Smitty: I must say it is a sheer pleasure to welcome to Jazz Monthly for the first time a guitarist with a supersonic groove! He recently released a magnificent live project called Live at the Jazz Standard Volume One. You must check out this record because it represents the true flava of this great cat. Please welcome the incomparable and dynamic Mr. Russell Malone. Russell, how ya doin’?
Russell Malone (RM): All right, Smitty. How you doin’, man?
Smitty: All right. Man, you must have had the time of your life with this latest project.
RM: Well, you know something? I’ve always wanted to make a live recording. I’ve been with a couple of other labels and the last one particularly that I was with, I had spoken to them about doing a live record because fans who’ve heard us play around the world, they’ve always suggested to me that I do a live record because they felt that….and I agree with them….they felt that we generate an energy that is not so apparent on records that we’ve done in the past. So I went to the other label and I said “Hey, I would really like to make a live record,” but they came up with every excuse as to why it couldn’t be done. Richard McDonald, who is the President of MaxJazz, he told me that, because he’s seen me play, he said “Man, how do you feel about doing a live record?” I said “Hey, man, I would love to do it. It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do.” Because he saw me as Russell Malone and he said “You have your own thing and this should be documented.” One of the things that I like about this label is that they weren’t trying to make me out to be the next so-and-so. They accepted me for who I am.
Smitty: Yes, that’s very important.
RM: So many times, a lot of these people, they’re always looking for the next this or the next that.…instead of just accepting an artist for who they are. And this is what he did and I’m very happy with the outcome. Yes, I had a lot of fun making this record.
Smitty: Yes, I could tell, man. This is just a fantastic project. And to do it live, like you just mentioned, it gives you the true and real Russell Malone, and that’s what we love.
RM: Oh, thank you.
Smitty: Yes. Well, now, let’s back up a little bit. You started out making music in clubs, you were doing some gigs in clubs, and you were in Houston when I was in Houston.
RM: I used to live in Houston, Texas. I actually started out making music in the church. That’s where I got my first introduction to music, and as time progressed I started to play clubs. Actually I lived in Houston for about six months back in 1984. Were you there then?
RM: Yeah, I used to play at a couple of places. There was one called The Gallant Knight.
RM: And there was another one called McColby’s over on Fondren Road.
Smitty: Yes, absolutely.
RM: And there was another one….it’s no longer there anymore….but it’s over on Gessner Road, a place called Jason’s.
Smitty: That one I don’t remember.
Smitty: How ‘bout that, man? Wow. Well, we’ve got something else in common. Talk about how you got your first record deal?
RM: The very first record deal I got through none other than Harry Connick, Jr., because I worked with him from late 1989 to early ’94, a little bit over five years. So what happened was the CEO of Columbia Records at the time was Tommy Mottola.
RM: And he heard me play and he expressed interest in signing me, so Harry Connick, we went into the studio and he organized a demo session, so I went in there and I did a demo….just recorded some tunes, and then we presented it to Mr. Mottola, and then he felt that it would be necessary for me to go and make a recording, so that’s how I got my first deal, through Harry Connick.
Smitty: Wow, what an endorsement, man. And that’s cool. So, now, going to the record, I just want to talk a little bit about this record because, man, this is fantastic music and I have to tell you I love “Mean Streak,” man. Oh!
RM: You like that? (laughs)
Smitty: Oh my goodness, man. You know, with “Mean Streak,” with that song, I don’t need Starbucks, I don’t need an alarm clock. Man, that track will kick you out of bed at 5:00 a.m. any time!
RM: Oh, thanks, man. We had a really good time playing that tune and those guys in the band….Jonathan Blake, Tassili Bond, and Martin Bejerano….they kept that tempo and they kept that time together on that tune.