Conversations With Alonzo Bodden and Spyro Gyra's Jay Beckenstein, Plus Exclusives by Make-A-Wish, Placido Domingo, Placido Domingo Jr and Danielle de Niese

"Helping others and giving back have been incredibly important to us throughout our career," says Papa Roach's Jacoby Shaddix, "so when Make-A-Wish came to us and told us about Mark Guerra we were thrilled to be involved."
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.


photo credit: Bryson Roatch

"Helping others and giving back have been incredibly important to us throughout our career," says Papa Roach's Jacoby Shaddix, "so when Make-A-Wish came to us and told us about Mark Guerra we were thrilled to be involved. Mark is a 19-year-old musician that has been a fan of ours for some time. He's been battling brain cancer and has been through so many surgeries and so much pain. The fact that we could help make his Rock Star dream come true...that's just a blessing for us, you know, and we have a ton of gratitude for that. He came to NYC with his family and came out to see our show at Starland Ballroom in New Jersey. They were a big crew and in no time we were hanging out and kicking it like we were family. We got to spend some time in the studio recording with Mark and his band, Breaking Boundryz, the next day and it was a blast man -- it was so great to see their enthusiasm. And then the next day they went over to our label, Eleven Seven Music, and met that crew. Anyway, We hope you enjoy watching it as much as we enjoyed doing it. Look out for Mark and Breaking Boundryz, he is an incredible kid and they're a bad ass rock band."

Check out the video...

photo courtesy Entertainment Cruise Productions

A Conversation with Alonzo Bodden

Mike Ragogna: Alonzo, what do you think of this smooth jazz cruise? [Note: This interview occurred during October's Smooth Jazz Cruise presented by Entertainment Cruise Productions]

Alonzo Bodden: Yeah, this is great. It's a good sail and it's comfortable. But the music is always the highlight. I loved Marcus Miller's set, Earl Klugh was probably the most the amazing one.

MR: You've been on a few of these cruises now, right?

AB: I think I've done a dozen of them.

MR: For you, what happens on these cruises that's different from a festival?

AB: For me, one of the differences is I have the best seat in the house. I can come backstage with the musicians, so I love doing that. But the biggest difference here versus anywhere else is how they perform together. Earl Klugh's on stage and then Norman Brown just drops in and Marcus Miller drops in. Any of them. When Tower Of Power came... You're never going to see that horn section again. There were a dozen horns. So those are the moments for me that I love, because you're never going to see those combinations of musicians together. Even they say it. There was one cruise that George Benson was on and Jonathan Butler said George Benson is his hero and he came on with George Benson, then Raul Midón, and then you had three guys harmonizing with their guitars at the same time. Things like that you don't get anywhere else.

MR: Nice. Alonzo, your routine the other night was outrageous. You were so spot on about politics. What are some of your favorite topics when you lay into stuff and what motivates it?

AB: What motivates it is frustration, outrage and just utter stupidity. What went on with the government was, "We don't like the health care plan," and they don't really dislike the health care plan, just that it came from Barack Obama. So they were like, "Let's shut down the government." No plan, just, "We're going to shut down the government." It was really funny to me because I happened to be working in Montreal on the day of the shutdown, so I had to explain to Canadians how we just shut our country down because there's a threat of providing healthcare. It's a continuing level of stupidity. I also crack on the media a lot. It's driven by the media because the "fourth estate" is supposed to be keeping an eye on these guys and I think there was a time in the media where there wouldn't be a Senator Cruz because they would've laughed at him. They wouldn't have taken him seriously! They would've been like, "No, we're not going to talk to you." Now the idiots become celebrities, so we have Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann and now Cruz. There's always the latest idiot. It's sad. That drives me. There's also societal stuff, racism, gay marriage--that one's funny to me because people were so outraged and yet there hasn't been one person able to explain to me how it effects them. Gay people down the block got married and it affects you? It can only be a positive effect, because when gay people come to the neighborhood, they clean it up. The property value goes up. They'll paint your house. So those are the kind of things that motivate me, and then there's personal stuff, too. I do a lot of material about what I go through, but it's more societal.

MR: Yeah. I personally feel like Harry Reid had to get rid of the filibuster like six years ago. Why, in your opinion, do you think Washington allowed filibuster after filibuster for years and years with no retribution?

