With JazzSuave, George Morín stakes his claim on international, instrumental pop
A few years back, George Morín got a call from a local band to play a New Year's Eve gig at The Dominion Country Club.
Amongst the affluent, predominantly Anglo patrons, one Latino man worked his way up to the bandstand and asked Morín for a favor. "I know you're a rock group," he said, "but I'd like to hear a ranchera. Can you play one for me?"
Morín remembered that he had brought the sheet music for the classic weeper, "Volver Volver." He gave it to his bandmates, who had never played it before. After they finished, the man thanked Morín, and put three bills in his hand, saying, 'Es pa' ti.' The amount was $300.
"After that, I said if anybody ever asks me for anything, if I don't know it, I'm going to learn it real quick," Morín says.
The ability to leap from one musical genre has often paid off for Morín, a 49-year-old flugelhorn player and vocal balladeer whose 6-foot, 3-inch frame, gray mound of hair, and dark mustache make him a striking presence onstage. Over the years, he's blown his horn for various jazz-fusion combos, recorded for CBS Records as a Tejano singer, and recently gravitated to romantic, internationally flavored pop. It's hard to think of another musician who, in a given show, will cover both Luis Miguel and John Coltrane, but that's exactly what Morín does. To many of his old musician friends, he's a flugelhorn player who sings. To latter-day converts, he's a singer who takes the odd horn solo.
If Morín blends his distinct musical identities in a live setting, he tends to keep them separate on record. His new release, JazzSuave, recorded with local songwriter/producer Eddie Aleman, showcases Morín's flugelhorn of plenty. Not really a jazz album, in the traditional sense, the record boasts slick, melodic, instrumental pop songs such as "Allure D'Amour" and "Forever Our Love," with subtle traces of Latin rhythm. It's more in the mode of Chuck Mangione than Miles Davis, but it also offers timbral hints of Morín's first trumpet-playing hero: Chet Baker. Like Baker, Morín's playing is unabashedly soothing and lyrical. Even when his parts are simple variations on a tune, his tonal purity is always unimpeachable.
A San Antonio native, Morín was a military brat whose whose father, Rodrick, was stationed at Lackland Air Force Base. His family went on to spend four years in England, later settling in Maine and Oklahoma.
"When I got to Oklahoma, I picked up the trumpet in school," Morín says. "There were some great musicians in Oklahoma, believe it or not. I learned how to play trumpet there, and it was great, but there weren't any gigs." When his dad got transferred to El Paso, Morín asked if he could live with his grandmother in San Antonio. "He had seven kids, so he wasn't going to miss one, right?"
In San Antonio, while still in high school, Morín became a full-fledged working musician. He played with the legendary Sunny and the Sunliners, earning enough money to buy his own car.
Morín jumped from one band to another, and as a teenager regularly working with road-hardened adults, he would inevitably get teased for his height, earning the nickname "La Palma," because he unwittingly provided shade for everyone.
One night, while playing at a club on the river, his band leader approached him and said that their lead singer couldn't make the gig. He asked if Morín could fill in. "I told him I'd never sung in front of people before and he said, 'Now's your chance,'" Morín recalls. "Next thing I knew, I grabbed the mike and started singing, and the following week I was the lead singer. From that point on, whatever band I was in, I was the lead vocalist."
After a stint in the '80s working at exclusive hotels in Central America and Mexico City, he returned to San Antonio and began recording for Joey Records, earning local airplay for several of his singles. That drew the attention of CBS executive Bob Grever, who summoned Morín to his office, and asked him to sing something on the spot, without accompaniment. Grever signed him instantly. "He told me I had a great delivery," Morín says.
"I started opening up concerts for the Tejano awards," he adds. "I'd be backstage with Selena and Emilio and everybody. I was doing Tejano with jazz nuances. I would take flugelhorn solos and my producer would tell me not to stretch out too much. But I was always on the edge a little bit." Morín says he eventually grew tired of Tejano ("everybody started sounding like Mas"), and with Aleman's creative guidance, he's working to establish a smooth-jazz niche for himself.
"Traditional jazz is fine,' he says, "but I really like to do the contemporary thing. I want to give people music that they haven't heard before." •