Posts by Jacob Sunshine

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Henry Cole is a poly-cultural, shape-shifting drummer whose versatile and polyrhythmic style seems to be able to fit seamlessly into any. In that same vein, this Friday and Saturday, The Jazz Gallery is proud to present two different ensembles of Cole’s, featuring different musicians and instrumentation.

Cole is a native of Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, and began playing percussion at a young age. Initially inspired by Latin percussionists like Giovanni Hidalgo and Ray Barretto, Cole discovered a passion for Jazz and improvised music while attending Berklee College of Music in Boston. After moving back to Puerto Rico and cultivating a reputation for himself in the small but mighty San Juan scene, Cole moved to New York City and quickly became one of the most in-demand sidemen in the city. He has occupied the drum chair in the working bands of luminaries such as Miguel Zenon, David Sanchez, Fabian Almazan, Stephon Harris, Nicholas Payton, and Alfredo Rodriguez. No matter the setting, from Almazan’s heady and ruminative ballads to Zenon’s Rhumba rave-ups, Cole’s style is centered by a deep pocket. (more…)

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Photo courtesy of the artist.

This Friday, February 26th, the Jazz Gallery is thrilled to welcome the Charles Altura Quartet to the stage. Raised in sunny Northern California and an alumnus of Stanford University, Altura has quickly established himself as a unique voice on the electric guitar and has become a first call sideman for a luminaries such as Chick Corea, Terence Blanchard, Ambrose Akinmusire, Tigran Hamasyan, Linda Oh, Shai Maestro, and Dayna Stephens. Altura has set himself apart from other guitarists on the scene with his legato sense of phrasing, winding and unpredictable melodic lines, and attention to texture. Far from being a stylist, Altura approaches each musical situation differently, be it his blazing jazz fusion chops he showcases with Chick Corea’s Vigil, to the electronic wah-drenched soundscapes he plasters onto Terence Blanchard’s E-Collective’s originals.

Joining Altura at the Jazz Gallery are a number of Altura’s most trusted and frequent collaborators. Altura and pianist Fabian Almazan are both coming off of a late-January tour with Terence Blanchard’s E-Collective, and recently received a Grammy nomination for their most recent work with that group on the album Breathless. Bassist Matt Brewer frequently features Altura in his own groups, and a new Brewer-led recording is due to come out this year. Finally, drummer Marcus Gilmore and Altura spent much of the last year touring the world with Chick Corea’s Vigil. (more…)

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Something very pastoral and naturalistic occurs when Rudy Royston drums. Rather than simply conversing with the soloist, Royston creates a flowing stream of rhythm to swim in and interact with. His sound is tactile, meditative, joyful, and always flowing.

Since moving to New York City from Denver in 2006, Royston has utilized this unique approach to the drum set to firmly establish himself as a first-call sideman. Royston has made a name for himself working in the bands of luminaries such as Dave Douglas, Javon Jackson, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Ben Allison, Bill Frisell, and JD Allen. After one performance with JD Allen, Tony Hall of Jazzwise magazine said “in a way, he is to JD what Elvin was to Coltrane.” An associate and sometimes-bandmate of Denver cornetist Ron Miles, Royston has been heavily influenced by the compositional style and wide-open approach to texture that Miles has pioneered.

2014 saw the release of Royston’s first album as a bandleader, 303, which was released on Greenleaf Records. Titled after his Denver area code, this album showcased Royston’s diverse compositional skills, and featured tunes that ranged from impressionistic tone poems to rock ballads to hard-burning and cerebral swingers. On this record, Royston turned to left-of-center jazz musicians with an experimentalist bent like Jon Irabagon, Sam Harris, and Nir Felder to help realize his conception.

On January 28th, Royston will debut a new band at the Jazz Gallery called “Cold Moon Road.” This band is made up of many of Rudy’s friends and collaborators from Ben Allison’s band “Man Size Safe,” including Michael Blake on Saxophone, Steve Cardenas on Guitar, and Ben Allison on bass. Added to the mix is Hank Roberts on cello, who Royston has played with on a variety of Bill Frisell’s projects. Allison’s own compositional milieu is certainly rock-influenced, but also has a certain melodic softness, impressionistic beauty, and a pastoral folksiness that Rudy’s drumming style compliments beautifully. Be sure to catch this band, playing Rudy’s compositions here at the Jazz Gallery on Thursday, January 28th. (more…)


Photo courtesy of the artist.