AB: It's the way the system works, right? The pendulum sort of swings back and forth, but the extreme swing is always to the right. If the situation were reversed, for instance, when George Bush was president, there was a democratic Congress, but democrats don't fight in the same way. They don't have a crazy guy do a twenty-hour speech. But it has to be there. In other words, everything that's evil, at one point, is okay at the next. My example for that is the NSA spying. When George Bush was president and the government was listening on phone calls, the republicans were like, "Oh, it's to fight terrorism," but democrats were like, "It's against the constitution." Now Barack Obama's president, and the democrats are like, "We're fighting terrorism," and the republicans are like, "it's against the constitution!" It's the exact same thing. The government's had the technology to listen in on your phone calls forever and they're not because you're not important. No one cares! That's why the system doesn't change. The politicians all fish in the same pond. They all want to redistrict, they just each want to redistrict their own way. So they won't ban the campaign contributions they're both getting. The republicans get more, but the democrats still get paid, so none of them are going to kill the goose that lays the golden egg. What we would love to see as ordinary people? Let them have our health care system. When they shut down the government, they're the first ones that should not be paid, but of course they're not going to do that.

MR: Absolutely not. Alnozo, what are some other topics that interest you? What else do you feel strongly about?

AB: I would definitely say social ills. Racism, the ridiculousness of it and the fact that we're moving backwards. We as a society are literally fighting fights that my parents fought in the sixties--voting right acts and equal education and the manipulation of it! They change the name but it's still the same thing. They want to do away with affirmative action to make things "fair" for everybody. You almost have to admire how manipulative they can be with the language to confuse the average voter. That sort of thing bothers me.

MR: We've been so Luntzed over the years, I guess it's hard to see a re-coining of a phrase to one's advantage. Folks like him and Karen Hughes really knew how to manipulate the public, and they were so in cahoots with Fox News, et cetera.

AB: Absolutely. They're much better and they're more patient. If you look at what they're doing with the Texas school books..

MR: Oh God, yeah.

AB: You say, "Oh God," and you drop your head... That's their twenty-year plan. They talk about Obama's "indoctrination of youth," but that's the indoctrination of youth, when you put in the school books things about creationism as science and the "relationship between a man and a woman" and all that. They're getting the kids while they're young and they're really frustrated because they're trying to teach hate and it's more and more difficult because the internet has made kids global, so when you tell the kids to hate this guy because his skin is brown or hate that woman because she's a woman they're like, "No, because I have a friend who has brown skin and women are okay."

MR: It's gotten harder to push that crap now.

AB: It's much harder but they will not stop. They've become more and more subtle about it. I think in some ways there's hope that we'll get past it, but my thing is let them secede! They want to go? Texas, Mississippi, Alabama? Go! Good luck! Be free! Be free! But you can't take the federal government money when you go. You're on your own, and that's the part that they won't agree to.

MR: How do we get out of this mess?

AB: Lewis Black said it a couple years ago. He's one of my comedy heroes. He's like, we didn't want this job. You understand? We're comics. We want to tell dick jokes. We don't want to straighten up the political system or cure society's ills, but it's left to us because no one else will do it. The media has taken sides and has become this corporate entity that is somewhat controlled. So the only voices of truth left are the comics and I always say the reason I love the court jester is because he's the only who was allowed to tell the king the truth, but it had to be funny or they'd chop off his head. I love those stakes. I think the hope is young. The hope is youth, the hope is under twenty-five because they're not carrying the baggage that our society carries regarding race, regarding sexual orientation, the old, close-minded positions, hatred of foreigners and this and that. There's another one: the immigration debate. The only thing the Mexicans ever did wrong was show up late. The Mexicans were late to the party and nobody likes you when you show up late. A hundred years ago, every other immigrant group came over the same way. They didn't speak English, their parents didn't speak it; their children learned it. They talk about having legal papers. Nobody knew at Ellis Island! They didn't have computers. You came over and they said, "Eh, your name is Smith. Welcome to America." It's such a joke. We glamorize the crime that they brought; you had the Irish mob, the Italian mob that now we glamorize in movies, but now Mexican people are "the most evil people." Just leave the Mexican people alone.

MR: Where do you think this is leading? It's almost like we'll have to be rid of four or five generations before this goes away.

AB: Any change takes time. The military was one of the leaders of change. The military was integrated during World War II or right around that era. That was "the end of society." It was going to destroy the army, the navy, and everything else. It took years, but integration became the norm. Sooner or later, Alabama's going to find out. Nothing against the intelligent people in Alabama, but you know who I'm talking about. Seriously, it takes a long time. It's unfortunate, but that is the case. Historians will look back and say, "Wow, because the president was black, they didn't want health care for anybody." It'll seem so dumb, but that's what happens. History changes the lens of the prism we look through.

MR: So as you said before, it's been left to the comedians. Do you feel any responsibility at all to mentor?

AB: No, it's not our responsibility. It's not the comics' responsibility to educate the public, it's just kind of a byproduct of what we do and a byproduct of our observations. Another great line I heard was from Chris Rock, he said, "Never let the truth ruin a good joke." So sometimes we stretch it and we twist it, but here's the thing--we know we're comedians. Fox News claim to be journalists.

MR: You know, Paul Simon had it right: "They're just out to capture my dime." With an entity like that, I guess it happens because there's frustration in the culture and somebody sees an opportunity to capitalize on it.

AB: Right. There was an opportunity because people will listen to what they want to hear, and that's what they wanted to hear. It started with Rush Limbaugh and a certain population loved what they had to say. But that part of the population are one-issue voters, they're easily manipulated, they have a strange white fear of "somebody's taking something from me." You have to understand, the white male has been in charge of America from Day One and now it's reached a point where they have to at least acknowledge that there are women, that there are black people, Latin people and various minorities, other European countries that are not white, and they're scared to death. They feel like something's being taken from them. I joked about how the black teenager is the scariest thing in the world--or it must be because they've made it legal to shoot them. That's just because of fear. To see them, they're so scared that they're like, "I have to kill them!" It's a horrible thing but entities like Fox News or any of those right-wing radio stations have figured out how to cash in on that fear.

MR: What are the under-twenty-fives going to have to do?

AB: Over time, they move up in power and they move up in influence and their ideas change but they won't change as much. I don't know, but they seem to be a lot more open-minded.

MR: Alonzo, what about the black community?

AB: The thing about the black community is that it's in some ways unified, but you have to understand that black people are more diverse--there isn't one thought in the black community. There are different entities within the black community. There is a professional entity, educated professional, lawyer, doctor, et cetera, who have their concerns, and a lot of their concerns are going to be the same as other people who have a lot of money and assets-- lower taxes and so on. The black middle class, which has probably taken a bigger hit than any other group--that's who my parents were, they were civil servants, manufacturing workers, construction workers and those kinds of jobs--they've taken a bigger hit than anybody because the manufacturing industry is gone. And the civil service jobs aren't what they used to be because so many municipal budgets have been cut, and the construction and labor jobs, big corporations have decided, "We'll hire illegals because we don't have to pay them much or provide benefits." So that group has taken a big hit, and the other thing about the black community is the poverty level and the machine that will continually put them in jail and put them in a system that will not allow growth. So there are different priorities but I would say over all, Barack Obama showed--and I think this is why a lot of white people hate Barack Obama--he showed that the American dream works. They love talking about the American dream but they didn't know that this black kid was listening. He achieved it and they hate that. But Barack Obama showed a ton of black kids that education works, and it's not easy but you can make it within the system and within society. You don't have to be a ballplayer or a singer or a performer to make it. The black community is obviously frustrated. Again, the fact that you have to fight the same racial fights from the sixties, this violence against black youth is unbelievable, the level of acceptance of shooting black youth. Is there a lot of violence in the black community? Absolutely. Black-on-black crime, et cetera, et cetera. A lot of that stems from frustration from lack of opportunity, which is being shown in white communities in the Midwest where meth has taken over. You see the same pattern with meth that you saw with crack in the late eighties. It's not a racial thing, it's a frustration thing. It's just tough to be poor! And it's tough to not have hope, and it's tough to watch your town go bankrupt and so on and so forth. The black community's moving forward and expanding and it would be nice if we could listen to each other without the hate.

MR: Or without having to check the president's birth certificate every five minutes.

AB: That's the idiocy of it! This used to be my Facebook motto and it's absolutely true: Einstein said, "The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has limits." The "birther" thing is very easy; again, you're dealing with simple one-issue voters. It's very easy to say, "He's not an American," and they all latch onto it. Or "He's out to take your guns." That's another big one. The gun industry owes Barack Obama more money than Nike owes Tiger Woods because they have sold more guns by selling this fear that someone's going to take your guns than anything in the history of their business.

MR: And isn't that the same as "the NSA is listening to your calls"? No one wants to come get your guns, they don't even know you.

AB: Well, some of them, we should take their guns. They're building compounds and arming themselves and waiting to kill anybody who looks different from them.

MR: With this being taught, perpetuated and integrated into the system, I don't see how it's going to be easy to root this out. How do you get the seeds of hate out?

AB: You know how? It becomes unacceptable. I'll give you an example. Smoking. I grew up in a time when smoking was everywhere. You could smoke in movie theatres, you could smoke in planes. Now if you light up a cigarette, they look at your like you're disgusting. It's got nothing to do with your health, it's just socially unacceptable. It's disgusting. That's how it happens. It becomes a social thing where people don't want to do it anymore. You don't want to be the racist with these kids. Again, I'm not talking about in the compounds where they homeschool the kids and indoctrinate them; I'm talking about the regular average folks. That's how it changes, it changes because it becomes socially unacceptable. And other things...condoms. Condoms are normal now. Most kids--and when I say "kids," I mean mid teens and up, because that's when they're having sex--condoms are the norm for most of them. The sad thing is Teen Mom on MTV, which makes these girls think it's cool to get pregnant, but for the most part, they don't want to be. They don't want disease, and if you allow for education, if the so-called "religious" groups--and I say "so-called" because those religious groups are more into power and control than religion. I said it in my last comedy special. If Barack Obama really wanted to pass health care, all he had to do was say, "Jesus said." They put that in front of any ridiculous thing they want to do. But again, condoms. It's become more normal. It's not sneaking into a drug store and trying to buy them. So time and social norms are what change. That's my hope, anyway, for the young people.

MR: It's grass roots. Alonzo, it may seem out of context, but I always ask this question. What advice do you have for new artists?

AB: It is so difficult. And really quick, on the whole social and racist thing, wouldn't it be great if we could follow the example of musicians? Musicians have never done racism, it's just, "Is he good? Can he play? Is he cool?" Miles Davis had a white keyboard player, you know what I mean? This was back in the fifties when everything was segregated. You look at the bands on these stages. Nobody checked with Brian Culbertson saying, "Hey man, you're white," or check with Earl Klugh, "Wait a minute, you're black. You can't play guitar with the white guys." So I wish that we'd reach the level that music as reached. New artists? Man, I don't know. I'm not a musician, so it's difficult for me to say I have musical expertise, but so much now is created and studio-driven in pop music that it's tough for a true artist to make it. A lot of these guys, their love is jazz, but they make a living touring with Madonna or Patti LaBelle or someone like that. That's where they make a living, because that's where the market share is. Now for new artists, so much of it is marketing and self-promotion--I tell new comics that all the time, half of their job is marketing. I wish it was just about being funny, but they've got to learn about marketing themselves on YouTube and Twitter and all social media. I guess for music, it's the same thing. I call it the lottery now. In comedy, the lottery is TV. You get on a sitcom or you get in a movie, now you're a big name and you're suddenly rich. You're not any funnier, but you're suddenly a big name. I think it's the same thing with musicians, the lottery would be a pop hit and then suddenly people are listening to you. For a young jazz musician--and it's pretty much always been this way with jazz musicians--you've got to love the music, because you're playing it for nothing. Europe follows it more, Japan follows it more, a lot of these guys make their living internationally, but it's not easy.

MR: How do you think jazz got to that spot?

AB: Well, the smooth jazz label is misleading. They don't like it, and I don't really like it because it puts people in the mind of elevator music. If you listen to these guys and women, it is certainly not elevator music. Not since the forties, maybe fifties, has jazz been a big seller. Music evolved from jazz, rock 'n' roll evolved from jazz and became much more popular, R&B evolved from jazz and became much more popular. So jazz never died, but jazz takes a little more work to listen to than a pop hit. So that's what happened. It's not on the radio anymore, people are not exposed to it so they don't hear it.

MR: Well, there's Arbitron, formats close down or change to make room for whatever generates more money in the market.

AB: It's always about the money. That's what they want. Jazz, I've been told, is less than five percent of music sales, so there isn't a lot of promotion in it, but to the people who love it, it's a great art form.

MR: Alonzo, you have a new TV series, right?

AB: I'm going to be on a new show called The Mind Of The Man, which is on the Game Show Network. We have two women and we ask them questions like, "We've polled a hundred men and the number one answer is..." and they have to guess it. There's a panel of comics, a single guy, a married guy, a woman, and then there's the wild card and we try to help them find the answers. It's going to be a real fun and funny show. Then I did a few episodes of Californication, which is going to air next year. So I haven't hit the lottery yet but I'm doing all right.

MR: What does your future look like?

AB: Right now, it's live stuff mainly. I'm about to do a tour with Just For Laughs, which is a Canadian company. I'm going to tour Canada. Then I do my club dates, I'm going to be in Washington, D.C., I'll be in Arlington, Texas. There'll probably be another comedy special recorded next year. We're in negotiations. I'm ready to produce it but we're going to have to see who's going to buy it.

MR: I feel like we're leaving something out, like some great closer.

AB: If society could get to the level jazz is where "cool" is the most important thing, that would be a great society to live in.

MR: Bam, there it is! Thanks, Alsonzo, you're awesome.

AB: Thanks.

Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne



According to the gang behind the scenes of the new album Great Voices Sing John Denver...

"Earlier this year, Mr. Okun teamed up with arranger Lee Holdridge to conceive and release Great Voices Sing John Denver an inspired re-imagining of Mr. Denver's beloved works, performed by the world's greatest opera singers. It' a very unique project, inspired by John Denver's love for great classical voices & previous collaboration with Placido Domingo on their hit duet from 1981, 'Perhaps Love.'"

"Perhaps Love" - Placido Domingo & Placido Domingo Jr\

"Rhymes and Reasons" - Danielle de Niese


A Conversation with Jay Beckenstein

Mike Ragogna: Jay, you have a new album out, The Rhinebeck Sessions. Why Rhinebeck? Why there? Why this kind of album now? What the heck is going on here?

Jay Beckenstein: [laughs] Well, in terms of the geography, there's a studio up there called The Clubhouse. The Clubhouse has a very nice lodging right by the studio, which was perfect for the way we were approaching this recording, which brings up the second part of the question, "Why this kind of album now?" This is very different from everything else we've ever done, it's kind of easy to recognize that. I think it really was a result of two factors; one, we've done our regular routine too many times and it really was time to get away from it, and two, the band was in a very, very good playing mode. The band was playing really well, so doing the spontaneous thing we did on this record led to change and was in line with what the band felt its strengths were.

MR: You normally woodshed your songs on the road, but not for this one. How did the creative process work differently from before?

JB: What was a bigger issue was that typically, the songs were written before the sessions and the songs were written by individual writers in the band. They always came from band writers, but each one of the five of us had very different approaches to our writing. So inevitably, we put out a series of records that were very fractured--sometimes in a good way--but they bounced around from style to style and each writer would have their say, but maybe they lacked a kind of total sound on the records. Also, because the writers were bringing in material, they had very exacting ideas of what they wanted to do with the material, so things would often get very locked into place. On The Rhinebeck Sessions, it was a situation where we didn't allow anything to be written in advance by any individual. We forced ourselves to write together.

MR: After forty years of doing things a certain way, did that make this make these sessions a little challenging?

JB: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. We all wondered whether we'd be fighting--which, for us, is just disagreeing--because we also only allowed ourselves a short period of time, three days living at the studio. That didn't happen, though; I'm happy to say the band really rose to the occasion. Going into it, there was a certain amount of trepidation and worry that we were somehow tossing away money doing it this way, but not at all. I couldn't be more pleased with the results. I think we really made a statement, if not to the public, then to ourselves about our group identity.

