The following article by Philip Bashe appeared in the July 1985 issue of International Musician & Recording World
What do you get when you cross four Jazzers who disdain rock'n'roll with Sting, who doesn't particularly like it either? A milestone rock album...
The crowd at Manhattan's the Ritz strained against the edge of the stage as Sting stepped forward to introduce the next song, a new number entitled 'Moon Over Bourbon Street'.
"This is about an accidental vampire caught between good and evil," he announced, the spotlights casting an eerie glow on his face. Then, with a smirk, he added. "A bit like someone we know isn't it?"
Those confused by the reference were made to understand moments later, when Sting caressed his own cheek as he sang, "The face of a sinner, the heart of a priest... trapped in this life like an innocent lamb."
He does possess a visage that is the very antithesis of innocence, its most prominent feature a pair of smouldering blue eyes that can glare wickedly on command. And what else is a rock and roll star bit a vampire, whose rapaciousness frequently drains the lifeblood of those around him? But "trapped"? That's rarely been true for 33-year-old Gordon Sumner ever since he left Newcastle, England, for a career as the songwriting, lead-singing bassist of the multi-platinum Police, as well as an actor who's received almost unanimously favourable notices.
One other line from 'Bourbon Street' that can't be applied autobiographically is the metaphorical "lamb", for Sting is more like a predator, stalking his creative muse resolutely . Which explains why flanking him that night at the Ritz were neither Police guitarist nor Police drummer Stewart Copeland, but four of the most acclaimed black stars of contemporary jazz: saxophonist Branford Marsalis, keyboardist Kenny Kirkland, bassist Darryl Jones and drummer Omar Hakim. The show was one of three warm-up dates before the group flew down to Eddy Grant's Blue Wave Studios in Barbados to record Sting's first solo album, 'The Dream of the Blue Turtles'.
Sting has frequently declared rock & roll dead, but his decision to conspire with jazz musicians doesn't signify a categorical rejection of rock. Rather, it eloquently makes manifest the full meaning of his statement - that rock musicians have become increasingly staid and provincial, unwilling to challenge themselves by working in or drawing from other idioms. Sting isn't attempting to bury the corpse, he's trying to revive it. The significance of the project would in itself transcend the music were it not for the fact that The Dream of the 'Blue Turtles' happens to be excellent: rich and prismatic. It is not, all parties involved stress, a jazz album, but few rock musicians are well versed enough musically to devise Darryl Jones's exclamations on bass, for instance, or Omar Hakim's cymbal explosions.
And few rock-based players these days are able to excel at on-stage improvisation, which plays a large part in this group. In rock & roll you find a moment and rehearse it and rehearse it so that you can repeat it every night; the idea here, as in jazz, is to depend on spontaneity to hit a different moment each performance. For someone like Jones, who works regularly with Miles Davis, such improvisation is second nature. Jones was one of many jazz musicians to attend the auditions, or "workshops," as Sting calls them, held in New York at the beginning of the year.
Sting's original concept for the LP was even more iconoclastic. Whereas the motive behind most solo albums is to not have to sublimate one's ideas, he originally gave his home demos to the group 'Torch Song' to produce. "He said to call him when it was time to do the vocals," explains the trio's Grant Gilbert. Though Sting later decided not to work with the synthesiser-weighted 'Torch Song', his eventual choice for a producer was the unproven Pete Smith, who assisted him on the demos Sting had recorded at London's Utopia Studios. That he picked Smith over such illustrious candidates as Quincy Jones, Gil Evans and Martin Rushent is... unorthodox.
But then, the enigmatic Gordon Sumner delights in confounding people's expectations. To that end, he claims, he's contrived an alter ego, Sting: prone to arrogance and frequently contrary statements. On the day of our encounter, the blond-haired bassist (who's moved to guitar for this group) seemed to be more part Gordon Sumner than Sting: The blue eyes were friendly rather than intimidating, and in place of his fabled arrogance was a good-natured, self- effacing sense of humour. Wearing a dungaree jacket over nondescript shirt and pants, his face deeply tanned, Sting was glib on all subjects except for the future of the Police - though, interestingly, he did tend to refer to the trio - now in its eighth year together - in the past tense.
