George Garzone: Becoming a Part of the Music

September 14, 2009

George Garzone

Since the 1970s, saxophonist George Garzone has been a key player in contemporary jazz, notably as a member of The Fringe, a jazz trio that also includes drummer Bob Gullotti and bassist John Lockwood. As a performer and recording artist, he’s worked with the likes of John Patitucci, Danilo Perez, Joe Lovano, Dave Liebman, Michael Brecker, Chick Corea, and Kenny Werner, to name but a very few. Additionally, his talents have led to collaborations with major acts outside of the realm of jazz, such as Aerosmith, Aretha Franklin, Tom Jones, Engleberg Humperdink, and even New Kids on the Block(!).

During over three decades as a music instructor at a number of respected institutions, George has mentored countless students, some of whom have gone on to be counted amongst the greatest players of their age: Joshua Redman, Branford Marsalis, and Chris Speed, among others.

Recently JAZZed spoke with George about his lifetime in music, his pioneering “Triadic Chromatic Approach” to instruction, and his thoughts on performing and teaching jazz.

JAZZed: Let’s talk a bit about how you first got interested in music. What first inspired you? What drew you to the tenor sax?
George Garzone: I have a family given sound on the saxophone. My Uncle Rocco taught me saxophone in the back of his pizza shop in Boston. Rocco’s sound was so beautiful and he passed that down to my cousins and me.

George Garzone, John Patitucci, and Mike Stern In the studio for an upcoming JodyJazz Inc. Project.
George Garzone, John Patitucci, and Mike Stern In the studio for an upcoming JodyJazz Inc. Project.

JAZZed: Sounds like a pretty great early learning experience. As you got older high school, college who were some influential teachers?
GG: I was playing gigs and making real money in my early teens, but when I got to Berklee the faculty really kicked my butt. That’s when I started to become the player that I wanted to be. Joe Viola was my main teacher and his influence was everything. Plus guys like Joe Lovano, Kenny Werner, Billy Drewes, Jamey Haddad, and many others who were students at that time were so inspiring. Frank Tiberi was also an important mentor.

JAZZed: What first drew you to the notion of becoming a teacher, yourself?
GG: I had been in Las Vegas playing for Tom Jones and when I returned to Boston work was kind of slow, so I started teaching some ensembles at Berklee. Teaching wasn’t my goal, but as I did it more and more, I got more and more into it. I think that my approach to teaching is different than most teachers and students seem to respond to that.

JAZZed: You’ve taught some of the heaviest hitters in contemporary music Branford Marsalis, Joshua Redman, Danilo Perez, and the like. Do you find you have to modify your approach when dealing with an exceptionally gifted student? Is it always obvious when you’re dealing with someone who’s going to go on to great things?
GG: The Triadic Chromatic Approach that I’ve developed is deep enough that I’ve never met a player that was too advanced for it. No matter what a student’s skill level is, he or she can grow their playing by working on the TCA (Triadic Chromatic Approach). I’ve had many students who had the skills to go on to great things, but it’s not always obvious who will get that lucky break. But guys like Joshua, Branford, et cetera you usually know that they’ll probably be the cats.

JAZZed: Let’s talk about the Triadic Chromatic Approach.
GG: The concept came about from listening to Coltrane and developing a way to use triads in a non-repetitive way. It teaches the player how to come up with non-repetitive, non-predictable lines, so you can improvise over chord changes with confidence, sounding fresh and original. There’s a lot more to it than that, but that’s the simplest way that I can describe it.

George Garzone Pre;cis

Notable Students: Branford Marsalis, Donny McCaslin, Teadross Avery, Seamus Blake, Kenny Brooks, Joshua Redman, Chris Speed, Marcus Strickland, Mark Tuner, Bruce Barth, Danilo Perez, Antonio Sanchez, Chris Wood, Norm Zocher

Performed with: Randy Brecker, Tiger Okoshi, Herb Pomeroy, Jerry Bergonzi, Michael Brecker, Kenny Garrett, Dave Liebman, Joe Lovano, Joshua Redman, Stan Strickland, Steve Wilson, John Abercrombie, Chick Corea, John Patitucci, Buddy Rich, Dennis Chambers, Peter Erskine

On the Web: www.georgegarzone.com, www.thefringejazz.com

Selected Garzone Discography: Alone, Four’s and Two’s, The Fringe in New York (NYC), One Two Three Four, Among Friends (Stunt), In the Zone (Ats)

JAZZed: I’ll want to go back to that to talk about the DVD, but for the moment let’s move on. You’re currently on staff at a couple of places how are you dividing your time?
GG: I split my time between Boston and New York. I’ve been at Berklee College of Music since 1975 and I also teach at New England Conservatory, New York University, and Manhattan School of Music.

JAZZed: Sounds pretty busy. What’s your favorite thing about teaching?
GG: The kids are really great. They’re the ones who taught me how to teach and they are probably why I was able to develop the TCA, because if I didn’t have to teach it to someone other than myself, I don’t think I would have formalized it into a method that can be taught.

JAZZed: What do you find most challenging about being an educator?
GG: Staying fresh and present with each student.

JAZZed: What’s different about giving master classes, compared to traditional classroom settings or one-on-one instruction? Of the three, which do you prefer?
GG: One-on-one lessons are the best because everyone learns differently and you can customize the learning process in a private lesson. Next, the classroom is great because you get to teach a subject over many weeks, so that you have the opportunity to go in depth. And I love doing Master Classes around the world because the energy that I receive from people is amazing. And there are some great players in places you wouldn’t think of having burning jazz musicians.

JAZZed: You’ve performed and recorded with so many notables from the worlds of jazz and well beyond. What have you learned from working in such disparate styles?
GG: Just to be present in the moment and make music with whomever you’re with. On one hand, you’re always going to get my sound when you hire me, but I’m also going to try and do what I hear is the right thing for the music that’s happening.

JAZZed: What’s your proudest achievement as a performer and recording artist?
GG: My 30 years with The Fringe. There also was a gig I did in Japan that was a tribute to Coltrane. Michael Brecker, Dave Liebman, Josh Redman, and myself were the featured soloists and when I was holding my own with those guys I knew I could hang with anybody.

JAZZed: And your proudest accomplishment as an educator?
GG: My DVD, The Music of George Garzone and The Triadic Chromatic Approach.

JAZZed: And the DVD and partnership with JodyJazz came about how?
GG: How the DVD came about is an interesting story because it shows you how things in life work sometimes. Jody Espina was one of my students at Berklee in the early #149;80s and then about 20 years later I hear Dino Govoni, another sax teacher at Berklee, playing in the next room and his sound was huge. So I asked Dino what mouthpiece he was playing and he said it was a JodyJazz. I said, “You mean Jody Espina?” So I contacted Jody and he worked with me on what I was looking for in a mouthpiece and I’ve been playing his pieces since then. I would recommend Jody’s stuff to any sax player, he’s the real deal.

John Lockwood, Bob Gullotti, George Garzone, and Mulgrew Miller in the Studio for an upcoming JodyJazz Inc. Project.
John Lockwood, Bob Gullotti, George Garzone, and Mulgrew Miller in the Studio for an upcoming JodyJazz Inc. Project.

From hanging out with Jody, he knew that I had wanted to publish a book on the TCA for quite sometime, but I just hadn’t done it because it didn’t feel right to me in a book form. Jody approached me with the idea that his company would publish it and it was his idea to make it a DVD. Also since the TCA is a relatively advanced concept, Jody wanted to make the DVD accessible to more players, so he had me do a whole lesson on getting a saxophone sound. We put an album’s worth of performances on there with Mike Mainieri, Frank Tiberi, Chris Crocco, and The Fringe, plus interactive play-alongs where the user trades choruses with me. Everybody involved with this project did an amazing job and I couldn’t be happier with the results. And sales have been amazing.

JAZZed: What words of wisdom would you pass along to your fellow jazz teachers and artists?
GG: Hang in there and keep doing what you are doing. If that’s your passion, go for it and don’t listen to the people who will try and put you down.

JAZZed: Final thoughts?
GG: Music is the purest, most beautiful thing I know of. If you give it your all, you will become a part of the music and there’s nothing better that I can think of than that.

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