Don Wise
"Instrumental Madness Test"
With Bob Putignano

In an attempt to marry the mediums of online publishing and online audio, Bob Putignano has created the Instrumental Madness Test wherein he provides his interviewee with some recorded tracks and then discusses them with them. Join us for the Test and let us know what you think.

Don Wise' first foray into live performance was at age fifteen in Westerly, Rhode Island. When the call came to join the Delbert McClinton Band, Wise jumped at the opportunity. Don decided to make a solo CD, and recorded In Wise Hands in 1997. Three additional discs followed, all well received by critics. After twenty-three years with McClinton, Don Wise left as a member in good standing in July of 2008.

The following five unidentified mp3 tracks were emailed to Don in advance of this conversation.

First track: From Greg Piccolo's Homage - "Handclappin'," written by Red Prysock. Reese Wynans on piano and organ, Marty Ballou on bass, Bobby Ruggiero drums. EDM Records, 2001

I figured Don would have known Prysock's 'Handclappin,' as his roots are firmly rooted to this era of music, but I was curious if he could get Piccolo. It was interesting that when I mentioned a northeastern band that he immediately answered Roomful of Blues and knew the horn player was Piccolo! Don's words spoke huge volumes, "This Red Prysock classic is probably responsible for my becoming a saxophone player." Then he went on to say, "Every note is meant and is in-tune and on the money. I just cannot say enough about his playing." Wise offered kudos for Piccolo, "So for someone else to attempt re-record 'Handclappin'' is fascinating, as this is a very faithful rendition, and it's very hard to play. It's not like playing a Blues in F. Piccolo did a great job so I'd have to rate this track a '10' for the tune and energy, and an '8' or '9' for execution."

Second track: From King Curtis & the Kingpins' Instant Groove - "Patty Cake," written by Donny Hathaway. Donny Hathaway on piano, Cornell Dupree on guitar, Chuck Rainey on bass, Kenneth Rice on drums. Edsel Records, originally an Atco single in 1969. Produced by King Curtis and recorded at Atlantic Studios in New York City.

Always considered a favorite of many sax players, I was sure Wise would easily identify King Curtis, plus I've always heard Curtis' sound in Wise' playing, which fueled my interest for selecting this tune. Congrats to Don for immediately identifying the distinctive guitar of Cornell Dupree, but it was ambitious for me to expect Wise to know that Donny Hathaway was on keys, as this fact stunned him. Needless to say, Wise is a King Curtis fan, "I have a lot of King Curtis' recordings, 'Foot Pattin'' is one of my favorites by Curtis, the track he did with Duane Allman! As for my rating, King Curtis is always a perfect '10' out of 10!"

Third track: From Ronnie Earl The Colour of Love - "Hippology," written by Bruce Katz. Hank Crawford on alto, Per Hanson on drums, Rod Carey on bass, Bruce Katz on keyboards. Verve Records, 1997, produced by Tom Dowd.

As one of the most distinctive-sounding sax players, I felt Wise would ace identifying Hank Crawford. I was surprised that Don thought the B3 player could have been McGriff, as I didn't get that connection. It was interesting that Wise lowered his rating based on his feeling that the rhythm section was just ordinary, yet it was cool to see he knew producer and radio host Bob Porter, whom I consider a mentor as one of my deepest influences as a radio deejay. Wise' adoration of Hank is clear, "'But in the end Hank's distinctive style and sound shined through, but the rhythm section was just okay, so perhaps a '7' or '8' overall track rating."

Fourth track: From Willis "Gatortail" Jackson's Bar Wars "Bar Wars," written by Willis Jackson. Pat Martino on guitar, Charles Earland on organ, Idris Muhammad on drums, Buddy Caldwell on congas. Recorded by Rudy Van Gelder, Englewood, New Jersey, 1977. Produced by Bob Porter for Muse Records.

Though stylistically jazzier than Don's playing, I thought Wise would have connected with "Gatortail," based on their similar tone qualities and especially since Jackson most certainly (like many sax players of his generation) understood and could play the Blues. I did get why Wise thought Martino could have been Burrell as there are definite similarities there. "I would have never thought the guitarist is Pat Martino, and I have to say that was an very interesting track, and would rate it a '9' or '10'." But when I mentioned that Jackson was married to Ruth Brown, I should have not expected that this fact was a well-known item. Tidbit: another Joel Dorn story. Jackson was also a tailor and made Ruth's clothes. Dorn told me that Doc Pomus told him about Willis' skills, so when I mentioned this to Ruth Brown, she answered, "Yes, and I know how to pick my men!"

Final track: From Maceo Parker's Southern Exposure - "Blues for Shorty Bill," written by Maceo Parker. Leo Nocentelli on guitar, George Porter Jr. on bass, Herman Ernest III on drums, Will Boulware on organ. Produced by Maceo Parker and Stephan Meyner for Minor Music/RCA/Novus, 1993.

I thought I was stretching by asking Wise to name Parker, but I was pleasantly surprised that he nailed it! I always felt a funky side in Wise' playing, so it wasn't that farfetched as I originally thought. Wise' comment of "I could drive all the way to California with that track repeating" is classic. If you are familiar with "Blues for Shorty Bill," you would also admire the fat groove that those ex-Meters George Porter Jr. and Leo Nocentelli laid down. Wise on Maceo: "He gets such a beautiful saxophone sound, every alto player ought to aspire to Maceo's sound. On a scale of 1 to 10, this one gets a Don Wise rating of '11'!"

Instrumental Madness Test summary comments from Don Wise. "Just like that "Gatortail" track you played, you just don't hear sounds like that anymore. Everyone seems to go for edgier mouthpieces, instead of that big note tenor sound, at least that's what I call it. Gene Ammons andKing Curtis had that sound. Red Prysock had it too, except he had all the facilities to play anything he wanted anytime he wanted." Wise' influences made me somewhat proud of my track selections, at least I connected with two out of five. "My main influences- Red Prysock, King Curtis, Illinois Jacquet, plus I like Sam "The Man" Taylor's stuff, too. I love this one tune Sam did that I had been looking for forever and I finally found it in a record store in Montreal, it's called "Cloudburst." It's an interesting tune that Jon Hendricks wrote lyrics for and Sam recorded it (instrumentally), but he did not record it with his name on it, he used the name of Claude Cloud! But it's definitely Sam Taylor's sax, and it's awesome!

Note: The Sam Taylor CD Don Wise was referring to is called Swingstation, which is credited to Sam "The Man" Taylor (not Claude Cloud) released in 1999 on the Verve recording label, and coincidentally was researched and compiled by Bob Porter.

Bob Putignano is a contributing editor at BluesWax. You may contact Bob at: web site: Bob Putignano: