Interviewed by Harvey Cline
SmoothViews recently caught up with saxist Everette Harp just weeks away from his new release entitled In The Moment. We were able to discuss the new project as well as the signing to his new label and current buying trends in the jazz market. The interview reveals insight into this Houston born native, and shows why he is such a fan favorite.
SmoothViews (SV): Congratulations on the new disc, Everette! Has it been put to bed yet?
Everette Harp (EH): Thank you, actually it will be out on the 23rd of May.
SV: It’s entitled In The Moment. Would you like to tell us a little bit about it?
EH: It’s a collection of all original tunes. There were about seven of them that I co-wrote. There were two from Chuck Loeb and another one from a sax player named David Mann. Six of them I co-wrote with a writer/producer named Rex Rideout and another was written with writer/producer Barry Eastman. It was a nice collaborative effort
SV: I understand you have a few guest artists on this one?
EH: I already mentioned Chuck Loeb. He wrote two songs on the record where he’s featured on one, and the other song that he wrote features Norman Brown. So we get to do it all over again. That’s actually the first single. It’s called “Monday Speaks.” It’s an up-tempo song with a kind of a four-on-the-floor disco beat with a lot of playing; let me put it that way. Not too much different from “Just Like Old Times.” I had George Duke, as usual. I’ve been able to get him for my last six records. I’m very fortunate to be able to have him on all my records. Then there’s Jonathan Butler and Paul Jackson Jr.
SV: Tell me a little bit about the one with Jonathan.
EH: Well, it’s the one I do with Barry Eastman which is really kind of funny because Barry Eastman is the one who produced Jonathan’s first record in the United States. I had no idea that I was going to use Jonathan on the record until the song started coming together. Then I told Barry I was going to try to get him. Jonathan was excited when he found out where the song came from. Basically it’s a song, kind of a sensual jazzy late night song, that’s hard to describe. Jonathan’s just playing acoustic guitar and nylon strings and plays a solo in the middle of the song and solos going out. It’s a nice tune.
SV: Do you have a favorite from the disc yet?
EH: You know what? You caught me at a bad time. I worked on the record for six months. Right now it’s the last thing I want to hear. At one point in time they’ve all been favorites. One thing I really like about the record is that it’s not all together different than the other projects that I’ve done where the approach basically is that I start off by writing a bunch of songs. I pick out ten or twelve songs and that’s the record. There’s not really a concept to it except the Marvin Gaye record which was a remake of the What’s Going On? record. I haven’t really had a conceptual record. This particular record is like the rest of them. I get the aggregative of the songs (the good songs) and finish the record with that. Basically each one has been a favorite at one point or another. It’s hard to choose. It would really be hard to choose as I’m thinking back over the record. You know I have a tendency to be self indulgent on my records as far as my playing goes. I have a tendency not to always think about the listener. I have a tendency to think about at times trying to keep myself from being bored with my playing. I have a tendency to what some might call “overplay” or being overly expressive. I don’t consider it that. I consider it making things interesting for myself. I think this record is probably one out of two or three that I’ve been able to stay within the realm of what is acceptable by the average listener as well as being able to keep myself from being bored. A lot of the music I listen to is main street jazz, straight-ahead jazz/jazz fusion. To simply play for a long period of time, it doesn’t stifle me but there are other ways that I like to express myself. If I don’t do that, then I find myself feeling incomplete.
SV: That’s understandable. You have to keep it mixed up and then when you’re on tour that keeps it fresh for you too.
EH: Yeah, exactly. On tour I’m going to do what I’m going to do anyway whether it’s a simple song or not. I play what comes naturally. Whether it’s melodic, over the top or a lot of runs or whatever. I’m going to play what comes out. I rarely stick with what’s on the record. I always think if you want to hear the solo’s that’s on the record then listen to the record.
SV: Does that lend itself to interpretation by the band?