With a six-month tour to commence in Japan on August 6 (the band augmented by singers Janice Pendarvis and Dollette McDonald, who appear on the album), however, the Police are certainly on hold through the end of the year. Clearly, Sting's full attention is being directed to this new group - and it is all the members underscore - a group, the chemistry of which was apparent, says Jones, "even at the audition." He, Hakim, Kirkland and Marsalis are excited not only about this bridging of musical styles but also by the prospect of receiving the opportunity to display their talent for the rock audience.
"What we've created," explains Hakim, "is a musical hybrid that will be able to be understood by a larger audience that normally wouldn't put on a Miles Davis album or a Weather Report album. I think it's going to be very good for the industry to see that while everything else will eventually go out of style, artistry, musicianship and creativity will always remain."
And, speculates Branford Marsalis, 'The Dream of the Blue Turtles' will also prove beneficial to Sting. "People are really going to have to give him his due now as a musician, not just as the guy with the blond hair, blue eyes and heavy Aryan features that the teenagers love. "Sting," Marsalis says respectfully, "he's...heavy."
It's rare for rock musicians to work with players from outside the realm of rock & roll. When you talk about rock being dead, isn't it that very insular attitude you're referring to, rather than the form itself?
It's more than that, yes. It's that kind of stagnating, incestuous thing. Pop music at it's best is a great mongrel, taking in sources from everywhere. I think pop music was at it's best in the '60s, when there were no barriers, no demarcation lines of jazz, classical, whatever. So, I wanted to inject some of that dialectic into this project, and I managed to get the best young jazz musicians in the country. They all wanted to do it, which I think is a great tribute to me, because they don't particularly like rock music. But also, I didn't want to make a jazz album. I wanted to stretch myself, I wanted to be challenged by what they could do, and I also wanted them to stretch too. I don't think they found it particularly easy, and I was very demanding about what I wanted. I didn't want them to just slip into their jazz mould and go off and do what they can do falling off a log.
Besides transcending musical boundaries, this album and tour are bound to break down barriers based on racial stereotypes; the idea that white musicians play rock & roll and black musicians play jazz or R&B, but not rock. It's interesting that it's been mostly Englishmen such as yourself, David Bowie and John Waite who've recorded or toured with black musicians.
The reason English rock & rollers even exist is because of black music. The music of my adolescence was soul music, then jazz. I don't want to be racist about it, but black musicians are closer to what you can call essence, if you like. And also, black people are going through an interesting process historically, where they're becoming less and less insular; they're much more out in the big world, and it's reflected in this case in how easily these musicians shifted from being jazz players to playing music that's, hopefully, without a label.
You've said in the past that in Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland you have the best musicians to interpret your material. What did Omar, Kenny, Branford and Darryl bring to the music on this record that maybe Andy and Stewart would not have, and vice versa?
This album is not a vehicle for comparison to the Police. It'd be foolish of me to even attempt making comparisons.
All right, then, how did their approach differ from that of musicians who are exclusively rock & roll? What about Omar, for example, who plays really complex rhythms with Weather Report - how does he approach a straight 4/4 beat?
In a very, very disciplined way. He can virtually play on every beat if he wants to. But he's aware of the discipline involved in making rock records, which is more than one would at first assume. In jazz, you're allowed carte blanche - just play off each other. I wanted to maintain that spark and free flow of ideas, but at the same time, what I wanted was very rigid. And I think we've pulled it off. I'm very pleased with the record. It's live, it's obviously played by musicians and not by machines - in fact, it's rough as hell - and yet it satisfies a lot of ingredients that needed to be satisfied in order for it to be a commercial record. And I wanted it to be as commercial as possible.
You introduced Darryl on stage as the reason for your being on guitar. You're not exactly a slouch on bass; what made you choose him?
