Interview with jazz author, Debbie Burke

“Valentino stirs up a hot ‘n smooth concoction with Butter Scotch”

It starts with a succulent flourish and the sax taking the lead into smooth feel-goodness and he’s done it: Valentino Maltos launches into the new single “ButterScotch.” Hearkening to the R&B he loved as a youngster and his long history with the sax, Maltos brings in harmonizing vocals and a deeply polished bass sound for an instant easy-vibe classic. The groove provides ample room to amble through at a comfortable pace. Maltos, a producer/composer/synth and sax musician from Texas, makes music that erases stress. His cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing” does some inventive riffing and pulses with life and love (hot vocals too), and 2020’s “Brat” has the stunning production value and funk, so what more do you really need? 

D. You were brought up in the music business as a member of the family’s band. What was it like performing with your family and how did you keep up when you first started? 

V. I started playing the saxophone at age 11, in sixth grade. I believe it was about six months after I started that my uncle Ernest had me on stage with the family band. I remember getting dressed up in fancy clothes, being on stage playing the parts I could with my limited abilities, and faking the rest. I can recall it being the gimmick of the band, like, “check out the little kid playing sax!” Most of the musicians were very supportive and would offer me advice and records to listen to. With that help and lots of practice, I was able to truly contribute within a year or so. 

D. What do you think was the pivotal moment when you decided you’d be a career musician? 

V. I think the pivotal moment I realized that music was my passion was when I was about 13 years old. I would listen to music and it would bring me chills and truly move me in a way I had never experienced. This was about the time I started to develop a vision for what I wanted my saxophone voice to sound like. I truly “heard” the saxophone’s voice and I was hooked! I’ve been in pursuit of that vision ever since. Not to mention the steady money I was making as a pre-teen and teenager. I call recall buying action figures as a kid with gig money! 

D. How would you describe your style and sound on sax? 

V. I feel my style is ever-evolving, but if I had to describe it currently I would say it’s a blend of old and new styles of jazz. I’m a huge fan of the bebop era. The musical intelligence displayed by the greats is something I work towards every day. How they seamlessly weave through chord changes while at the same time playing a cohesive melody is what I’m looking to achieve in my playing. 

My sound is in the spectrum of guys like Sanborn, Garrett, Brecker. They each have a sound that’s undeniably unique and identifiable. I feel the blend of all my influences and my years of practice have led me to a sound that’s both complex and pleasing to the ear. It’s always been about making my saxophone sound beautiful. Everything comes after that. 

D. What kind of vibe are you going for with the new “ButterScotch” and do you feel like you’ve achieved it? 

V. “ButterScotch” was my dedication to my love for R&B music. I wanted to make a smooth yet musically complex record. I continue this formula with my next single, “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing.” 

I produced and arranged these with the same type of vision. I use multiple transitions and musical elements to keep the listener interested and engaged. I try to think of songs as stories that evolve from beginning to end. Never staying in one spot too long. 

D. What were the challenges you overcame to produce this during lockdown? 

V. The process of recording during lockdowns wasn’t as complicated as one might think. I’ve been a full-time studio musician for the last 20 years, so I’ve built up my relationships with my fellow studio musicians. Most of us have a home studio or easy access to recording, so the process is usually quick and easy. I find most people do their best work at home where they’re in their comfort zone, and can take time to learn the music without the time burdens of a traditional studio. 

D. What is the scene like near you? 

V. I live about 40 minutes from downtown Austin Texas, and before COVID the music scene was alive and kicking. It’s been a slow but steady return to live music with most venues in my area at full operation. I’m hopeful we can continue on this trajectory and not return to last year’s shutdowns. 

D. Do you have performances lined up? 

V. I maintain a busy schedule of regional performances, but I’m hoping to expand my performances after my album is released.

D. What festival that is still around would you most like to play? 

V. I’m lucky to perform at multiple festivals every year, but I’d love the opportunity to perform at the Monterey Jazz fest, as well as the Newport Jazz festival.

D. What was it like working with Gilbert Valasquez? How did you get to collab with him? 

V. Gilbert and I played in a band together when I first moved to Texas. He was just starting to build his catalog and reputation as an award-winning producer. I was lucky to be in his inner circle as his career took off, subsequently recording on countless records along the way. He helped me understand the attention to detail that’s necessary for any producer or studio musician. We maintain a friendship and working relationship to this day. 

D. Your favorite thing about music: playing, composing, being around other musicians, etc.? 

V. My favorite thing about music is the ART of it. The bending and shaping of frequencies to evoke an emotional response in the listener and performer. The process of turning a musical sketch into a piece of art that incorporates different people and identities while sharing a collective vision. The process always surprises and inspires me. 

I love how we all start with the same 12 notes, but through our personal experiences and influences, find a unique and original way to approach the music. 
Photos courtesy of and with permission of the artist.

© 2021 Debbie Burke

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