It seemed odd at first that a big band saxophonist and arranger should join a small jazz group like Yellowjackets. But as time goes on, more and more fans realize that Bob Mintzer is a versatile and thoughtful musician and songwriter, bringing many years of experience and musical talent to the group. In addition to his Yellowjackets gigs, he is also bandleader, writer and arranger for his Bob Mintzer Big Band, as well as teaching music and conducting workshops.
Background and Influences: A native of New Rochelle, NY, Bob recalls listening to a lot of records and visiting jazz clubs in his youth, which led to playing music by ear and taking lessons, first on clarinet and later on saxophone. As a senior in high school, he attended the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan, and there was no looking back. The long hours of practice and dedication paid off. “And from there I just carried on,” Bob recalls. I went to music school, practiced four, five, six hours a day, listened, soaked up all the music I could. I started composing, doing a little bit of arranging and playing jobs, jamming, writing songs, gathering people together to make little demo tapes and doing all the things that are involved in the learning process.”
His early gigs with Eumir Deodato, Tito Puente and the Thad Jones and Mel Lewis Big Band were beneficial. The routine of playing and performing on a daily basis was important “because it gets you in the habit of coming up with a high level of musicianship on the spot.” Some of his earliest arranging jobs were for Buddy Rich’s band. Bob Mintzer Buddy encouraged Bob to write a chart for his big band. Bob’s chart was entitled “No Jive”, a very contemporary, fusion-oriented piece. “It was a first stab, not a great chart, not finely crafted by any means, but it was sort of unusual, I wrote some stuff that probably had not been written quite that way before, because I didn’t know what I was doing,” relates Bob. “The band played the shit out of it. I got so excited that I ran back to the piano and wrote another one.” To say Buddy was hungry for more was an understatement! “Buddy basically threatened me into writing a big band arrangement. I very blindly and innocently took a stab at it.”
One of his most influential stints was with the Thad Jones and Mel Lewis Big Band. At first, he played every Monday night at the Village Vanguard, playing for about six months until Thad left and stayed on with Mel. “Mel Lewis’s drumming, in many ways, was the greatest big band drumming I’ve ever experienced at first hand. He really listened and supported and accompanied.” He continues, “The band just swings like crazy. It felt very comfortable to play with that band. It was a determining factor on the way I run my own band, the way I like to play and the way I write eten. Thad had a big impact on my writing.”
His own big band recordings for dmp records reflect a lot of his earlier work, as well as a lot of the music he listened to and admired. On his big band recordings, you hear not only traditional big band elements, but some rock, Latin and fusion elements as well. “I liked the music from listening to records,” Bob states. “Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, Lester Young, Dexter Gordon, Freddie Hubbard, George Benson, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea…all of these guys playing on the edge–very spontaneous and vibrant music which appealed to me.”
Mintzer’s music is by no means mainstream big band jazz. “I don’t know how accessible it is. Based on the number of CDs I sell, I wouldn’t call it terribly accessible.” As a result, the Bob Mintzer Big Band does not often perform at live concerts, mainly due to the expense of taking a full-time big band on the road. “Without having a Harry Connick Jr. in front of the band, it becomes quite difficult to take a band on the road. My big band plays in clubs around New York a few times a year. We’ll do a concert periodically. We do a record once a year. It doesn’t take up all of my life.”
And that is a good thing. Now that Bob is a member of Yellowjackets, his schedule is even more busy, recording with the ‘Jackets and flying off to one corner of the globe or another performing with the group. But it is enjoyable working in a small group atmosphere with musicians that have very different backgrounds in music. “One of the things that attracts me to the Yellowjackets is this concept of not having racial barriers come into play in art. There’s four very distinctly different individuals in that band, from very different backgrounds and that way of thinking is reflected in the music.”
Bob offers this advice for aspiring musicians: “Education is the way to go, in terms of keeping the music healthy, keeping people interested in music.” He also says that the commercial music scene is very trend oriented, which is not necessarily the type of music with a lot of substance or thought behind it. While his music wouldn’t be as prominently displayed as the latest trendy artist, you’re more likely to find scores of colleges and universities playing Bob Mintzer charts. “That’s why I feel that the educational scene is a much more fertile and interesting arena for music.”
Equipment: Bob plays Selmer Mark VI saxophones fitted with Freddy Gregory mouthpieces. He uses Van Doren V16 reeds for the tenor sax, and Bari plastic reeds on his soprano sax and bass clarinet. He also plays an Akai EWI (electronic wind instrument), an older model of the 1000 series. For recording with Yellowjackets, Bob prefers a Sennheiser 441 microphone, and if given a choice, in live performances situations also.
More information on Bob can be found at his official Bob Mintzer website.