In Conversation With . . . Cochemea Gastelum, Part III

Cochemea Gastelum is a Yaqui jazz saxophonist and recording artist. As a member of Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, he backed up Amy Winehouse in performance of and in the recording studio for her album Back to Black.

The Electric Sound of Johnny Arrow, Gastelum’s first solo album, was recently reviewed in The Voice. Two tracks from Johnny Arrow have been singled out for more kudos: ?Carlito!? was featured on National Geographic‘s World Music site, and the Utne Reader is featuring ?Dark City? this month.

Wanda Waterman St. Louis had the honour of giving Gastelum his first interview following the album’s release. Part I of the interview can be found here, and Part II is here.

Those Times When the Earth Moves

I’ve had quite a few incredible musical experiences, both as a listener and a player. I got to play a gig with Lonnie Smith at a jazz festival a couple years ago. I’d always admired Lonnie and wanted to play with him. I knew Donald Harrison and I just showed up at the concert to listen. Fifteen minutes before the gig, the promoters approached me and said, ?Donald’s on the other side of town, and we need to start. Can you sub for him until he gets back??

So of course I said, ?No problem!? I was a huge fan, but I’d never met Lonnie before and I was pretty nervous, but I went with it.

Mindful Performance

We didn’t speak to each other on stage, but it was just one of those moments when You’re present and everything else disappears and all that matters is what’s going on, no thinking, just the Zen of it all. When I played with Lonnie, That’s how it felt. I didn’t know what music he was playing, but we were completely in sync.

It can’t be like that all the time, but the goal is to try to be in that space all the time. That’s the best?just being, experiencing, living in that moment. You can always access that, but it takes lot of focus.

The Next Voyage

I really enjoy making my own records, and luckily I’m in a community here in Brooklyn where That’s what people do. I have my own studio set up, and my new album is based more on native roots music or a correlation of indigenous music.

I listen to a lot of African, Latin and indigenous music. I really like Jim Pepper, a Native American saxophonist who played in the ?60s, ?70s, and ?80s. He was a jazz musician but he grew up singing Native American songs, what they called forty-niner songs, and he took these and jazz and gospel and fused them all together.

When I first heard Jim’s music, I was on tour with Archie Shepp. Hamid Drake, an amazing drummer from Chicago, actually turned me on to Jimmy’s music because he’d played with him before. The first time I heard that music, I wanted to cry. I think I actually did.

I thought to myself, I really want to take this idea and explore it even further, with how I would do it, with how my take on it would be.

So That’s what the next recording project is going to be, incorporating Native American rhythms and melodies. Like Jim says, Native American music and African music is music from the ground up. That’s what I’m interested in.

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