Darryl is one of those bass players who started to play the bass. I was a guitarist first, then a double bassist, then, at about nineteen, an electric-bass player. Darryl has a very pure approach to bass playing. However, there are some things, I'm happy to say (laughs), I did on the album; I played the reggae/calypso song, 'Love Is the Seventh Wave'. I played on 'Fortress Around Your Heart', only because I was writing it in the studio, and basically I just put down the bass straightaway and it seemed fine, so I kept it on. And I also played double bass on 'Moon Over Bourbon Street'. So I did play some of the bass, but the motherlode of the work was done by Darryl, largely because he's just a wonderful player and can do things I can't. And I'm not precious about my ability as a musician. I think that my function in this group is as a concept organiser. I'm working with musicians who are technically much, much better than I am.
In talking to Branford, we detected a bit of condescension toward rock & roll, which isn't uncommon for jazz players...
...You'd get the same from me, though. I'm very condescending about rock & roll.
But while jazz-oriented players may be able to execute rock intellectually and physically, can't they sometimes miss the spirit of rock & roll because they don't believe in the spirit of rock & roll?
I'm not really interested in the spirit of rock & roll. I don't know what rock & roll is, or if it's valid anymore. I'm interested in the spirit of live music, and I don't think Branford, Omar, Kenny, Darryl or myself miss the spirit of rock & roll at all. I think we're right in there, and I would hereby challenge any band to blow us off stage! (laughs)
As a singer how was it for you working with a sax? At the Ritz, on Roxanne, you and Branford were trading lines back and forth like a vocal duet.
Well, in the Police I was more or less the only person working in that frequency range, which was a freedom, I suppose, but it's nice to have a tasteful player weaving in and out with you. It's a relief. I can sit back, and Branford can take over, and vice versa.
In the Police, you write mostly for guitar, bass, drums and some keyboards. Here you had these additional voices to work with. Did you compose with those textures in mind?
I composed a lot of the songs on keyboard anyway, so those basic parts were already written. I didn't write any sax part as such; I trusted Branford to come up with my vision of it. Like, for 'Children's Crusade', I said, "I want something that's kind of military," and he played something that was totally, utterly appropriate. He wouldn't be improvising just with the changes and the chords, he'd be improvising with the lyrics, and you can hear it in the sensitivity of his playing.
Synchronicity marked a return to a sparser ensemble sound. We were surprised that at the Ritz the band had such a big, dense sound, because you generally seem to prefer a lot of space in your music.
You have to understand, the band was formed seven days before the first Ritz gig. It was impossible for it to be tight, to use the old phrase. I wanted the musicians to know the songs and to play their asses off, basically. There was some attempt at tightening things up, making space here and there, but there wasn't time to do as much as I would have liked. I suspect that when people see the band in the fall, the material will be more lucid. But I certainly don't want to chain these guys up. I don't want to have them locked into solid arrangements.
Well, while you're not playing jazz per se, you are borrowing from it's foundation of loose structures and improvisation.
That's really how the Police operated too. A song would start very structured, then we'd have a middle section where anything could happen, and then we'd go back to the structure. That's more or less the same idea with this group.
It's appropriate that you have Darryl from Miles Davis's band in the group. Wasn't 'Bitches Brew' a pretty important album for you?
Oh, yeah. For me, it was almost as important as hearing the Beatles for the first time. It was a bit like taking acid - not that I've ever taken acid - but I can imagine it's as cathartic as that. Also, 'In a Silent Way'. Most of Miles's work has been influential to me. I learned about space from listening to Miles Davis.
Now that you've switched from four strings to six strings, how do you rate yourself as a guitarist?
(laughs) I'm a really good rhythm player. I have no illusions about taking twenty-minute lead breaks. I don't like lead guitar terribly much; I think it's all been said, and I don't think I'm the one to revitalise it. I'm a good chord man, and if I can hold my own with these musicians, I can't be that bad!
