bassist John B. Williams, John Beasley and drummer Roy McCurdy

Angel: My question is in regard to Donald. Being that they both share the same interest/passion, that of playing the piano/keyboard, was there common ground between them? Did Donald ever sit down and show John exactly what he wanted, during passages of some songs, or was it much looser then that. You know, just do whatever you want, kind of thing?

JB: Most of the piano parts were notated. He wanted me to learn the voicings then put a little of my own thing to it. Mainly he wants us to groove! We shared an interest in great blues guitarists, John Lee Hooker etc. He said a lot of his style is based on Blues Guitar.

M5: For how long have you been playing with El Negro and Carlos del Puerto now, and how did you guys hook up?

JB: I've been playing with Negro in several different bands since about 1999. 1st a quartet, with John Patitucci & Mark Turner. We did a few tours in Europe and the States and recorded John's CD. Then, Negro did a record with another great drummer, Robby Ameen, and called me to play and write. Really an interesting CD. A Lot of the tracking dates were just keyboards and 2 drum sets. Kind of eclectic afro-cuban informed jazz and funk! Then we played on a few CD's produced by Kip Hanranhan in New York.

M5: You're recording and touring with Chie Ayado, in Japan. How long have you known her?

JB: I've been working with Chie off and on since August 2002.

M5: What is it about Japan you like and when was the first time in your career you've played there, and with whom?
JB: The first time was in 1980 I think, wow! It was my first trip out of the country and it was with Zola Taylor and the Platters. I enjoy the quiet chaos of Tokyo. It's very reflective for me, it is so quiet yet very busy. It is the ultimate yin and yang. Also, the Japanese support the arts, all of them from the most obscure to the most popular.

M5: You recorded with Brian Lynch, a versatile trumpeter who was a member of the Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers and is a resident in the Phil Woods Quintet, among many things. How did the two of you hook up?

JB: Brian and I play in the band that supports Chie Ayado and we also were in a band where we were the only non-Cubans! I've learned quite a lot from these guys about rhythm and how to feel music in my body in a different way. It's important for me to keep learning and finding new ways to express and challenge myself. Brian got a grant to write for a small big band and asked me to produce the CD. He wrote some very difficult music all based on the clave. It will be released on East Works Entertainment Records in Japan, a label I've been producing CD's for over the last 2 years. They also release my records.

M5: You appear on various recordings of other artists and musicians, or composed and arranged. And recorded 5 CD's of your own now: Nuances, A Change of Heart & Cauldron (produced by Walter Becker), 10/10: Tribute To Thelonious Monk (duo with guitarist Steve Cardenas) and Surfacing. The role of a pianist and keyboardplayer for others, as well as a composer and performer of your own work: can you try and explain these two different angles, being a musician as part of an ensemble and on the other hand, your own work, what's the drive or feel of it? Are there plans for another CD of your own?

JB: I find it more emotionally challenging to make my own art, be it CD's, gigs or whatever. As a side man you don't have the baggage of the club owner, whether people will show up, will the musicians have fun and dig it, will the record company promote it...the list goes on and on, therefore my goal is to be as loose as I am on a side man gig as I am on my own gigs. I love creating, composing and thinking of new ways to play and now I even enjoy practicing!
I'll be recording a new project in February. I want to do more of a street record this time. Funky, electronica with a jazz rhythm section. I'll record in LA and New York.

"Nuances" is a solo piano record. Kind of a classical/ impressionist feel to it. It was released in May 2004 in Japan on EWE and will be released in March 2005 everywhere else.

M5: You recorded with former Police guitarist Andy Summers. What was that like? Was it meant to be for a recording only or did you play together as in promotional concerts for the CD?

JB: I actually co wrote over half of the songs and arranged about 80% of the project and got absolutely no credit. I have nothing to say about Andy Summers. Remember that old saying: If you can't say something nice about someone ... don't say anything ...

M5: The Steely Dan connection, the Walter Becker solo performance back in 1995, San Francisco, at Slim's. The SD fans would love to know about that evening and what it was like if you can still recapture it. Or can you share anything about your collaboration with Walter Becker and in what ways he may have influenced you, perhaps regarding to music or life itself ...

JB: I started working with Walter when he was producing Rickie Lee Jones. I recorded about a week with him when I got the call to play with Miles. By the time I got back he was through with the project! We kept in touch and he actually got me my first record deal with Windam Hill. He produced my first 2 records. Walter is so patient. At that time it was fashionable to use machines and lots of overdubs on jazz records. He convinced me to use a live band even though I was doing a contemporary funk CD, songs I wrote when I was with Miles. So, they had this Tutu/ Amandala feel to it. He is also so good at hearing the rhythm section and also making "left turns" in the music. Not to mention being a genius songwriter and great conversationalist. We had a lot of fun making his record in Maui. At one point we got "cabin fever" spending so much time in the studio dissecting tracks under the microscope, we felt we were working in a lab, so we got our rain ponchos and pretended they were lab smocks! We laughed for days...
After Walter finished 11 Tracks of Whack he booked this gig at Slims in San Francisco. Seems to me like it was some sort of benefit, I really don't remember. Anyway we all met up in San Francisco and rehearsed for a few days and tried to figure how we could adapt the record for a live gig. Bob Sheppard was there too. I think Walter had a good time because he really likes to be in bands and for everyone to have a voice. I think that record is probably the most creative of all the records they did since they broke up back then. You know, he listens to all kinds of music. During the time we were in Maui recording, he would play Thomas Dolby, The B 52's, Red Garland, and Hawaian ukelele songs! Truly an explorer.

Sittin' in with Steely Dan, L.A. 2003

M5: You've met and worked with numerous musicians, ever since you were young. Looking back, are there any musicians who really made a mark in your life, something you perhaps only realize now?

JB: I spent almost ten years playing with Freddie Hubbard. Guys like that can make the whole band sound great, it's like they command you to listen. Miles was like that, my ears were never so good as when I was with him. I felt I could hear anything. I learned how to sample and play samples from Jon Hassell, and how to play within the pallet of the sound. Chaka Khan taught me the value of humping on the one and how listening to a great singer can make you play in the pocket. Donald and Walter taught me how to play parts night after night and make them feel as though you just made them up.

M5: What music do you listen to yourself, i remember you like Bjork, are you keeping track of nowadays music, popmusic and such or are you focussed on jazz?

JB: Right now I'm listening to The Alban Berg Piano Sonatas, Bebel Gilberto, Herbie Hancock's Sextet bands and Fiona Apple, I am a fan of Jon Brion's producing.

M5: You also did TV work as in scores for commercials, series and movies, both as a -featured- player or composer. To name a few, Cheers, Family Ties, Star Trek, A Bug's Life, Finding Nemo, Godfather III. I see the name of Thomans Newman a lot, most recently the 'Angels in America' film ...
What is it like to be working in this particular field of expertise?

JB: Film and especially working for Thomas Newman is great because you get to invent a new style for each film. It's also inspirational to get the influence of the characters and story when you compose.

M5: What would you rather choose, ambition or passion?

JB: Can I choose passionate ambition?

M5: Besides music, what else are you passionate about?

JB: Raising my daughter. I have little time for anything else. And I was passionate about Kicking George Bush out of the White House!

M5: Any countries or parts of the world on your list you'd like to visit or tour?
JB: I'd like to spend time in Brazil. I love the marriage of harmony and rhythm they have, as well as the people, they're so warm. I want to record a project there. I also want to go to West Africa.

M5: Do you think it only gets better, as time progresses, being a musician?

JB: I definitely think so. Can you imagine if Coltrane were still alive. Stravinsky wrote amazing music the older he got.

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