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A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Posts from the Interviews Category

Photos courtesy of the artists.

New projects, fresh ideas, and “first times” always have their challenges. For Harish Raghavan and Savannah Harris, their ongoing mentorship series has layers of newness. For their first show together at The Jazz Gallery, Raghavan mentioned that “not only was it my first time playing with Savannah, it was my first time with Morgan Guerin, my first time with Maria Grand, and my first time playing my own music with John Escreet, and Eden Ladin soon. Everything was new. There were no expectations. I don’t know what’s gonna happen next: That’s exciting.”

For background on the musicians and the mentorship series, we did a short piece introducing the mentorship here. Speaking on the phone with both Harris and Raghavan, we caught up after their Jazz Gallery show, and will chat with both of them once more at the end of their project.

The Jazz Gallery: Harish, was Savannah on your radar before you got paired together at The Jazz Gallery?

Harish Raghavan: Without a doubt. I met Savannah when she first moved to New York a few years ago. She grew up with some of my friends that I play with a lot, Ambrose Akinmusire and Justin Brown. They watched her grow up in Oakland, they’ve known her for a long time, so we had some familiarity. But I hadn’t heard her play until recently. I heard her with Aaron Parks, and she sounded great. Playing with her felt the same. Very talented.

TJG: Savannah, what were your first impressions of the gig at the Gallery?

Savannah Harris: It went well! I was definitely nervous, which was interesting for me. I always feel like I want to do well, but, I was nervous! The first set was cool. We were coming together and gelling. The second set was very powerful. It was tight. People we love came out and supported, it created a really nice environment.

TJG: Did your nerves change throughout the night?

SH: No! [Laughs] I can’t really say why. It wasn’t a fear of not being able to execute, though. For Harish, the execution of the music is really just at the base level for him. There’s a lot more to get into beyond just being able to play it. I was trying to get there. I had fear about getting there, and whether it would hit. It did hit, so I was very pleased after it was all said and done, and I think he did too.

TJG: What do you mean when you say that for Harish, there’s so much more than getting it right?

SH: Yesterday, we talked on the phone and had a little debrief, and shared a sense of what to do going forward. Harish said that the intention behind his music is that we are free of our traditional roles. Rather than “rhythm section being there to anchor, support, and accompany,” we actually are there as equivalent soloists. It makes the job of the rhythm section more complicated. In addition to being able to shape the music, support and accompany, you have to be so comfortable doing that that you’re able to engage as a soloist throughout the whole show. It takes it to the next level.

TJG: Harish, were catalyzing moments in your career where you started to push against the “traditional role” of the bassist?

HR: Never any particular moments, more like particular musicians. As bass players, we love the instrument, the pedagogy, the history, we love listening to everyone from Walter Page to Daryl Johns and everyone in between, you know. We’re always checking out what’s happening with the instrument. You start to understand the roles based on the history of the instrument and how different bass players were able to open up serious ideas of roles. We do have to understand what the significance of this instrument is, but it’s less about roles because often times, roles are bound by rules, and then things can become contrived. To be in the moment, you need to find the right kind of people, where understanding the foundation, history, and the role of their instruments is all secondary.

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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.

Julius Rodriguez engages his music from different points of view. Pianist, drummer, composer and budding producer, Rodriguez has worked with an eclectic mix of artists, from Wynton Marsalis to Brasstracks to his own expanding collective that includes such artists as Morgan Guerin, Daryl Johns and Maya Carney. 

At 21, the artist and habitual collaborator has gone through some very adult changes in his personal and professional development, and he continues to evolve his music and his conception of sound. He spoke with The Gallery about how one instrument can inform others, his vision for the future of the music and which of today’s artists and producers are keeping him inspired in and out of the studio 

The Jazz Gallery: Happy birthday, by the way. 

Julius Rodriguez: Thank you. 

TJG: For someone without all these years of experience, you seem have quite a sophisticated way of playing with and alongside singers. 

JR: I love playing with singers. 

TJG: Obviously the singers who collaborate with you are equally sophisticated in their expressions and their artistries—I might mention Jazzmeia Horn, Voilet Skies, Abir. What have you discovered about your own playing from spending so much time collaborating with these great singers?

JR: Generally, I like accompanying. I feel like some of my better ideas come when I’m accompanying because I’m thinking more about the big picture than my own solo or my own thing. That’s probably one of the biggest [reasons] why I love playing with singers. I also just love learning about the relationship between melody and harmony. As a pianist, you learn more about that learning your instrument. 

I love the way singers are able to express melodies because the voice is different from the piano. The piano is note by note; with the voice, you can do different things with tone and quality and articulations. Being that I love hearing that so much, I’m always trying to find ways to accentuate that and play around it — make it sound good. 

I’ve spent a lot of time listening to Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan. I’ve spent a great deal of time listening to Amy Winehouse—she’s one of my big favorites. Johny Hartman, as well. 

TJG: Do you see a thread of similarities in what attracts you to each of these singers, or do like them all for something that’s unique to each of them? 

JR: Well, I talk about Amy—she’s really one of my biggest musical influences. She obviously took a lot from listening to Billie Holiday, listening to Sarah, listening to Ella. But she grew up in the age that she did, so she has this sort of modern twist on it, which I think is a perfect example of what I think musicians today should be doing with our art: to have a deep sense of the history but also realize that we’re in 2019. Music has evolved; you should, with it. 

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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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