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Photo by Peter Gannushkin, courtesy of the artist.

Trombonist Joe Fiedler is a Jazz Gallery mainstay. But every time he’s come onstage over his long and impressive career, he’s brought a drastically different act from the last one. Last year, it was with Big Sackbut, his freewheeling brass quartet. This time, it will be with his trombone trio, a highly unusual setup, but one that Fielder cherishes. We caught up with Mr. Fiedler by phone to talk about the joys and challenges of playing in this exposed setting.

The Jazz Gallery: You’re known for pushing form and experimenting with different instrumentation. Is the trio setup constraining in comparison?

Joe Fiedler: No. The trio has been my favorite project I’ve ever had. It’s been together 12, 14 years. That form is my first love. And it’s easier to go into that mode—Big Sackbut mode is a whole different ball of wax.

TJG: Your current iteration of your trio has Rob Jost on bass instead of longtime collaborator John Hebert. What’s different about this lineup?

JF:When I first started “Sesame Street” [Fiedler is a musical director and band member at the beloved PBS show] I was finishing up a new trio record, “Sacred Chrome Orb” [in 2011]. John was still in the band, but he was so, so busy becoming a jazz bass superstar, working with Fred Hersch, Paul Motian, all these guys.

I was working with Rob on “Sesame Street,” and thought he would be a great fit. I think a lot of groups succeed by having very strong personalities that all do their thing at the same time. There’s a level of a confidence in their own vocabulary they have: ‘I’m gonna impose my thing, no matter what.’ And John Hebert fits that mold. He’s such a complete player and a mature voice.

Rob doesn’t come from playing in that more open setting. It’s more about, ‘how can I fit in and be more supportive?’ So there’s much more of a group dynamic with Rob than with John. And that’s no knock on John—he’s one of my favorite musicians ever. But as a unit, we’ve been able to take some of the compositions and really mine them for nuance.

TJG: What are some of the trombone techniques you explore on this album?

JF: The main thing is using the plunger technique. It’s just a basic toilet plunger that’s been used since Duke Ellington’s big band. But maybe unlike a lot of classic trombone guys, like Al Grey or Quentin “Butter” Jackson, I like to use it as a textural element, similarly to Ray Anderson.

Since we only have three instruments, how can we get different timbres and colors without it being stagnant?

Usually, I like to mix and match the mutes I use. But I wanted to get as many shadings out of one mute as possible. So half the record is using plunger, and for those five tunes, there’s such a different sonic component each time. Sometimes I’m growling, sometimes I’m using multiphonics: singing through the trombone while playing another note.


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Pianist James Francies hails from Houston, Texas and on Thursday, April 9th, he brings his band Kinetic—stocked with fellow Houston natives—to The Jazz Gallery for two sets.

The last time Francies was on the Gallery stage this January, he was adding an array of electric keyboard sounds to Jason Lindner’s group Now vs. Now. Francies and Lindner were paired up through The Jazz Gallery’s Mentoring Series where young musicians like Francies gain valuable creative experience on the bandstand. We caught up with the pair of pianists at the end of their series of shows together to talk about everything from honing a group sound and the intricacies of teaching and learning complex music by ear. (more…)



Clarence Penn can make a drum set walk and talk, dance and sing. Just check his playing in the video below.

Penn’s hands seem to float around the kit like a pair of ballet dancers. It’s an impressive feat of gymnastics, but you may not notice it at first because he makes it look so easy. Penn also coaxes a kaleidoscope of chirps and chatter from his snare drum, giving the normally one-note instrument a sense of human breath. And while Penn’s drumming is always rooted in a rock-solid swing, he always peppers the groove with unexpected slips and hiccups—joyful surprises for listeners and bandmates alike (just look at bassist Yasushi Nakamura’s expression at about the 1:40 mark).

Penn also drums like a composer, using a huge range of percussive colors (including a Brazilian tamborim and trashy special effects cymbals) to shape a piece from one section to the next. This approach is a big reason why Penn has been the drummer of choice for leading jazz composers like Dave Douglas and Maria Schneider.

This past year, Penn released a new solo album with his group Penn Station featuring contemporary reimaginings of Thelonious Monk tunes. Writing in the New York Times, Nate Chinen noted how Penn and company retrofitted the Monk material “…with new flourishes: stutter-step accents, gospel harmonies, hip-hop swagger.” Check out their lush, R&B take on Monk’s classic ballad “‘Round Midnight” below.