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From L to R: Edward Simon (photo by Scott Chernis), Miguel Zenon (photo by Jimmy Katz), Jorge Roeder (photo by Isabel Roeder), and Felipe Fournier (photo by Martin Cohen)

From L to R: Edward Simon (photo by Scott Chernis), Miguel Zenon (photo by Jimmy Katz), Jorge Roeder (photo by Isabel Roeder), and Felipe Fournier (photo by Martin Cohen)

While a good deal of what is identified as “Latin Jazz” today has its roots in the traditional musics of Cuba and Brazil, other musical styles from across Latin America have mixed successfully with jazz performance practices—think of Guillermo Klein’s reimagining the work of Argentinian composers, or Godwin Louis’s study of Haitian traditions, or Danilo Perez’s work in Panamanian styles. Sur—a new jazz supergroup of sorts featuring four of the most prominent Latin American musicians in New York—is attempting explore the extraordinary range of Latin styles, crossing borders to create an exciting new musical hybrid.

Sur is made up of Venezuelan pianist Edward Simon, Puerto Rican saxophonist Miguel Zenon, Peruvian bassist Jorge Roeder, and Costa Rican percussionist Felipe Fournier, musicians with an unparalleled collective resume. They’ve played with everyone from Terrence Blanchard to Charlie Haden to the SFJAZZ Collective to Ruben Blades to Gary Burton. They’ve been recognized by the MacArthur, Guggenheim, and Doris Duke Foundations, and have each performed on Grammy-nominated albums. It’s hard to think of a better team for a globetrotting musical expedition.

Sur will play their inaugural concert this Friday evening at The Jazz Gallery. We couldn’t be more excited to kick off what will hopefully be a long-running and fruitful collaboration.  (more…)

Photo courtesy of the artist

Photo courtesy of the artist

For drummer and composer Guilhem Flouzat, creating the music for his new album Portraits (Coming out October 10th on Sunnyside) was a multidisciplinary process. Flouzat created personal portraits of many people who have inspired his musical journey through image, word, and song. Each composition on the album is not only dedicated to a different friend and musician, but also utilizes those musician’s favored styles and invites them to perform on each work. In addition, the accompanying album booklet features Flouzat’s own writings about his subjects and photographs specially designed to bring out the musical personality of each subject. We caught with Flouzat recently to talk about the process of making Portraits, and his musical origins.

The Jazz Gallery: You just finished a successful indiegogo campaign for your new album. Can you tell us a bit about some of the challenges and highlights of running a crowd-funding campaign, and why you decided you wanted to do it?

Guilhem Flouzat: First of all, the reason I decided to do it is that in this day and age it’s very hard to find any kind of label that will fund a recording. So I was either going to have to use my savings, or put money on the side which is difficult in New York, so I decided to do the crowd-funding campaign. It was a little counter-intuitive, because I’m not a great fan of self-promotion, so one of the challenges was putting myself out there, asking people for money, and having to consider that your project is good enough to ask money for. But it turned out to be very rewarding because it turned into an interpersonal thing. It was a way to reach out to people and get back in touch with people that I hadn’t seen in years, and I realized that in a way having to explain to people what your project is about helps you figure out what the project actually is about. It was a great experience—it still is:  I’m still in touch with all the donors, and I write a regular newsletter now.

TJG: What inspired you to write in portrait form?

GF: As a composer, I tend to draw inspiration from other composers, and other people in general. And so, friendships mean a lot to me. My friends are my moral compasses in life. It’s thanks to them that I know who I am, and the same goes musically. I know who I am as a musician thanks to the musicians that I play with and I really trust, so it made perfect sense for me to start writing about these people that inspire me. At first it came naturally, and after a while it became a challenge to go all the way, and form a whole gallery of portraits like the first ones I wrote. But it was over the course of two years I think that I wrote all of them.

TJG: Could you name a couple of the composers that inspire you to write and be a musician?

GF: I grew up in Paris, and my grandmother was a classical pianist, so I grew up listening to a lot of classical French composers, especially Debussy, Ravel, and Poulenc. I think deep down this deep sense of melody and these slightly modal but still tonal harmonies in Ravel are my core language, what moves me the most. So there’s that, but then there’s all the composers, all the people who have been working on the album like Ben Wendel and Lauren Coq, who are very careful composers and have a great sense for shaping compositions and telling a story with them, so it was also great to write for people who were composers themselves, because I could use their material and approach.

