Miami's Ed Calle has been dazzling audiences with his bountiful musical gifts for about a quarter of a century. From the start, it was obvious that he was a natural player and now, at 39, Calle has been heard on thousands of recordings both as a sideman and a soloist, and his resume includes tour dates with some of the biggest names in the business.
Even if Calle's name is unfamiliar to you, it is guaranteed that you have heard his music. His fiery tenor has graced the work of Gloria Estefan from the earliest days of the Miami Sound Machine, and he's heard on Grammy-award-winning recordings by Arturo Sandoval, Vicky Carr and pop singer Jon Secada. You have also heard him with Julio Iglesias, Vanessa Williams, Bob James, Frank Sinatra and many others, as well as on television and in motion picture soundtracks. The man is not only gifted, but versatile whether it be rock, jazz or pop. Calle has done it all and done it well.
His passion, however, is jazz, an affection he discovered upon hearing a Michael Brecker recording back in his teen years as a student at the University of Miami. Since then he has never looked back. Born in Caracas of Spanish parents, the Latin connection is also a part of his sound, an ingredient that adds just the right touch of spice for his latest solo recording, Sunset Harbor (CCD-4856-2), on the Concord Vista label. The fourth recording under his own name, Calle is proud of the finished product that bears his trademarks of rich melodies and great harmony.
The Latin touch on Sunset Harbor, however, was purposely understated. "I didn't want to make a record that was too Latino for the average listener," said Calle. "My focused goal as a musician is to appeal to as many people as I possibly can without selling out or playing music that's overly simplistic. Anyone who picks up Sunset Harbor will realize that I'm doing my thing. I'm not holding anything back; I'm just trying to create good melodies and play them with emotion."
The essence of music, he feels, is melody; a lesson he learned from his late father, who played Mantovani records in the family home. It's a lesson Calle passes on to his students today when he teaches in public schools. "Melody is first and foremost" my father said, "and then there has to be enough harmonic interest to create a solid foundation for inventive soloing."
Besides instilling a love for melody, Calle also credits his father for launching his career in music. "We came to America in 1966," he recalled, "and I remember my dad suggesting that I take a class in music. I decided that his advice was good and that I wanted to play the sax. It was all my dad's idea for me to play--it was something that I didn't choose for myself."
Calle took to the sax with incredible ease: "It didn't take me long to figure it out. I had a sound that was different from everyone else, and I seemed to learn faster than most of the other students from the first day I began playing." The realization that he wanted to make music for a living did not come until his days at the University of Miami. Calle recalls spending every hour he could spare inside a practice room. It was not rare for him to practice eight, 12, even 14 hours in a day. "I decided I wanted to be a musician, to play the sax, and to play it until it smokes."
His early inspiration was John Coltrane, but he absorbed Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Joe Henderson, Sonny Rollins- the list of players he studied, in his own words, "goes on forever." The great players became a motherlode of ideas for him, but his desire was not to play like them, but rather to get inspiration from them. "I was after what it was that made them sound that way, but I didn't want to copy them. I already had an idea of how I wanted to play."
Even before he left the University of Miami, Calle had already hooked up with Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine, and also with Julio Iglesias. "After college, I went on tour with Bob James, Julio, and Gloria all at the same time." Calle was with Estefan before she hit the big time and he learned first hand what it was like to be a part of a group that took off like a rocket. "I see a little bit of that same good fortune starting to happen with me," he noted. "We perform around the world with my own band, and I can see a similar positive reaction from the crowd happening with us."
Besides playing, writing is vital to Calle's creative instincts. Nine of the eleven cuts on his new record are Ed Calle originals and all of them reflect his passion for melody. "Writing is a big part of your own voice as a musician," he said, "and it's the vehicle you use to state your case musically. If you have a song that people can remember, you'll get a lot more mileage out of it than just standing up and playing 32 bars of something with no melody."
Second to a passion for music is a passion for mathematics. Besides his master's degree in jazz performance, Calle also has a bachelor's degree in math from Florida International University. "I've studied jazz and harmony from a mathematical perspective," he said. "And there is a strong connection between music and math. I'm convinced that most of the great figures in math history were also musicians, because the same guys who gave us geometry also gave us the modes. But even though the same part of the brain is dedicated to both math and music, I still know a lot of guys who are lousy in math but really great musicians. They probably just had bad teachers."
Ed Calle strives to be both an artist and an entertainer. "As a person, I'm very light-hearted. I'm not the musician who wears the artsy shirt or whose house is painted black. I'm pretty average--except when there's a saxophone in my face. Then I become something else. When I'm eight or twelve bars into what I'm doing, the artist in me takes over. When I'm in that zone, you could slap me in the face and I wouldn't even realize it. I'm only thinking about the music."