Courtesy of New Phase Records
I’m going to let you in on a secret, one that’s known to big name jazz performers like Kenny Burrell, Esperanza Spalding, and Gregory Porter, but maybe not the music world at large: Tivon Pennicott is one force of nature on the tenor sax. This young saxophonist isn’t without accolades—he was a finalist at the 2013 Thelonious Monk Competition—but throughout his career thus far, Tivon has focused much more on sideman work than stepping out as a leader. Having honed his sound in groups led by the artists mentioned above, Tivon is primed for a musical breakout with the release of his debut record, Lover of Nature (New Phase Records).
This Thursday, February 19th, Tivon will return to The Jazz Gallery stage with a new quartet featuring some immensely talented peers—Keyon Harrold on trumpet, Luques Curtis on bass, and Jamison Ross on drums. We caught up with Tivon this week by phone to talk about his new record and what’s next for him.
The Jazz Gallery: Let’s start right off with the last track on the album, Lover of Nature. It’s a duet between you and Mike Battaglia on piano. There’s a special connection there, as well as throughout the album. How did you first start playing together?
Tivon Pennicott: Well, Mike and I went to college together, at University of Miami. I’m a year ahead of him, I met him my sophomore year, in 2005. As you know, he’s an amazing pianist, but he has so many other skills, too many to mention right now. He went to school for audio engineering. He wasn’t even in performance, and I had just met him from him wanting to jam. Mike is special. He can pretty much hear anything. He has some of the most incredible ears that I know of anyone. He’s also very theoretical and dissecting of music and theory in ways that I don’t know if I’ve ever heard anybody do. So he’s just a special guy. I’m happy to have known him then, and our friendship has grown through going to school together. When I moved to New York in 2009, he eventually came up as well. I always told him that we were going to start a band together.
So we grew up musically together. That’s where the connection comes from.
TJG: How did Mike’s ear and attention to detail influence your compositional process?
TP: You know, when I was writing all the songs, of course I had a band in mind that I was writing for. But I didn’t do it specifically for Mike. I knew that he would take whatever I wrote and put Mike Battaglia on it. One thing I did make sure of was that anything that I wrote would be able to be played trio, complete as a trio sound, and I knew that in adding Mike… I trusted his musicality to put the right parts in.
TJG: So, back to the beginning of the album—the first track, “Translated,” builds around a vamp, with dense clusters of 2nds and 9ths on the piano, but then becomes consistent and metronomic towards the middle, with a slow, strong dynamic buildup. Could you describe your process for shaping your compositions?
TP: Well, when I wrote “Translated,” it started out as a series of rhythmically related sections. But I wanted to make sure that the second part wasn’t so obviously related. Like a game, almost. Kind of like a clever way of connecting common rhythms and meter throughout. While I was writing the song I made sure that I had this first section, and then it felt like it needed a contrast. The contrast went straight to something low-key and smooth, and Mike and I traded. It was an opportunity to re-introduce the original riff in a new context.