Home Interviews In Conversation with Trombonist, Composer, Arranger Doug Beavers

In Conversation with Trombonist, Composer, Arranger Doug Beavers


I caught up with Doug Beavers in Barcelona, Spain (by telephone) where he was appearing with the Spanish Harlem Orchestra.

After perusing the press release, listening to and savoring The Art of the Arrangement repeatedly, I concluded that there had to be more to the story. As it turns out, my instincts were correct.

Here, Doug fills in the blanks, speaks about the joys and tribulations of being an arranger, expands on making The Art of the Arrangement and discusses future plans.

I’m including the official press release, so readers will get a 360-degree view of The Art of the Arrangement, a sure-shot for Album of the Year!


TOMAS PEÑA: As the press release states, THE ART OF THE ARRANGEMENT is the follow-up to the highly acclaimed TITANES DEL TROMBON. Is there anything that is not in the press release you would like to discuss?

DOUG BEAVERS: A big part of my artistry and what I love to do is arranging, which I feel is a forgotten art. Many people don’t realize what goes into the music or how it happens. Often, a composer or vocalist will hum a song on a voice recorder, but we establish the sound of the arrangement, and one has to have the “chops” – meaning the orchestration, the thought pattern and how to get from point A to point B. Also, the arranger has to know the clave and be rhythmically precise, and the music has to be accessible.

About a firm knowledge of the clave, some years ago I interviewed the acclaimed trombonist, Roswell Rudd, who collaborated on an album with the cuatro player, Yomo Toro on the album, El Espiritu Jibaro (Sunnyside, 2007). Here’s what he said about learning the clave: “If you are brought up in it, it’s one thing. If you have to learn it and reapply it to everything you have experienced in your life, that’s another thing. I call it, ‘The Science of the Clave.’ I had to work with as a science before I could get it to an art. What an experience! I grew from this.” Also, I should mention, Bobby Sanabria appears on the album. He helped to teach Roswell the fundamentals of the clave.

(Laughs) The clave separates the men from the boys! Also, that’s why I have so much respect for the arrangers that came before me and will come after me because they have to have that intimate knowledge. Take, for example, the great pianist, arranger Oscar Hernandez, who arranged the song “De Repente” for Adalberto Alvarez and Celia Cruz for Ray Barretto’s great release, Tremendo Trio. When Ray, Adalberto, and Celia come calling, what is an arranger to do? It has to work from note to note. It has to function. It has to hit. The art of the arrangement (no pun) is the ability to set that into motion so dancers and listeners can identify with it. That’s what makes the tune fantastic!

I have “lived” with the music for the past few weeks and I can assure readers the music will appeal to listeners and dancers of all ages. I wanted it to be danceable. Also, not included in the press release is an original idea I’d like to implement, which is a multi-media presentation. Where, for example, I include a film clip of Marty Sheller’s arrangement of the song, “Estoy Como Nunca” (for Manny Oquendo & Libre) as a backdrop, followed by his new interpretation for this project performed live.

TP: What are the chances?

DB: I’m working on it! We are looking at 2018. The more people learn about the recording, the more they will love it. The Art of the Arrangement is already a classic. DJs are playing it in New York, Mexico and Colombia.

TP: On another note, what was your criteria for selecting the arrangers?

DB: The idea was to get buddies and acquaintances interested in the project. One such gentleman is Ray Santos He, and I worked on Hector Aponte’s project a while ago, and our friendship blossomed. I approached Ray and said, “We are going to do something that features the arrangers,” and he signed on.

TP: Ray is a master arranger and unsung hero.

DB: That’s a big part the record’s message. Another veteran and master arranger is Angel Fernandez. I learned about him through his arrangements for the Spanish Harlem Orchestra, which are always killing! Originally, I would arrange “Para Bailar El Montuno,” but I was stressed, time-wise. I approached Angel and said, “We are trying to shine a light on the arrangers, ” and he immediately came on board. Without arrangers like Ray and Angel, many of the “salsa hits” would not have happened.

TP: The repertoire includes “New Rumba” (aka New Rhumba), dedicated to the late, great Gil Evans; Bobby Hutcherson’s “Montara” (featuring Pedrito Martinez), and a swinging bonus track titled, “Gate – C13.”

DB: I was on the fence about the bonus track; I didn’t know whether I wanted to include it or not.

TP: I’m glad you did. Also, I like your arrangement of Bobby Hutcherson’s, Montara.

DB: I wrote that around the time Bobby Hutcherson passed away. I heard it on Awlilda Rivera’s Latin Jazz Cruise (88.3 FM), and I knew it had to be part of this record. I also knew that I wanted to infuse it with Yoruba stuff. I’m a bata and shekere freak! Initially, I took Yoruba music by Conjunto Folklorico de Cuba and overlaid it with the original version of “Montara” with Pro Tools, changing the way I arrange for this tune. Pedrito coming in at the end of that was a total surprise. The original plans were to do the vocal parts with my trombone. I approached him a few times, and he seemed interested, but Pedrito is a busy guy and hard to pin down. Finally, we recorded the tracks, and I played it for him, and I said, “If you want to be part of it let me know.” He loved the track. He laid gold on it!

