Cuban Jazz maestro Carlos Averhoff talks about Irakere, Dexter Gordon, Stan Getz, and Dizzy Gillespie

"We live in a very compulsive world, full of lack of compassion and spiritualism...no matter what anybody could think, we are becoming beast little by little, instead of filling our hearts with love we are filling ourselves with hate and envy, all arts are the reflection of the society and Jazz is one of them."

Carlos Averhoff "Sax": Jazz’Ta Bueno

Carlos Manual Fernández Averhoff was born in Cuba (1947) and graduaded from Havana’s Conservatorio Amadeo Roldan in 1969 with a major in Classical Saxophone. He eventually went onto learn harmony, counterpoint, fugue, orchestration and Flute. His second passion, besides playing Jazz, is his love for teaching. He was a professor at the National School of Art (ENA in Havana) for 20 years. His students were only those selected as the most promising. He has also conducted numerous workshops, master classes and musical clinics, throughout the world. Averhoff was a founding member of the world renowned latin band Irakere, along with Paquito D’Rivera, Arturo Sandoval, and Chucho Valdes, creating the rage for the Afro-Cuban Jazz Sound. While he was with Irakere (1973 – 1994), he made over 30 recordings with Worldwide Distribution. Before coming to the United States, he recorded two albums under his own name; one in Cuba, "Solamente con Amor” and one in Colombia "Imagenes.”

He was the recipient of the 1979 Grammy Award for best Latin Recording, as well as receiving two subsequent Grammy Nominations. Twice he was awarded the prestigious Orden de la Cultura Nacional, one of Cuba’s highest civilian honors, in recognition of his artistic excellence. He was also a founding member of another legendary cuban band, NG La Banda. Averhoff has performed in Jazz festivals around the world, and he has share the stage with such Jazz luminaries as Stan Getz, George Benson, Dizzy Gillespie, Maynard Ferguson, Dave Valentin, Manhattan Transfer, Chick Corea, Kenny G, Steps, Michael Brecker, Joe Henderson, Betty Carter, Airto Moreira, Flora Purim, and Carmen McRae, among others. In 1997, Averhoff decided to make his home in South Florida. He continued to perform regularly with his quintet, quartet and trio. Because of his love for teaching, he enrolled at Florida International University (FIU) and obtained a Master of Music in 2002. He currently maintains teaching positions at both FIU and Miami Dade College, as well as private tutoring. As the consummate cross-over artist, his teaching includes, Latin Jazz, Afro-Cuban Jazz, Straight Ahead Jazz… and he also teaches Saxophone Chamber Music at the university level. Averhoff’s new teaching guideline for Saxophones and Woodwinds,"Chromaticism Rhythm and Synchronism", published by Charles Colin Publishers, has been accepted worldwide with great enthusiasm. In April 2006, Carlos Averhoff cut his first U.S. album, "Jazz’Ta Bueno” for Fonosound/Fonojazz/Universal. Presently, he is preparing his second album that includes music composed by his son Carlos Averhoff Jr., a saxophonist and composer who will be featured as his guest artist.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How do you describe Carlos Averhoff sound and what characterize your music philosophy?

Every saxophonist's sound is normally a combination of the influences he received during his career, and, of course, the timbre that you are able to produce with the combination Sax - mouthpiece and reed...in my case ...because I came out  in the 60's...it was impossible to avoid the Coltrane sound, Sonny Rollins, Stan Getz, Dexter Gordon, Joe Henderson... (to name the most relevant or my favorites)...those saxophone voices were, and still are so strong that if you get a little bit of each and you combine it with your personal way to phrase, probably you will get something interesting...

The voice is defined also by your temper, and your choice of combining your articulations and timbre in a way that, just after a few notes, you could be recognized...that happens all the time with Rollins, Trane, Getz, Dexter... and later with Michael Brecker, in my opinion, the most relevant tenor sound of the last 20 years ...Brecker was the most influential tenor saxophonist in those days and his sound generated a lot of copy-cats, but he had a lot of Trane and others....

With no doubt I have a little bit of all of them and I feel that my sound had changed in the last 5 years...now I have become a furious fan of Dexter Gordon. Incredibly I "discovered" that every note played by Dexter touches my heart...specially after I decided to learn how to play Be-Bop in a real serious way...Dexter is an Encyclopedia of eight notes on chord cycles and his sound is rich...big...beautiful…and he tells a real story every time he plays...I am learning a lot from him and from Rollins. I also changed my mouthpiece for a rubber Selmer Solist G... (I use to be a Link guy)...this change had connected me very nicely with Dexter and Joe...I love my sound now more than ever and (for the first time) and I am hoping to be able to play for 10 more years with this new approach to Jazz music...Last April 25, I made a very nice Jazz Concert with my Quintet performing Henderson and Dexter's compositions...It was a great experience for everybody...specially for me, because I tried to re-create the quintet sound of the 50's with trumpet - tenor (Morgan, Hubbard, Kenny Dorham) I think in Facebook are fragments of the concert...as I said...I was one of my best and mature performances. I'm just a "full time saxophone student"...Practicing is one of the things I love do more and is also the reason why I try to keep myself practicing a lot of different books that I have studied during my whole life, Classical and Jazz...and also all the classical repertoire I have played and, the most relevant Jazz tunes I have improvised on...

