Tenor saxophonist Bob Reynolds will be touring with John Mayer early in 2007. The two Berklee alumni have kept in touch over the years and although Reynolds has played the Monterey Jazz Festival, toured Japan and performed at the Kennedy Center, the upcoming gig with one of the music industry’s hottest young stars have to rate at the top of the list.
Reynolds says the admiration for Mayer runs much deeper than the hit songs he has punched out, "He is somebody I respect beyond his music."
Not unlike a lot of other musicians, Reynolds has experienced several forays into a variety of musical genres and sub genres over the years. "I play in your straight ahead, swing jazz setting or in more experimental forms such as modern jazz. When I am playing with bands that are groove, soul, funk, rock oriented, I have a really natural approach, which people seem to really like," the saxman explains. "Whatever the setting is I am not thinking, ‘Now I am going to put my jazz hat on or my pop hat on.'"
The tour will go along way towards setting aside some of the disappointment that often accompanies being a young jazz artist. "When I came out of Berklee, I was expecting more of what I had seen precede me," says Reynolds. What he had seen precede him was the likes of Joshua Redman, Chris McBride and Roy Hargrove, all of whom have gone on to forge stellar careers.
One of the things they don’t tell you in school is sometimes it takes years before you have a steady stream of gigs. Reynolds says the opportunities to perform at jazz concerts and the number of people attending them on American soil have both declined in recent years. "It just reached the point of saturation and a zillion people across the country (playing). What you end up with are a lot more capable players than there are slots or the need for them," he says.
Another thing they don’t tell you in school and can easily be applied to a lot of other professions is there isn’t always a tried and true formula for success. "When I was in college, (the thinking was) you go and do this and if you are a really great player, that will lead to sideman work and (that in turn) will lead to record deals," says Reynolds.
The trouble is the world changed while Reynolds was still at Berklee. Big jazz record labels disappeared or became almost completely inactive. Reynolds says a lot of the artists who used to appear on large labels now find themselves signed to smaller deals or staying as independent artists. "Everything is sort of crushed toward the middle and in some ways, it put a lot of people in the same boat," says Reynolds. "For instance," he says, "although an established artist who has been in the industry for fifteen years might find himself inheriting the same kind of record deal as an artist whose resume and experience isn’t as substantial."
Even in New York City, the Mecca for jazz musicians in bygone years, Reynolds has noticed a difference. I don’t see the same kind of trends that were happening ten years ago. Reynolds believes that artists today have to have a plan rather than just waiting for requests for their services to roll in. "You have to figure out where you want to fit in. Where are the places that you are going to end up thriving? While the number of opportunities has decreased due to a disproportion of artists to venues, Reynolds acknowledges there is still an awful lot of music happening in New York City.
Reynolds wonders out loud just how much better off artists are who say that it is great for them to remain independent because it gives them total control over their music. "That’s great if you are a Dave Douglass or a Maria Schneider, but what if you are somebody that nobody has heard of yet?" he asks.
While Reynolds acknowledges that perhaps for some people, the world of record labels may not have been idyllic, it did provide a safety net of sorts. "The people who complain about the problems they had with a record label never had to do their own publicity, distribution or finding a producer," says Reynolds. "They don’t know what a huge chore that is. They are coming from (the perspective) of just focusing on their music, whereas somebody like me is wearing ten different hats."
Like many other jazz and blues artists, Reynolds is discovering fresh opportunities in Europe. "Most of my touring experience (abroad) has been concentrated in Spain and there is really a thriving jazz community there," says Reynolds telling me about his personal experiences. "When this record, Can’t Wait For Perfect, came out, I went over to Spain for two weeks. I played shows and concerts that don’t even exist here. I would play a big venue and then the next night I would go into a small town to play in some theater or club. You think nobody is going to show up for (your concert) and the place is packed. It doesn’t happen here because in the suburban towns, everybody hits the movie theater or the restaurant. It’s a different environment. The first time that I went to Spain, I considered moving there."
One of the things that you quickly learn about Reynolds is he candid and not shy about sharing his opinions. It doesn’t come from an egotistical base, but rather a confidence in his abilities. That confidence came at an early age as a child actor appearing in commercials with Bill Cosby and modeling. At the age of twelve, he was directing what he refers to as B movies, and his distributor struck a deal with Blockbuster. No, that is not a typo, he really was twelve years old.
It is not surprising then when I asked him what he likes about his new CD Can’t Wait For Perfect to hear him say, "I like every part about it from start to finish--from what the tunes are, how they sound and the order of the tunes. I put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into crafting it."
He is also not shy about mentioning the names of mentors such as Aaron Goldberg who he refers to as "having a huge influence upon my career." Goldberg appears playing the Fender Rhodes and piano on "Fiction," "Nine Lives" and "The Escape" from Can’t Wait For Perfect.
Reynolds is just as eager to talk about his friendship with bassist Reuben Rogers who provides the strong acoustic bass line for the album Can’t Wait For Perfect. "I can’t say enough good things about Reuben. He’s one of my favorite people and definitely one of my favorite musicians. I met him in Boston. I played with him in all these funk band situations at a place called Wally’s Café. He played the electric bass on Tuesday and Sunday nights."
Reynolds describes Rogers as, "a pretty funky, electric player. He elevates every situation. He just brings so much groove to any situation that he is a part of. Even if you are on your worst day, he makes you sound good."
The music of Bob Reynolds has been described by Joshua Redman as, "Some of the freshest, most compelling, and most soulful music I have heard recently. Bob Reynolds is an amazing musician with something very exciting and original to say." Certainly Can’t Wait For Perfect continues that theme.