As a young player growing up hearing all the classic recordings from the Village Vanguard â€" especially the Sonny Rollins trio, the Coltrane groups and Bill Evans, then hearing Dexter Gordon live in that room â€" It gave me a lot of things to reach for. Itâ€™s like Carnegie Hall! Iâ€™ve played at the club with a lot of different groups, starting when I joined the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra and played Monday nights through the â€˜80s into the early â€˜90s. I started to play there as a leader around 1990. The Vanguard is like a home base for me in New York City now.
My Nonet? Theyâ€™re amazing â€" Itâ€™s groove city, all the way! The whole thing about swinging, telling stories, and hitting a groove together is what this group is all about. We all first met in the early â€˜70s, playing together in Woody Hermanâ€™s band, or Mel Lewisâ€™ band, or working together in small groups and other, different situations. My Nonet has been playing for the last three years and the music has really developed. It was time to make a live recording of this group with this particular repertoire and personnel.
Throughout the week we were developing all this music and it was all taking shape. Then we recorded two nights: Saturday night was a sound check, and on Sunday night, September 29, everything really crystallized sound-wise and performance-wise on the second set. Thatâ€™s the album â€" Itâ€™s basically a two-track recording so I wasnâ€™t able to really mix it.
The sequencing of this CD is like a concert set. Thatâ€™s how I pace my performances â€" the orchestration of the full set, the solo order of the players, how they emerge throughout the set, how the music develops and My Little Brown Book would be my encore. What we needed to record was a little long for a club set. Thatâ€™s why Laura and Focus came from the first set and the second set gave us everything else.
The quartet sound is the basis of the whole presentation. I want to keep that feeling within a large ensemble â€" to have the intimacy of a quartet and a trio within that group. Right from the get-go on At the Vanguard, after we play the theme, itâ€™s down to a quartet and many quartets emerge throughout the whole recording.
The Vanguard is a very serious, beautiful venue, but a very carefree scene, too. The cats who played there were really able to be themselves. For me, thatâ€™s definitely been a part of my development â€" recording live at the Vanguard with my picture up there on the wall. Things do become very serious.