Wayne Wallace’s pace, music sizzle – reproduced from the San Francisco Chronicle
by Lee Hildebrand
June 30, 2013
Wayne Wallace’s many musical roles don’t allow much time for work as a sideman these days.
Trombonist Wayne Wallace was once one of the busiest sidemen in the Bay Area. He joined the musicians union while still a student at San Francisco’s Balboa High School and went on to play in the horn section at the Circle Star Theater behind such stars as Pearl Bailey, Diahann Carroll and Sammy Davis Jr.
He worked with Con Funk Shun and bands led by Woody Shaw, Cesar Ascarrunz, Pete Escovedo, Mark Levine, John Santos and Anthony Brown, among many others. And he played on hit records by Aretha Franklin and Whitney Houston, although they weren’t in the studio when he overdubbed horn parts on their recorded tracks.
“I had a varied and very rich musical tapestry to work with at that time,” Wallace, 61, reflects while sitting in the dining room of the Lakeview district home in which he grew up and to which he returned after his mother’s death. He’s wearing a dark gray Giants hooded sweatshirt. A Giants-Braves game plays on the large-screen TV in the adjacent living room.
Leader, teacher, label owner
Wallace remains as busy as ever – perhaps more so – but he no longer takes many sideman gigs. For the past two decades, he’s focused on his own music, as leader of a Latin jazz quintet, teacher of private students and at several colleges, owner of a record company and arranger of big-band charts for high school and college jazz orchestras around the world.
The just-released “Latin Jazz-Jazz Latin” is the eighth CD by Wallace to appear on his Patois label since its inception in 2006. The company also has issued albums by other artists, including instrumentalists Paul and Marc van Wageningen and vocalists Trelawny Rose and Amikaeyla Gaston. Wallace’s daughter, Sheryl Lynn Thomas, 34, helps out with promotion, advertising and album design.
In addition to the members of Wallace’s Latin Jazz Quintet – pianist Murray Low, bassist David Belove, trap drummer Colin Douglas and percussionist Michael Spiro – “Latin Jazz-Jazz Latin” boasts a number of guest musicians.
Among them are percussionist Escovedo, 77, and flutist Elena Pinderhughes, 18. The track list is made up of six Wallace compositions, one written in collaboration with Spiro, along with Latinized treatments of jazz standards by John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington and Mercer Ellington.
“I was trying to get across how the perception of jazz is viewed in the United States as opposed to Latin America,” Wallace says of the concept behind the disc.
“We think in terms of Latin jazz as jazz with a little bit of Latin put on top of it. They think of it as Latin with a little bit of jazz put on top. Where the two styles and the countries and the different parts of the African diaspora intersect is the point I was trying to make musically. There’s never really one pure style through many of the songs. The two cha-cha-chas are pretty stylistically clear, but there’s a lot of mixing of styles.”
His arrangement of “Things Ain’t What the Used to Be,” a blues shuffle written by Mercer Ellington and popularized by his famous father’s orchestra, begins with a few bars of unaccompanied trombone before an Afro-Cuban vocal chant and a highly syncopated Nigerian Abakua groove in 6/8 time kick in. An African American shuffle beat is then superimposed over the Abakua rhythm, which drops out completely during one chorus of guest violinist Mads Tolling’s solo.
Mashup of styles
“I thought with the title being ‘Things Ain’t What They Used to Be,’ ” Wallace says, “it was an appropriate song to do a mashup of styles.”
In August, Wallace is planning to issue a two-CD compilation on Patois Records titled “Salsa de La Bahia,” featuring 22 tracks by such Bay Area Latin jazz and salsa artists as Santos, Benny Velarde, Anthony Blea, Edgardo Cambon, Jesus Diaz and John Calloway.
It’s intended as a companion to “The Last Mambo,” a documentary by filmmaker Rita Hargrave slated for release on DVD next year by Patois.
The trombonist played mostly R&B and straight-ahead jazz early in his career but developed a special passion for Latin jazz during the late 1970s and early ’80s through a regular Monday night gig with Pete and Sheila Escovedo’s group at Keystone Korner in North Beach and a stint with pianist Ascarrunz’s salsa band at Cesar’s Latin Palace on Mission Street.
He traveled to Cuba three times between 1993 and 2000 to study the music and culture of the island nation. He also has been studying Spanish in earnest for the past 20 years. He likes reading fiction and ethnomusicology books in Spanish but admits to sometimes having to consult a dictionary.
Dreaming in Spanish
“I have enough Spanish after all these years that I’m fine with talking to people,” he says. “I’m not as good as I would like to be, but I can dream in Spanish. I’ve done that a couple of times.”
In recent weeks, Wallace ended his long-term teaching jobs at San Jose State University, the Jazzschool in Berkeley and the School for Music & Arts in Mountain View in preparation for a new academic gig as a professor of practice at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music. Beginning in August, he’ll be teaching classes in jazz history and trombone and working with Spiro, who was been on the Indiana faculty for the past five years, on the school’s Afro-Caribbean band.
Wallace plans to spend three weeks out of each month in Bloomington, Ind., and one at home in San Francisco tending to his band, record company and other interests. Being extremely active will be nothing new to the remarkably disciplined trombonist.
“I seem to have time to do all these things,” he says. “I get up early because of East Coast time. I make sure I’m up around 6 or 7, and I check in with my press people in Massachusetts. Now that I’m involved with Indiana, I make sure I give them something before their lunch time. I don’t wait till 9 o’clock.”
Lee Hildebrand is a freelance writer. E-mail: email@example.com