MR: After all these years, what dynamics have changed either creatively or personally within the band?

JB: I think the biggest changes probably stem from my role in the band. I really took a pretty strong role as leader in the early years. While I'm still the one who holds the purse strings and makes certain business decisions and things like that, on the creative side, I have really pulled myself back to make more room for the other guys in the band. I think this particular recording couldn't be more of an indication of that. I used to be the producer, now it's produced by all of us. I used to be the primary writer or at least the guy that got the most things on record, writing-wise; you don't see my name on a song on this. It's everybody. I think a lot of the evolution artistically that has caused has also been a good thing personally. I don't feel I have a status of leader or boss to the other guys in the band, and I think that they genuinely feel that the band belongs to them as well. That has only encouraged that more and more and more along the years and it's brought us closer and closer together.

MR: And you also released this record independently. How does it feel to be rid of the ten thousand-pound gorilla and take your career into your own hands?

JB: The nature of the business has minimized the financial importance of making records. My band used to truly rely on record sales and the money we would get from the publishers and the live shows were an additional income. Now it's just all about the live shows. There are just no record stores out there with a mechanism to sell recordings the way we used to, or anybody used to for that matter. So in a way, that has created a freedom. You certainly can make the record now and say to yourself, "Well gosh, there's no way to sell it, I may as well make the record I want." I'm exaggerating that, we do okay with the records, but relative to the past--and I'm speaking for all--the transition to the digital age is not, I hope, complete yet because the rewards for artists are not in place.

MR: Exactly. Independent artists that sell online, though it is empowering, they often take a major hit financially. The revenue streams are not yet balanced or consistent.

JB: Oh, and that's only the tip of the iceberg. For example, our last record Foreign Affair hit Russian high definition sites six weeks before we released it. It was for free in all its glory more than a month before we had planned on putting it out. That's the ugly side of it. If you can get it for free, then paying a certain amount of money for it makes you feel ripped off.

MR: That's true. And now we have generations of music downloaders who've pirated their mp3s without the understanding that sales were how artists survive.

JB: And not just the artists; think of the writers. The writer only gets paid a writers' credit if there are legitimate sales registered. So the person who writes the song, who might be a chubby guy in a one-room apartment somewhere and this was his one big chance, he got a song on something and ooh, it's stolen.

MR: That is unfortunate for the writer as well, very true. I hope that we're not done with how digital distribution and royalties are set up.

JB: No, I hope that there's some better deal made, but that said, it's all changed anyway and you can make a case today that when the playing field changes, you have to change your approach to it too, and we and everybody else are trying to do that. These days, the internet is a really terrific benefit in a lot of ways. It's certainly easier to sell T-shirts on the internet than it is to lug them around from gig to gig. It is certainly easier to make music because of the digital age. There's huge conveniences in music production. It's certainly easier to make an end run around critics and gatekeepers because of the YouTube world. I think it is a way for a band like Spyro Gyra to stay out there because that rather small base that still exists in Omaha can still connect with us. So there are benefits, but I can't say that thus far there's been any kind of equalization. It's still much rougher than it was before the digital realm.

MR: And it seems that especially in the realm of jazz, genres are shifting. For instance, smooth jazz is nothing like it was before because now you've got instrumental R&B, you've got funk, you've got blues, you've got fusion, all of which are being incorporated into the music as the pop approach gets more abandoned.

JB: That whole smooth jazz thing was very unfortunate. I'm not speaking for the music, but what happened there was that a radio format set itself up and became the gatekeeper for the major free publicity, which was radio. That gatekeeper, who was not an artist, who was not one of the musicians, decided that a very narrow band of style would get through their colander and they filtered the music into its most vapid form and forced a whole generation of artists--not speaking of us, because we preceded it--but I watched a whole generation of artists chase that damn thing and it was nothing but an artificial creation of some corporate dude who thought he had a really great radio format to sell BMWs. That's how I see smooth jazz. It's not how I see smooth jazz artists, because there are a lot of great musicians that were sort of pressed into that world by the changes that radio format brought. All you're seeing now is--now that the radio format's gone--all of the artists that were played on it are stretching out in their various personal ways. They're not smooth, they're gospel! They're not smooth, they're R&B, or funk! Because they're playing the edgier version of who they were, which was completely thwarted by that darn radio style.

