Maupin had already laid cornerstones on some enormous edifices: Miles Davis’ 1970 Afro-dance BitchesBrewand its commercial skyscraper of an offshoot, Herbie Hancock’s 1973 funk template HeadHunters.Musicians knew his name, yes. The public, though? Not really.
“So I thought,” says Maupin in that calm but determined Buddhist way that he has, “This is just not my time to be doing this.” He augmented his art with classes at Pasadena City College, took some temporary extramusical jobs, played here and there. He’s now 58, and this is his time.
In 2001, Maupin got a substantial composer grant from Chamber Music America. He started showing up everywhere with his tenor sax and bass clarinet: Just in the last year, among other gigs here and abroad, he’s played in the band of reactivated bass master Henry Grimes, done spotlight work in a tribute to post-bop genius Eric Dolphy at Cal State L.A., and played around locally with his quartet, which has just released the moody texture work Penumbra.His recent music, though quiet, melodious and structurally involving, maintains an irresistible African drive. When people hear it — jazz fans or no — they fall in love.
L.A.WEEKLY:It’satoughtimetobebringingoutnewjazz. BENNIEMAUPIN:Yeah, it is, especially since we’re not trying to fit into some kind of format.
I don’t think so!
Well, my first wind instrument was clarinet. I moved to New York in 1962, and before that I’d already heard Eric Dolphy. His playing on the bass clarinet was something that really opened my ears. It happened that one of my friends played bass clarinet — Marzette Watts. He had his old clarinet, and I got the word that he wanted to sell it.
When it ended, I was really quite glad that it did. It wasn’t musically that enjoyable for me after a certain point, and businesswise, I realized that the return on that kind of success was not geared toward the band as much as it was geared toward management and the record company.
I like the spaces in the music now. I like the colors of the percussion in the various things that we’re starting to develop. We’re getting this connection that you get after having worked together for a while.
Chamber Music America has defined chamber music as music that’s performed in an intimate setting, with a limited number of musicians, generally without a conductor. There we are.
The real proof in the pudding was what happened at the Egyptian Theater. Most of those people I’m sure had no idea what was gonna happen there. It was an incredibly encouraging event for me — it was very well received.
Presenters are becoming more aware of the need for variety, not just string quartets and European music. People want to hear more than what they hear on the Wave, that’s for sure, and even more than what they hear on the jazz station. I don’t think it truly represents what a lot of young musicians are doing. I think about the younger guys now, and I say to myself, “Wow, how are they gonna get the exposure?” Y’know, when I was comin’ up, you had the bands — Art Blakey, Horace Silver, Miles Davis. At least you could get a gig. It’s not like that anymore. I tell guys, “Even if you have to go and play for free, go and do it.”
It’s something that I feel very serious about supporting. It’s important to have a place for young musicians to go to and experiment and learn from older guys. I go there maybe once or twice a year, to make people aware: You can come here. It’s not gonna cost you an arm and a leg. Nobody’s gonna mug you. People here are cool, and the music is exciting. It’s a great place.