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Playing with Gary and Chuck was like wearing a favorite pair of old shoes—things were just right.
Legendary trumpet virtuoso and arranger supreme Jerry Hey sits down with Michael Davis for the first installment of BONE2PICK, HipBone’s artist of the month interview series. Upcoming interviews will feature Bob Mintzer, Denis Wick, Bill Reichenbach, Dick Nash, Randy Brecker and many more world class brass luminaries.
MD: Looking back on your time at Indiana University, what did you take away from studying with Bill Adam, both musically and personally?
JH: I was very fortunate to have studied with Mr. William Adam. I hadn't originally planned to go to Indiana, but a trumpet player friend, whom I met when I was in high school at Interlochen summer camp, said he was going there and that there were some good teachers, including Louis Davidson, first trumpet in the Cleveland Orchestra for 23 years. Originally I was scheduled to take lessons from a teaching assistant of Mr. Adam's, but I auditioned for the orchestra and placed second; I was called into Mr. Adam’s office and he told me that I was going to be his student — how lucky is that? I was at Indiana for two and one half years and those years were the foundation of everything I know about trumpet and life itself. Mr. Adam is, without a doubt, THE finest person I have ever met. Not only is he able to make anyone believe that he or she WILL be the next greatest trumpet player, but he will also teach you the important points of dealing with the daily trials of life. He treats everyone with a smile, a nice word, and a twinkle in his eye, and I try to emulate him. There is a reason that he has so many students have been successful — he is the greatest teacher.
MD: Could you share some of your memories of the period after leaving IU, joining Seawind and then eventually moving to Los Angeles?
JH: At Indiana I met Larry Hall, a great player and my life-long best friend. He had graduated from Indiana and gone to Hawaii to play some shows there. I just happened to be in a lesson with Mr. Adam, and Larry called, asking if I was interested in going to Hawaii to play in the shows with him. Since I was in the middle of my junior year, I asked Mr. Adam's advice about leaving school. He thought that I had learned and progressed enough and thought it would be a good move to go to Hawaii with Larry. So I left on my 21st birthday to go to Hawaii. Eventually, there were several players from Indiana who went over to Hawaii to work and we formed a band that was an outlet for us to play something other than shows. Included in this band were Larry Hall, Larry Williams, Kim Hutchcroft, all from Indiana, and Gary Grant, who had also come over from LA to Hawaii to play shows. Rounding out the band were Ken Wild, a bassist living in Hawaii, and Bob Wilson, a drummer who had been in the service. We played free concerts around Honolulu, eventually heard Pauline Wilson sing on Kona, and decided to form what was then called OX (later Seawind). As OX, we played in several small clubs around the Honolulu area and on some of the outer islands. And in those clubs we had many musicians, who were either on tour or on vacation, come in to hear us and even sit in to play with us— Abraham Laboriel, Neil Schon, Jeff Porcaro, Lee Ritenour, and Harvey Mason Sr., as well as many others. Harvey Mason took interest in the group and talked us into moving to LA, and he produced our first two albums. Seawind was basically a training ground for me as a player and also as an arranger, which I had never done. With Seawind, it was an open book and anything was possible, so it gave all of us an opportunity to experiment and find out what worked and what didn't. Seawind is still one of the best musical experiences of my life.
MD: What were your first few years in LA like? How soon after you landed in LA did you start working in the studios?
