The Trove: Alonzo Wright

‘Zo and his beloved instrument.

I caught up with saxophonist Alonzo Wright recently for a virtual chitchat since Snowmaggedon 2010 is preventing a sit-down even as we are both in the Washington Metropolitan area now.  How àpropos.  It’s been over a decade since we met at a book launch and our communication mode has changed along with the times, now keeping up with each other’s lives largely on Facebook.

The Brooklyn-bred Harlem resident — I forgive him for defecting — is actually a multi-instrumentalist, playing not only the sax, but also flute and percussion (as well as piano, for writing.)  He picked up his first instrument, the clarinet, at age eight, but it wasn’t until high school when he wrote his first song that he realized his life’s passion.  To the chagrin of his mother, his avocation became obsession.  That song, Shooting the Gaps is the first tune on his independently produced solo recording, Bitz of Pieces (buy the CD or MP3 download at CD Baby.)  A nearly 20-year gestation, the jazz fusion album is a testament to Alonzo’s tenacity.  Over the years, advances in technology have made it cost-effective for him to self-produce, and complete the mélange of musical styles “in bits and pieces,” his vision “the glue that made the process work.”  The ten original compositions on”Bitz” feature the talents of many gifted industry friends: Bob Baldwin, Onaje Allan Gumbs, Vincent Henry, Will Downing, Marvin Sewell, Buddy Williams, Garvin Blake, Larry Marsden, Bashiri Johnson, Reggie Washington, Audrey Wheeler-Downing, Eric Smith, Ray Vega and Kenny Davis.

I consider myself a late bloomer in a lot of ways.  I always juggled working nine-to-fives while trying to pursue my music…but I persisted. The long and short of it is, I will be and would [have been] involved with music in one way or another, because it’s what feeds my soul and spirit.

Greatly influenced by Grover Washington, Jr. and Ronnie Laws (whom he met just two weeks ago) on his main instrument, he counts the now-defunct New York jazz radio station WRVR as his “most important music teacher.”

I used to listen to ‘RVR ALL the time. They had some great DJ’s, who would tell you about the music they played and who played it, very informative.  The fact that they played different styles and types right behind each other allowed me to appreciate the different nuances in the music.  You would hear, Ella Fitzgerald, Weather Report, Count Basie, Spyro Gyra, Jon Lucien, Return To Forever, all back to back, amazing.   I, along with many others, cried the day they went off the air (in 1980.)”

His mother from Trinidad, his father from the Lesser Antilles island of St.Vincent, Alonzo has integrated his heritage into his music, notably in the calypso vibe of Freedom Parkway, not at all out-of-place on J’ouvert. An “ode to my Caribbean roots,” he says. He feels nourished when he is able to travel and “experience the music and culture of other places.  I make it a point to get indigenous music, wherever I go.”

In partnership with Kendall Scott on guitar and keyboards, Alonzo, playing saxophone, flute, percussion and wind synthesizer, released Asi (“it’s obvious” in Swahili) in 2004.  Though he has done session work, road managed other artists and produced, arranged and written for them, it is the writing and performing of his own original music that is his primary focus.  Now with the release of his solo effort, he is planning shows for Spring.  Visit his myspace page to needle drop and check for news and upcoming dates.

‘Zo and the fruit of his two-decade labor.

Alonzo adores a good joke, a good time, playing softball and of course his longtime love Lynda, but what else makes the sax master swoon, his impish grin in full effect?

1. Yanagisawa Saxophones. Since the 1954 introduction of the T-3 tenor sax, Tokyo’s “Yani” plant has prided itself on producing saxophones of unparalleled quality and enviable ease-of-use. Alonzo is partial to Japanese-made horns (he owns Yamahas as well) “well made, solid and consistent,” he plays them exclusively.

2. My iPod. Well actually, iPods.  He has two 160 gig Black Classics, usually on shuffle. “The ability to have as much music at my fingertips as I have in my head just makes me giddy.”

3. Florence, Italy. “I was introduced to Firenze by Lynda. I enjoyed going for early morning runs in the hills. And of course the best food in the world.”  Indeed. “Great food, great charm, great history, great people.”

Florence Sunset, Italy © Jon Rawlinson

4. In-n-Out Burgers. “You would have to taste them to know what I am talking about. Double-double with a side of fries… While on tour once, I ate it everyday. Normally my first stop from the airport.”

5. My brand new Palm Pre Plus. “I have been a long time Palm-based product user, so I am loyal.  It is on a new operating system, which is very efficient and productive.  I waited ’til it came to my mobile carrier, and it was well worth the wait.  Might end up being the last cell phone I ever own.”