We know that in the studio you like to go direct when you're recording your bass so that you can play in the control room and not have to wear headphones. Did you do the same thing for your guitar parts?
Did the same. I can't bear headphones; I have to hear the whole thing. Also, that way, when I'm playing, I can stand over the engineer's shoulder and kick him. I can direct things better from the control room.
Let's talk about your songwriting. Synchronicity wasn't exactly an uplifting record; it contained a lot of despondent material, and that feel seems to have carried over to this album.
I'm not sure about it being despondent; I think... there's a certain seriousness to what I'm talking about, and you can't be flippant about it. But I don't think the songs are without hope or are totally negative.
It seems like having children has affected your songwriting. Songs like 'Children's Crusade' and 'Russians' definitely sound like they were written by a father concerned for his children's future.
They are, yes. My belief is that politics and politicians have made themselves redundant. If there's to be any hope for world peace, it's in the hands of you and I, as parents. I've led a very rich and fulfilling life, and I could die tomorrow and not feel as if I'd been cheated. I'd really like for my children to have the opportunity to live in a peaceful, sane world, and it's really up to me to create that world. It's not up to Ronald Reagan or Gorbachev or Mrs.Thatcher, because they've already proved themselves to be laughably inadequate in that respect.
'Every Breath You Take' was generally perceived as a blithe, cheery little love song, when in fact it was pretty insidious. It sounds like you've written another with 'Set Them Free', with its line "If you love somebody, set them free."
In many ways it's an antidote to 'Every Breath You Take'. That song is about surveillance and ownership, possession, jealousy; emotions that we all have. 'Set Them Free' is the opposite, saying that if you love somebody, let them alone. There is a nasty side to it too. It's got quite a swagger to it, and a kick in the teeth. But most of my seductive, pleasant, blander songs have a kick in the teeth in them somewhere, if you look. But it's a good kick in the teeth. A positive kick in the teeth! Character building!
Did you compose most of the album on the Synclavier?
A lot of the stuff, yeah. 'Russians' was composed on the Synclavier.
Do you use the SCRIPT program, mainly?
I use the whole thing. Sometimes I use SCRIPT, sometimes I use the sequencer.
But you do know how to write out music?
Oh, yeah. But the SCRIPT is great for getting parts. Anything you play - if you do a glissando with your elbow - it'll be written out. So occasionally I'd give Kenny Kirkland a written sheet of music.
Besides freeing you from having to write out the music yourself, does the Synclavier free your creativity as a songwriter?
I'm fairly facile on a guitar and can play just about anything I want, but on a keyboard I'm fairly slow, and I find the Synclavier's sequencer easy to construct chords on. Say I want to construct an F-flat minor seventh, followed by an A-flat five. It'll take me that long to get my fingers in the right places. With a sequencer I can play those two chords one right after the other and then run them together. So that gives gives me facility there for writing.
Do you prefer digital or analog synths?
I prefer analog for making records. The sound of tape hiss is very attractive to me. I think digital is much better to write and edit on; you can transpose at the touch of a button, you can reverse, you can take one section and put it somewhere else without the cutting of tape; as a writing tool, I think it's wonderful. But ultimately I'd like to do an album with digital, purely on the Synclavier, to see what would happen.
You generally seem to favour a warm synth sound. How would you characterise the Synclavier?
I chink it's the most sophisticated, dynamic-sounding synthesiser. I think compared to the Fairlight, it's more "adult" sounding. But I don't think that the Synclavier is a rock & roll machine. What it did was give me access to an orchestral sound, which I never had before.
We hate interviews where people attempt to psychoanalyse, but here we go anyway: You introduced 'Moon Over Bourbon Street' on stage by saying it was about a vampire caught between good and evil, and then added cryptically, "a bit like someone we know, isn't it ?" Anyone sitting in this room, Sting?
(laughs) No, I was really talking about everyone. I was talking about me too, but I think everyone has this dark side that sometimes is denied, and it's there that you have the root of madness. I think you have to accept that you're both sides, and to accept it and learn to live with it is to control it. To deny it is to become Hitler.
