Saxophonist Kenny Garrett Recalls Mentor Woody Shaw

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Saxophonist Kenny Garrett came up in an era when jazz education took place much more on the bandstand than the classroom. The 56-year-old Detroit native honed his skills on the bandstand with the likes of Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, Art Blakey and Joe Henderson.

For Garrett, perhaps his most important musical apprenticeship came in the early to mid-1980s when he was a member of the Woody Shaw Quintet. Shaw was considered one of the most innovative trumpeters and musical thinkers of his generation. Shaw’s career was tragically cut short in 1989, when he died at age 44 from complications of an injury he received when he was struck by a subway.

Garrett sees similarities between Shaw and another great jazz innovator, John Coltrane.

“I think both of those musicians were pressing the envelope. I think they heard similar things harmonically. Sometimes Woody would play things on trumpet that reminded me of Coltrane,” he said.

Garrett is a musician who isn’t afraid to draw on influences outside of jazz to mix into his music. Garrett said that his openness to new sounds led to a funny exchange in 2001 about his song, “Ain’t Nothing But the Blues,” with the late vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, who was 15 years older than the saxophonist.

Garrett: “A lot of times generations hear something and then define it as being ‘something.’ I remember when I was writing this song, I was thinking about Miles Davis, B.B. King and the hip-hop band Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. When I played the song for Bobby, the drummer Chris Dave was playing a different kind of beat.”

“Bobby looked over and said: ‘Kenny-that’s the blues?’

I told him: ‘Bobby, that’s the blues all day long,” “I guess because of the other influences I had brought in, it was a little bit different. It was like B.B King, even though I had Miles and B.B. King in mind when I wrote the song.”

Listen to the entire interview from 2016



Kenny Garrett plays Nighttown in Cleveland Heights Wednesday and Thursday evenings. There are sets both nights at 7 and 9 pm.

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