Recently when typing away on my computer, I slipped in flutist Walter Bell and the LJU’s (Latin Jazz Unit) "In Three Places at Once," CD and heard something wonderful. Yes, "Something Wonderful," the Rodgers and Hammerstein composition whimsically and beautifully sung by Ruth Naomi Floyd. More to the point, the something wonderful I heard was a mesmerizing and spontaneous expression of some very standard standards. Bell injects his trademark Latin Sounds on this CD with "So What," "Killer Joe," and "Stella by Starlight," among other selections. Amazingly, these songs do not bend to traditional interpretation, but take on new life in everything from arrangement to performance. In fact, in one sitting of this mostly live nine-track CD, you will undoubtedly find your mind and soul in more than three places at once and loving it.
Bell’s flute is not simply cool and melodic, but exuberant, fluttering and feverish at times. A self-taught virtuoso flutist, Bell knows how to make his instrument sing. "The flute is the closest instrument to the human voice. "I can make the instrument laugh, cry, or dance," said Bell. The Latin Jazz Unit also helps him to that end, providing a backdrop of rhythm and Latin beats so dreamy one could float on them.
Bell utilizes three sets of musicians for his Latin Jazz Unit on his sixth Reika recording. The players include: pianist and guitarist Bill Shilling, guitarist Gerald Smith, saxophonist Wil Smith, bassists Joshua Bayer and Michael Boone, pianist Benito Gonzales, drummer Aaron Binder, and percussionists Willie Vasquez and Johnny Vargas. Bell also recruits his friend, vocalists Mark Greene, former lead singer of the original ‘Moments’ to sing on the laidback yet swingin’ "Autumn Leaves."
I caught up with Walter Bell to talk to him about his new CD "In Three Places At Once." Here’s what he had to say! JazzReview
: Walter, thanks taking the time to talk to us. I know you have a very busy schedule. In fact, it is so busy that you recorded your latest release "In Three Places At Once," literally in three places. Walter Bell
: You’re absolutely right. I found out it was easier to do it that way than commit three of my groups to studio time and I could also capture some of the excitement. We inadvertently made history by being the last group to record at the BET Supper Club, which is now on-pause mode. JazzReview
: The new release is awesome, and speaking as someone who has seen you perform live, it really captures the essence of your live show. What do you want people to walk away with after seeing Walter Bell perform or listening to your CD’s? Walter Bell
: First of all, thank you. It’s always a pleasure to play at outdoor and public venues. I want people to know that they have heard one of the "baddest" flute players in the country and feel we have given them a complete show. So if they don’t see us perform live or hear us for a while, they’ll know they got a variety of music featuring straightway jazz, blues, seductive ballads and Latin rhythm all in one set. JazzReview
: Walter this is your sixth release. What lessons have you learned over the course of the past five releases that helped you in your most recent offering "In Three Places At Once?" Walter Bell
: I’ve learned how to save money in the recording process and make it at the same time. I also, came to the grim realization that there are no more million dollar record deals for jazz musicians unless you look like Halle Berry or Brittany Spears. I’m joking of course. It isn’t about talent and hasn’t been for a long time. It’s about marketability. I have been blessed to be able to keep 100% of my CD profits and maintain creative control, thanks to the support of my fans and radio stations that are about pleasing their listeners rather than hypnotizing them. JazzReview
: The Latin Jazz Unit could easily be called the Latin Jam Unit! Tell us about some of the musician who are working on "In Three Places at Once." Walter Bell
: I’m glad you asked that question. Although I can, I stay away from playing salsa strictly. I am a jazz flutist that loves Latin music and I have to be sure people don’t get confused when they hear the title of my band, so I try to hire the most versatile musicians that can go both ways musically. Musicians that know how to stay alert and create something other than just showing off their technique and at the same time know that "clave" isn’t something we’re going to have for dinner that night. With that in mind, I try to hire the best and most dependable cats that I can find and give everybody a chance. Most of my players have never played together before meeting me. One of my biggest resources is Philly and D.C. talent. Jazz Review:
Describe how this past year has been different in terms of your career. Walter Bell
: I’m hiring on the average 30 different musicians a month whether they are playing with me, or taking my place at gigs that I can’t attend. I’m getting calls from guys from all over the country for work. The CD is being played on both coasts, as well as in Australia and parts of Europe and is almost sold out after being out only three and a half months. These are all wonderful things considering I am my own agent, manager and consultant. This is why I say my prayers at night! JazzReview
: When you look at Walter Bell in terms of your career and craft, what would you like to see happen in the next five years? Walter Bell
: I’d like to see my music reach more listeners and new listeners with greater ease. I’d also like to be able to frequent the country more often than I do to let people know all the musical training in the world doesn’t guarantee success, what does is hard work and determination. Jazz Review:
If there is one thing that can be said about Walter Bell is "he will most likely be in a city near you." Is this the status quo life of a musician, or the life of Walter Bell, the ambitious and hardworking flutist who loves the road? Walter Bell
: This is probably the life of Walter Bell, the ambitious and hardworking flutist, who loves the road and to quote Art Blakey "If you’re not playing you’re disappearing." Jazz Review:
Along with the big venues, you frequent many college campuses around the country and talk to many aspiring musicians. What do you get from those conversations as a veteran musician? Walter Bell
: It’s a barometer as to what is going on among younger players and what I may not be aware of. It’s also a chance to share with them the things I’ve learned in the business so it won’t be as hard for them as it was for me and other musicians who are completely independent. Jazz Review:
As a self-taught musician what were the advantages and disadvantages of this kind of training? Walter Bell
: As a result of tradition and school systems in this country, players are taught to depend on eyesight instead of their ear. Many musicians can’t function unless they’re reading from a chart or prepared text. Then they want to improvise, but can’t remember the melody of the song they started with. Also, they have to acquire at some point "feel". When they do get those things going they are phenomenal.
But I’d rather have a guy with feel and ear any day, rather than a guy who has to read the same song night after night and never learn it. Imagine going to a movie, paying $10.00 and seeing the actors reading from scripts. Being self-taught has enabled me to have spontaneity that comes from being in a do or die situation. I’ve been playing on stage since I was 14, and a combination of reading your audience and knowing what not to do is extremely helpful. Jazz Review:
Who did you lean on for musical influences? And how did your style evolve to include Latin sounds? Walter Bell
: Herbie Mann, Hubert Laws, Yusef Lateef and my childhood buddy, Artie Webb. Because I play the flute, I was drawn to Latin rhythms. The flute is a prominent instrument in that music. So you heard more of it than you did in Motown, for example. In our neighborhood you could do the mambo or cha-cha to a Motown record that had a mambo flavor to it. Philly had some wonderful neighborhoods and radio stations and I got to enjoy all of them. Jazz Review:
Who would be in your dream jam session? And where would it be? Walter Bell
: Players: Bobby Hayes, the guy that taught me everything about jazz at an early age(he was a fantastic flute and conga player), Richard Davis on bass, Sunny Bravo on piano, Cal Tjader on vibes, and Mongo Santa Maria on congas. And the three places for this jam session would be: outdoors at Times Square, the Tropicana in Havana, Cuba, or at the house I grew up in Philly on Arch Street JazzReview
: What is coming up for you? Walter Bell
: Miss Cleo hasn’t told me yet, but seriously, whatever it is I hope it’s good and others can benefit from it. JazzReview
: Thank you Walter. Keep up the great sounds!