Volume 47 Number 1 Jan Feb March 2021
Name, Place of Birth:
Greg Abate, Fall River Massachusetts
Background, were your parents musical ?
How did you learn music and what are your early memories?
Elementary School clarinet lessons Recall a turning point in your life, either musically or personally. When I went to LA after Berklee College and joined Ray Charles Orchestra
What was the first musical project that you were really excited about?
LIVE AT BIRDLAND my first recording on label Candid Records
Who are your musical heroes and which albums?
Phil Woods , Art Pepper Cannonball Adderly Dexter Gordon , LIVE AT THE SHOWBOAT.
Describe your musical education and approach to creating music.
Berklee College of Music and the real school of music doing it on the road with great musicians and bands!
What do you do to survive as a musician?
I play many gigs , record , teach , compose and arrange
What is your current project?
Recorded a new CD Greg Abate-plays the music of Kenny Barron with Kenny Barron trio at Rudy VanGelder Studios. Whaling City Sound Records
What next, what are your upcoming projects?
Getting back to touring since the Covid. I’m writing new music for my next recording!
My name is Greg Abate pronounced (Abah Tay) I live in New England USA. I play all the saxophones, the flute and am a composer, arranger and jazz educator / Conn Selmer artist. I tour world wide. I’m currently recording for Whaling City Sound Records. My newest recording is with the Kenny Barron Trio playing the music of Kenny Barron. ( Not yet released ).... Regarding a turning point in my career, I can say, playing lead alto saxophone with the Ray Charles Orchestra in the mid 1970’s was a huge experience and also collaboration with the great Phil Woods as my guest on 2 recordings was a very memorable experience. But , to catapult my early career was a Trip to Montreal from Boston in a blizzard. I had a gig in Montreal and I was completely focused on driving there safely and making the gig in spite of the storm! The city was packed with snow there when I arrived. I was worried that I had made the trip in vain. After an hour or so the side walks were plowed and the club opened. I played as guest with a local trio but there were only 7 people in the club due to the storm. During intermission I was beckoned to the bar where a person asked; “Do you play in NY City?“ I said, not regularly but I have . He said he was partners with another who produced recordings for Candid Records. He suggested I contact his partner, recommending I do a recording with their label. It took about a year but they recorded me live at Birdland with James Williams , Rufus Reid and Kenny Washington! This led to several other recordings with Candid and various other labels which got me on all the jazz stations and more Nationally known... I played a few times in Georgia Russia and Moscow. One time returning from Moscow in dead of winter blizzard weather again getting to the airport and my visa was to the day which is a mistake because one should give some extra days on it in case of a situation such as this one. I got to the airport in Moscow and checked bags and getting ready to fly to a Boston and they said flight is cancelled. For me , I could wait but because my Visa was up they said you can’t go because of the storm but I couldn’t stay there either so I’d have to go to a holding place until I could get my visa up to date. It was really weird . It blew away any joy of the gig there. I was wondering what I’d do but a person in back of me could speak Russian and he said there is a flight to Paris I could take and spend the night there in Paris and go home the next day. I landed in Paris and it was beautiful weather, well, it was worrisome because my experience dealing with authorities there a few years past was strange and the idea of a holding place and waiting was not what I wanted to do. A few years ago there in Moscow, going home again, my alto sax was on the inspection table and they wanted to keep my horn luckily the promoter who spoke English heard me call her and she showed them that I was there on work visa!
RI-based Greg Abate is known the world over as a master of the alto saxophone and a hard core bebopper, but he does much more. He is also proficient on the soprano, tenor and baritone saxes, as well as the flute. He is also a respected composer; some of his 17 CDs consist of only his own songs, while others feature standards along with his own pieces.
Greg is one of a diminishing number of jazz artists who travel the world non-stop, often more than 225 days a year, performing in clubs and at festivals, giving clinics at schools and colleges and regularly releasing highly regarded and reviewed recordings which make the top 20 on the JazzWeek national radio chart. In 2016 he was inducted into the RI Music Hall of Fame.
Greg and his quartet of veterans will be playing a mix of jazz standards, his own compositions, and a few numbers from his recently recorded and upcoming release, “Greg Abate Plays the Music of Kenny Barron.”
Few performers can sustain that ‘fire in the belly’ intensity that energizes audiences and bandmates alike, night after night, and Greg never fails to make that happen. Always aiming for the deep seats, he embodies the joy, striving and beauty that bring the jazz audience back year after year to appreciate his music, and he always delivers.
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DOWNBEAT May 2013
The Greg Abate Quintet Featuring Phil Woods
Saxophonist Greg Abate offers an impressive resume of his abilities on all of the horns (except tenor) here. He’s also put himself in the estimable company of alto icon Phil Woods on five numbers. It’s no secret that Woods has had health challenges, but don’t expect softball duets and noblesse oblige from Abate. Sure, Woods is no longer playing at the blowtorch velocity of his youth, but on the mid-tempo tunes that they pair up on, each man gives pound-for-pound; neither concedes the high ground.
Like Woods, Abate is a singer who happens to be an instrumentalist. His soprano is tuneful and melodic on “Pear For The Bear,” and his alto on his hard-bop gauntlet “Realization” is a calling card that’s a little tour de force. If Abate could be transported back to the days of Phil and Quill, the elders would have a soul mate.
The Abate-Woods duets bring smiles for their warmly competitive postures. They’re friendly exchanges but with an edge to each man’s solos. Where Abate will double-time for a few bars on “Rocco’s Place,” Woods glisses his octave jumps in an expansively melodic turn. Abate seems intent on making Woods proud, while Woods holds his mud around the young firebrand.
The inclusion of Bill Goodwin, Woods’ faithful drummer for decades, is a smart choice, reminding what a superlative and tasty player he’s always been. Pianist Jesse Green distinguish- es himself throughout but, perhaps, no more so than with his sensitive and clever comping on the ballad “Marny,” where he supports, suggests and affirms Abate’s rough-edged baritone.
Wood’s ennui-tinged “Goodbye Mr. Pepper” bossa—a doff of the cap to alto icon Art Pepper in its recorded debut—offers heartfelt solos by both. Call it mutual respect, but it’s respect given by prideful masters. —Kirk Silsbee
The Greg Abate Quintet Featuring Phil Woods: Roger Over And Out; Pear For The Bear; Rocco’s Place; Carmel By The Sea; Marny; J.A.G.; Special K; Contemplations; Goodbye Mr. Pepper; Realization. (68:59)
Personnel: Greg Abate, soprano, alto and baritone saxophones, flute; Phil Woods, alto saxophone (1, 3, 4, 6, 9); Jesse Green, piano; Evan Gregor, bass; Bill Goodwin, drums.
SCOTT ALBIN 11/27/12
The Greg Abate Quintet Featuring Phil Woods
Greg Abate is that rare multi-instrumentalist in jazz who is equally proficient on all his instruments, in this case being alto, tenor, soprano, and baritone saxophones, as well as flute. Although he’s very active as both a performer and an educator, the Rhode Island-based Abate is not nearly as well-known as his very special guest on this CD, the alto saxophonist Phil Woods, one of his main influences along with Charlie Parker. Abate’s early credits include lead alto with Ray Charles, and then tenor sax with the Artie Shaw Orchestra under the direction of Dick Johnson. Since 1991 Abate has recorded a string of noteworthy CDs as a leader, including the 2002 Grammy-nominated Evolution with James Williams, Harvie S, and Billy Hart. This session finds Abate in the company of Woods for five of the 10 tracks, in addition to pianist Jesse Green, bassist Evan Gregor, and Woods’ longtime drummer Bill Goodwin. Abate’s eight originals, and Woods’ piece dedicated to Art Pepper, reaffirm these two accomplished musicians’ prowess as composers. Their playing simply speaks for itself.
Abate and Woods’ altos blend mellifluously on the leader’s enticing “Roger Over and Out.” Abate’s solo is assured in a relaxed but incisive manner, and played with a warm, welcoming tone. After Green’s prancing delight, Woods spins a resolute improv, his intonation more biting than Abate’s. The vibrant call and response out chorus after the reprise is an added bonus. “Pear for the Bear” was written for jazz DJ Tom Balas, and Abate’s soprano lifts this lilting medium-tempo theme with its neatly contrasting Latin-flavored bridge. Green’s solo glides enthusiastically through the pleasant changes, and Abate’s statement is full of fire and spirit. Gregor’s lucid exploration outlines the tune’s attractive dimensions, and Goodwin’s adaptable drumming on this track is a lesson in focused vitality.
“Rocco’s Place,” written for the owner of Abate’s favorite Italian restaurant, is a soulful tune that finds Greg on baritone sax, in pleasing variance with Woods’ penetrating alto. Goodwin’s back beat propels Woods’ sinuous solo as well as Abate’s, during which he substantiates his dexterity on the big horn. After Green’s sterling turn, Gregor and Goodwin trade nimble passages. “Carmel By the Sea” is Abate’s salute to that California coast locale, another freshly conceived composition. His alto solo whirls infectiously, and Green’s surges with energy and imagination. Woods’ approach is more fragmented, skillfully connecting the parts into a satisfyingly logical whole. Gregor’s bass invention precedes another gratifying set of exchanges by the altos, and their earnest repeat of the undulating theme.
British pianist John Patrick’s ballad “Marny” is given a gently affecting theme reading by Green, which is reiterated more firmly by Abate’s inviting baritone, with the pianist returning for the bridge. Abate’s expressive and moving solo again makes apparent his mastery of the bari. Green and Gregor’s concise improvs also capture the graceful beauty of this tune. “J.A.G.” is for Abate’s children Jessica, Anthony, and Gregory, and appeared previously on a 1995 release led by Dan Moretti. Based on Benny Carter’s “When Lights Are Low,” Woods’ alto and Abate’s flute make a joyful tandem as they soar above Goodwin’s urgent Latin rhythms. Abate’s agile flute solo is followed by both Woods and Green sailing around the fresh changes with great aplomb. An alto/flute give and take near the end is intense and uplifting.
“Special K,” inspired by Abate’s “partner and soul mate” Kerry Tracey, is remindful of “Invitation” to a minor extent. Green’s extended line solo is mesmerizing, and Abate’s jubilant, effervescent romp on soprano is flawlessly formulated and executed. Gregor and Goodwin close out the improvisations with flair and substance. Abate’s “Contemplation” is taken at a medium tempo and has an insistent, driving modal vibe. Greg’s flute solo is Eric Dolphy-like at times in its inflections and convoluted phrasing. Green’s investigation is more laid-back but very effective in its “contemplation.” Gregor’s magnetic journey recalls the sound and resolve of Jimmy Garrison, while Goodwin’s brief interlude invokes Elvin Jones.
Woods’ stirring tribute to Art Pepper, “Goodbye Mr. Pepper,” here makes its debut on CD. Goodwin’s Latin beat elevates the two altoists in their intertwined exposition of the exhilarating, affirmative theme. Green’s melodic interval brings us to Woods’ emotional solo, which is answered by a similarly engaged one from Abate. The reprise and a subtly potent unison tag confirm this tune’s merit. “Realization (Living the Dash -)” was introduced on Abate’s Evolution CD, and was penned on 9-11-01 after the Twin Towers fell. The “dash -” signifies Abate’s “realization of how precious life is and the time from our birth date and to the final departure date.” This version is “dedicated to my good friend and mentor the late great Dick Johnson, whose alto I am playing on this track.” Abate’s alto playing is rousing, as is his theme. His solo is perhaps his finest on the disc, an intricately woven hard bop diversion that is ceaselessly inventive. Green then comes close to matching his passion, no easy feat. Gregor’s improv is also absorbing, and Goodwin’s trades with alto and piano are enlivening examples of his playing at its very best. In fact, Goodwin has probably never sounded better than he does on this entire recording.
9 December 2014 – Ken Franckling
High-energy jazz doesn’t describe the full feeling of listening to hard bop saxophonist Greg Abate in live performance because so much intensity and idea-making fuels his music. But it comes close. Even his approach to ballads and sambas have that lilt. They start out breezy or laid-back, but they are certain to have their burning moments.Count on it.
Such was the case on Monday, December 8, when the New England-based jazz man performed in the Charlotte County Jazz Society’s concert series. He visits every two years for a Port Charlotte stop and a few other gigs in the area. And why not? It’s a great way to escape harsher northern weather for a few days.
Abate was joined on the gig by a stellar Florida rhythm section, with Matt Bokulic on piano, Richard Drexler on bass and Ian Goodman on drums. Abate hadn’t worked with Bokulic in about 20 years, and had never performed with Goodman previously, but Drexler had been with Abate on previous visits.
As is sometimes the case in jazz – and is always the goal – this band locked in on Abate’s concept and performed with a cohesive chemistry that was very special.
Alto sax was Abate’s primary instrument for this concert, though he shifted to flute on two originals, a waltz called “Morning of the Leaves” from his newest CD Motif, and the minor blues “Contemplation.”
The evening’s highlights were Abate’s grooving interplay with the rhythmic section members at various points. He and Goodman locked in mightily on another original, the burner “Roger Over and Out.” He and Bokulic had some wonderful solo conversations on “Contemplation,” and the Abate-Drexler teasing back-and-forth intro to “Body and Soul” was delightful.
Most material came from the jazz canon, including Charlie Parker’s “Yardbird Suite” and “Groovin’ High,” which Parker co-wrote with Dizzy Gillespie. Others included Benny Carter’s “When Lights Are Low,” Billy Strayhorn’s elegaic “Blood Count,” and “The End of a Love Affair.”
Abate is one of the masters of seamlessly dropping in quotes from other tunes, as ideas pour through him – and out of his horn. He just does it faster than most other players and then moves on to something else. The original samba “Bittersweet” saw him work in snippets of Freddie Hubbard’s “Sunflower” and The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby.” On the closer, “All the Things You Are,” which Abate dedicated to the audience, came bits of “Lullaby of Birdland,” “I Love You” and, in the spirit of the season, “Sleigh Ride.” “Winter Wonderland” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” also popped into his ideas earlier in the evening.
Abate and friends swing the Jazz Depot
If Wynton Marsalis’s perception that jazz is a conversation among musicians, then they were talking up a storm Sunday night (September 28) at the Jazz Depot.
And Marsalis’s idea that even “strangers” can make great music because they speak the same jazz language was proven as a master musician led three exemplary Tulsa players through a stirring first set as if they were seasoned members of his “road band.”
To do that takes enormous talent on the part of the leader as well as his “followers.” And that was in abundance when alto saxophone and flute master Greg Abate took the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame stage at the Depot.
