10 Questions for Art Abrams
- Jason Vondersmith
- Portland Tribune - Features
Jazz Society of Oregon honors the man behind the Swing Machine
Art Abrams, trumpet player and band leader, has been thrilling Portland-area crowds for years, and on Aug. 14 he will be inducted into the Jazz Society of Oregon Hall of Fame.
Still reaching the high notes at 78, Abrams and the Art Abrams Swing Machine also will perform at the Mount Hood Jazz Festival, at 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 14 - the first of two days of noteworthy music at Mount Hood Community College in Gresham.
The Tribune caught up with Abrams, an Estacada resident who shared some licks and riffs:
Tribune: A jazz Hall of Fame inductee, and still going strong?
Abrams: I was totally surprised and bewildered and honored at the same time. I'm in good company. I'm more selective about shows now, and I still DJ for KMHD (89.1 FM), 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays, and Juke Box Saturday Night.
Tribune: You get a kick out of being a DJ in 2009?
Abrams: Today, jazz is a lot more grown up. It was blues, swing and be-hop for me growing up. It's not really 'eclectic' now, but there's more fusion under rock and jazz. There's almost no designated sound.
Tribune: Not much turnover in the Swing Machine?
Abrams: Very little. Trying to keep a 17-piece band together is hard, and the only reason we stay together is because the musicians are dedicated and they like the music I hand them.
Tribune: What other types of music do you like?
Abrams: I like Elvis. Something in his music … the sincerity, honestly coming out of him. It came from the heart, that's what gets me. Like 'Love Me Tender.' And, The Beatles, never a fan of their sound, but things they wrote were absolutely superb.
Tribune: What new music do you like?
Abrams: I like One For All, which features Eric Alexander, Jim Rotundi and Joe Farnworth. Straight-ahead jazz, contemporary. They're all leaders in their own right who get together. Duke Ellington summed it up best, though. There's good music and bad music. And, if a band has great musicians, if they don't have good music to play, talents don't come out. I have to give it to the arranger.
Tribune: Which of your songs make you tap your toe?
Abrams: I enjoy them all, and you have to look at the audience. We have a great arrangement of 'Sing, Sing, Sing,' the Benny Goodman classic. We've had Harry James' trumpet solo arranged for four horns. The amazing thing is, I'm 78, and we play weddings and things and people 21, 22, 23 years old ask, 'Are you going to play, 'Sing, Sing, Sing?' ' It's outlived Benny and all their musicians.
And, Glenn Miller's 'In The Mood' seems to get people on the dance floor.
Tribune: You got away from music, after growing up in Los Angeles, attending Hollywood High and L.A. City College and playing clubs down there, inspired by the tunes of Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Woody Herman, Glenn Miller and Harry James?
Abrams: I had packed away my horn when I came here in (the 1980s). I got connected with KMHD, they wanted DJs, and my manager saw my background and asked if we could put a band together to help the station. The band somehow caught on, and in 1988-89 I put the first Swing Machine together.
Tribune: You strive for perfection?
Abrams: You have to, you may not get it all the time; name bands of the past didn't get it all the time. I was a big Stan Kenton fan growing up, and I heard him say you start with perfection and get as close as you can. If you just go out and do a gig … I wouldn't be in this business if I wasn't still excited about it. If I'm ever about doing the gig, getting paid and going home, I'm out of it.
Tribune: It's been a great living in your later years, the band and radio gigs?
Abrams: I was semi-retired when I moved up here, and it's tough to find a full-time job when you're older. (Music) has been pretty much my life; even when I managed retail stores in L.A., I was a working musician at night.
Tribune: You've recently put out 'Children of the Night,' your third CD, but any plans to retire?
Abrams: In April I had back spine surgery, and I was out of circulation for five weeks. I don't know what else I'd be happy doing. I'll do this as long as I can have a good band. If it comes to the point where I feel the business is stale, I'll forcibly drop out. A musician has to go in his own direction.