Posts by Noah Fishman

Design courtesy of the artist.

Jasper Dütz’s new album presents a somewhat unexpected scenario: young jazz musicians, interpreting the beautiful narratives of old songbook standards. On Remind Me What The Bridge Does Again, Dütz uses his woodwind skills in subtly supporting ways and plays an understated role as a leader. You’ll hear an architectural, arpeggiated bass clarinet accompaniment to “Just Friends,” or subtle backgrounds on “Why Try To Change Me Now.” His playing is always in service of the melody and story, aided by vocal interpretations by Elora Aclin and Eliana Glass.

It’s nothing new for Dütz, having already released one standards album titled A Jazz Album, which takes a candid and humorous look at session culture and jazz education. Young jazz musicians today are encouraged to use standards from the American songbook as structures for improvisational vocabulary and technique, which Dütz perceives as a misuse of the songs’ original splendor. With his albums, Dütz is encouraging his peers to consider standards from another perspective.

Dütz will also be using his Jazz Gallery debut as a leader to showcase original compositions by his peers, including Jacob Shulman, Adam O’Farrill, Kalia Vandever, and many more. The show, titled “Kettle of Melodies” will include premieres of compositions by each of these composers, each solicited by Dütz with a simple prompt: “Write songs that are songs.” The performance will feature Anthony Pearlman on piano, Connor Parks on drums, and Nick Dunston on bass, as well as Kyle Wilson and Jacob Shulman on saxophones, Theo Walentiny on piano, and vocalist Eliana Glass. Read our conversation below to hear Dütz’s thoughts on jazz education, session culture, and his admiration for his peers. 

The Jazz Gallery: Your albums have spoken-word interludes that mimic those cringe-inducing conversations at jam sessions: “Hey man you sound great,” or “Hit me up on Facebook, let’s play sometime,” and so on. Of all the places to find inspiration, what speaks to you about this?

Jasper Dütz: Like many of my friends, I went to an arts high school and grew up playing music, and there’s a negative side to that social environment. I have good friends who are fantastic musicians who’ve turned away from jazz, not because they don’t like the music, but because of the negative social environment that jazz can present. It’s often not diverse, in terms of gender, in a way that isn’t the same with other music. That alone turns people away, and the music hasn’t done anything wrong. So the concept for the upcoming show, and for the second album as a whole, is for musicians to look at the beauty of some of the original songbook standards that everyone learns through jazz education, without getting into the whole ‘cutting contest’ aspect of the picture.

TJG: Yet by framing the album in this way, you’re putting that culture at the center of the picture.

JD: Right. I don’t want to ignore it. So many people go to jam sessions and play ten choruses, and for every person on stage, you’ll have twice as many in the crowd critiquing them, no matter how they sound. People always trash talk performers in a competitive, unhealthy way. The music tends to suffer from that dynamic, and it makes sense, because the material is being misused, so to speak. Jazz often musicians use beautiful standards like “All The Things You Are” and “What Is This Thing Called Love” as vehicles for improvisation, without looking at the beauty and story imbedded in the songs. 

TJG: One of your interludes is called “Hit me up on Facebook.” What do you think about Facebook? Some might argue that groups like Jam Of The Week are an example of that exact kind of cutting contest, yet others might say it’s a platform for support and exploration.

JD: With anything competitive, whether sports, video games, music, and so on, there’s idolization alongside the competition. There are people in jazz, historically and today, that younger musicians tend to idolize. People are blasphemous if you have anything negative to say about Trane, for example. The same goes for people who express a preference for “Modern Jazz” versus “Straight-Ahead Jazz,” which is misguided, because jazz across the board is about communication and improvisation, call-and-response, the elements of a tradition which comes from the African-American experience. To section that off into “Modern” versus “Traditional” has problems, socially and creatively.

Certain musicians tend to be idolized by high school and college students, which isn’t in itself a problem, but it creates a hierarchy among younger musicians based on how much vocabulary from that person you can play. There’s nothing wrong with looking at improvisation somewhat athletically, as long as you’re not defacing a song with it. So, if you’re going to play a song written for musical theater, as most standards were, it should be played in a way that honors that intention, not just using it as a way to put all of your tools on the table. In my opinion, write a new song, or play a jazz standard, something written as an improvisational form.


Photo courtesy of the artist.