Abate, who has strong sideman credits with such stellar organizations as Ray Charles’s legendary big band, and the early 1980s band organized by Artie Shaw, covered all the major jazz bases in his two hour-plus performance and hit just about every note possible (and a few some would consider improbable) on his alto.
His backing trio, who he met with for the first time only four hours before the performance, and then for only an hour, played like long-time Abate sidemen—Tim Shadley on piano, Bill Crosby on bass, and Nicholas Foster on drums. If the four were playing only jazz standards, the smooth meshing of their collective talents would not necessarily be noteworthy, but the evening’s playlist included several Abate originals that required, as Shadley noted during the intermission, “enormous concentration—at least on my part!”
The concentration paid off as the Tulsa musicians acquitted themselves well.
The evening began with Abate dedicating the concert to the late Tulsa musician Buddy Hawkins, who was a friend of Abate’s (they met when playing together at the Blue Wisp Jazz Club in Cincinnati) as well as bass player Crosby. Fittingly, Abate opened with a song he wrote for Hawkins, “Buddy’s Rendezvous.” Based on the chord changes of Benny Carter’s “When Lights Are Low,” Abate’s lovely melody and improvisation covered the full range of his alto and reached, it seemed, into baritone territory and up to notes typically reserved for the soprano sax. Rather than simply playing aimless notes, Abate framed his lyrical solos in short stories with beginnings, middles and ends.
As the opening number of the evening, Abate gave his bandmates an opportunity to both warm up and stretch—and all took full advantage. Shadley made full use of the piano keyboard seemingly leaving no piece of Steinway ivory untouched—and properly and impressively touched at that. His solos (on this piece and throughout the evening) demonstrated his versatility from room shaking handfuls of chords to delicate runs and single note melodies. Bill Crosby avoided the pyrotechnics too often favored by modern bass players and provided a solid lesson in tasteful, melodic bass soloing. Foster showed his range from light touches that followed the melody lines (in trading fours with both Shadley and Abate) and fireworks as he commanded the ears of anyone in the back row who may have arrived late.
The evening progressed with jazz favorites such as “A Sleeping Bee,” and Abate originals. In regard to the latter, Tulsa audiences have grown enormously since the early days of Sunday JHOF concerts in the Greenwood Cultural Center. At that time, original jazz compositions seemed to be greeted with a “what’s he playing attitude.” Sunday, Abate’s originals were enthusiastically received—a credit both to the composer and the audience.
Among the additional highlights were Abate’s playful quotes of well known songs during his solos—dropping a few bars of “Walking My Baby Back Home” into the middle of another tune brings smiles and appreciative nods from the audience. There was a Jazz at the Philharmonic interlude reminiscent of the interplay between Nat Cole and Illinois Jacquet (among others) where the sax player would play four bars and “challenge” the piano player to mirror him—that takes a great ear and quick fingers—and Shadley was up to the task.
Abate was also “fearless” from the standpoint that he brilliantly played two songs some sax players avoid due to their identification with other masters. He closed the first set with a heartfelt reading of “Body and Soul,” a song that Coleman Hawkins owns everything but the copyright to, and closed the evening with “Star Eyes,” a beautiful melody that Charlie Parker made famous. In both cases, Abate paid homage to the originators, yet claimed his own ownership through his tremendous talent. His full rich tone filled the hall without benefit of playing into the microphone—providing a doubly rich, unamplified and sensuous experience.
The second set of the program brought three more Tulsa musicians to the stand—the young Bishop Marsh on trumpet, Jordon Hehl on bass and Mike Leland on piano. A particular highlight of this set was “What is This Thing Called Love” played with Tad Dameron’s “Hot House” as counterpoint. Marsh was up to Abate’s urging with lyrical trumpet solos that often began quietly as he seemed to find his footing and then blossomed into full-throated improvisations. Leland’s lyrical and logical solos showed again why he is one of Tulsa’s finest keyboard players, and Hehl’s always innovative solos demonstrated why he is one of the great young guns of Tulsa jazz.
Often visiting musicians are effusive in their praise of the local musicians assembled to back them. On this occasion, Abate did not shower verbal praise upon his fellow bandstand members—the lengthy solos he prompted, the lively interchange of trading “fours” and “eights,” and the clear joy spread across his face were evidence enough that Tulsa has remarkable jazz power and when combined with the greatness of a musician such as Abate it makes for a memorable evening.
It’s a privilege to eavesdrop on such profound and entertaining conversations.
Greg Abate, who lives in Rhode Island and performs throughout the East Coast, has long been a very skilled bop-oriented saxophonist. While equally skilled on several horns, he is best known for his often-exuberant alto playing. On Motif at various times he plays alto, soprano, baritone and flute. Joined by pianist Tim Ray, bassist John Lockwood and drummer Mark Walker, Abate performs ten originals plus a song by Phil Woods. Some of his tunes have new melodies written over the chord changes of standards (such as the catchy “Motif” which is based on “All The Things You Are” and “Steppin’ Out” (which has the “Giant Steps” chord structure) while others use new chord patterns. In all cases, the music is swinging, Abate’s playing (particularly on alto and baritone) is exciting, and the performances are memorable. Motif is one of Greg Abate’s finest recordings to date; it is available from www.whalingcitysound.com.
By Ken Franckling
Saxophonist Greg Abate is a bebopper pure and simple. He plays with a feverish intensity that on a great night is counterbalanced by his rhythm section. As a busy soloist, the rhythm section and city – and sometimes country – change from gig to gig.
Last night, he performed in Port Charlotte, FL for the Charlotte County Jazz Society’s Artists Series at the Charlotte Cultural Center, bringing his intense brand of hard bop (think Charlie Parker and Phil Woods if you need comparisons) to an audience of about 350. Abate was superbly supported by pianist Kenny Drew Jr., bassist Richard Drexler and drummer John Jenkins.
The night had some interesting twists from the usual Abate repertoire of standards and originals, because of last week’s death of jazz giant Dave Brubeck and the fact that Christmas is two weeks away.
Rhode Island-based Abate told the crowd that he was in the 9th grade when he first heard the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s hit “Take Five. Fascinated by Paul Desmond’s sound, he decided to switch from clarinet to alto sax. He then dug deep into a bop version of Brubeck’s ballad “In Your Own Sweet Way.” Drew’s extended solo was tinged with subtle classical flourishes.
Abate shifted to from alto sax to flute for his own minor blues “Contemplation” and later in the program for “Angel Eyes.” With their relentless stream of ideas and notes, beboppers tend to toss in quotations from other tunes that fit the moment and the arrangement. On “Contemplation,” Abate added a bit of melody from “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” In the second set, the same melody popped up in another fine original: “Roger Over and Out.” Abate & Co. later gave the audience another Christmas treat with an extended jazz version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
Highlights among the half dozen other tunes included the band’s Latin swing approach to “You Stepped Out of a Dream” and its beautiful take on British pianist John Patrick’s ballad “Marny” from Abate’s new quintet album featuring Phil Woods. At times, the tune’s feel made it sound like a cousin of the Johnny Mandel standard “Emily.”
The evening ended with another nod to Brubeck – as the band reworked Desmond’s “Take Five” into something fresh. They put their own spins on it, not relying on the classic Brubeck Quartet sound. Rather than play Brubeck’s customary block chord piano vamp throughout the tune, Drew took a more delicate approach in his comping and solo, then plucked the strings as he added unusual accents and colors behind Drexler’s bass solo. Jenkins’ drum solo was filled with swing, dexterity and nuance, without the thunder Joe Morello brought to the original. Change is good.
