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A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Photo courtesy of the artist.

In July 2020, pianist Fabian Almazan and bassist Linda May Han Oh relocated from their Harlem apartment to Perth, Australia to be close to Oh’s family. Now with their first child in tow, Oh and Almazan have just returned to the United States. After playing a duo show in Columbus, Ohio earlier this month, Almazan will return to The Jazz Gallery stage on Saturday, September 25 with a quintet of long-time collaborators.

In addition to the personal milestones of this past year, Almazan has continued to deepen his own musical practice as well. He put together a hybrid online performance with his Perth-based group and members of the Detroit Symphony in November 2020, as well as a scintillating solo piano set, featuring extensive live electronic processing, which you can check out below.

Alongside saxophonist Dayna Stephens, guitarist Charles Altura, bassist Chris Tordini, and drummer Henry Cole, Saturday’s performance is sure to be a musical reunion worth the wait. (more…)

This week, violinist Sana Nagano comes to The Jazz Gallery with her band Smashing Humans, belatedly celebrating the release of their eponymous debut album.
Before the show, we at Jazz Speaks caught up with Nagano to talk about the band’s formation, her work with Karl Berger, and her emotional growth during this time of pandemic.

The Jazz Gallery: How are you?

Sara Nagano: I’m good, I’m doing well. Have been just busy. It’s been a crazy year and a half. Just learning to manage, settling down. I moved many times during COVID, during the whole year and a half, and I finally got my own apartment and am relaxing into it.

TJG: Smashing Humans, where did the name come from?

SN: The name of the band, well I named it a while ago, two, three years ago, and it means kind of like, smashing or slashing the thinking mind. I think that’s a little more accurate, I used to say ego, but that’s a little bit ambiguous. I think it’s a bit of a joke, but smashing or dealing with the thinking mind, everyday life, problems or limitations that we feel like we have. Basically it means—smashing is a little bit of an aggressive word—dealing with our thinking mind as humans, people.

TJG: And how did you and the rest of the band get connected?

SN: The guitarist Keisuke Matsuno and I have been good friends for a long time in New York City, probably about ten years. We met each other in some jazz jam session in Manhattan. There’s a place called Cleopatra’s Needle—I don’t know if it’s still there—but they used to have sessions every week, and I used to go there a lot to just kind of meet people and practice, to improvise over stuff like jazz standards. Keisuke was hosting one of the sessions, I think he was covering for someone, that’s when we met each other the first time. We had opportunities to meet up and hang out in those session situations and we became very good friends. And so I asked him to join the band.

Joe Hertenstein—the drummer on the album—I met him at the Creative Music Studio. Karl Berger is a mentor of mine, and in New York City he’s like a free jazz and jazz master.  He’s also a good friend and I play in his Improviser Orchestra. I have been playing in his group for seven years or so, and that’s where I met Joe, and also we played together in Adam Rudolph’s Organic Orchestra. We also played in Harvey Valdes’ trio, another amazing guitarist and composer.

Ken Filiano and Peter Apfelbaum are also part of my New York City music family. They’re not like teachers, or mentors—they’re very friendly and down to earth—but I really look up to them as musicians and artists. I met them again in Karl Berger’s Creative Music Orchestra.

Danny Shir is our new drummer, since Joe is in Berlin. During the pandemic, it’s good to have a few different people in different places who can share this music together when we perform. Dan played in my other project, Atomic Pigeons, before the pandemic, and he’s just an amazing player. He also has his band, Horse Torso. It’s more rock music, really cool rhythmic elements, math rock. I’m a fan of his band, and I got to know him seeing his music and performances in Brooklyn. I just emailed him to see if he could play in Atomic Pigeons and he was like, “Yeah, of course!” And it was just amazing to work with him before the pandemic. This time, I feel really lucky to have Danny, because Joe is away and I was like, “Oh my god, who can play in this group?” Because I still wanted to play. And Danny just happens to be moving back to New York City, right on time, so I was like okay, let’s play!

We did a zoom rehearsal, a few months ago, before we knew about this Jazz Gallery gig, but I was like okay, we’re playing somewhere, let’s get ready! And he said, okay, I’ll be ready and he was really ready for our rehearsal a few weeks ago, he just killed it, so I’m really excited to have him and to play in this band together.

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Photo by Jimmy Katz, courtesy of the artist.

With the COVID-19 pandemic sapped jazz of its lifeblood—live, in-person audiences—musicians improvised new ways of connecting. For guitarist Mike Moreno, that meant starting a podcast and livestream series. From his New York apartment, Moreno and a special guest would chat about life and music, followed by live duo set. Since starting the series in Fall 2020, Moreno has played with a who’s who of jazz guitarists, including the likes of Mike Stern, Mark Whitfield, Ben Monder, Marvin Sewell, Ben Monder and beyond.

But while Moreno stretched his work into a new medium, he leaned on a reliable musical foundation—jazz standards. In particular, Moreno dove deep into jazz standards from classic films, teaching an online course, and performing them solo in concert, below:

Moreno’s interviews and performances have drawn listeners from all around the world, sustaining a sense of community during a time of isolation.

