This week, Local Spins asked Grand Rapids saxophone icon John Gist to reveal the recordings that most influenced him as a musician. Check out his picks, plus a current favorite that’s a ’60s classic.
EDITOR’S NOTE: All musicians can trace their inspiration to key recordings that captivated them and influenced their careers. Writer Ross Boissoneau today showcases recordings that changed the world for Grand Rapids saxophonist John Gist. Scroll down for a Spotify playlist of his picks.
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John Gist always wanted to be a musician. “The hardest thing was finding the instrument,” he says. “I thought maybe I could talk my parents into buying a guitar.” Then he heard music by the likes of Earth, Wind & Fire and Parliament-Funkadelic. “Maceo Parker, The Brecker Brothers – I locked into that sound.”
He started playing on the West Michigan scene as an alto saxophonist in a classic rock band called The Shoes. As he became more familiar with the music, he realized he really needed to up his game by getting a tenor sax.
“When I finally secured a tenor, I immediately ventured out to a jam session (hosted by late guitarist Junior Valentine). I left defeated because I really didn’t understand the role of the tenor sax in blues and rock ‘n’ roll,” Gist recalls.
So, Gist took it upon himself to learn more about the style by listening to different tenor players. “The night after the jam session with Junior, I headed to Meijer and bought these three CDs,” he says. Was he familiar with the artists? A bit. Did he know that they represented different styles? Not really. He just looked at the covers – front and back – and chose them based on the photos and song titles.
It worked out OK.
“In a two-month period, I listened to and studied these three compilations, assimilating what I heard into my playing. I returned to the jam that Junior was hosting and he didn’t remember me from two months prior. After the jam, he offered me a job in his band, where I continued to grow as a saxophonist over an eight-year period.”
Gist now works with several different ensembles and musicians, including leading his own jazz group. He plays BOLD Cigar Bar & Lounge in Grand Rapids at 8 p.m. Saturday (March 5).
1. Stanley Turrentine, “Best Of Stanley Turrentine” (1989) – This album represented the approach I would use towards jazz standards and blues. I had no idea what the man was (on the cover) with sunglasses and a cigarette. I said, “This is a bad mf.” When I listened, I found he had a real big sound, bringing out the blues and jazz, all the elements I wanted in my playing. In Grand Rapids, you have to play jazz standards, blues. I front my own band, with fusion, straight-ahead (jazz), pop in the show. It’s a musical Swiss army knife. Stanley Turrentine epitomizes that as far as tone and approach.
Listen: “Little Sheri”
2. Boots Randolph, “The Greatest Hits of Boots Randolph” (1988) – This was one of the most impressive discographies I’ve ever heard because of Boots’ way of delivering the vocals of a popular tune through his tenor saxophone. I flipped it over and he covered ‘The Shadow of Your Smile,’ ‘Hey Jude,’ a couple others. I bought it because I wanted to hear this guy turn Yakety Sax into “Hey Jude.” He turned into a whole different player. He was making jazz (accessible). The production was amazing, like Kenny G.
Listen: “Yakety Sax”
3. The Brecker Brothers, “The Very Best Of The Brecker Brothers” (2006) – This was probably one of the hardest CDs for me because of Michael Brecker’s mastery of the altissimo register on the tenor saxophone, but it also represented my approach to fusion jazz and contemporary/smooth jazz. He played on so many pop records. A lot of the time Michal played some technical stuff I’m still fighting to get, but he also pulled back to something you could (hum) to.
Listen: “Some Skunk Funk”
Currently Loving: Wilton Felder, “Bullitt” (1969) – This is my go-to for that Texas tenor sax sound and technique in “modern” music. Junior gave me tapes with sax players, really big, honking, screeching (sound). My place is in the middle, players like Illinois Jacquet, Wilton. I discovered that (“Bullitt”) soundtrack about two months ago. It was the first I heard him so much as a soloist. The tone, technique was all I was and am trying to do. “Street Life” (a tune by the Crusaders featuring Felder) is a must-know solo in my circles. I’m just now getting comfortable with my sound.
ALBUMS THAT CHANGED THE WORLD: John Gist’s Playlist on Spotify
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