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Miles Okazaki & Paul Cornish. Photos courtesy of the artists.

Miles Okazaki & Paul Cornish. Photos courtesy of the artists.

This Thursday, June 2nd, The Jazz Gallery kicks off the next round of our Mentorship Series with guitarist Miles Okazaki working with pianist Paul Cornish. While some of our previous mentees had played on the Gallery stage previously, Cornish is a new member of the extended Gallery family. Cornish hails from Houston, Texas and attended the prestigious High School for the Performing and Visual Arts there (like fellow pianists Jason Moran, Robert Glasper, and Helen Sung). He just finished his second year studying jazz at the University of Southern California and has already been decorated with awards from ASCAP, Yamaha, and the Next Generation Jazz Festival. The tracks on Cornish’s SoundCloud page show an immense talent, poised to break out to a wider audience.

Before Cornish arrives in New York to make his Gallery debut, we caught up with Miles Okazaki to talk about his project with Paul and what he’s learned about band-leading from working with Steve Coleman.

The Jazz Gallery: How did you and Paul meet?

Miles Okazaki: Not many people know Paul because he’s never been to New York. Well maybe he’s passed through, but he’s never really checked out New York. This will be an interesting experience for him because of that, and because the music that we’re doing isn’t the most conventional.

I was teaching at the Banff Institute in Canada last summer, and Paul was in my ensemble. He was obviously very advanced, very talented. He was always hanging out, playing at the jam sessions. But he’s also a little shy, so I don’t know him that well on a personal level, I just know how he plays. I’ve been trying to imagine what it would have been like to be 19 or 20 and come to New York and play with some older musicians or more experienced musicians and just have that kind of mind-blown thing. What we’re doing is providing a framework for Paul to live in New York for a month, so he can go out and explore and get on the scene a little bit.

I feel like this kind of situation is more authentic and less theoretical than just working in a classroom setting. Like, do you want to have a doctor who’s studied all the books and knows everything, or someone who has done ten thousand hours of surgery and never cracked open a book? Not that this is one way or the other, but this is just a jumpstart on some playing experience.

TJG: It’s almost as if Paul is a sort of jazz exchange student and you are part of his host family.

MO: Yeah. It is true that he’s coming here without really knowing anyone else.

TJG: Earlier you mentioned that the music that you’ll be working on with Paul isn’t the most conventional. How so?

MO: We’re going to be playing music from a record that I recorded recently that isn’t out yet, with Anthony Tidd on bass and Sean Rickman on drums. It’s a new book of material that I’m trying out and before this, the only person who’s played it is Craig Taborn. I gave Paul the tapes and said, “Just check out Craig Taborn.” I think that will be a good lesson by itself! Paul’s just going to jump right into the fire with us, but it’s a supportive project. Sometimes people can have bad experiences when they just jump into situations, when the other band members can be like, “Hey man. Just get it together!” That can be a good thing too, but we’re not going to be trying to do that here. It’s more like we’re just on a gig and trying to make all this music happen together.

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Photo by Monica Garcia

Photo by Monica Garcia

This Saturday, May 28th, The Jazz Gallery is proud to welcome guitarist Mike Moreno back to our stage where he’ll be joined by longtime associates Jon Cowherd on piano, Matt Clohesy on bass, and E.J. Strickland on drums. This past winter, Moreno released a new record called Lotus (World Culture Music) featuring a batch of tunes both lyrical and rough-and-tumble. Check out the stunning “The Hills of Kykuit” (inspired by pastoral views in the Hudson River Valley), recorded live at The Jazz Standard last December.

We expect Moreno and company to showcase their interplay on both these newer tunes, as well as old favorites, this weekend at the Gallery. (more…)

Photo courtesy of the artist

Photo courtesy of the artist

Rudresh Mahanthappa was one of the biggest players in jazz last year: he topped year-end polls at NPR and DownBeat for his explosive album Bird Calls (ACT), inspired by Charlie Parker. But his upcoming gig at The Jazz Gallery will harken back to very different time in his life. He’s reconvened Saturn Returns, a group he formed in 2001 with pianist James Hurt. (The group played at the Gallery in May 2001.) The long dormant group will fly back into action, featuring group originals Hurt and David Gilmore on guitar, as well as Anthony Tidd on bass and Gene Lake on drums.

We spoke to Mahanthappa this week; here are excerpts of that conversation.

The Jazz Gallery: What is the origin of this band?

Rudders Mahanthappa: Saturn Returns is an astrological phenomenon that is unique to every person. From what I understand, it’s a period of your life where the universe is testing you and everything seems to be going wrong. If you look at astrology and destiny and all these things, there’s always the sense that fate is written. But the interesting thing with this idea is supposedly, how you negotiate this horrible reckoning will actually determine your future. If you negotiate Saturn returning into your sign well, and constructively, ideally you’ll have a great life. It’s supposedly something that happens in your early to mid 30s.

I had hit a point around then when I didn’t know what was going on with my life on a professional and personal space. James Hurt was one of the first people when I moved to New York in 1997. We ended up sharing a cab, as strangers, after a gig at the Knitting Factory. James and I were on the same wavelength about what we were thinking about musically, both as composers and improvisers. We talked about co-leading this band.

I think before that Jazz Gallery gig, we had steady Sunday nights for a month or two at the Izzy bar. It was kind of the electric rock band that I always wanted to have: very groove oriented. It wasn’t about playing tunes. James was investigating a lot of electronics, and I had no sense of how that worked. We would set up a mic for me that actually would pipe into his effects. He would manipulate these effects while I was playing. There would be a suddenly a harmony or delay would come on. It was really fun to have somebody else being in charge of that.

TJG: What your life was like at the time?