TP: The tune, “Sunflower” is based on Freddie Hubbard’s “Little Sunflower.”

DB: Interesting how that one came about – we were performing at Barranquilla Jazz in Colombia – and the artistic director asked, “Could you play “Little Sunflower” with four trombones?” I said that I could do it, but I’m not just going to show up and play Manny Oquendo’s version (which is still amazing)! So, I came up with that arrangement. We premiered it at Barranquilla, and I made tweaks, to make the melody original.

TP: Obviously, Gil Evans is an influence.

DB: Absolutely.

TP: The recording opens with a tribute to Gil, titled “New Rumba.”

DB: The tune “New Rhumba” was composed by Ahmad Jamal in the early 50s (back then Rumba was spelled with an “h”). I like the version on the album, Miles Ahead (Colombia Records, 1957), which is a desert island disc for me.

TP: Gil and Miles are gone but not forgotten. They left their mark. Now, it’s up to arrangers like you to keep the tradition and push the music forward.

DB: I agree. To be charged with that responsibility and pay it forward there has to be an intrinsic love and passion deeply ingrained. I mean, you hear that tracks, and you just stop what you are doing.

TP: I realize you are worlds away and very busy but thinking ahead, what’s next?

DB: I’m on tour with the Spanish Harlem Orchestra and worlds away. Once that is behind me, I will concentrate on promoting the album, the CD release, etc. What I am feeling now is the need to put out a product with original material. Titanes del Trombon and the Art of the Arrangement demonstrate what I bring to the table as a trombonist, writer, and producer. I hope the quality of the production speaks for itself.

TP: Thank you for taking the time to speak with me. Also, congratulationS. The Art of the Arrangement is an instant classic!

Artist Website: http://www.dougbeavers.com


GRAMMY® Award-Winning Doug Beavers Releases New Album
Art of the Arrangement Featuring Pedrito Martinez, Ray Santos, Oscar Hernández, Jose Madera, Angel Fernandez, Marty Sheller, Gonzalo Grau, Herman Olivera, Luques Curtis, and More!

New York, NY — Thursday, July 20, 2017 — On his previous release, 2015’s Titanes del Trombón, the GRAMMY® Award-winning Doug Beavers — as the album’s title suggested — focused on honoring his fellow trombonists and pioneers such as J.J. Johnson, Barry Rogers, and Slide Hampton. The recording received universal praise with Jazzwax magazine calling it “absolutely hypnotic” and Latin Jazz Network deeming the release a “precious and significant work.” Publications as prestigious as DownbeatJAZZIZ andLatino Magazine also joined in the chorus, each providing feature space to this magnificent project that paid tribute to some of the unsung masters of an often underappreciated instrument.

At the time of the release of Titanes del Trombón, Beavers took note of the fact that many of the great trombonists of the past were also first-rate arrangers, and that steered him toward the music that now comprises his latest release, Art of the Arrangement(ArtistShare, August 25, 2017). The new collection is an homage to the greatest Latin jazz and salsa arrangers of our time, including Gil Evans, Ray Santos, Jose Madera, Oscar Hernández, Angel Fernandez, Marty Sheller, and Gonzalo Grau. Throughout the history of Latin jazz, and jazz in general, it’s the arrangers who have shaped the music, and quite often their contributions have been overlooked, or ignored altogether. Doug Beavers sets out to change that fact on the ambitious, Art of the Arrangement.

“There’s a whole story to tell, a premise, and I want to put New York City’s best arrangers in the spotlight,” Beavers explains. “I was fortunate to be able to amass an amazing studio orchestra with a ‘Who’s Who’ of New York’s salsa and Latin jazz scene for a completely live recorded album. The orchestra includes three saxophonists, three trumpets, trombone, bass trombone, two French horns, and tuba. It was an unforgettable New York moment, the orchestra was incredible and we did the whole album in just two studio dates.”

Doug Beavers — Art of the Arrangement — Featured Compositions
In the world of jazz arrangement, no single figure looms larger than the late Gil Evans, and it was for him that the album opener, “New Rumba,” was conceived. Beavers’ reinterpretation of the Evans-arranged classic from Miles Davis’ landmark 1959 Miles Ahead album sets the stage for the rest of the recording and as Beavers notes, “it commemorates one of my central influences.”

“El Truquito” (The Little Trick) features an arrangement and a trombone solo by Beavers, with vocals by Frankie Vazquez. “This is a re-imagination of an Ismael Rivera classic,” he says. “My arrangement combines the influences of the big Palladium orchestras of Tito Puente, Tito Rodriguez, Machito, and Eddie Palmieri.” The first single off the album, it’s a hard-driving dance number. “It was essential to capture the immense power of the orchestra in the studio, and ‘El Truquito’ did just that,” says Beavers.

