Carlos Washington

By Rena Dusenbury

Manning the machines: Carlos Washington's live band electronica vibe

For Carlos Washington and Giant People, this is routine: a new city for a new night and a phone conversation through valleys of uncharted mobile reception. At a gig in the snow-capped mountains of Aspen, Colo., the globally influenced jazz ensemble is a day of driving away from where they now call home-San Diego.

As founder and guiding light, Washington emanates positive energy. He's not a debauched rocker or a staggering balladeer. Quite boringly, there seems to be nothing mean about him.

As a trumpeter, Washington stands out like a wide-eyed innocent in the midst of the music world's towering egos. His songs are part of his own spiritual opus, a scrapbook of where he's been, is going, and an example of the potential for eclecticism in jazz.

"My whole bag is-ya' know, I love electronic music-but to get that same sound with real, live musicians. How wonderful would it be to listen to that stuff live and have it move and change on you? How about that?!" bellows Washington, ecstatic at the thought of his own goal.

"That's the premise of Giant People-it's all based on live musicianship."

On that note he politely pauses: "I'm going up on stage right now... listen for a second?"

Even through wireless static, the band sounds as vibrant live during this simple sound check as they do on their album, Much Love (again, boringly un-mean).

When saxophonist Freddie Hubbard debuted his attention-grabbing high register in 1960, jazz was all the rage. Now a half-century removed from the heyday of jazz, even luminous trumpeters have a hard time piquing the interest of the average music fan.

Giant People have a number of things going for them in the piquing department: funky bass lines, brass and a cash-money mix of electronica, afro-beat and jazz. Add to that an alluring, upbeat new album recorded on a single track. You're left with the jazz equivalent of country-punk Hank Williams III and Assjack-a group revitalizing its genre and saving it from a future as elevator rubbish.

At age 13, Washington traded his baseball mitt for a chance to join the Harrisburg Public Schools Band. That training-as well as watching films like Spike Lee's Mo' Better Blues, featuring trumpeter Terrence Blanchard-profoundly shaped his future.

"Growing up," he says, "I lived to go to the jazz clubs and see musicians play. I learned that that stuff was out there through those movies. That was my lifeline and my only spiritual nourishment."

Washington was a Marine Corps Band member before coming under the wing of the father of ska, Carlos Malcom. He would later study under San Diego groove-jazz titan Karl Denson. Washington toured for two years as part of Denson's Tiny Universe until he left to form Giant People.

"Someone told me you can't have rehearsal without feeding these guys," he says of his Giant People bandmates. "It was culture shock . I was expecting these guys to be like Marines. But they accepted me and I accepted them... so we've definitely become like a family."

The band now consists of Jesse Molloy (a tenor sax man who brings a hip-hop edge), Ignacio Arango (a Cuban guitarist who played with Arturo Sandoval), old school New Orleans drummer Derrick Freeman and Andy Irvine, a jazz bassist from San Diego.

"Progression through resolution," Washington explains of the band's overriding m.o.. "That is, being productive in your quest; always going after the next step that will move you in a positive direction."