More than any other song on Will Call, the title of the song, "Whatcha See is Whatcha Get," defines the personality of jazz saxophonist Will Donato. There is a lot about this CD that gives the listener insight to this gifted, smooth jazz musician, take for instance the back cover of the CD where the beautiful woman whom he is leaning into is his wife Diana. His conversation is peppered with glowing references to his wife and daughter.
You get an opportunity in this business to talk to all kinds of people, those who are stressed because gigs are difficult to come by, those who are intense and passionate almost over the top not about themselves, but their careers, some who like a lot of artsy people are flakey, and then there is Will Donato. This is a smooth jazz cat that is comfortable in his own skin, is enjoying life and speaks enthusiastically about the part of the country that he lives in, "I absolutely love where I live (Palm Springs) and I feel very lucky to live here." He speaks warmly about his friends and gratefully concerning any success that has come his way.
Donato agrees with my perception that he is comfortable in his own skin, "I would say that is true. I really love what I do and I love playing live. I can see myself doing seventy-five shows per year. My wife and I get to travel together, and when I do shows we get to go to boutique cities, how bad is that?"
"I have noticed that as radio gets more consolidated and technology is advancing a lot of people are making nice pristine production based music, then they realize that (sometimes) you have to (actually) play for human beings," he says laughing. "I can honestly say I am really comfortable in communicating with people through music. At the same time I am trying to maintain the quality of the products and change with the new market."
When in Palm Springs, Donato has a regular gig at the Renaissance Esmeralda, which he describes as, "an awesome resort where we do some killer R&B and Motown. We do old school too, like Earth, Wind & Fire, Rick James, and we do new people such as Outcast."
Concerning his music the saxophonist says, "I know my fan base, and that is another thing that really defines me. I know what they like from me and I know when I can push the envelope. I respect my fans, and have a real allegiance to them. It doesn’t mean that I am selling out or formulating my music, it just means that I know what they like from me (in terms of) having a party or a good time. When you walk into Starbucks, you know it is going to be green, black or white, but then there is also tall, vente and grande. You don’t want to walk in there and have it called 'Bad Ass Coffee.' We select brands that we enjoy. I hope that I am making sense."
"If you are a girl out at a festival, and you decide that you still want to go out, you do not want to see a guy or a woman slumped over a piano talking (or singing) about how miserable their life is. I choose not to have that (in my music). I want the whoo-hoo, then have somebody like your girl turn to you and say, ‘This is fun and I am going to tell so and so about it," says Donato.
"I am very concerned about having a catalogue (of music) that at least has a shelf life for a while. I will be really embarrassed if I have on a headband and leg warmers on my album cover and someday say, ‘Dude what were you thinking?'"
In explaining the approach that he took to creating his current CD Will Call, Donato says, "I have been really inspired by my friend Steve Oliver and other artists who create timeless music. I enjoy urban music and vibes, but in ten years some of these handclaps and other sounds are going to be really dated sounding. You are going to cringe and say (as he does in a mock whisper), 'Oh shoot! Do you remember when we used to put rapping into our smooth jazz music?'"
"When you listen to Pat Metheny playing piano and guitar, you could put him on a 1980’s record and go 'whoa!'" Donato says making the point that Metheny would be considered great in any era.
Although the title of the record Will Call can be interpreted in many ways, Donato’s warmth is reflected in the naming of the CD, Will Call, that place where an artist can provide his gift to his friends. That is the place (the ticket office) where artists can gift people who are close to him or her. That is the place where I can let people in and show them my appreciation.
Donato also observes how the perception of what is acceptable in jazz circles today has changed from a decade ago. Back in the day when he was playing songs such as Kool & The Gang’s "Celebration," "Brick House," by the Commodores, and Wild Cherry’s "Play That Funky Music White Boy," it was not considered to be music played by legitimate jazz musicians.
"If you write music with an authentic spirit and it tells your own story, then who are we to say that rocky road at Baskin-Robbins is better than vanilla? People do that to singers all of the time and say that so and so is better than another singer. They all have a voice," he says in drawing a comparison to jazz musicians.
The saxman compares Will Call with his earlier debut solo, Will Power, "The thing that I really liked about Will Power is the percussion colors, and Steve Read (producer) used, and the nylon from Steve Oliver. Will Call was produced by my Brazilian buddy, Rogerio Jardim. He put a lot of lighter Brazilian elements on the album. There is also some electronica and techno in there."
In describing his approach to composition Donato says, "I write from the melody downwards, whereas some people write from the groove up. A lot of times when I am in my car, I sing a melody into my cell phone, which then goes into my (answering) machine at home. I try to develop it when I get home. I am not what you would call a down tempo, chill guy, I am an up-tempo guy. I like music that makes people move."
Eventually, our conversation winds its way back to a similar place in which it began, "I notice in music that there are some artists who say, ‘It’s a lonely road out there baby. See you later. I gotta’ get out there.’ Then you find them in their rooms writing songs about rusty, old cars. I don’t mean to sound corny, but the little things that you do to include those around you is important. "
"I actually serenade my wife in public during my concerts and the ladies go crazy over it. I think that I am part of a new phenomenon, a spoiled husband. It is really important to me to include my wife and my daughter (in my career and music), "says Donato.