TJG: How did this specific group of people come together? Especially this instrumentation of having 2+ saxophones, flute, and a vocalist?

GF: The whole thing is that it’s really not based on any kind of orchestrational needs or considerations. I basically just wanted these people, not as instruments, as much as people/persons/artists, and I wanted all of them to be on the album, and so I found a way. It didn’t necessarily make sense—some of the tracks you have two tenors and one alto. If I just had to write the tune I would probably not use the same, but it had to be these people because they have been with me along the journey since the start.

TJG: Did you meet these people while you were studying at Manhattan School of Music?

GF: I wasn’t studying composition at MSM—I was a drum set major—but I took composition classes. One of the great things about MSM is you can also go in the classical department, and these are people that I met in the first years that I was there, and with whom I clicked, and who are extremely close friends. And then Ben, I met because I admired him, and so I came up to him, and he recorded my first album, like five years ago now. And Laurent was the person who recommended me to go to New York when I was twenty two. He was one of my first mentors. So the one person that’s not been in my life for more than six years is Becca Stevens, and it’s also because songwriting hasn’t been in my life for that long. This is the first time I’m attempting to write songs with lyrics, and I found that she had the exact kind of stylistic flexibility, and she’s an amazing interpreter and artist overall. To say that she didn’t disappoint me is a big understatement.

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Photo by David Korchin.

Photo by David Korchin.

Guitarist Adam Rogers needs little introduction to Jazz Gallery fans. A longtime regular here, Rogers has become one of the most prominent voices on the electric guitar today, able to both attack the thorniest line with aplomb and give a song a lush atmosphere. He’s worked with a huge range of artists, from saxophonists Michael Brecker and Chris Potter, to vocalists Norah Jones and Cassandra Wilson, and trumpeters Randy Brecker and Terrence Blanchard. Rogers has recorded five albums as a leader, and three with the collaborative electro-jazz outfit Lost Tribe.

With such varied experiences and a wide-open musical personality, we at The Jazz Gallery felt Adam would be an ideal mentor for this program. We caught up with recently by phone for a thoughtful and discursive conversation about the qualities of good bandleaders and the importance of the jazz standard repertoire to Adam’s improvisational practice.

The Jazz Gallery: Let’s start out big picture here: what in your mind makes a good bandleader?

Adam Rogers: There are a number of things. I think good bandleaders hire people whose playing they love, and the leaders want those players to imprint their musical personalities on the music at hand. Also, good bandleaders balance that idea of letting people do what they do while also at times interjecting with their own concept of a particular composition—like if you’re the composer and have an insight into the piece that the other players may not have. I’ve spent about as much time as a leader and co-leader as I have as a sideman, and these two ideas have occurred to me a lot.

As a sideman, I’ve loved working with leaders who will step out and share thoughts about music that don’t only apply to the tunes at hand, but about playing and improvising more generally. I worked with saxophonist Michael Brecker for a long time and I loved the way he led bands. He would just let things happen, and then once in a while would say something really savvy and profound.

Like any musician, I hear my playing all day long, so I’m really looking for outside information to influence the information that I already have. I’m looking for a lot of input so I have things to use that aren’t just coming from my own head. If someone I really respect says something that may at first just pertain to the music at hand, but then have greater ramifications, I find that really, really valuable. I think in the long line of great bandleaders in jazz—from Miles to Blakey to Duke to Basie, any number of people—there are musicians whose paths as players have been tremendously influenced by the bandleaders they’ve worked with. I know some people say with Miles that the band wouldn’t sound any different if he were in the audience, but I feel he shared his thoughts about music somewhat regularly, and in doing so, really influenced the paths of some of the most important musicians of the 20th century.

Sometime those lessons imparted from a bandleader to a sideman aren’t necessarily explicitly stated. You can work with someone for a long time and through osmosis just get a lot of information. I’ve gotten to work with many great musicians, and even if they’ve said very little to me specifically, being in proximity to them every night and hearing their playing and playing with them has been hugely educational and gratifying.

TJG: I feel like a good bandleader in your mind has to have a lot of patience. The music may not sound exactly the way he or she wants it to be at first, but the leader will take a step and let everything take its course.

