March 11, 2017
The flute has been an add-on for most of jazz history. Typically saxophone players learned it as a “double,” especially when big band arrangers started writing flute parts to be played by someone in the sax section. The most notable example of this is tenor saxophonist Frank Wess, who made the flute an integral part of the Count Basie sound in the 1950s and ‘60s. A short list of jazz flautists include Mr. Wess as well as Sam Most, Hubert Laws, Herbie Mann, and the late Dave Valentin. Dave passed away at the early age of 64 on Wednesday, March 8.
As a young percussionist influenced by his Puerto Rican parents, Dave found himself in the company of celebrated Latin band leaders. He loved to tell the story of being attracted to the flute because of a striking female flute player.
After teaching junior high school music for three years, Dave was the first artist signed to the GRP record label, led by musicians Dave Grusin and Larry Rosen. Along the way he earned a Grammy award and adulation for his combination of jazz and authentic Latin music. He was serious about the music he produced, and had strong opinions regarding jazz for lazy listeners:
DV: I think this quiet storm crap, I think it really damaged the music in a lot of ways. Where people think that this easy listening, like really easy listening is good music.
MR: You said “quiet storm?” Is that your own phrase?
DV: Oh no they use that on the radio, quiet storm format. Or cool jazz. And not to mention any names, but there’s just some music where people think that’s what a saxophone should sound like. And it’s a no-brainer. There’s no challenge in it. And I think that’s damaged the music. I mean if you play good music, people will listen. It’s very simple.
MR: I was curious if you’ve ever had producers who wanted you to like include something because they thought it would help your sales.
DV: Well with the disco thing, there was one album called “Flute Juice” and I think a review came in called “it should be called ‘Prune Juice.’” That’s the last time I did that. And I told Larry I’m not going to make another record like this. The next record was “Kalahari,” and that was one of the best records I’ve done. I said please — because it was actually his suggestion because he thought — the sales — he thought that might be a good idea to do some discoish kind of thing. But it didn’t work out. But at least he learned quickly. I said just let me produce, Larry, you just sit behind the desk.
The care he took with his own music was reflected in the care he took in his life, and he credited some words of wisdom from his father. “Listen, if you’re going to clean your room, do the best you can. If you’re going to be a brother, father, do the best you can. If you’re going to do the dishes, do the best you can. If you’re going to be a musician, do the best you can. And whatever you decide, then be the best you can.”
Percussionist Mario Bauza also offered words of wisdom Dave lived by: “If you think it’s that bad, it’s really not. And if you have faith, intelligence and a sense of humor you can overcome anything.”
Good advice, for everyone.
For your Latin jazz edification, here’s a live YouTube of Dave playing “Obsession.”
You can watch the entire interview I did with Dave in April of 2000 on the Fillius Jazz Archive Channel. Click here.