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Luther Hughes and the Cannonball Coltrane Project

Luther Hughes Luther Hughes Glenn Miller

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This past summer I had the great experience of speaking with Luther Hughes, who plays a hot acoustic bass and has put together the remarkable Cannonball-Coltrane Project. I saw this exciting band at Founder’s Hall at the Orange County Performing Arts center and bought their self-titled album. The Project’s members on Luther Hughes and the Cannonball-Coltrane Project are Luther on Bass; Glenn Cashman on Tenor sax; Bruce Babad on alto sax; Ed Czach on piano; Paul Kreibich on drums; with appearances by Tom Ranier on piano and Tony Poingsett on congas.

While great bands easily sway me, respected jazz musicians who are saying really nice things about this group include, Horace Silver, Red Holloway, Roy McCurdy and Mundell Lowe.

I have had very few unpleasant experiences speaking with jazz musicians, but few were as pleasurable as speaking with Luther Hughes. Luther laughs with ease, explains music with understandable expertise and truly enjoys what he does.

Luther is hoping that the Cannonball/Coltrane Project second CD will be out in the spring 2006. But in the mean time, do yourself a favor and go to www.cannonballcoltraneproject.com and treat yourself to an a hour of music in the style of two of the masters of the art form, Julian "Cannonball" Adderley and John Coltrane.

JAZZREVIEW: I first became aware of Luther Hughes and the Cannonball-Coltrane Project when I saw your performance at Founders Hall. It was a remarkable show.

LUTHER: Oh, thank you very much, Jerry.

JAZZREVIEW: It’s a great hall, too.

LUTHER: Wonderful place to play.

JAZZREVIEW: You had a wonderful audience, if I may say so.

LUTHER: Couldn’t have been better.

JAZZREVIEW: How did the Cannonball-Coltrane Project come about?

LUTHER: It was just sort of a wild, spontaneous idea I had. My good friend and my tenor player, Glenn Cashman, who used to teach at Cal State Fullerton, that’s where I first met Glenn. Well, he left Cal State Fullerton and took the position as Director of Jazz Studies at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York. He was coming out to California and I knew he wanted to play some gigs while he was out here and I said, let me hook something up.

I happened to be listening to the one album that Cannonball and Coltrane did, just the two of them, apart from their work with Miles Davis, that was the 1959 recording of-let’s see, February ‘59 and the original album was called the Cannonball Adderley Quintet in Chicago. So I was listening to that thing around here at home about that time and I thought, hey, this could be a fun thing to do. So I called Glenn and I said, what do you say we do those tunes off that album? We will recreate those original arrangements and have a night of a tribute to Cannonball and Coltrane. He said that sounded like a good idea.

I called my buddies, called Bruce Babad, the guys; everybody learned their parts individually and with no rehearsal we came into "Kikuya" for the gig and played them. We had a big turn out of people and everybody really, really dug the band and of course this great music. We did it another time or two and I am going say maybe around the third time, I don’t remember exactly when, but Jerry Mandel from the Performing Arts Center came in and said, "Man, I love this band. Would you want to do the Performing Arts Center next year?" Of course I said, "Yeah, I would love to."

So at that point the guys and I talked and I said well, this has been fun. What started out as a lark is becoming a serious thing here, taking on a life of its own. I said, I guess we should record some-get some new material, we can’t just keep playing these original tunes, it wasn’t a enough. So we all jumped in and started writing and arranging and composing, and came up with new material. We went into the studio and recorded it. Then came our performance at the Founders Hall. We had some CDS manufactured and we got them ready just in time for that gig. Then I hooked up with a couple of gentlemen to help with some national radio promotion, I said, what the heck, let me give this a shot. And as of today we have been on the national radio charts for 12 weeks.

JAZZREVIEW: Wow.

LUTHER: It’s just taking off. The response of jazz fans has just been way more than I ever dreamed of.

JAZZREVIEW: It’s kind of, in a way, like making a ‘57 Chevy and actually making it like a ‘57 Chevy instead of a brand new car. People liked that kind of music then and they like that kind of music now.

LUTHER: Yeah. Once again, originally the idea was simply to pay homage to basically our mentors. In addition to the Saxes on that album was one of my favorite bass players, Paul Chambers, as well as drummer Jimmy Cobb and pianist Winton Kelly. These were tremendous players. So we just wanted to essentially say, "Thanks guys for paving the way for us." It’s just taken off.

