Boston's Randy Roos-A Local Legend Sustains Infinitely
RR: When Frisell joined the band it was right at the end of that band's time. That's when it started to hit a stride, which was unfortunate because we'd burned all our working bridges. We did college gigs and some other stuff, but we broke up. I worked on Nantucket at a restaurant for a summer, with a pianist. It was fortunate because there was one jazz club there also. The restaurant I played at had just a single seating, a set menu. We only played from 8 to 10. At 10 I'd go to the jazz club and sit in with people.like I sat in with Webster Lewis for a week'that was great. That's because Alyrio Lima , who played percussion on the Mistral record, lived in Nantucket at the time and played in that band. That night there was a lot of jamming and a lot of it was rearranging tunes, like a funk arrangement of 'I Remember April'. I remember me and another guitarist, a more rock guy, got into this 15 minute, wailing-at-each-other kind of thing that was actually completely appropriate. The band had worked itself into this zone..these wailing, sweeping, interweaving lines together- and then it just stopped. The crowd just screamed for ten minutes. In a musical life, maybe you've done thousands of gigs and you think back to your dozen most memorable musical moments..that's one of them. One of the reasons is that I distinctly remember thinking, 'This stuff is really weird. We are really doing weird stuff here and I am afraid to stop because I am afraid the club owner is going tell us to leave or that the audience is going to start throwing things at us.' The jam ended right at that point. After a pregnant pause and the audience screaming, the band kind of looked around at each other and said, 'Oh, I guess that was okay.'(Laughs) That's my 1977 Nantucket highlight!
Then- I went to Berklee! For one year. I wanted to just do Berklee and try to make some contacts. My band had folded. I thought, 'I have to learn some more stuff 'it's clear to me there is a lot of stuff I don't have together.' I thought, 'What you should do is try to land an established sideman position.'
To do that I need some more skills I could get at Berklee- some ensemble work and really work on my reading. That whole summer I was in Nantucket, I worked on my reading three to four hours a day. I'll never be a good reader. I put a lot of time into it and got so I was an ok, functional reader. It's something I have a negative talent for.
I auditioned for placement with a teacher who had heard me in clubs. He said, 'What are you doing here?' I said, 'I'm going to Berklee.' He asked me if I could read and put something simple in front of me and I read it. Now, if most guys go in and can read, they give a score of three. He gave me sevens and eights. Within five minutes of entering the school, I was in the absolute upper echelon of students. I didn't have that kind of reading skills. His point was, 'I don't know if you can cut this or not..I am just going to give this to you.' He gave me that look of, 'I don't know if I'm doing the right thing or not, but here it is.' It was great! I hooked up with Phil Wilson and I did a lot with Mike Gibbs- recording'wise and stuff. When I did the advanced placement for ear training, I placed immediately out of the entire program, so they were really sensitive to that. So I did four years of stuff in a year! After having done literally thousands of gigs, etc., I found I had acquired some very useful skills.
AAJ: So had you developed all those wonderful chords, all that advanced chordal stuff that you do and have done for years, by then? Before you went to Berklee?
RR: Yeah. I learned all that from Mick.
AAJ: Can you tell me what some of that is?
RR: It's very simple. It has nothing to do with chords and everything to do with lines and scales. If you take a scale and you harmonize the scale-just like going up diatonically with some kind of structure-you can decide on those structures any number of ways. If you harmonize a scale that way, you therefore have harmony that applies to that scale and what's really important, any mode from that scale. So if you harmonize a melodic minor scale for instance-the seventh mode will be altered dominant- so by harmonizing some chord structure and moving it through a melodic minor scale, not only do you get interesting ways of dealing with melodic minor harmony, you get interesting ways of working with dominant seventh chords-provided that chord is functioning as a V chord and can handle all those tensions on it.
AAJ: That's like the 'trick' of playing melodic minor up a half step from the root of the fifth chord right?