“…those ‘forty-twenty’ sets the club owners wanted everybody to play. They wanted you to begin your set twenty minutes after the hour and play until the end of the hour and then come back twenty minutes later and play another set”
Writing about 40Twenty for The New York Times back in the summer of 2010, Ben Ratliff described the band, a Brooklyn-based collective featuring trombonist Jacob Garchik, pianist Jacob Sacks, bassist Dave Ambrosio, and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza, as reminiscent of the mood of ’60s Paul Bley albums with their “dry, controlled radicalism; a smeary version of chamber jazz.” In advance of their sets at The Jazz Gallery this Wednesday, July 12, 2017, we caught up with the band’s pianist to discuss in greater detail the origins of the ensemble; the past, present, and future of the long-form gig; and how repeat performances enable musicians and listeners alike to move beyond the surface of the music and understand the core values of a band.
The Jazz Gallery: Everybody in the band has known each other for years, but how did this particular ensemble form?
Jacob Sacks: The concept of that band was to try to do a long-form gig, basically. Vinnie Sperrazza and I had talked about this idea: how Monk would play six months at the Five Spot. At that time, we were talking about we felt like we’d missed something, not getting to do something like that, and I’d gotten to play with Paul [Motian] at the Vanguard for a week—five different weeks, actually—and each of those weeks was really instructive.
TJG: There’s that great Miles Davis quote you reference in the 2012 album’s liner notes.
JS: Yeah, but he hated that, though. He eventually got it so he wouldn’t do all those sets they want you to do, because those cats would often play from 9 to 4, six or seven sets, whatever it was, if you can imagine.
TJG: The name of the band’s sort of ironic, then?
JS: Yeah. When we play, we usually try to perform 40 minutes sets and take 20 off. We won’t do that at The Jazz Gallery where the format is two longer sets, but we often set up the gigs like that.
TJG: So even though Miles wasn’t into it, you still tried it out?
JS: Well, it wasn’t so much the convention of 40/20 that was the thing—it was more the convention of playing a bunch of nights in a row. It was to try to experience what our heroes in the music often did (obviously on a much smaller scale). They would do six months, maybe five to seven hours a night; we did two weeks, two sets a night.
When I was a kid though—I grew up in southeastern lower Michigan, northwestern Ohio area—Rusty’s Jazz Cafe was 9 to 2, so you’d play four sets at least at that place. That was my training as a kid, and you might play Friday to Saturday, two nights of five set gigs in a row. Even some places up in Ann Arbor, like I used to play at this place called the Bird of Paradise: That was 9 to 1, and that was 3 sets at least, if I remember correctly; and so that was my upbringing—having to play 25 to 35 solos a night.
You do a lot of tunes, but I realized when I moved to New York that, back in the Midwest on those gigs you could play 35 tunes over the course of a gig, but you might not need to know how to play them 100 different ways. You might know one way of playing on each tune, and the tune itself might change—the variables: different tempo, different feel, whatever it was—but here in New York, I always felt like, “Oh, you need to know 500 tunes and 500 ways of playing each of those 500 tunes,” which is good, actually. So that’s the one great thing about New York, is that so many different people are here. You just get a sense there are a lot of different ways to play the same old thing, whereas there, there were a number of great musicians, but not the numbers here, where there’s probably 1000 great jazz piano players in New York alone. That’s 1000 great ways to play right there.