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A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Posts by Noah Fishman

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Saxophonist and composer Jarien Jamanila will be making his Jazz Gallery debut with a new quartet–pianist Sean Mason, bassist Felix Moseholm, and drummer Taurien Reddick–presenting Jamanila’s originals and a collection of standards. Jamanila is currently a student at The Juilliard School and formerly attended the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts. In a recent phone conversation, Jamanila spoke slowly and carefully to reveal a deep confidence in his music and his bandmates.

The Jazz Gallery: Tell me a bit about your life at Juilliard right now.

Jarien Jamanila: The first two years were packed full, with many hours of class every day, but this year I have far fewer classes than last year. I have private lessons, rotations with the big band, small groups, composition and arranging, and music history from 1700-1850. There’s the “Creative Ideas” class, where our whole department meets and discusses music and different assigned readings together. I also have a Jazz Business class with a representative from Jazz at Lincoln Center, who gives us the ins and outs of what he’s learned at JALC and how it can help us.

TJG: That actually seems like a pretty heavy course load.

JJ: It’s less than before. I’m happy with what it is right now [laughs].

TJG: Are you glad about the teacher you have right now?

JJ: Yeah, my teacher is Dan Block. I’ve had him for two years: He’s just as curious as me, he still wants to learn and grow. He’s always bringing in something new, and will share it with me, give me some ideas, teach me new songs, get me to listen to recordings I haven’t heard yet.

TJG: So how long has your band been together?

JJ: My band hasn’t been together long, but we play together often, in different settings both in and outside of school. I don’t usually play with Sean on piano, but I wanted him to play with us on this gig.

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

At the beginning of this summer, Desmond White took a personal leap that took the form of a guest post on Ethan Iverson’s blog. The post, in which White discusses his personal relationship with depression and anxiety, found huge resonance in the jazz community, particularly in New York. White will be returning to The Jazz Gallery this week to celebrate the release of a new series of songs, which follow up on his records “Short Stories” and “Glace” (Biophilia Records) with an experimental foray into electronics and mixed media, all while continuing at some level to explore the subject matter of music, mental health, and personal growth

Originally from Perth in Western Australia, White performs regularly with New York-based artists including Gilad Hekselman, Nir Felder, Camila Meza, Shai Maestro, Ari Hoenig, and numerous others. White is well regarded as a writer, producer, multi-instrumentalist, and singer across multiple genres. Our discussion with White via phone covered his new music, his continued thoughts on mental health in the New York jazz scene, and his composition process.

The Jazz Gallery: In your description of the upcoming show on The Jazz Gallery website, you mention “electronics and mixed media.” What’s going on there?

Desmond White: The music for the upcoming record has more electronic elements and programming than the previous one, which was more traditional “jazz-singer-songwriter.” On this one, some of the music will be played along to tracks, and there will be components of effects on the vocals, more synthesizers and keyboards. I’m also trying to incorporate footage I’ve been shooting. It’s definitely an experiment, but we’re trying it out.

TJG: Could you tell me a little about the footage?

DW: The footage is on the abstract side, but I try to capture stuff that’s in the neighborhood, things that resonate with me. I’m a massive David Lynch fan, and am awed by his marriage of sound and visuals. I know that he is very hands-on with his music. He sits down to work with the composer, and will write about how the music relates to the image. I’m a little bit the other way around, in the sense that the music is the focus and I’m trying to find an abstract image that connects to the theme of the song or the set.

TJG: It seems like what you’re doing could be described as “live film scoring” or a “live music video” or something. Do you think in those terms, or do you try to resist those labels?

DW: I don’t mind the labels so much. Mostly, I’m trying to move away from the look of “four or five men and women under spotlights on stage wearing nice shirts.” I’m trying to find a way to augment the visual component, giving a bit broader of an experience to the audience. It’s a total experiment.

TJG: Speaking about the audience experience, you write that your music examines “the human condition and our apparent need for a balance of order and entropy.” I wonder if that might have something to do with it, contrasting the ‘ordered’ appearance of the musicians on stage with more ‘abstract’ visuals?

DW: That idea relates more to the themes of the songs, some of which have to do with my direct personal experience with depression and anxiety, all very common things that many musicians have to deal with. In dealing with that, I’ve read many books and listened to many interviews with people, and a theme stuck with me: The research is currently saying that the entropic brain is more healthy than the ordered brain, and that depression and anxiety come from too much order, too much rigid thinking. It may seem counter-intuitive, but with this music, without being too explicit about it, I’m trying to find that balance between the ‘right’ chords and the ‘right’ groove, and then whatever happens on stage… I’m excited to have these musicians, because I know they have no fear of abandoning the material or the moment in order to explore whatever they want to do.