While we're on the subject of people possessing two sides, you've been pretty candid about your own Jekyll and Hyde personality on and off stage. Is that something you've since come to terms with?
I've been lucky, in a way in that at first I was hailed by the British press as the Golden Boy: the handsome, talented, athletic chap who was married, with kids and all. And then suddenly they found out that, yes, I do fuck people, and yes, I have taken drugs, and then I became the bad guy, which coincided with my film career, in which I always manage to play devils and shit (laughs). So what happened at the end of it was that everybody was fairly confused about what I was, which suited me fine, because there are only about three people in the world who I know me; there are only about three people in the world that I want to know me. Because I haven't been pigeonholed anymore, I have the freedom to do as I please, and I'm not the Golden Boy, nor am I Beelzebub; I'm just a human being. And I quite enjoy that freedom to be bad if I want.
Most performers are showered with I so much adulation they can't help but be self-absorbed. From what we hear, you're no exception. Isn't it detrimental to have people constantly courting and indulging you?
I think it's dangerous if you start associating yourself with the creature that's written about. Fortunately for me, I've managed to create this alter ego called Sting, who took all the glory and all the flak, and I hope - I hope - left this thing inside intact. And the thing is, they're not writing about me, they're writing about an invention, and will continue to do so. Even you will write about an invention.
Does having children make you less self-absorbed?
I'm just about to have another one, in fact - this is going to be my fourth. I think that having kids makes you look to the future more. You tend to lose that hope-I-die-before-I-get-old, live-for-today thing and start thinking responsibly about what the fucking hell's gonna happen in ten years' time. And I think that-whether you're a musician, a factory worker, a teacher or a journalist - we can all add something to the world that will exist in ten years time, either negatively or positively. We can't just sit back and say, "Oh, well, the world will be what it is." The world will be what we create. And having children reminds us of that responsibility.
Being a self-described devoted family man, isn't it frustrating for you that your career keeps you away from home so much of the time?
I am away from home a lot; I do work a lot. That sort of madness is balanced by spending the rest of my time with the kids. I think in one sense it makes me a better father in that I don't take them for granted. I can't just accept that they're there while I'm reading the paper. When I see the kids, I like to be involved with them. I don't know... it's not terribly easy. I don't know how they feel about having me as a father; I can tell you in ten years' time.
What did you intend for your photo strip on the Synchronicity cover to say about you?
I don't know. Actually, I haven't thought about this. It was all involved with skeletons; the skeleton of a dinosaur... It was done subconsciously. My idea was that each member of the band would just go out and be photographed in an environment that he chose and that the three things would somehow relate, and they actually did. I guess mine was concerned with extinction.
O.K., we've saved what everybody wants to know for last. You said several years ago that the Police probably would have said everything they were going to say in five albums. Synchronicity was LP number five. Also, you've said that as soon as the group ceased to be useful for your career you'd drop it.
Did I say that? Hmm... Are you asking is the band finished? Well, the band isn't useful to me this year. Maybe next year. Maybe the year after that. We're not bound together by sentimental ties or financial ones. I'm not going to make any definite statement, yes or no (laughs). Right now I'm not interested in the Police, I'm interested in my new band and album. I think it's my best work, the most refined piece of work I've done. And I'm proud that it's not going to be easily formularised. It's not going to fit terribly well on radio formats, for example. But I'll be intrigued as to how they treat it. The whole idea is to keep people confused, because that allows you freedom. As soon as they're sure about who you are and what you're gonna come up with next, then you're dead, stagnant and useless - which is why rock & roll is dead; I know what MTV is going to look like today. I don't want to be in that kind of prison. I like for people to go, "What the f*** is that boy gonna do next?"
Why is it that so many of our most talented, creative and articulate musicians suddenly become dumbstruck when asked to talk about their instrumentation? Could there be a connection? Add to this list Gordon Sumner, who, when queried about what kind of strings he uses, replies poker-faced, "guitar strings." Grrrr.
Equipment man Danny Quatrochi, however, gets paid to be familiar with such details, and between the two of them we were able to compile an inventory of Sting's gear. Since the Police's 1979 debut, Sting has used several basses, though his main model remains an early-'60s Fender Jazz. "Its in great shape," says Quatrochi, adding that it still has its original stock pickups, and, except for a refinishing of the neck, has had no modifications. On early tours Sting also employed a Fender Precision fretless, which he purchased at Manny's in New York with money he'd earned from his first movie role, as Ace a Mod, in 'Quadrophenia'. "We had a gig that night at CBGB," he recalls, "and I used it even though I'd never played a fretless before. The trick," he whispers conspiratorially, "is to keep a straight face when you hit wrong notes, then play 'em again."
Other basses have included a Steinberger; a custom-made Hamer eight-string; and a white Spector NS-2, which, according to Stuart Spector, was handed to Sting during a soundcheck before a St. Louis show on the Synchronicity trek. "He played it during the soundcheck and the concert, jumped into the limousine while still wearing it and said, 'Write a check.'"
"I liked the colour," Sting laughs. "It's as simple as that." All basses are strung with Roto-sound Jazz Bass round-wounds. Then there's Sting's unique standup electric, the Z-bass, designed by a Dutch racing-car driver named Van Zalinge. It's unorthodox shape gives it a sound that Sting describes as "rich, organic. On record I often double my electric bass with it, putting it underneath. You don't actually hear it, you feel it, this very low frequency."
In general, says Sting, who variates between playing with his fingers and using a plectrum, he's not particularly concerned about which bass he's going to use on stage, for "our PA sound is so thorough. I could play a baseball bat with strings and it'd sound good." Danny Quatrochi might agree. For the Police's 'Synchronicity' tour, he had T.D. Audio of Montclair, New Jersey, construct a custom-made four-way system that he calls "amazing".
"For the low frequencies, there was a 2-12" 'W'-design cabinet, with a really smooth, low-end sound. For low-mid frequencies, a 2-15"; for mid-high, a 6-12"; and for the high end, two Gauss HF4000 horns." Speakers were Electro-Voice and Eastern Acoustic Works, and primp and crossovers were by Ashly. Amps were a Crown PSA-2 (300 watts per side) for the bottom and low-mid, in stereo; a Crown DC-300A for the mid-high, in mono; and a Crown D75 for the high, also in mono. Sting's only effects were Klark-Teknik EQs, dbx 160x comp/limiters, and a Roland chorus pedal.
Sting's guitars, which he'll be playing on tour, are a Fender Telecaster and a Stratocaster. The former is a 196I model in mint condition, while the Strat is a black mid-'70s model that Sting bought at Manny's along with his fretless P-bass on that maiden American tour. On the album, he also played a Gibson Chet Atkins "for a couple of solo lines." Neither the Telly nor the Strat has been modified, and Quatrochi strings both with Ernie Ball Regular Slinkys (not "guitar strings." Gordon...).
For this tour, Quatrochi is renting a new PA system from Meyer Sound Labs of Berkeley, California. Sting's amplification will once again be Crown, a Micro-Tech 1000. "It's smaller than the PSA-2," Quatrochi raves, "but has more power" (1,000 watts in a bridged mono configuration). The three Meyer cabinets house two 18"s, one 12", and one 12" respectively, with one horn apiece. Other gear includes a Dean Murkily preamp, an MXR Dyna Comp, a Roland SRE-555 chorus and a Roland SDE-3000 digital delay ("my concession to digital," quips Sting).
Darryl Jones may be a mere 23 years old, but his perception of the bass's function harkens back to an earlier era, when the emphasis on bass guitar was on "bass" and not "guitar." "The popular misconception is that it's the drummer who carries the band," maintains Branford Marsalis, "but it's the bass player whose job it is to do that. And that's what I like so much about Darryl: He carries the rhythm; he plays the bass."
Sting, too, is "a big fan of Darryl's," so much so that he shifted to guitar in order to have Jones in the band, and overall, Jones says happily, afforded him a generous amount of creative license. "There were a lot of bass lines he'd give me that I would 'Darrylize', but then," says Jones, "there were some where he'd play them for me and tell me to work with them, and I'd look at him and say, 'What's to work with? These are great bass parts.'"
Jones's equipment consists of a 1966 Fender Jazz bass with stock pickups, strung with a Rotosound Swing Bass set; a Crown Micro-Tech 1000 power amp; an Ashly preamp; Boss HM-2 Heavy Metal distortion, volume, VB-2 vibrato, OC-2 Octaver and CS-2 compression sustain pedals; Roland SDE-3000 digital delay; and two Hartke 4-IO" cabinets with aluminium Hartke speakers. His J-bass was recorded both direct and amped, through a 300-watt Ampeg SVT with a Hartke cabinet, and Jones engaged all his effects except for the SDE-3000 and HM-2 units.
The Chicago-born bassist has been a member of Miles Davis's band since he was just 21, and he contributed this priceless line about Miles. When asked what it was like to work with a voice for a change, he thought for a moment, then smiled before replying, "When I work with Miles on stage, I play with a voice every night."
Omar Hakim, 26, perhaps best personifies the unparochial concept of the band. "What this project is about," he says earnestly, "is to show that creativity knows no bounds, whether it be rock or jazz. Creativity is creativity, and that's what Sting, the Police, Miles Davis and Weather Report are all about." The latter is Hakim's full-time group. While Weather Report's fusion material may be more demanding rhythmically, Hakim contends that "It takes the same amount of concentration to get a musical point across in any idiom that you're working in." And he has worked in several, including sessions with David Bowie. George Benson and Carly Simon. Even having to play an elementary 4/4, he continues, "takes as much skill as being as fast and busy as I can. Sometimes it might even be harder to just stay there and make it feel great, being simple without being simplistic."
Hakim, who says he was a fan of the Police long before he and Sting met at Montserrat's Air Studios, where the drummer was recording with Dire Straits, is a Yamaha and Zildjian endorsee. For the album, he played a Recording series kit with a 22" bass drum, a 7" deep chrome snare ("I also have the same one in wood"), 13" x 9" and 12" x 8" rack toms, and 14" x 14" and 16" x 16" floor toms. He also owns a custom blue Yamaha set with 22" and 24" bass drums, a 7"-deep snare, 10", 12" and 13" rack toms, and 16" x 16" and 18" x 16" floor toms. Cymbals are 16" China Boy, 13" splash, 19" medium-thin crash, 22" heavy ride or 20" K. Zildjian, 17" medium-thin crash and 22" China Boy, with 14" Quick Beat hi-hat. Hardware is Yamaha, pedals are Drum Workshop and sticks are Vic Firth 5As or 5Bs.
Oblivious of musical labels, Hakim says, "You have some die-hard musicians who say, 'I'm a this musician,' or 'I'm a that musician.' When people ask me if I'm committed to jazz, I say, 'I'm committed to music and the art of making music,' and I believe that a good player can take quality everywhere he goes."
Kenny Kirkland is too soft-spoken and unassuming to tout his considerable talent, but then, he has plenty of his peers to do it for him. "There ain't a piano player in America that can f*** with Kenny Kirkland," Branford Marsalis declares unhesitatingly. And Sting smiles when he refers to the 27-year-old from Brooklyn, New York, as his band's "secret weapon." How good is Kirkland?
