Interview: THE MIAMI HERALD (1985)

October 01, 1985

The following article by Tom Moon appeared in an October 1985 issue of The Miami Herald newspaper...

The band that Sting built revels in it's new-found fame.

They hail from small, cramped clubs, the warming ovens of jazz's classic bebop era. They've learned musical craft from apprenticeships with masters such as Miles Davis, Joe Zawinul, the New Orleans pianist Ellis Marsalis. They are part of what has been called the "Young Lions" movement in contemporary jazz.

Nowadays, these musicians play rock halls. Huge throngs greet them at every tour stop. They travel by private jet. They are stars, indirectly. They are the band that Sting built.

Saxophonist Branford Marsalis, keyboardist Kenny Kirkland, bassist Darryl Jones and drummer Omar Hakim. They have suspended their individual jazz projects to work with Sting, the songwriting genius behind the Police, on his much-ballyhooed solo flight.

It has been more than just a profitable business association: The jazz guys enjoy playing Sting's juicy, fist-shaking music. For the first time, they are seeing screaming girls and stages strewn with lingerie. And in return, Sting revels in the musical freedom they provide him.

For the past 10 months, the quintet (with Sting on guitar) has grown into a viable, undeniable musical force. When they arrive at the Hollywood Sportatorium tonight, a stop on the seven-month world tour, the band will freshly challenge the limits of Sting's compositions, recasting pop by expanding it in the spontaneous tradition of jazz.

Hakim explains the difference between their early collaborations - which resulted in the hit album 'The Dream of the Blue Turtles' - and the recent performances.

"The album has more of the feel of the band then. Now it's a lot looser. Everybody knows the music, so there's more stretching out, more partying on stage. Sting is stretching out more on the guitar. That's the whole reason for putting together a band like this. Most rock bands, they learn an arrangement so that when they play it live, you can set your watch to it."

"What we're doing," Hakim continues, "is turning the young kids onto listening, showing them another angle for hearing these songs."

Sting has integrated Police tunes into the program as the tour progresses, using elaborate solo segments as connectors. 'Demolition Man', 'When the World Is Running Down' and others have received wholesale rearrangements. "A lot of them are so different, they could be re-released as singles," Hakim says.

Sting didn't have singles on his mind when he formed this jazz coalition. As he stated in interviews splashed across magazines from GQ to Spin to Playboy, he sought to "break down the rigid barriers between music types."

"What we ended up with is not a jazz record at all, nor is it easily classifiable as rock and roll," he said. "Now is the time to do something that is going to test people, and test me at the same time."

With its unexpected turns of harmony and thrashing rhythmic sparks, this band has fulfilled all of Sting's requirements. They attack with boxer-like vengeance, practically re-writing his music each time they play it. On 'Blue Turtles', the closest example of this stretching comes with 'Children's Crusade': Marsalis' soprano swims through layers of thick, caramel-coloured synthesiser sounds while the rhythm section displaces every subdivision of the churning, loop-like form.

"We've been going since mid-August and I'm not tired of it yet," says keyboardist Kirkland, who spent four years accompanying the young trumpet giant Wynton Marsalis. "Sometimes it gets old on the road, even with real exploratory, spontaneous music. I remember after one hard month on the road with Wynton, nobody could come up with anything new to play."

Like Kirkland, the other members of Sting's band have impressive track records: saxophonist Branford Marsalis worked with his brother Wynton's band for years, and has a solo record to his credit. (In a display of jazz purism, both Branford and Kirkland have been fired from Wynton's band; apparently the trumpet man did not like the idea of his sidemen "selling out" to play pop.) Darryl Jones was Miles Davis' bassist for two years on the road, and did the 'Decoy' and 'You're Under Arrest' albums. Omar Hakim has played and recorded with acts as diverse as David Bowie and Weather Report.

Each of these players were brought up in the jazz tradition, and is unafraid to draw from influences like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and John Coltrane. But they also know pop, funk and the currently popular musical hybrids. As Hakim says: "I was a Police fan big time. Playing with Sting every night only reconfirmed for me personally what I felt on his records."

There is pronounced musical admiration for Sting throughout the ranks. Says Hakim: "He's totally committed to music... We come out with the same intensity and enthusiasm every night, whether we're playing some small town or New York City. It's the same vibe every night."

Kirkland, reflecting on the 'Blue Turtles' project, says that Sting "knew exactly what he wanted" and had in fact recorded most of the pre-production demo tracks (rough selections used to illustrate the intended sounds) himself before the band arrived. "What we do is add personality. Sting knows what he wants in terms of form, changes, harmony."

Sting also knows what he wants in terms of a show. His outfit plays for 2 1/2 hours, non-stop, delivering full renditions of the 'Blue Turtles' material as well as alluding to much of Sting's Police output. There's a solo 'Roxanne', an R&B interpretation of 'Driven to Tears'. Though the solo album was not universally hailed by critics, it did render two well-charted singles - the dance-tempo 'If You Love Somebody Set Them Free', and the vocally demanding 'Fortress Around Your Heart'. These are treated differently each night, Marsalis says, as are the calypso-tinged 'Love Is the Seventh Wave' and the opener, a bright blues shuffle version of 'Shadows in the Rain'.

Marsalis enjoys the pace and energy of the Sting show: "I play as much or maybe more than I play with Wynton. I'm talking about actual playing time. I play when he sings, when the background vocalists sing, all the time." As a result, he claims his "chops have gotten stronger, but on the other hand, my technique is getting a little shoddy now. It's a different kind of playing."

The band is hardly caught up in the stardom aspect of the Sting tour. They concentrate on the long-term advantages, and on plans for a live album to be recorded when the tour hits Europe in December. "They'll track it then, and it could come out as quickly as January," Hakim says.

Marsalis, 24, explains his motives, which he says parallel those of his Sting-band peers: "I'm doing this for my musical development. I don't get any of that attention, and that's not a disappointment for me. I just wanted to play. My career hasn't really changed... I'll just do it later. And I'll have more things to work with when I go back." His first recording of classical works is scheduled for release sometime this fall.

Hakim has also been working on an album project. "Now, there's this younger, more international audience to add to those that already know my work" he says, noting that Sting's success has improved the climate for "musicians who want to go in new, fresh directions."

Jones and Kirkland also have works of their own in progress.

"It's still wild and exciting," says Kirkland, "to look up and see that all these people know all the words. The people love Sting. They end up loving us too."

© The Miami Herald


Sep 23, 1985

Sting: Intended or not, his moniker offers apt metaphor for the man who would be: king of pain and nearly all else he surveys. Sting. It's just a nickname. No more. No less. So don't read anything into it, says Gordon Matthew Sumner, who acquired his stage name eight years ago as a 25-year-old playing Dixieland jazz with a band of men old enough to be his father...

Sep 1, 1985

Sting shuns labels: 'I'm many things rolled into one'. He's been tagged a god, a melancholy artist and even a rock 'n' roll Renaissance man for his roles in music and film. One thing's for sure: Gordon Sumner - better known as pop star Sting - has plenty of things he wants to do and, despite his popularity, won't allow himself be pigeonholed...