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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.

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Design by The Jazz Gallery

This Wednesday, November 29th, The Jazz Gallery is proud to present a special encore performance of our Jazz Composers’ Showcase. Since the series’s first performance in September 2014, the showcase has provided a special opportunity for up-and-coming and experienced composers alike to present works for large ensemble—an increasingly difficult endeavor in today’s scene. Curated by composer Miho Hazama, the series has shown the incredible breadth of contemporary jazz composition for large ensemble.

For this performance, the house large ensemble will present music by a number of the program’s alumni: Ms. Hazama, Chris Zuar, Erica Seguine, Jon Schapiro, Martha Kato, Chuck Iwanusa, Michael Thomas, Andy Clausen, Jihye Lee, and Remy Le Boeuf. Before checking out the wonderfully diverse sets this Wednesday, take a listen to Ms. Kato’s “Departure,” performed live at The Jazz Gallery in February 2016.

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

This Tuesday, November 28th, The Jazz Gallery is pleased to welcome drummer Kate Gentile and her quartet to our stage. Gentile has had a breakout 2017, appearing on Matt Mitchell’s acclaimed large ensemble record A Pouting Grimace (Pi Recordings) and releasing her own debut Mannequins (Skirl), which also received very positive notice from WBGO, PopMatters, and DownBeat.

At the Gallery on Tuesday, Gentile will convene her working quartet to present two sets of brand new music. We caught up with her to talk about her ever-shifting compositional process, the quartet’s rapport, and her philosophy of rhythm; excerpts of our conversation are below.

The Jazz Gallery: What was your musical education like?

Kate Gentile: Well, I had the jazz school experience. Eastman was pretty bebop-oriented—there’s always some kids there that are into some weird shit, but they’re usually in the minority, at least when I went. I think it’s good to have that experience because I don’t think most kids check out bebop on their own, so it’s good to go to school and have someone show you stuff you wouldn’t otherwise learn.

TJG: How do you feel about bebop?

KG: I love all that music. I feel like that music in its time is, in some ways, a lot like the music I’m interested in now. Bebop was a harmonically and rhythmically complex music—finding rhythms and harmonies, voice leading, phrases that felt good relative to the way people were playing before that. What I’m doing—what a lot of the musicians in the zone I’m thinking of are doing, it sounds so different from traditional jazz, but in many ways it’s not. The same idea is there—you’re playing music and you’re improvising through it, but in these cases instead of chord changes there are raw chunks of material. It’s almost more exacting than chord changes.

TJG: I almost feel like your music lends itself to more emotionality than bebop.

KG: A lot of the classic bebop recordings make me think of playing with different attitudes, whether it’s being clever and slick, and witty—that’s how Philly Joe Jones strikes me, for instance. With lots of players that come to mind, the whole range of emotions, including joy, is in there. It’s just more subtle than total rage or metal.

TJG: I definitely do hear some metal in your playing.

KG: Yeah, both Matt [Mitchell] and I spend hours listening to metal.

TJG: Which bands?

KG: I don’t know a lot of the metal bands that everyone knows. I just know some bands that I’ve found out about. Defeated Sanity, Malignancy, Incantation, Immolation, Deeds of Flesh are some…and Wormed and Cenotaph, which both have this insane vocal multphonics thing happening that I love. 

TJG: What sort of compositional approach do you take and how do you title your tunes?

KG: A lot of the titles are aesthetically driven. Part of what’s enjoyable about writing for me is the whole range of possible approaches when composing. I don’t write with the same approach every time. Sometimes it starts with an idea about a form, or sometimes it might start with a rhythmic idea, or sometimes I might write a bunch of chords or a four-part harmony chorale. Sometimes it’s at a keyboard, sometimes it’s at a guitar, sometimes it’s away from any instruments. Sometimes it’s direct brain into Finale. For the opening track on the record I had a metronome on and I sang a rhythm against the metronome and then transcribed it, which made it totally different. Sometimes you know right away that something will really sound good. Sometimes you don’t, and it’s just a theoretical idea, and then you see if you can hear it.

TJG: Do you try to write what you hear?

KG: I don’t think you have to write what you hear—I find that limiting. I think melodicism and having a good rhythmic feel is important, and good voice leading is important—that’s kind of how you make all of these weird harmonies sound good and perceptible, but I think if you write only what you hear, you don’t get to all this other awesome shit. You can hear it later—you can teach yourself to hear more by writing this kind of stuff.

“Unreasonable Optimism” is an example of me sort of freestyling what I’m hearing and not worrying about it. I find that to be one of the safer ways of composing, actually—when you hear it you know what it’s going to sound like. There’s note doubling within piano chords in some of that tune, and I went back and thought, “There’s doubling. Should I change that?” And then I think “No, that’s what I want to hear.” I love how those harmonies work. It doesn’t have to follow these rules that you can get sucked into.

TJG: What sort of harmonic theories do you use in your writing?

KG: It’s different for every tune. In “Alchemy Melt with Tilt,” I had pitch collections first, but not totally invertible pitch collections. I was thinking of one or two notes in the bass—in the bottom of the pitch collection.

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

2016-2017 Jazz Gallery Fellowship commissionee Johnathan Blake is both a bandleader and tireless sideman, and has been featured on albums by artists including Q-Tip, Jaleel Shaw, Tom Harrell, Donny McCaslin, and the Mingus Big Band. His acclaimed 2014 album Gone, But Not Forgotten featured Chris Potter, Mark Turner, and Ben Street, and was dedicated to both legendary musicians and victims of tragedy. As the young child of a traveling musician in Philadelphia, Blake found himself immersed in the tradition from a young age. In one story he recounted for JazzTimes, Blake’s father introduced him to the legendary Elvin Jones. Shortly thereafter, Blake found himself sitting on stage with Jones, watching his idol perform from only a few feet away.

Blake’s upcoming show at The Jazz Gallery will present the culmination of his 2016-2017 Fellowship, entitled “My Life Matters.” The work is a suite of songs that serves as a dual treatise on the importance of family values and the social imperative to stand up in the face of injustice. With Blake on drums, his compositions will be performed by a cast of Jazz Gallery regulars: Dayna Stephens on saxophones / EWI, Joel Ross on vibraphone, Fabian Almazan on piano, and Rashaan Carter on bass. We spoke with Blake about his new suite of work, the realm of family responsibility, and the imperative to speak out against injustice in the world today.

The Jazz Gallery: Talk to us a little bit about your new Jazz Gallery Fellowship Commission, “My Life Matters.”

Johnathan Blake: Around the time I started composing one of the pieces, a lot of brutality was happening to young African-American men and women. As a person of color, I thought, ‘Man, maybe I’m not speaking out enough, as my parents stressed for me to do.’ I started thinking about the ones who came before me, who spoke through their music. Max Roach with his “Freedom Now” suite, John Coltrane with “Alabama.” I asked myself, ‘How can I speak out through my music?’ That’s where the title comes about, “My Life Matters.” It’s not just about Black Lives Matter, it’s about us as a whole. We have to learn how to coexist. We spend so much time worrying about ourselves that we can forget to care about others, notice our differences and similarities. We all were created here to live in harmony with one another. These pieces will hopefully serve as a jumping point for open discussion on that.

So, it’s a series of tunes I composed dealing with family, my upbringing in Philadelphia, and speaking up in the face of injustice, which is something my parents always stressed to me and my sisters. When my father passed away in 2014, we were all in the hospital with him. He was looking at me, my wife, my kids, giving us some strong advice. I think he knew his time was coming to an end. I have to continue to keep the torch lit, to live up to what he taught us, to continue his legacy.

TJG: Do you mind if I ask what his advice for you was?

JB: For me, it was basically “Always be taking care of your family.” He really stressed it. To my kids, he said “Look, things might get hard in life, and you’ll have to persevere. Giving up is the easiest thing to do.” That really resonated with me too. Don’t let anyone try to persuade you, to put you down. Really work at what you’re serious about. And again, if you’re a bystander, don’t ignore injustice, or you’re adding to the problem. All these things were going through my head as I was writing the music, so it started taking on a life of its own. I wanted to make it a tribute to my father, because he instilled such great values in me. He was a traveling musician, but he was a family man. Any chance he got to take us with him on the road, he took that opportunity. Now, I travel a lot, but when I’m home, I try to be home. I don’t take a lot of gigs around town.

TJG: You mentioned this importance of melody in keeping the audience engaged (“Give them something to hang on to!”) in a JazzTimes interview, specifically citing Tom Harrell’s music as a great example.

JB: Exactly. I wanted to create melodies that people will walk away singing, and in doing so, really think about them. I have a tune called “I Can’t Breathe,” related to the death of Eric Garner. It starts with a vibes melody. I’m big on memorable melodies, melodies you can walk away with. Once you have it in your head, if you can walk away singing it, it sticks with you. It will transcend into your daily life. I think this is a way it can start to open up discussions about these injustices.

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Gamelan Yowana Sari. Photo courtesy of the artist.

This Tuesday, November 21st, The Jazz Gallery is pleased to once again collaborate with members of the percussion group Talujon to present an evening of boundary-crossing percussion music. For this concert, the Gallery welcomes Gamelan Yowana Sari, founded and directed by Talujon member Michael Lipsey. Based at Queens College, Gamelan Yowana Sari performes both traditional and contemporary music for Balinese Gamelan, collaborating with composers of diverse backgrounds to create new work. Check out the group performing Lipsey’s own composition Tabung Asli in the video below.

At the Gallery on Tuesday, the ensemble will present a mixed program indicative of their multi-faceted approach to Gamelan music, including works by Balinese composer I Gusti Komin, Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche, and founding Bang on a Can All-Star Evan Ziporyn. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to hear this music in an intimate space. (more…)