For more than 15 years the Grammy-nominated, saxophonist, flutist and composer Greg Abate has been making his way from his home in Rhode Island to Taos to perform. The jazz musician is back again with friends John Rangel on piano, Andy Zadrozny on acoustic bass, and Pete Amahl on drums. They will be playing jazz standards, originals and bebop.
Abate and friends will appear Wednesday (Dec. 14), 6:30 p.m., in the Adobe Bar at The Taos Inn, 125 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. There is no cover charge for this show.
After graduating from Berklee College of Music in the mid-1970s, Abate played lead alto sax for the Ray Charles Orchestra for two years. He went on to form the popular New England group, Channel One, and to play tenor sax with the Artie Shaw Orchestra under Dick Johnson’s leadership (1986-87).
Recalling his time with the Ray Charles Orchestra, Abate said it was a very good learning experience for him to travel to different countries in Europe and Eastern Europe and to experience people in different countries.
“That was a big experience for me,” Abate recalls.
In 1991, Abate recorded his first CD “Live At Birdland NYC” on the Candid Jazz Label. Since then, Abate has made 17 additional recordings as a band leader.
Another memorable experience for Abate was playing with his musical idol, saxophonist Phil Woods.
In early 2016, “Kindred Spirits: Live at Chan’s” was released as a joint album by Woods and Abate. In a review for “All About Jazz,” Edward Blanco wrote, “Captured live at Chan’s Jazz & Blues Music Club in Rhode Island, ‘Kindred Spirits’ documents two royals of the alto saxophone joining forces for, what would become, one of the last recordings jazz icon Woods would ever make as he goes out in blistering boppish fashion.” Woods died on Sept. 29, 2015.
“I just loved his playing so much. He was so perfect, and so creative…. Someone you look up to and learn from. I learned a lot from him.” Abate commented on Woods.
Musically, Abate said Woods taught him about the importance of leaving space in a solo. Woods also gave him lessons about the music business and life in general. Abate credits Woods for teaching him “to be real and expect to have good stuff happen, to be firm with the business and try not to fluctuate too much on what you want, [and to be] strong with your ideas.”
Though he has played R&B and funk, Abate found his niche in jazz bebop which he considers to be “like freedom of speech in music.”
“As long as your technique can do what you’re thinking and what you can hear in your head, you’re on your way to constant invention of things because there’s no end to it,” said Abate.
“It’s a challenging form. I’m passionate about it because it’s very interesting to me and it makes me feel good when I play it. It’s a challenge and it’s also sort of Zen-like to me. I feel like it’s a heavy meditation to play jazz the way I do it. It’s really very enjoyable,” Abate said. “I never get bored doing it. It’s always fun and it’s a challenge to make it different every time.”
“I have an individual style,” Abate commented. “It’s high energy, passionate, post bebop jazz, but I also play a modern way, too … I bring an original palette of music to people.”
That style has been noted by music critics like Chicago Tribune’s, Howard Reich, who wrote, “Abate is not content to rely on stock bebop riffs and standard chord progressions. Rather, the sharp angularity of his phrases and the often startling pauses in his fast-moving lines give his work a feeling of constant invention and creativity.”
Abate holds a position as an adjunct professor of jazz studies at Rhode Island College and teaches master workshops when he travels. “Teaching puts a creative spin on my life because I can teach what I do, and then I learn from what I teach and I learn from doing it,” said Abate.
For the past decade, Abate has toured in England in the month of November. This year, he was there for 19 days and played 21 different gigs as the guest artist with 21 different rhythm sections at a variety of venues, festivals and workshops.
At other times of the year, Abate travels when he has a break from teaching, or will take a long weekend to tour. He performs throughout the U.S. and Canada and has spent time in France, Germany and Italy in recent years. In 2016, Abate was inducted into the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame.
Abate also will perform Dec. 15-17 at the Taos Trail Inn, 35309 U.S. 285 in Ojo Caliente. The Thursday night show comes with a buffet dinner for a $20 cover. For reservations or information, call (505) 583-9215.