The bond between musicians can be more than a strong rapport on the bandstand. Sometimes the intuitiveness can be so robust that a partnership between two musicians can supersede any musical combination that could be put around it. This is precisely what Hayes Greenfield and Dean Johnson have found in their musical partnership and is on full display on their new recording, Lover To You.
Saxophonist/composer/improviser Greenfield has maintained a busy musical career, balancing his interests of jazz, contemporary music, and film scoring for nearly fifty years. Apart from playing in jazz settings, Greenfield has developed a singular approach to blending saxophone and electronic music in a quadrophonic sound presentation. He also has created programs that introduce children to jazz and that utilize sound as a developmental device.
Greenfield first met bassist Johnson while they were both studying at the Berklee College of Music in the mid-1970s. It took them another decade to begin playing together regularly in different configurations in New York City. Their work in quartets and trios helped the two develop a conversational style of play. They soon found that they really didn’t need other musicians to enhance what they already had as a duo, a formation that they have been revisiting for nearly 20 years.
Naturally, Greenfield and Johnson’s musical connection was deep. Their duo allowed for an openness in their playing, allowing them to stretch and push one another. Johnson’s bass approach maintained the outline of their material perfectly and provided jumping off points for improvisation for the two of them.
Over the past few years, the duo had begun to play regularly at Greenfield’s brother’s Soapbox Gallery in Brooklyn. Their monthly appearances helped strengthen their material and over a span of three months in 2023, as each appearance was recorded, Greenfield and Johnson found takes that they felt demonstrated their easy-going yet dynamic approach. They decided to collate these pieces into a recording to document their work.
The recording begins with Greenfield’s “The Music Never Dies,” a piece that he wrote for an architecture documentary; it allows Greenfield’s fire to burn through Johnson’s coolly delivered accompaniment. The pair plays an homage to piano great Thelonious Monk on his “Ask Me Now,” a well-chosen vehicle highlighting the pair’s lock-step back and forth dialog. Greenfield’s “My Eileen” is a heart-warming, romantic tune written for his wife. The Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster standard “Secret Love” has been the pair’s warmup song for nearly 30 years and shows their making the most of an up-tempo composition.
Fats Waller’s innovative evergreen “Jitterbug Waltz” gets an intriguing reading with the pair taking liberties with tempo and phrasing. Greenfield’s lighthearted “I Can’t Make You Love Me Like I Wish I Could” takes its name from a tongue in cheek remark made in a domestic squabble with its devil may care ease mixed with fiery interjections. The recording concludes the emotive ballad, “Lover To You,” a piece that Greenfield wrote for a film about two confused lovers who both believe that the other is having an affair.
Hayes Greenfield and Dean Johnson have found that their duo is one of the most enjoyable and rewarding musical pairings in their careers. They decided to document and share their symbiosis on their diverse and endearing recording, Lover To You.
released November 3, 2023
Hayes Greenfield - alto saxophone
Dean Johnson - bass