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Photo by Karen Sterling, courtesy of the artist.

Trumpeter and composer Samantha Boshnack is one of many participating in the upcoming Festival of New Trumpet Music. Boshnack is bringing ‘Seismic Belt’ to the festival, a group performing music about the Ring of Fire, the seismic area located on the rim of the Pacific Ocean. This music, in Boshnack’s own words, “examines our relationship with the Earth, including the elements of risk and faith in that uneasy cohabitation. Movements of the work draw on influences from some of the cultures and people living on the Ring, including Chile, Japan, Alaska, Western Samoa, and Russia.” Over the course of a three-month Make Jazz Fellowship sponsored by the Herb Alpert Foundation in LA, Boshnack composed the work, and its premiere was released as Live in Santa Monica, on Orenda Records in March 2019.

Boshnack also leads and performs with a number of ensembles, and is a fellow at the Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Academy of Music in California. Joining her at The Jazz Gallery for this performance during the Festival of New Trumpet Music will be Chris Credit (tenor/baritone saxophone), Jessica Pavone (violin/viola), Sarah Bernstein (violin), Kai Ono (piano) Lisa Hoppe (upright bass) and Jacob Shandling (drums). We spoke with Boshnack about the new work and her next steps.

The Jazz Gallery: What made you want to use the Pacific Rim and the Ring of Fire as a way of starting a conversation about our relationship with the earth?

Samantha Boshnack: I live in Seattle which is on the Ring of Fire, the horseshoe of volcanic activity around the Pacific. Moving from New York, seeing volcanoes like Rainier and St. Helens, I was immediately floored by their grandeur. Summertime here is a great time to go traveling: I’ve been hiking around mountains in Oregon, I’ve been to Indonesia and Mexico, and always end up trying to get to a volcano. I put out a record in 2014 called Exploding Syndrome that was more focused on Mt. St. Helens–I wrote a suite about that explosion. I felt that there was a lot that could be done with the topic, and I wanted to do two things with it. First, I wanted to explore different cultures living on the Ring of Fire, because there’s so much to look at, including Eskimo music, Russian music, indigenous musics… You’ve got Japan, Chile, the Samoas. Second, I wanted to look at the science of the Ring, and try to portray that musically. We’re living through tumultuous times, and there are things we’ve done to the earth, but there’s an inherent risk of living on earth even without what we’ve done.

TJG: That brings to mind your phrase “Risk and faith in uneasy cohabitation.” So you were looking at music from cultures that live along the Ring of Fire?

SB: Yeah, and I hope to do more. I was interested in finding stories and coping methods from cultures that live on the Ring. I haven’t gotten as deep as I want to yet. It might be a stretch, but I do think people are influenced by where they live, so there must be something of that in the music of their respective cultures. I’m not necessarily saying they all have something in common, but in general, it’s fun to try to be inspired by types of music you’ve never heard. I’ve done a few projects where I was writing for people from different countries, and I liked that way of writing and preparing. Not stealing or even writing ‘in that style,’ but allowing yourself to be inspired by the musicality of another culture. I try to create music that speaks to the experience of dealing with the inherent danger of life, yet also trying to take in the good, the beauty.

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Photo by Spencer Ostrander, courtesy of the artist.

Over the last six months, Kassa Overall composed, improvised, and took musical risks at The Jazz Gallery alongside six deeply contrasting pianists. Each session was meticulously recorded, generating raw material for Overall to sample, recompose, and produce. Now, Overall (plus some surprise guests) will return to The Jazz Gallery for two final nights showcasing the results of the long-form experiment. The Jazz Gallery will effectively become a live production studio, and audience members will witness a new kind of re-contextualization, improvisation, and listening experience.

Jazz Speaks writer Noah Fishman interviewed Kassa Overall every month for half a year, following Overall’s creative process and growth. It’s our pleasure to present their final conversation, serving as both a retrospective and a nod to the future.

The Jazz Gallery: I want to start by asking you to briefly describe your big-picture lessons from each show.

Kassa Overall: With Jon Batiste, I had no idea where we were headed. It was a great adventure. Afterwards, I felt confident about the whole series. I realized that I had high-level musicians, and it wasn’t so much about over-preparing, but rather creating a space for everybody. If I did that, then they could shine. The first show gave me that perspective.