As a tenor saxophonist I went from Coltrane, Stan Getz to Brecker and now I am hooked with three tenorists: Henderson, Rollins and Dexter (my favorite), I would say that my sound is a combination of the three of them and "Havana"...my style could be called "Smooth Latin Jazz" and my philosophy is based on discipline, respect and love for music...my forbidden expression is I CAN'T...my goal is to play at a professional level the best I can and give to my students the basis and hints to get there too.

To end this first question for you...my music philosophy goes in two main directions...one is Averhoff the instrumentalist...the saxophonist that after almost 50 years playing, still dedicate a daily couple of hours of practicing... all kind of music from Classical to improvisation...also remember that I teach in FIU (Florida International University) saxophone technique and repertoire with the Alto Sax in my private studio I teach Saxophones and flute and secondly...it is Averhoff the performer...in both directions...DISCIPLINE AND A DEEP RESPECT FOR THE MUSIC...had always being my dogma.. "Practice does not make Perfect...only Perfect Practice... makes Perfect".

"I would ask God to bring on Earth again another Parker, Trane, Brecker, Dexter, Duke, Basie, Kenton, Gershwin, Porter, Peterson, Miles, Clifford, Sinatra, Nat Cole, and update the American Song Book...'Mission Impossible'...hahaha!!!" (Photo: Carlos Averhoff & Irakere)

What were the reasons that you started the Classical and Jazz searches and experiments?

I studied to be a classical saxophonist...my teacher Arturo Bonachea (RIP)...gave me the solid instruction and tools to be that, but...circumstances took me to a different road and I became a combination in both styles, Classical and Jazz...my first student was in 1967 and since then I haven't stopped teaching...I love playing Classical French music with the Alto Sax (It is what I do at Florida International University F.I.U. here in Miami Fl.) My little baby is the Soprano Sax with whom I have a sound/soul communion...I enjoy playing it as much as I do with the Tenor...I want to add that in Classical music I haven't experimented nothing except to make little changes in tempo or articulation trying to be more personal...In jazz field there are a lot more possibilities to experiment...I respect the styles until it doesn't hurt my ears and I play music the way I think it should be played ( remember that an Anglo, a French and a Cuban will never feel the same way) but I am very respectful about the way that a piece or tune have being played traditionally...There are no "reasons" in my career, my dear Mixalis....I just played the music the best I could...now... I still play the best I can...

Which is the moment that you change your life most? Which was the best and worst moment of your career?

The moment my life changed most was when I made the decision (for personal reasons) to leave Irakere and move to other country trying to start a new life...In my artistic life there haven't being "best or worst moments"....those moments should be called ...different...some more exciting or simply plane or routinizes...but never evaluated as best or worst....I would never say that: Carnegie Hall Concert was the best of the moments...no, no, no...I have played for 18 people in a very small Jazz Club and felt in Heaven...this is my sincere answer to your question.

"My music philosophy goes in two main directions...one is Averhoff the instrumentalist...the saxophonist that after almost 50 years playing, still dedicate a daily couple of hours of practicing... all kind of music from Classical to improvisation..." (Photo: Carlos Averhoff & Irakere)

Why did you think that the Irakere music continues to generate such a devoted following?

Because we were a "phenomenon" in the Latin field of music...we had a very strong identity or personality...our technical level was of the highest you could find...there were simply nothing that we could not play...and we played with passion, lyrism and perfect synchronization and because we were... DIFFERENT. We represented the re-birth of the Afro-Cuban Jazz and we opened doors to a whole music community in all countries and continents showing UNKNOWNED ways of compositions and performances...we created a new sound in the Afro-Cuban or Afro-Latin field...we were different to those "money-makers" commercial "arrangers/composers" that I hear every day ....bla, bla, bla, bla (just listen to the albums)...only a few of them should be called... originals (no names)... some of them were "awarded"...a real pity...Irakere's music will still be for a long time the... Fountain for future composers/arrangers..

Here in USA, I have almost all the Irakere's collection of recordings, also in YouTube there are a lot of filming from those days...sometimes I find myself with my mouth open...thinking..."Jesus, that was fucking gooooood !"...Waooooo!!