This Friday, September 24, Moreno returns live to The Jazz Gallery stage, playing two sets alongside frequent collaborators Jon Cowherd on piano, Matt Brewer on bass, and Obed Calvaire on drums. To get a sense of what’s in store, check out the quartet performing at Smalls last month, with Taylor Eigsti filling in on piano.

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Kendrick Scott

Photo by Todd Cooper, courtesy of the artist.

Lockdowns. Quarantines. Social Distancing. In no small part, the stress, exhaustion, and sadness of the COVID-19 pandemic many have felt has come from an at least partial breakdown of community. In an effort to protect themselves from illness, often people have focused inward instead of upon things they still share in common with others.  

With Corridors, Kendrick Scott’s Fellowship Commission for The Jazz Gallery, the drummer emphasizes the commonalities between people. The idea is that while we each live our own separate lives, they are each connected along a shared path. One uniting element, arguably, is the importance of mentorship. With this in mind, we asked Scott about not only the general concept of Corridors but also some of his mentors—his mother, Joe Sample, Terence Blanchard, Charles Lloyd—he has thus far encountered in the hallway of his career.

The Jazz Gallery: What is the concept behind Corridors? 

Kendrick Scott: With Corridors, I am trying to focus on the joining elements in our lives. I named it Corridors because if you visit my apartment building in New York, all of the apartments are connected by a long corridor. People have their own lives but we also each share some elements which unite us.  

TJG: What sorts of elements? 

KS: Well, I think about culture. I think about faith. Many different things join us from our little rooms that we stay in. The pandemic kept many of us in those rooms for a year and a half and, in many ways, cut off from those common joining elements.  

In essence, I am trying to pull on common feelings. Some of the pieces for the commission use titles like “One Door Closes and Another Opens” or “Welcoming the Unwelcome.” I am trying to focus on the good points of what this pandemic means in terms of what we have learned about ourselves.  

TJG: In some ways that is aligned with the concept behind A Wall Becomes a Bridge (Blue Note, 2019) in the sense of turning something negative and divisive into something positive and unifying. 

KS: Yeah, yeah. I am definitely an optimist. As Wayne Shorter once said, “there’s always something good unfolding underneath everything bad.” There’s always something unfolding on the other side. I think as long as we can keep the optimism, we can achieve a certain level of peace.  

Honestly, though, I fight with myself on that all the time. Often, I make music as a somewhat selfish thing, basically using it to talk about things I am dealing with in my personal life. So, in many ways “A Wall Becomes a Bridge” is a mantra I have to keep saying in my life to keep my own sanity [laughing]. When something is going wrong in my life and my anxiety is getting to me, I have to say, “You know what? A wall becomes a bridge.” It’s going to be cool. Things will improve. It is about seeing the other side while you are inside of it. It’s hard to do. With Corridors, I am hoping to create a dialogue about the things that all of us have had to deal with from the pandemic.  

TJG: Taking an optimistic view, do you feel like there is some good that may have come out of the shutdowns in terms of music-making? 

KS: Yes, I think in some ways the pandemic has given people, including musicians, an opportunity to essentially meet their own shadow. A chance to sit down and think.  

I’ve been on the road my whole career. My shadow’s been following me like “come on man, let’s deal with this or deal with that.” But when I’m on the road, I’m so busy working that it sometimes causes me to neglect myself a little bit. I think the good thing that will come out of the pandemic is that we are given time to meet our shadow and actually converse with it. I think those conversations and thoughts will get us to a deeper level of knowing ourselves.  

Hopefully, that deeper understanding of yourself will lead artists to create more art that embodies their true selves and not the self that is running around like a chicken with their head cut off; just doing things to stay active instead of tapping into the true essence of who they are as a human being.  

I’ve found that during the pandemic I’ve been very hesitant about being around people. That’s been crazy to me. Living in a city like New York, you are surrounded by people and it is the people that make New York so beautiful. I am here because it lets me around all of these people. I find that as much as I travel the world and see people from different cultures, I see those same cultures right here in the city. I learn so much about myself and others myself that way. So, to be in New York and made to have a standoffish kind of vibe because of the pandemic has really shown me how much I love being around people and learning about people.

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

This Thursday, September 16, The Jazz Gallery is pleased to welcome bassist Ben Tiberio and his quintet to our stage for two sets. Not only is this Tiberio’s first time at the Gallery as a leader (after playing here alongside the likes of Joel Ross, Immanuel Wilkins, and Sasha Berliner), it also marks the almost-release of his debut album, Rare Piece (Outside in Music). The album features 10 original compositions by Tiberio, written across a decade, a decade which saw him finish college, move to New York City, and become an integral member of his improviser peer group.

The compositions are deeply personal, representing what Tiberio calls his “deep perception of the emotional auras of people around me.” This kind of raw connection is reflected in Tiberio’s own wordless vocals on these tracks, including the lead sing “[e]motion,” which you can check out below.

For this release show at the Gallery, Tiberio will be joined album collaborators Nathan Reising on alto saxophone, Lex Korten on piano, and Evan Hyde on drums, as well as tenor saxophonist Dayna Stephens. Come to the Gallery this Thursday to experience what Tiberio describes as “this unifying force, which is pervasive and essential in music, provides us with sanctuary and fills us with hope.” (more…)