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Interviews

Jim Snidero: A Tale Of Taste

By Published: July 8, 2013
His rapid ascent through the ranks at North Texas was an early indicator of his potential, but he never rested on his laurels. When school was out, he continued to hone his craft during the summer(s). Snidero notes, "I met [saxophonist] Dave Liebman
Dave Liebman
Dave Liebman
b.1946
saxophone
when I was at North Texas and I came to New York during the summertime and studied with Liebman; he was really the catalyst for me to come to New York when I did because he said that I should. And then, I studied with Liebman when I came to New York. Phil [Woods] was before North Texas and into it a little bit and Liebman was the guy that I got into at North Texas. I studied a lot of his solos. There's a group [he was in] with [drummer] Elvin Jones
Elvin Jones
Elvin Jones
1927 - 2004
drums
, and they did a record called Live At The Lighthouse (Blue Note, 1972) that was very popular when I was a student. We used to listen to that record, in particular, a lot. And I played a lot of soprano back then and I saw Liebman play." That clearly inspired Snidero. He continues, "[Liebman] kind of took over that mentorship that I had with Phil. Then, when I came to New York, I had that kind of connection that helped me to get here."

Snidero arrived in New York in 1981 and it didn't take him long to find his way; within a year's time he was sharing the bandstand with organist Jack McDuff
Jack McDuff
Jack McDuff
1926 - 2001
organ, Hammond B3
. Looking back on how his first big break came to be, Snidero notes, "Someone that I met in New York was playing with Brother Jack McDuff, and he was out of town for a time. So, I got a call from Jack in the afternoon one day, and he said, 'Can you come to the recording studio right now?' I was 23 years old, so I say 'yeah, yeah,' and he asked me if I had ever played funk before, which I really hadn't; at least, probably not what he meant, but I lied and I said 'yeah.' Then I took out a David Sanborn
David Sanborn
David Sanborn
b.1945
saxophone
record that I had and listened to some of that before I split, but it turned out, when I got to the recording studio he wanted me to just play jazz. It was just basically over straight eighth notes. Then he hired me for the band. That was in 1982. I came [to New York] in the Fall of '81 and I started playing with Jack in the beginning of '82."

With McDuff, Snidero became a road warrior for a spell and learned the ins-and-outs of the musician's life. He notes, "We toured the country; we criss-crossed back and forth two or three times. I really felt like I was going to graduate school. It really had that feeling because there was no way that I was going to learn what I was learning from Jack in school, as far as playing every night with guys that had such great time and are very professional and polished. We were climbing in the van and driving four hours and doing the same thing [night after night]. I think, in a year, we had about 150 gigs."

While Snidero was being indoctrinated in the ways of the touring musician, he was also getting invaluable experience in the studio. He notes, "That was a great, great experience with Jack. I did three recordings, which was really unusual then. You have to understand that jazz, at that point, had really just bottomed out. The thing that was really the catalyst for a new scene was Wynton [Marsalis]. Marsalis coming on the scene and playing with Blakey, and playing with Herbie [Hancock]'s group, and making a record for Columbia was important. He was the first guy of our age that we could point to that was getting a lot of press. Right when I started to play with Jack was kind of right at that time, and things had just bottomed out, so doing three records at that time wasn't that easy. There wasn't a lot of major label recording activity." He rightly states that "to have that gig with Brother Jack McDuff and to do those records at that time was pretty prestigious, and it meant something."

As word of Snidero's skills spread, other leaders brought him aboard. Associations with the Mingus Big Band and saxophone legend Frank Wess
Frank Wess
Frank Wess
1922 - 2013
sax, tenor
developed, but one of the most important sideman jobs Snidero took early on was with pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi
Toshiko Akiyoshi
Toshiko Akiyoshi
b.1929
piano
's Jazz Orchestra. His connection to Akiyoshi would ultimately help him launch his solo career, but this relationship almost never happened; Snidero wasn't sure if he could handle the job at first. He recalls, "[Akiyoshi's husband/partner, saxophonist] Lew [Tabackin] had called me to play in the band in 1983, and I said I hadn't been playing my doubles. I didn't think I could do it. So I said that maybe I shouldn't make the rehearsal he was talking about. I didn't turn it down, so to speak, but I didn't think I was qualified; I had not been playing flute and I was not a good clarinetist. He said 'ok,' but then he called me back a couple of weeks later, and he said, 'just come down.' So, I did."


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