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? Which memory makes you smile?

The Havana Jam was, no doubt at all, if not the most , one of the most important musical experiences for me and for the whole Irakere...talking, listening, sharing with all those great Jazz Artist from CBS was simply a dream for us...those days I was close to Stan Getz and I remember that he performed, that evening, with my Selmer Balanced Action...he loved my horn (smile) also I need to add that in those days there were in Cuba an event called National Meeting of Farmers...the Cuban Government ordered to fill up the Theater seats with all those people that had nothing to do with the Jazz world...meanwhile...outside...there were dozens of musicians...artists and all kind of intellectual people trying to get into the Concert...Teatro Mella, Havana Cuba...(you probably know about this unfortunate episode)...is still hurting my heart ...the Un-Cultured Ministry of Culture of Cuba at late 70's.

"We (Irakere) were a 'phenomenon' in the Latin field of music...we had a very strong identity or personality...our technical level was of the highest you could find...there were simply nothing that we could not play...and we played with passion, lyrism and perfect synchronization and because we were... DIFFERENT." (Photo: Carlos Averhoff & Irakere / EGREM's archive)

Are there any memories from Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, and Betty Carter which you’d like to share with us?

Stan Getz was a very difficult person....one of the greatest egos ever existed!! We met each other about 3 times and he always showed me respect ...but not the nicest to other musicians...only for big names...I remember that evening at Mella Theather while drinking a Cuban Mojito and smoking his French cigarette, one of the artists of the USA delegation came to give him beautiful words of his performance saying...."Oh, Stan, you played so beautiful!!"..he looked at him he same way he should have look to a bug and without even looking at him answered...I ALWAYS PLAY BEAUTIFUL...that was very very mean and made me fill like shit!

Dizzy, the opposite...he was a sweet lovely human guy...I met him before this event when the Boat trip event and at North Sea Jazz Festival....we when down stairs to have breakfast and there was him with Dianne Shure which he introduced to us...I can say that I had breakfast with Dizzy Gillespie....he was a very easy going person and a big heart.

I have never had personal contact with Betty Carter...I just recall her at Tokio Jazz Festival in Nadarao (1991) in which we were programed...but I never exchanged a word with her...

What are your hopes and fears for the future of music?

About Hopes and Fears for the future of music (future of Jazz), I consider myself a very open minded guy...but I have my criteria about the modern Jazz compositions and the modern Jazz musicians. We live in a very compulsive world...full of lack of compassion and spiritualism...no matter what anybody could think...we are becoming beast little by little...instead of filling our hearts with love we are filling ourselves with hate and envy...all arts are the reflection of the society and Jazz is one of them...we have become complicated and we are changing the lyricism for difficult patterns...impossible to sing melodies...and improvisations have become exercises on chords...IS THIS THE MODERN WAY TO BE A JAZZ MUSICIAN?...then I prefer to be called an Antique. I rather keep myself playing what I consider a pure speech, that shows good taste and a melodically groove...I cannot play what I don't feel and this is exactly what happens with the modern compositions, probably I am wrong about that because Charlie Parker was not accepted in the beginning and later everybody loved him. I hope that something similar will happens with this pre-manufactured exercises on chords...the weirdest you play...the hippest you are...chord substitutions, scales and rhythmical patterns in all keys and all kind of measures won't let room to a little piece of melody that you would be able to sing.

"My students make me sometimes happy, sometimes upset ...their reactions are so unexpected that surprises me all the time." (Photo: Carlos Averhoff  & Mathieu Kyriakidis (Fribourg Jazz Orchestra), Switzerland, April 2011 © romano p. riedo | fotopunkt.com all rights reserved)

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

I would ask God to bring on Earth again another (Charlie) Parker, Trane (John Coltrane), Brecker, Dexter (Gordon), Duke (Ellington), (Count) Basie, (Stan) Kenton, (George) Gershwin, Porter, (Oscar) Peterson, Miles (Davis), Clifford, (Frank) Sinatra, Nat King Cole, and update the American Song Book..."Mission Impossible"...hahaha!!!

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the music circuits?

It could be a long answer or a short one...an emotional answer or a silly one...I will give you a short silly one... My students make me sometimes happy, sometimes upset ...their reactions are so unexpected that surprises me all the time...

A week ago, I filmed the foot-tap of one of my students...you wouldn't believe the terrible lack of disco ordination between the feet movement, the recording... and his playing...I showed him the video and he looked at me with very candid eyes and said "Carlos you haven't realized that I was playing the melody with my feet "...I almost pee in my pants...

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

I would love to be with Irakere performing at North Sea Jazz Festival...

Maestro Carlos Averhoff - Home

Photo: Azaka & Carlos "SAX" Averhoff

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