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Art by Edgar Garcia

The Jazz Gallery co-founder Roy Hargrove passed away on November 2, 2018, and the physical world let go of a beautiful and mysterious being. Deeply focused on advancing the spirit of the music, the beloved trumpet player, composer and community mentor dedicated his life to fostering connections, often inadvertently, and playing the prettiest notes.

This Tuesday, January 8, at Jazz at Lincoln Center, The Jazz Gallery and the New York jazz community at large will be remembering Roy’s pivotal and enduring contributions with a musical celebration at 7:00 P.M. Below, artists touched by Roy’s creativity and presence share their thoughts on the artist’s melodies, mentoring style, and generosity.

Tough Love: Gerald Clayton Speaks

Usually when I talk about Roy, I talk about how it was the first time I was around somebody who was about the music 24/7. He really treated it as more than just a job. He dedicated all of his spiritual energy to it. We would show up at a hotel somewhere, and he would run to the piano and start playing a tune. And then if you weren’t looking over his shoulder and recording, you’d be in trouble the next day on the gig because that’s the tunes he would call on the gig. You’d be SOL. In that vein, he expected the sidemen to be equally quick—to be able to soak up any musical information as quickly as he does—as he did—which was freakishly fast. One time through, Roy pretty much had it.

And if Roy ever learned a tune at any point in his life, it was in his ears forever. He would never forget it. He’d be showing me a tune, and I’d need to hear it a second time; by the third time, he would get frustrated: “Man, you supposed to know it by now!” So three years of that, you get used to having to learn songs that quickly to keep up with the pace. He was from the old school mentality where you would get vibed if you were out of line. That definitely stuck with me. I don’t vibe the young’uns as hard as I got vibed, and sometimes I think I should.

Part of what we all loved about him so much, whether you’re a musician or a listener, is that he gave of himself to the situation, to the music, to the audience. He wasn’t selfish with what he was playing. He was always playing something that just felt and sounded—good. He always chose the prettiest notes. There was a bullseye quality to it; it was like an unwavering thing. You never heard him not sound that way. And that’s kind of unbelievable. I certainly can’t do that; I know very few people who have that kind of consistency in being able to stay connected to the target. And more than from a musical place, an emotional spiritual intention behind the note—he never missed. It was every single night. And it didn’t matter what stage he was on, who he was playing with, he just always nailed it. It was unreal.

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Tim Berne (L) and Steve Byram (R). Photo by Wes Orshoski.

During his time on Columbia Records in the mid 1980s, saxophonist Tim Berne was introduced to visual artist and graphic designer Steve Byram. Byram had already gained notice for his album art, particularly for the European jazz/avant label JMT and the Beastie Boys’ classic Licensed to Ill. A review of Byram’s work in Eye Magazine described his style thusly: “His illustrations are messy, sprawling, some-times tentative and at other times explosively confident. His typography is obsessive but rarely conventionally neat.” Byram and Berne hit it off immediately, their explosive aesthetics proving a strong match. Since 1987, Byram has done album art for almost all of Berne’s work, as well as for Berne’s peers and collaborators including Craig Taborn, Django Bates, and Drew Gress.

This Monday, January 7, Berne and Byram will celebrate their three-plus decade collaboration with the opening of their art exhibition Old & Unwise at The Jazz Gallery. The exhibition features drawings by Byram and photographs by Berne and is based on a series of images compiled for their 2015 art book, Spare.  Byram’s drawing are composed digitally from an assortment of source drawings—or “spare parts”—while Berne’s photographs were taken during his spare time while on tour. To celebrate the exhibition opening, Berne will perform brand new music with pianist Matt Mitchell and drummer Dave King. (more…)

With FutureFest coming to The Jazz Gallery this weekend, we at Jazz Speaks are continuing our series of conversations with some of the festival’s featured artists. Today, we have a conversation with festival curators Alfredo Colon & Edward Gavitt on the band Secret Mall, and Abdulrahman Amer of Ba Akhu, discussing the origins and motivations behind the festival.

The Jazz Gallery: Tell me about the genesis of this festival.

Alfredo Colon: I think it started with us trying to set up a double bill with our friends and then we were like, “Yo, we should actually get a third band!”. And then we were like, “Yo, what if we get more bands?” And at some point Ed was just like, “We might as well just make a festival at this point.”

Edward Gavitt: The thing is, Secret Mall as a band, first of all, is just a band based in excess. We like to do excessive things. Nothing illegal or nothing bad. Like, just…

Abdulrahman Amer: [interrupting] Yeah, you can’t do that.

EG: Yeah, yeah. You can’t do that.

AC: [laughs]

EG: So when the idea came of doing a double bill, let’s get it as far as we can. Let’s get away with as much as we can get away with. [laughs] Basically. So we all came to the idea of a festival, a couple bills, a bunch of bands. Although at this point, the final version of this festival came through as a bunch of bands that have played here [at the Jazz Gallery] and some that haven’t, we really wanted to bring forward people that haven’t had an opportunity to play here, whether it based on the curation or based on just they haven’t even thought about thinking to play here. A couple of people that we asked couldn’t do it, and a couple people ended up just not feeling right for the bands we had already confirmed. We tried to curate a certain vibe as well, you know what I mean?

Sasha [Berliner Quartet], Rocky’s band [BA AKHU], us, and Adam [O’Farrill and Gabe Schneider] have all played here. But Blake [Opper’s Questionable Solution] and Tiny Gun haven’t played here yet. We hope to bring more groups in the future and see if we can keep this going.

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Design by The Jazz Gallery.

This Wednesday, November 1st, The Jazz Gallery and saxophonist Miguel Zenon have teamed up for a special concert to benefit the victims of Hurricane Maria. The concert will feature some of the biggest names in jazz, including Dave Douglas, Branford Marsalis, Kurt Elling, and a special appearance of the John Scofield Trio featuring Larry Grenadier and Bill Stewart.

All proceeds of the concert will go to Puerto Rico Recovery Fund. Don’t miss this opportunity to support the rebuilding efforts in Puerto Rico and see some of jazz’s biggest names in our intimate space. (more…)

Design by The Jazz Gallery

Our ongoing series on the 2017 Jazz Gallery Gala honorees continues today with legendary Cuban pianist and bandleader Chucho Valdés.

Valdés grew up in a very musical family in Cuba—his father Bebo led the orchestra at the famed Tropicana Club in Havana. Chucho’s talent was clear from a young age, and he recorded his first record, Jazz Nocturno, in 1964 at the age of 23.

In the early 1970s, Valdés formed a band called Irakere featuring some of Cuba’s top musicians, including Paquito D’Rivera and Arturo Sandoval. The group sought to create an organic blend of traditional Afro-Cuban forms with progressive jazz and the results were scintillating. Drummer and Gallery-regular Dafnis Prieto grew up watching Irakere on television. In a feature on Mr. Valdés in the New York Times, Prieto offered the following reminiscence:

I remember hearing and looking at so many different sounds and instruments. The batá drums from our Afro-Cuban tradition plus the American drum set, the electric bass and the guitar, the singer, the horns. Everything sounded so unique and fresh.

Despite the political divisions between Cuba and the United States, word of Irakere’s intoxicating blend of Latin dance music and virtuosic improvisation spread quickly overseas. In 1978, Irakere was signed to Columbia Records by Bruce Lundvall and performed at a special Newport Jazz Festival Concert at Carnegie Hall. The group’s debut record on Columbia, featuring recordings from that concert, won a Grammy the next year. Check out the group’s live show from the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, New Jersey in 1979 so get a sense of their infectious energy.

Over the ensuing years, Irakere became a finishing school for Cuba’s finest young musicians, much like Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Valdés continued to record and tour regularly, stretching his music in new directions. In 1993, Valdés released a record of solo piano music for Blue Note, and a few years later, would perform solo in New York for the first time at the nascent Jazz Gallery through the work of co-founder Dale Fitzgerald. This began a long-running relationship with the Gallery, which became a sort of home-away-from-home for Valdés in New York. In summer 2003, Valdés was supposed to play a week at The Village Vanguard, but ran into visa issues. When Valdés was eventually able to enter the United States a couple of weeks later, he made up the shows at the Gallery.

Now 75 years old, Valdés shows no sign of slowing down, still bringing his distinct brand of Afro-Latin jazz to concert halls and festivals all over the world. Check out Valdés playing a spirited duo version of “Blue Monk” with fellow countryman Gonzalo Rubalcaba at this year’s International Jazz Day celebrations in Valdés’s hometown of Havana.

Please join us at the Player’s Club next Monday evening to celebrate Mr. Valdés and our other distinguished honorees. For more information about the event and tickets, please visit http://jazzgallery.nyc/about-2/2017-gala/