Although Ricky Malichi and I both went to the same high school, Andress High School in north east El Paso, he graduated a few years before me so I only met him later, on the music scene in El Paso. Ricky has been a prominent band leader and sideman in El Paso for many years. Because of the time I spent jamming and working with Ricky early in my career, his playing has become the standard I use to judge all other drummers. Whenever I look for a drummer for my band, I can honestly say that I’m looking for someone who plays just like Ricky Malichi.
What makes Ricky any different from any other drummer?
I enjoy the fact that Ricky plays like a drummer with ideas. That’s probably the simplest way to say it. Ricky says something on the drums. He speaks through the drums. For my Houston friends who have never heard him before, you could say that he is sort of like a cross between Mike Lefebvre and Keith Karnaky. He has about the same touch as Mike and the same exploratory playfulness as Keith. Since this is what I grew up with, this is what I hear in my head and what I desire to have in my band.
My First Jazz Jam Sessions
Ricky Malichi was the leader of the house band for my first jazz jam sessions. I had sat in with other bands before, but those were all R&B groups. With Ricky and his Malichi Four, I was made to feel very welcomed as a guest of the band, sitting in regularly for as long as they had a gig, a few years at least.
Sometimes in today’s world of jazz education, the importance of going to the jam sessions is often lost in the never ending quest for new scale books and sure fire methods. But that approach is not true to the jazz tradition. Jazz was not something you learned in a practice cubicle. No, the practice room was where you learned to play your axe. You learned to play jazz at the jam sessions – end of story!
(Okay, I should specify that whenever I say “learn to play jazz,” I’m talking about jazz improvisation, not about playing swing music in a big band. Just to clarify what I’m saying.)
Those early jam sessions are a big part of who I am as a jazz player. You cannot separate my musical identity from the people who shaped me in those early days of my career, and I met all of those people through Ricky Malichi and the musical opportunities that gave me.
Ricky is not only a great musician, but also a very knowledgeable man who is generous with his wisdom. I clearly remember a great many breaks when he spent time telling me about his life, about his ideals, his philosophies and sharing his musical experiences with me. This went on for half a decade at least and I can say that a lot of my business ethics and morals can be traced back to the talks we had on those breaks.
I think that central to Ricky’s ethical code is his love and sense of empathy for other people, especially his fellow musicians. It was good for me to see that in action as a young and budding jazz musician. It was good to see the way he treated other musicians and the fans. Always with a smile on his face and a heart warming laugh, Ricky brought people together in a way that made everyone get along.
Ha! I’m wording that in the past tense but Ricky is still the same today. I just don’t get to see him very often anymore.
Ricky probably doesn’t know this, but I have always regarded him as the best dressed musician I ever knew. The only jazz musician I ever met who dresses as hip as Ricky is Bob Morgan. There was a time in my life when I actually tried to dress more like Ricky, but I was too fat at that time (I’m still too fat, but not like I was then) and I have always been too much of a dork (I am dorky all the way to the core) to pull it off.
As performing musicians, how we dress matters. It really does. How we dress communicates to the audience and is actually a part of their musical experience. I believe that the way Ricky Malichi dresses is consistent with the true nature of what jazz is. What this means to me is that, when I am performing, the way I dress should compliment what I’m trying to say through my horn.
This is something Ricky and I have never talked about and I’d be interested to hear what he has to say about it. I know I can’t dress the way he does. As much as I like the way it looks, I can’t pull it off. But I should be looking for my own jazzy look. I don’t put enough effort into that part of my career, but I know I should.
A Good Friend
I really don’t see Ricky very often, but I do consider him a dear friend. After recently writing a post about my hearing loss, I have been thinking about the various ways that it has effected my life. And I believe that one of the reasons I don’t try harder to stay connected with my friends is because of the fact that talking on the phone stresses me out so much. One thing I didn’t mention in that hearing loss post was that I attribute the fact that I didn’t start dating until I was in my twenties to the fact that talking on the phone stresses me out so much. Back in those days, that was the way you started dating. You got a girl’s phone number and called her to talk and hopefully ask her out. I couldn’t do that. And at the time, I wasn’t cognitive enough to realize it was because of my hearing loss, but I’m old enough now and have spent enough time looking back over my life to know that this is exactly what happened. So yeah, I don’t call my friends up very often and most of them are not as email happy as I am. So I do not keep in touch very well.
But that doesn’t mean that my friends mean any less to me. I want them to know that and to understand why I don’t make more of an effort to keep in touch.
Ricky Malichi is one of my life builders. This Life Builders series is a collection of post through which I take the opportunity to acknowledge and thank those who contributed to my success in life. Now that I’ve written over twenty of these posts so far, I’m beginning to realize that it is a much more difficult task than what I had expected it to be. These twenty are just the tip of the iceberg.
You know, a while back a go I posted an article called “Who Do I Think I Am?” In that article I humbly proclaim that I am a nobody. I readily admit that, left to my own devices, I have pretty much destroyed my life and career. But then I go on to say that I am a child of God and that he takes my failings and lifts me up. I believe that one of the ways he does this is to bring these precious people into my life at precisely the time when I need them most. There are very important parts of who I am that God used Ricky Malichi to shape me and build me up. For that I am forever grateful to our Heavenly Father and friends like Ricky for the difference they have made in my life.
That said, another very difficult aspect of doing these Life Builders posts is the growing awareness that there are so many other people who I have not written about. I decided early on that I would not try to do these posts in any specific order. But the result is that there are some very dear friends, mentors and family members who I still haven’t written about. I’m averaging about two or three per month, and that will be less come August when I slow everything down again. So it concerns me that some of my friends might think that I am neglecting them.
If you are one of my dear friends and I haven’t written about you yet, PLEASE don’t take it personally. It doesn’t mean anything because I’m not doing this in any specific order. I hope you will all be understanding about this. If I had known how awkward that part of it would be, I might not have started this series in the first place. But now I am committed and I will follow through.
Thank You Ricky
I probably never told you most of the stuff that I’ve written here, but it’s about time. Thank you Ricky for being who you are and for being a friend and jazz mentor in my early days. I want you to know that you really made a difference in my life.