Published: January 7, 2012
Greg Abate in Teaneck, NJ
(December 10, 2011)
“Capitalism Sucks,” a mural by Mike Alewitz which graphically depicts the anti- democratic nature of capitalism, hangs on a wall behind the performance space at The Puffin Cultural Forum. An all-powerful puppet master and a host of minions from the clergy, academia and the media, all exploit the wealth created by a proletariat held in abject servitude by police, prisons, and the military. Alewitz’s mural, part of an exhibition entitled “The Writing’s On The Wall: Labor In The U.S.,” made for a startling backdrop to a decidedly egalitarian set by saxophonist/flutist Greg Abate’s quartet.
The consummate journeyman jazz musician, Abate plays approximately 150 dates a year without a working group. The parlance of bebop, classic American popular songs, and tunes by hard bop masters like Horace Silver are the means of connecting to the rhythm sections Abate encounters in his travels around the world. For a one-night stand at The Puffin, he was joined by pianist James Weidman, bassist Harvie S and drummer Steve Johns. A stylistic descendent of Charlie Parker and Sonny Stitt, on any given night Abate is capable of blowing audiences away with his tart tone, velocity, harmonic ingenuity, and the ability to knit ideas into a tight, coherent package. On this occasion his status as a bona fide alto saxophone hero took a backseat to the cogent sound of a band that was playing together for the first time.
The six-song set was joyful, substantial, and aesthetically rewarding. The band often exchanged glances and grinned like proud parents. On medium and up-tempo swingers like “Phip IT!!,” “You Stepped Out Of A Dream.” “Rocco’s Place,” “Silver’s Serenade,” and “All The Things You Are,” Weidman, S, and Johns worked together to sustain a cohesive foundation. The music swung without any signs of strain, and the steady, uncluttered momentum sounded nearly as natural as breathing. The lack of muddle made it easy to savor details like S’s nuanced, feel-good bass line, Weidman’s witty, chordal support of Abate, and the various textures Johns coaxed from his drums and cymbals while playing stimulating and supportive time.
During his solos, Weidman deftly rode the pulse established by the bass and drums. Even more impressive was his penchant for making complex combinations of single notes and chords sound simple and orderly. During “Silver’s Serenade,” for example, his right hand poked out single note lines, an edgy run of triplets was abruptly cut off, and a Morse code-like right hand was answered by solid left hand chords.
The rhythm section made it easy for Abate to stay on firm footing after coming down from brief flights of fancy. Following a manic burst of energy, his “You Stepped Out Of A Dream” improvisation swung in concert with S and Johns. Brief shrieks and honks in the midst of “Phip IT!!” were neatly resolved, and Abate readily assimilated a sketchy riff by the piano and drums. Switching to soprano for “Rocco’s Place,” he stacked one phrase onto another, and then changed course by quoting “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise.”
While Alewitz’s images of exploitation and class struggle were not to be denied, art did not imitate life throughout the performance by Abate’s group. Their music was a reminder that, despite the world’s stress and strife, at its best jazz is literally democracy in action.
DOWNBEAT by Chris Robinson
Saxophonist Greg Abate’s group, featuring pianist Bill Cunliffe, bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Akira Tana, begins Live In Monterey (produced by Dr. Herb Wong) with an energetic take of “You And The Night And The Music,” which is full of verve and swagger. It straight off tells the listener that this is going to be a solid, swinging straight-ahead set featuring inspired blowing and ensemble work. The rhythm section drives the band hard and makes the shift between Afro-Cuban and swing feels seamlessly. Abate, on alto here, digs in and goes for it, while Cunliffe’s left-hand voicing and right-hand single-notes runs evoke McCoy Tyner. Drummond, who quotes the tune in his solo, is rock solid, as is Tan, who is about as crisp as they come. The band is extremely tight and the collective intensity of its members, along with their overall approach, suggest they take Coltrane’s classic quartet as a model. Unlike someone who has a similar sound on all their instruments, Abate’s applooch on alto and tenor are distinctly different. His alto sound, which recalls Bud Shank’s, is big and slightly rough,yet sweet at the same time. while on tenor his Style comes closer to Coltrane. Abate is a melodic and inventive player who never seems to run out of fresh ideas, whether he’s burning through the changes on “Bebop” or taking time on the ballads “Oh You Crazy Moon” and his “ForThe Love Of Life,” which is tuneful enough to fit into the Great American Songbook. At 74 minutes,Live in Monterey is long, but the varied arrangements,different styles (the bossa-ish take on “Infant Eyes” is tasty) and track sequencing not only make it go by quickly but give the listener a lot to dig into.
JAZZTIMES by Mike Joyce
November 2010 issue
Live in Monterey may not be the West Coast equivalent of Bop City: Live at Birdland, saxophonist Greg Abate’s highly regarded early ’90s release, but the two quartet recordings offer similar rewards—for starters, the sound of Abate’s keening alto soaring over a dynamic rhythm section. It’s even more remarkable when you consider that this time around Abate, on alto and tenor, is collaborating with three musicians–pianist Bill Cunliffe, bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Akira Tana- who were largely unfamiliar with the reedman’s repertoire prior to the Monterey engagement. The three veterans adroitly accompany Abate throughout, fueling his hard-bop flights and adding warmth and soulfulness to “Infant Eyes” and other ballads. The only drawback is the reliance on arrangements that fall into similar patterns of solos and breaks–not surprising given the circumstances, and certainly something easily overlooked when a soloist hits his stride. Cunliffe is particularly impressive, whether un-spooling chromatic lines that create their own elegant momentum, or, as on “Oh, You Crazy Moon,” freshening familiar themes with subtle chord alterations and a tint of blues. Punctuating the set list are four Abate originals. Each adds something to the album’s shifting moods, though none is more engaging or evocative than “Silveresque,” a soul- jazz tribute to Horace Silver and the first generation of Jazz Messengers. Along with Dizzy Gillespie’s “Bebop,” an exhilarating celebration of the idiom, it’s a reminder of the powerful hold Abate’s seminal influences still have on him.
Given that the jazz world, without straining itself unduly, has managed to accommodate everything from harps and koras to steel drums and EWIs, in ‘fusions’ of all conceivable types, it was heartening to see manifest, in the person of saxophonist Greg Abate, proof that one of the music’s linchpins, the touring virtuoso soloist able to energise pick-up bands wherever he stops to play, is alive and flourishing. Born just as bop was being established, and with an extraordinary wealth of live experience behind him (including a stint, replacing Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis, with the Ray Charles Orchestra), Abate might be expected to embody the core jazz virtues (swing, imagination, resourcefulness, spontaneity), and his first selection, ‘Star Eyes’ (an alto staple over the years, played by everyone from Charlie Parker to Art Pepper and Phil Woods) duly delivered all these qualities. His sound sweet but ebullient, pleasantly piercing yet pure-toned, Abate raced through the tune’s changes, not only effortlessly showing off his own technique but providing pianist John Donaldson, bassist Oli Hayhurst and drummer Matt Fishwick with the perfect warm-up vehicle. An original F minor blues, ‘Contemplation’, followed, and interspersed with the odd heart-on-sleeve ballad such as ‘Angel Eyes’ mid- and up-tempo jam-session staples (‘On Green Dolphin Street’, Charlie Parker’s ‘Air Conditioning’, etc.) brought eloquent, agile, heartfelt and affecting solos from Abate and slightly more circumspect contributions from Donaldson and the rhythm section. Benny Carter’s 1930s classic ‘When Lights are Low’, and a contrafact of Billy Strayhorn’s ‘Take the “A” Train’ underlined the fact that players such as Abate operate with as much ease in the pre-bop repertoire as in out and out bop flagwavers, and overall, this was a thoroughly enjoyable performance from a consummate professional with a finely honed soloing gift and an engaging stage manner.
