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A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Photo courtesy of the artist.

This weekend, The Jazz Gallery walls will shake with a full big band in celebration of what would have been co-founder Roy Hargrove’s 52nd birthday. One of the original purposes of the Gallery space at 290 Hudson Street was to hold rehearsals for Roy’s big band, so this concert seeks to capture the spirit of both Hargrove and the Gallery’s ancestral home.

Under the direction of saxophonist Jason Marshall, the band is filled with Hargrove’s longtime collaborators, many of whom can be heard playing “Roy Allan” in the video below.

The band will also be joined by two special guest vocalists—Gallery cofounder Lezlie Harrison and RH Factor alumnus Renée Neufville. Getting this group musicians on stage all together is a truly rare occurrence, so these celebratory performances are not to be missed. (more…)

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Singer-composer Emma Frank uses live performance to document her development the way other artists use the studio. Moments on the bandstand reveal as much or as little of her true self as she’s compelled to share. These days, she’s sharing much more. “I’m just tired of hiding my insecurities from the audience,” she says. 

From her home in Brooklyn, the Boston area native challenged herself to track music remotely during lockdown, a process she’d never attempted. “It was a little tricky,” she says. But prolonged self-engagement and reflection gave way to new sound, and a truer understanding of herself and her instrument. 

This week at The Jazz Gallery, Frank performs unreleased music and new arrangements of older compositions alongside Marta Sanchez, Grey Mcmurray, Chris Morrissey and Bill Campbell. 

The Jazz Gallery: You’re pretty candid with your viewers during livestreams: “I’m still working some of this stuff out, and I might forget the lyrics,” etcetera. 

Emma Frank: [Laughs] There are some really great smart and funny examples right now of people who are clearly concerned with the tension of performing, and what’s happening in the performer’s mind, what performance means, what it maybe hides or obscures—all of these questions I think are really interesting. 

I found that doing livestreams was painful for me. Physical humiliation was what I felt. So, every time I went live over the pandemic, I was like, “Maybe this tiiiiiime…” [laughs] “maybe I’ll be okay…” And I wasn’t. I guess I just really like transparency and communication. So, I would sign on, do two songs and say, “That felt pretty bad! Hope you’re all well. K bye!” 

TJG: Especially now, it seems people are ready for that. Particularly for younger generations, expressions of live personal reflection feel ubiquitous. 

EF: Totally. I’m 33. What I’m experiencing culturally is that I’m finding there are people newly in leadership positions, that are my peers. A lot of my women friends, we’re realizing it’s kind of up to us to lead the way in certain ways. I feel like I came out of the pandemic being like, “Nobody’s gonna give me permission to behave the way that I want to, except myself.” We’re all too evolved and too smart and too self-aware at this point to not acknowledge some of the constructs that are happening when they’re happening. Like me feeling nervous on stage—everybody feels it if they’re perceptive. Why not just say, “Hey, I’m nervous. I’m trying to settle my nerves. How are you guys?” 

TJG: There’s something 1950s about refusing to acknowledge a shared feeling that’s real and palpable, for the sake of propriety or social veneer, especially in the age of #relatable. 

EF: I’m about 10 years older than my [restaurant] coworkers. And I was talking to this very sweet, very ambitious 25 year old [who said,] “I didn’t wanna be in restaurants when I was 25.” And I’m like, Oh, I’m sure you have some feelings about me being 33 and in restaurants. And [I was] seeing people judging themselves and judging me, and seeing myself judging myself—seeing all of that, and wanting to opt out of that kind of hierarchical thinking because I don’t think it’s helpful to anyone, or helpful to me. We are all set up to compete, and to feel bad about ourselves when we don’t get the things that other people get, to feel shame and resentment. Especially in the arts, it’s something that takes some active dismantling. 

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Album Cover

Album art by Cecille McLorin Salvant.

As we at The Jazz Gallery continue our 27th year of presenting new jazz, it has been nice revisit some of the many Residency Commission projects from over the years. This weekend, saxophonist Melissa Aldana returns to the Gallery stage to present her 2017-18 commission, Visions. The project began as a reflection on the work of visual artist Frida Kahlo, who had been an important inspiration to Aldana since her childhood. In a conversation with Jazz Speaks, Aldana noted:

When I was young, I was really into painting with oil. And I used to do what was very similar to transcribing. I would get a painting that I liked, and I would just start painting to imitate. I never took lessons or anything, but I learned a lot from Frida. These paintings, I grew up with them from when I was very young. I thought that that would be important because oftentimes when I write music, and this is a large project, in the middle I tend to forget the core image—where it’s coming from, where it started from. So, when I got offered the commission, I thought, ‘Okay it’s going to be about Frida Kahlo, it’s going to be this scope and these paintings, and different people that surrounded her life.’ So I wrote it all down on a piece of paper and this is what I had in front of my piano while wrote the suite. That was my reminder. Every time I felt like I lost the core, or the sense of direction, I would go back to that.

The music continued to evolve after its 2018 premiere, resulting in Aldana’s 2019 album of the same name, which you can stream below.
For this weekend’s performance of Visions, Aldana will be mixing up the instrumentation from the record, playing with guitarist Mike Moreno, bassist Pablo Menares, and drummer Kush Abadey. Come check out what new visions these musicians have for Aldana’s compositions. (more…)

Micah Thomas

Photo by Pavithran Thomas, courtesy of the artist.

This week, The Jazz Gallery welcomes pianist Micah Thomas back to our stage for two sets with his working trio. Thomas’s past year has been filled with both challenge and accomplishment; from the pandemic and the loss of his teacher Frank Kimbrough, to the release of his debut album, Tide, and a feature on NPR’s Morning Edition (which you can stream below).

For his performance at the Gallery, Thomas will be joined by bassist Dean Torrey and drummer Kayvon Gordon, a trio with ever-deepening rapport. Before hearing them at the Gallery, check out their performance from Desmond White’s Underexposed series, including Thomas taking a spin on Fender Rhodes.

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

This Saturday, The Jazz Gallery is pleased to welcome saxophonist Dayna Stephens back to our stage for two sets. Despite the challenges of the past 18 months, Stephens has managed to release three new albums on his new imprint, showcasing different sides of his musical personality. Liberty, released just pre-pandemic, features Stephens in a 3-way rhythmic boxing match with bassist Ben Street and drummer Eric Harland, recorded in the famed Rudy Van Gelder studio.
Right Now! was recorded live during Stephens’ debut run at the Village Vanguard in 2019. Many of the tracks come from the evening where Stephens’ family flew in from the west coast as a surprise.
Stephens’ latest release Pluto Juice! from this past July has a cosmic flavor, featuring Stephens’ work on EWI and compositions inspired by NASA spacecraft and the astronomer Carl Sagan.
For his performance at the Gallery, Stephens will be joined by pianist Gabriel Chakarji, bassist Rick Rosato, and drummer Kweku Sumbry. With these flexible sidemen, anything from the Stephens songbook is fair game. (more…)