Posts from the Interviews Category

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For someone who plays such a small instrument, Gregoire Maret makes music that covers a vast territory. It ranges from groove-based to polyrhythmic to vocal-centric, and what drives the harmonica player and prolific composer to create a body of work characteristically ungoverned by genre, comes down to feeling. “It all starts with the heartbeat,” he says.

“When you talk about the pulse and the drumbeat, you talk about the heartbeat. Then when you start talking about any other instrument, it’s basically a voice. I get back to those really, really essential elements [when I’m composing], and then I’ll go with what feels really true and honest to me.”

As a young musician growing up in Switzerland, Maret surrounded himself with as much live and recorded music as he could, eventually earning acceptance to the Conservatoire Supérieur de Musique de Genève. After graduating, he traveled to New York to study at the New School, where he began spending quite a bit of his free time with pianist and keyboardist Federico González Peña, who introduced him to the music of composers like Ivan Lins and Milton Nascimento. Through these sessions, Maret found himself instantly attracted to what he considers a music that satisfies the duality of his artistic expression.

“I’ve always been attracted to music that felt both simple and sophisticated at the same time. So, with a seemingly quite simple melody, you can have, underneath, a lot of complexity and a lot of elements that can feed the soul. A great example of that is Brazilian music; it’s a huge influence for the way I write music—Brazilian music and Brazilian composers, because I think they mix that really, really well. They sing incredibly simple melodies and, underneath it, if you really listen to the chords and the harmony, it’s quite sophisticated. And then, with a groove that is so beautiful—I don’t have the words to express it. It’s so embracing. Everybody wants to dance. That’s the thing about Brazilian music that really influenced me a lot is the fact that it’s so embracing—it’s so welcoming. You go in a stadium and everybody’s singing the melody—and it doesn’t matter if nobody can sing! It’s just this whole community in which we all embrace each other and are here together. It’s a beautiful thing.”

After he began spending time in Brazil, playing, Maret fell even more deeply in love with the music. He studied baião and other rhythms of the north and visited coffee houses and bars in Rio, retracing the hang culture of Jobim and other architects of bossa nova. Touched by the inclusive nature of Brazil’s musical tradition, Maret draws certain parallels between its cross section of cultural influences and that of American music—remaining inspired by both.

“When you talk about Brazilian music, you have different cultures that mix, from the Indians to the Black slaves to the Europeans—it’s all mixed, and it created what we know now as Brazilian music, which is an amazing art form. And then here in the U.S., it’s completely different but it’s also those mixes that created, really, what is the American music art form. And when you talk about jazz, you talk about R&B, you talk about anything—it’s really those mixes that made it so special.” (more…)

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Listeners would be hard pressed to find a sound that hasn’t already reverberated in Morgan Guerin’s mind’s ear. The saxophonist, composer and multi-instrumentalist from New Orleans has a habit of transforming the flap of a pigeon’s wing or the departure of a C train into seeds for songs.

After releasing two records as a leader—and working with such distinct voices as Nicholas Payton, Esperanza Spalding, Terri Lyne Carrington and Ellis Marsalis— Guerin has developed a sort of mantra: “Everything in life can be placed in a musical context.”

“I like the idea of having sounds more so than specific instruments,” he says. “I’m always down to create a sound. That’s why I’m so into analogue synthesizers and inanimate objects that create a sound that I can take back to my studio and completely alter, whether it’s [using] outboard effects or reamping.”

Using his own microKORG or the Prophet 6 he regularly borrows from a friend, Guerin busies himself manipulating soundwaves, seeking first to find something that he hasn’t heard before. And while he turns inward now and then when writing new music, his greatest source of inspiration for composing tends to be the sounds themselves.

“Some stuff comes from emotions, but some stuff comes strictly from having no emotions and letting whatever sound I’m messing with just take the wheel. There are some cases where I’d just be so deep in a vibe. A lot of people would be like, ‘I wrote this thinking about this or feeling this or this,’ and sometimes it can happen that way for me, sometimes it can’t. Most of the time, it can’t. I’m such an in-the-moment person and I can’t be like, ‘Oh this emotion that I felt last month inspired me to write this.’”

One exercise that does help Guerin bring emotional depth to his compositions in a deliberate way is the practice of lyric writing, a relatively new endeavor for him.

“Once I can strengthen that trait, maybe I can start tying emotions to my songs. I’m not saying emotions don’t exist in the songs that don’t have lyrics, but maybe I would write something with emotions in mind.”

As is the story with many artists, inspiration strikes Guerin without warning. Because he hears music in the context of his daily routines, he finds a multitude of ways to transform what he’s hearing into a composition.

“I could be walking down the street and I’ll hear something and record it on my phone and then come back to it later on the piano. I write a lot of songs on bass first, and I think I write the least amount of songs on saxophone. [The bass] is the most recent instrument I’ve dug into. And as I’m getting to know the instrument, all these ideas are coming—ideas that I wouldn’t have had, had I been writing on my sax or on the piano. So it’s kind of like, I’m figuring out the instrument in writing songs. It’s just fun to explore the instrument and write songs within the process of exploring the instrument, which goes back to [being] in the moment.” (more…)

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This Friday, March 16, The Jazz Gallery welcomes guitarist Miles Okazaki and his Trickster project back to our stage for two sets. The project began as a book of tunes premiered and honed at the Gallery in 2016, and came out on record last year to much acclaim, appearing on several “Best of” lists. Before Trickster’s return to the Gallery this week, we caught up with Okazaki to talk about how the music has continued to develop over time, and the notion of ideas versus information in a piece of art.

TJG: You first presented this music a little over two years ago. Has anything about it changed in that time?

Miles Okazaki: Well, everything changes, because people change, and they forget some things. And I forget things, or I change them, and things become less interesting. But that’s part of what this record was about. Not worrying about what you forget. I didn’t use any sheet music, for example. I’ll just play whatever I remember from what I wrote. And that’s what I’ll do this week, I guess [laughs]. I’ll just do whatever I can remember. I’m trying to remember but I’m not going to go look at the sheet music. Cause this particular set of music is an embodied type of feeling. I want it to be like that, like stories—I remember this story from my childhood, or from my relatives. Something about that has a meaning to me that’s internal.

I deal a lot with sheet music, and a lot of quite structured and determined things, and I’ve done a lot of things like that. My previous records are quite meticulous, and so I’m trying to let go of some of that, you might say. These are just little spaces, so you can just remember what that space feels like and go back into it.

TJG: You make a lot of allusions to mathematical forms—like in The Calender, with the inclusion of ratios of celestial movements—but on the top, the music has this very buoyant and tuneful quality. When you write, do these two things happen at the same time? Do you lead with a snippet of melodic content, or do you first sit down with a concept and develop some kind of systematic way of thinking?

MO: That tune was actually written on an airplane… all it is is just some notes moving, and some rhythms, and then a shape that it goes through. So yeah, you can say mathematical, but I never use that word to describe music. There’s no mathematical operations happening.

I mean, if you’re saying concerned with numbers, and you say that’s mathematical—well, you can say that’s numerical, but I’m not saying, “this multiplied by this, the square root of something.” I’m not doing any of those type of operations. Anything that you want to want talk about with pitches and discrete numbers of things, you can say is mathematical, you can enumerate them. And a calendar, and all these things things that we use—it’s a natural thing for humans to try to make order out of things. And for them to make order out of things, they make things like calendars. Something is repeating, there’s a cycle. It’s something that we a call a year. How long is it? We want to know how many days, why isn’t it this many days, how can we organize it in some kind of a way?

So, yeah, those are structures. But they’re largely metaphors for how we think and put order into things that are disorderly. Like pitches and rhythms—they’re organized. People are always looking for a dialectic, or a binary type of things. There’s something that’s soulful, and something that’s mathematical, and these things are sort of opposed somehow—and I think that’s all bullshit.

That being said, yeah, there are some structures involved and there are some hidden things, but I prefer to let them remain hidden. It’s more about how it feels. I do, personally, get very interested in music theory and stuff like that, but nobody in this particular band cares about what theory is behind it, at all. They just wanna play, so I have to make things playable and easy to memorize.


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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.


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This Saturday, March 10th, The Jazz Gallery is excited to welcome Godwin Louis back to our stage. Louis will be presenting music from his forthcoming album Global, a set of compositions that emerged out of research that he performed in Africa and Latin America on the music exported out of Africa, to the rest of the world via the transatlantic slave trade. This research interest emerged, in part, out of the process of composing music based on the connection between Haiti and New Orleans as part of his 2013-2014 Residency Commission at The Jazz Gallery.

