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Red velvet frames another Tuesday night at Zinc Bar as James Francies gets inside a blues in 6 and stays there for a good long while. Now and then a virtuosic line escapes his right hand, but ultimately returns to the thick groove.

In five short years, the Houston-born pianist/composer has become a force on the New York scene, working steadily to dissolve genre lines and create new music that preserves and connects all his early influences, and explores the shape of what’s to come.

“Growing up in Houston, I was exposed to music at a very young age,” says Francies. “Playing classical music, playing in church, going to jam sessions and having different teachers—it was always just a mash of good music.” An artist who’s focused on uncovering innate musical connections, past and present, Francies finds himself less concerned with shoehorning one particular sound into another. Instead, he allows those connections to emerge naturally.

“I don’t try to ‘combine’ my roots because once you have roots, you can’t really turn away from them,” he says. “I just try to let my personal experiences and my influences authentically come out. Having a jazz and classical foundation has really helped me understand where I want to go, where I’m going and where I am, musically.”

Where he is, musically, is where he is, physically. According to Francies, the New York music scene has had a profound effect not only on the way he plays, but on his degree of day-to-day hustle. “I never saw New York as an arrival; I always saw it more as a launching pad,” he says.

“I always wanted to come to New York—ever since I was 12. So I was always focused and still, to this day, working hard. When I got here, it wasn’t like, ‘Oh, I finally made it!’ It was more like, now you have to work twice as hard—three times as hard—to get to where you want to be. And I do enjoy it. New York’s one of those places that keeps you on your toes.” (more…)

Album art courtesy of Sunnyside Records.

This Thursday, December 14th, The Jazz Gallery is pleased to welcome Adam O’Farrill’s Stranger Days back to our stage for two sets. Their self-titled debut from 2016 garnered significant acclaim; in The New York Times, Nate Chinen called it “a potent declaration of independence, as much as it is a glowing indication of promise.”

At the Gallery this week, the group will be playing a varied program, including a new suite of music called “Hungry at the Slaughterhouse,” inspired by O’Farrill’s experience working on a farm in Maine last summer. They will also be performing music from their next album, set to release in 2018, as well as some traditional Mexican tunes. Before coming out to the show, check out O’Farrill’s stark and evocative composition “Henry Ford Hospital”—inspired by the Frida Kahlo painting—below.
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A Gibson across her lap, Camila Meza sits opposite a young student who closes his eyes and begins to sing over a two-chord progression. “We started singing, and he didn’t even know he had this in him,” she says.

“We were talking about improvisation and the idea of connecting your own ideas and your own melodies to your solos, getting rid of the idea of playing by memory—playing lines that you’ve already learned, stuff like that. He started singing over a certain chord these beautiful melodies, a great progression of intervals, and we ended up literally making a song. His improvisation became a song.”

For the Chilean-born singer, guitarist, composer and bilingual lyricist, encouraging students to develop their own sound by releasing preexisting musical concepts comes as naturally as an inhale—and reflects an essential quality of her own expression. “My approach always sort of gravitates to what feels natural,” she says, “what feels good to the body, what feels good to sing to. I would never force something to be just because, intellectually, I want it to be.”

Naturally inquisitive, curiosity gripped Meza from an early age, and has pervaded her sound ever since. As a child playing her father’s record collection, melody would haunt her.

“I feel like I’ve always, in a way, been really, really curious about the world that lies underneath the melody,” says Meza. “[That world] can somehow change the whole universe of a melody, and the whole way we perceive that statement. [Even as a child,] I immediately sensed that there was something really deep in how you would build that world beneath the melody, and how that could influence the whole thing.”

As she listened to other people’s music more intently, and began developing a sound of her own, Meza began noticing colors. She wanted to be able to choose the specific extensions and manipulate voicings that would allow her melodies to “shine” in a particular way. “I started to realize that changing the structure of what lies beneath the melody could make you feel emotions in a very different way, when it comes to the melody,” she says.

“A chord, and also the bass movement, can literally change your whole perception of what the intervallic movement of the melody is. And that’s when I started experimenting with it. I would take a song and keep the melody and mess around with the harmony like crazy. I realized I had so much control of the emotional concept of the melody just by surfing underneath it. That’s when I started doing arrangements and having so much fun reharmonizing stuff and sort of playing around with that aspect of music” (more…)

Photos courtesy of the artists.

This Tuesday, December 12th, saxophonist Yosvany Terry and bassist Darryl Johns finish off their Mentorship Series tour with a performance at Shapeshifter Lab in Brooklyn. The experience has found Johns jumping right into Terry’s working band, playing the leader’s characteristic originals alongside the likes of drummer Marcus Gilmore and pianists Manuel Valera and Glenn Zaleski. We caught up with Johns after the group’s show at the Jazz Museum in Harlem to talk about his work with Terry thus far.

The Jazz Gallery: I saw you perform at the Gallery with “Orange” Julius Rodriguez’s group, and another time as part of Adam O’Farill’s work “I Want My Life Back”. How do you know these guys, and what’s it like to grow up in a community with so many talented, young musicians?

Daryl Johns: Well, I’ve known Adam for a long time, since both of our dads are musicians. The first time I met Adam was at a rehearsal with his dad’s band, when I was 9, and Adam was 11. Orange Julius I’ve known since we did precollege together. I was a junior in high school and he was in 8th grade. So he’s always been my little bro, and I love him. And I’ve kinda just stuck with them. We’re both very close. As people, I can be myself around them, so they’re very cool people to play music with because of that. It really helps when you know the person because it’s chill and you feel like you don’t have to be anybody or play a certain way.

TJG: You come from a very musical family. What was that like, and how deep are the family’s musical roots?

