Brice Winston Blindfold Test

TJS Blindfold Test with Brice Winston (published in Tucson Jazz Society’s JazzBeat, March 2009 

Brice Winston is a native son and the Artistic Director for JazzWerx, the eduation component of TJS.  Brice also just happens to be one of the most insightful and uncompromising tenor saxophonists on the scene today.  After an apprenticeship in New Orleans under the tutelage of Ellis Marsalis, Brice rose to national prominence playing with such notables as Terrance Blanchard and Nicholas Payton while recording numerous jazz albums and movie scores.  Once again settled in his home town of Tucson with his wife Eleonor and two daughters, Brice unselfishly gives back to the burgeoning artists in our community via his leadership role with JazzWerx.  We caught up with Brice to collect his thoughts on the influence of Wayne Shorter, the importance of Art Blakey, and Betty Carter’s famous deceptively strident wail.      

Joe Henderson  “Punjab”    
From the 1964 Blue Note recording In-n-Out

Joe Henderson Tenor Saxophone
Kenny Dorham Trumpet
McCoy Tyner Piano
Richard Davis Bass
Elvin Jones Drums

Before:  Brice recognizes the tune during the intro.  “It’s off In-n-Out.  Is it “Brown Town?  I know this tune but I can’t remember the name.  Elvin on drums.  I’m not sure who the bassist is.  Kenny Dorham on trumpet.”  Two notes into the piano solo, “yep, it’s McCoy on piano…that I know.”     

After:  “Yeah, Joe Henderson in that era is so amazing.  I’ve learned a ton of Joe’s solos from around this time, and how could you go wrong with McCoy and Elvin.  Even though I don’t know who the bass player is, he fit’s like a glove.  The groove they create is just impeccable.  Yeah, (pauses for a moment) Kenny Dorham is not as clean a player as Freddie Hubbard, he just doesn’t have the same direction.  I miss having Freddie in this situation because everything is just so cutting edge at that point with Joe and that rhythm section.  They’re in that space of ‘anything’s possible.’  Sometimes I feel like Kenny is struggling to make something happen for himself.  I would give it 4 stars. 

Brad Mehldau   “Black Hole Sun” 
From the 2008 album Live

Brad Mehldau Piano
Larry Grenadier Bass
Jeff Ballard

Before:  As the music starts, an achingly slow ballad, Brice is silent.  Halfway through the bass solo, he smiles and admits he has no idea. 

After:  “No…no, man!  I had an idea about the bass player and I really love Larry’s playing.  The way the tune started it felt like it lacked direction.  They were waiting for something to happen.  It felt tentative and pieced together, but when Larry started playing, it came together in an organic way.  Not one of my favorite Mehldau recordings, but he’s probably one of my favorite young musicians of today.  I’d be curious to check it out more.”

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers 
“This is for Albert”  From the 1962 album Caravan

Wayne Shorter Tenor Saxophone
Freddie Hubbard Trumpet
Curtis Fuller
Cedar Walton Piano
Reggie Workman Bass
Art Blakey Drums

Before:  Two notes in Brice’s is head is shaking and he’s grinning widely after emphatic rim shots from the drummer.  “Oh yeah, Art Blakey.  Wayne.  Is this called ‘One for Albert’?  Curtis.  The cat was rarely playing the changes, Brice laughs congenially.  With Wayne’s complex changes he was skating sometimes.  I guess he was the Kenny Dorham of this band!  He wasn’t like that all the time, of course.  The thing is Freddie got it.  He got all of it.  Cedar Walton on piano.    

After:  The thing I love about Art Blakey is that he was so great at orchestrating songs and creating excitement.  Art was really great at letting the people in his band do what they do best.  He was an institution, and I think they defined how we think of small group playing even to this day.  Wayne was all too happy to do that.  I feel like the way Wayne and Freddie play on these tunes, it’s like they’re really searching and listening to that inner voice that we all have.”

Betty Carter  “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most.” 
From the 1979 recording The Audience with Betty Carter    

Betty Carter Vocal
John Hicks Piano
Curtis Lundy Bass
Kenny Washington Drums

Before:  After one chord from the pianist, “Betty Carter.”  Brice laughs heartily.  “I’ve heard this.  What a lady.  I’ve had a lot of friends who’ve gone through this band.  I love her sense of improvisation.  I hate that she’s so out of tune.  I like that she does things to the extreme.  Her ballads were slower that death.  Her fast tunes were faster than fast.  She drove her rhythm sections nuts and pushed them to the absolute edge of insanity sometimes.” 

After:  “Her band was like the next generation of the Blakey band because she was bringing up all these great musicians.  She was so demanding with her bands.  She made them listen and communicate on such a blatantly obvious, but beautiful level.  We should all be grateful to her for that.  She knew how to create a vibe.  I really wanted to be in her band for a while.  I even met her once.  It’s wild because in the middle of her singing flat that next phrase would be so tender and innocent.  She just drew you in.  Brice almost shouts after Betty unexpectedly wails a note, “she’s so dynamic.  She could be so intimate and then… bam!  She’d just knock you out.” 



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