A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Archive for

Photo by Eric Waters

Photo by Eric Waters

Drummer Joe Dyson first performed with his forefather-in-rhythm Johnathan Blake while recording Dr. Lonnie Smith’s newest album Evolution, to be released by Blue Note Records early next year. “From the first downbeat,” Dyson recalls, “it was just love and music in the air.”

Putting two drummers on the same stage can many times be a recipe for battling and bombast, but Dyson notes that playing with Blake was a harmonious experience. “It was a beautiful exchange of musical ideas, and there was never any competing for the spotlight.”

The quickly-developing rapport between Dyson and Blake has been further on display during The Jazz Gallery’s Mentorship Series these past few weeks. Moving through a wide range of band lineups and repertoire, Blake has put the young and talented Mr. Dyson through his musical paces, leading to exciting rhythmic interplay and bold risk-taking. JazzSpeaks caught up with Dyson this week to discuss his approach to playing in a two-drummer group and what gives the New Orleans drumming tradition its particular flavor.

The Jazz Gallery: Playing with another drummer is something you don’t do every day in a jazz context, so have you found playing in this group to be a challenge?

Joe Dyson: I don’t necessarily see it as a challenge, and I think that has to do a bit with my upbringing. I grew up in New Orleans and I grew up playing traditional music, playing in brass bands, and marching bands. They require at least two drummers, so there’s always a counterpoint of rhythm and a counterpoint of ideas, everything happening simultaneously. So playing with Johnathan actually works really well. He’s such a musical player—we’re always listening to each other’s ideas and complementing what’s going on.

Most times when you’re sitting in the drum chair, you’re the main orchestrator, and so a lot people see that when you have two drummers, you’re competing for the space of orchestrator. But when you’re really listening, it’s easier to have a real conversation and communicate the same idea together.

TJG: A lot of drummers talk about that when playing with another drummer, each person takes on a different role. Like when Lenny White was playing on Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew, he said that Jack DeJohnette would usually lay down the background groove and Lenny would play more texturally. How do you and Johnathan communicate about these roles?

JD: It happens subconsciously. There’s always going to be someone who’s the rhythmic foundation and there’s going to be someone who adds color and texture on top, which helps lift the contours of the rhythm. For us, it really happens in a subconscious way on stage. Sometimes I’ll be the basic foundation, and then sometimes Johnathan will take that over. That will happen through solos or through eye contact or just someone starting a new idea. It’s not necessarily delegated from the get-go, it’s just an exchange throughout.

TJG: Does Johnathan lead the way in terms of this musical exchange on stage, or is there more of a give-and-take?

JD: I definitely feel that it’s a collaborative effort, but also that he’s the bandleader, that he’s able to direct everything as it goes. But I think he’s a really great bandleader in how he leaves an open canvass for everyone to contribute on. He’s really open to let everyone contribute and leave their mark, and I think that’s a beautiful way to lead a group.

TJG: Does that open-ended band-leading approach carry over to the choice of repertoire as well?

JD: Well at the last show, we had a lot of original tunes—some from Johnathan, some from his father [the great jazz violinist John Blake, Jr.], and one from saxophonist John Ellis. This week we’re doing some different music as well, including some original compositions from saxophonist Dayna Stephens.

TJG: That’s a lot of new music to learn in a short time!

JD: Yeah! It’s been good practice for me to approach all this music with fresh ears and really be open to all these new ideas. Some of the tunes that Johnathan has been bringing in haven’t been recorded, so it’s really wide open.

I just had a conversation with Rio [The Jazz Gallery’s artistic director], and she really encouraged me to not be afraid and go for it on the bandstand, and not worry about falling on my face. It’s more important to explore new territory and reach for something beyond what you’ve done before. That was great to hear, because especially as a young artist, it’s easy to get caught up in the idea of perfection. In so much music now, everything is on a grid and everything has to be perfect in performance—I have to recreate this other thing, make it sound the exact same as it is on record. Rio and Johnathan have given me an open platform to create and explore as much as I can, and not have any inhibitions about what I’m doing.


Transient Beings all, from L to R: Tom Guarna, Sarah Elizabeth Charles, E.J. Strickland, Rashaan Carter, and Nir Felder. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Transient Beings all, from L to R: Tom Guarna, Sarah Elizabeth Charles, E.J. Strickland, Rashaan Carter, and Nir Felder. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Drummer E.J. Strickland has been an indispensable sideman for several high-profile ensembles, including groups led by saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, guitarist Russell Malone, and his brother, saxophonist Marcus Strickland. More recently though, E.J. has increased his presence as a leader. Earlier this year, Strickland released his sophomore album as a leader, The Undying Spirit (Strick Muzik), with a hard-hitting post-bop quintet featuring his brother Marcus, alto saxophonist Jaleel Shaw, pianist Luis Perdomo, and bassist Linda Oh. This Thursday, Strickland will bring his other working group—Transient Beings—to The Jazz Gallery.