DJ: The roots go as deep as my great uncle. His name was Jimmy Tyler, and he was the first of the musical people in my family. He never really made it that big, he was always low key but he played with Count Basie and Duke Ellington. There are some recordings of him, actually, with Count Basie and Clark Terry, and he sounds really good. He has, like, a bar-honking tenor player vibe. And he played, also, with Wild Bill Davis, so he’s almost like a rock and roll saxophone player—he’s sick. There’s a good recording of him called “Bleep Blop Blues” with Count Basie. Then, besides him, there’s his brother, Robert Tyler, who’s my other great uncle. These are all my dad’s mother’s siblings. And my mom’s dad used to play trumpet. And my parents met at NEC, actually!

I started playing bass at 7, and I’ve always played drums.

TJG: You make some music under the moniker Sweet Joseph. Is that project the result of a specific kind of energy for you? How does that part of your musical personality interactive with your more traditionally jazz-oriented playing? Both are lyrical, but perhaps in slightly different ways.

DJ: Sweet Joseph is a band I started when I got to college, and it’s mostly a recording project right now. I wrote the first song that started it all called “Whoops, Reason Is Bathtime.” I was in a practice room and wrote this song that sounds like the theme song to Full House, with crazy jazz modulation and it’s a pretty orgasmic song. So I called down to my friend, guitarist David Zyto, “Come down to the second floor and let’s play this duo,” and it sounded like Mike Moreno and Aaron Parks guitar and piano.  And I just remember smiling while playing it. It was just such a sweet… it was almost like biting into the sweetest vanilla custard—you’re eating this thing, and you’re smiling, and you can’t stop smiling. And that vibe is why it’s called Sweet Joseph. That project, which is still ongoing, is a reflection of the feeling of inspirational emo rock, but there are still sad undertones. In the indie rock vein, but with jazz influences, of courses.

I definitely went through a period when I got to college that I got a little burnt out. I have some hand problems with bass that are still going on that I’m trying to get under control, so Sweet Joseph is my way of resting from bass and still being creative. I found that playing with band, it was more like friends getting together and messing around, whereas with jazz it almost feels like, especially playing with older people, it can feel like they’re not your friend and they need to earn your respect. And I got tired of that. And I got into Mac DeMarco—this indie rock guy who goes crazy on stage—and I saw that and realized that seems way more fun, and unlike my experience in the jazz world. So I had this feeling of wanting to do what I want. I don’t care if I don’t make money doing it. I don’t care about being the best. I just want to make dope music and I want to have fun, and that’s it. Just with my friends. I don’t have to impress anyone. But now, these two worlds are starting to cross paths and I am realizing how I can make my jazz experience feel like that

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Charlotte Greve is taking a different approach to living in New York City as a professional jazz musician. You might expect to find a saxophonist in a standards-based quartet or two, a larger ensemble, perhaps a big band, and the occasional project as a bandleader. Greve’s ensembles, however, look a bit different. There’s Asterids, an all-alto saxophone quartet. There’s Wood River, where Greve sings and plays synthesizer. There are duos with electric bassists or drummers, and commissions for large choirs. Every group utilizes a different aspect of her vast musicality, and her new trio, The Choir Invisible, is no exception.

Greve, a German saxophonist and composer, lived and studied in Berlin before moving to New York to study with the likes of John Hollenbeck, Mark Turner, and Kurt Rosenwinkel. She’s released five albums with her band Lisbeth Quartett, including their most recent album There Is Only Make on Traumton Records. A New Yorker for five years now, Greve has started many projects and supported many more. The Choir Invisible includes Chris Tordini on bass and Vinnie Sperrazza on drums. We spoke with Greve about her compositions, the unique feel of the trio, and her thoughts on developing a musical identity New York City.

The Jazz Gallery: Judging by the photo on your contact page, it looks like you live in Crown Heights. So many musicians live there; do you like the area?

Charlotte Greve: Yeah, I think it’s great. I moved here five years ago, and I’m still in the same room. That’s very unusual for New York. We have this brownstone with like eight people that we’ve been sharing, it’s been kind of a musician place. I live in the old room of Tommy Crane, he lived here ten years ago or something. Chris Tordini lived here, Matt Brewer lived here, Kyle Wilson lives here now. Tons of people have passed through this house at some point.

TJG: The Choir Invisible, your trio, has a fantastic name. Does it come from the poem by George Eliot with the same name?

CG: It’s a song that Vinnie wrote, I think inspired by a song from a film, where a character kind of recites this poem. Vin took the words and wrote a melody to it. It’s been the theme song of the trio, so to speak. It represents the vibe of the trio well.

TJG: I just interviewed Vinnie Sperrazza for the blog, and evidently he’s a real literary buff. Are you a big reader too?

CG: I don’t read as much as Vinnie [laughs]. But I do read! I just started this Werner Herzog interview book, A Guide for the Perplexed. I can’t say much about it yet, but it seems really interesting. Before that, I read “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind” two or three times, Patti Smith’s “M Train,” which I really liked, and some poems by Patti Smith as well.

TJG: Your last performance as a trio in September at Korzo, right? Tell me a little about the group. Who writes the music, what’s your sound?

CG: We started jamming a year and a half ago, I think, something like that. Before that, I was playing with Vin in a trio with Masa Kamaguchi, who would come in every once in a while from Barcelona. Vin and I eventually established something we liked together, and asked Chris Tordini to join. We were jamming on a regular basis, then started working on music by all three of us. Nobody leads the group, it’s a total collective. We haven’t had many shows yet, but we rehearse all the time [laughs]. Workshopping music with these two guys is a beautiful thing. And we have a lot of material. Since we have two sets at The Gallery, we can stretch and play most of our stuff.

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