MR: Really well stated, nice. So Jay, in your opinion, what is the state of jazz these days?

JB: It's very interesting. You know, on one hand, it's a very tough field. On the other hand, jazz is an amazing musical form and no matter where we go around the world, there's a small group of people that are really into it and a group of players. On a world-wide scale, I'll be darned but there is really a growing number of places where jazz education has really grown and produced a lot of young jazz musicians. There are hip jazz scenes like in Brooklyn, but it's certainly not anything huge or big and the big jazz institutions like jazz festivals and such, they're all under pressure because of changing styles.

MR: Yeah. And also you have a lot of kids who graduated with jazz degrees these last couple of years. I personally know a bunch. There's an attraction to the music on the gut level, I feel. Online, it's in the Top Five growing formats. There seems to be a disconnect between the alleged image of jazz not being one of the most popular formats and yet people are gravitating to it in the millions.

JB: That's an interesting observation. Here's my take on it: First of all, I hate to be the negative in this but it's a free market out there and if jazz was selling a lot of tickets for high prices, you'd see a lot of jazz. There are no promoters out there going, "I'm not going to do jazz because I dislike it," they're all going, "I'm not going to do jazz because hip-hop and electronic dance music are going to make me fifty times the money." That's just the nature of the beast. That said, some period ago, jazz really received a big boost in academia. I think even dating back to the days of when it was seen as "we're going to have a black jazz professor to balance our music department," back to the sixties and seventies. But it spawned an entire industry of jazz education and that industry was tied into an industry of instrument makers, trumpet companies and saxophone companies and reed manufacturers. The saxophone companies weren't selling saxophones to people making their living playing saxophones, they were selling saxophones to people studying saxophones. So this big industry sprung up around jazz education and some really wonderful jazz educators found themselves at universities teaching jazz. Berkeley, North Texas, University Of Illinois,

MR: I would add The University of Iowa. Their jazz department is one of the best.

JB: And there are great jazz programs all around the world because of the expansion of the jazz education industry. Well, the end result of that are jazz graduates who find themselves with no jazz out there to play. So they are going to perpetuate it because there's no choice but to go back into the educational fold and use your jazz degree to teach jazz to more guys that are going to come out and not have work in the real world. Now, I'm not complaining about this because I think just the learning of jazz as a human being is like learning yoga. It has its own benefits. It is a wonderful, incredible thing on its own to be able to play jazz with an ensemble. It is magical. So I don't complain at all about all the schools churning out all the jazz musicians they want. But be warned--in the real world of dog-eat-dog musical capitalism, jazz has yet to recover at all.

MR: Interesting. The philosophy and psychology of jazz.

JB: Jazz is falling into the same role as classical music. Like classical music, it's taught at universities, but how many great violinists are going to go out there and become stars? In the jazz world, there's a jazz ecology that jazz musicians can play in, but it's limited, much the way that classical music is limited. But just like classical music, jazz is such a sterling art form, such an amazingly sophisticated version of music, it deserves to continue to exist, just like classical music even if it only becomes an institutional setting.

MR: As you said, there seems to be a very similar trajectory between jazz and classical. Maybe it's due to the trends in our culture over the last sixty years or so, but it does seem like more sophisticated forms of music are always the ones to take the hit.

JB: Oh, well we could run on that one, too. Both of those musical forms are the most difficult musical forms. There are maybe some others...for instance, bluegrass is pretty hard. But those are the most difficult musical forms. They're the ones that take years of practice, there's no instant gratification whatsoever in either one of them. We have a world out there that has very much democratized music. You can put together musical things without knowing a note, without playing an instrument. There's a good side of that; isn't it great that anyone in the world can make something that sounds conventionally good? But, of course, the downside is the master is ignored, the music of the masters is ignored. "It takes too much time, it's too hard, I'm lazy, I've got other things to do.

MR: Well, I'm positive none of THAT came into play while Spyro Gyra was recording The Rhinebeck Sessions, I'm sure.

JB: [laughs] Not so much.

MR: I'd love to learn more about the band's history. I especially loved "Shaker Song," "Morning Dance," "Incognito." By the way, the band did borrow that name from the recording, no?