Like many of his peers, E.J. Strickland’s musical interests stretch beyond the traditional confines of jazz. With the atmospheric guitars of Tom Guarna and Nir Felder (Mark Whitfield will be filling in on Thursday), the funky bass lines of Rashaan Carter (Richie Goods fills in as well), and the rich, R&B vocals of Sarah Elizabeth Charles, Transient Beings creates an enticing blend of musical styles in flavors. Check out the group playing Strickland’s hard-grooving and lush song “Hold On To Your Love” in the video below.


Rhizome, by Fabian Almazan (Blue Note/ArtistShare, 2014)

Rhizome, by Fabian Almazan (Blue Note/ArtistShare, 2014)

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “rhizome,” a botanical term dating from the early 19th century, as the following:

“An elongated, usually horizontal, subterranean stem which sends out roots and leafy shoots at intervals along its length.”

Inspired by the symbolic undertones of the rhizome, pianist and composer Fabian Almazan released an ambitious project entitled Rhizome last year on Blue Note-ArtistShare, with music composed for an ensemble consisting of piano trio, string quartet, and voice. Almazan cites regeneration as a thematic idea that inspired the music on the album, having composed much of it in the aftermath of the tragic 2012 Sandy Hook shootings in Newtown, Connecticut.

“I came to embrace the idea that humanity is somehow all connected; we’re all nourished from the same rhizome,” he says.

Although continually busy as a leader and a sideman with Terence Blanchard’s E-Collective and more recently John Hollenbeck, Almazan, with support from a Chamber Music America New Jazz Works grant, has composed a new multi-movement suite for the Rhizome ensemble, which will have its New York City premiere performances at The Jazz Gallery this Friday and Saturday, December 11th and 12th, 2016.

“I’m trying to reflect the unpredictability of life—how in one moment you can experience something beautiful and then, without any warning, something dangerous or exciting,” he says. “There’s a lot of shifting in the music to reflect that; it’s something I wanted to experiment with.”

Almazan will be joined by Linda Oh on bass and Henry Cole on drums, who comprise the trio on his 2011 release Personalities, as well as a string quartet comprised of Megan Gould and Tomoko Omura on violin, Karen Waltuch on viola, Noah Offeld on cello. Vocalist-guitarist Camila Meza, for whom Almazan wrote music for his 2012-13 Jazz Gallery Residency Commission and who has been a frequent collaborator of Almazan’s in recent years, will also be featured as part of the Rhizome ensemble.

“I feel like I’ve gotten to know her voice and her style very well, and it’s gotten easier for me to write for her,” he says, adding, “I don’t come to her with stuff that’s completely out of her range!”

Almazan’s new CMA-commissioned work will be recorded on Valentine’s Day next year, but you’ll have a chance to hear it first on our stage this weekend. (more…)

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Photo courtesy of the artist.

As the calendar turns to December and 2015 hurtles toward a close, The Jazz Gallery still has some special 20th Anniversary Concerts in store. After presenting Henry Threadgill/Vijay Iyer/Dafnis Prieto and Jeff “Tain” Watts in November, we are proud to present two evenings with pianist Gerald Clayton this weekend. A two-time Grammy nominee and major trendsetter in jazz today, Clayton is presenting two different bands at the Gallery this weekend, showing his diverse musical interests. On his Facebook page, Clayton writes the following about his upcoming shows:

I joined the Gallery family 10 years ago, my rookie season in the big city, when Dale Fitzgerald and Rio Sakairi graciously gave me my first headlining gig.

Since then I’ve clocked in a lot of hours as a hungry audience member. On Friday I’ll be joined by some younger-than-I-lions (Joel Ross, Godwin Louis, and Russell Hall) along with one of the long time heavyweights on the scene, Rodney Green. On Saturday—a gathering of some of my favorite singing humans—good friends who go back as early as those rookie days—in fact Obed Calvaire was on that first gig back in 2005—Gretchen Parlato, Becca Stevens, and Alan Hampton. Join us as we pay tribute to this special place, and toast to the end of another year.

We couldn’t say it any better ourselves, and we hope that you come and contribute to The Jazz Gallery’s familiar vibe for these shows. (more…)