This weekend, pianist Ethan Iverson brings a new quartet to The Jazz Gallery along with a newly composed book of music to explore. Since his departure from The Bad Plus at the end of 2017, Iverson has had a busy year, which has included premiering a new piano concerto, writing for the Culture Deskat the New Yorker, and performing with peers and elders.
We spoke by phone with Ethan Iverson, who was spending some time with family in Duluth, Minnesota.
The Jazz Gallery: How’s your summer been?
Ethan Iverson: No complaints! The first year after The Bad Plus, I was worried about having any work at all, and I can’t say that that’s the case; I’ve actually been very busy.
TJG: It definitely seems like it. How did this new band at the Gallery come to form?
EI: I had a gig at Korzo and ended up calling this particular group of musicians. From the first note, I thought it was really a magical gig. We all are very strong personalities, but I think everyone gets along in some kind of way; everyone just enjoyed playing.
At the last second before we began the gig, I somehow heard the Erroll Garner tune “Misty” in my head, and I asked Dayna if he liked playing “Misty.” He looked at me and said, “I love ‘Misty.’”
This is the correct answer, but I don’t know if everybody would give that answer. There are plenty of tenor players that think it’s unhip to play “Misty,” but, for me, that’s the right answer.
We played “Misty” sort of like a space ballad, and then we played a straight ahead blues. I heard each one of these guys so clearly and beautifully. I don’t need to tell you that these are all real stylists. Everybody sounded so damn good, so I thought I should really try to play a bit more with this combination and see if it kept feeling like that.
TJG: Are you playing original music as well?
EI: I’ve written a new book for this band. In fact, everybody has a song written for them. “Dayna’s Dilemma,” “Thomas the Blessèd,” and “E to the MAC.” There are also three or four other new tunes. I’ve written too much music, actually, because I want to play “Misty” and “Tea for Two” and some of those other Iversonian standards as well.
TJG: That all came out of being inspired from the gig at Korzo?
EI: Yeah, it was just one gig. It just felt fresh.
I’ve played a lot with Reid Anderson and I’ve played a lot with Ben Street, and they’ll always be two that I hope to be associated with in people’s minds, but Thomas is also incredible and playing with him was such a blast. He hears everything. The guy I listened to him play with a lot was Masabumi Kikuchi. After Masabumi, there’s nothing that’s going to challenge Thomas Morgan. I can literally play anything and Thomas is going to make it sound good.
Eric McPherson is a real jazz drummer. It’s sort of corny to talk about this, but he’s one of those guys that lives his life and plays the drums with the same texture. That’s what they used to do, actually. Now most of us are quite divided—we’re very Western in our roles. But when I hang out with the old school jazz greats, there’s less division between who you are as a person and the way you play. Of someone remotely in my age group, E-Mac is just about as close as anybody to having that feeling.
What’s hip about Dayna is that he’s got a real sense of fun play in his abstraction. I think Wayne Shorter is a real reference for him; I never played with Wayne, but when I’m comping for Dayna I’m like, “Oh, man, maybe this is like I’m comping for Wayne.” He’s sort of got this elliptical thing, but Dayna’s also really fun. That aspect reminds me of my old friend Bill McHenry, who can be a goofball sometimes. I love that.
The tenor player I’ve played the most with is Mark Turner, and Mark is never a goofball, you know. But with Dayna, there’s something that’s just fun, but also very abstract and cool.