Our intent now and from the beginning really has not been to try to sound like those guys, but we have all been influenced by them. I like to think that we have our own identities, but part of our own identities is because of the influence of those masters.

JAZZREVIEW: Now, in the show and on the CD you are writing songs based on what; I know that they are tradition, but how do you write a song that’s going to become part of the Cannonball-Coltrane Project.

LUTHER: Good question. First we took some tunes that they had played either collectively or separately; for instance, "Love for Sale," they played together with Miles, and Tom Ranier who also played-two great piano players on the CD, Ed Czack and Tom Ranier; Tom arranged that one for us and what he did was he took the original recording, borrowed Miles’ rhythmic phrasing of the melody and gave it to the two saxophones to play, then used that as a jumping off point and added some of his own stuff to the arrangement. Glenn Cashman took John Coltrane’s classic modal tune "Impressions." (Modal means you have only two chords / two scales in the whole song.) Basically Glenn took that and put his own personal spin on it by putting in some more chords. It kept the essence, but gave it a little different flavor or character.

I took a tune that Coltrane wrote for Paul Chambers and recorded on an album with Red Garland. The tune was "Bass Blues." I decided I would play some of the melody, so I did the first time with the tenor. Then I got out of the way and let the tenor and alto play it the second time. So once again, taking some tunes that they had done and we put our own stamp of individuality on the tunes. Then the original tunes, for instance, Glenn wrote one paying tribute to "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy." Cannon had a huge hit on that. Glenn wanted something that had a similar feel or as we used to say a similar "Vibe" and came up with "No Mercy."

Bruce wrote one for Cannonball for that kind of churchy-gospely-soulful side of Cannonball and came up with "Julian." So does that kind of answer your question?

JAZZREVIEW: Yes, it does. Now the question that spawned this...can you keep doing this?

LUTHER: Can we keep doing it?

JAZZREVIEW: Yes, is this one of those types of things where you are just able to go on from the point that you are finding connections and building on the foundation that you have already been building on?

LUTHER: Yeah, I feel like there is no end to this. We are already working on material for the next CD. I don’t know what we will eventually record but I’m working on two compositions that Cannonball recorded. One of the famous tunes called "The Work Song," another one called "Fun," which Cannonball did in the 70s, I guess, so I am working on arrangements for those. Then we will get together and the band will play them and if they feel good and feel like they have something special about them then we will consider them for recording. But everybody, once again, is going to chip in material and then we go from there. There is no limit-when you think about how many different-how many songs Cannonball recorded and how many songs Coltrane recorded and there is still their work together with Miles, which is rather extensive, too, then there is, once again, the original album they did. The only tune, by the way, that we did from that original album was a tune called "Limehouse Blues" and we did their arrangement of that but we expanded it. On the original record there was no drum solos, no bass solos, and the horns didn’t trade segments; in other words, there was no battling of the two horns, one guy plays solo and the other guy plays solo and then they played solos at the same time. They didn’t do that on the original recording either. That was our way of putting our own little spin on their original arrangement. At this stage of the game I’m leaning towards recording one of their original arrangements again.

JAZZREVIEW: Okay.

LUTHER: Yeah, I see no end to this. But I am just-I’m kind of upset now because I feel like I am going to need to live to be 300 to come close to accomplishing what I want to.

JAZZREVIEW: I always figured I had to live to 145 to catch up on all my reading. So 300 is a goal and as long as you are playing, who cares?

LUTHER: Exactly.

JAZZREVIEW: I had a question that I have been wanting ask somebody who played at Founders Hall; are they recording these shows?

LUTHER: The sound guy, it turns out, I didn’t realize he was working there, was a former student of mine at Golden West College when I taught a rock combo class. He recorded it for us. To tell you the truth, though, I don’t know if they are doing it routinely or not, but he did it kind of as a favor to me.

JAZZREVIEW: I have had my season subscription down there and the shows are, it is just incredibly good music and a really, really pleasant venue. I was thinking, man, that would make for a really nice set of recordings.

LUTHER: I agree.

JAZZREVIEW: Now, you’re teaching at Cal State Fullerton?

LUTHER: Yeah, I teach bass students for Cal State Fullerton, but also Saddleback Community College and when they have enough also at the Fullerton Community College.

JAZZREVIEW: Okay.