EH: You know the band generally, what they play is dictated by the charts, by the song basically. When I play live I like to give the other players an opportunity to play. My musicians always have said it’s been fun for them. Whoever I have, I always give the musicians an opportunity to play. So the arrangement of the song might change you know, it just facilitates that. Theirs is basic artistic freedom. But as far as the production and arrangement of the song, I pretty much keep that honed in on what’s on the record. We kind of don’t change from that. That keeps the parts that I’m used to hearing on the record (I’m talking about the orchestration production part). There’s really no need to change that. If you want to change the arrangement and add a solo here or there or bring a totally different section going out when you’re playing live at the end of the song, you do a totally different section and maybe vamp on that for about five minutes. That’s always an option. That’s something I’ve always done.
SV: And then come back in to the same chorus?
EH: Either that or just go out with the new little section and call it a day. I’ve done it all. That’s jazz. Like my good friend George Duke says, “It’s jazz. It all works.”
SV: Jazz is like life, it’s all improvisation! The title of the new disc is called In the Moment. Is there a title track, and if so how did you get it?
EH: Yeah, the title track. It’s a song written by Rex Rideout and myself and was a synopsis of everything that happened making this record. Rex and I were busy writing this song, (trying to write this song). We wrote about seven songs in seven days. You just kind of think every now and then. You’re sitting there and okay you’re going to write another song. How do you write this one? We were just sitting there talking about things that might be happening or whatever until something just happened. I might start playing my sax or I might tinkle on the piano or Rex might play something on the piano, or might start this drum groove. You know I have this idea and then I’ll sing it to him and we’d get started. Basically we were waiting for the moment to happen. Each day we were waiting for the moment to happen. Somehow each day the moment did happen. We came out with something that we really liked. When I chose the words “In The Moment,” basically each day we caught ourselves waiting for the moment to happen. Then all of a sudden we were “in” the moment. That’s basically how I came up with the title because the record was full of that.
This particular song was built around a guitar riff by a wonderful guitarist named Jubu. He blows me away, he blows everybody away. He’s so different than any type of guitarist that anyone’s heard. That says a lot, because I’ve heard quite a few. The song was built around a riff that he did at the very beginning of the song and throughout the chorus. It’s another one of those sensual songs, soprano songs. That was the one I certainly chose. We built around that lyric and it kept growing and growing.
SV: I’m sure that will be a fun one when you’re out on tour. Speaking of which, I see that you’re going to be in St. Lucia later on in May. What other stops can fans see you at this summer?
EH: You know what, right now since the record isn’t out.. I have a tendency to put records out later in the year than when record companies really like to have them which is in January. Most of the basic festival shows have been booked. I think our touring aspect will be later in the year after the record comes out. We’re trying to put together a package which is later in the summer and early fall. There are several [artists] we’re looking at. Until we narrow that down I think I better not say.
SV: You wouldn’t want to let the cat out of the bag just yet. I see where you signed with a new label. You want to tell us a little bit about your new deal with Shanachie Records?
EH: Shanachie has been around for a little while. They’ve done some wonderful work with jazz artists, especially over the last eight years. Their names have been on the charts quite a bit with their artists. Seems they really know how to work records. After my last record (with A440), which they kind of went out of business as All For You came out, Shanachie were the ones who asked what were we going to be doing. So they came knocking first. We sat down, and what I was looking for was a company that was going to get behind the baby we produce. That was certainly not the case with the last record. It was a wonderful record. Fortunately I’ve come to own the masters now and I can do whatever I want. I feel that was an opportunity lost. I didn’t want to do that with another project. So I decided to go with a more sound company.
SV: I bet that is heartbreaking to put your year’s worth of work into a production and it all ends up like that with nothing to really show for it. Great album by the way. I see that your website is up and running and you’ve added some things to that with some snippets from some songs. Is there anything else we can be looking for on your website? (www.everetteharp.com)
EH:. Well as soon as I get a copy of the record from the record company I will put some of these songs on the website as well. When I was working on the record I rarely had time to send emails out and the website was certainly neglected. I answer all the emails myself. A lot of the website I do myself. Right now I’m talking to a couple of people to design a website. I’m looking at doing that in the next two months.
