Q&A with Texas-based saxophonist Mark "Kaz" Kazanoff - plays music and makes people want to dance

"These days, things politically seem SO BAD that our music offers some relief and solace and alternative. Maybe we need less ‘big’ and ‘mega’ and ‘corporate’ and more ‘little’ and ‘local’ and ‘friendly’."

Mark "Kaz" Kazanoff:

Let The Lone Star's Good Times Roll

Mark "Kaz" Kazanoff is an American jazz and blues saxophonist, arranger, and record producer living in Austin, Texas. Kazanoff has been nominated for multiple awards in the category of Horn Instrumentals, including an Austin Music Award in 1988, a Grammy Award for Delbert McClinton's Live from Austin in 1989, numerous Blues Music Awards, and a Blues Foundation Award in 2016. Living in Chicago in his early twenties, Kazanoff was influenced by and played with jazz and blues musicians Big Walter Horton, Little Walter, James Cotton, Magic Sam, Hound Dog Taylor, Muddy Waters and Otis Rush. He joined the house band of Austin blues venue Antones in 1982, where he has performed for 35 years. Kazanoff continues to play with local Texas musicians including Jimmie Vaughan, Marcia Ball, WC Clark, Red Young, Miss Lavelle White, and Anson Funderburgh.

In 2016, Kazanoff produced and played tenor sax on R&B singer Ina Forsman's self-titled debut album. Other productions include Australian blues artist Fiona Boyes' Lucky 13 in 2006, WC Clark's Deep in the Heart in 2004, and Pat Boyack's record Voices from the Street, also in 2004. In 1997, Kazanoff started a three-piece horn section, The Texas Horns, with Al Gomez and John Mills. In 2015, The Texas Horns released their first album, Blues Gotta Holda Me, on the Vizztone Label. Described as "a horn-driven, blues-drenched celebration," the album includes WC Clark, Marcia Ball, Johnny Nicholas, Danny Levin, and Anson Funderburgh. The Texas Horns have performed with American bands such as the Allman Brothers, and are featured at international festivals. Affiliated for many years with important Blues Record Labels like Blacktop, Alligator, Ruf, Rounder, and, Blind Pig, and Antones, Kaz continues to record and produce music.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Blues and Jazz Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

A big Question! Blues and Jazz is Afro-American music. So, it comes from a VERY different place than western European influenced music. It’s much more about rhythm and dance and community and participation, and improvisation. Maybe that’s what got me into it in the first place. Something about the music reached out and grabbed me much more directly than any other kind of music when I was young. I was lucky to be able to hear a lot of black music when I was young, either on records or best yet live. It had a spirit about it that just wouldn’t quit. I couldn’t get enough of it and still can’t. Really this music has guided me along throughout my life. I am at my happiest when I am playing Blues and Jazz. Sometimes I have to make decisions based on money or family or other things. But this kind of real-people music is what has taken me on my life path.

What characterize your sound and music philosophy?

I want to play music that makes people want to dance and move around and have a good time. I like the challenge of writing and arranging music; the wonderful puzzle of putting horn parts together, and creating good songs and lyrics. But what I Iike most of all is PLAYING. So my sound is earthy and kind of raw, and not really too sophisticated. I don’t think about playing MORE notes. I am not a busy player.  My alter ego is Lez Izmore! I like to play like a singer sings. I don’t really think of myself as a jazz player, because I am really a blues player, but fortunately the two styles really aren’t that different. So I can be pretty comfortable on a jazz gig. I like to play swinging, bluesy music with some soul in it. So that means I can be happy playing everything from old style jump blues, to Western Swing, to Soul and R&B. Sometimes I play Rock and Roll. I can handle music that is pretty complicated because I am a good music reader, but I like the blowing-my-horn part of making music the best.         (Photo: The Texas Horns)

What's the legacy of horn section in Blues/Soul music?

Another big question! I could write a book about that. But really, it’s pretty simple. Afro-American music is based on call and response, and a lot of times the horn section participates in that back and forth thing that goes on.…sometimes with the singers, sometimes with guitar or piano. It’s like Gospel music, where the congregation is riffing around the lead singer (or singers). But it’s also like country blues guitar, where the guitar is answering the vocal with it’s own licks, sometimes with a slide. There are so many beautiful ways to make that call and response thing happen. The Memphis horns perfected that. But it goes way back to Bennie Moten and Count Basie and the territory bands in the 30’s, and even before that in New Orleans. Louis Armstrong was the king. The riffing horn section was at the heart of popular music in the 40’s and 50’s with Louis Jordan and Fats and Little Richard. That was the gold standard for the small horn section. And that has come back in a way in popular Jazz with Gregory Porter. We did a cool tune, “Every Single Beat”, in that vein on Ina Forsman’s new CD, “Been Meaning to Tell You”.

