Portland jazz saxophonist Renato Caranto says that if he didn’t cherish being a successful fourth-generation musician, he’d choose to be a chef. KMHD Jazz Radio’s Deborah DeMoss Smith talked with Caranto about his experiences growing up in the Philippines, what it’s like to tour with Esperanza Spalding and how to speak the language of jazz.
Deborah DeMoss Smith: Were you born with music in your soul or did you acquire the talent?
Renato Caranto: My father was a saxophone player so I grew up in the Philippines hearing him play saxophone, and also my grandfather is a saxophone player and a farmer. I found out also my great, great grandfather — he named me after him — he started the music. He produced the music in our village. I’m fourth generation. I fell in love with the music at an early age, probably 5 and 6, and seeing my father playing the saxophone. Music always gets my attention.
DDS: You come upon Sonny Rollins, Stanley Turrentine, Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane and Stan Getz; whom do you choose to talk to?
RC: John Coltrane. He always gets me. His emotions are so deep you can hear it in his sound. He’s way, way above emotions. Also, when I was about 9 or 10 years old, my father brought home an album of John Coltrane. For many years that was the only album I would listen to.
DDS: For the past two years you’ve toured with Esperanza Spalding; what’s that experience been like?
RC: When I was young, I’d get psyched up for days when I’d find out there’s a band that’s going to play. Every day, I’d count the days. I was very excited. It was the biggest thing when I had a chance to see live music. Now when we step into that to perform it’s totally different because it’s all filled up. You can feel the energy. Everybody gets into this nervous energy and that includes Esperanza. Watching her perform, she’s way, way talented and gifted at a very young age. She was one of our students at the Mel Brown Camp. She was 14 back then and she was already blowing away everybody at the camp, and that includes me.
DDS: Other than the saxophone, what instrument do you appreciate the most?
RC: I really appreciate the trumpet and the trombone. I remember when I was young, I was very fascinated by trumpet players. That’s what I wanted to play, the trumpet. I told my dad that’s what I wanted to play. My dad was trying to convince me: ‘No, no you should play the saxophone.’ But I said I liked the trumpet and he said: ‘OK, I’ll bring you a trumpet that week.’ He came home and brought me a clarinet, so I was disappointed for a couple of days. Then I started playing the clarinet and began to really like it, so there you go.
DDS: You speak the language of jazz; how does jazz speak to you?
RC: You have to practice a lot to play better. If you want to speak the language of jazz you have to keep learning how to do it. When I play jazz, I have to play from my heart; the music has to come out from my heart. Sometimes it’s good to not worry about the music. If you practice enough you don’t have to think too hard to play the music. When you’re thinking too hard about the music, then the sound that’s coming out is not good with music yet. Jazz music is very complicated but at the same time is very fulfilling when everything is flowing. I always try to go down deep into my heart before I start playing the tune. I don’t want to take it for granted.