AR: Absolutely. I think it has a psychological series of ramifications as well. From my experience, I feel that learning a piece of music in the privacy of my own home and figuring out all the technical things necessary to play it is one thing, and figuring out what to do in a performance is another thing. Things happen over a period of time that are natural. People are going to have a path of their own in learning and processing a piece of music. As a bandleader, I think being able to step back and letting people find their place in music is really important, more so than saying, “No this is how it should go, no this is how it should go.”

For me, one of the key factors in jazz and improvised music is that it isn’t one thing. Even a tune that I’ve written and thought of—where a lot of the parts are written out, the bass lines, the chord voicings—it’s not clear to me what it’s going to be once people start playing it, and I try to leave as much of that open as possible. There are tunes that I write in the privacy of my own mind where I feel that there are things in it that I like, but I’m not sure if it’s going to work. And I’ve played those tunes with a group live, and they really come to life because of the others’ input.

Psychologically, I feel that musicians might feel more relaxed initially when you don’t say “This is how it’s going to be,” from the word go. A huge part of music has nothing to do with the technical requirements of playing an instrument, but how you feel while you’re playing, and different psychological states breed different kinds of musical responses. There have been times when I’ve been playing and was struggling and tired and pissed off, and something came from that that wouldn’t have come out if I was thinking, “Oh, this is great!” I just don’t think that having a preemptive concept jammed down your throat before you get a chance to find your place in a piece is necessarily a positive thing.

While saying that, compositionally, there are things that you can impart to people performing your music that can really open it up for them. I know from my vantage point as a sideperson that one’s ability to put one’s self into the music and internalize it comes from hearing how it’s supposed to sound like. It could be something extraordinarily difficult to realized on a technical level, but if you can sort of hear it, it makes it easier for you to insert yourself into the piece. There are things a bandleader can say that can elucidate what’s going on in a piece and help that process along, like, “This tune sounds like Philly Joe Jones playing a country tune.” Just something that can help a musician grasp the overall concept of a piece and get away from the notes on the paper.

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Yosvany Terry

This Friday and Saturday, September 18th and 19th, The Jazz Gallery will continue our 20th Anniversary celebration with a return of “Jazz Cubano.” The band will be led by the Cuban saxophonist, composer, and chekere player, Yosvany Terry, who led the original Jazz Cubano shows at The Jazz Gallery and remains a vital force in the Latin Jazz and Contemporary music scenes in New York City.

The Jazz Gallery has a long history and deep ties with Cuban music and Cuban musicians in New York. Dale Fitzgerald, the late founder and executive director of the Jazz Gallery, had a deep love and passion for the music, lifestyle, and culture of Cuba, making a point of curating great Cuban acts at The Jazz Gallery from the very beginning. Under Fitzgerald’s leadership and onward, The Jazz Gallery became the premier venue for Cuban jazz musicians to make their United States debuts and was a physical nexus for expatriate musicians from across Latin America and the Caribbean to hang out, link up, and jam.

This scene centered on The Jazz Gallery’s weekly Jazz Cubano series on Thursday evenings, which ran from 2000 through 2001. The house band was led by Yosvany Terry and featured great musicians from across Latin America, including Venezuelan pianist Luis Perdomo, Puerto Rican bassist John Benitez, and Cuban percussionist Dafnis Prieto. The group also frequently hosted special guests, including Pedro Martinez, Miguel Zenon, Bobby Carcasses (senior and junior). Even after the Jazz Cubano series ended, its influence remained palpable, as many of its featured artists went on to lead and write music for their own groups, becoming prominent members of the greater New York jazz scene.

This past spring, saxophonist Miguel Zenon, pianist Luis Perdomo, and drummer Dafnis Prieto—all members of the Latin Jazz scene at The Jazz Gallery—wrote remembrances for Dale Fitzgerald, each musician speaking fondly of the scene Fitzgerald helped cultivate.

Miguel Zenon

I first met Dale about 15 years ago through Yosvany Terry, when the Gallery was starting to run the “Jazz Cubano Series.” Shortly after that (and through Yosvany’s recommendation), Dale gave me my first chance ever to present an ensemble as a leader. As in my first gig as a leader ANYWHERE. Little did I know that this gig would be the first step towards one of the longest relationships I’ve ever had. The Gallery not only became a place to play, but it became our second home in NYC. At one point we were spending so much time there that my wife jokingly mentioned that we should set up sleeping bags in the back and just sleep there…

Luis Perdomo

At some point, The Jazz Gallery became for me a sort of laboratory and second home, where for years I had the pleasure of developing and trying new music with some of my peers. It was a period of constant growth for myself, playing week after week with some of the best musicians in NYC; and a big part of this was due to the forward thinking vision of Dale Fitzgerald, who not only gave us an opportunity to have our music heard, but created an atmosphere where musicians could come and create in a worry-free environment.

Dafnis Prieto

Dale was one of the first people in New York that opened the doors at The Jazz Gallery to my music. These memories are very meaningful to me because they were the beginnings of a complete new musical chapter in my life.

Beyond the Jazz Cubano series, The Jazz Gallery has supported Cuban music in other ways. In 1996, the great Cuban pianist Jesus “Chucho” Valdès and conguero Miguel “Anga” Diaz performed at the Gallery for a rare duo concert, which marked Diaz’s US debut. In 1998, the Gallery hosted a special interdisciplinary event honoring the great Cuban percussionist Chano Pozo, featuring rare archival recordings, a reading by the poet Jayne Cortez, and a presentation of Pozo’s music led by Eddie Bobe.

The concerts at The Jazz Gallery on the 18th and 19th will both be redux of the Jazz Cubano Series and a celebration of the Gallery’s continued commitment to showcasing Cuban music. For these concerts, our bandleader Yosvany Terry will be bringing along a special group of Cuban and non-Cuban musicians, all of whom have strong connections to the Gallery. Both nights feature pianist Osmany Paredes, bassist Yunior Terry, and percussionist Mauricio Herrera, all Cuban natives. On the first night the great master of polyrhythm Jeff Tain Watts is on drums, while the second night, Obed Calvaire (a Haitian native and member of the Yosvany Terry Quintet) takes over. Special guests are expected to sit in, so be on the lookout for some exciting musical surprises! (more…)

From L to R: Nate Wood, Harish Raghavan, and Ben Wendel. Photo courtesy of the artists.

From L to R: Nate Wood, Harish Raghavan, and Ben Wendel. Photo courtesy of the artists.

Ben Wendel, Harish Raghavan, and Nate Wood comprise the trio ACT. Nate Chinen of The New York Times calls them “hypnotic and rough-and-tumble,” apt descriptions for a group of such high-caliber improvisers and forward-thinking composers. All three musicians have grown to become giants of the jazz scenes and improvised music spheres in NYC, LA, and across the globe. ACT, their chordless trio, celebrates their friendship and their musical synergy.

The Jazz Gallery spoke briefly via email with the trio about their second release, ACT II. In discussing the development of their trio sound, all three musicians cited the trio’s growing maturity:

Ben Wendel

We love playing in settings without chording instruments—there’s a lot of content that we put into the music individually and as a group. The natural interplay is what I like most about this trio: We’ve never had to have a conversation about it, we just hear music and evolve together. Nothing too specific has changed, except that we’ve all grown a little older and have more experiences to bring to the music. Since our last album, we’ve moved to NYC and started playing with folks like Wayne Krantz, Ambrose Akinmusire, Antonio Sanchez, and so forth. This has brought new layers to the group.

Harish Raghavan

We’ve actually only played a handful of gigs between the two records. We joke about doing our ‘yearly’ gig. I don’t think we really worked on cultivating a different sound for this record. Getting older and accumulating more experiences has a natural tendency to change how you play, and I think that’s reflected in this album.”

Nate Wood

ACT sounds like a group that has done a lot of playing together. There is an immediate connection regardless of how familiar we are with the material or how long its been since we’ve played.  I think that draws the listener in… We’ve all done a ton of playing in other projects with other artists, and have grown musically individually.  So that carries over into the project.  We are also older which somehow makes a difference.

ACT II was recorded in Tarrytown NY through a connection with The Jazz Gallery. In the album’s official press release, Wendel noted that the album was recorded under relaxed and free circumstances: “In the dead of winter, we stayed in a beautiful home upstate and recorded/composed for three days to make this album. It was a total blast. This record, along with our first, was recorded in one room with no headphones. It’s a very liberating way to record music as it gives the band a natural blend. It adds to the familiarity of our musical relationship, and makes it very easy to make full sounding music with just three people and no chordal component.”

On September 16th, The Jazz Gallery will host ACT for the release of their second album, the first of two back-to-back release celebrations on opposite coasts. Before seeing the band live, check out the track “Memorial” from this new album.

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