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Praised by Downbeat Magazine as an artist full of composure and imagination, saxophonist and composer Dayna Stephens has been a rising yet vital force on the New York City jazz scene. Known for his vocalistic and syrupy saxophone tone, heart-rending melodic lines, and thought-massaging compositions, Stephens has collaborated with the leading lights in jazz from John Scofield and Al Foster to Aaron Parks and Gretchen Parlato, to name a few. His latest record, Reminiscent, features the dueling tenors of Stephens and Walter Smith III, and showcases several of Stephens’s original tunes.

The last six years have been difficult for Stephens. He suffers from a rare kidney disease called Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis (FGS) but after a long wait Stephens finally received a kidney transplant in October. Mr. Stephens has jumped immediately back into the jazz scene, and in the past two weeks, Stephens has played as a sideman on gigs with Gerald Clayton and Johnathan Blake.

Dayna Stephens’ show at the Jazz Gallery on December 19th will mark his first as a leader since the kidney transplant. It also will be a first look at a set of original music that Mr. Stephens has been working on with the young trumpeter Philip Dizack. Joining Stephens and Dizack at the Gallery will be pianist Theo Hill, bassist Harish Raghavan, and drummer Jonathan Blake. Jazz Speaks was lucky enough to sit down and talk to Stephens about his musical process.

The Jazz Gallery: In an interview you did with the Jazz Speaks about a year ago, you said “I’ve been here in New York now for 10 years and have never had the same band twice at any of my gigs—sometimes on purpose, sometimes not.”  Tell me about this particular band that will be playing at the Gallery, and what your process is behind picking rhythm sections, and combinations of players.

Dayna Stephens: I did a session seven or eight years ago with Johnathan [Blake] and Harish [Raghavan] and I really enjoyed that hook-up. I played on a gig with Johnathan last week, and I knew he’d be in town, so I got him to play. And I knew Ben Street was going to be on his gig, and I didn’t want to have the same rhythm section. But I remembered that session we did eight years ago with Harish, and I thought “if Harish is down, that would be awesome!” And Phil [Dizack] was a given because Phil and I had been writing music together for the past year, so this show will give us a chance to introduce this music to the world. And I played in Theo [Hill]’s band before, and I really dig his energy. He obviously knows how to play the piano really well, but he’s also got a spark that I really appreciate.

TJG: I wanted to ask a little bit about your sound. Compared to other saxophonists, I hear a sweetness in the upper midrange going on that reminds me of the way that some vocalists sound. When you’re improvising, there’s a patience, sense of phrasing and melodic arc to your solos that reminds me of vocalists too. Are there certain vocalists that you’ve drawn inspiration from consciously?

DS: Weirdly enough, I think we JUST passed his hundredth birthday, but I love Sinatra, specifically for his phrasing, but also his sound. Sarah Vaughn has also been a huge influence on me. Even pop singers like Luther Vandross…Radiohead. I listened to those guys pretty heavily. It’s just that human quality of expressing music that I really appreciate.

And a part of that human quality is that you can’t sing if you don’t have any breath. So you have to be patient and be conscious of your breath. To be honest, during dialysis, I didn’t have as much breath as I do now, and it definitely affected my playing, my lung capacity, and my energy. And if you think about having to get through a whole gig…I don’t want to burn it all out on one tune. And I see that as a plus actually. Breath capacity is not something that a lot of guys my age are thinking about. But I was forced to think about phrasing in that very physical way. I feel like I have so much more energy now that my sound is starting to come back to the way it was, but how can you forget what you’ve learned during the last six years?

The thing is, I think space, in general is really important for whatever you’re doing….talking, building a building….you need that space to digest what you just did and think about what you’re going to do next, so that’s what I’m doing while I play. I digest what I just did and think about it for a second, and let that guide what I’m going to do next. The more time you give yourself between the phrases, the clearer the ideas are and the easier it is for people to digest. That’s kind of what I’m going for.

TJG: Do you do anything to center yourself while you play and get into a creative headspace?

DS: No, not really. Usually I try to get to the gig not long before I have to play, because I hate waiting around. I don’t have any rituals or anything like that. I’ve done a little bit of meditation, and checked out some thinkers like JK Krishnamurti and Eckhart Tolle that focus on ego suppression. They have some simple awareness techniques that I don’t necessarily do before the gig but just stay mindful of all the time. I basically try to be a beam of awareness, that’s observing everything. If you can be in that mindset, then it tempers all the crazy emotions that might bubble up!

TJG: I want to ask about the interplay between you and Walter Smith III record Reminiscent. It seems like you have a focus on counterpoint and contrapuntal lines when the two of you are melodically interacting on the record. There are a bunch of tracks on the record where Walter will be playing a melody, and you’ll be weaving around that. Do you write those lines or are you improvising?

DS: On that record, it’s a combination of things. There’s a tune of Walter’s called “Walt’s Waltz” He wrote the harmony lines that are on the head. But on “New Day”, I think on the head out, I play some harmony stuff. And then on Walter’s track “contrafact”, which is basically a contrafact of “Like Someone in Love,” I improvised everything on the head, honestly because the tune was so hard that I didn’t have time to learn it! So I just improvised that part on baritone saxophone. I went to college with Walter and I’ve admired his playing since then. We’ve been wanting to do a record together for a long time.


Yosvany Terry

This Friday and Saturday, September 18th and 19th, The Jazz Gallery will continue our 20th Anniversary celebration with a return of “Jazz Cubano.” The band will be led by the Cuban saxophonist, composer, and chekere player, Yosvany Terry, who led the original Jazz Cubano shows at The Jazz Gallery and remains a vital force in the Latin Jazz and Contemporary music scenes in New York City.

The Jazz Gallery has a long history and deep ties with Cuban music and Cuban musicians in New York. Dale Fitzgerald, the late founder and executive director of the Jazz Gallery, had a deep love and passion for the music, lifestyle, and culture of Cuba, making a point of curating great Cuban acts at The Jazz Gallery from the very beginning. Under Fitzgerald’s leadership and onward, The Jazz Gallery became the premier venue for Cuban jazz musicians to make their United States debuts and was a physical nexus for expatriate musicians from across Latin America and the Caribbean to hang out, link up, and jam.

This scene centered on The Jazz Gallery’s weekly Jazz Cubano series on Thursday evenings, which ran from 2000 through 2001. The house band was led by Yosvany Terry and featured great musicians from across Latin America, including Venezuelan pianist Luis Perdomo, Puerto Rican bassist John Benitez, and Cuban percussionist Dafnis Prieto. The group also frequently hosted special guests, including Pedro Martinez, Miguel Zenon, Bobby Carcasses (senior and junior). Even after the Jazz Cubano series ended, its influence remained palpable, as many of its featured artists went on to lead and write music for their own groups, becoming prominent members of the greater New York jazz scene.

This past spring, saxophonist Miguel Zenon, pianist Luis Perdomo, and drummer Dafnis Prieto—all members of the Latin Jazz scene at The Jazz Gallery—wrote remembrances for Dale Fitzgerald, each musician speaking fondly of the scene Fitzgerald helped cultivate.

Miguel Zenon

I first met Dale about 15 years ago through Yosvany Terry, when the Gallery was starting to run the “Jazz Cubano Series.” Shortly after that (and through Yosvany’s recommendation), Dale gave me my first chance ever to present an ensemble as a leader. As in my first gig as a leader ANYWHERE. Little did I know that this gig would be the first step towards one of the longest relationships I’ve ever had. The Gallery not only became a place to play, but it became our second home in NYC. At one point we were spending so much time there that my wife jokingly mentioned that we should set up sleeping bags in the back and just sleep there…

Luis Perdomo

At some point, The Jazz Gallery became for me a sort of laboratory and second home, where for years I had the pleasure of developing and trying new music with some of my peers. It was a period of constant growth for myself, playing week after week with some of the best musicians in NYC; and a big part of this was due to the forward thinking vision of Dale Fitzgerald, who not only gave us an opportunity to have our music heard, but created an atmosphere where musicians could come and create in a worry-free environment.

Dafnis Prieto

Dale was one of the first people in New York that opened the doors at The Jazz Gallery to my music. These memories are very meaningful to me because they were the beginnings of a complete new musical chapter in my life.

Beyond the Jazz Cubano series, The Jazz Gallery has supported Cuban music in other ways. In 1996, the great Cuban pianist Jesus “Chucho” Valdès and conguero Miguel “Anga” Diaz performed at the Gallery for a rare duo concert, which marked Diaz’s US debut. In 1998, the Gallery hosted a special interdisciplinary event honoring the great Cuban percussionist Chano Pozo, featuring rare archival recordings, a reading by the poet Jayne Cortez, and a presentation of Pozo’s music led by Eddie Bobe.

The concerts at The Jazz Gallery on the 18th and 19th will both be redux of the Jazz Cubano Series and a celebration of the Gallery’s continued commitment to showcasing Cuban music. For these concerts, our bandleader Yosvany Terry will be bringing along a special group of Cuban and non-Cuban musicians, all of whom have strong connections to the Gallery. Both nights feature pianist Osmany Paredes, bassist Yunior Terry, and percussionist Mauricio Herrera, all Cuban natives. On the first night the great master of polyrhythm Jeff Tain Watts is on drums, while the second night, Obed Calvaire (a Haitian native and member of the Yosvany Terry Quintet) takes over. Special guests are expected to sit in, so be on the lookout for some exciting musical surprises! (more…)