“Estoy Como Nunca” (I’m Better Than Ever) is arranged by Marty Sheller, and sung by Herman Olivera, with solos by Beavers as well as Johnny “Dandy” Rodriguez (bongos) and Jose Madera (timbales). “When I phoned Marty Sheller to be a part of this project, I asked him what tune from his storied history as an arranger he would like to reinterpret,” says Beavers. “This was his answer, a masterful take on a Tito Rodriguez classic that Marty originally arranged for Manny Oquendo’s Conjunto Libre. He did a completely new arrangement for Art of the Arrangement.”

Marc Anthony veteran and master arranger Angel Fernandez composed a classic arrangement of Arsenio Rodriguez’s original descarga number, “Para Bailar el Montuno” (To Dance the Montuno). Solos are provided by a pair of 40-plus-year veterans, pianistOscar Hernandez and tresero Nelson Gonzalez, with vocals by Herman Olivera. The orchestra effortlessly fuses inflections of the bolero “La Pared” in the middle of “Para Bailar el Montuno” to soaring results.

“De Repente” (Suddenly) is composed by Aldemaro Romero and arranged by Oscar Hernandez. The singers are Cita Rodriguez (the daughter of Pete “El Conde” Rodriguez) and Jeremy Bosch (the new lead singer for Spanish Harlem Orchestra). The song was originally recorded with Ray Barretto’s Tremendo Trio, featuring Adalberto Santiago and Celia Cruz.

“Perico Perejil,” arranged by Ray Santos, is sung here by Frankie Vazquez. Santos, now 85, arranged for all of the “Big 3” Palladium orchestras of New York — Machito, Tito Rodriguez and Tito Puente — and now he arranges this fresh take of a Tito Rodriguez and Louie Ramirez classic specifically for Art of the Arrangement. Beavers notes, “This is one of my favorite Ray Santos arrangements. He’s a legend, and to have him on the album means a lot.” Pete Nater solos on trumpet on this high-flying number.

For “Siempre” (Always), arranged by Gonzalo Grau, Beavers utilizes the voice of the song’s composer, Carlos Cascante. Grau, a Venezuelan-born arranger, composer, and producer, is considered among many to be the next big thing in Afro-Latin arrangements. Here, he sets Cascante’s original composition about love lost to a masterful, modern arrangement.

“Montara Elegua” is undeniably one of the album’s highlights. A fusion of the late vibes master Bobby Hutcherson’s “Montara” and the “Elegua” (Yoruban chant), it features vocals by master percussionist Pedrito Martinez, as well as a soprano saxophone solo from Ivan Renta. “I was looking for a juxtaposition between Cuban folkloric music and ‘Montara,’ as a tribute to Bobby, and ‘Montara Elegua’ came about,” comments Beavers. “I heard both of these themes on top of each other, and it ended up working out perfectly. Peditro kills it, and the piece has a classic Western brass orchestration; Africa and the West and Europe all come together.”

“Sunflowers” is an original Beavers composition that was originally commissioned by the Barranquijazz International Jazz Festival (in Barranquilla, Colombia) in 2015. Loosely based on Freddie Hubbard’s “Little Sunflower,” it showcases four trombones and flute.

“Suave Así” (So Soft), with an arrangement by Jose Madera and vocal by Marco Bermudez, is a Tito Puente song from his “Dance Mania” days. “Jose was part of Tito’s band for 40 years,” says Beavers, “so he was best to execute a new arrangement based on that theme.” Madera plays timbale on the track in the style of Puente, with Beavers offering up the trombone solo and Marco Bermudez on the lead vocal.

“Barra Limpia” (Clean Bar) is a song about a man falling in love with a prostitute, only to learn that her love was only “for rent.” It features an original arrangement by Papo Lucca (the leader of La Sonora Ponceña), with orchestration and adaptation by Beavers. It’s a new orchestration of his arrangement, “I chose specific instruments, to get a bigger sound. I added French horns, trumpets, trombones, and a tuba. It’s an arrangement of an arrangement, and a great way to finish the album,” notes Beavers.

It’s not quite finished though. Before they say adios, there’s a bonus track, a Beavers composition titled “Gate C13.” This song, he says, “is a playful Latin jazz jam that envisions a poor soul running to his gate to catch a flight.” Jeremy Bosch, Zaccai Curtis and Thomas Marriott each lend powerful solos, leading to a beautifully chaotic band improv and percussion solos that will leave listeners on the edge of their seats.

On Art of the Arrangement, New York’s finest arrangers unite to fully realize Beavers vision of celebrating what’s truly behind every great composition, an insightful arrangement. Art of the Arrangement features all new arrangements specifically developed for this project. From classic salsa songs to riveting newly composed works, Art of the Arrangement puts the arranger center stage once and for all to finally receive long overdue critical acclaim. 

ARTIST WEBSITE: http://www.dougbeavers.com


A graduate of Empire State College with a dual major in journalism and Latin American studies, Editor-in-Chief Tomas Peña has spent years applying his knowledge and writing skills to the promotion of great musicians. A specialist in the crossroads between jazz and Latin music, Peña has written extensively on the subject. His writing appears on Latin Jazz Network; Chamber Music America magazine and numerous other publications.


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