“What I like about my trio is that it is swing based,” pianist/composer Joey Calderazzo says. “Meaning, it’s out of the tradition of jazz. I’m using the entire history of jazz to create, for a lack of a better word, a modern statement. I try to fuse elements of my heroes: Herbie, Monk, Chick, Keith, Ahmad, Bud, Wynton Kelly, Red Garland, and mix it all up in a blender and there it is: A Joey smoothie!”
Joey Calderazzo’s trio with Donald Edwards (drums) and Orlando LeFleming (bass) has subtly, almost methodically, developed into one of the most adventurous outfits in jazz as heard on their new release, Joey Calderazzo Trio Live. But that’s not surprising given its leader’s pedigree. Calderazzo has burned a celebrated path forward as a composer and accompanist (and best friend) with arguably the two most important tenor saxophonists of the past 40 years. First, with the greatly missed Michael Brecker (1987-2005), and currently as a member of Branford Marsalis’ great quartet (1999-present). Calderazzo has recorded a total of nine solo and trio records, garnered Grammy Awards and various honorees. He’s also an adjunct professor at North Carolina Central University. Calderazzo always puts the music first -- personalities, politics, be damned.
“It’s pretty cool,” Calderazzo reflects, regarding his tenure as pianist #1 with the world’s major tenor saxophonists. “Maybe it’s my fearlessness as a player, and my ability to go for shit. I played with Jerry Bergonzi and Bob Berg a lot too. This is what’s so funny about being the new kid on the block: during the first year with Mike Brecker I got calls from George Benson and Wayne Shorter’s people but I couldn’t do it due to Brecker’s intensive touring schedule. I would have loved to played with those guys but I was loyal to Mike and felt I still had a lot to learn from him."
Even while holding down important piano chairs, Calderazzo recorded multiple albums as a leader and many more as an accompanist with Rick Margitza, Bob Mintzer, George Garzone, and Vincent Herring, to name a few. He contributed material to Brecker’s Tales from the Hudson and Two Blocks from the Edge and continues to collaborate with Branford Marsalis. His three Blue Note albums, In The Door, To Know One, and The Traveler, were recorded during some of the busiest times of his life, and reflected his singularity and musical development.
With his rich catalog as accompanist and leader, Joey Calderazzo is indisputably one of the finest pianists in jazz. He lays it all out -- in conversation, in performance, and on recordings. There’s no filter between the musician and the music. Typically being the youngest musician in an established group has made Calderazzo a tough nut, a fearless improviser, and an outspoken individual.
Born into a musical family in New Rochelle, New York on February 27, 1965, Joey Calderazzo began piano at six years old. Studies with a stern Russian instructor were followed by a stint in a high school jazz band, and further studies with Richie Beirach.
“My first jazz record was a compilation with Oscar Peterson playing ‘Take The A Train,’” he recalls. “I listened to that over and over. I was in a rock band at 14, then we started playing jazz after the guitar player returned from Berklee. I got into Weather Report, Return to Forever. Then it went in a hurry to McCoy Tyner and Coltrane. Trane’s band was like the acoustic Led Zeppelin. That power and energy attracted me. Then I got into Herbie, and Chick’s Now He Sings, Now He Sobs, Keith Jarrett’s My Song, and his Impulse recordings. And I liked the first trio recordings with Jack DeJohnette and Gary Peacock.”
When his bandmates attended Berklee Calderazzo tagged along. He was soon hanging out -- and eventually gigging -- with then Berklee students Branford Marsalis, Wallace Roney, Donald Harrison and Jeff “Tain” Watts.
“They were all there, when I was 15 in 1979,” Calderazzo says. “The first song I ever played with Branford was ‘Moment’s Notice.’ I wanted it.
“I eventually took Kenny Kirkland’s chair – twice,” he continues. “Kenny went with Sting and Brecker asked me to join, then he passed and I joined Branford. But back then I was too dumb and too young to realize anything. But due to my training from age nine to 15, I was a good reader. From years of practice, I was prepared.”
After dropping out of Long Island University in the late 1980s, Calderazzo met Michael Brecker.
“I went to one of Mike’s clinics and we played together,” he recalls. “I had a hotel gig in White Plains. We burned the place down. We played ‘Impressions,’ ‘Giant Steps.’ Then Mike came and played the gig! We paid him 100 bucks. He said ‘I would have done it for nothing. I just wanted to play with you again.’ When Kenny Kirkland split Mike called me and it was on.”
Ceaseless touring didn’t prevent Calderazzo from recording albums for Blue Note, followed by a string of solo piano and trio records. In The Door, To Know One and The Traveler (Blue Note, 1993) were followed by Secrets (Audioquest, 1995), Our Standards (Gowi, 1996), Simply Music (Lost Chart, 1997), Joey Calderazzo (Sony, 2000), Haiku (Marsalis Music, 2003) and Amanecer (Marsalis/Rounder, 2007). As Branford Marsalis’ main collaborator, Calderazzo has recorded such albums as Music Evolution, Braggtown, Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, Metamorphosen, and most recently the Marsalis/Calderazzo duo recording, Songs of Mirth and Melancholy. But he’s most excited about his current release, Live, and his current trio.
“It’s spur of the moment, rhythms being played, harmonies being changed, it’s not that old traditional thing of supporting the soloist then on from there. One night we might play a song as a bossa, then the next night as a ballad, it could be open with no time at all or as a fast jazz tune, there’s no preconceived notion. We have a constant dialogue. It’s me bouncing off the bass and the drums. I have ideas in my head but they’re changing on the spot via the drums and the bass.
“Musically, I like cornering yourself and trying to get out of it,” Calderazzo adds. “You paint yourself into a corner and then figure a way to get out of it. That is the challenge with this trio.”
"Amanecer" One Sheet PDF
"Songs of Mirth and Melancholy" (Branford Marsalis & Joey Calderazzo) One Sheet PDF