LUTHER: Bruce is Director of Jazz Studies at the Fullerton Community College. Glenn is Director of Jazz Studies at Colgate University; Paul Kreibich is also with me at Cal State Fullerton teaching the drum students, and Ed Czack who is doing most of the work with us now is not currently teaching in any institution. Tom Ranier who is also on the CD with us has taught at UCLA and also at Cal State Fullerton. I don’t think he has a teaching mode anywhere right now, but we are all very much into the educational thing. I think probably all of us do some private teaching also.

JAZZREVIEW: Now, I am interested that as a bass player you are a composer and that interest comes from-I met and have been corresponding with a musician named Brad Dutz.

LUTHER: I know Brad. I haven’t seen him in ages.

JAZZREVIEW: Brad is a percussionist and he is a composer. I have always thought of percussion and bass as rhythm. Obviously, you’re very adept at melody and harmony, and everything else that’s going on.

LUTHER: I haven’t written any original stuff for our project yet; that will be forthcoming. I have two other projects of my own that were in more of a smooth jazz kind of a format. I wrote a fair amount of material for that band. Now, I don’t know, I’m having fun trying to rearrange some of these classic tunes right now.

LUTHER: Before I forget, I have a website for the band which is simply www.cannonballcoltraneproject.com.

JAZZREVIEW: I have been to that website several times.

LUTHER: Okay. Then you know about that.

I guess I should also tell you, when I said that thing has kind of taken on a life of it’s own, I am in the process now of-I now have my own publishing company, Primrose Lane Music and we are going to file for a DBA for Primrose Lane Records and starting basically going to expand my label because-I decided to do this myself instead of going to a regular record company which, frankly, I never had much luck with. I thought I’m going to do this myself. Now I have four or five, six friends that want to put their projects on my label Primrose Lane.

JAZZREVIEW: That’s cool. Who are they? Are there any people who I might have heard of?

LUTHER: Glenn Cashman and Tom Ranier have two projects; one is a duo CD, "Blue and Green" Mostly standards and another one is a sextet that I also was on with them. It’s mostly all originals by the two of them.

JAZZREVIEW: Okay.

LUTHER: That includes piano, bass, drums, Bob Shepherd playing alto, Bob McChesney on trombone and Glenn on tenor. A trio record with a great piano player friend of mine, Stu Elster, my good friend and great jazz vocalist, Dewey Erney. He is just finishing up a big band with strings CD with Tom Kubis, who is one of the finest big band arrangers in the world, in addition to being a great saxophonist and pianist. Dewey’s CD will be called "Lucky To Be Me." The CD also features a great guitarist named Ken Song. So they are going to do that.

My wife, Becky Gonzalez Hughes, we’ve made a CD for her "Late Bloomer" and that’s a whole other story we can get into sometime. She’s been teaching elementary school for 30 years and decided she wanted to sing and do a CD for her 50th birthday and it just turned out unbelievably. You could check out her website at www.Beckygonzaleshughes.com.

JAZZREVIEW: Okay.

LUTHER: Let’s see, am I leaving anybody out? I have a couple of other possibles, too.

JAZZREVIEW: So this could become like another Nine Winds?

LUTHER: Who knows? We’re going to give it a shot. Is there anything else I think I should tell you, okay, so we have the developing label now, expanding that, CDs are available at the www.Jazzmart.com, which I guess have you seen by going to the www.cannonballcoletrane.com.

JAZZREVIEW: I got the CD at the show.

LUTHER: Thank you.

JAZZREVIEW: Not a problem. I need to get it autographed. Are you guys going to be playing around here any time soon?

LUTHER: We will be at La Casa Del Zorro in Borrego Springs on Friday and Saturday December 9 and 10, 2005. We will be out at the Newport Jazz Party in February. I keep the upcoming events posted on the website.

JAZZREVIEW: Okay. Do you ever play at Steamers Cafe?

LUTHER: Yes, we have. I don’t think we are going to be there before the end of this summer and then Glenn is going back to Colgate to teach, so we will have a little hiatus at that point.

JAZZREVIEW: Founders Hall a possibility again soon?

LUTHER: Well, I know they would like to have us back, but they usually have a few years between, I think.

JAZZREVIEW: With the new stuff that you are doing when do you envision another CD from the project?

LUTHER: In the spring.

JAZZREVIEW: In the spring?

LUTHER: Yeah.

JAZZREVIEW: Then is there anything else that we need to cover.

LUTHER: The only other thing that pops to my mind, I was talking about Bruce and Glenn writing, Paul Kreibich wrote one of the tunes, "Partido Mar Vista," and that’s probably got more air play than anything else across the country.

