Sax Player Vincent Herring | Teen Jazz Influence Interview

Name: Vincent Herring
Profession: Saxophonist
Years Playing: about 29 years
College/Major/Degree: started at Cal State University, Chico – BM (Bachelor’s of Music)
Long Island University in Brooklyn NY, as a teacher and student – left to go on the road – hasn’t had time to finish degree
Location: Brooklyn, NY

WHY VINCENT HERRING IS A TEEN JAZZ INFLUENCE

My history with Vincent Herring’s music is long and his playing has been a huge inspiration for me as an alto saxophonist. When I first began seriously studying jazz, I was often told that the best way to develop my sound and ideas was by listening to other people and trying to emulate them. At the time, I listened to several great tenor saxophone players, but as an alto player, I couldn’t emulate their sound or tone and needed to listen to more alto players. Another saxophonist knew I was looking for good alto players to listen to, so he gave me my first Vincent Herring CD.

Not much after that, I played with another female saxophonist named Vashti Tyrell from Australia. She and I were talking about who we enjoyed listening to, and she recommended that I listen to Vincent Herring. I found this amusing because at the time, I happened to have Vincent Herring’s “Folklore: Live at Village Vanguard” with me. We listened to the CD, and the next day, she brought me my second Vincent Herring CD – “Days of Wine & Roses“, which is what made me fall in love with Vincent Herring’s playing.

Vincent Herring’s name came up once again in a discussion with Sax Talk’s Rex Djere who told me how I could contact Vincent Herring. Having this series of articles, Teen Jazz Influences, I knew that the best musicians to start with were ones that I have been influenced by, and Vincent Herring definitely fits that description.

During my interview with Vincent Herring, I found that he was an extremely kind and amiable person. He was very modest considering the successful career he has had as a jazz saxophonist and I greatly enjoyed my conversations with him.

THE INTERVIEW

WHEN DID HE FIRST BEGIN SERIOUSLY STUDYING HIS INSTRUMENT? WHERE? WITH WHO?

Vincent Herring began studying the saxophone where he grew up in Vallejo, CA. He has studied with saxophonists such as Phil Woods, Billy Browning, and Sal Stein.

WHO ARE HIS GREATEST INFLUENCES?

Not having any one particular influence, Vincent Herring was first inspired by saxophonists such as Cannonball Adderley, Charlie Parker, Sonny Stitt and Phil Woods.

As Vincent Herring continued to develop as a musician he began finding musical inspiration from a variety of instruments and now he just enjoys great improvisation from a variety of sources; even things that are not musical – just any form of greatness.

WHO OR WHAT GAVE HIM THE CONFIDENCE TO PURSUE MUSIC AS A CAREER AS OPPOSED TO A HOBBY?

In Vincent Herring’s case, he developed very quickly and had a strong passion for music. So, even without positive support, he would have pursued music regardless because he knew it was what he wanted to do.

“Very few musicians are going to become jazz soloists like I am because it is very hard to do. A ‘working jazz player’ means that you have to have things together. It is not for the faint of heart – so you have to have the passion to do that. You need to develop a sense of direction and awareness of where you are and where you need to be.”

BRIEFLY DESCRIBE THE DIFFICULTY TO BE SUCCESSFUL IN YOUR CAREER WHILE REMAINING TRUE TO THE ART FORM WITHOUT “SELLING OUT” TO POPULAR ART?

As a successful jazz saxophonist, Vincent Herring has never had to compromise the music that he enjoys playing. He is constantly working – even the performances listed on his website are not everything that he does. The most commercial gig he has played was working with Nancy Wilson.

DO YOU BELIEVE THAT YOUR GENDER OR APPEARANCE HAS AFFECTED YOUR CAREER? IF SO, HOW HAVE YOU CHANGED YOURSELF TO CONFORM TO YOUR INDUSTRY STANDARDS? HAS THIS CHANGED OVER TIME?

He doesn’t feel that his gender or appearance have affected his career, but acknowledges that in some cases, it can. “For example being female in a male dominated business can affect your career because of the nature of what it is.” To a certain extent appearance can always affect you, but in jazz improvisation and acoustic jazz (the style of music Vincent Herring plays), the bulk of your success is based on your musical output.

WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN DOING WITH YOUR CAREER FOR YOURSELF? HOW HAS MONEY CHANGED YOUR INITIAL CAREER PLANS?

Money has not affected Vincent Herring’s career plans. In his particular case, Vincent has always been working – which is why he hasn’t been able to finish school. It is also why he has been able to support himself as a professional musician since 1984.

Vincent Herring feels that he is pretty much doing exactly what he wants to do. His initial goals were to play with certain people and he has already fulfilled those goals. He wants to continue doing what he is doing and continue making good records. Vincent would like to have a broader fan base in the states like he has in Europe as well as continue to improve his musicianship and just keep playing. Another goal for the future would be to have his concerts pay more money, but he feels at this point that he is compensated pretty fairly.

WHAT DO WISH HAD HAPPENED WITH YOUR CAREER?

In the early 90s Vincent Herring had the choice to go with Blue Note or Music Masters. He ended up going with Music Masters because it gave him more money and complete control over his recordings (meaning he decided what he recorded and which musicians he used). In the short term it worked out great, but at the moment Music Masters entire catalog is out of print, so a lot of his best records are out of print. All his out of print recordings are supposed to be come out soon on iTunes.

Another thing he wished had happened a little differently is that he had practiced a little more. He also would not have taken the job with Horace Silver in 1986 or 87 because he was a year or two from being musically prepared to take that gig.

WHERE DO YOU THINK THAT YOUR ART IS GOING? DO YOU FEEL THAT THIS IS A POSITIVE OR NEGATIVE DIRECTION?

Vincent Herring doesn’t really know where music is going, and is just trying to write and play music the way he wants to hear it. In Europe he has been able to maintain a little bit of a younger audience than he has been able to in the states, so he hopes that he can inspire more young listeners in the US. “It is hard to say where music is going. I am just trying to develop myself the best that I can. It goes where it goes.”

DO YOU BELIEVE POPULAR ART IS STILL A CRAFT THAT REQUIRES SKILL? OR DO YOU FEEL IT HAS BECOME AN IMAGE BASED PROFESSION?

“Everyone’s situation is different. I know other musicians who are great players that do not earn a living. I didn’t have to make a choice based on money or anything and have been able to diversify my finances and save money by buying real estate early in New York. I haven’t had money problems but some people do – a lot of guys waste a lot of money. Just because one month you make a lot of money, doesn’t mean you are going to make that money the next half of the year. You have to balance out what you are making so that when you are making less money it doesn’t do damage to you. It takes a lot of trial and error to get a good grasp on that.”

Vincent Herring said that as a soloist you have to travel, but there is not a lot of room for everyone to be a soloist and be successful at it. Sadly, as a local musician, it is difficult to make any real money.

WHAT INSPIRES YOU TO CONTINUE TO PURSUE YOUR ART? HAVE YOU EVER COME CLOSE TO GIVING UP?

Giving up music has never crossed his mind because it is a life’s passion and he is successful at doing what he is doing. The days where Vincent was not working a lot, it was okay because he was still younger and trying to develop himself as a player. One of his first jobs was with Lionel Hampton’s big band – it was his first time to Europe. The pay was very low, but it didn’t matter. At this point in his career, however, he couldn’t do that.

Nothing has ever happened to cause Vincent to consider quitting, and his career has developed quite naturally. But as it has increased, his obligations and responsibilities have also changed.

WHO ARE SOME OF THE COOLEST PEOPLE THAT YOU HAVE PLAYED WITH? WHAT WAS YOUR COOLEST GIG? WHAT WAS YOUR LAMEST GIG?

Vincent has played with Wynton Marsalis in a tribute to Miles, Cannonball and Coltrane. He has also worked with Jack Dejohnette, Freddie Hubbard, Cedar Walton, Kenny Barron, and with Phil Woods in “The Sax Machine”.

“The music community is very small, so you meet and run into people over and over. It is important to keep your comradery between musicians.”

There isn’t one particular gig that was his “coolest gig” – but there are some jobs he has enjoyed. For example, one of Vincent Herring’s “Cool Gigs” paid as much as a small nice car to play in someone’s living room.

Vincent Herring also worked with Nat Adderley for several years. Vincent liked working with Nat because he enjoyed Nat as a person and a musician. They worked together for a total of nine years. During his work with Nat Adderley, he also played with Art Blakey for a month, but couldn’t do both so he quit Art Blakey’s band.

His first big concert was in the late 80s in Paris for big tribute to Parker. He played with Phil Woods, Jackie McLean, and Frank Morgan. Walter Davis was on piano, Percy Heath was playing bass and Roy Haynes was playing drums.

The “Coolest gig” he has now is his band that primarily works in Europe and plays mostly original music. A “cool gig” or great gig all boils down to if you are playing with good musicians who you like to work with. “If I am in good shape and playing well, and they are playing well, then I am having a good time.”

Vincent hasn’t really had a “lame gig” because he can usually avoid a lame gig. If the details don’t match up the way he wants them to, he ditches the gig.

SOME OF THE PEOPLE THAT HE HAS HAD AN ASSOCIATION WITH THAT I PERSONALLY ENJOY:

Vincent Herring played with Chris Potter about a year ago. He also played with Kurt Elling when Kurt sat in with the Mingus Big Band (which Vincent was a part of at the time). He has played in Bob Mintzer’s Big Band, and with Nancy Wilson, Paulette McWilliams, Horace Silver, Kenny Garrett, Brian Bromberg and Scott Wendholdt. Vincent Herring is a guest on two of Don Braden’s records and has also recorded with Chic Corea. He produced a record for Joshua Redman and his father, Dewey Redman (but didn’t actually play with them). Vincent is good friends with Michael Brecker and has talked to Sonny Rollins on the phone one time but has never met him.

OTHER HOBBIES:

Some of Vincent Herring’s other hobbies are youth sports (basketball in particular), watching basketball and football. Vincent is always doing either music on tour or playing basketball in New York. He also enjoys reading books, cooking, and outdoor and sporting activities.

ADVICE FOR THE YOUNG MUSICIAN:

“99.999% of the people are not going to be successful solo musicians so you need to keep that in mind. Think things out and be realistic with what your goals are and how to make them happen if they really are within your grasp.”

“Most musicians that play at a really high level at one point put in 8 to 10 hours a day. If you aren’t doing that then you have a hard chance of being a soloist. If not then you can be a teacher, but if you choose to be solely dependent on your income as a musician, then you have to be truly skilled. You have to evaluate yourself and be honest with yourself to make sure that you are on track with your goals to make things happen.”

HIS MOST EMBARRASSING MUSICAL MOMENT:

Vincent Herring’s most embarrassing musical moment was in either 1984 or 85. He was playing at the Jazz Cultural Theatre and Roy Haynes walked in. At the end of the gig, Roy Haynes asked for his number so he gave it to him not really thinking anything of it.

There was a big concert in town at Avery Fisher Hall, the Vincent really wanted to go to. At six in the morning, Roy called him and started rambling, asking him if he knew a song called “Bigfoot” by Parker. Vincent told him that he did, so Roy told him to be at the hall to do the sound check at 2. Since he didn’t really know the song, Vincent pulled out the recording and learned the song. When showed up for the rehearsal, he kept messing the song up. Every time Vincent Herring messed up Roy Haynes would hit the snare drum and tell him to do it again. This happened six or seven times before Vincent got it right.

When Vincent came back for the concert that night, he messed up the song. He was waiting for Roy to stop and he was so nervous that he played terrible. When it was over Vincent never got paid because he slipped out the back door to avoid Roy.

OWN CDS?

“Mr. Wizard” on Highnote Records
“All Too Real” on Highnote Records
“Simple Pleasure” on Highnote
“Jobim for Lovers” Musicmasters
“Don’t Let It Go” MusicMaster
“Folklore” MusicMaster
“Days of Wine and Roses” MusicMaster
“Secret Love” MusicMaster
“Dawnbird” Landmark
“Evidence” Landmark
“American Experience”
“Scene One” Toshiba (Japan Only)

WHAT WAS HIS FIRST INSTRUMENT? DREAM INSTRUMENT?

Vincent Herring’s first instrument was a Bundy II alto saxophone in 1976 and in 1977 he bought his first Selmer Mark IV saxophone.

IS HE ENDORSED BY ANYONE?

Vincent Herring has an endorsement with Yanigasawa Japan. He also has an endorsement with Vandoren for their mouthpieces and Alexander for their reeds.

LOOKING FOR MORE INFORMATION?

Vincent Herring has his own website with more information available

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Published on: October 27, 2012

Filled Under: Interviews

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