With “Rich In Symbols,” a captivating cross-disciplinary exploration of art through music, musician and composer Chet Doxas has interpreted paintings from MoMA and The Whitney. This week, Doxas returns to The Jazz Gallery again as a leader, presenting the quintet project with both immersive sounds and images. With Doxas on winds and synths, Brad Shepik and Rob Ritchie on guitars, Zach Lober on bass, and Jerad Lippi on drums, the ensemble has a lush, orchestral presence.

When the album was released this fall on Ropeadope Records, our writer Kevin Sun interviewed Doxas about the inspiration and process behind the project. We spoke with Doxas again, diving into his visceral experience of standing before works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, and Robert Mapplethorpe with pencil in hand, sketching musical ideas that would become works for his distinctive quintet.

The Jazz Gallery: In a previous interview with Kevin Sun, you discussed the process behind “Rich In Symbols.” By composing in front of works of art, it seems like you were able to “be yourself” in a new way. Did bypassing your instrument allow something new to emerge?

Chet Doxas: I don’t think I’m in the minority in that I can be quite hard on myself. My inner critic can be extra critical. But I’ve found that when writing music inspired by something I’m looking at, that inner critic gets very quiet, and I just get to work. If you frequently tell yourself “It’s not good enough,” or however you talk yourself out of something, I recommend working this way.

TJG: Were you intimidated at the start? Especially since you were working in front of some of your favorite artworks.

CD: I started working in museums because I found that I work better if I’m in front of the artwork, sharing the space with the painting. But I’d be looking at a Keith Haring, then walk to the next room and there’d be a Georgia O’Keefe, then a Robert Harris portrait, and I said “Well, this is getting to be a little much” [laughs]. So I tried to reign it in and focus on one genre. One of the books I was reading at the time was a book called “Please Kill Me” by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain about the New York punk scene from roughly 1975-85. What’s cool about that period is that it was one of the last times, at least in New York, where there was a community of artists and musicians coexisting and inspiring each other with their work. They had social meeting places like The Mudd Club, CBGB, Max’s Kansas City, Andy Warhol’s Factory, and people would talk about their music or their art or not talk about anything and just party. That was an exciting idea, so I decided to try to make music based on the images that were being produced around that time.

TJG: What excites you about that idea?

CD: I like being around people. And while you can find a community in New York, you can still have a lot of time to yourself. Which is cool, because there’s work to do. But at the same time, the city has changed a lot, and I dug reading about the way it used to be. There are so many things that I love from that period, and I wanted to see how it would unfold in my own music.

TJG: I know it encompasses a wide scope of artists and artworks, but how does that period of art look, to you?

CD: One of the things that excites me most about that movement is what is sometimes referred to as ‘primitivism.’ Haring’s and Basquiat’s works often look like cave paintings. In a certain sense, it’s minimal, even if the work isn’t “minimalistic.” The idea of exposing the base nature of who we are, that rawness, is a common thread between that and, say, the band Suicide, or Velvet Underground. It’s art and music that looks and sounds like it’s in the primordial phases of what it could be. It’s stripped down. I feel that way about the Keith Jarrett American Quartet too, sometimes. It could be something else, but that’s not the point. I’ve always liked that idea of music having a foot in that ancient realm.


Photo courtesy of the artist.

Pianist Theo Walentiny will present his Theo Walentiny Group at The Jazz Gallery this week, alongside a series of abstract paintings created his father, painter Joe Walentiny. The paintings, collectively entitled “Soundscapes,” reflect and explore the impressionistic and improvisatory nature of Theo Walentiny’s compositions. Theo’s septet will include Adam O’Farrill on trumpet, Jasper Dutz on woodwinds, Kalia Vandever on trombone, and Lee Meadvin on guitar, in addition to Nick Dunston on bass and Connor Parks on drums who, with Walentiny, constitute the Aurelia Trio. We spoke with Walentiny, who gave us a sense of his compositional style, his affinity for thinking visually, and his thoughts on the New York scene from a childhood across the Hudson.

The Jazz Gallery: Could you tell me a little about the new group?

Theo Walentiny: Absolutely. It’s a mix of new and old music. We’ll play some older pieces, orchestrated for this newer instrumentation, as well as a few new things. In addition, my dad is an abstract painter, and he did a series of paintings in collaboration with a group of my compositions. We’re going to have the physical canvasses on display at The Gallery. When I’d visit home throughout the project, he would show me his progress. The work took a long time to develop and complete, so I was able to really see them grow.

TJG: How did this concept for the paired paintings come about?

