begins as a riff tune but progresses into an expressive vehicle for both men. The whimsical nature of “I Caught You in a Lie” is immediately apparent even though there are no lyrics, while “House on the Hill” suggests a nostalgic memory of childhood. Kireyev makes the most of the somber, slow tango “Truly Yours,” with a layer of elegance added to Klein’s sensual theme. The carefree “Lottery Day” suggests a walk in the park on a breezy spring day, while Kireyev’s spacious, whispering tone in the waltz “Fly Free” provides a perfect complement to Klein’s lyrical piano to conclude this enjoyable CD.
Ken Dryden (Allmusic.com)