A graduate of the prestigious Thelonious Monk Institute for Jazz Performance under the leadership of Terrence Blanchard, Louis has gone on to become a powerful voice on the alto saxophone, working as a sideman and studying with luminaries such as Herbie Hancock, Clark Terry, Mulatu Astatke, Al Foster, Jack DeJohnette, and David Baker, to name a few.

For his upcoming show at The Jazz Gallery, Godwin will be joined by Adam O’Farrill on trumpet, Joel Ross on vibraphone, Luques Curtis on bass, Markus Schwartz on percussion, Jonathan Barber on Drums, Victor Gould on piano, and Pauline Jean on vocals. In the lead-up to the show, Godwin chatted with us about his research and the music that has grown out of it for his Global project.

On the process of doing research for his upcoming album Global:

I’ve spent the last seven years exploring that and studying and understanding the connection that was brought to Haiti from West Africa. I’ve gone to Africa five times in the last four years. The music on my upcoming album, Global, is based on the music transported out of Africa, to the rest of the world via the transatlantic slave trade.

This process of exploration began thanks to a grant that The Jazz Gallery gave me to pursue my compositional voice. During that period of 2013-2014, I was noticing a lot of connections between Haiti and New Orleans. I was fortunate enough to live in both places, and I couldn’t help but notice the similarities in terms of culture, architecture, even in terms of cuisine, musically, of course. And then historically, I found major connections rooted in the Haitian revolution. In 1790 and 1804, you had a lot of affranchis, free people of color, that fled Haiti to what was then known as French Louisiana. And, of course, they brought their culture and their rhythm. So I was intrigued in that and I began exploring that music, and I presented some of that at the Jazz Gallery in June 2014.

And because of that, I was able to continue to dig even deeper. I went back “across the pond” to Africa to see some of the things that were brought in and how much they’ve changed, and I’ve extended those studies to South America as well.

I began to understand that whenever I see triple meter, that’s something that’s coming from West Africa. So that’s an area that spans from Senegal to Western Nigeria, and back then we would consider that as either Upper or Lower Guinea. In places like Haiti, you hear terms like that, where they’ll say “nég Guinea” meaning, a fella from Guinea. And then also, the other term that you would hear is “nég Kongo” meaning a person from Kongo, meaning a fella from Kongo, which is modern day Cameroon all the way down to Angola. And that’s sort of like “duple meter.” So in West Africa, you have a big triple meter connection, and whenever you see technical things that are in 6/8 or 3/4 , that kind of “Afro” sound that they call it in jazz: “Afro-Cuban”, “Afro-Jazz”….that triple sound is coming from West Africa: Yoruban rhythms, Dahomey, Benin, Togo, Ghana. But whenever we’re dealing with duple meter, which is some of the sounds found in Haiti and New Orleans—you know, Congo Square.

One of the hubs for a lot of the cultures that were transported is Haiti because, in Haiti, there were tribal religions that were preserved. You have rhythms for instance, called Nago, and I found that the Nago rhythm that I always heard in Haiti is actually coming from a tribe in Benin. Nago is pretty a much the Yoruba people in Benin. So if you’re in Nigeria, you’re Yoruban, but if you’re from Benin, you’re Nago. In Haiti, there is a rhythm called Nago, and that’s very similar to what we know today as the swing rhythm. Sort of like when you’re listening to Elvin Jones, that feels to me like a Nago rhythm.

So, the Haitians were able to conserve and preserve some of those rhythms. And also we have Kongo, which is also a rhythm that happens to be a duple meter rhythm, and those roots are coming from Kikongo culture from Central Africa. And then we have rhythms like Yanvalou. All of these rhythms are associated with places in Africa, the names of kings, and so on. So I think because of what the Haitians achieved in gaining independence from slavery, they were able to keep a lot of those rhythms and a lot of those tribal names. Lots of people doing research on the African influence in the United States tend to bypass Haiti, but I really found it to be the hub. The three hubs are Cuba, Haiti, and Brazil in terms of finding that pure connection to Africa. But again, researchers and ethnomusicologists usually go to Cuba and Brazil but don’t know anything about Haiti. So it was interesting for me to connect it all.