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Photo courtesy of the artist.

Gretchen Parlato has an unmistakeable voice and presence, and there would be no better way to close out 2019 at The Jazz Gallery than with two nights featuring Parlato’s new music. Joined by a dream team of Camila Meza (guitar), Chris Morrissey (bass), and Mark Guiliana (drums), Parlato will premiere The Stars Or Space Between, a cohesive set of originals over two nights on the Gallery stage. In 2019, Parlato was honored with a Jazz Gallery Fellowship Commission, affording her an opportunity to compose a new body of work, and the whole band is excited about it: According to Parlato in a recent phone conversation, “It’ll be as much a premiere for us as the listener. I’ve been imagining this music all year, and can’t wait to hear it realized.” Read on for the interview below:

TJG: I hear you’ve been living in LA since June. How do you feel about living in California now?

GP: It’s coming back home, I grew up in LA. Mark and I moved from New Jersey, where we’d lived for six years. Before that, I spent 10 years in New York City. I’ll always be nostalgic for my time on the East Coast, the feeling of living there, but I always dreamed of some point coming back home and settling in Los Angeles. Thankfully, Mark was into the idea too, and our son is so happy. We love it. 

TJG: Does the new music in the commission resonate with the idea of homecoming?

GP: Perhaps. The title of the show is “The Stars Or Space Between.” I wrote some thoughts for the program, stream-of-consciousness, that I’d like to share:

the stars or space between is a contemplative musical experience 

revolving around life and the existence of opposition. /em>

up and down. joy and pain. day and night. light and dark. 

like an inhale and an exhale, life is effort and release. 

holding on and letting go. movement and stillness. 

it’s finding the balance, and accepting the ever-constant changes. 

there are events in our lives we view as anchors, milestones, or turning points. 

like stars in the night sky, we can point to them. they define us. they guide us. 

they are clearly bright and visible.

in that same night sky, is the vastness of space. 

to be here may feel empty, transitional, dark, and uncertain.

but the space is only seemingly invisible.

in this journey of nothingness, everything is happening.

let tonight be about reflection of where we’ve been

the wonder of where we’re going

and most importantly, gratitude for where we are right here and now. 

are we the stars or space between?

GP: These thoughts can be interpreted in many ways, as broadly as possible, or in minute detail. My hope is that the audience can connect and relate to the music: I’d like the evening to be a chance for reflection, meditation, therapy, any word that is comfortable. The songs reflect my own life and past, but my hope is that the listener can hear these songs and define their meaning for themselves, and maybe even see or hear their own story as they listen.

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Design by Takao Fujioka

For many years around the winter holidays, trumpeter Roy Hargrove would return to The Jazz Gallery for a special weekend of performances, many times inviting younger trumpeters to sit in. To honor Hargrove’s living legacy this weekend, The Jazz Gallery is proud to present a pair of big band tribute concerts featuring many Hargrove friends and collaborators.

With special guest vocalist Renee Neufville, the band is sure to feature charts from the Hargrove big band book, as well as other Hargrove favorites. Before celebrating Hargrove’s life and music and the Gallery this weekend, take a listen to a live performance of his infectious tune “Top of My Head,” (you’ll hear saxophonist Justin Robinson and drummer Quincy Phillips with the band this weekend).

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Photo by Philip J. Parsons, courtesy of the artist.

A lot can happen in a mentorship series.

During her initial hit at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem with Dayna Stephens, Marquis Hill and mentor Kendrick Scott, bass player-composer and multi-instrumentalist Kanoa Mendenhall returned from a post-soundcheck smoothie run to find one of her bass strings had snapped. “It was my first time playing with Kendrick, and I had to play the entire gig with three strings,” she says. 

But that night wasn’t the first “first” for the emerging artist out of Monterey. Since graduating from Columbia University last spring, Mendenhall has been out with other young leaders who are swiftly gaining global recognition, including vibraphonist-composer Joel Ross and saxophonist-composer Maria Grand. The Gallery caught up with Mendenhall to discuss her mentorship with Scott and talk engagement, freedom and the art of revival after an injury. 

The Jazz Gallery: How did you get started with the mentorship series? 

Kanoa Mendenhall: Rio reached out to me. She messaged me, “Do you want to work with Kendrick?” …Oh… Sure… (laughs). I hadn’t met Kendrick, but I was aware of his music and a big fan. So it was interesting the first time we met and talked about this whole series before it started. But yeah, Rio approached me and that’s how it happened. 

TJG: I’ve spoken to a number of artists who say they really enjoy playing with you because you have your “own thing happening.” Do you view yourself as an individualist on the bass? Do you have an idea of what they mean when they say that?

KM: I’m not intentionally trying to have my own sound, being different or individualistic. I’m trying to incorporate all the sounds I grew up with [into my playing]. My father’s a jazz pianist; I grew up heavily in the great American songbook tradition. He got me all the tunes, and I worked from a young age learning all these songs by ear. But there are also sounds from my mother’s side; I grew up listening to Japanese enka. It’s like this folk music that my grandma really listened to. So that really influences me—just like the melisma, the singing, all the little inflections. I guess sometimes that comes out in my playing, and all the experiences I’ve had in Japan. I’ve studied some traditional instruments, so I’ve incorporated sounds like strumming and those techniques into my bass playing. I just try to be true to the sound that is in my blood, and try to figure out how to play it. 