This good: "I use a sequencer when I write," says Sting, "and Kenny was able to reproduce sequencer parts with his left hand! It's terrifying!" A member of Wynton Marsalis's band since 1981, Kirkland has also played behind the likes of Michael Urbaniak; John Scofield, Angela Bofill and Chaka Khan, though he characterises himself as a jazz musician first. In Wynton's band he plays acoustic piano exclusively, but for the Sting record used a variety of electronic instruments: Yamaha electric grand. Oberheim OB-8, Synclavier and Yamaha DX7. The latter he's partial to because of its "clean, pure sound, though some of the sounds you can't get to real fast. But the DX7 and the OB-8 are all you need." On tour he'll also be taking along an acoustic grand and a PPG Wave 2.3, all to be folded back through the monitors. Other keyboards that he owns include Korg's Poly-800 and Polysix, and a Minimoog. Effects are a Roland SDE-3000 digital delay and a Yamaha R-1000 digital reverb.
Of the four other musicians in the band, the only one Kirkland had never played with was Sting, and the experience yielded one surprise: "Sting was really cool," he says, admitting to an initial dubiousness about working with a star of Sting's magnitude, which one rarely encounters in the jazz world. "He knew his music really well, knew what he wanted to do and was completely easy to work with. Everything was real calm."
Like his younger brother Wynton, Branford Marsalis is outspoken when it comes to extolling the virtues of jazz. And, like Wynton, in whose band the 24-year-old saxophonist from New Orleans plays, he's frank about his basic disdain of rock & roll.
"Rock & roll doesn't stack up to jazz intellectually," he says bluntly. "Whereas most pop musicians pretty much play one or two ways, jazz is very demanding and forces you to learn a variety of styles. That's what gave us the ability to play the kind of music that Sting does as easily as we did."
Interestingly, of the four jazz-oriented band members. Marsalis had the most difficult time adapting to rock & roll, particularly when it came to soloing. "The first week we were recording, I didn't really succeed much in doing anything," he admits, "because it was a difficult transition for me. In jazz," he analogises, "a solo is like telling a story; you start with a simple idea and get more complex as you go on. In pop, it's like a sitcom; you don't have any time to develop your ideas, you have to come in rippin' and roarin'."
Marsalis's adjustment was accelerated greatly by Sting's lyrics, which on much of 'The Dream of the Blue Turtles' inspired some dazzling, interpretative saxwork. Oftentimes Marsalis's playing is abstract, surreal, while on 'Children's Crusade' his tenor parts are ingeniously literal. "Reading Sting's lyrics," he enthuses, "was like reading Chaucer as opposed to most pop lyrics, which are like reading... Penthouse."
As for the frequent exchanges between Sting's voice and his woodwinds, he says, "Sting says I'm his alter ego, the other side of his voice." Marsalis, who emphasises that he has no compunctions about being a sideman, also has no illusions about his role in this band. Personally, I don't see the importance of the sax in this group; the strength the rhythm section. I see myself as more of an ornament. I don't want to be a star and have piles of girlfriends. That's just not what I play music for."
Marsalis's instruments for the album were his Selmer Mark VI tenor; with Frederick Hemke and Rico Royal size-four reeds, and an Otto Link No.4 mouthpiece; and his Mark VI alto, with a size-four Vandoren reed and a Bari No.4 mouthpiece. In his brothers group he uses a two-mike setup on-stage, but for the Sting tour will be going with three: a Sennheiser 421 on top and two Shure SM58s on bottom.
Returning to the subject of jazz versus rock, Marsalis predicts confidently and not a bit immodestly that the Sting project is going to shake up more than a few rock & rollers. "There's always this defence mechanism where they say, 'Well you guys are jazz musicians and we're pop musicians; we can't do what you do and you can't do what we do.'
"Which is absurd! Because if I can play jazz really well, there's no way you're gonna tell me I can't play with Hall and Oates. So what we're going to do is force people to deal with musical facts instead of making bland rationalisations for their own inadequacies."
And when the tour is all over? "I'll just go back to playing jazz," says the Berklee-trained Marsalis, who last year recorded his debut, 'Scenes in the City', and who is working on an album of classical music at the moment. Rock & roll may not stimulate him intellectually the way jazz does, but, he concedes, it does test his stamina. "After this tour with Sting," he laughs. "I'm going to be in the best shape I've been in for about five years."
© International Musician & Recording World