Now in his 70’s US sax star Don Menza is unquestionably one of the Elder Statesmen of International Jazz. Not only is he a powerful tenor saxophonist, with a dynamic and distinctive sound and soloing style but his tunes and arrangements have been featured by some of the finest Big Bands in the jazz pantheon. After leaving the army as a young man in 1960 he joined the Maynard Ferguson Orchestra as both a soloist and an arranger, followed by a short tenure with Stan Kenton before a period living in Germany (1964-1968). After returning to the U.S. he joined Buddy Rich’s 1968 big band in the “jazz tenor” chair before finally settling in California. Since then he has worked with the likes of Elvin Jones and Louie Bellson as well as working extensively as an educator and in the studios, including a long stint as a member of Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show Band. His compositions, such as “Groovin’ Hard” and “Time Check” (both favourites of Doc Severinsen’s NBC Orchestra and Buddy Rich’s Big Band) have become part of the standard Big Band repertoire worldwide. In 2005 Don Menza was inducted into the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame. Also featured tonight will be Renato Chicco on organ and Berndt Reiter on drums. A rare chance to hear this iconic sax player outside of the US and not to be missed.
"Nina Never Knew" is a sweet and lovely slow ballad that is all Don Menza, with a magnificent and emotional tenor solo.” AllAboutJazz;
606: You've worked with some truly stellar big bands, including those of Maynard Ferguson, Louie Bellson, Buddy Rich and even the great Stan Kenton. What attracted you to that format, and has that experience had an ongoing influence on your playing style?
DM: Back then it was the time for big bands and this was a really good chance for me to go on tour to play. It was a lot of fun and a wonderful experience but it still it didn’t influence my style too much, I already had my direction before from all the great saxophone players I heard, starting with Coleman Hawkins.
606: You are acclaimed for your writing & arranging skills as well as your performance abilities. What are the fundamentals you consider when you are writing a big band chart? What tips might you be able to pass on, perhaps tips you picked up from studying the charts of other arrangers you admire?
DM: I never studied charts of other arrangers, I checked out mostly classical scores as many other arrangers ot that time too. When I write I always think of sounds and melodies and basically my arranging is self-taught, also influenced from listening to records.
606: You'll be playing with an organ trio (Don Menza, saxophone; Renato Chicco, organ & Bernd Reiter, drums) at the 606 Club. How does your approach differ when playing in that setting compared to a larger group?
DM: Basically the line-up should not change anything in my playing and also in the organ trio setting I have the same approach to the saxophone and the way I want to play. Of course the organ is an intense instrument and I have to be really strong and blow hard but still I want to stay in my style as much as possible.
606. We see that you have a new recording out with your trio, "Non Dimenticar". Can you tell us about it?
DM: Here I can give you just the liner notes that I wrote for the recording, it says everything:
606: You've been around to witness a pretty huge arc of jazz's development as a genre, starting out as you did professionally in the early 1960's. A lot of jazz from the 50's and 60's is referred to as "modern", but what does that really mean? Is the term modern jazz even relevant anymore, or is it so vague in its definition as to be meaningless? Stylistically, where do you place yourself, what are your reference points?
DM: For me the term 'modern’ doesn’t mean much in jazz any more, I never thought about being modern or old fashioned or whatever. I always wanted to be a swinging saxophone player based on Swing, Bebop and lyrical saxophone playing, so basically starting with Coleman Hawkins and going up to the lyrical sound of John Coltrane, I really loved his playing with Miles Davis. My main influences are the sound of Coleman Hawkins, the technique of Stan Getz and Sonny Stitt, the ballad playing of Gene Ammons and the humor of Sonny Rollins who is a really good friend of mine. I always try to create my own voice out of all the great masters I heard and met in my life.
606: What excites you about jazz music today, and where do you see it headed? Are there any particular up-and-coming artists you particularly like & might wish to recommend we listen to?
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