PortFolio Weekly

PortFolio Weekly
September 27, 2005

In Hearing Of...Jae Sinnett

by Jim Newsom

Jae Sinnett is the voice of jazz to thousands of Hampton Roads radio listeners. He’s the only game in town for jazz fans looking for a regular FM fix of the real thing, having been on the air at WHRV for fifteen years. So it might surprise some of those listeners to learn that his musical tastes are quite eclectic.

“It tickles me when people say I’m just this jazz purist,” he told me a couple of weeks ago. “I am a purist when it comes to jazz because it’s based on respect, and I understand that criteria that was laid down years ago. But, you can walk in my house and hear Humble Pie playing.”

In fact, Sinnett, who performs Friday at the Attucks Theatre and Saturday at the Williamsburg Regional Library, began his musical life as a rocker, playing the guitar-heavy music of the early ‘70s. So I asked what got him into jazz.

“That’s easy,” he answered, “drums. I was playing rock and R&B, and I said to myself, there has to be something else the drums can do besides being a timekeeper for people who can’t keep time.

“Someone said to me, ‘have you heard jazz?’ First of all, I heard so-called art-rock bands like Emerson Lake & Palmer; Atomic Rooster was one of my favorites. Then I was introduced to fusion and I said this is five steps above what I am doing now.

“Then it was, ‘have you ever heard bop, have you heard Max [Roach]?’ And that was like ten steps above. And what was really scary, it was from 40 years before. [So I thought,] you know, I’m really playing the wrong music!

“I started really practicing jazz in the late ‘70s. I started studying harmony and melody and theory. I remember Joe Henderson giving me a lesson in my living room. I played with Joe at the Judge’s Chambers. He came over to my house and we spent the whole day drinking beer, with him at my piano with me. Frank Foster gave me some arranging pointers; I got lessons from Freddie Hubbard on how to play fast tempos…but basically just wanting to play more on drums got me into jazz.”

The occasion for Sinnett’s weekend full of performances, one that includes Sunday shows in Richmond and Charlottesville, is the recording of a new album, his eighth, to be called The Sinnett Hearings.

“I’ve written a bunch of new music that I’m feeling pretty good about,” he said. “I zeroed in on two things this time around---I’m real cognizant about focusing on melody and the groove. I wanted to have better, more meaningful melodies and have the grooves more organic, and rich in soul. And, it’s good to work with horn players again because I’ve been working with the trio for so long.

“I kept hearing horns on this new music. I’ve learned to follow that intuition and it was telling me that it had to have some horns.”

So this time around he’s augmenting his trio---pianist Allen Farnham, bassist Terry Burrell and himself on the drum throne---with two hornmen, Charlottesville-based trumpeter John D’Earth and Phoebus native Steve Wilson on saxophones. They’re two of the best, and Sinnett thinks he’s got material that rises to the level of his playmates.

“I wrote a tribute to Elvin [Jones] called ‘What Elvin Left;’ I have some childhood things in there---I wrote a piece called ‘Bedrock.’ Bedrock, when you think about it, they had TV; they would bowl when the wheel wasn’t invented by then. So Bedrock was progressive, and it had a sense of sophistication which it wasn’t supposed to.

“Then there’s a piece called ‘Third Potato.’ I had gone to the grocery store and I put three potatoes in the bag. Then when I came home and was unpacking my groceries and I pulled the bag out, I had two potatoes in it. So I looked everywhere for that third potato and I couldn’t find it. The next morning, when I got up to make my coffee, that potato had rolled behind the coffee pot. And I thought, ‘that’s really interesting.’ It’s quirky, but it’s about perception, where you think something’s supposed to be but it’s not.

“I started writing last year, but I had no desire to rush into the studio. So the music’s been finished for a while, and we’ve had time to play it and to refine things. And that’s one of the things I never really did with any of the other recordings that I think is so important: You have to take the time to live with the music. When you think about the whole concept of doing a record, it follows you the rest of your life. If you put a stinker out there, it’s going to follow you the rest of your life.

“As a producer, you want to get the musicians who can clearly articulate what you’re trying to do. Allen Farnham is one of the most underrated piano players playing today. He’s not good, he’s sensational. And look at Steve Wilson---the time he spent with Chick [Corea] really solidified his rhythmic thing, and I had to have someone who was totally comfortable playing in odd meters. And John has played some of this music over the last year---we did a tour with John. The rhythm section has been together for a gazillion years. So it all came to a point where I said I’m ready to do this again.”

They’ll do it again Monday and Tuesday after a weekend of constant playing, spending two days at Bias Recording Studio in Springfield. Sinnett, who has received national attention for several of his previous CDs, thinks this one will be his best yet:

“The question is, how do you make something that’s meaningful? No musician walking this planet has that answer. If you think Trane thought that ‘Love Supreme’ was going to be the masterpiece that it turned out to be, no. But I’ve started really zeroing in on what possibly could make things happen like that. I want to eliminate those questions.”

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