Photo courtesy of the artist.
“I’ve been in New York for thirteen years,” says bassist Harish Raghavan, “and I can probably count the gigs that I’ve led on one hand.” It’s not like Raghavan hasn’t been busy during his time on the New York scene. He’s a top-call sidemen for veteran bandleaders and his peers alike, including vocalist Kurt Elling, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, and saxophonist Walter Smith III. But since the end of 2017, Raghavan has started stepping out as a leader with a working quintet, featuring four young Jazz Gallery regulars—saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins, vibraphonist Joel Ross, pianist Micah Thomas, and drummer Jeremy Dutton.
Raghavan and company return to The Jazz Gallery this Saturday, September 15, for two sets, with guitarist Charles Altura filling in for Mr. Ross. We caught up with Raghavan by phone to discuss the impetus for starting this band, where the project has taken him as a composer, and what’s next for the group.
The Jazz Gallery: You’ve been working in this quintet figuration for several months now. What made you want to start a working band?
Harish Raghavan: This had been a long-term idea of mine. I wanted to do a record, because I hadn’t done one yet. I didn’t want to just throw something together. I wanted to get the music out in front of people and feel that energy. I had never really led a band before—I led gigs here and there.
So with that idea for the record, I wanted to go out and book some gigs—for the first six months of the year, I was going to book a gig a month and see if we could get a sound together. I recorded the second gig that we did at ShapeShifter Lab and even by that point, it really felt that we had a sound. I think it’s because I know all of these guys, but also because they’re all friends with each other. Instantly, there was a rapport and we really got through the music quickly.
That was the first six months. Since then, the guys in the band have gotten super busy. In June, I was looking for a time for us to get into the studio, but we couldn’t get everyone together for a session until December. So at that point, I decided to book more gigs, which is how this Gallery show happened.
TJG: In terms of putting out a record, did the motivation come more from having a band or presenting your compositions?
HR: I’m a very goal-oriented person. I need something to push me to do something. The music didn’t come first. I chose the band and booked the gigs, and then I decided that I wanted all new music for the gigs. It didn’t take that long—I don’t know why—but I was able to get a some new music together more quickly than usual. Back in December of last year, I booked our first gig—not with this band exactly, but with a few of the guys—just to see how it felt to lead a group and it felt really good. It almost felt obvious that this is what I should be doing more of. That inspired me to write more, and that’s the material that we’ve been playing up until now. Since we can’t all get together until December, I decided to write a new music. For this gig, I wanted to have two sets of all new music, but that’s not going to happen. Though we are going to have one new set of music.
Mainly, I’ve been writing from the piano, but I feel I’ve exhausted everything I can do at the piano right now, so for this gig I composed everything from the bass. This is a bit of a change for me, and I definitely needed a goal like this gig to get me to try something new and finish it.
TJG: Why did you pick these young guys to be in the band, rather than players with whom you have a longer history?
HR: First of all, these guys are mature beyond their years. I had heard them a lot and knew them and knew that they could really play. Second, they could do the gigs! Because I wanted to do six gigs as a band, if I wanted to do that with Eric Harland, Taylor Eigsti, Logan Richardson, and Charles Altura, we could only do that many gigs over the course of like three years. The young guys were here in the city, could rehearse when we needed to, and then play all the gigs. Having those regular monthly gigs also really helped me with the writing because I always had a deadline. This process really helped me progress as a composer.