TJG: What are some of those instruments that you’ve studied? I know you started on cello.

KM: I did. And at one point, my grandma gave me as a present a shamisen. It’s like this three-string banjo kind of thing. Unfortunately, in high school my dad broke it by accident while we were moving, so that didn’t last long. That was sort of my introduction to traditional instruments. 

But then in college, at Columbia they have this great world music program. They have traditional Japanese music ensembles, and they give out the instruments. Basically, they let you borrow it for the semester and you can practice. So I took advantage of that and I studied koto with one of my teachers there, Masayo Ishigure. So that sound of the koto is really one of my favorite sounds. 

And then I also learned the shō, which is like a mouth organ kind of thing. It sounds like a harmonica but it’s very clean. That is in the gagaku tradition which is this 7th Century music coming from China and Korea that’s been unchanged for centuries through the imperial court. So the theory behind it—all the cluster chords—I’m somehow trying to incorporate into my playing and my compositions. So that’s some of my influences. 

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

As far as drummer/composer/bandleaders go, it seem that E.J. Strickland has developed a dynamic, sustainable balance between his different creative pursuits. While leading and releasing projects under different umbrellas, as well as writing new music and working as a sideman, Strickland still finds time to explore new sonic territory. His latest project, The E.J. Strickland 4tet, which Strickland is also calling ”Pads N Loops,” explores territory that crosses into the realm of hip hop, featuring (for this upcoming show at The Jazz Gallery) Marcus Strickland on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet, Immanuel Wilkins on alto and soprano saxophones, Eric Wheeler on bass, and guest MC JSWISS. We caught up with Strickland by phone; he had just returned home to Brooklyn after a tour that brought him and his group to Germany, France, and The Netherlands.

The Jazz Gallery: Thanks for making some time to chat during the holiday season! This is usually a pretty busy time for musicians; what does this time of year tend to look/feel like for you?

EJ Strickland: In the holiday season, most of the time it actually slows down for me. The busy times for me are usually spring, summer, and fall. It slows down around the holiday season but then picks up again in January. I’m closer to home this time of year, depending on the year.

TJG: So this seems like the perfect time to be trying something new at The Jazz Gallery.

EJS: Exactly. I’ve been writing a bunch of new music for this new group, The E.J. Strickland 4tet aka “Pads N Loops.” I wrote this music around this fall, August into September, I was writing a lot. We debuted in Brooklyn, and this performance at the Gallery will be our second performance of the year. It’s a slightly new sound for me, working with my own loops, challenging to write for but very fun.

TJG: Tell me about the pads. Tell me about the loops.

EJS: Pads N Loops. I’ve got two saxophones, bass, drums, and a guest MC. A lot of times, you know, most of my groups have chordal instruments, and this is my first time doing a group without chordal instruments. The pads of a chordal player have been replaced by how I’ve been writing for this group: We’re making our own kind of pads with our sound. As far as loops are concerned, it’s part of a concept. The group creates looping periods in the music, which borrows from hip hop, where loops come around every now and again in songs. I took that concept and put it into jazz music, you know, which is why I call it Pads N Loops.

TJG: How have you chosen to translate that loops concept into a jazz setting?

EJS: I’ve translated it in part by having Marcus on bass clarinet, because in my group he uses it both as a melodic and harmonic instrument, and also as an accompaniment instrument. A lot of the loops that you’ll hear in this music have to do with counter-basslines, superimposed on the main bassline. These loops come around any time during one of the tunes, and sometimes the horn backgrounds–those more ‘jazzlike’ concepts–I’ve turned those into loops too. Eight, sixteen bars, whatever you may have on a given song. There’s a lot of looping going on. It’s part of the sound of the group.

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Photo by John Rogers, courtesy of the artist.

This weekend, The Jazz Gallery is thrilled to turn over the stage to Henry Threadgill and his long-running ensemble Zooid. Since the band’s debut in 2001, Zooid has been Threadgill’s playground and laboratory, as he has developed a unique and rigorous system for group improvisation. In an interview with Jazz Speaks, Zooid’s guitarist Liberty Ellman describes some of the elements of Threadgill’s process:

Everything Henry does comes from the perspective of being a composer and a player. Music for him isn’t just a vehicle for soloing; it includes a lot regarding what he hopes to achieve in terms of ensemble sound. I always admire how varied and creative his forms are. For example, we don’t do traditional ‘ABA’ forms; there could be six or seven different sections. After he writes everything, he pretty much considers it modular, so when we rehearse, we might just play one or two sections at a time, and then reorganize the piece depending on what happens during the rehearsal. We might change who solos on what section, move melodies around, or rebuild structures as we go.

This work reached an apotheosis on Zooid’s 2015 album, In for a Penny, In for a Pound (Pi Recordings), an 80-minute epic that was awarded the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in Music. Since then, Threadgill’s output has focused more on works for larger ensembles, including Ensemble Double Up, 14 or 15 Kestra: Agg, and a commission from the Cleveland Museum of Art for Zooid and chamber ensemble.

Zooid’s special run of performances at The Jazz Gallery is sure to showcase Threadgill’s ever-deepening musical system along with the musicians who know it best. (more…)