TW: He proposed the idea after one of my shows. He took my recordings and spent a few months just painting and listening to the music. Each painting corresponds to a specific composition. It wasn’t a literal thing, where you might have certain brushstrokes corresponding to certain notes: It wasn’t systematic like that. Instead, he took the overall aura of the piece and allowed it to emerge visually. There’s one piece called “Short Story,” which is a tribute to Ravel, who’s been an important figure to me. The finished painting goes really well with the piece, with a very impressionistic atmosphere. “Short Story” is probably the most extended work we’ll be playing, with different sections and layers, which also translates well in the painting.

TJG: It’s great that the painting process is as impressionistic and improvisatory as your music. Talk to me about your compositions, and how improvisation comes into play.

TW: My music is definitely improvisation-driven, and much of how it sounds truly depends on the people playing it. That’s one of the reasons I’m so excited about this date at The Gallery. I love how passionate everyone in the group is, and I don’t like to be too restrictive or possessive, because everyone has such a voice. I’ve worked with this specific group of people in different capacities, and it’ll be really special to have everyone together like this.

In my music, I’m often not trying to simply have a melody, changes, solos, and a recap of the melody. It’s more like there are points where the music opens up, and improvisation becomes something people bring to the table. There’s this piece “Apprehension,” which starts out with a piano riff, or a duo with guitar, then a melody, and a form for soloing which can go almost anywhere. It’s not limited by the page. I’m focused on transitions between songs as well, and strive for a continuous set of music. I try to bridge the pieces with pairs of duos within the group. Horns might do a cadenza, there might be a short chorale, nothing too strict. Overall, we have a full sound where guitar and piano add a lot of warmth, and especially with bass clarinet, we have a lot of great options in terms of timbre.


Design courtesy of the artist.

When three professional jazz musicians, composers, and friends in New York get together to take musical risks and strengthen their voices, you end up with something like Aurelia Trio. Co-lead by Theo Walentiny on piano, Connor Parks on drums, and Nick Dunston on bass, each member provides a strong individual voice, both in the written ink and while performing. In a previous interview with the group, each member told The Jazz Gallery a bit about their perspective on what fuels the trio. The trio will return to The Jazz Gallery, with Colin Avery Hinton subbing for parks on drums. We caught up with bassist Nick Dunston about his take on the group’s growth and development, as well as his own compositional contributions to the group.

The Jazz Gallery: I’m really enjoying the last Aurelia Trio recording, and am looking forward to the next one this spring. Will the upcoming gig at The Jazz Gallery feature the trio’s original personnel?

Nick Dunston: For this gig we’ll have Colin Avery Hinton on drums instead of Connor Parks. Connor is a founding member of Aurelia, which is a complete collective, just to be clear. We all co-lead and write for the group. A conflict came up that Connor couldn’t get out of, so we called Colin Hinton. Theo met Colin at Banff, and I’ve played in a couple of his bands. We’re really excited; Colin is a great musician and composer. It’ll be good, and intense. We’ll likely feature his compositions as well.

TJG: In your previous group interview with The Gallery, you discussed how your rhythmic concept and group energy have been strong from the start, but your goals have continuously evolved. How have things changed as the group has matured?

ND: At first, we were playing “original jazz tunes” in the way a piano trio would approach them. That was our basis for becoming comfortable interacting, rhythmically and texturally. Now, we’re trying to compose in ways that give us opportunities to explore our improvisational and rhythmic comfort levels. Connor writes a lot of beautiful, simple songs that invoke a gentle attitude that we can feel free to disobey. It can be both wholesome and sarcastic, just like our normal conversations. Theo’s compositions push against the idea of the ‘piano trio’ as a piano-centric thing. He uses orchestration concepts that I think are still mostly unexplored in the context of piano trios.

TJG: Since you write with such different styles, does that put limitations on your own compositional voice? For example, “Oh, I won’t write this, that’s more something Theo would write.”

ND: I can only speak for myself. But whether we’re talking about established artists, legends who have passed, or my musical friends, they all influence me a great deal. I’m not afraid to be influenced by Theo and Connor, or anyone for that matter. Since we’re all composers in our own rights, with strong senses of self, we don’t reject the influence we get. Rather, we cherish it and make it our own, especially when writing music. I’ve never felt self-conscious that I’m ‘trespassing’ on someone else’s compositional style. When you have a compositional voice, your music is never really going to sound like someone else. For example, I mentioned that Connor writes more song-type compositions. I have a tune called “Motian Sickness” with a simple, singable melody, kind of folksy in a way. On paper, it’s pretty similar to how Connor writes for this group. But every time we’ve played the tune, it sounds nothing like how Connor’s music is ever performed. We’re great friends, so we’re naturally going to have things in common, but we’re all very independent, and we respect each other for the differences we have.