6. Buffalo Wings. “My guilty pleasure, yum, yum… I am partial to the wings at Blondie’s, an upper west side sports bar.”

7. N.Y. Mets. “For better or worse,” he says. “The first game I remember seeing was the third game of the ’69 World Series, and I’ve been hooked since then.”

Photo, SodaHead.com

8. Biographies. I love reading and learning about others journeys through this thing we call life.

Some of ‘Zo’s favorites.  Also topping his list are: Miles Davis: An Autobiography;  John Coltrane: His Life and Music; Jean-Michel Basquiat and Open Sky: Sonny Rollins.

9. NPR. It is refreshing to hear all the different and informative programming they have.

 

NPR headquarters in Washington, DC.  Photo: Drew Saunders.

 

10. Independent Movies. As an artist, I find it refreshing to see an art form that challenges normal convention.

 

 

A few of the indie films that Alonzo loves.

 

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26 Responses

  1. I really enjoyed reading this article, it remains me of a present time scene from the life of a jazz great. It’s a very New Year story……say Baldwin could have written it, it certainly has the feeling of Another Country just cleaned up and crisp for our times. Thanks

  2. Like the profile/layout and design…

  3. Interesting, my grandfather (my Mother’s father) is from St.Vincent. It is a small island and just maybe I have a Jazz musician cuz.
    This was a lovely article. I agree with Rodney, the writing is beautiful.

  4. Bravo my friend Alonzo. Much love to you from the person who has known how talented you are for a long long time.

  5. That’s my Zo! You’ve captured him fully.

  6. No little sister could ever be prouder of her big brother than I am of mine!

  7. Proud and please to have you both as neighbors. I love my “free” concerts when you practice. Harlem has always been the place to be and Lynda and I are blessed to have you and Mr. Bassman as our muse.

  8. Ditto “Doc”! My recovery was aided through the “free” concerts. Zo is fabulous!!! I love you! Thanks! Much, much blessings!
    Nita

  9. This is a great article and I am proud of my baby brother

  10. What a great way for me to catch up with you after all this time. Hope you’re well. Sounds like good press to me and you deserve it.

  11. He won me over with his sax serenade on our first date and I’ve been his number one fan since. I’m proud of all that he continues to accomplish. His tenacity to see his musical aspirations through is so inspiring. Keep making music.

  12. Tenacity and honesty. These are the best words to describe my friend Alonzo. And it’s the way he approaches his music along with a huge helping of soulfulness that sets him apart from the countless players out there. When is the new joint droppin?

    Peace and blessings to you and Lynda.

  13. Nice one Alonzo,

    great CD my man the music is pure groove with an edge Grover would be proud of you.

    You are a true keeper of the flame.

    Peace

    David Angol

  14. Great piece Sharon!

    The beauty of Alonzo’s character and artistry is that he marches to the beat of his own drumming. Never one to sit around waiting for things to happen, he’s always done the work to MAKE things happen (and those nine-to-fives he mentions were just a means to his musical ends). Long ago he was one of the most encouraging voices in my ear when I made the transition from office drone to independent writer, and his example continues to inspire.

    Self determination — he’s about it. And, thankfully, technology has caught up with his independent spirit, allowing him to better disseminate the music he makes and loves.

    • Thanks, Julia for the compliment but also for your ever-incisive commentary.

  15. What a treat! Can’t wait to share with the kids and Darrell. Nice to learn more about what inspires you and influences you. Sure they will enjoy this as much as I did. Great piece!

  16. Lovely artical, its nice to know that I have such a talented Cousin, cant wait for him to do a concert in England.

  17. Great article; Wish you the best in all your endeavours!

  18. My Brother, As u know… I love the album! This is a great article, learned so much about u. When I come to New York, please get me some ‘In n out’ fries. Thanks Lynda for bringing Alonzo into my life. Love u both, when r u coming to visit me in Ja?

    I love JAZZ FUSION!

  19. Alonzo, you have always had the heart for the real stuff. You have one of the largest music collection of anyone I know.
    May the fruits of your labour rain sustenance, abundance and all the blessings…

  20. Wow what a great Interview Alonzo I learned so much more about u and your amazing talent.
    Wishing you the very best and even more success!

  21. Very nice article, Alonzo! It’s nice to venture inside your life a little to see what makes you “tick” and where you come from. Thanks for enlightening us all and keep on that musical mission, my friend….all the best,

    GA

  22. Alonzo…
    You have always been a man on a musical mission!!!
    Thanks for the inspiration and wonderful sounds I see whenever you play….

    Peace, Love and all that sorta Jazz!
    Verna Hart

  23. Amazing work..I am dually impressed

  24. Loved the concert…and the phone. This was a really nice piece about a special brother. Live the dream. Net.

  25. Hey Alonzo,

    Interesting article…glad to see you still doing your thing Late Bloomer.

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