SV: You have looked into some of the reasons record sales in Smooth Jazz have been down over the past few years. Technologies have changed, their buying habits have changed. What have you been able to find out as a result of your research?
EH: A lot of the responses I’ve gotten, and I get some on the website and I get some sent to me via email, some complain that they just don’t know certain projects are out there because they don’t hear them on the radio. The other thing is that I hear this stuff everywhere I go. I’m not really a key to smooth jazz fan. I hear it all the time. I hear it at Denny’s. I hear it in Wal-Mart. I hear it at K-Mart. I hear it in the elevator. I hear it in my doctor’s office. Why do I need to own it? If you think back to the 90s or late 80s or even beyond that a lot of us were selling a ton more units than are being sold now. It seemed the radio market was not called smooth jazz where you have vocalists, Luther Vandross, Maria Carey and all that on the radio. it was purely just contemporary jazz. It wasn’t called smooth jazz at the time. We were selling more units. You kind of wonder when the genre finally came together and focused and called itself smooth jazz and made a genre of itself. What’s the direct parallel between that and the sales drop as well. I think the problem or part of the problem was that there was not enough in creating that format they wanted, a certain sound. And that sound started running itself through everybody’s songs where it basically became one song kind of like the next song, kind of like the next song; just insert a different artist but that sounds like the next artist. One sax player sounds like the next sax player, not enough uniqueness. That was one complaint. I heard that there was not enough uniqueness to make people run out [and buy]. It’s like the song you’ve heard a thousand times. I really wasn’t surprised with that response, but I was surprised that people were able to verbalize it like they did. I have a tendency to think that a lot of people don’t know why they don’t care to buy the record, or they may not want to admit it to an artist like myself. They just say, “Well you know, I just don’t buy the record.” It’s really harder to get adults into the record store.
SV: It really is. I see that myself. Do you think people’s buying habits in general have changed just because of the internet?
EH: Well you think that it would increase the opportunity to buy if they’re trusting enough with their credit cards. I do most of my buying online. It’s very simple. As a matter of fact, I rarely leave home for Christmas to go to a mall. I do all of my buying online. I do everything online. I would ordinarily think of that as a plus but it doesn’t seem to be adding to our record sales.
SV: Either that or they’re not tallying the sales?
EH: That’s another thing I was about to say with them not able to follow that. I would think that CD Now or any of the online outlets should be reporting. I think it’s going to take something monumental to get them back into the brick and mortar store or like you said, the online outlets are not reporting. Organizing that scenario to where they are reporting. You know it’s really hard to know, you know the numbers are buffered and they’re not always accurate, so you just never know what you’re getting. I’m sure that was true back in the day as well. So we’ve had a lot of changes over the years. And I’ll tell you one major reason, what one guy even mentioned to me. I would even say this myself. Back in the 90s and 80s we had local record stores. You know, they called them “mom and pop.” Those guys have basically been run out of business by the big chains. Circuit City has been really wonderful as far as carrying jazz, and big supporter of mine as well. But you get Circuit City, Best Buy, Wal-Mart, K-Mart, and they all become huge CD outlets. They become discount CD outlets because they sell in bulk. Because they can deal in bulk. Basically you have your warehouse records. You have all your stores that just deal with selling records and tapes that have gone under because of these huge outlets selling discount records. They couldn’t compete. And then all of a sudden you have Best Buy and larger outlets that came in and took over the market. They started pulling back a little bit. You see the jazz section go from three aisles to two aisles to a fourth of an aisle. Then you walk into a store and they’re not even alphabetized. So they’re not even taking care of them. So if you wanted to go to find a record, you have to work to find it. They’re going to give up after a couple of minutes. Who wants to work that hard? So I got the attention of the store manager and said, “You gotta do us a favor. At least keep our section alphabetized. If you’re not going to keep all the records in the store, at least keep the ones that you do have alphabetized so when someone comes in they might be able to find them.”
