George Garzone

December 13, 2018
George Garzone

A Berklee Global Jazz Institute (BGJI) artist in residence, saxophonist George Garzone is a member of the Fringe, a jazz trio founded in 1972 that includes bassist John Lockwood and drummer Bob Gullotti, and a member of the Grammy-winning Joe Lovano Nonet. A veteran jazzman, Garzone has appeared on more than 20 recordings and has guested in many situations, touring Europe with Jamaaladeen Tacuma and performing with Danilo Pérez, Joe Lovano, Jack DeJohnette, Rachel Z, and John Patitucci, among others. A sought-after jazz educator, he is a professor in the Woodwind Department at Berklee. Here he discusses the international aspect of the BGJI and more in an interview with Berklee student Itzel Salinas Reyna.

There is a saxophone tradition in your family. What did you learn the most from them?

The big thing they taught me was about sound. My Uncle Rocco was from Calabria, Italy, and southern Italians were all about the sound, like [singers] Luciano Pavarotti and Mario Lanza, so the Italians grew up hearing that and were able to imitate or duplicate a singing voice in the saxophone. That’s what [my uncle] did; he was really good, he had a beautiful sound. Then he taught his son, my cousin, so as I grew up and started to play, I heard the sound and was able to adapt to the sound, because they were all family. It wasn’t until I met Joe Lovano that I heard that sound, that I felt was a family sound.

Now, there’s really no tradition. When the kids are learning, they are too concerned about how many notes they want to play and who they want to sound like. Some of these people don’t even know who Stan Getz is; it's interesting, and I’m not putting them down, [but] you need to listen to Sonny Rollins, and Ben Webster, and Coleman Hawkins to get that, and sometimes they're like, “Well, that’s old.” But if you’re going to play this idiom of jazz that we play, even Michael Brecker wants you to listen to someone older than he is.

What did you find most appealing when Danilo Pérez invited you to be a part of the BGJI?

I was like, “Oh, absolutely.” Being with Danilo and everyone, and [being a part of] the forums, with the students, seeing my good friend Joe Lovano almost every other week, it's a very healthy environment.

Can you say a little bit about the kind of impact that the BGJI has had on your music and on you as a person?

The level of students is high, as is [the level of] the people that they bring in here. Danilo is really strict about who gets in and what they need to do, so the criteria is really good. Just being around that, the people are serious. Danilo was my student at Berklee when he came here, you know: he was in my ensemble, and you knew when he was 18 or 19 that this guy was going to go someplace soon.

Do you have a favorite experience with the students since you came to the BGJI?

The students are at such a high level that they are all good experiences. The big thing for me with all of them is to see how they progress and get better. So I can’t really say, well, this guy is the best, my favorite; they’re all really cool.

In a past interview, you said that sometimes students need to hear that it’s okay to make mistakes. Could you talk a little bit about that?

I was just talking about this in an ensemble yesterday. Everyone is too afraid to stretch out of what everyone plays for fear of what their friend is going to say about them. You make a mistake enough times until you figure out that the mistake is right, and then it's not a mistake any more. There’s no wrong in music: the only time it’s wrong is when you think it’s wrong. But the way I look at music and my playing, there are no wrong notes, and people like Monk said that, and Lee Konitz, people that were not afraid to stretch out and express.

How important do you find the international aspect of the BGJI in terms of helping students develop their compassion and their ability to bring their lives into music and help other people?

Danilo is big on that, and I didn’t realize it until I came to the BGJI. The students go to Africa, and I was like, wow, I’ve never thought about [this] because I’m too busy playing gigs and teaching, and all they do is try to help the world, especially in Panama. It makes the students realize that no matter where they come from, not just America, how lucky they are to be here or to come from wherever they come from. I think that a lot of the success of the BGJI is that they are looking for more than just to teach a student how to play. It really woke me up, too, and it made me realize, “Oh, I’m wonder if I’m doing enough for people.”