Like the other members of the incomparably tight electro-jazz group Kneebody, trumpeter Shane Endsley keeps himself busy with a variety of side projects. He’s contributed to the convivial atmosphere of bands like Slavic Soul Party and The Asphalt Orchestra; worked as a sideman with the likes of Ravi Coltrane, Chris Speed, and Ben Allison; and led his own groups, like Shane Endsley and The Music Band, who released their acclaimed album Then The Other in 2011.
This Saturday, October 17th, Endsley will present the latest iteration of a project in which he interprets the work of classic singer-songwriters like Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, and Nick Drake, alongside his own tuneful compositions. We caught up with Shane by phone from his new home in Denver to talk about the genesis of this project, bridging stylistic differences, and settling into a new city after many years in New York.
The Jazz Gallery: How have you been?
Shane Endsley: I’ve been good. It’s a busy time of life, I’ve got a lot of stuff going on. My family and I moved recently, and we’re getting settled back in Denver, where I grew up. We’re getting the kids in school: I grew up here, but coming back as a dad is completely different. I’ve got a new teaching gig out here. Plus, I’ve been doing Kneebody work and playing my own gigs, so it feels like a bit of an overload.
TJG: You must be traveling a lot recently.
SE: I do travel a fair amount. I’m probably gone for three months out of the year, and that’s all split up into about a week at a time, sometimes two weeks.
TJG: So, lets get right to your upcoming show. What a huge lineup of musicians! How did this configuration start?
SE: I was thinking about folks who would sound good on the music I had in mind, which were a handful of classic singer-songwriter pieces, plus a handful of my own charts which were pretty inspired by that stuff. Neal Young, Joni Mitchell, Nick Drake, Elliott Smith, and so on. So, I wanted some jazz players to be on it, but I also wanted people with more of a footing in vocal music and folk music. Nate Radley definitely has that vibe—he plays really great blues and folk music on pedal steel and guitar. Gerald Cleaver is such a flexible player. He works in the avant-garde or free spheres, but he has such a beautiful sound and feel when it comes to rhythm. He has a deep pocket if that’s what the music calls for. As for Matt Clohesy and Uri Caine, I’ve played with them a couple times. Matt has such a big sound and nice feel, and can play very simple, moving music. Same with Uri—that guy’s such an open book, can go in so many directions. He’s such an easy guy to work with. It’s a new lineup with those guys. Over the last year, it’s been a continuously different lineup of folks, and it’s been difficult to hold together a regular band outside of Kneebody. So, this show at The Gallery will feature an interesting collection of players, that you might not normally hear together.
TJG: Given the lineup and material, what kind of approach will you be taking to this music with this collective of musicians?
SE: I think we’ll try to find a natural expression of bridging the gap between a heavier modern jazz and a traditional, folk-rock aesthetic. We’ll be looking for a bit of a middle ground. That’s my main way of generalizing the sound I’m going for when I write. That concepts feeds many ideas for arrangements, and will be in my head during rehearsals.
TJG: Have you done any arranging ahead of time for these songs, and any sort of arranging dictated by the people you’ll be playing with?
SE: Yeah, a little bit. Some of these songwriter songs I’ve been kind of doing on gigs over the past year or so. Some of these arrangements I’ve had already, so they’ll fit with this configuration. More of the new and original material I’m writing is with this band in mind.
TJG: Can you give us an idea or sneak-peek at some of the songs you’ll be playing?
SE: We’re going to do “Heart of Gold” by Neil Young, one of my favorites of his. We’ll do one from Nick Drake called “Cello Song.” I think we might do an Elliott Smith song called “Single File.” And we might try a Joni Mitchell song. I love the Joni tune “Amelia.” And I have an arrangement of “Mrs. Robinson,” by Simon & Garfunkel. It’s more up tempo with a different bass line, it feels really fun. It feels like a happy marriage between something I’d write or play, and this super traditional, well-known song.
TJG: And so you’ll be pairing these songs with compositions of your own?
SE: Yes, that’s right. With my writing lately, I’ve been trying to take a more lyrical approach. For some of these acoustic quartet and quintet settings, I’ve been trying to get away from more technical aspects of the trumpet and to really sing through the horn.