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The next and the now coalesce on saxophonist Eric Wyatt's 'A Song of Hope'

Eric Wyatt
Salvatore Corso

Saxophonist Eric Wyatt expresses a unique duality on the New York music scene. As the godson of saxophonist Sonny Rollins, his playing addresses the lineage of the music through the language of the heavyweight tenor sound. As a bandleader, Wyatt is has recognized and cultivated the next generation of heavyweight improvisers — a growing list that includes Robert Glasper, Theo Croker, Kassa Overall, Damion Reid, and E.J. Strickland.

"Karma is important," Wyatt says in this installment of Let Me Tell You 'Bout It. "Be true to the music, and know that it's also give and take. I want to pass along the lessons I've learned from some incredible musicians, and many times, I also end up learning from these young cats as well."

WBGO's Let Me Tell You 'Bout It w/ Eric Wyatt

In the late 1990s, musicians dubbed Wyatt "Mayor of Brooklyn" for his ability to create camaraderie and community around gigs in his native borough. But the spirit of collaboration Wyatt has curated between veteran players and rising stars has stretched far beyond Kings County's borders.

A Song of Hope is the latest document of this fellowship. Safely recorded at Rudy Van Gelder Studios during the 2020 lockdown, it features Croker and Chris Lowery on trumpets, Samara Joy on vocals, Eric Wheeler and Mike Boone on bass, Donald Vega on piano, Khalil Bell on percusion, and Mehki Boone and Jeff "Tain" Watts on drums.

Eric Wyatt - The Making Of A Song Of Hope - Recorded At Van Gelder Studio

Wyatt had previously only sat in with Watts onstage, and collaborated on one previous date for trombonist Clifton Anderson. Still, Wyatt designed the music and interplay with Tain's sound and in mind.

"When the president of the label reached out to me, I told him that I had an idea and I needed to use Jeff Watts," Wyatt says. "The way we play rhythmically together is intense, and it feels like the musical equivalent of a boxing match. He's a premium drummer and a cool guy."

Wyatt's last three records have entered the Top 20 on the JazzWeek national radio charts, with A Song of Hope rising to number 5. As his previous recording was made in tribute to Rollins, Wyatt's current album is a call for reflection and yearning for positive social changes.

"On this record I wanted to make a different kind of statement and reflect more of what we've been through this last year," he says, "and I think we did."

In our conversation, Wyatt remembers going to his first concerts at 12 to hear the Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins groups; the lessons he learned from his father about creating a musical identity; and what he learned from Rollins.

Greg Bryant has been a longtime curator of improvisational music. At the age of 3 in his hometown of Nashville, Tennessee, he was borrowing his father’s records and spinning them on his Fisher Price turntable. Taking in diverse sounds of artistry from Miles Davis, Les McCann, James Brown, Weather Report and Jimi Hendrix gave shape to Greg's musical foundation and started him on a path of nonstop exploration.