Rick Margitza gets back to his Gypsy roots

One summer night in the Lower East Side at a club called Detour, I played a gig with tenor player named Rick Margitza. Detour was one of those door gigs that you were really lucky if you made over twenty bucks. I had heard Rick on records before moving to NYC and thought that his playing was quite interesting. He was definitely out of the Brecker, Berg, Grossman, modern tenor school. Rick was a three-tonic maniac, he could work them over anything. He had definitely worked out a lot of his own shit too. I think he was recording for Blue Note around that time, though he seemed a little down about the scene when I talked to him after the gig. At Berklee Ed Tomasi had always talked about Margitza, he thought that Rick was one of the only NYC tenor players to be breaking new ground. The modern Jewish NYC tenor thing (Berg, Brecker, Liebman, Grossman) wasn't exactly my bag, but Rick was a very impressive guy to play with. He played a lot of saxophone. As I was dinking around on MySpace the other night I ran into Rick's page, his new recording project is called Gyphop. Apparently Rick has sought greener pastures in Paris. His page says this about the Gyphop project:

  • His 10 albums as a leader document the evolution of his playing as well as his growth as a composer. Margitza has also composed music for orchestra including two symphonies and a saxophone concerto. He currently lives in Paris and his most recent recording Bohemia, on the French label Nocurne, is his most personal to date. Recorded after moving to Paris in 2003, this project is completely different in style and content from any of his other recordings. The instrumentation ranges from violins, tablas and sitars, to harmonicas, voices and ethnic guitars. Margitza explores his Gypsy roots by tracing the origin of the Romany people from India across Eastern Europe. The music is programmatic in nature with each instrument and theme being a character in the story.
The few tracks that Rick has posted on his MySpace page are very interesting. This is more of a world-beat project than a Jazz recording. Rick's playing was sparse and seemed to take a back seat to his composition. On the tune Gypsy Rick takes a solo that fits perfectly with the syncretic style that he has created for the tune. The tune is a groovy, moody minor tabla and sitar fueled fusion of Romany (the correct name for Gypsy), Hindustani and modern Jazz.
After all, the Gypsies did migrate from Northern India/Pakistan in the 10th century. For a thorough introduction to the wonderful world of Gypsy music, check out the film called 'LatchoDrom'. It's a breathtaking flick that covers Romany music from the Indian sub-continent, and ends with modern Spanish Gypsy Flamenco and Parisian Hot-Jazz. Rick has a wide range of styles to draw from as he delves into his roots. I'm sure it must feel good to him to be recognized as a Gypsy instead of people always assuming that he's Puerto Rican (as I did). The French love their Gypsy Jazz and Rick must be blowing the lid off a scene where some players don't ever even use Major seventh chords (because Django never played them). Gyphop really stuck in my head and made a strong impression on me. The blend of strings, voice, harmonica, and saxophone is lush and rich. I hope Rick's having fun over there, it sounds like he is.
  • Here's what Rick has to say about the passing of Brecker, from his MySpace blog:
"I first met Michael in the summer of 1980. It was my first time in Europe with the Wayne State University Big Band and we were playing the festival in Montreux Switzerland. I had been a Michael freak since high school and had transcribed a bunch of his solos. I knew that the Brecker Brothers were also playing the festival that year and so I came armed with my solos hoping to have a chance to meet Mike and give them to him. So one afternoon I spotted him and drummer Richie Morales waking on the street coming towards me and found the courage to stop him and introduce myself . He looked at the solos and said to me "wow, you're really into this shit aren't you?" He then proceeded to ask me if I wanted to come to his hotel room the following afternoon for a lesson. I was in shock! Believe me, I know what its like to be on the road..your free time is sacred and here is this guy, who is incredibly busy offering to share his time with some little college kid he just met. I should add that there was no mention of money. This was Michael, always generous, always kind, always making you feel like you were the most important thing at that moment. Since that first meeting, I can't begin to explain how much having him be a part of my life has meant. He was always completely supportive and encouraging. I remember the first time I played with him. It was a jam session at the home of bassist Harvey Swartz. We arrived at Harvey's house and realized that we needed a hi-hat for the drums, so I drove with Michael back to his house to pick up his own hi hat. This was the first time I met his amazing wife Susan and admitted to her how nervous I was to play in front of him and she said that Michael had said the same thing earlier in the day. I couldn't believe it. Here was this guy, one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century, nervous about playing in front of me! This was also Michael, humble to a fault. But this was no bullshit humility, he was completely down to earth. I could go on with more amazing stories as I'm sure anybody who knew him could, but let me close by saying that I would not be the person, let alone musician I am, without having known Mike. The example he set in the way he battled his addictions gave me and countless others the strength to face our own and his music was

growing exponentially as a result. I, like all of us feel robbed of the opportunity to hear what he would have come up with next. I feel like a huge part of me is missing and will always feel blessed to have known him. Dearest Michael, I'm glad that your suffering is over. Rest in peace knowing that you and your music helped make this world a better place."

Heart of Hearts


The Dissonance said...

Great post. You think of all the famous and fabulous (not always the same for each) musicians you've met. And some of them you'll never get to see again. I wish I'd taken pictures of every session which seem to usually end up to be a masters session on the sax or life in general!

Gandalfe and Suzy (sax holders ;o)

MonksDream said...

I went and checked out Rick's myspace page. Very interesting approach to playing and composition. I was a little bit flabbergasted by the whistle soloing, but I really like the way he sublimates his tasty tenor playing to his artful compositions.

I think you wrote too much when you could have summed up his playing in a neat little paragraph to ignite more flames and controversy.

Cheerio, Bill