RM: I wasn’t married. I was single in Carroll Gardens. I had one album under my belt, which I had recorded in Chicago in the mid-90s—but by 2001 that was ancient history. So for all intensive purposes, I had not made an album. I was still primarily doing little local gigs in the East Village. I was trying to figure out how to make rent. I was teaching lots of private lessons. I was writing… what was I writing? I was just getting started! I was continuing to think about how I could deal with my ancestry in a musical way that was authentic, what being Indian-American meant. I look back at some of that music, and I remember what I was thinking when I wrote that stuff: taking these real specific elements of Indian music, and putting it very much in a contemporary light of groove and funk. It’s wild to think I’ve made 15 albums since then.

When Rio approached me about returning, I was like, ‘Wow! Are we doing this? This is crazy!’ I take it for granted, but these are the guys. I kind of forget about how blessed I should feel to be in their presence. The reality was that in 2001, I couldn’t believe those guys even wanted to play with me. It was like, ‘Oh my god, I’m playing with David Gilmore! These are the guys that were playing with Steve Coleman when I was in college!’ I never imagined we’d be doing stuff together.

TJG: What advice would you give to the 2001 version of yourself?

RM: It wouldn’t be so much musical advice as career advice. I think I would say, don’t compare your career to anyone else’s. Forge your own path and be confident in that path. If you keep using other people as measuring sticks, it’s just destructive. You end up not really developing. A lot of people move here and want to have a career in jazz that’s modeled after someone else. People want to be Chris Potter, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Mark Turner. That just ends up stunting you even in ways that you don’t realize until much later in life.

The other thing is embrace to all technology. As a businessman, I took way too long to join Twitter and Facebook. These are all tools that you don’t have to be a slave to, but can be very productive. Music technology too: electronics are great. Learning how to make beats is great. It’s all part of the jazz continuum. The more you look around you to see how civilization is moving forward, the better off you are. (more…)

Photo by Laura Razzano

Photo by Laura Razzano

This Thursday, May 19th, The Jazz Gallery is proud to present the Pan-American collective Bohemian Trio. Composed of Gallery regular Yosvanny Terry on saxophones and chékere, Orland Alonso on piano, and Yves Dharamraj on cello, the trio mixes an intoxicating brew of jazz and Latin dance forms in an intimate, chamber-like setting. The trio’s performance of “Tarde en La Lisa” shows their immense expressive range—both rhythmically agile and achingly lyrical.

Come to the Gallery this Thursday to see the group in a special home city show before they head off to the prestigious Spoleto USA Festival in Charleston, South Carolina. (more…)

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Back in 2013, bassist and composer Alexis Cuadrado released his album A Lorca Soundscape, a series of evocative settings of the poetry of Federico García Lorca. Cuadrado seems to have caught the poetry bug, as his next major project deals with the form as well.

This Friday marks the release of Poètica, Cuadrado’s latest album on Sunnyside Records. Instead of setting poetry to music, Cuadrado worked closely with two living poets—Rowan Ricardo Phillips and Melcion Mateu–and composed music to accompany recitations of their work. To celebrate the release of this album, Cuadrado and his ensemble will come to The Jazz Gallery for two nights of performances. We caught up with Alexis this week to talk about his approach to composing with spoken text, and his recent work composing and arranging music for The New Yorker Radio Hour.

The Jazz Gallery: So your upcoming shows are an album release for Poètica. Could you tell us a bit more?

Alexis Cuadrado: It’s a project that’s taken about two years to finish, and it’s a collaboration between my music and the poetry of Rowan Ricardo Phillips and Melcion Mateu. Melcion is from Barcelona and writes in Catalan. That’s about the sum of it; my concept was basically to get away from the idea of a beatnik dude slamming poetry with a band in the background. My vision for this has been to really integrate the poetry and the composition. Poetry that’s being read doesn’t have a meter or time. It’s not like freestyling, where you are delivering the verses with a rhythm. The challenge was, how can we time the un-timeable? I had to figure out a system of looseness and tightness at the same time, a way of integrating the poetry that’s being read with the tightness of the music. Music, even if it’s rubato, is always moving forward. So, that was the technical challenge. Conceptually, I wanted to make the music and poetry inform and interact with each other. The poets are essentially the horns of the band, you know? They’re really one more musical instrument.

TJG: How did you approach that challenge of integrating the two forms?

AC: I sort of figured it out through trial and error, and by careful reading. I timed the poetry with a timer, and asked myself how many bars of music that would be. I created sections that were more or less open, where in a certain section the poet should approximately read a certain amount in a flexible amount of time. It’s loose, and sometimes they go over the boundaries, and by now we can feel how the whole thing flows together. It’s not measured exactly, which is what I love. We get something different every time. It makes us as musicians react as well. It’s a reactive, symbiotic relationship, in the same way that happens when there’s a wind player.

TJG: Do you see instrumentalists and poets as basically speaking the same language, in general, but especially with regard to this project?

AC: There’s a difference between what they do and what we do in that their text is written out, pretty much. They’re improvising to a certain degree, with their inflection and time, but it’s like they’re reading their own melody. My vision for it is truly that they’re one more instrument, and just happen to be humans reading text. The fact that it’s read text is only incidental.

TJG: So what were some of the poets’ greatest challenges in approaching this project?

AC: Melcion had never done anything like this before, so we had to get together and train. I did demos, as I do for almost everything I do. Sometimes MIDI, sometimes a raw instrumental track, and then I read the poetry as a suggestion and point of departure. This provided a reference for him to listen to. Then he and Rowan took off and did their own thing. Sometimes I would send sheet music to work on and look at. It honestly wasn’t that much different from the way musicians learn. It was all a part of the same process and work.

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