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PARIS ESCOVEDO TRIBUTE TO COKE ESCOVEDO
GRAMMY MUSEUM'S JANE ORTNER AWARD LUNCHEON
Interview by Bridgid Brousseau
" I want to enjoy my family and every aspect of life. I want to make sure that anything that I want to do, that I can do, I will do. That’s all there is to it." ~Everette Harp~
Bridgid: You started playing the piano at the age of two and the saxophone at age four. Who was it that put a saxophone in your hands at such a young age?
Everette: My parents did. They said I asked for it. I have brothers and sisters that played instruments and my brother closest to me played the trumpet. I don’t remember how it happened. I just remember having one and from that point forward I never took it out of my mouth.
Bridgid: What was it about the saxophone?
Everette: My dad played the saxophone but I had never seen him play. I found out after I got the saxophone that he had played before I was born. So he was actually the one that showed me how to put my hands on the instrument, hold it and make an embouchure to play. Beyond that I do not remember why I had the desire to have a saxophone. Everybody in my family played the piano or another instrument so the saxophone just wound up being mine. At this point I can say whether I asked for it or they chose it for me is inconsequential. It was a good move.
Everette: I can’t say that I knew I had a feeling that I wanted to make a living playing jazz but I just knew that I liked playing and I wanted to get better at it. I wanted to be really good. What that brought, who knew?
Bridgid: Your father was a minister. Did he have any reservations or qualms about you playing secular music?
Everette: Oh yeah! He did. He had no desire for me to play jazz. I played Jazz from junior high school through high school and college. Because of other things that were joined at the hip with Jazz back in the day and the pitfalls that a lot of jazz musicians fell into he was certainly not willing to throw me into the fire. He did have his qualms about it but I told him that I knew he didn’t like it but I was going to make him proud. He sat back and just watched and eventually he became my second biggest fan behind my mom. I can actually say they are both equal fans.
Bridgid: The very first song I heard of yours was “More Than You’ll Ever Know.” Of all of your songs that is my favorite by you to this day. That’s a beautiful song and the title fits it perfectly. Did the title or the song come first?
Everette: The music.
Bridgid: Is it dedicated to anyone special?
Everette: No, not really. Sometimes when I write songs the title just comes and sometimes you wind up looking for a title. Sometimes I write a song and the inspiration is there for the song which supplies the title. In the case of “More Than You’ll Ever Know" the title came effortlessly.
Bridgid: You were a member of the band called “The Franchise." I would imagine it’s a little easier to endure the setbacks as well as enjoy the successes as a group. How was it for you to branch out from that group and what made you want to go solo?
Everette: That group was a club playing band. When you say “go solo” there was no recording with that group professionally. We never had a record deal. My wife was the impetus for moving to California and eventually getting a record deal. I didn’t have one before I left that group and I was not a solo artist. I was just a working musician. So when I left that group it was to move to California and it that's when I got a total record deal. I was actually a member of the group 101 North that was recording under Capital Records before I got my record deal.
Bridgid: You have an album called “What’s Going On” from 1997. Is that dedicated to Marvin Gaye or did you have a special connection to him?
Everette: No, I have no special connection to him. That CD was a total remake of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” album. It was something that was suggested by Bruce Lundvall who recently passed away. He was the president of Blue Note Records at that time. He was doing a cover series with several artists and he asked me if I would be interested in being involved in it. When I said yes, he said that he had a record that he’d like for me to consider. When the president of the label says that he has something for you to consider, you listen.
Everette: I knew the more popular cuts off of the record. I told him I loved the two or three songs; “Mercy Mercy Me," “Inner CIty Blues” and “What’s Going On." Those were three of the more known cuts on the record and I wanted to listen to the rest of it before I said yes. I listened to the entire record from beginning to end about two or three times and I called him and said “oh no!” I had never heard anything that monumental in my life. It put the fear of God in me. I told him that there is no way that I could recreate a masterpiece like that without bastardizing it. I just said that I couldn’t do it. He asked me to reconsider. My management tried to calm me down because I was a bit intimidated by the record. So I eventually agreed to give it a shot.
Bridgid: How do you feel about the way today's artists are sampling?
Everette: I think we entered an age about 15 years or longer ago when people started sampling. It became very commonplace where we began sampling other tunes and making songs out of them. I think it became a fairly reliant perspective on doing that rather than being very original. A lot of the songs and hits especially in the urban and hip hop genre relied heavily on sampling other music. That was a bit of a huge disappointment for me because I come from and play a very creative music where we tend to try to create all of the time, especially as far as song writing goes. In the urban field, not in pop, country or rock, but in urban hip hop, it seems we’ve just kind of festered this lazy culture where they don’t write a song. They just take something that’s been done before, that people can recognize at the root and make a hit on top of it.That seems like a viable song writing process to a lot of people.
Everette: To me, it‘s a process that has come from a lack of musical knowledge. It originated from the fact that a lot of people didn’t know how to write music. However, they could hear a melody or hear different ideas and take something and put on top of it. It was their way of creating."Necessity is the mother of invention" and that in itself is a form of creativity. I applaud that but we have actual songwriters out there who can go the extra mile and learn how to write a song. Sampling comes from this whole mimicking culture. They come up with some great melodies. To me it’s just astonishing that these people just don’t write full songs.
Bridgid: That’s why I love jazz. It's harder to copy music that requires such talent and improvisational skill.
Everette: We can and do copy, especially in contemporary jazz.. We tend to mimic the urban music of the time. Except now, very few contemporary jazz artists are imitating hip hop because it’s not music that lends itself to a lot of our jazz interpretation. We tend to gravitate more towards the older R&B tunes. Regardless of whether it’s a black or white player in smooth jazz, if we’re going to do a cover, we always tend to go back and do an old R&B tune. If it’s not a cover, we get our grooves and feel from old R&B tunes.
Bridgid: This is just my personal opinion of course but there are some songs I think you just don’t touch because an artist can run the risk of butchering the original and one just can’t unring that bell. But your remakes are beautiful. How do you choose which songs you’re going to remake?
Everette: You have to first find a cover that has not been done, if so, not recently. Then you have to find a tune that speaks to you. If it speaks to you then there has to be a way that you can actually do it in a way in which you can say something and not just play an instrumental remake of the song. You need to be able to speak to the song and have it say something slightly different in which your voice can become very present and make it your own. That’s the most difficult thing to do.
Everette: A lot of times people do it by changing the chord, rhythm, putting in a different time meter or different kinds of things. I think at the end of the day when you do that you’re actually just trying to change the overall song but keep the melody. It’s not really the same song. That doesn’t mean that it’s good or bad to do that. I’m just saying it’s not necessarily the same song. It’s just that the melody has changed. I like to keep the major nuances of the song and the things that drew people to it in the first place. I think the qualities that I like to impute into most covers is to sing and interpret it the way the original singers sang it, give it my personality and then add some bells and whistles that probably weren’t there.
Bridgid: You have so many accomplishments and accolades under your belt. You’ve toured or collaborated with the crème de la crème in the music world and you were nominated for a Grammy for "Jazz Funk Soul," your collaboration with Chuck Loeb and Jeff Lorber. Some artists strive so hard for that statue of recognition. This may seem like a silly question but is winning a Grammy truly that important to you?
Everette: You know to be perfectly honest, not that much. But it is appreciated. When we did this record and it started doing really well I said to myself, “this is going to be nominated for a Grammy”. It’s not that I wouldn’t appreciate it but it’s not the kind of thing that I wanted to get into because all of a sudden you’re in a competition. I have never believed in competing with music. If there is a competition then it’s chart or sales driven and that’s not something I can control. That’s more of a pace aspect or the record company‘s business where they have to go and get the song played and get it up the chart. That’s a business. But as far as a competition goes, I never believed in competition because music is so subjective. How can there be an obvious winner? It’s pitting one against the other. We all know it’s a popularity contest and whoever has the larger voting block wins. Even if we had won, it doesn’t mean that we made the best record. It just means that we had the larger voting block that made it possible for us to win.
Everette: There is a subjective way of getting nominated that is appreciated. If your record gets nominated, it is listened to. There are criteria that they go by but it’s still subjective. It’s really hard to put a whole lot of weight on it. It is an honor to be recognized by your peers. I had to come to that conclusion after this nomination because I was really torn. I always said that I wouldn’t really be that excited about being nominated for something that’s a popularity contest but there’s really no other way for it to be done. What I see as a flawed process because of the subjectivity kind of discredits the whole thing.
Everette: There are actually a couple of different perspectives in which to look at it. It used to be in the earlier days that winning a Grammy would translate into record sales, concert dates and it meant a lot. These days it’s a whole different machine. Again, one certainly appreciates being recognized by your peers. There are a lot of people in our industry that live, sleep and eat trying to get a Grammy. I received more emails during that time period than ever from musicians congratulating me. But I think most knew how I felt about it. If it happened I wasn’t going to say I didn’t want it. I would actually be torn as to whether or not I would go. I’m not going to be a hypocrite about what I have said for years. I don’t believe in competition amongst musicians and artists.
Bridgid: My condolences on the passing of your close friend, George Duke.
I read that the two of you were so close that neither of you would record a song without the other being present.
Everette: Well, that’s not entirely accurate. We were very close but George had a lot of people who loved him dearly as much as I did. I can’t imagine it being more except from his family. He was an incredible mentor to me. George got me into the recording industry. He got me my first record deal and produced my first record. In actuality, I never recorded a record that George Duke wasn’t on. Since I met him there wasn’t a George Duke record recorded that I wasn’t on. It would have been impossible for me to be on every song that he ever wrote or produced because I would never have had time to be on the road. I wouldn’t have a career of my own. He was prolific, just as prolific as they come.
Bridgid: What would be your fondest memory of him?
Everette: I couldn’t give you one. Every opportunity that I was with George was a fond memory. One of the fondest memories would be when I first met George in high school in 1976. Stanley Clarke and George Duke were out promoting a Clarke/Duke record and they came to the high school. George was walking up the stairs and I was right behind him. I didn’t really know a whole lot about him but I touched him on his back and I said “Mr. Duke, my brother’s a really big fan of yours!” He said “that’s great kid, thank you,” and went on. That was 1976.
Everette: Fast forward twelve years when I had just moved to Los Angeles and I had just come off of a tour with Tina Marie. I received a phone call and the person said “may I speak to Everette Harp?” I said "this is Everette” and the person said “hold for George Duke please.” I stood there with my wife searching for air. George then comes on and said “Everette, this is George.” I replied, George who?” He said “George Duke!” I said “who is this?” He replied “George Duke!” This went back and forth. By the third time he finally said “Everette, this is George Duke and I’m calling to see if you would be interested in playing with Anita Baker?” I almost passed out onto the floor. I was a huge fan of his. That’s when our relationship started.
Everette: After I finished with the tour with Anita Baker, George asked me if I wanted to be part of the group called 101 North that he was putting together for Capital Records. There was a clause in the contract that said Capital Records has the first right to pick me up as a solo artist based on the recording. They chose to do that. The first words out of George’s mouth were “I knew they were going to do that, I knew you were going to be the first one to be signed!” He was very excited. So every moment with George and his family after that were unforgettable moments. His wife Corinne, rest her soul, was like a second mother to me. She held my hand through a lot of processes when I started producing the records myself. She would walk me through the administrative process which she was very familiar with. George was always there listening to my records when I had questions or if I just wanted him to hear it when I was done. There is no one singular moment that I could say that stands out. I never really thought about it like that. It’s just one big, long incredible story.
Bridgid: I see your name constantly either current touring or collaborating with someone from the past or currently doing so. Is there anyone that you haven’t played with that you’re just itching to do so?
Everette: Most of them, especially urban based are dead. If I haven’t played with them they’ve passed on. There are some pop acts that I would like to play with like Sting, Paul Simon, Eric Clapton and James Taylor. I love their music and I would just love to play sax solos. The unfortunate reality with that is if you played with those guys there aren’t going to be a lot of sax solos because they’re vocal songs. You may only get to play on four or five songs within a two hour period so it’s probably not worth it.
Bridgid: Those are very interesting, unique choices. I would have never guessed.
Everette: Well, the only person that I didn’t play with in the urban genre that I would have liked to have played with is Whitney Houston. I was offered twice and I just wasn’t available. Both of the times that I was offered I was already on the road so there was nothing I could do. I was and am still a huge fan of hers.
Bridgid: I’m sure in conjunction with wanting to play with particular artists, you in turn receive many request to collaborate with artists as well. Not mentioning any names, have you ever declined a request to play with an artist and if so, why?
Everette: If I have it's only been because of a conflict in time. If there were recordings that I've been asked to play on, the only time that I've ever declined has not been because of the artists. It might be that I'm not quite suited for the song. As musicians we need to be able to discern material that suits us so that we might be shown in the best light. It's not a matter of playing as much as possible or being as prolific as possible. Although that is something many artists aspire to do, sometimes we can record on projects where we wind up not sounding as good as we possibly can. I think that can detract from the overall body of work. Therefore, we have to be careful on some of the projects that we decide to do.
Bridgid: I've always read and therefore said that history is cyclical, particularly with the way the racial climate has been and is today. You tour the world. Have you experienced any blatant or overt racism either because someone didn’t know who you were as a professional musician or was just simply so full of racial hatred that they didn’t care?
Everette: People like to think that America is so marred in racism and the rest of the world has advanced beyond what American proclaims to be; “the land of the free and home of the brave." Racism exists everywhere. If it’s not overt racism then there is certainly an enhanced, subconscious racial awareness that lends itself to inadvertent racism.
Everette: That being said, on a whole, when you enter a country where there’s a uniformed people like, Germany, Japan, Italy or Spain and it’s a one mind, one culture country, other races, especially blacks are going to be pin-pointed. Yes, I’ve had it happen! Not a lot. Fortunately, my size tends to avert racism when it’s violent. It keeps that at bay. But there’s been some treatment from time to time and some jokes. Even from a group of guys that I’m associated with where they’re making jokes and I just tell them “guys, you really need to start spending time with other people outside of your own race.” They would say that they were just joking, but I feel if you're broader minded you wouldn't feel the need to make those kind of jokes all of the time.
Everette: I think at the end of the day you’re asking if I’ve experienced overt racism. Sure, I have! The blinders were taken off when I was twenty-two and I was called the “n” word for the first time. Thereafter, it was like the domino effect. The veil came off. Everything that was in my mind that I never really realized was racist before age twenty-two I became aware of. Thinking back it was racist. The unfortunate reality that we have as African-Americans and minorities is that it is so difficult to see when things are not about racism as opposed to thinking or feeling everything is about racism. Unfortunately, it’s not our fault. The racists make it this way. We’re so sensitive. There are things that have happened or might happen that I might have seen as racism that really wasn’t or isn't.
Everette: So when you ask a question about racist treatment in an overt manner I can say yes, it has happened. But my dad, who was a minister, was such an objective person. He would always have me sit back and look at things from other people’s perspective and try to reason. After you get through the emotional aspect, try to reason. Ask yourself “was that racism or just you being sensitive?” So when it comes to some of the racist treatment that has come my way, I can sometimes rationalize it away as my being overly sensitive or the other person not meaning it that way. But there have been some obvious ones along the way.
Bridgid: I’ve talked about this before but it never ceases to amaze me how everyone behaves so colorblind at a concert but it all ends once the concert is over and we all leave the venue.
Everette: Well, racism goes both ways. We have blacks who hate other races and that stems from them being treated wrongly by other races. That’s been set over generations. Sometimes people have a very unfortunate fear of the black man. Sometimes these fears are supported by much of the press that's given to some crime that is unfairly perceived to be committed mostly by black men. When I get on an elevator with a white woman, she subconsciously holds her purse tighter. It makes me as a man, not as a black man, feel less than a man. This whole thing that we’re going through racially right now is based on an element of our society that is trying to make us feel less than men. But their actions alone show that they are not the better men. The concept of thinking that you’re the better man says to me that you’re not the better man. If you’re out there thinking that you’re a better man than another race of people, you’ve already taken yourself out of the conversation.
Everette: Just as we can be overly sensitive, I think some white people can be too insensitive. I’ve had white friends say “oh, racism doesn’t exist like that anymore.” Really?
Bridgid: Tell us where we can expect to see your upcoming performances?
Everette: I’m working on two projects. I’m working on the “Jazz Funk Soul” record and I’m working on another solo record. I’m pretty sure the “Jazz, Funk, Soul” record will come out first because they want that now. The Everette Harp record has been put on the back but since I put out my last record in 2009. I actually hadn’t really been inspired to put out another record.
Bridgid: Why not?
Everette: I went on the road and stayed on the road. The inspiration usually comes from a burning desire to do it or the record company telling me that they want one now. I love playing. The recording process is not something I love that much. When I do a record I always lock myself away for six months. I don’t eat as often as I should, I don’t sleep much and it’s like a dungeon because it’s a job that I have to get done. But I love getting so engaged in the music and lose track of time. Sometimes I would be in my studio for 48 hours without coming out. That’s a wonderful feeling of being next to God when you’re true to your form like that. I come out about 15 pounds lighter, just decimated and not ready to go back in there for another year.
Everette: That being said, my last to records were live recordings so anything after that will entail that long, drawn out process and I haven’t been looking forward to doing that. Now, it’s a matter of having time and I haven’t had the time over the last two years to be honest. I’ve been on the road so much.
Everette: I’ve started working in Europe to try and create my profile over there. I’ve worked with a couple of different artists. One was an Italian, pop artist and the latter being a German pop-rock artist. It wasn’t my desire to play side gig with anyone ever again. I reject about half of the offers for these types of gigs because I just don’t want to do any side man work. But there is an Italian artist, his name is Eros Ramazzotti. He’s a hugely successful artist throughout all of Europe. When I looked him up and found out that he’s sold over 55 million records I thought from a business perspective this may not be a bad idea. So I did it and it turned out to be a great endeavor that exposed me to a larger audience outside of my norm. But it didn’t exactly do what I thought it would because it's difficult to cross the platforms between pop audiences and jazz audiences and expect a promoter to hire you based on the popularity you received on a pop tour. They don't believe the audiences cross. I feel like that is flawed thinking. If they can find some way to promote to that audience then it would have to pay off in some way. But that's just my thinking.
Everette: After that Peter Maffay approached me. Peter is 65 years old but he’s the largest German artist and he has sold over 50 million records in Germany alone. He’s kind of like the Bruce Springsteen of Germany. They asked me to do his record and tour and I agreed to do the record but not the tour. After the record they asked me if I would come over and do the record release party and I agreed to it. I had such a good time with them that I agreed to do the tour. This tour would only be six weeks as opposed to the Italian tour which was a year-long and toured throughout all of Europe. Peter Maffay really only works in Germany. It’s six weeks at a time, only twice during the year. So I have the rest of the year to go back and work on my record, work other gigs and do whatever else I want to do.
Everette: Being away from home for shorter periods of time as with the Maffay tour appeals to me better. I like the big gigs where I’m playing in front of 25,000-30,000 people. I really enjoy that.That's something I’ve done since I’ve played with Kenny Loggins, Anita Baker and a lot of pop and R&B artists. Kenny and Anita were two of the artists that really help me formulate my on stage personality. Anita was just so easy to watch on stage. She flowed just so effortlessly from her songs to her banter which was different every night. It was off the cuff! I learned alot from that. She was a mentor, unknowingly in that regard. She is one of the greatest singers that I have ever worked with.
Everette: When I got the opportunity to do it again and run around in front of 25,000 people where they have a ramp that goes out to the audience, circles around and comes back to the stage, being a rock star, yeah, I love that! I love entertaining! It’s something I’ve always enjoyed doing. I love running around on stage. It’s like a playground to me. If it’s a huge stage then that’s just a bigger playground and to hear people reacting just makes me go even nuttier. I play well and I love to entertain but then I also want to play jazz and have people listen. I get the best of both worlds. So, that’s what’s happening. I’m out with the Peter right now. While I’m here I’m also working on songs for the “Jazz Funk Soul” album and my next solo project. “Jazz, Funk, Soul” will be out this year. If I can have my record finished by September then it will either be out later this year or early next year.
Bridgid: So you’re in Europe now. Are you going to be touring with any of the jazz festivals here in the states?
Everette: We have some dates. We’ll definitely have the dates for “Jazz Funk Soul” with Chuck Loeb and Jeff Lorber. We have quite a few starting in July. I’ll have some solo dates that I’ll either put on Twitter or my new and updated website. It’s been busy the last six years and I’m grateful for it but I’d like to get the solo record back out there.
Bridgid: Tell your fans something that you would like us to know that we might not, anything at all.
Everette: I’m a very simple guy. If there's anything that anyone wants to know about me, it’s out there already. There are really no secrets. For instance, I’m at a resort right now near the border of Zurich and Germany. We have three days off and everybody in the band is either in the lake swimming, doing the sauna, spa, boating or biking. I’m in my room writing some music. I took a walk and went back to my room. I’m a pretty simple creature. There’s not a lot to me. If you look at anything written about me biographically within the past ten years it’s really well known that I’ve found a second passion in golf. I’m very adamant about that. I just love to play golf all of the time. Everybody knows that but there’s really nothing else.
Everette: "Tomorrow isn’t given." It has a totally different meaning now. Especially when you see many of our friends and people we have admired have died. My mom and dad are gone now. While I still feel the need to work hard I also want to enjoy what's left of my life. Breathe it in. I want to enjoy my family and every aspect of life. I want to make sure that anything that I want to do, that I can do, I will do. That’s all there is to it.
Bridgid: I could ask you questions all day. Thank you so much for taking time out to speak with me. It has been such a pleasure!
Everette: You're welcome. My pleasure!