Posts from the Interviews Category

Photo courtesy of the artist.

This Saturday, The Jazz Gallery is teaming up with the Polish Jazztopad Festival to present a night of international improvisational exchange. Representing Poland will be the Wójciński/Szmańda Quartet. Based in Warsaw, the group is made up of the Wójciński siblings on trumpet, piano, and bass, as well as drummer Krzysztof Szmańda. The group first gathered in the studio in 2014, releasing their electric interplay on record last year (which you can check out below).
Representing the United States is cellist Erik Friedlander. As a staple of the downtown jazz and improv scene for three decades, Friedlander has been a close collaborator of many musical luminaries, including Laurie Anderson, Dave Douglas, and John Zorn. He’s released dozens of diverse albums under his own name, including 2016’s Rings, featuring multi-keyboardist Shoko Nagai and percussionist Satoshi Takeishi. We caught up with Friedlander via Skype to hear about the origins of this project and his thoughts on the cello as a jazz instrument.

Piotr Turkiewicz invited me to the Jazztopad Festival in Wroclaw, Poland two or three years ago. He commissioned a premiere and what resulted was a piece called Kore, which was a piece for small orchestra and cello. It was super exciting. Piotr is one of these great presenters who has such a love of music and is curious and is just a good guy—I am really glad that I can call him a friend. He’s really been a great proponent of the Polish scene. The last couple of years, I’ve gone to Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola to see some of the Polish jazz groups and it’s been great.

This year, he invited me to participate in the New York edition of the Jazztopad Festival with the Wójciński/Szmańda Quartet. They like to do a lot of free improvisation, pieces with loose structures, and they’re very good at it. I have a feeling our concert will be a mix of organization and structures by design and free playing. One thing we’re going to do a lot of is dividing up into groups, like different combinations of duos—bass and cello, bass and piano, trumpet and cello, and so on.

In terms of fitting into a preexisting group, I feel it’s less about being a cello player and more about being a musician in general. It’s about getting on the same page in terms of how the music flows, and making sure we can all be creative together. I’m always looking for moments—moments of clarity, moments of inspiration, and hope to stay away from moments of boredom.

The cello in jazz is a tricky proposition. I feel when I play pizzicato like a bass player, it fits in really well. When I play with a bow, I feel it’s a much more modern sound—it’s less “jazz” per se, it’s something else. The cello can take on a number of different roles then—I’ll comp, I’ll play bass lines, I’ll play melodies, textures, sounds. With that in mind, the cello needs some kind of acceptance from the musical material and the other players. I’m really excited to see what happens.



Photo by Amy Mills

For the occasion of her 2017 Residency Commission, the saxophonist, vocalist, and composer María Grand has expanded the quintet featured on her EP TetraWind, released earlier this year, and brought both dance and rap into the fold for Embracements. We caught up with her by phone to discuss the upcoming premiere and the creative inspirations in this latest work:

The Jazz Gallery: When The Jazz Gallery reached out to you about writing a commission, where did you start with the process?

María Grand: I actually had the idea of doing a project with a rapper before I heard about the Gallery commission. When Rio [Sakairi] told me I had the commission, it seemed like I could finally get a larger ensemble together, budget-wise, and I was interested in creating some kind of chamber work that also was working with a rapper.

That was my beginning idea, but I also had this idea about learning about what the feminine side of God means for different cultures and using that to create music, and also using that to create lyrics, which was all connected to the rapper. So I kind of had the whole project in my mind, and I was waiting for somebody to give the money for me to do it, so it all came at the right time.

TJG: Had you worked with the rapper Amani Fela previously?

MG: I met him at the Marc Cary Harlem session, and I had never worked with a rapper. What I liked about him was that he was interested in music as a whole: I remember showing him a drumbeat that was maybe in 5 or something, and he said, “Oh, cool—I know what this is.” It wasn’t like musical information was going to be an issue for him; it wasn’t like he was going to be intimidated by any kind of musical information I wrote for him, because he plays drums, too, and he plays some piano, so I felt that he would be flexible.

I should tell you the whole story of how I wrote the music: I went to Cuba and did a three-week sabbatical there, and I took five books with me that were all about different goddesses: Ancient Mirrors of Womanhood, by Merlin Stone; The Goddesses’ Mirror, by David R. Kinsley; Images of Women in Antiquity, by Averil Cameron and Amélie Kuhrt; Women’s Roles in Ancient Civilization, by Bella Vivante; and Promiscuities, by Naomi Wolf.

I was trying to find parallels between goddesses and also the stories and the legends, and my experience or in general the female experience in this culture that I’m living in. So this is what I thought of when I was writing the music, and each song is  dedicated to a certain goddess or dedicated to characters that represented something similar in my mind. They may not be from the same culture, but they represent a certain aspect of life that was similar.

So I read all these books and then I wrote the music, and then when it came time to write for Imani, I had already written the music. What I did was, I learned the music that I had written by heart and then wrote these poems that were related to whatever symbolical or allegorical energy I was working with when I wrote the music. I used that to create a poem, and then I rapped the text over the music, but made it fit in specific ways. It was super specific, and once I was happy with that, I recorded it and I sent that to Imani. So it was basically like I was sending him a chart.


Photo by Peter Gannushkin.

Peter Evans is a trumpeter, bandleader, and composer navigating the nebulous worlds of jazz and other contemporary experimental musics with aplomb. In his latest venture, a new trio of trumpet, drums and vibraphone play a limitless series of new pieces. This trio will perform at The Jazz Gallery on June 1st; Peter will also perform a solo set that evening. We caught up with him via email to talk about politics, composition, and everything in between.

The Jazz Gallery: You’re opening this concert with a solo set, with trio following. How do you feel those formats interact with each other? Do they change your approach to playing?

Peter Evans: ​The ensemble and solo playing has been converging a lot more in the last year or so. It’s something I never really expected, but maybe it was inevitable. In my solo music I have been searching for ways to create coherent and interesting structures that can shape the music—structures that are clearly audible as structures but at the same time are flexible and malleable in the moment if need be. There are a bunch of different ways to achieve this, and some paths I have taken from my work as a composer for improvising ensembles: for instance, a 12 tone mode that repeats at the 2-octave point. This is a field of harmony and melody that fixes each pitch in space, allowing me to work with set materials in a very detailed and sometimes very fast way without having to juggle what note goes where. Strict modal improvisation, in short—nothing new about that! But it’s a development for me in the solo music that comes out of my writing for one of my bands (the piece “Intergalactic“).
Conversely, there are ways of developing and organizing material that grew directly out of my solo playing—for instance, juggling 2 or 3 small chunks of music (I think of them as characters or spirits)​ and bouncing them off one another, developing each character in isolation and in dialogue with the others. 

TJG: Do you prefer to play solo, or within a group?

PE: ​I don’t really think in terms of preference. I just try to answer the musical situation as naturally as I can and let things happen. The best feeling during a solo concert is when I feel like I’m just tending the fire, keeping it going and observing, almost as if I’m an audience member.​ It’s all a very strange process that I don’t actually understand. That feeling of participation somewhere between active and passive is much easier to achieve when you have other people to bounce off of.

TJG: You’re premiering some new compositions for this trio with Max Jaffe and Joel Ross—can you talk about what direction you feel they’ve taken, or what you were interested in while composing them?

PE: The pieces are still in the works.  I change them a little after each rehearsal. It’s a purposefully tricky instrumentation, but I’m into the challenge.  In addition to being virtuosos, both Max and Joel are extremely flexible and great listeners.  The vibe of the trio so far seems to be that there aren’t really any limits and that we can explore whatever we want, which feels great! I already have some other gigs booked for this group for the rest of the year. I can’t really predict what’s going to happen but I’m very optimistic.


Photo courtesy of the artist.

Camila Meza is a singer, guitar player, and composer from Santiago, Chile, based in Brooklyn, NY. Not long ago she released her album Traces (Sunnyside, 2016), which features Shai Maestro on piano and keys, Matt Penman on bass, and Kendrick Scott on drums. Her upcoming project, Ambar, with the Nectar Orchestra, is getting ready to record next month and wrapping up a kickstarter campaign (check it out: The group includes Camila Meza (voice, guitar), Noam Wiesenberg (bass, string arrangements), Eden Ladin (keys), Keita Ogawa (percussion), and a string quartet with Tomoko Omura (violin), Fung Chern Hwei (violin), Benjamin von Gutzeit (viola), and Adam Fisher (cello). They will have their last performance before heading to the studio at The Jazz Gallery on May 30.

We had a nice long chat in Camila’s Prospect-Lefferts Gardens neighborhood coffee shop, where every few minutes someone stopped by to give her a hug and tell the camera what a great person she is. You can find out more about the Nectar Orchestra in this JG original video, and read on further below to learn about Camila’s family, early music experiences, and compositional process.


Photo courtesy of the artist.

As an African-American, vibraphonist Joel Ross has come of age in a complicated and tumultuous time. He has witnessed the election of the first black president, as well as countless instances of racially-motivated police violence and the activism of the Black Lives Matter movement. This weekend at The Jazz Gallery, Ross distills his varied experiences into a musical form through his new project, “Being A Young Black Man,” commissioned by the Gallery.

Over the course of two different sets of music, Ross and his bandmates will explore the conflicting emotions of his life experience—beauty, pain, passion, fear, renewal. We caught up with Ross by phone to hear about his project’s scope and inspirations, both personal and political.

The Jazz Gallery: The title of your work is “Being a Young Black Man.” What are you trying to express about your life experience and why do you think music is the best way to do it?

Joel Ross: What I’m trying to express is literally how I feel and how I respond to instances in my life or situations that I’ve witnessed. If something powerful or difficult happened to me, or if I saw something like that, I would write down what I was feeling or thinking in a musical way. It comes out in the form of this music because I’ve been playing for so long, it’s just my natural response.

TJG: In addition to the musical elements, you’re working with texts and the spoken word artist Harold Green. How does the text relate to and interact with the music in your piece?

JR: Harold is someone I know from Chicago. The text is a collaboration. For certain pieces, I’m telling Harold what the music is about and how I feel about the situation I’m trying to describe and leave it to him to express that in his own words. I don’t want him to read off anything—it’s improvised. The music is telling the story and the words are just some extra guidelines.

TJG: Are the texts between the different pieces? Are you accompanying the spoken word elements with music?

JR: It’s more that the text is accompanying the music. The music will be at the forefront, and at different specific points in the music, Harold will have space to talk. I didn’t want to be background music for the text, because the music came first.

TJG: It’s as if the spoken text is another instrument, a part of the overall musical fabric.

JR: Yeah.

TJG: How have you structured the pieces for each set? Is there a single narrative through-line? How do different sections work together?

JR: I envision it as a story, almost. The two sets of music are completely different. The first set is based on a theme of family, and the second set focuses more on my faith and my religion. The sets are made up of tunes, many of which were written at different times. Some of these pieces have been around for a while now. I wrote the first piece about four years ago and never performed it because I never found the right time for it. It’s a collection of tunes about what I feel as being a black man and now I have the chance to bring them all together.