Photo by Jessica Carlton, courtesy of the artist.

Kevin Sun is a “saxophonist, improviser, composer, and blogger,” but given the depth of his inquiry and practice, the title “saxophonist” alone certainly carries weight. Sun constantly works to avoid habits and heighten his awareness on stage, work that is plainly evidenced on his new album, TRIO. “Composing for three voices, I feel like I can really challenge myself,” Sun says of the project. “There’s plenty of room to make something happen… I picture it as a triangle versus a square: it’s still very sturdy, but you have to give it a point.” The music does have a point, often an explicit one: The trio, including bassist Walter Stinson and drummer Matt Honor, originated as a vehicle for Sun to explore compositional, methodological, and musical concepts.

Sun was the first jazz saxophone performance major to graduate from the Harvard-NEC Dual Degree program, studying with Miguel Zenón and John Hollenbeck along the way. Based in Brooklyn, Sun has been involved in a number of different bands over the past few years, including Great On Paper (GOP), Earprint, and Mute. Additionally, Sun is a longtime contributor to this very blog. His own blog, A Horizontal Search, has been recognized by National Public Radio’s A Blog Supreme and Ethan Iverson’s Do the Math. We spoke with Sun in anticipation of the release of his new record. Our conversation covered his compositional intentions, his transcription practices, and four independent references to Lester Young.

TJG: Congratulations on the album, which is only days away from being released. In a recent interview you did with Abe Perlstein, you spoke about how this trio was initially formed as a means for you to stretch out and try new things. What was the biggest stretch for you on the album?

Kevin Sun: A lot of the songs are really challenging. “Transaccidentation,” the first track on the album, was the first thing we ever worked on as a trio. I wrote it with the idea in mind of using another piece as a compositional model. Jason Palmer, the trumpet player in Boston, recommend that process to me one night while hanging out at Wally’s. So “Transaccidentation” is inspired by a Vijay Iyer song called “Habeas Corpus” from his album Blood Sutra [ed. note: Blood Sutra was commissioned by The Jazz Gallery in 2002]. I bought a book of his compositions as published by Mel Bay, and I was looking for people to work on his fascinating, challenging music. When Matt, Walter and I got together the first time, we played through Habeus Corpus. Writing something in that vein was the starting point for “Transaccidentation.” That process, and its result, is one example of a stretch for me.

TJG: It’s great that you can trace that chain of influence from Jason Palmer’s advice to Vijay Iyer’s tune to your own composition. Did that set the tone for the trio, in terms of how you’d work through the rest of your music?

KS: Pretty much. I don’t want to use the word ‘calculated,’ but it is pretty calculated in terms of cause and effect. Vijay was a big influence on me in school, and he always talked about writing compositions that were just out of reach, requiring some kind of stretch. Similarly, I want to write songs that demand things of me that I can’t really do, encouraging me to stretch. I’m especially interested if the stretch requires other people, such as sustaining or navigating lots of details and contours, while bouncing off the playing of others.

TJG: It’s not always easy to pinpoint what you can’t already do: You could easily say to yourself, “I’m a jazz saxophonist. I transcribe, practice, and gradually get better.” Do you have an established process for noticing or cataloging the things you’d like to improve?

KS: That’s a good question. I haven’t gotten to the point where I’m writing my goals for the next three, six, twelve months, but it’s on the horizon. I record myself compulsively: I think my friends all know this [laughs]. I do it surreptitiously, usually at jam sessions. I’ll put on my voice recorder before I get on to play. At jam sessions, it’s hard to tell what things sound like, but I want to hear what I’m doing and how I’m interacting. I started doing that a couple of years ago, when I lived with pianist Isaac Wilson in Boston. He got that habit from Jason Moran, who told his students at NEC to constantly record themselves, especially since it’s so easy and costs nothing. That’s probably the most consistent thing I do to notice how I want to improve. Maybe not even ‘improving,’ per se, but just becoming more aware of my playing. When you play in a public setting, or with people I don’t know that well, that’s when you tend to fall back into your habits.