JH: I moved with Seawind to Los Angeles in January of 1976. Gary Grant had moved to Los Angeles about one year earlier and since we played together in Hawaii for four years and became great friends, he helped me begin working in the studio scene. Also, Chuck Findley, Dalton Smith, and Larry Maguire, who had all visited Hawaii, recommended me to writers and contractors in LA. Seawind played at the Baked Potato in LA a couple days a week and many musicians came in to see us there, so the horn section got some notoriety around the underground musical circles. Then, Quincy Jones, who finds out about the newest talent before anyone else, called me asking if I were interested in arranging one of his songs for an album. WHAT?? Are you kidding me?? Of course!! I took that golden opportunity and got to work with the late, great Snooky Young on my first Quincy Jones session and on one of the first big-time sessions I did. From that session, my relationship with Quincy blossomed, and we did several albums together — Michael Jackson, Brothers Johnson, Donna Summer, Rufus, George Benson, Patti Austin, James Ingram, Frank Sinatra, Barbara Streisand, and many others. I also worked with David Foster on his first big production, Bill Champlin's solo album “Single”. With David's career as a producer just beginning to explode, I forged a good relationship with him, working on Earth, Wind, and Fire's "I Am" album and several others. Through those two connections, my playing and arranging career started to flourish.
MD: A couple of my favorite CDs, Al Jarreau’s Jarreau and High Crime, were recorded more than 25 years ago. They still showcase some of the best horn section playing and writing of all-time. Can you share with us the experience of making those records?
JH: The Al Jarreau records are a couple of my favorite projects, too. Jay Graydon, a highly-respected studio guitarist and musician, produced these records and called me to arrange the horns. Jay preferred to work at night because of fewer distractions, so the sessions would start at around ten or eleven at night and go until six or seven A.M. We were young and that wasn't too difficult, but sessions during the daytime, which had been booked earlier, definitely suffered. Jay suggested the three trumpet, two trombone section, not wanting the “sax buzz” (in Jay’s words) in the blend of the horns; I can say that for those tunes, it was the correct call. I called my favorite players—Chuck Findley, Gary Grant, on trumpets, and Bill Reichenbach, and either Charlie Loper on Lew McCreary, on trombones. With the great musicality and jazz-oriented harmonies of Jay's production, great songs, and David Foster's influences, I had plenty of chances to fully use the abilities of this great horn section.
Jay gave me a copy of the rhythm tracks a couple weeks before the sessions, so I had plenty of time to work on the arrangements. In the studio, Jay was a perfectionist, making us play it several times until it was as good as we all knew it could be. But Jay's studio was as dead as a closet and we had really to work to make it sound like it does, resulting in many headaches. Can you say Tylenol with codeine?? Fortunately, Bill had been to New Zealand where it was an over-the- counter medicine, and he just happened to have some. Good thing, too, because we all needed it around six in the morning, especially after the tune called “High Crime”. I remember laughing at the trombones trying to play some of the trumpetistic, fancy licks I wrote. The funny thing about it was that they were making it!! Their playing was incredible on these sessions. And playing with Gary and Chuck was like wearing a favorite pair of old shoes— things were just right. Dynamics, cutoffs, phrasing, intonation, sound, you name it, the stars were in line for the three of us on these sessions.
MD: You clearly have a very special relationship with the great Quincy Jones. You've won multiple Grammy awards together. You’ve made some of the greatest records ever with Quincy. How did that relationship evolve? What do you feel is the essence of Quincy Jones and his remarkable success? Can you share a couple of your favorite projects you've done with Quincy?
JH: As I said earlier, Quincy heard about the Seawind horns through the musical grapevine and asked us to play and arrange on his “I Heard That!” album. From that one song, and David Foster’s recommendation, he asked us to work on the Brothers Johnson album called “Blam”. That was our first full project with him, and the first time that Gary Grant and myself on trumpets, Larry Williams and Kim Hutchcroft on saxes, and Bill Reichenbach on trombone worked together with Quincy. There were a few tunes that we recorded that had some of the longest fades I have ever played, and the horns, with some next to impossible parts, played the tunes all the way out to the very end. I knew things were good when we came back to the studio the next day ; Quincy and his great engineer, Bruce Swedien, were listening to the song with the five minutes plus long fade at ear splitting levels. Damn, that sounded good!
Quincy’s success is due to his musical vision. He sees each project from the beginning all the way through to the finished product. And he calls the best people to do what they do best, allowing everyone to add his personal musical touch to the project. He treats everyone with such respect that people working with Quincy want to do their absolute best for him. Of course, every session with Quincy is as good as it gets, but Michael Jackson’s have to be at or near the top. As Quincy said, everyone playing on these sessions was at the height of his career, the songs were incredible, Bruce Swedien’s engineering was ground breaking, and Quincy’s production was second to none.
MD: You are my favorite horn arranger ever. It is immediately apparent that you have exceptionally good ears. When you are called on to arrange something for a project, how often are you able write your charts in advance and how often are you doing things on the fly in the studio?
JH: Thanks for the nice words on my arranging. Fortunately, I have perfect pitch and that helps enormously in writing. I have very rarely been given a chart of the rhythm tracks, and when I have, they are usually wrong. So I can quickly take down the chords of the rhythm track and begin working on the arrangement. Hopefully people give me at least a few days to live with an arrangement so I can fine tune it, like the Jarreau charts. Most of the time, I get a couple days at least. Sometimes it needs to be written in the studio because of last minute scheduling, or the producer adds an extra song at the session. Gary Grant says that some of my best charts come out that way, but I'm not so sure. I did an arrangement on the spot for the 40th anniversary CD of Earth, Wind, and Fire a couple weeks ago. It turned out pretty well, but with a little more time spent, I could have developed it a little more.
MD: Which arrangers have had the most influence on you?
JH: I never studied arranging and never saw myself as an arranger, but in Seawind someone needed to write something for the horns to play so I started there. Then Seawind began to play some Tower of Power, Brecker Brothers, and some top 40 tunes, so I would transcribe the horn parts. Listening to all of those and having to write them for two, or at most three, horns in Seawind was a terrific teaching tool. Then when I started to work in LA, I began to seriously listen to any and all horn parts to see what worked and what didn't. I had also played in many of big bands and knew which arrangers I admired. Among them were Billy May, Billy Byers, Sammy Nestico, Nelson Riddle, Johnny Mandel, Marty Paich, and all of that generation who understood how to voice chords, make them really sound, and write figures that felt good to play. When I came to LA, as a player, I got to work with lots of writers and see how they were writing — Gene Page, Tom Tom 84 (with EWF), James Carmichael (with Lionel Richie), and a very well-respected jingle writer, Don Piestrup. I did hundreds of sessions with Don and learned much of what I know about the orchestra from him — he was as good a writer as any of us has ever worked with, in any and all musical genres. David Foster, as a producer, has also been very influential in how I write, since I worked on so many projects with him — he is very involved in all the charts, from rhythm section to horns to strings. And of course, Quincy — he taught me not to step on a vocal and showed me some voicings that changed how I wrote. Nothing earth shattering, but some tips from the old school writers that I needed to understand.
MD: I think to a certain degree the three-trumpet/ two-trombone configuration has become your signature horn section sound. What led you to this combination?
JH: Again, I mentioned earlier that Jay Graydon didn’t want saxophone in the section for the Jarreau records, so that is how that 3/2 section started. I originally used two trumpets, two saxes, and one trombone for most of my early writing on Quincy’s sessions. With trying to compete with the synthesizer revolution and the budget crunch of the industry, I paired it down to two trumpets, one trombone, and one sax. With that combination, the section is a little more flexible and, including double tracking which I always do, can cover any type of situation that is called for.
MD: Do you remember how your relationship with Bill Reichenbach got started?
JH: Maybe Bill can remember better than I can, but I think we met as players on a session and just connected. When I heard Bill play, it was easy to understand why he should be on every session I would have. He has (or as Allen Vizzutti used to say, "you HAD such a great sound at Eastman!") a great sound, a great understanding of the time feel, and is a great musician. What's not to like?
MD: In addition to the exceptional writing and state of the art playing, your section gets the best pure brass sound I've ever heard. Can you describe your approach to recording the section?
JH: When we worked with Quincy, Bruce Swedien was his engineer. Bruce goes way back with Quincy to Dinah Washington and Count Basie, so he has heard it all. Bruce had acquired microphones throughout his career, and they are in pristine condition, so when we went in to record with Quincy, I had never heard horns sound so good. I asked Bruce what he was doing differently than other engineers and he said nothing — yeah, right!! His mikes were a key to the sound, so I started picking his brain a little about them, and about his recording process. What little I found out and understood, I tried to apply to other sessions, mainly as to what mikes were going to be used. Then in recording with David Foster and his engineer Humberto Gatica, I also learned what can be done with a little processing and after-the-fact equalization and compression. With just a little bit more knowledge, I was able to incorporate that into how we now record our horns. My approach to recording is to play as intensely as possible, with the tune permitting, of course, so that intensity is transmitted when the song is mixed and the horns are placed in proper perspective. I think it was Bruce Swedien that told me that a whisper turned up loud is still a whisper, but a yell turned down softly is a yell. So with that in mind, the section plays at or near full volume, and even if it is mixed in the background, that intensity still comes through.
MD: What microphones do you like to use to record brass?
JH: Depending on the situation, my favorites are Royer ribbon mike, Neumann km54, Neumann 47 tube, Neumann FET 47, Telefunken 251, AKG C12 and a few others, sometimes depending on what is available at the studio. After playing on a session with Alan Sides, a great engineer and owner of one of the finest studios in LA, Ocean Way, I asked him what microphone I was playing into. He told me a Neumann km54, his favorite trumpet mike. It sounded so good that I have eventually bought three. I also have played many sessions on a Royer 121, which Bruce told me about several years ago. Depending on the type of music, I go back and forth between the Neumann km54 and Royer for trumpets (with one mike on two, or even three, trumpets), and the Royer is always good for trombone.
MD: I'm a big Toto fan. What's it like working with those guys?
JH: Jeff Porcaro was one of my favorite drummers to play with, and I did many sessions with him as the drummer in the rhythm section before Toto was formed. The same goes for David Paich and Steve Lukather. They were all at the pinnacle as players and decided to form Toto. Fortunately for me, they asked me to arrange horns for them and "Rosanna" was the first song we played. David is such a great musician, and with his father's guidance, knew exactly how to work with the horns. We did several sessions with them and recently I arranged a David Paich tune for George Benson. It is always great working with musicians of this quality.
MD: In 1983 I was on Buddy Rich's band. My roommate and good friend, the late bass player Dave Carpenter, played a Bill Champlin cassette for me called Runaway. That album, Earth Wind & Fire's Faces and the first self-titled Yellowjackets album were my first introduction to your writing and playing. After hearing Runaway, I became a Jerry Hey fan for life. Unbelievably great playing and writing! Bill is one of the great singer/songwriters and also seems very generous in terms of how much space he left for the horns. How was the experience working on that project?
JH: Bill's Runaway album was the second of his solo career and was produced by David Foster and engineered by Humberto Gatica. Again, the best of the best with David Foster and Humberto and the horns. I am also a big Bill Champlin fan and that goes way back to the early Sons of Champlin. I had listened to those songs and Seawind even performed a couple songs from those records, so I knew what Bill liked and what David Foster was expecting. David is very involved in the horn parts and always adds his magic to the project, even on the horn sessions.
MD: What inspires you now, musically or otherwise?
JH: Musically, some of the younger talent whom I have heard is just phenomenal, starting with Sergei Nakariakov, who isn’t necessarily too young now, but when I heard him he was still in his teens, playing some of the most incredible solo trumpet. Arturo Sandoval is another amazing talent who never ceases to amaze, in any musical situation. These days there are so many young musicians who are playing well above their years that it is hard not to be inspired by them. I can also go back to listening to Freddie Hubbard or Clifford Brown, and each time I hear them, even though I have their playing memorized, it is like hearing it again for the first time. There is so much good music available that at any given point in time, inspiration is only one listening away. As Ray Charles said, I like any music as long as it is good.
MD: What equipment are you playing on these days?
JH: Equipment has never been an issue for me because I hear so many great players playing all kinds of different setups. I have always said that anyone should play what is comfortable to them and sounds like they want it to sound. But if I have to say, for the last 20 years or so it has been a Bach 37 ML and a Bach 3C mouthpiece. I have always played a 3C rim, but had a Bob Reeves bottom made when I first came to LA. And I played a Calicchio for about ten years in the late 70's and 80's.
MD: If you could offer one piece of advice to young brass players, what would it be?
JH: Listen, listen, and then listen some more. Of course, everyone needs to practice, but once the level of proficiency has been attained, I think listening is the biggest aspect of being a great player. Also a very positive attitude always helps things work out, too.
MD: What's on your dance card in the coming months?
JH: I am mostly working with Aaron Zigman, a film composer, as his right-hand man. Aaron was a keyboard player/songwriter/producer who had written and produced many hit songs, and I had written some arrangements for those. Then in the mid 90’s, with the record business slowing down, Aaron decided to try his hand at film scoring. He asked me to be a part of his team and since 2000 he has done about 50 movies, so at times, I have been incredibly busy with that. At one point he had four movies going at the same time, and wrote for ten movies in that year. As far as horn arranging, it has been spotty, but there have been several good projects along the way. Recently we recorded for the Earth, Wind, and Fire, Mary J. Blige, a rock band called Theory of a Deadman, an English artist named Paloma Faith. I have a couple bigger projects in the future including a Seal CD with David Foster as producer.
MD: Over the course of your career is there anything you wish you could redo?
JH: Probably not. I have had a really good run at this and was fortunate to be in the right spot at the right time. Of course there are always things I thought I could have played a little better or written better, but that is just the perfectionist in me.
MD: What half dozen or so CDs would you put in a time capsule to capture the essential Jerry Hey? (I'm not sure I could limit it to that few, so feel free to expand on that number.)
JH: As you said, it is tough to limit it to a few, but here are my top picks: Al Jarreau: Jarreau, High Crime, Breakin’ Away; Seawind: (the blue cover for those of you old enough to remember vinyl!); Michael Jackson: Off the Wall, Thriller, Bad; Earth, Wind, and Fire: I Am, Raise, Powerlight; Quincy Jones: The Dude, Back on the Block, Jook Joint; Airplay; The Tubes: Outside Inside
MD: Were you a basketball fan during your IU days? Had Bobby Knight arrived at that point? Good precursor to becoming a Laker fan perhaps?
JH: Bobby Knight came after I left IU. But I was always a basketball fan and have followed IU ever since I left. But the Lakers are my sports passion. I try to never miss a game starting back in the mid 70’s when Kareem came to LA from Milwaukee. We had a little stumble this year, but I know the Laker organization will keep the Lakers at the top of the league again next year.
MD: Amongst brass playing oenophiles, you have a fairly legendary wine collection. How long have you been collecting? For those of us less knowledgeable than yourself, give us Jerry's picks for the best bottle over $100 (trumpet players) and the best bottle under $10 (trombone players)?
JH: I was lucky enough to have Don Piestrup start my passion for wine in the mid 70’s with his 8,000 bottle collection. He showed me which wines to buy, and one bottle that he literally made me buy for $200 is now worth at least $10,000. It's a good thing I got started in the crazy wine game early, because I couldn't afford to drink the good stuff at today’s prices. So for the trumpet players, I have way too many bottles over $100, but for the under $10 trombone players, I say drink Boone's Farm!! It goes well with pizza, right?
MD: Thank you Jerry for setting a standard of musicianship that gives us all something to strive for. Your playing and writing have been and continue to be a constant source of inspiration. I'm sure I speak for all when I say we are grateful for your amazing work.
JH: Mike, thanks for having me be the first of many artists on Bone2Pick. The lineup you have in upcoming issues looks tremendous and I am honored that you chose me to begin this venture. Good luck with it and I'll be reading all the interviews.