Greg Abate (alt/fl); Paul Edis (piano); Mick Shoulder (bass); Adam Sinclair (drums).
It’s been a long time since I last heard an American backed by a local rhythm section at the Corner House – perhaps Russell or one of our readers can come up with the answer as to who was the actual last American soloist at the venue?
Whoever it was he would have been hard pushed to top tonight’s performance by Greg Abate.
This was no old-timer cruising on his faded laurels, this was a guy going for it – taking the bebop language and translating it into his own.
Bird, Stitt, Criss, Abate…
The affable Italiano/Americano hit the deck running with all guns blazing on All The Things You Are. Anyone who’d turned up unsure of what they were about to receive were soon put in the picture.
The tunes rolled out, Sweet and Lovely may have tasted sweeter elsewhere but it was never lovelier than this!
Angel Eyes, Like Someone In Love, Confirmation, Billie’s Bounce and a most wonderful Star Eyes played on flute – these were just a few of the selections where Greg’s brilliance and his sense of humor shone through.
His flute playing was also featured on I’ll Remember April but for the audience it was a case of I’ll Remember July 21.
Paul Edis too was at his best and it seemed inconceivable that Greg, Paul, Mick and Adam could produce such a polished performance without having previously blown together. That’s jazz for you it either happens or it doesn’t.
Tonight it happened!
Having been a fan of saxophonist Greg Abate’s recorded music for many years it was my good fortune in late 2008 to be able to bring him to Florida to perform for my organization, the Charlotte County Jazz Society. Before a full house of nearly 400 Greg gave a performance that did nothing to alter my belief that he is one of today’s most relevant, skillfull and passionate jazz artists.
The crowd we draw to our Artists Series is typically of retirement age and very eclectic in their musical preferences. Any artist that performs in these situations must sell not only themselves but their style of music, and bring something unique to the table.
Greg presented a well paced and varied program with familiar standards as well as some bebop era classics. For me some of the notable aspects to his presentation were the delightful and spontaneous musical interactions with other players on stage; the musical wit and humor; and the maturity, originality, and accessibility of his improvisational skills which are among the first rank in today’s international jazz scene. It also helps that Mr Abate is very personable and establishes an excellent rapport with his audience.
We look forward to his return engagement in 2010.
Talent co-ordinator, Artists Series
Charlotte County Jazz Society
Port Charlotte, FL
“Greg Abate is considered by jazz writers and aficionados to be one of the most exciting saxophone players out there today.”
-Mike Joyce, Washington Post
“Abate’s musical style can be seen as a distillation of swing’s easygoing vibe and bop’s
more animated groove. He has developed a unique voice.
-METRO San Jose, CA
“Greg Abate is an absolute powerhouse who will absolutely not let hard driving bebop die.
One of the most exciting players around today, Greg’s commitment to the music is total.”
-W. Pickowitz, Jr., The Jazz Messenger
Multi-saxophonist Greg Abate is a prime example of the ‘rear back and blow’ school of contemporary bop-based players. The tunes he writes or chooses are based on the kinds of changes that harmony-oriented jazzmen have favored since the beginning and he swings through them with and eager and easy virtuosity.”
-David Franklin, Jazz Times
“Greg Abate is one of the most appealing saxophonists on the scene today. He is mature with an abundance of gentle self-confidence. The result is that he plays music with sweetness and daring.”
-Jim Merod, New Jazz Recordings
“Greg Abate plays for keeps. Having played with him in the Ray Charles Orchestra,
I had the pleasure of hearing Greg night after night. He is a musical delight.”
-Tony Horowitz, former lead trumpet with Ray Charles
Multi-saxophonist Greg Abate is a prime example of the “rear back and blow” school of contemporary bop-based players. The tunes he writes or chooses are based on the kinds of changes that harmony-oriented jazzmen have favored since the beginning and he swings through them with an eager and easy virtuosity. The effect is that much of his playing is double-time, the relatively even note values interspersed with catchy melodic phrases. Abate is joined in the front line on four tracks by Frank Tiberi, the longtime Woody Herman tenorist. Tiberi’s typically serpentine lines are even more consistently multi-noted than Abate’s. Characteristic of his style, Tiberi’s phrases consist of seemingly endless strings of lightning fast notes tumbling effortlessly from the bell of his horn. His breathless perpetual motion solo on his own adaptation of Ralph Burns’ classic “Early Autumn” is alone worth the price of the record. But that’s not to take anything away from Abate and his excellent rhythm section. There’s no energy letup when pianist Mac Chrupcala, bassist Dave Zinno, or drummer John Anter solo. And they accompany admirably as well.
“Abate has recorded a number of albums as a leader and he always shows himself to be a hard swinger who gets all over his horns with ease.”
-Jazz Times June 2006
“Whether on alto or tenor sax or flute, Abate always rides the hard-bop edge, and fans of his style will be please that he continues that tradition here.”
-Berman Music Foundation Jazz March 2006
Greg is widely considered among jazz writers to be one of the "best post bebop alto saxophonists" in the world.
All budding jazz musicians regardless of which instrument they play are invited to attend this unique workshop and learn from Greg's style and enhance your own skills.
Greg Abate, Cafe Piazza 2005
Greg attended the prestigious Berklee College of Music, Boston in 1971 and his career has blossomed since.
Greg played lead alto with the Ray Charles orchestra in the early seventies and during the mid-eighties held the jazz tenor chair in the revived Artie Shaw orchestra.
He continues to perform throughout the US, Canada and Europe. He is Adjunct Instructor of Jazz at Rhode Island College in Providence. He conducts clinics and workshops internationally and hopes to inspire musicians in Leicestershire.
Edward Blanco All About Jazz
“Without reservation, I came to the scary conclusion that Monsters is one of the pure jazz albums I’ve had the pleasure of listening to. One blood-curling monster performance by Abate and his graveyard crew.”
Greg Abate is considered by jazz writers and aficionados to be one of the most exciting saxophone players out there today. Mike Joyce of the Washington Post describes Abate as “…dedicated to uncluttered, uncompromised, unswerving jazz.
If there really is an energizer, here he is, Greg Abate. He has that invisible objective that few people have. Charlie Parker had it, Paul Desmond had it. Both James Dean and Marlon Brando had it. It is virtually indefinable, but you know it when you see or hear it.
With Greg Abate you can see and hear it at his performances, and on his recordings you can hear it and see it in your mind’s eye.
Greg is known as “The Prince of Be-Bop” throughout the club scenes in this country and in Europe. Greg brought his unique jazz styling to Moscow, and introduced Russian jazz clubs to what is happening in the states. Abate is the perfect good will ambassador for the USA. Greg’s performances and compositions are very logical and melodic. Greg knows that when playing you must be yourself, but you must also play melodic. There is no other way to play.