JAZZREVIEW: I like that one.

LUTHER: He wrote that. When I heard that I said, "Paul, this reminds of a tune called "Jive Samba" that Cannonball had a big hit on." So that’s why we did that kind of combining that blues and Brazilian thing.

JAZZREVIEW: Now, are you thinking of doing any music in this style with a vocalist?

LUTHER: Not for the immediate future, no.

JAZZREVIEW: Okay.

LUTHER: But you never know. I don’t rule anything out.

JAZZREVIEW: It is just that I know that the general public seems to really respond to bands that have a vocalist; if the vocalist works as an integrated piece of the unit that seems to be a big plus.

LUTHER: One of my favorite albums when I first got into jazz was the Cannonball Adderley Quintet with Nancy Wilson [Nancy Wilson/Cannonball Adderley Capitol Jazz] when she was just getting started. So, I mean, there is a great connection here and definitely a possibility.

JAZZREVIEW: Okay. That’s something else. I was just speaking with Tierney Sutton. I am going to be doing an interview for Jazzreview.com with her and she was explaining how she is integrated-how she-although the band is called Tierney Sutton, how it is really an integrated unit and she’s just one of the players, it is not an interchangeable thing. She’s got four musicians who are always with her.

LUTHER: She’s a great lady. I have known Tierney for quite awhile. Her husband I have known for much longer, Alan Kaplan, is one of the greatest lead trombone players on the planet. He’s marvelous. He played with my previous band I told you I had, Cahoots, which is sort of patterned after the old Jazz Crusaders, but trombone and Alan did some of that with us and he is marvelous.

JAZZREVIEW: Are there CDs of Cahoots around?

LUTHER: No. Out of print. "Collector’s Items!"

JAZZREVIEW: Okay.

LUTHER: Maybe one of these days I will see if I can get them re-issued.

JAZZREVIEW: You know, sometimes I ask people about bands that they were in and they say, "God, I hope not." I really couldn’t imagine you making music that wasn’t that good.

LUTHER: It was fun.

JAZZREVIEW: Now, when you did smooth jazz that’s

LUTHER: I would like to say I certainly had a bit called smooth jazz, because it was ‑ I would have to qualify and say it was - rough smooth jazz.

JAZZREVIEW: Okay.

LUTHER: It had much more of an edge then the stuff I hear today. We had the guys with solos but the rhythmic feel was more, you know, more of the funk.

Here is a quick music lesson. The thing that makes the swing/bebop jazz sound the way it does is because of the pulse, each pulse is subdivided into smaller units of threes, one, two, three, one, two, three, one, two, three and when you have like Brazilian, rock, classical, Cuban, it is subdivided in groups of twos; so the subdivision of the pulse is different. So we were doing more of that, what we call eighth note subdivision and that’s what makes most of your smooth jazz feel the way it does. The watered down smooth jazz today has very little resemblance to jazz.

JAZZREVIEW: A lot of it sounds like it is New Age.

LUTHER: Yeah. I don’t know, I really try to be open‑minded about everything, but a lot of that New Age stuff I can’t help sometimes wish that it was from a previous age.

JAZZREVIEW: Okay.

LUTHER: Cause it is not new. It is just watered down.

JAZZREVIEW: A lot of it sounds like it is somebody who just likes to hold notes for a long time.

LUTHER: Yeah. I tell people like comparing food and music, you have your musical fast food just like you have fast food, and that’s going to be stuff like McDonald’s, but the musical fast food is your pop stuff, that’s just musical fast food, that’s all there is to it. If you want to get a nice gourmet meal you have to check Parties by Panache.

JAZZREVIEW: Thank you.

LUTHER: If you want true quality music you have to listen to is jazz or classical, that’s pretty much it. Some Brazilian and some Cuban, but that’s about it.

JAZZREVIEW: New Age would be like health food or vegan?

LUTHER: No, baby food.

JAZZREVIEW: That’s good.

LUTHER: Jerry, I probably have taken up way too much of your time.

JAZZREVIEW: It was a pleasure speaking with you.

LUTHER: My very great pleasure. Listen, we’ll be in touch, Jerry, and thank you very much, again. I really appreciate it.

JAZZREVIEW: Great speaking with you.

LUTHER: I had a ball. Have a wonderful day.

JAZZREVIEW: You too.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Luther Hughes
  • Subtitle: Keeping the Tradition Alive
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