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Wayne Wallace to pay tribute to Coltrane

Shelly Runyon

Wayne Wallace is surprised when people tell him that his most recent album, “Bien, Bien” makes them want to get up and dance.  

“I didn’t consciously do that,” he said. He did not create this album to make people get up and move, but rather, to take listeners on a musical journey that celebrates the spirit of African, Caribbean and Latin jazz.

The result is a light, upbeat mix of cultures, covers and original works. Wallace, a trombone player, has released more than 15 commercial recordings, is CEO of his own record label, Patois Records, teaches music at San Jose State University in California and still makes time to tour.

Next week he will be participating in the Beantown Jazz Festival, performing at the 33rd annual John Coltrane Memorial Concert with Anthony Brown’s Asian American Orchestra.

The group will perform a tribute to John Coltrane’s albums, “Africa” and “India” on Saturday, Sept. 18. They hope to celebrate Coltrane while putting their own spin on it “and just find that middle point where Africa, India and the Far East meet,” said Wallace. They will incorporate a sitar and sarod player for India and play out much of the Africa album.  

“If you look at John Coltrane’s career toward the end this is the direction he was going,” Wallace said. “We are just picking up the ball where he left off, even if that is 40 years later.”

Wallace describes the sound of  The Asian American Orchestra, a group he has worked with for more than 10 years, as one of America’s greatest “fusions of traditional Asian, Chinese, Japanese music combined with contemporary traditional jazz.”

He says that this blended style is characteristic of the music coming out of the San Francisco Bay area today. “We are very polygot, melting pot, all those phrases, gumbo like New Orleans.”  

Wallace describes his personal style, as rooted in jazz and RandB, but influenced by Afro-Cuban sounds. He says that working with other artists that bring in influences from other areas like hip hop and rap allows everyone to experiment as they create.

This eclectic sound comes through on “Bien, Bien” as Wallace weaves calypso with jazz in a cover of Sonny Rollins’ “Solid,” and creates his own Cha-Cha-Cha in an ode to Costa Rica’s town and beach of “Playa Negra.” He grounds the album in Latin Jazz with songs like his original title composition, “Bien! Bien!” covers of Duke Ellington’s “Going Up” (“¡Súbete!”) and John Coltrane’s “Africa.”   

The inclusion of cover-songs on the album are what he likes to call, “musical comfort food.” Wallace explained that while covers are necessary to having a successful album, this strategy is nothing new. Even in the 1950s when one of his major influences, the Miles Davis Quintet with Coltrane and Philly Joe Jones put out albums, they mixed covers of pop-tunes from big Broadway musicals with their original work.  

Wallace is now incorporating their successes into his own album while continuing to create original works to “challenge myself, challenge my audience and try to move forward artistically.”

This year Wallace will put out his 16th album, publish a book on Improvisation and continue to tour. He will be performing at Northeastern University on Sept. 18 as part of the Berklee Beantown Jazz Festival which begins tomorrow and takes place over  the course of 10 days in Boston.

To find out more information about the 33rd annual John Coltrane Memorial Concert or the Berklee Beantown Jazz Festival, visit beantownjazz.org.