Arlen Asher-Paul Gonzales Quintet
Together again, teacher and student find a common thread
By Mel Minter
Woodwind maestro Arlen Asher and trumpeter Paul Gonzales first played together more than 40 years ago. Asher was visiting the first-grade class taught by his late wife, Jo, at Albuquerque’s Montgomery Elementary School. He brought along his collection of saxes and flutes and allowed the little rug rats to enjoy a hands-on experience with them.
Rug-rat Gonzales chose to make his musical debut on the bari sax, which stood taller than he did. After getting a quick embouchure lesson, Gonzales took the monster’s mouthpiece and started blowing, with Asher fingering the keys.
“I remember Arlen holding the horn and me blowing, and then seeing his fingers moving, and saying, ‘Wow, I’m getting some different notes. How did you do that?’ ”
Gonzales does his own fingering now, on trumpet and flügelhorn. That’s allowed him to play alongside Asher since the mid-’90s, and the two local jazz luminaries will continue their long association on Thursday at the Outpost, with help from Brian Bennett (piano), Michael Glynn (bass) and John Trentacosta (drums).
Coming to New Mexico in 1958 to work at KNME-TV, Asher got involved in the local jazz scene right away. By the mid-’60s, he’d teamed up with guitarist Bob Brown in the Arlen Asher-Bob Brown Quartet, which hosted two jazz shows on KNME-TV and a series of concerts with high-powered guest artists.
After a few years in broadcasting, Asher found that teaching was better suited to his temperament. Over the course of four decades, he’s taught thousands of New Mexico kids.
In the mid-’90s, at the invitation of drummer John Trentacosta, Asher joined the group Straight Up, where his lyrical playing has found a welcome home ever since. He and Trentacosta also co-host “The Jazz Experience” on KSFR 101.1 FM, Mondays from 9 a.m. to noon.
After high school, Gonzales headed off to play trumpet in the U.S. Army Band. Stationed near Boston, he haunted the city’s jazz clubs and met pianist James Williams, with whom he studied improvisation.
Gonzales returned here in the mid-’80s, intending to head back East after polishing his chops. Instead, he joined the Albuquerque Fire Department. In his free time, he performed all kinds of music all over town—in bands such as Son Como Son, Tetragon, Straight Up, Calle 66, Tradiciones, to name a few—and at music festivals from Telluride to Newport.
Since retiring from AFD a few years ago, Gonzales has devoted himself to performing, recording and teaching music. He also hosts “All That Jazz” on Mondays at noon on KUNM 89.9 FM.
Their paths crossed again in 1994, when the two men played together for the first time as grown-ups (though Asher jokes, “That’s never going to happen”). They’ve been working together ever since, drawn by a common appreciation of lyricism and a high regard for one another.
“All my times playing with Arlen—every single time, I’ve always thought, I’d like to get to that level one day,” says Gonzales. “He’s the most accommodating person and team player. Arlen has ears.”
Asher repays the compliment, describing what appeals to him about Gonzales’ playing: “Soul. Swinging. Sound. And a very nice guy. The sound he gets out of both instruments—flügelhorn and trumpet—some people can play one note, and that’s all you need to know, and Paul’s one of them.”
The two plan to do a number of standards on Thursday—“Caravan,” “Black Nile,” “Lover Man” were mentioned—and a few originals, likely including Gonzales’ spunky tribute to Louis Armstrong, “Louis’ Inferno.”
Whatever the Arlen Asher-Paul Gonzales Quintet plays, fans of straight-ahead jazz who prize musicality and feeling will be right at home.
Arlen Asher-Paul Gonzales Quintet
Thursday, March 17, 7:30 p.m.
210 Yale SE, 268-0044
Tickets: $20, $15 members and students
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