This Thursday, November 30th, The Jazz Gallery continues our Mentorship Series with a performance featuring mentor-saxophonist Yosvany Terry and mentee-bassist Daryl Johns on our stage. This is the third show for Terry and Johns—earlier this month they performed at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia and The National Jazz Museum in Harlem. We at Jazz Speaks caught up with Terry after the show in Harlem to talk about developing rapport with new musicians on the bandstand and the diverging paths of formal education and musical mentorship.
The Jazz Gallery: Your last show in the series was at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, and the atmosphere was jovial. Being someone who travels a lot and also a resident of Harlem, how does it feel to play in the neighborhood?
Yosvany Terry: I think it’s a special feeling, especially because the music that we’re playing came out of the community and we don’t get the opportunity to play there as much as we we would have loved to, and just to see what the warmth and incredible reception was. It stimulates musicians who perform in Harlem. It’s special, also, because I’ve been living in Harlem for sixteen years and if I count the amount of times I’ve played in the neighborhood, two hands would be too much. It’s hard to believe.
I’ve performed a lot through the Jazz Mobile, which brings jazz to the community in their truck. So whenever I work with them, I feel a similar way. You see that people really engage with the music. No matter what you play, they feel the connection of being one with the community and the neighborhood. It’s vibrant. It’s an important feeling for us musicians, and especially me, to perform in Harlem.
TJG: What do you learn from playing with younger musicians about the direction and health of jazz today?
YT: More than anything, I would say a different sensibility and approach to making music. I’m the kind of person that likes to play with older people because that’s how I get to learn from their experiences, and that’s the only way one can learn, so I like to think of it the other way around. This has been a wonderful opportunity for Daryl to perform with musicians who are somewhat older than him and a result to get more experience. So I like to think it flows the other way and works to his advantage. Whenever I’m working with a new member in my band, I’m always open to whatever they bring. And yes, I tell them how I hear the music, but it’s in their hands to bring their own sensibility to it. I’m always to new interpretation of the material, because that’s the only way that it stays fresh and renovates itself.
TJG: Is there a difference between instruction and mentorship? Do you think about pedagogy when you are mentoring someone, or is it a different kind of relationship?
YT: The difference between education and mentorship is that you have completely different relationships with the people in question. Once you’re in the classroom, you’re sharing information with students. The level of the students are different, so it can be challenging to create a one-on-one relationship. But when you’re mentoring someone, you have more opportunities for an intimate relationship where you can be super precise and you can be direct, which is conducive to growing and learning this art form.
TJG: In a lot of traditional art forms, there have always been distinctions between apprenticeship and mentorship, but a lot of those practices solidify hierarchical relationships, and insist that younger practitioners “pay their dues”. Do you think it is the same with jazz music?
YT: Yeah, of course. This is all connected, and it’s coming from the old African ways of teaching—the elders passing information to the younger generation. I’ve never looked at it from a hierarchical form, because the only way you can get experience is to get together with someone that has and has lived through those experiences. It’s something natural, in a way, when we think about how one gets knowledge. The only difference is that now you can go to a college to get a jazz education but, still, once you graduate, you have to learn from elders. So you still have information to acquire. So far, this is the only way that it’s been done and still, today, it’s the way things happen.