Issue 124, Interview with Tomas Ramirez
After reviewing Tomas’ saucy & splendid sax work in issue # 122, I knew I wanted to get an interview with him as soon as possible… he actually cooked up some answers right away, & the result is a nice & insightful session that will let you get to know him much better… cool – thanks, Tomas!
Zzaj: Your online bio makes reference to having started playing at about 12 years old in “Uncle Wally’s” band… tell us what that was like… exciting, I would imagine, but we want to hear it all in your own words; be sure & tell us how you got all the way from Wally’s to where you are today… then tell us where that is… where you’re living now, where you’re playing most… kind of like a “stream-of-consciousness” bio, if you will.
TR: Tio Wally needed a tenor sax player for his orchestra and for some odd reason, decided that i would fit the bill. Now, i had just started playing clarinet in the sixth grade band, and was approximately four months into that. My uncle approached me and told me to tell the band director i wanted to check out a tenor sax from the public school system. I was unaware that such things were even possible and as a result, was quite reticent to follow my tio wally’s instructions; however, he prevailed and i eventually, much to my surprise, managed to wrangle an old WWII vintage Martin tenor sax from mr. duckworth, my band director. Tio wally insisted that there wasn’t any major difference between clarinet and saxophone and that i should be fine making a transition from one to the other. i was thirteen years old and was quite susceptible to the implied/overt pressures invoked upon me by my peers and my family. well, after a few preparatory blasts on the old Martin, i concluded that my tio was basically full of it, and that, yes, there was, indeed, a major difference between clarinet and saxophone, but i also decided that i wasn’t going to let my uncle down. so i worked on that horn eight hours a day for a week, until i was actually better on it than i was on clarinet (not really saying much, but it did seem to be a very natural thing playing tenor). anyway, within a couple of weeks and a few rehearsals, voila! i was in a mexican orchestra, and at the tender age of thirteen, mom bought me a dark suit and my uncle bought me a fake mustache and told promoters and club owners i was a midget with a psychological homicidal disorder and best left alone (the law said no minors were allowed anywhere near where alcoholic beverages were being sold, hence the subterfuge.) So, as a result, the rest of my life has been a fine balance of approaching music from two angles: an academic discipline, and an outlet for the soul. Eventually this approach became an ism to me, and i adapted an attitude of life that pits “the brain” and “the spirit of life” to either work in conjunction or as opposing forces. A constant check and balance of what we casually refer to as reality. As i get older, though, it has become much easier to cajole these two divergent forces to work as one; making life much more palatable and easier to swallow. long live the smilin’ ol’ coot, for he smiles for us!
Zzaj: I see (again from the bio) that you’re kind of like me, in that you’ve been all ’round the world… is that just for playing, or do you just like to travel? Where’s the best place (in the world) you’ve played, & where have you NOT been that you’d love to play?
TR: Music has taken me around the world; to places i could have never taken myself. and why? because everyone listens to music. music is poetry for the ears, at least my ears. if it weren’t for sound, i could not communicate as precisely or as broadly as i do. i doubt the majority of us could, however, there’s always the exception. as far as the best venue i’ve ever done, that would be anywhere the audience actually paid/pays attention. and though i know i never will, i’d love to play the space station before it falls to earth in a fiery ball of karmic retribution. damned, druids! (they were right, you know.)
Zzaj: Do you only play jazz, or do you wind up playing in any kind of genre?
TR: I consider myself a general practitioner musician. i can fix whatever ails you. and much like my AMA counterparts, i, too, rarely make house calls. you’ll have to come see me. woof.
Zzaj: One of the things I like most about your playing is that even though it’s (many times) in a “funk zone”, you’re not afraid to insert something totally unexpected… does that come (for you) from a sense of “improvisation”, or do you have most of your music written down before you play it?
TR: Play the head, make the rest up.
Zzaj: How much (if any) formal music training did you have? What I’m trying to get at here (since I’m pretty much a “by-ear” player) is what you think is more important… formal training, natural talent & ability, or just “practice, practice, practice”?
TR: All three are important; even the most mundane melody has a better chance of acceptance when it’s execution reeks of human judiciousness.
Zzaj: Since we have many aspiring sax players in our readership, tell them your feelings on your horn(s), reed(s), etc. What is your favorite brand (if you have one); or does it really matter? (I have a horn player friend of mine who swears that the brand really does matter to him… just wondering what you think about that).
TR: Horns and reeds are personal decisions based on physiological parameters. Rico Royal, La Voz, and Vandoren are rampant reed brands that more than fit the bill. personally, i play a 1990 vintage Keilwerth SX90R with an anodized nickel finish (tenor), and a 1988 vintage Yamaha Custom with a rose gold lacquer finish (alto). Can’t go too wrong with Selmers, either. they’re a mighty brand of saxophone. i understand L.A. Sax and Cannonball are also two fine brands of saxes, though i can’t personally verify. if it plays easily and with personality and in tune, you’ve got a good sax, no matter what brand it is.
Zzaj: I notice that you seem to have a lot of rhythm instruments in many of your compositions… how important (do you think) is percussion/rhythm in the type of music you do?
TR: I do? i never really considered any of my music as “having a lot of rhythm instruments”. you are probably confused by the spectacular brilliance and pyrotechnics that drum master Marcus Williams offers. i recommend a second listening with that particular point in mind. now, that being said, i would not hesitate to use percussion from any school of thought in any of my compositions; another color on the palate.
Zzaj: Straying into the semi-political, I believe (from my own world travels) that music is (or can be) one of the most powerful healing forces on the planet… give us your thoughts on that, or tell us why that’s a ridiculous question, please.
TR: Obviously, on many levels, music has healing and recuperative powers , however, i believe one has to be aware of what music is, other than just “i know what i like, and i like what i know”, to be able to receive the full contents of what music has to offer. the aforementioned attitude, comforting as it may be, offers nothing to the soul and even less to the mind. music (as all art forms) demands one to be be aware and respectful of its core and intent, otherwise you just have organized sound on your hands.
Zzaj: Where do you feel you have the most “power” over your music… in-studio, on-stage performing live, or somewhere else? Or is it, perhaps, that it doesn’t really matter… that the music holds the “power” over YOU? Tell us which particular musical experience (if you can nail it down) had the most power for you.
TR: I have no power what so ever over music. i only have the power to interpret what is inside myself musically, and that is an entire methodology in itself. i don’t believe anyone truly creates music, one only creates a personal situation and atmosphere where the ability to interpret is in a state of constant enhancement. it’s a form of beauty.
Zzaj: I always ask this question… & I always get many different answers (which is why I ask it so often); since we have many aspiring artists and performers in our readership, what is the “key ingredient” in being successful with a career in music? Is it just a matter of enjoying what you do, is it purely a matter of getting your skills down to the point where you’re totally comfortable with what you’re doing/playing, or is it worth all the work (not just playing, but promoting, gigging, etc.) it takes to get to your musical/performance goal?
TR: Depends what you call successful. some people merely love the act of performing music. others love the feeling of being in tune with themselves. others like the sex and drugs. some do it just for the money. success is not the same for everyone. actually, success is not the same for anyone. all similarities end when the “i” is injected into the adrenal system of the “Me”. woof.
Check out this fine vid of Tomas & pals in performance mode: