Rusty Crutcher: Romances Latinos
Posted on April 10, 2015 by Peter Boehi in Smooth Jazz News
Veteran Saxophonist And Renaissance Man Shares His Passion For The World’s Most Beautiful Latin Love Songs On His Latest Recording, “Romances Latinos”
By Jonathan Widran
As veteran saxophonist Rusty Crutcher tells it, there are two equally fascinating “origin stories” behind the inspiration and creation of Romances Latinos, a beautiful, sensual sweep through 11 of what he calls “The World’s Most Beautiful Latin Love Songs written by the Greatest South and Central American Songwriters and Composers of the Twentieth Century.”
The recording is a true labor of musical love involving fascinating cultural research and some of the most passionate playing of his nearly 30 year recording career. His first independent release since 2002’s Isle of Avalon, it also marks an exciting creative Renaissance for the versatile composer, multi-instrumentalist, producer and inventor, who is using it as a springboard to re-launch his label Emerald Green Sound Productions.
Crutcher’s original fascination with Latin music came from his childhood growing up in a semi-rural area of Houston, where the Hispanic culture was well infused because of ranching, farming and other agricultural activities. The first band he played in at 16 was the Eugene Garcia Orchestra, a local ensemble featuring the manager/bandleader and his trumpeter son.
“The Hispanic culture has been a contributing force to Western Art for many centuries, but the great popular love songs of the 20th Century have largely stayed South of the border and are performed mainly by vocalist,” he says.
Reflecting on one of the more familiar song choices he made for the album, Crutcher adds, “Occasionally a song like ‘Cuando Vuela a tu Lado’ crosses over to become a huge American hit, with the audience not knowing it was originally a Mexican song. I’m speaking of ‘What a Difference a Day Makes.’ The American version was always recorded and performed with a faster tempo–more upbeat and ‘of the American times.'”
Crutcher says the initial spark for the project struck him when he moved from his longtime home in Santa Fe to Victoria, Texas to stay with his sister, an accomplished ballroom dancer, to recover from a recent back surgery. He was asked to DJ for a competition she was promoting and starring in, and something powerful took hold when he began spinning a string of boleros, rumbas, cha chas, bossas and the bolero and mariachi inspired pop music of Luis Miguel.
“I fell in love with these songs, and began researching their origins and original recordings,” says Crutcher, whose most recent album release at the time was the contemporary jazz oriented Haven’t We Met… “They were chromatically interesting, but I also realized at heart they were simple pop tunes that would work for my primary instrument, the sax. I started researching them at the nearby University of Texas library and then online, looking up great composers of boleros and listening to original recordings that of course were recorded by singers not horn players.
As the concept took shape and he began choosing the songs, he worked on arrangements with his old high school friend John Mills, a house horn arranger for Austin City Limits and Texas State University professor – who also encouraged Crutcher to pursue a Master’s in Music, which later led the saxophonist to study for his Ph.D. in Music Theory at the University of Kentucky; he expects to be finished with his dissertation by August 2015.
The era Crutcher chose to focus on from ranges from 1940 (“Without You”/”Sin Ti”) to 1968 (“I Miss You”/”Te Extrano”) and the countries he draws from include Mexico (seven tunes), Cuba, Chile and Brazil (the familiar Luis Bonfa/Antonio Maria piece “Black Orpheus (Manha Carnival),” from the 1959 Brazilian film “Black Orpheus”).
“I researched the music for over a year,” Crutcher says, “looking for songs that are part of the Latin music canon and were strongly melodically driven. As a sax player a strong melody would only allow me to soar and to best express the song. The songs I found remind me of the extended melodies of 19th Century Art Music, or classical music to the general public… long, longing, romantic, and expressive. From my deeper studies of singers who had performed these over the years, I was able to put the kind of emotional emphasis on my horn as if I were a Spanish vocalist, even approximating the rolling of the letter ‘r’ in places. The key was authenticity. As I created the original charts and Midi versions that became the foundation for the full production, I knew I wanted elements like nylon string Spanish guitar and an accordion that would make a bandoneon sound for tangos.”
Asked about his musical inspirations, Crutcher offers a bit of whimsy: “It’s my music. It’s what falls into my life that is totally absorbing that is metaphorically musical – watching a whirlwind in the desert, skiing fresh snow, listening to and studying the masters. It’s that and everything.”
Prior to the empowering journey through Latin American musical history that now allows him to share Romances Latinos, the multi-faceted artist’s wanderlust took him to a variety of physical and musical realms that made him an instrumental star throughout the late 1980s and 1990s. After years of working in Los Angeles on film, TV and studio session dates – an era during which he played with everyone from Alphonse Mouzon (Weather Report), old Houston high school classmate Ronnie Laws, Elvin Bishop, The Coasters, The Drifters and The Emotions – he settled in Santa Fe and reinvented himself.
Crutcher’s six releases in his groundbreaking Sacred Sites series emerge from a union of location-specific compositions with environmental sounds recorded at places and events of exceptional spiritual energy. These locales include Glastonbury, England (Isle of Avalon); Machu Picchu, Peru at the time of the Harmonic Convergence (Machu Picchu Impressions); lively animal recordings from the Amazon Basin (Amazon Song); solstice and equinox events at Chaco Canyon, New Mexico (Chaco Canyon); ocean and animal sounds during a total solar eclipse at La Paz, Baja California (Ocean Eclipse); and sounds from the Great Serpent Mound, a Native American site in southern Ohio (Serpent Mound).
Romances Latinos is not simply a one-time re-emergence from Crutcher’s hiatus as a recording artist – it’s kicking off an exciting array of new and exciting projects reflecting a refreshing and revitalized creativity. First up: an album called Oracle Delphi Sacred Site, inspired by a visit to Delphi, Greece, in August 2015. The saxophonist also promises a sequel to Romances Latinos, a bossa nova record, and possibly a “gypsy kingfish” album with a big tenor sound or a big tenor, Chicago based R&B/dance album based on music from 1956-1966.
Crutcher’s excitement about Romances Latinos as a launching point for this next phase of his career as an artist is palpable. “It is a privilege for me to introduce these songs to much of the non-Hispanic culture who has either never heard them or perhaps is unaware of what culture created them,” he says. “I suppose it’s one way for me to thank the Hispanic culture for creating awesome music for the People. These songs are the Hispanic experience notated by them. I’m interested in everything that has life and vitality.”