Jason Moran’s set had the most earthly intensity of all the shows. Between him and bassist Evan Flory-Barnes, there was a lot of power on stage. After that one, I remember thinking, “I’m playing with some heavy-hitters, and I gotta make sure my drum chops are on the right level.”

With Aaron Parks, we leaned in with the Valentine’s Day energy. With that one, I realized the importance of setting a tone for each show. After that show, there were still some remnants of the Jason Moran thought. So I decided to practice every day for thirty days.

With Sullivan Fortner’s set, I was beginning to understand that as well as having these great musicians, I had to prepare myself, and put myself in the right space. I though, “Let me just prepare on my own.” I gave Sullivan a piano, B3, and Rhodes, and I practiced every day. Then we just improvised. That was the first set where I decided to improvise the whole set: For the rest of the shows, it was all improvisational.

With Kris Davis, again, the thought was, “How can I set the stage?” With this one, I decided to incorporate my vocals and effects. That one was one of the most intense shows. Ever. Especially the first set. A new thing opened up. It was faith-affirming in the idea of spontaneity.

This all lead me to Craig Taborn. We couldn’t get into the Gallery to rehearse, so we decided to just walk around the city and talk. That was our rehearsal. Again, it was assurance that there’s something to spontaneity, to preparing in a way that’s not typically considered preparing. It was another amazing experience. I was shocked at how we arrived at a concept without really discussing it. We just talked about what we love about music. Through that, we created an identity.

This whole experience has brought me to a realization. It’s great to prepare music, but there are many ways of preparing: Don’t use preparation as a creative crutch. Don’t use preparation as a way of saying, “I can’t improvise, so I’m going to perfectly orchestrate all of this stuff. It’ll sound like I’m improvising, but what I’m really doing is a magic trick, a circus act.” Now, I’m really trying to accept that that’s what people like. There’s a time to cut the edges off the crust. There are times to make things more correct. But don’t sacrifice the magic of spontaneity.

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Photo by J.R. Jensen, courtesy of the artist.

In Shawn Lovato’s words, “We live in a creative golden age of music.” Artists today have so much at their fingertips, and this wealth of inspiration has lead to remarkably multifaceted careers. Lovato himself embodies this reality through his own winding path as a working composer and bandleader: He is an integral member of the contemporary ensemble Hotel Elefant, co-leader of the group Open Tabs, and his ‘flagship’ ensemble is Cycles of Animation, an improvising quintet drawing inspiration from free jazz, hip hop, punk, and chamber music.

Cycles of Animation released their inaugural album on Skirl Records in October 2017. The group, consisting of Lovato on bass, Oscar Noriega on alto saxophone, Brad Shepik on guitar, Santiago Leibson on piano, and Chris Carroll on drums, will visit The Jazz Gallery this Thursday, May 30. Lovato just became a father, which was the introductory topic of our recent phone conversation. 

Shawn Lovato: We just had a kid a couple of months ago. It’s an exciting time! He’ll be eleven weeks old tomorrow. Man, every day is different. Having a new person with us, watching him, smiling, recognizing him, his eyesight is getting better… Watching a human grow is pretty intense.

The Jazz Gallery: That’s so cool. Anything new today?

SL: You know those baskets that hang fruit? We have a small place here in Brooklyn, and we have a hanging basket between the living room and the kitchen. I was making a smoothie, and when I grabbed some bananas I moved it. It started rocking back and forth on its chain. I looked at him, and he was just staring at it. It’s about five feet from him: The fact that he was focused on it, watching it move, that was a cool ‘first.’

TJG: [Laughs] Then did it start to mesmerize you as well?

SL: Yeah man. I had a moment yesterday. We were talking, you know, the two of us, I was making sounds, he was laughing, totally into me, trying to figure me out. It was one of those moments where I realized, “Wow, this is it, my whole being is centered around this child” [laughs]. It’s amazing, scary, wonderful.

TJG: You must be playing some music around the house for him.

SL: My wife’s been making fun of me because I haven’t played any concert music, no classical music yet, but yes. We were listening to California by Mr. Bungle the other day [laughs]. We have a record player, and I have Blues And The Abstract Truth on vinyl, one of my favorite records, so he hears that a lot. Of course, I just play for him too. I put on a solo concert for him the other day. If I play for him, he gets quiet [laughs]. I think he just likes to be engaged. I play music at him, improvise or play melodies to him, he’s into it. He’s not the greatest audience, but at least he’s there [laughs].

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