JB: I don't know, and I'll fess up to something else. We're not the first Spyro Gyra! Not that I knew about it, I found out about it after the fact, but if you go online with "Spyrogyra" and replace our "y" with an "I," you end up with an English folk group from the sixties, Spirogrya.

MR: No! Say it ain't so!

JB: Who knew? I was absolutely sure when I called it Spyro Gyra that I was not going to have trouble with somebody else having the name.

MR: Jay, so far, you've had an especially really good run making music. What do you think about that after all of these years?

JB: I still have this oddly childish attitude that I've managed to live my entire life without ever working. Now I know that's not true. Intellectually I know I've worked really, really hard and every time I get on a seventeen-hour plane trip to South Africa, my butt is working really, really hard. But it still feels like somehow, I got away with something here. It's like a little secret, "Oh my God, we're playing music and they're paying us!" [laughs] That's still in there.

MR: And after all these years, I bet you guys are like a bunch of big kids when you're playing this music, aren't you.

JB: Well, it is the one place in the whole world where we don't age. It hurts more getting out of cars and getting into planes, my hair has turned white and all that other stuff, but on stage, that isn't there.

MR: By the way, were you prepared for how big a hit "Morning Dance" was at the time?

JB: No, of course not. And if I was to go back in time and have the whole thing happen again and somebody asked me to put down a really big bet on whether it would be a hit, I'd bet against it again. That was very freakish. I think you can count the instrumental songs that became hits on the radio on one hand pretty much. I haven't the foggiest other than that I can still listen to it and it sounds pretty and pleasant and youthful and happy and who doesn't like those things?

MR: By the way, The Manhattan Transfer's recording of the group's "Shaker Song" is still one of my favorite recordings by them to this day.

JB: You know, Janis Siegel and I were roommates in college.

MR: Well, there you go.

JB: There's a funny story in there. I remember her leaving school after her freshman year and--little Jewish boy that I was--I'm going, "What are your parents going to say? You're leaving school! That's crazy!" It was my junior year when I was sitting in my dorm watching her Manhattan Transfer CBS special.

MR: Wow.

JB: Yeah, Janis had a quick start there. Even more amazing, about six or seven years later, Spyro takes off and the two of us meet out there in the professional world.

MR: There was a happy conclusion for everybody.

JB: That one worked.

MR: Jay, what advice do you have for new artists?

JB: "Artist" is a pretty broad word. You've got to love it. You've just got to love it. The difficulties in getting your creation out there and appreciated and getting it to where you want, those difficulties are so great, there are so many headwinds that if you're not getting goosebumps from what you're doing, you shouldn't be doing it. It may turn out that the greatest reward is the actual act of creating and if you're not satisfied with that by itself, you may be disappointed.

MR: Beautiful, thanks. Are you ready to start your next forty years of Spyro Gyra?

JB: [laughs] Yeah, sure, I got up this morning and started the next forty. I'm going to plow the next forty with my forehead. I've considered franchising it, it could live longer than I. You never know, there may be another version of Spyro Gyra down the road if I can find the right replacement for me.

MR: An animatronic Disney robot?

JB: [laughs] I don't know, it'll be better than the other band.

MR: I'm pretty sure you've influenced a great number of bands. Do you think you've made a contribution to pop culture?

JB: Yeah, sure, I had my moment of cultural zeitgeist. We're part of it, that great stream of human energy and everybody copying off of everybody else and everybody being influenced by everybody else. I don't think you could ever draw a draft of it, but I know we're in there.

MR: One more question. Now that you've recorded in Rhinebeck and you see how beautiful the place is, is there a part of Rhinebeck that will always be with you now?

JB: Oh, that's interesting, a part of Rhinebeck... Everybody probably says the same thing; The Poets' Walk is really, really beautiful. But there's a bakery right downtown and I went there every morning and I really like that. I wish I could give them a plug.

MR: Yeah, Bread Alone Bakery. I love that place.

JB: There are so many great things in Rhinebeck. Rhinebeck's a gorgeous place...and pricey!

MR: [laughs] Indeed. I was going to move there until I did the math.

JB: Well then, welcome to Kingston.

Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne