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Posts from the Interviews Category

Photo courtesy of the artist.

John Escreet is a versatile musical omnivore, moving fluidly between different facets of the jazz community. The pianist’s Learn To Live features Nicholas Payton, Greg Osby, Matt Brewer, Eric Harland and Justin Brown, while his Trio features John Hébert and Tyshawn Sorey. No matter the setting, Escreet can be found exploring different types of improvisation, groove, structure, and form.

More recently, Escreet has been busily touring and traveling with drummer Antonio Sanchez, which was what he was doing when we caught up with him for a quick phone interview. We spoke about his upcoming gig at The Jazz Gallery, for which Escreet invited guitarist Ben Monder and drummer Damion Reid for an open-ended evening of composed music and improvisation/exploration.

The Jazz Gallery: I want to hear what you’re planning with Ben and Damion. I know you’ve played with both of them, but have you played together as a trio?

John Escreet: No, we haven’t played together as a trio. Honesty, I haven’t got that much planned at the moment: Right now, I’m thinking of keeping it trio, doing some electronics, maybe bringing a couple of synths. Damion has played a lot of my music before, but Ben and I have hardly played together, maybe once. We’ve been trying to play together for a while. It’ll be fun, and I’m excited to be playing with them both.

TJG: What is it about Ben’s playing that pulls you in his direction?

JE: It’s unique, very improvised and open. He’s an all-around strong musician and very creative guy. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens. Damion was the first person I called for the gig. I felt like trying a new combination, something unfamiliar: Damion and I were throwing ideas back and forth, and he mentioned that he and Ben had also been trying to play together for a while. I hit Ben up, he was into it, and that was that. I like the fact that I’m leaving it open, in terms of what can happen on the gig, you know. It’s all loose, and I know if I just let those guys do their thing, it’ll probably be good.

TJG: Who’s music will you be playing?

JE: A couple of tunes of mine, which I’m about to send out this evening. Damion knows them already, but Ben hasn’t played them yet. I have some other things in mind. Some of this stuff is through-composed, specific lines and things, but the improvisation is also loose, so the music can be both at the same time.

TJG: The piano/drums hookup is a crucial one; how do you tend to interact with Damion?

JE: I find it very easy to play with him. He latches onto whatever the essence of the composition is, ingests it in some way. Strong ideas, lots of interaction, lots of fun.

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Photo by Gaya Feldheim Schorr, courtesy of the artist.

Colin Hinton, a Brooklyn-based composer and drummer/percussionist, returns to The Jazz Gallery to celebrate the release of his latest record, Simulacra. The long-form, textural calliope features Anna Webber on tenor saxophone and flutes, Yuma Uesaka on tenor saxophone and clarinets, Edward Gavitt on guitars, Shawn Lovato on bass, and Hinton himself on drums, percussion, glockenspiel, and gongs.

The compositions are dense, spiraling, and often surprisingly intimate, and clearly synthesize influences from Henry Threadgill and Anthony Braxton to Messiaen and Feldman, while leaving plenty of room for Hinton’s background in the power and structure more straight-ahead jazz. In a long phone conversation with Hinton, we learned about the composer’s approach to open material, his relationship with his ensemble, and his process behind putting the record together.

The Jazz Gallery: Loving the new record! You packed such a diverse array of sounds and approaches into a unified set of performances. It seems like the album, described in the liner notes, is addressing this timeless question: How do you capture a music moment in a way that celebrates its life force, yet acknowledges the limitations of the format? Do I have that right, in the concept of Simulacra?

Colin Hinton: In certain regards, yes. The liner notes were written by my buddy Robert Grieve, a great guitarist, composer, human based in Toronto. I contacted him, and he got excited because the album is called Simulacra, and he’s big into philosophy, so he went super deep into the whole simulacra/simulation thing. He went in on that, which I loved. I didn’t actually find out about it until after I named the album, so it’s a funny coincidence. I named the album as I did because each piece on the record is inspired by a specific musician/composer that had a huge impact on my musical and/or personal life.

I came across the word simulacra as an anagram, which is how I arrive at many of my tune titles: You see that in titles like “Obversify” or “Synesthopy.” I delved into the history of the word simulacra, and liked the idea of a representation of something, and enjoyed looking at the history of the word and how it has evolved over the last six hundred years. I let Rob go nuts with the writeup, there’s some headiness to it. I like the ambiguity, and people keep asking me about the title, so that’s fun.

TJG: I don’t know a lot about your musical process, aside from what I’ve read. It’s clear that there’s composed material: Hits, melodies, harmonic unity, form, structure, even swing and time. Then, there’s clearly improvisation as well, stuff that sounds like someone creating in the moment. I’m interested in hearing about your working process within these worlds.

CH: My background is as a straight-ahead jazz drummer. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten a little away from that, though I still love listening to and playing that music. My first exposure to music outside of that was Brazilian music, then South Indian music. Then, as I was studying free improvisation and contemporary classical music, I realized that to do what I wanted to do, I needed to start composing: I didn’t start composing until I was twenty-six.

Generally, I don’t want people to be aware of what’s composed and what’s improvised in my music. There are a number of things on the record that sound improvised but are actually written, and things that sound written but are actually improvised. I’ve been working with this group for several years, and this is the fourth book of music I’ve written for us.

I’m also great friends with everyone in the band, and we’re very familiar with each others’ musicality, so that puts me at a huge advantage. I wanted to try to 1) get away from a typical head-solo-head thing, and 2) avoid long-form composition for improvisers where it’s like “Here’s written material, here’s improv, here’s a form, here’s a vamp,” and instead have the composition and improvisation move together simultaneously. That was a cool challenge to try to address. There might be three people who have written material that’s part of a composition, while one person is soloing, and another person has the option of playing composed material, or pitchless rhythmically notated stuff that they can improvise along, giving them a general sense of being part of the ensemble, where they can be the soloist. I love finding different ways of orchestrating the people I have so that something is always in motion.

TJG: When you’re generating this material, are you improvising and transcribing? Do you have a compositional procedure that you’ve found works for you?

CH: I write everything at the piano, and before I sit down and start writing a piece, I generally have an idea of what I want the piece to do. Then I might start generating some harmonic areas I want to look at, and from there it depends on whether I want melody, a non-melodic sound world, just dense harmony with nothing else… I have techniques that I’ve adopted and keep returning to, regarding how I generate harmonic material and melodies over that.

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Graphic by Mia Nazzaro

On Thursday, November 7, 2019, alto saxophonist and EWIer Alfredo Colon returns to The Jazz Gallery for a debut presentation and live recording of Lookalike, a trio featuring Colon alongside bassist Steve Williams and drummer Henry Mermer. In recent years, Colon has been turning heads playing in the post-vaporwave collective Secret Mall and leading his own projects, most recently Big Head, a quartet with pianist Jacob Sacks, bassist Nick Dunston, and drummer Connor Parks. We caught up with Colon by phone to discuss his new trio and its inspirations.

The Jazz Gallery: What have you been up to since your last performance at the Gallery back in June? 

Alfredo Colon: I’ve just been trying to write as much music as possible lately. I’m a person who has a ton of ideas and in the past didn’t commit to them, so my thing this year has been—I’ve been having a lot of moments when I’m like, “This will be cool”—so I’ve been trying to get the ball rolling with whatever that may be and committing to it. 

TJG: When did you, Steve, and Henry first play together?

AC: Probably early this year, around May. We just got together and played free at New School. 

I always like when I get together and improvise with people, then listen back to the recording and it sounds like something written. There’s intention to everything, everyone’s present; it’s not sqounking about, just making noise. I ended up writing some material that fit the vibe. Steve and Henry brought some compositions, and it’s become its own thing now. 

TJG: That reminds me of a thing I heard Steve Lehman say about composing, which was that he sometimes found inspiration from listening back to recordings and expanding from particular improvised moments. Are there songs that you wrote with a similar approach? 

AC: Yeah, there’s quite a few of them. The thing is, these guys always get me to play something that I otherwise wouldn’t: Steve is a master of rhythm, so he’s always got something that can either throw me off or push me in a direction I’ve never gone in before. Henry’s kind of a mysterious player, so the way the two play forces me to play stuff I usually don’t. 

There’s a song that’s the opener of the set, which is from a moment I played with them. Some of the lines I played were very me, but not me, I guess. I transcribed them and they became the melody for one of the tunes in the tunes you’ll hear on the 7th. 

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Photo via New York Rag.

The purpose of the Jazz Gallery’s Mentoring Program is to provide aspiring musicians with the chance to learn under the guidance of their contemporary heroes. What they learn, and how they learn it, becomes a unique product of the relationship cultivated over a series of collaborative performances and workshops.

This Tuesday, the second mentor/mentee pair of our sixth Mentoring season—mentor drummer Kendrick Scott and mentee bassist Kanoa Mendenhall—kick off their experience with a performance at The Jazz Museum in Harlem. But before you head uptown to hear Scott & Mendenhall, check out our conversation with drummer Savannah Harris about her experience with mentor bassist Harish Raghavan.

Over the course of four performances, the focus of Raghavan’s mentorship became the discussion of freedom within the musical roles dined by your instrument. In our first interview with Harris and Raghavan, topics that arose were performance anxiety, preoccupation while on the bandstand, and the paradox of providing supportive accompaniment while maintaining expressive freedom.

After performances at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, Owl Music Parlor in Brooklyn, and Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, we spoke with Harris again to discover how her thoughts had expanded and evolved throughout the performance and workshopping experience. According to Harris, the final gig at Dartmouth (which culminating in a full day of teaching and performance) encouraged her to ask some challenging yet exciting questions about what’s next for her own career.

The Jazz Gallery: You did four shows over the course of this mentorship at The Jazz Gallery, the Jazz Museum, the Owl, and Dartmouth. The Jazz Gallery space is such an incubator, a little laboratory of discovery: Did the Jazz Museum feel a little more real-world? Did those shows feel different to you?

Savannah Harris: I’ve played at The Jazz Museum a bunch of times, so it was interesting to play this kind of music at The Jazz Museum. Usually, the times I’ve played there, the music has been much more traditional, if I can use that word, or at least coming from that language. It was interesting to play the out shit there, and it was really fun. In terms of my own performance, that show felt the worst for me… I was least at ease at that show than at any of the other four.

It had to do with something useful that Harish told me. Basically, whatever energy you’re bringing in to the gig, you need to discover how to neutralize it, so that you can be musically open. To be honest, I felt a bit closed off at that show. I got in my head. That space is an interesting room. You can’t play loudly in that space, because the instruments are already so loud, so you have to navigate your volume control while maintaining intensity, which is a lot to consider. So if you’re also coming into it with a personal blockage, it makes it hard to let loose at the gig.

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Album art courtesy of Sunnyside Records.

When Lee Konitz makes music, folks stop and listen. This may be due to his deep connection to the repertoire, his constant search for new sound, his adoration and celebration of the tradition. It may also be because he just turned 92 years old.

How does someone like Konitz stay engaged in the music after a career of over seven decades? Over the years, Konitz has become a mentor for younger musicians, creating a community around him that approaches performance with intimacy, intricacy, and adventure. These musicians include Dan Tepfer, Florian Weber, George Schuller, and for the last two decades, saxophonist/composer/conductor Ohad Talmor. We’ve spoke with Talmor a number of times, about his composition and arranging.

For this latest project, Old Songs New (Sunnyside), Talmor and Konitz agreed on a collection of well-loved yet seldom recorded standards. Talmor’s arrangements were designed as a kind of playground for Konitz: Talmor describes them as “this prismatic object where Lee could decide to play with the arrangements, stick to the melodies, play on top, get abstract, lay out, it doesn’t matter, the music is made to work any way he wants.” The full ensemble including Konitz will be at The Jazz Gallery this Sunday, October 20, to celebrate the release of the work.

The Jazz Gallery: When it comes to you, we can always talk about almost anything musical, from film scoring and big band arranging to Hindustani music and electronic improvisation. Off the bat, where are you now, and what are you doing?

Ohad Talmor: I’m in Brazil, in São Paolo. There’s a creative big band down here that I’ve been associated with since the early 2000s, and one of the saxophone players specializes in playing modern arrangements of choro, a form of Brazilian music. I’m doing a few gigs with them as a saxophonist and improviser—I’m not a specialist, but during my first trips to Brazil, I hooked up with this big band called Soundscape, who commissioned me to write some big band material, as well as some music in the choro tradition. Since then, I’ve learned to play some on saxophone, and have listened to the repertoire: At this point, it’s very much a part of my musical fabric. Brazil is a country with such a rich heritage, and choro is just one of the things I’m dealing with here.

For this trip, I’m playing with Samuel Pompeo, a great saxophonist who has a quintet he’s been working with for a few years. Choro is a very set form, so he kind of rearranged and opened the tunes up, modernized them, and is using this phenomenal rhythm section of Brazilian guys, so I get my assed kicked just playing with them. It’s just beautiful. I’m just playing, too, I have zero responsibility with writing or conducting, so I don’t have do do anything but learn the music and play it. I love that [laughs].

TJG: Then you’re jumping right back to New York for the gig at the Gallery?

OT: Yes. Before that, I have a trio thing with Miles Okazaki and Dan Weiss. We have two days in the studio on Thursday and Friday, and we’ll bring that project to The Jazz Gallery on December 4th, because we’ll be touring Europe in December. It’s a whole new repertoire. That’s first. Then, Sunday, we’re playing at the Gallery with Lee Konitz.

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