Pianist Rick Germanson is one of many Milwaukee-born and bred musicians who have become stalwarts on the New York jazz scene. His new disc, "Off the Cuff," is a testament both to how ingrained he's become in the Big Apple, and how he's maintained ties to Milwaukee.
The drummer on the 10-song disc -- produced by Germanson and Rob Dixon and released by Owl Studios Records -- is no less than Louis Hayes, an original member of Horace Silver's 1950s quintet, then Cannonball Adderley's five-man squad and, later, Oscar Peterson's trio. His credits boast work with John Coltrane, Kenny Burrell, Curtis Fuller, Joe Henderson, Bobby Timmons, Hank Mobley, Freddie Hubbard, McCoy Tyner and on and on and on.
The bassist, however, is Racine's Gerald Cannon, who arrived in New York in 1988, 10 years before Germanson made the move.
Since his arrival, Germanson has played with Frank Morgan (who also has Milwaukee ties), Elvin Jones, Slide Hampton, George Coleman, Pat Martino and others. It was in the Cannonball Legacy Band, led by Hayes, that Germanson first worked with the veteran stickman.
"Off the Cuff" is Germanson's third outing as a leader, following "Heights," a 2003 quintet session, and "You Tell Me," a trio date from 2005.
We caught up with Germanson to ask about the new record -- a mix of original tunes and familiar material like "This Time The Dream's On Me" and "Autumn in New York" -- about breaking into the New York jazz world, Milwaukee's jazz scene and more.
OnMilwaukee.com: You've been in New York more than a decade now. Are you comfortable there -- as a musician and as a resident?
Rick Germanson: I am comfortable with it now, but it does take a few years. I was comfortable as a musician first, that's why I moved here, there are many more people that relate to what you do, and you find a lot of musicians / friends that you immediately have something in common with.
OMC: Do you ever miss home?
RG: I do miss my parents and family and some close friends that are in Milwaukee ... and Conejito's!
OMC: There are quite a few Milwaukee jazz musicians in New York; do you all get together or make opportunities to work together?
RG: We try to. I feel that we all look out for one another as much as we can. The problem is that everyone has to look out for themselves first, which in NYC is enough of a task. I still work with Brian Lynch occasionally and see all the Milwaukee cats out on the scene at a jam session or on other gigs. Some of us get together to watch Packers' games. As far as playing together, there are so many players to choose from in NYC, but if we find ourselves together on a gig, all the better. It's really great when we see each other out on tour, like at a festival in Europe.
OMC: Of course, Gerald Cannon is one of those ex-pats, too. Did you know him and work with him here before going to New York?
RG: Yes, he is from Racine. I've worked with Gerald for almost 15 years. In Milwaukee, I played in his band The Jazz Elements. Since being in NYC we've found ourselves working in each others groups and together with the likes of Slide Hampton, Jimmy Cobb, Louis Hayes, Elvin Jones, Pat Martino, etc.
OMC: You've been working with the great Louis Hayes for a long time now, haven't you, with the Cannonball Legacy Band? How did you become involved in that project?
RG: Our first gig was at (New Yorkclub) Sweet Basil in 2000, and we've been together ever since. We've toured Europe, North and South America -- Hawaii in January '04 was a highlight -- and made two records. I was initially recommended for that project by the trumpeter Jeremy Pelt.
OMC: What's the significance of the title of the new disc? Does it imply you recorded it in a sort of impromptu way?
RG: Yes, much of the recording was done in that way. I didn't want to get to heavily bogged down with specific arrangements, we had a short casual run-through the day before and then just went "hit!" Much of it was done in one take.
OMC: Have you been working with this group or did you assemble the musicians specifically for the project?
RG: It was just put together for this project. I really wanted to document Louis Hayes playing on one of my recordings. But the three of us have been working together in various situations for years now, on and off. It would be great if I could parlay it into a steadily working trio.
OMC: Do you get home much these days?
RG: I usually get home at least twice a year.
OMC: What's your take on the current state of the jazz scene here?
RG: I can't speak for the current jazz scene in Milwaukee since I am not actually apart of it day to day. I can speak for how it was when I came up in that I feel blessed to have been able to study with David Hazeltine and then subsequently work with people like Berkeley Fudge, Skip Crumby-Bey, Manty Ellis, Luis Diaz, Vic Soward and Gerald. I was able to learn a lot on the bandstand at a relatively young age, which is a great opportunity.
OMC: Now that the record is done, will you be back to celebrate it's release in your hometown?
RG: I was just at The Estate at the end of April with my friend and great trumpeter Jim Rotondi and we had a tremendous time! I do hope to perhaps get back in the fall to celebrate the CD itself. So, keep a look out!
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.