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Influential: Charles McPherson's Playlist

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San Diego jazz saxophonist Charles McPherson, now in his eighties, is still performing and recently released new work. Get to know the works that shaped him and continue to drive his music.

Speaker 1: 00:00 Charles McPherson is one of Jazz's most prolific saxophonists, still performing and releasing new music. Even in his eighties. Most recently he put out an album called jazz dance suites inspired by his time working as composer in residence at the San Diego ballet. We asked McPherson to put us together a playlist of the music that got him into jazz, shaped his style and continues to drive his music. Even during the pandemic. Here's Charles McPherson.

Speaker 2: 00:30 Even if I can't before just to have music in my mind, I hear it in my mind. And to be able to just go to the piano and play a few chords are or go to the saxophone and play what I hear are. So I try to be busy and try to be creative, even though that, uh, these are some trying times, just the passion and the love I have for the art itself. It just makes me happy just to the fact that I, I can do it and hear it. And, and I could actually entertain myself.

Speaker 1: 01:13 [inaudible]

Speaker 2: 01:13 One of my, uh, inspirations is Charlie Parker and one of the first compositions or song that I heard that Charlie Parker play was a song called Tiko

Speaker 1: 01:26 Chico [inaudible].

Speaker 2: 01:45 I didn't know Johnny Parker. I had never heard him before. And, uh, when I heard that, uh, I heard it on a jukebox in my neighborhood. It immediately resonated with me. I was about 14 years old when I first heard this. And even though I did not know how to, to explain why this resonated with me, but really what it was I could hear, even at that young age, his sense of logic, melodic, linear logic. In other words, these long, beautiful musical phrases, improvise freezes were well connected, you know, in a linear melodic in a very logical way. And even though I was a kid, I could hear dislodging. It made sense.

Speaker 1: 02:49 [inaudible]

Speaker 2: 02:51 There's an album by Billy holiday. That impressed me a lot.

Speaker 1: 02:55 Yeah. [inaudible]

Speaker 2: 03:05 And of course it's a famous records is it's entitled lady in satin. I mean, I cry now talking about it and listening to some of this

Speaker 1: 03:37 [inaudible]

Speaker 2: 03:37 I learned so much from Billie holiday in particular, not just this record, but Billy holiday in particular, because besides hearing this really nice pleasant voice, there is this high level degree of honesty, uh, in, in how she sings and how she interprets. There's no egoic sense of trying to impress people. She opens her mouth. She Stangs the song and there's no expectation. There's no trying to prove anything. There's nothing narcissistic about it. It's just pure emotional honesty and a very deep understanding of the words that she's saying.

Speaker 1: 04:51 [inaudible]

Speaker 2: 05:03 Baylor bar talk. I'd really love him. And I got interested in him. It's funny, the way it came about, I moved into this apartment and the proceeding people had left a bunch of classical records that they didn't take with them. And they were in good shape. There were LPs. And one of them was a symphony called the miraculous Mandarin suite by Baylor barter.

Speaker 1: 05:44 [inaudible]

Speaker 2: 05:45 I listened to this and I was mesmerized for about 40 minutes. So however long it is, and I fell in love with him right then, And harmonically, it's just, uh, just gorgeous as far as I'm concerned. And I learned a lot and that sorta interested, uh, introduced me to classical music, um, in more of a, uh, a deeper way. I really started actively listening to different composers. Anytime you learn anything new, it broadens you are just gives you more dimension as an artist. And as a person, The thing about, uh, Charles Mingus is writing his ballot. Writing is just beautiful. I mean, there are many tunes balance that Mingus wrote that I love portrait is one of them.

Speaker 1: 07:07 [inaudible]

Speaker 2: 07:07 Mingus is ballot writing in particular, there was something haunting about his melodies mixed with sensuality, and also his melodic inventions were a little different musical curve balls all over the place.

Speaker 1: 07:42 [inaudible]

Speaker 2: 07:43 I worked with being as firm, about 12 years, I was about 20 years old when I first joined his band. Mingus was in his early forties, I think, and with my own writing every now and then I can hear influences from Mingus and not because I'm trying to do it on a conscious level, uh, just because of osmosis and four years of being with him and having, you know, the sounds and chords from some of his music in my, in my mind,

Speaker 1: 08:47 [inaudible]

Speaker 2: 08:48 Also, I did learn from Mingus how to be thematic in my writing because wrote lyrics to his tools. He was very political and he wrote political songs with were with protest words, but he wrote love songs. He wrote his own words and he also wrote ballet music. He wrote for, for dance and movement. I think that also influenced me, uh, where that I started thinking about music in an episodic way, because he certainly did. I think that kind of consciousness he brought to me, I became aware of that, that you just don't write a bunch of notes. You have a reason, you have a story that you want,

Speaker 1: 09:59 But, uh, what I learned from, uh,

Speaker 2: 10:02 Angus bar talk and all the just different variety of music and styles that I've, I've listened to through the years, all of that has impacted how I think about music. And, uh, certainly led to me thinking episodically about music and not just writing notes for instruments to play, but also for people to dance. And that experience as being resident composer with the San Diego ballet really brought all that to four. I learned how to write for dance and how to be aware of a storyline and not just to ramble, but write meaningfully and to be structured. And, um, also my daughter, um, Camille is like one of the principal dances with the San Diego ballet. So basically she's the inspiration for doing that project to jazz dance suites

Speaker 1: 11:07 That was San Diego, jazz saxophonist, Charles McPherson. You can find links to the songs that influenced him as well as McPherson's latest record on our [inaudible].

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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.