But of course, a horn section can also be a wonderful way to play the melody…thinking of John Mill’s arrangement of the classic “People Get Ready” on our 1st Texas Horns CD on Vizztone. You get the tune, but with the richness of the harmony and the blending of the sound of the different horns.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences?

I think meeting and hearing and sometimes getting to play with the Chicago blues greats, when I lived in Chicago in the late 60s and early 70s, have been my most formative experiences: Muddy, Otis Rush, Big Walter, Magic Sam, Little Walter, The Wolf, Hound Dog Taylor, Buddy and Junior. But then also, later when I was living in Boston, meeting younger players that wanted to do that kind of music really changed my life: Johnny Nicholas, Ronnie Earl, David Maxwell, Sarah Brown, Bob Margolin, Ron Levy, and then later when I moved to Texas in 1981, Marcia Ball and Angela Strehli,  and Jimmie and Stevie Vaughan, and Nick Connolly, Anson Funderburgh, and Derek O’brien and Denny Freeman, and Lavelle White, Mel Brown and George Rains, and WC Clark and Clifford and Susan Antone. Meeting Hammond and Naumann Scott with Blacktop Records in New Orleans, was very important for me. I got to make dozens of great records with them for years, though many of them are now hard to find or unavailable. Now I am meeting some wonderful younger players here in Texas and in Canada too, Devan Jones, The Chaffey Brothers and the Split, Monkey Junk, Dave Reid and 3 Times Lucky. And of course associating with John Mills and Al Gomez with The Texas Horns is still a blast! Love meeting and getting to play with Red Young. I am also very fortunate to have been able to produce a bunch of CD Recording sessions, where I have met some wonderful young musicians, Ina Forsman from Helsinki, Danny Franchi from Italy, Fiona Boyes from Australia Rich Del Grosso, Jon Del Toro Richardson from Houston. It seems like almost every week I meet someone new who loves music! I really have a lot of wonderful musicians in my life, and a lot of incredible memories of, and knowledge from, the ones who have passed on.

"I have been reading an amazing author for the last 10 years or so: Christopher Small. This guy really gets what Afro-American music is about, and how it is so unique. “Music of the Common Tongue”."

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past?

I think the wonderful musicians that I have heard and played with who have passed on. Can’t ever be another David Maxwell or Stevie Ray. Or Muddy.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

I think loudness and compression are two things that I could do without! I am not a big fan of large concerts where the audience is a quarter of a mile from the stage and watching the show on big monitors. I think music should be up-close and personal, and the stuff that gets in the way of that should go away.

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the famous Austin venue Antones?

I work with Miss Lavelle White every Sunday at Antones in Austin. She is a work of art. Of course a wonderful blues singer, going strong at 89, but what makes me laugh almost every night is her spontaneous ‘raps’. She will carry on about ‘big titties’ or her childhood in Mississippi, or how she is going to ‘funk you up’. Amazing!

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

There are so many musicians from the past that I never got to see and hear in person. Duke Ellington! Spend a day with Louis Jordan or Louis Armstrong. Get to hear Little Richard or Fats. Riding the bus with Ray Charles! But I would also love to find myself at The Five Spot listening to Thelonius Monk! Watching him dance! Maybe suddenly find myself in Sun Ra’s space ship getting ready to land on earth.

What is the impact of Blues and Jazz music on the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?                      (Photo: Kaz, Hubert Sumlin, Otis Rush & Mel Brown at Antones c.1980)

These days, things politically seem SO BAD that our music offers some relief and solace and alternative. Maybe we need less ‘big’ and ‘mega’ and ‘corporate’ and more ‘little’ and ‘local’ and ‘friendly’. Seems like our music presents a different way for people to associate, not based on money or color or power, but more based on the collective good. I know I am dreaming. I am much less interested in ‘top-down’ music than ‘bottom-up’ music. There are still so many incredible local pockets of ‘real’ music around the world. Por Por in Accra, Ghana; Rumba in Cuba. Those beautiful local music-makings seem to offer some hope. Seems like a lot of our lives now are very controlled, and the moments of freedom and community that music provides are so welcome.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in music paths?

I have been reading an amazing author for the last 10 years or so: Christopher Small. This guy really gets what Afro-American music is about, and how it is so unique. “Music of the Common Tongue”.

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