Anton Schwartz Quartet
Tribute to Stanley Turrentine

Anton Schwartz Quartet
Tribute to Stanley Turrentine

Here is the content of an interview by Brian McCoy about the project for, published as a preview for their 2012 SFJAZZ concert.

The place to start is to ask for your views on Turrentine. In particular, what do you see as his greatest strengths as a saxophonist and bandleader?

First on any list has to be his sound. It’s huge and powerful and elegant and subtle. And so purely beautiful. Not at all the tortured New York tenor sound that’s popular today. It’s puzzling: for me it’s so close to the archetypal big tenor sax sound… so you’d think that would mean there are thousands just like it, but in fact it’s just the opposite. He’s always identifiable in just a note or two. I could also go on about his vibrato, which is entirely unique… more of a tremolo, actually, from his diaphragm rather than from his jaw. It makes it sound like his notes are just welling up from inside him sometimes.

I also think he’s got an unparalleled ability to appropriate the blues into jazz, if you know what I mean. His playing is totally drenched in blues, and yet he never sounds like a blues musician playing jazz. When blues musicians improvise jazz there are a thousand little ways that they tend to misstep, idiomatically and harmonically, and injure the music. Stanley stays clear of them all. It’s as though he extracts all of the purity and power of the blues without ever detracting from the richness of the jazz harmony.

I tend to gravitate more toward Turrentine’s Blue Note albums, which are so soulful and entertaining. Do you have a particular phase of his career that appeals more to you? How would characterize how his sound evolved in the move from Blue Note to CTI and beyond?

I’m with you. When it comes down to it, my favorite albums of his are all from that early time. Those CTI albums are really important, and there’s fantastic material on them, but for me they don’t capture the most distinctive aspects of his music quite as well as the Blue Note stuff did. They’re a great vehicle for the power of his sound and for his funkiness. But for me there’s an incredible emotional honesty to Stanley’s playing… you get the feeling that he’s just telling it like it is without irony or pretense… and I find the bigger productions that CTI brought to the table to be at odds with that. As for the labels that followed, the CTI sound seemed to open the door to some really lavish orchestrations on Fantasy & others that, for the most part, I could really do without.

How did you come to put this set of music together? What qualities were you looking for in the other musicians involved?

I’ve loved Stanley’s for decades, and the tribute idea seemed like a natural fit for for the SFJAZZ hotplate series, that aims to expose new listeners to the various important figures in jazz. Once we hooked up with SFJAZZ, the Pleasanton gig fell into place. We’ll also be doing a concert at my loft, but that one is sold out.
I think Ed Cherry is perfect for Turrentine’s music. I’m thrilled that I could get him for this project. Like Stanley, he’s got a gorgeous sound, and a concept that’s super bluesy and melodic, and he can play really simply over complex chord changes and make it sound great. There aren’t many guitarists you can say that about. It’s interesting to me that Ed worked for so many years with Dizzy, who is so different from Turrentine in that way. Wil is a great lover of Shirley Scott’s music. Shirley was the B-3 player who married to Stanley for a period and collaborated with him so often and to such great effect. And he’s a huge student of the groove, which is so central to Stanley’s music. Darrell and he will lock great. This is going to be a really fun band.

Finally, let’s ask this straight up: Is Turrentine under-appreciated these days? Does he receive the recognition he deserves? If not, why not?

I think Turrentine is under-appreciated. Which is not to say that he doesn’t have a very devout following. Just go to Amazon and look at the customer comments on his records for proof of that. All his Blue Note releases have five stars from the shoppers. He’s the real deal and they recognize that and rave about him.

Turrentine has never been a darling of the press… but then he’s never needed to be. His music doesn’t require explanation or close scrutiny to be appealing. He’s not a Bob Dylan. He’s Ray Charles. He doesn’t create things you never imagined… he creates things you already know, better than you ever imagined possible. So why should the press waste their ink on him, really? Not to mention that he made a lot of albums in his later years, and let’s face it, some of them were pretty bad. They often went with the commercial trends, too, so he got a rap for selling out, which didn’t do him any favors in the history books.

Stanley isn’t a misunderstood genius. He didn’t turn anyone off like Bird and Mingus and Coltrane did, and you can’t say he’s been robbed of credit for his artistic legacy. I’m just surprised that more people don’t listen to his music because… it’s so incredibly good. Remember when all those people discovered Ray Charles for the first time when he died the movie came out, and you asked yourself what they were all waiting for? Well, I hope this project might turn a few new people on Stanley Turrentine.