A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Archive for

Photo by Kim Fox.

Photo by Kim Fox.

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.


Photo courtesy of the artist.

Photo courtesy of the artist.

With an expressionistic, unbridled sound on alto saxophone and an imagination to match, Andrew D’Angelo has been a distinctive voice in the New York avant garde scene for nearly three decades. Whether leading his own groups big and small, or working with groundbreaking collaborative ensembles like Human Feel and Tyft, D’Angelo’s playing is deeply felt, sometimes anarchic, sometimes fragile and haunting.

While D’Angelo developed a reputation for incomparably high-energy music earlier in his career, his most recent music has gone in a more meditative direction, such as his album Normanreleased on LP in December 2014. On Thursday, October 15th, The Jazz Gallery welcomes Mr. D’Angelo to present another moving and reflective project called Vanities, featuring pianist Pete Rende, guitarist Ryan Beckley, and special guest drummer Andrew Cyrille. We caught up with Andrew D’Angelo this week by phone to talk about how music has been a means of healing since a diagnosis of brain cancer several years ago, and how D’Angelo’s musical community has changed over his career in New York.

The Jazz Gallery: The project you’re bringing is called Vanitas, yes?

Andrew D’Angelo: I got commissioned to write a piece on the theme of ‘death’ or ‘transition.’ I asked Pete Rende to join me, and we played it in the Greenwood Cemetery in July. We did three nights of concerts in the cemetery, which was really fun. My friend Dylan Keefe (of the band Marcy Playground) was telling me that he does still-life paintings called vanitas. (The term refers to a symbolist style of still-life painting, often pointing towards the transience of materialism.) Basically, it’s the idea that you can’t take your money and possessions with you after death. So, I called the project that Pete and I were doing Vanitas. We made this 30-minute piece, which is basically five different takes on the concept of death. One is that, actually, you don’t die, you just transition to another dimension. One is that you become an angel. One is a Hebrew or Jewish thing where death isn’t even acknowledged: You’re just gone. One was for my father’s death, a sort of “here today, gone tomorrow” idea, and so on. So, Vanitas came to work as the name of the band. We wanted to keep doing shows, and Pete said we should ask Andrew Cyrille to play—a great idea. And then Ryan [Beckley], a guitarist who I know from Seattle, heard me talking about it and wanted to get involved. His approach suits the context of the project very well, and I’ve always wanted to work with him.

TJG: That’s a fascinating way for a project to evolve, where it starts as a duo and then you add people as you go.

AD: It’s funny, because this is a collaboration between Pete and I. Having drums and ambient guitar can give us all room to do different things. It is fascinating, and it’ll be interesting because the four of us have never all played together.

TJG: And so you met Ryan [Beckley] in Seattle?

AD: Well, he’s from Seattle. But I actually think I met him in New York. I knew him because he knew a lot of kids I had taught from Seattle, who went to Roosevelt High School. That is an interesting question, because we don’t know exactly where and when we met.

TJG: So you’re from Seattle, right? You went from Seattle to Boston, and then finally to New York?

AD: Sort of. I grew up in Seattle, and then when I was twenty I moved to New York, stayed for about a year or two, and then I moved to Boston to play with Human Feel, with Jim [Black] and Kurt [Rosenwinkel]. I was there for three or four years, then we all moved back to New York.

TJG: So what has it been like gravitating between these cities, all in pursuit of music?

AD: That’s an interesting question. The internet has really changed our world, especially in the arts. Now when I go to Seattle for shows, or wherever, Austria or Austin, everybody seems to already be more in touch with each other, so it’s not like “Hey nice to meet you, what do you do?” Because people can listen to your sounds and creations before they even really know who you are. It doesn’t even really matter anymore where you live, you know? I was just hanging out with [bassist] Reid Anderson for some dinner and drinks, and he was saying that he was thinking of moving out of town. It’s like yeah, why not? I’ll miss having dinner and drinks with him, but it’s not going to alter his career. People live all over the place these days. Jim Black is never home—nobody is ever home [laughs], we’re all traveling all the time anyway.

TJG: These days, everybody has already heard everybody before they hear anybody. It’s a fascinating way to develop—could you talk to me a little bit about the development of your personal style? Not necessarily the musical language you utilize, but the style and approach you take to the language.

AD: So almost ten years ago now, I had a seizure. I woke up and they told me I had a huge brain tumor. After some tests, I ended up having two surgeries to remove my right frontal lobe. But I chose not to do chemotherapy or radiation. I basically told the doctors that I wasn’t doing any more treatment: I went to India, China, Iceland, Tebet, all over the world seeking healers and healing. Even in Seattle and New York, I found people. I basically went on this journey into the metaphysical world. The first healer I met, a fantastic man named Peter Roth, said to me, “Do you know why you asked the brain tumor and the cancer to come into your life?” Cancer is resentment, and where the cancer resides is where the resentment is held. So I asked myself why cancer decided to visit me when and where it did, and I healed that aspect of my soul, spirit, my entire being. I found a path where I was completely healed—not only healed, but more whole than I was before. And so basically, after that huge insane experience, I realized that music is really about tapping into a source and energy. Some people call it the ‘over soul,’ some people call it the ‘subconscious,’ some people call it a ‘higher self.’ You’re channeling this creation through your body, and putting it down on paper, or playing it through your instrument, or painting or drawing it.

And so, as far as my approach to what I do, at this point, and pretty much ever since that period when I had brain cancer, which I call “brain,” is about having full conscious awareness about tapping into the energy from my higher self. I try to let that energy flow through and come out in a certain way. It’s interesting because I was in the studio last week with Human Feel. Kurt said “Man, what happened to the complicated, crazy music you used to write?” That’s not what the source is giving me right now. It’s giving me these more surreal, sublime, tonal, atmospheric, kind, calm sounds. It resonates to a different frequency than when I was twenty-eight. It’s not an age thing, but having gone through a personal and spiritual transformation, my creation process has changed. The focus is on a different place, on different vibrations.


Photo by Emra Islek.

Photo by Emra Islek.

Since 2008, saxophonist John Ellis and his band Double Wide have been taking the sound of New Orleans jazz and knocking it a little off-kilter. While the group’s hard-grooving music is unapologetically steeped in tradition, these five versatile and free-thinking improvisers push tunes in new and oftentimes surprising directions over the course of a performance. The group’s last album Puppet Mischief (ObliqSound) received immense critical acclaim (four and a half star reviews from Downbeat and Billboard Magazines, a five star review from All About Jazz), and helped lead to a performance at the 2012 Newport Jazz Festival.

On September 18th, Double Wide released a long-awaited followup to Puppet Mischief—Charm (Parade Light)—and this weekend, the group will convene at The Jazz Gallery to celebrate the album’s release. We caught up with John Ellis by phone to talk about his approach to writing for the various personalities in the group and the differences between living in New Orleans and New York.

The Jazz Gallery: So you’re in New York now—you’ve just returned from California, where you were with Darcy James Argue.

John Ellis: Yup. He has this new piece that he wrote that we’re gonna play at the Next Wave Festival (Brooklyn Academy of Music) in November. It’s called Real Enemies. It’s his next multimedia extravaganza, an hour long meditation on conspiracy theory in American politics since WWI. There are lots of studio images, lighting, costumes. I’m playing saxophones and clarinets in the big band. I’m a cog in the wheel.

TJG: Fascinating stuff! Now, your own project—Would you mind talking to me about your relationship with New Orleans?

JE: I’ve lived there twice. I grew up in North Carolina but moved to New Orleans when I was nineteen, and I was there from 1993 to 1997. I was in school, and apprenticed with Ellis Marsalis and Harold Battiste at University of New Orleans. I went to school for a year there, then left and played in the community. I came to New York, but then went back to teach at Loyola in ’99 and 2000. I considered going straight to New York from North Carolina, but New Orleans made a lot more sense to me, and I still feel connected to New Orleans in a certain way. There’s something special about that town, and it was very formative for me in terms of the way that music works there. So, I go back a lot. “Double-Wide” is a band that basically straddles New Orleans and New York. This is our third record, so it’s my ongoing New Orleans hybrid project.

TJG: So what is it about the sound of the South, and about New Orleans in particular, that really speaks to you?

JE: It’s not just the sound. I grew up in the South, so it’s the culture, it’s the food, it’s the way people speak to each other. There’s an inclusiveness about the way the music works. It’s woven into the fabric of the culture. It’s played for dancing, for parades, funeral services, in the street, in the club. Even the more avant-garde scene has a more inclusive atmosphere in New Orleans. It’s like “Come on, let’s play free music together.” There’s something about that that’s always been very appealing to me. There’s the way the beat feels, there’s the way everything has blues in it. It feels right to me.

TJG: So the band is Double-Wide, and the new album is Charm. How did the band come together?

JE: It mostly came together to have a band with sousaphone as a bass, specifically with Matt Perrine. I played a really memorable gig with him during the early 90’s in New Orleans. He plays bass and sousaphone, but what he was doing on the sousaphone was like nothing I’d ever heard. I wanted to investigate. So I got this idea that was built around instrumentation and personalities. He and Jason Marsalis were how I got started. Then I wanted organ, and got Gary Versace involved. The first record was with the four of us. I’d been experimenting with sounds, so subsequently the second record had trombone and harmonica. After that record, we toured and gigged with trombone, and that became a sound that I liked, so it stuck. So today, it’s a lot about orchestration and how instruments fit together. It opens a compositional window for things I can’t do in other settings.

TJG: How does sousaphone fit into the band, and into the world of New Orleans sound?

JE: Matt primarily plays the bass function, but there are other options. He’s the best sousaphone player I’ve ever heard, by far. There’s no end to what he’s capable of doing. His musical instincts, from dynamics to grooves and time signatures, have a lot of room for exploiting his gifts. I wrote him a little hilarious sort of sousaphone concerto for this recording, so he’s doing that. The organ can play the bass too, which frees him up to be another horn, but he’s primarily the bass function.

TJG: Is there anything about that musical multiplicity and ability to take different roles that’s a reflection of music in the South?

JE: Maybe! There’s a lot of people who play different instruments, though I’ve never thought of that as a New Orleans thing. There’s definitely something about the tuba/bass double that’s a New Orleans thing, because there’s so much music that’s played in the street. The tuba is a bass player rather than a low brass, and in New Orleans, there’s a long history of people who play bass in the clubs and tuba on the street.

What’s cool about having trombone with sousaphone, especially with Matt, is that he can morph and blend with the trombone. So there are orchestration consequences: it gives the band more flexibility. Trombone was sort of a perfect conduit instrument. It has this theatrical craziness, but the low-brass blends with the tenor so well. I play a little clarinet on the record too, so that’s fun.


Photo courtesy of the artist.

Photo courtesy of the artist.

This past May, The Jazz Gallery inaugurated its newly-refurbished space with a performance by pianist Tony Tixier. The intervening months have been quite busy and exciting for Tixier—he recorded a duo album with master trombonist Dick Griffin, got to test out new Steinway grand pianos on the factory floor, performed multiple times at Radio City Music Hall for NBC’s “America’s Got Talent,” and moved across the East River from Brooklyn to Manhattan.

Befitting his growing stature within the jazz world, Tixier is about to embark on a European tour in a couple of weeks. But before he heads out of town, Tixier will return to The Jazz Gallery this Thursday with his home base trio featuring Karl McComas on bass and Tommy Crane on drums. Check out the fireworks the trio shot off when they performed at Rockwood Music Hall just over a month ago in this video(more…)