Out of the books and movies came the monsters. One by one they brought their magic into our lives and gave us an adrenaline rush. Now, Greg Abate and his Monsters in the Night Band bring the monsters right into your living room. A story is told in music taking you from “Into the Woods at Night” to Transylvania.
Inspired by the stories of the individual monsters, Abate wrote compositions that are just as awesome as anything ever written by a bop musician.
Greg is still at least one step ahead of his contemporary saxophonists. You sense this from his live concerts, but that sense also flows from his many CDs as leader and also as featured for two years with Ray Charles and the Artie Shaw Orchestra under the direction of Dick Johnson.
Monsters In The Night has a theme and it shows that monsters have heart and soul in their world. Many people think that music for monsters would be loud and frightening, but Abate knows that monsters can love and enjoy music with soul. Yes, Frankenstein and his bride danced when they were married. They wouldn’t dance to disjointed music, they danced to a melodic theme similar to the one Greg wrote for them. In fact, most monsters do enjoy melodic music; even a phantom loves melodic music. That is what is on this disc. From start to finish we can enjoy the energy of bop that the monsters listen to when they are abnormal.
In addition to Greg, there are four other brilliant musicians on this disc;
Artie Montanaro Trombone
Artie has worked with the Artie Shaw and Buddy Rich big bands.He has recorded with the John Allmark big band and the Northstar Jazz Ensemble. All reviewers of Monster have given Artie superb reviews for his work on Monsters.
Paul Nagel Piano
Paul is absolutely awesome on every track on this CD. He has played and recorded with Dave Liebman, Kitty Margolis, Sonny Stitt,Bobby McFerrin and many other greats.
Bill Miele Electric Bass
Bill has worked with the John Allmark big band and his bass adds a great deal to the quintet. He also does a great deal in the educational field. You will be certain to hear more from him.
Vinny Pagano Drums
Vinny also has performed with many greats including Clay Osborne. If you never thought of the drums as a musical instrument, just listen to any track on Monsters and hear a terrific musical instrument called drums.
This CD was produced by music critic and writer, Arthur Bourassa. Arthur says that when he first heard Greg, he was mesmerized and he just had to produce a recording with him.
As it turned out Greg is great, but the quintet makes this a collectible recording. I am asking you to buy it, and you will be glad you did.
Edward Blanco Review of Monsters in the Night
Jazz master and multi-saxophonist Greg Abate, long known as the “prince of bebop,” has thirteen previous recordings as a leader to his credit. Harnessing his physical style of play and combining it with his versatility on the saxes and flute, he has made one hair-raising and jaw-dropping album with Monsters In The Night, whose nine tracks are dedicated to the monsters we’ve all come to love and fear.
Given this collection of original compositions with titles like “Dracula” and “Frankenstein,” I frankly did not know what to expect. But after only one listen, I was shaken by just how good the disc really is. Abate is the major player, not only on alto (with which he is primarily associated), but also a mean tenor and flute as well. An unselfish leader, Abate provides enormous space in his arrangements for the members of his quintet to make their mark.
Hailing from the Boston and Providence, Rhode Island area, the Greg Abate Quintet consists of pianist Paul Nagel, trombonist Artie Montanaro, bassist Bill Miele and drummer Vinny Pagano, all talented players. They play modern, high-octane mainstream/bebop material. This is immediately evident from the opening “Dracula,” a rapid-paced score featuring a fine tenor/trombone front-line sound with fangs. “Frankenstein” follows (naturally) with a jazzy waltz highlighting incredible statements by Abate (on alto) and pianist Nagel.
The title track, “Monsters In The Night” tones down the music in a slower, melodic fashion with a solid solo performance by trombonist Montanaro, who gives way to Abate on screaming tenor. Watch out for “Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde,” or you may fall into their embrace on this super swinging number, which moves all over. The leader makes another passionate alto expression, but pianist Nagel makes one hell of a scary impression.
When one thinks of the “Bride of Frankenstein,” the picture of a gentler monster comes to mind, which Abate confirms with his flute foray on this sweet harmonic piece. The program rounds out with the very boppish “Transylvania 6-5000” a full ten minutes of punch; “Pentagram, The Wolfman” ; and the Latin-shaded percussive piece “Igor’s Revenge,” where Abate demonstrates his versitility on alto and flute.
Without reservation, I came to the scary conclusion that Monsters is one of the best pure jazz albums I’ve had the pleasure of listening to. Energizing, harmonious, melodic and full of fire, with enough electric sparks to bring the Frankenstein creature back to life. One blood-curling monster performance by Abate and his graveyard crew.
L.A. Times Review of Horace is Here – Scott Yanow
Best known as a bebop-based altoist, Greg Abate is also an excellent tenor-saxophonist and flutist. Horace Is Here is a tribute to the music of Horace Silver that is comprised of eight of Silver’s tunes plus a pair of Abate originals in the Silver style.
With fine contributions from trumpeter Claudio Roditi, pianist Hilton Ruiz, bassist Marshall Wood and drummer Artie Cabral, Abate brings back the sound of Silver’s classic quintet without merely copying the past. While the saxophonist emphasizes his tenor playing more than usual, he did not require Ruiz to copy Silver’s funky style and many of the vintage pieces are modernized through reharmonization. So while the spirit of the classic Horace Silver Quintet is felt and hinted at, these treatments have something of their own to offer.
Among the best performances are “Filthy McNasty,” “Nica’s Dream,” “Song For My Father,” a moody version of “Peace” and the boppish “Quicksilver.” Throughout, Abate, Roditi and Ruiz play inventive solos with Wood and Cabral offering swinging support.
What’s not to like? This date is easily recommended and available from Koko Jazz Records, P.O. Box 18311, Sarasota, FL 34276-2311.
Dan McClenaghan Review of Horace is Here
If a new jazz listener asked me about hard bop sounds, I’d probably have to send them off to listen to recordings by drummer Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers–and pianist Horace Silver, too, on his brief collaboration with Blakey’s unit, as well as their separate subsequent careers apart. These two musicians, along with drummer Max Roach and trumpeter Clifford Brown, practically invented the hard bop genre.
Or I could steer the inquisitive listener to saxophonist Greg Abate’s Horace is Here, where Abate revisits the classic sounds of Horace Silver with an inspired reverence and spark. The group–all-stars all, in abilites if not the sense of having high profiles–get inside some of Silver’s most famous songs, along with a couple of Abate originals that serve as Silver tributes.
The sound here is quintessential hard bop; you might think you’ve stumbled onto a forgotten Blue Note album from the early sixties on your first listen. The front line–Abate on tenor sax, alto sax, or flute; and Claudio Roditi on trumpet–blows clean and crisp, while the rhythm section bounces along on that line between flexible and tight grooves. Pianist Hilton Ruiz, sitting in Silver’s chair, sounds particularly inspired, whether in accompaniment or solo mode, going deep into the music while maintaining an ebullience and bounce, adding a distincitive zing to the proceedings.
The group goes after some of Silver’s best known compositions, including “Filthy McNasty,” “Song for My Father,” “Nutville,” and “Peace.”
Clean lines, driving horns, with a propulsion by turns relaxed and urgent… this is hard bop at its best.
“Bird never played one note of bullshit,” Barry Harris once said about Charlie Parker. Harris’ salty aphorism came to mind at the conclusion of Greg Abate’s incendiary performance at the Puffin Cultural Forum. Although he’s a stylistic descendent of Parker, by way of Sonny Stitt, Phil Woods, and Cannonball Adderley, during a five-song set the alto saxophonist rose above the influences and evinced a fervent, individualistic streak. Fronting a tight and youthful ensemble responsive to his every move, Abate integrated exhilarating risk-taking with a reassuringly steady, comprehensible course. And in doing so he produced vigorous, emotionally-rich sounds that radiated joy and energy.
“Buddy’s Rendezvous,” Abate’s composition based on the changes of Benny Carter’s “When Lights Are Low,” was a straightforward way to begin the set. As the band settled into a medium tempo, the leader played the melody without benefit of amplification. Climbing high on the horn then falling abruptly into the lower register, his solo interspersed angular bebop phrasing and sweet cries. Pianist Drew Pierson, who met Abate for the first time only minutes before the concert, was a perfect foil to the adventurous Abate. Highly organized and assertive in a poised manner, he played off of drummer Carmen Intorre and bassist Matthew Rybicki’s strong pocket. Staying in the middle of the keyboard for long stretches, Pierson made an impression by dropping a bulky chord in the midst of sensibly positioned lines.
Intorre’s solo introduction kicked off an up-tempo version of Kenny Barron’s “Voyage.” The percussionist began by going from drum to drum in an abrupt, somewhat halting manner, as if casting out mere pieces of a longer, coherent message. Gradually morphing into straight jazz time, Intorre exhibited an impressive command of the bop drumming vocabulary. Consistently putting ideas together in novel ways, Abate’s turn was passionate and exciting. One slurred note was stuck into the middle of a jarring run. High squeals and shrieks coexisted with familiar, repetitive motifs.
Abate began every saxophonist’s requisite standard, “Body and Soul,” alone. Although you could sense the arrival of a ballad, he was in no hurry to get there. A series of long guttural sounds suddenly careened upwards. When the melody finally appeared, it was as much caressed as played. The instrumentalist’s absolute mastery of his horn and material came through as much in his interpretation of the tune as in his heated improvisations. The sharp, biting sounds and blues patterns in the solo that followed were played as if his life depended on it. Next it was Pierson’s turn. As Abate cheered him on from the wings, the pianist began a solo in which everything was carefully weighed. When the band broke into double-time, he drilled a longer series of notes before moving to a conventionally melodic climax.
After exchanging the alto for a soprano sax, Abate briefly sketched out his composition, “The Bride of Frankenstein,” to the band. Intorre’s single shots to the snare and toms were in stark contrast to the wistful tune in three-four time. Spurred by Rybicki’s firm walking line, Pierson rapidly began to build up steam, mixing McCoy Tyner-like interludes and some dissonant-sounding chords. As the band came way down in volume, Abate sprayed long streams of notes before finding simpler melodies. The drummer’s turn next, Intorre started his solo on brushes, the bass drum responding to every few strokes with a fat, resounding hit. Briskly switching to sticks, he became even more rhythmically complex and expressive, repeating an intricate pattern between the snare and tom-tom, as well as some polyrhythms suggestive of the influence of Elvin Jones.
Abate dug into Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night In Tunisia” like he owned it. Once again on alto, he took a bullet train break at the end of the head and without pausing launched a solo. His buzzing phrases burst into flames and then evolved into a snippet of the theme. Later on, a couple of the soloist’s choice notes seemed to incite imaginative leaps from the horn. Cool and collected by comparison, Pierson tapped a few notes repeatedly, before moving to long swelling lines and an odd, discordant interlude. Abate’s ending cadenza was a brilliant, free-form ramble that somehow managed to cohere.
Review by Bob Protzman – Jazz Erie
Perhaps you have heard about all those jazz musicians who cannot get gigs, are underpaid and over worked when they do, are underrated by critics and unappreciated by audiences.
If so, please do not count veteran saxophonist Greg Abate (a-BOT-ay) in their numbers. “I don’t want any of those “starving artist’ stigmas,’’ he says. “I’m living my dream. I have my own home, a family. I’m recording and playing regularly with some great musicians. I’m a jazz educator. I regard myself as a successful artist.’’
In fact, he believes many jazz musicians in this country are having similar success doing things the same way as he.
A big part of the 59-year-old Abate’s approach to an artistically satisfying and financially rewarding career is travel—and more travel—about an average of 130 to 150 days a year.
His slogan could be: Have Saxophones and Flute; Will Travel.
In fact, when reached by phone, Abate, who lives in Rhode Island and speaks with a broad Boston-New York combo accent, was on his cell in a car heading from Milwaukee to Madison in the great state of Wisconsin.
Usually, he explains, he will fly to the nearest airport, and then rely upon the people who’ve hired him to provide automobile transportation to the clinic and/or performance destination.
Is it a drag? On the contrary, he says. “I enjoy life on the road, yes, I do.’’
By his count, Abate—considered by most critics and aficionados to be one of the best alto players on today’s scene–has been to 48 states (all but Oregon and Hawaii), plus Canada, Russia and other European countries, and Japan.
At least a couple times a year, he makes the short trek to New York City to play clubs like the Blue Note and Birdland. In fact, his first album as a leader was a live date at Birdland with some outstanding sidemen—the late pianist James Williams, bassist Rufus Reid and drummer Kenny Washington. “I do better playing outside New York, however,’’ he says.
Abate’s travels will bring him to Erie and the papermoon (Ed. This is how papermoon wants its name spelled) Saturday night for one of what Erie drummer Joe Dorris hopes will be a series of bookings of nationally known jazz musicians at the restaurant/jazz club. Vibraphonist Steve Hobbs is set to play there on March 18.
In preparation for visiting musicians, and for the benefit of its regular weekly performers, the papermoon has built a stage, attempting to solve a serious sightline problem.
Abate and the Erie players hosting him have never met, let alone played together, so there will be some getting used to one another, personally and musically.
That’s the kind of situation Abate faces constantly, so one wonders how he deals with it, and how things generally go.
“I know it’s going to be what it’s going to be. Most of the time, it’s good. Sometimes it’s bad when certain people are not that good on their instrument,’’ he says.
Not a bandleader at home (“players can’t sit around and wait for me to show up from my travels’’), Abate feels, however, that he’s a leader when the guest artist.
“I call the tunes and count the tempos, so I guess in that respect I am the leader. But everyone in my group has equal time. I don’t like to be the main focus. Everyone can stretch out as much as they want.’’
Abate revels in the freedom of expression allowed by jazz, especially the harmonically sophisticated style known as be-bop. “There’s nothing like playing bop. I like to do things spontaneously. I hate to rehearse. I like to get up there and play the real thing in the moment. I like to take chances.’’
Abate has had brushes with reaching even a higher level of success.
His 2004 album “Evolution’’ made the Grammy ballot in four different categories, but failed to get a nomination, and he has had several of his dozen or so albums make the popularity and/or airplay charts (as high
as No. 3) in different publications.
Down Beat used to have a poll category called Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition that, today, would fit Abate perfectly, because just about everyone who hears him is knocked out, including peers like the late baritone saxist Nick Brignola, who called Abate “a star.’’
The highly regarded website allmusic.com describes him as a “superior bop player,’’ and most critics have been very positive. “Dedicated to uncluttered, unswerving, uncompromised jazz,’’ said Mike Joyce in the Washington Post. Ken Franckling in JazzTimes magazine praised Abate’s “wonderful intensity.’’ “An absolute powerhouse…one of the most exciting players around today,’’ said a Hartford, CT reviewer.
Abate, who grew up in Woonsocket, RI, began playing clarinet at 5. His interest in jazz blossomed in high school (also the alma mater of the late pianist Dave McKenna).
“Paul Desmond on Dave Brubeck’s ‘Take Five’ was the first alto player I ever heard, and I loved him right away,’’ recalls Abate, who quickly switched horns. “Then I got into Cannonball (Adderley) and Stan Getz, and was on my way.’’
His next major developmental step was to enroll at the highly regarded Berklee College of Music in Boston for a stint, and then he was off to the West Coast to start playing as a pro. He worked five-six nights a week and built up his “chops’’ or technique, he says.
He went back to Berklee to finish his formal training, and returned to the West Coast, where at age 28, he auditioned successfully for the legendary Ray Charles Orchestra, replacing the great Eddie “Lockjaw’’ Davis, who had just left.
He says being with Charles was a terrific learning experience. For one thing, he added flute to his arsenal of alto, tenor, baritone and soprano. In the manner of be-bop sax icon Sonny Stitt, Abate is a strong tenor player, although he regards alto as his main instrument. He will have alto and soprano with him at papermoon.
Abate left Charles after two years (1973-74) because he wearied of playing the same songs (even though the “book’’ contained arrangements by such noted folks as Quincy Jones and Bill Holman) and one too many solos only a single chorus long.
Illustrative of the respect Abate commanded even 30 years ago is the story about his attempt to get Mr. Charles to fire him rather than quitting the band. “I burned some (wooden) reeds onstage during a rehearsal. Ray called me to his hotel suite, but let me know he knew what I was up to and he was not going to accommodate me. ‘I’m not going to fire you,’ he said. Then he gave me a raise.’’
In 1986, with the Artie Shaw ghost band directed by the superb clarinetist Dick Johnson, Abate again picked up some valuable lessons. “I really learned a lot of standards, and to feel the pulse of the music with a swing band,’’ he says. Again, playing the same repertoire repeatedly and limited to solos as short as 8 bars, he soon said adios.
“I don’t go after glory or even compliments, though people give me a lot of praise,’’ Abate says. “I have my own style and sound. I do feel that I am worthy of more recognition, but I’m proud to have the ability to play my horn the way I do.’’
Greg Abate, a traveling jazz master, at home as RIC instructor
By Rob Martin, with editorial contributions from Steve Imber.
Greg Abate’s resume is as varied as one of the riffs he plays on his sax. He is an internationally known jazz musician who plays several kinds of saxophones as well as flute, clarinet and piano; he’s a composer, arranger and recording artist; and he’s an educator who takes great satisfaction in helping his students become accomplished musicians and music teachers.
Abate has served as an adjunct professor at RIC since 1999, teaching jazz improvisation and theory and coaching jazz combos. He enjoys sharing his expertise as one of the accomplished professionals teaching in the jazz studies minor program at the college.
“It is really neat to work with an ensemble and create jazz from what might be cacophony,” Abate said.
He finds it especially rewarding to provide insight into using different musical scales for jazz improvisation, and works with his students using his own compositions and those of the jazz greats such as John Coltrane and Duke Ellington.
“It takes a lot of technical ability to play,” he said. “I teach the students a way to make a solo, and use the tools of the harmonic language.”
Abate believes that just as classical icons such as Mozart and Beethoven continue to be remembered and revered, so too should the American innovators of jazz.
In addition to Coltrane and Ellington, his lessons feature a host of jazz pioneers: Fats Waller, Jelly Roll Morton, Louie Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Arte Shaw, Fletcher Henderson, Coleman Hawkins and Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Sonny Stitt, Cannonball Adderley and Phil Woods.
He generally works with students in small group ensembles to interact musically, Abate said. “It’s up to them to have the passion to develop their talent and individual voice.”
His teachings about styles and theories of jazz are based upon his own experiences, which span several decades.
Abate, who grew up in Woonsocket, completed a four-year program of study at Berklee College of Music in 1971 and quickly found his way into the jazz scene, relocating to Los Angeles and playing in many local groups there. He played lead alto sax and flute for the Ray Charles Orchestra in 1973 and 74.
In 1975, he moved back to Rhode Island and formed his own band, Channel One, which soon became highly regarded in the New England area. For several years, he was a member of the Providence-based Duke Belaire Jazz Orchestra, which he credits with being a big part of his musical development because of the knowledge and experience he drew from the band’s many outstanding players.
Abate also played tenor saxophone with the Artie Shaw Orchestra under the leadership of Dick Johnson from 1986-88.
He has performed all over Europe as well as in Canada and Japan, and is usually on the road about 150 days a year.
In July, he spent three weeks in England and Italy, performing in concert halls, churches, jazz societies, schools and festivals – 18 shows overall – before audiences that he said were appreciative and respectful of the jazz he plays.
This month he will play in Quebec, then return to England in November, and England and Italy again in February.
In addition to playing and teaching at RIC, Abate has shared his knowledge of jazz with students in workshops in the U.S. and abroad, including Russia, which he traveled to in 2000 and 2005 to perform and instruct.
Though he requires an interpreter for his workshops for non-English speaking students, the barrier is lessened by the fact that “music is a universal language,” he said.
Abate’s discography is as extensive as his performing schedule.
His first and only LP recording was Without Boundaries, a 1981 recording by Channel One. His first CD was Bop City: Live at Birdland (1991) with James Williams, Rufus Reid and Kenny Washington.
His 2002 recording Evolution, with James Williams, Harvie S and Billy Hart, was nominated for Grammy Awards in four categories in 2004.
Among his other recordings are Straight Ahead (1993); Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with Richie Cole live at Chans (1994); It’s Christmas Time (1997);
My Buddy (1997); Bop Lives! with the Kenny Barron Trio (1998); Happy Samba (2000); Horace Is Here (2004); Monsters in the Night (2005); and Birds of a Feather with the Alan Barnes Quartet (2007); and Greg Abate…Live in Monterey (2009).
Abate makes it a point to give credit to the many accomplished jazz pros who have appeared on his albums, including Ben Riley, George Mraz, Hilton Ruiz, Mark Soskin, Ed Uribe, Chembo Corneil, Paul Nagle, Artie Cabral, Marshall Wood, Billy Miele and Vincent Pagano.
He’s also a guest performer on several albums, including Samba Manhattan Style with Claudio Roditi.
Yet to be released is Bird Lives with Red Rodney, which he recorded with Barry Harris, Bob Cranshaw, Mickey Roker and Jessie Davis.
While Abate’s recording and performing career continues to thrive, he always returns to the classroom, sharing his knowledge of musical theory and helping students express their creativity through jazz improvisation.
He knows, however, that unless you’re one of a select few performers, being a jazz musician alone isn’t usually a lucrative career choice. While some become instructors out of necessity only, Abate himself finds it a necessity that he has grown to embrace.
Though he’s a highly trained, technically skilled musician, Abate describes himself as a “self-taught” educator, who continues to learn and improve in that profession while working to have a good relationship with his students.
Certainly, it wouldn’t be a surprise that a class taught by Greg Abate might be unpredictable. After all, he loves to improvise.
Jazz fans can experience Abate’s passion for the music in two shows at RIC this semester: the Oct. 19 Jazz Workshop Combos Performance, which he directs, and the Dec. 12 RIC Concert Jazz Band Winter Concert, in which he is the featured performer. Both events will be held in the Nazarian Center’s Sapinsley Hall.