I caught up with saxophonist Alonzo Wright recently for a virtual chitchat since Snowmaggedon 2010 is preventing a sit-down even as we are both in the Washington Metropolitan area now. How àpropos. It’s been over a decade since we met at a book launch and our communication mode has changed along with the times, now keeping up with each other’s lives largely on Facebook.
The Brooklyn-bred Harlem resident — I forgive him for defecting — is actually a multi-instrumentalist, playing not only the sax, but also flute and percussion (as well as piano, for writing.) He picked up his first instrument, the clarinet, at age eight, but it wasn’t until high school when he wrote his first song that he realized his life’s passion. To the chagrin of his mother, his avocation became obsession. That song, Shooting the Gaps is the first tune on his independently produced solo recording, Bitz of Pieces (buy the CD or MP3 download at CD Baby.) A nearly 20-year gestation, the jazz fusion album is a testament to Alonzo’s tenacity. Over the years, advances in technology have made it cost-effective for him to self-produce, and complete the mélange of musical styles “in bits and pieces,” his vision “the glue that made the process work.” The ten original compositions on”Bitz” feature the talents of many gifted industry friends: Bob Baldwin, Onaje Allan Gumbs, Vincent Henry, Will Downing, Marvin Sewell, Buddy Williams, Garvin Blake, Larry Marsden, Bashiri Johnson, Reggie Washington, Audrey Wheeler-Downing, Eric Smith, Ray Vega and Kenny Davis.
“I consider myself a late bloomer in a lot of ways. I always juggled working nine-to-fives while trying to pursue my music…but I persisted. The long and short of it is, I will be and would [have been] involved with music in one way or another, because it’s what feeds my soul and spirit.”
Greatly influenced by Grover Washington, Jr. and Ronnie Laws (whom he met just two weeks ago) on his main instrument, he counts the now-defunct New York jazz radio station WRVR as his “most important music teacher. I used to listen to ‘RVR ALL the time. They had some great DJ’s, who would tell you about the music they played and who played it, very informative. The fact that they played different styles and types right behind each other allowed me to appreciate the different nuances in the music. You would hear, Ella Fitzgerald, Weather Report, Count Basie, Spyro Gyra, Jon Lucien, Return To Forever, all back to back, amazing. I, along with many others, cried the day they went off the air.” (in 1980.)
His mother from Trinidad, his father from the Lesser Antilles island of St. Vincent, Alonzo has integrated his heritage into his music, notably in the calypso vibe of Freedom Parkway, not at all out-of-place on J’ouvert. An “ode to my Caribbean roots,” he says. He feels nourished when he is able to travel and “experience the music and culture of other places. I make it a point to get indigenous music, wherever I go.”
In partnership with Kendall Scott on guitar and keyboards, Alonzo, playing saxophone, flute, percussion and wind synthesizer, released Asi (“it’s obvious” in Swahili) in 2004. Though he has done session work, road managed other artists and produced, arranged and written for them, it is the writing and performing of his own original music that is his primary focus. Now with the release of his solo effort, he is planning shows for Spring. Visit his myspace page to needle drop and check for news and upcoming dates.
Alonzo adores a good joke, a good time, playing softball and of course, his longtime love, Lynda, but what else makes the sax master swoon, his mischievous grin in full effect?
1. My iPod. Well, actually, iPods. He has two 160 gig Black Classics, usually on shuffle. “The ability to have as much music at my fingertips as I have in my head just makes me giddy.”
2. In-N-Out burgers. "You would have to taste them to know what I am talking about. Double-double with a side of fries. While on tour once, I ate it everyday. It's normally my first stop from the airport," he says of the West Coast fast-food chain.
3. Yanagisawa saxophones. Since the 1954 introduction of the T-3 tenor sax, Tokyo's "Yani" plant has prided itself on producing saxophones of unparalleled quality and enviable ease-of-use. Alonzo is partial to Japanese-made horns (he owns Yamahas as well) "Well made, solid and consistent," he plays them exclusively.
4. N.Y. Mets. ”For better or worse,” he says. “The first game I remember seeing was the third game of the ’69 World Series, and I’ve been hooked since then.” Photo, SodaHead.com
5. Independent movies. As an artist, I find it refreshing to see an art form that challenges normal convention." Above, a few of the indie films that Alonzo loves.
6. My brand new Palm Pre Plus. ”I have been a long time Palm-based product user, so I am loyal. It is on a new operating system, which is very efficient and productive. I waited ’til it came to my mobile carrier, and it was well worth the wait. Might end up being the last cell phone I'll ever own.”
7. Biographies. I love reading and learning about others journeys through this thing we call life. Some of ‘Zo’s favorites. Also topping his list are: Miles Davis: An Autobiography; John Coltrane: His Life and Music; Jean-Michel Basquiat and Open Sky: Sonny Rollins.
8. Buffalo wings. ”My guilty pleasure, yum, yum… I am partial to the wings at Blondie’s, an Upper West Side sports bar.”
9. NPR. He enjoys the varied and informative programming of National Public Radio.
10. Florence, Italy. "I was introduced to Firenze by Lynda. I enjoyed going for early morning runs in the hills. And of course, the best food in the world." Indeed. "Great food, great charm, great history, great people!" Photo: Florence Sunset, ©Jon Rawlinson