SV: I understand you were on Warren Hill’s cruise last January. How did that go, and what was the experience like?
EH:.Surprisingly well. I have the most trepidation I think of any artist on the boat. As a matter of fact, I turned it down three times. I think they were thinking that I wanted more money because each time I said no, they came back with more money. I said no because I don’t like boats. I’ve never been on a cruise ship and I never really cared much for water. I’m one of those guys who’s over the shower drain too long and the water backs up then I’m screaming for my wife. I just kept saying no, and they finally hit me with an offer that I couldn’t refuse and I said okay. At least I could try it. I tell you, I had the most wonderful time. From day one to the end. We had two really rocky days. The people who had done it before said it was the worst that they had ever seen. People were sick all over the place. Musicians were getting sick and I was fine. I didn’t have a patch or Dramamine. I was fine. The only problems I had was when I got off the boat and got on land. I started getting a little queasy. There were a lot of great musicians and a lot of fun music. The house band had some really good musicians. It made it really diverse. They had some jam sessions. We were actually encouraged to participate. They were fun. I had a really good time. At any given time you could hear some really good music. There were a bunch of collaborative efforts out there, a lot of people joining other people on stage during the shows. At any point in time you might have seven or eight sax players on a stage. You know it was a lot of fun. I had the most fun hanging out with Warren Hill. I never really knew him much. He’s really a good guy. I really liked him. I really learned a lot about his playing. I wasn’t that familiar. I did know some of his playing that I had heard on the radio. I just didn’t know how much more he could play. The thing that always impresses me more is when guys can give you more than what they do on the record, and he certainly has that. He was the consummate host. I looked at him like the Hugh Heffner of a cruise ship. He was so relaxed. He would get on stage, and everyone felt at home. I’d never been around him before. So I didn’t have the experience.
SV: I was wondering if you had ever thought about doing a gospel album like Kirk Whalum has done a couple of times?
EH: You know, I have mixed feelings about that as much as my background and my personal history would lean me to do that. Over the years I’ve grown up with Kirk as well. I’ve known him since I was fourteen. He and my sister were in a band together. There have been so many similarities between him and me as far as playing sound. I’ve avoided over the years anything that seemed to mimic him. And that’s been one that’s been a struggle with me inside, torn to do that a gospel record. From an artist perspective I’m also torn to stay away from mimicking or imitating anybody. I’ll hear sometimes Everette with a Sanborn sound or a Dave Koz sound. I try to avoid those similarities by avoiding doing any type of music that sounds like that. So that’s one I’m struggling with. I imagine I will get over it, talking to my pastor about it and get it done.
SV: I wonder how a disc of duets with him would be?
EH: Musically I can’t imagine it being anything but wonderful doing anything with Kirk. But that also takes a lot of work. Not only the playing part aspect but coordinating ideas together and getting an idea together where it would be appetizing for everybody. There’s a little bit more than saying, “Hey, let’s play together.” Everybody gets into the act. There are other people involved. Management and record companies say, “Why?” It’s not as simple as saying, “I want to do this.” You have to go through other people. Sometimes it extrapolates the music. It’s a necessary evil.
SV: I just want to say thank you very much for your time. It’s been great talking with you, and I wish you the best with the new project coming out. Is there anything you’d like to tell our readers today in closing?
EH: Yeah, over the last couple of years we’ve been asking for prayer for a particular situation that the family was going through. I just wanted to thank everyone for their prayers. Prayers are alive and well. That particular incident has been abated. We pray that it continues to be as it is right now. We ask for their continued prayers and God’s presence.
SV: Best wishes to you and God bless.
EH: Thank you Harvey.