by Russ NeffHarrisburg, PA Patriot-News
copyright © 2000
"We'll play some original music and probably some standards. It's going to be the kind of gig where people can 'dig in,' really listen and relate to the music."
Saxophonist Eric Alexander was on the phone from his New York home in advance of his October appearance for the Central Pennsylvania Friends of Jazz in Harrisburg, PA. Alexander was to be accompanied by piano legend Harold Mabern, and young trumpeter Jim Rotondi.
They were supported by drummer Tony Reddus and bassist John Webber. With its sax and trumpet front line, the Alexander/Rotondi Quintet may remind some of the classic Art Blakey quintet featuring the sax and trumpet of Wayne Shorter and Freddie Hubbard.
Alexander's newest recording, "Man With A Horn" is on the Milestone label and features trumpeter Rotondi on three tracks. Much in evidence on the disc is Alexander's penchant for stirring up things both in the recording studio and on the bandstand.
As the saxophonist puts it, "Every tune by its very nature forces you to approach playing in a certain way. I like to choose tunes that will give me a variety of approaches."
Alexander feels it important to include music from such composers as Johnny Mandel, Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer, music commonly referred to as standards. "I think the reason why standards are so important is because they're really a barometer," said the saxophonist. "They allow the listener to measure your performance against other players whom they admire."
When he was a student at New Jersey's William Patterson College Alexander entered the Thelonious Monk International Saxophone Competition at the suggestion of a faculty member. Alexander finished the competition as runner-up to Joshua Redman.
More importantly, the competition gave Alexander a well-deserved infusion of self-confidence. However, he modestly said, "I heard some of the things that the other musicians were doing and realized there were things on which I needed to work."
Coming as it did within days of the deaths of legends Milt Jackson and Art Farmer, much of Alexander's conversation with me centered on his admiration and respect for the music and it's creators. He said, "It's pretty scary because when I started really get serious about jazz and being a professional there were still enough guys with links to the real bebop era around so I could have a perspective on the music."
"They were always like a balance for the music because you had 'fly by night' young cats who got a got a lot of notoriety and then sort of fizzled out. But then you had these fixtures on the scene who were so great, nothing could diminish their reputations."
"They always played at such a high level and could set the record straight as to what the real deal was. It's kind of scary that there are fewer and fewer of those cats around. Nobody can really fill those shoes. So when those guys are gone, that's it!"
Russ Neff - MFT Productions
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