Review Fix chats with musician Fred Randolph to find out what inspired his origin in music, as well as his new CD, “Mood Walk.”
Review Fix: How did you get involved in music?
Fred Randolph: Well, ultimately, I don’t think you choose music. I think it chooses you. But as far as the chronology is concerned, I was born in Hawaii, and like a lot of kids there, I took ukulele lessons which had no real impact on me. At around age 10 or 11, my neighbor got an electric guitar and I used to go over to his house just to listen. I knew right away that I wanted to be a part of what he was doing. He was copying things off of records and I was really attracted to that. I started playing with him by hitting sticks on a high school yearbook (my drum set!). From there, it was pleading with my parents for a guitar. Voila, a guitar appeared under the Christmas tree! I got some lessons with a classical guy and really didn’t understand what he was trying to teach me. Reading music didn’t make sense and I wasn’t ready for classical music. I heard someone next door playing the theme from “Hawaii Five-O” on the bass and knew that there was something I could relate to. One day I was at a store and saw the cover of the Jimi Hendrix album “Are You Experienced”. Just the cover was mind blowing, let alone the music. I actually bought the album for a friend for his birthday but had to listen to it before giving it to him. That started a whole lot of trouble! Then it was really learning things off of records and eventually forming a band that played high school dances around Honolulu. We were into Frank Zappa, the J Geils Band, Johnny Winter, Stones — we were a bit subversive in that we refused to play the standard dance stuff so it was hard to get a lot of work playing dances but we loved it.
At my high school we had a clique of guys who all took lessons from a local jazz guitarist named Bill Valdez. Valdez introduced us to the world of jazz. He told me to listen to Jimmy Smith, so I bought the album “The Boss,” and man, I still listen to that record! I listened to George Benson, Tal Farlow, Kenny Burrell, Howard Roberts…all the jazz guitar guys.
I was into surfing in high school so I went to college in San Diego, figuring I could keep surfing. For a kid from Hawaii it was just too cold, so I gave up surfing and focused more on music. I took lessons with a local guy named Steve O’Connor who wrote commercials for a living but was a great jazz guitarist. He introduced me to Coltrane. He kept saying that sax players were the real improvisers, so when I transferred to UC Berkeley, I rented a sax from a pawn shop and was playing “Naima” the first day. I spent 12 years on sax, studied with Vince Wallace and Joe Henderson, who lived in San Francisco. I’d go and sit in at all the jam sessions. Guys like Bishop Norman Williams would let me play at clubs like “Bajones” and I learned a lot.
I got degrees in Poli Sci and Music from Cal and washed dishes to make ends meet between lousy wedding gigs at hotels and golf courses. I studied arranging with a great old guy named Jerry Cournoyer. The lessons were 3 hours long and he gave me a lot of homework! We studied everything: Haydn, Wagner scores and even some counterpoint.
I decided to go back to school and enrolled in the Masters Program in composition at Hayward State. My teacher was Frank La Rocca, who appreciated jazz. I studied conducting, which has come in handy as an educator. My final composition thesis was a string quintet with bass. I really dug the way the bass sounded. The music department bass teacher, Carl Stanley, played on the concert and I persuaded him to give me lessons. I started taking some gigs on bass and one night, Bishop Norman Williams, who remembered me from sax days, heard me and hired me to work with him. Soon I was working 3 nights a week and moving fast. I dropped all the other instruments and focused on the bass. I studied with Frank Tusa and some classical people — Brian Marcus and Tim Spears. Since then, it’s been a learning process every day. I took and continue to take all kinds of gigs: jazz, rock, gospel, salsa, funk, classical. It’s all amazing. I’m really enjoying the journey and especially the great people I’ve been able to work with.
Review Fix: What’s your creative process like? How was it different for this album?
Randolph: You know artists are people who try to express what is inside of them. That’s a combination of your wisdom, your emotions, and the skill you have in being able to express those things. Sometimes I listen to certain styles of music if I need inspiration. For example, I’ve been listening to a lot of Berlioz and some music from the Congo lately. Other times, it’s just walking down the street and noticing things. The most important thing is to connect to your unconscious. If you hear from deep inside, then it’s bound to be good.
On my previous CD, Song Without Singing, I stepped into the “world music” area with some Brazilian-influenced pieces. I went further this time but wasn’t so specific to any country. I like the idea of music coming together in a general way but am not concerned with writing things that are authentic to any one style. It’s that intersection between different styles that interests me.
Somewhere along the line I developed a fascination with big cats, particularly jaguars. These are amazing creatures that have a long spiritual legacy in pre-Columbian mezo American cultures. The way they move, their power, valor, and energy are things that I attempted to express on this album.
Also, the band has been working together more now, the personnel have stabilized, which I think shows in the tightness and communication among the players.
Review Fix: What inspires you?
Randolph: A lot of inspiration comes from the environment of the moment. What happened today? What’s happening now? Artists reflect that which is happening around them. Anything could be an inspiration. Of course, as mentioned, I do a lot of listening to a wide variety of stuff and I’d be lying if I said that weren’t an influence as well.
Review Fix: What does music mean to you? Why is Jazz so important?
Randolph: Music, especially in the current environment, is the only thing that makes sense to me.
It’s like an old friend. Music is emotional and is connected with your unconscious. I always feel that if you treat music well, it will treat you well.
Jazz gives musicians a certain kind of freedom. Jazz players speak a very special and unique musical dialect and at its best are able to communicate both with each other and with an audience, on a level deeper than spoken language.
Review Fix: How would you describe your sound to someone who has never heard you?
Randolph: Eclectic, emotional, always grooving
Review Fix: How are your live shows different from your studio work?
Randolph: That’s the beauty of the improvised music we call “jazz”. You can compose something, but in a live situation, especially when the band knows the music well, it takes on a life of its own and the players create something new based on the original template.
Review Fix: What are your goals for the rest of 2020?
Randolph: We had a lot of shows lined up including a live radio performance and some interviews. I can’t wait to promote this album with some great live shows!
Review Fix: What’s next?
Randolph: I want to write a lot of music, keep studying and expanding my stylistic palette. This is important work.