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A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Posts from the Interviews Category

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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Photo by Cornel Brad, courtesy of the artists.

One of the pleasures of speaking with musicians is that you can discover the connection between their speaking voices and their musical voices. This phenomenon emerged during a recent phone conversation with Lucian Ban and Alex Harding, after listening to their latest album, Dark Blue (Sunnyside). Harding, baritone saxophonist and Detroit native, speaks with deep, punctuated bursts of ideas and phrases. Lucian Ban, pianist from Transylvania, communicates with a flowing string of sentences and stories. The music they create together sounds much like their friendship itself.

Harding and Ban have been collaborating for nearly twenty years, releasing albums and touring along the way, often featuring other artists including Bob Stewart, JD Allen, and Sam Newsome. Both are deeply influenced by jazz, blues, and chamber music traditions, and their music deftly blurs the divide between improvisation and composition, a topic that became the center of our recent phone conversation.

The Jazz Gallery: I’d love to hear a little about how your collaboration started. You released your first album together in 2001, so you must now have been collaborating for almost twenty years.

Lucian Ban: Exactly, the new album is, in some ways, a celebration of us working together.

Alex Harding: Isn’t that interesting? We didn’t work it out that way, it just seems to be the way it happened.

TJG: Take me back two decades and talk a little about how you met, and what musically spoke to you about each other.

LB: Sure. I first saw Alex in 1996 when I visited New York. I went to hear The Sun Ra Arkestra, and it was so impressive, the musicians were coming out from the kitchen, from the hallway, Alex was playing baritone, it was fascinating, man. I always liked Sun Ra, but seeing them live was a new experience. I moved to New York to study at New School, and one of my roommates at the time said, “We gotta go listen to this amazing baritone player on the lower east side at a place called Pink Pony,” a venue that isn’t there anymore. I went there and heard the trio which featured Alex, which sounded killing. After the show, I talked to Alex, who was gracious enough to say “Yeah, let’s do something together.” We did a quintet gig, and then my first album in the US was a duet with Alex, called Somethin’ Holy (Cimp 2001). We’ve always had both musical and personal affinity for each other. Alex Harding was and is, in a way, my biggest connection to this music once I moved to New York. I value our collaboration deeply.

TJG: Alex, do you remember your first impression of Lucian?

AH: Yeah I do. I don’t remember meeting him at the Sun Ra gig, because as he said, we were playing and walking through the kitchen and the hallways. I remember meeting him at Pink Pony. I remember it fondly. Lucian’s enthusiasm, his desire to play with good cats… I did what I was taught to do: I passed it on, I helped out where I could. That’s what I did, and twenty years later, here we are.

TJG: On your records, you really sound like friends throughout the music. You’re there for each other, you’re respectful, you push each other a bit.

AH: Like an old married couple [laughs]!

LB: [Laughs] Like a successful marriage, let’s put it that way.

TJG: So what’s your friendship like when you’re not on tour? Do you talk, do you hang out?

AH: Yeah, absolutely. When I lived in New York, we’d go out, have meals, hang out. Always a good time, always fun, always good energy.

LB: Alex and I have toured Europe a lot, and we had a chance to get to Romania. He met my folks, you know. This is a very strong connection between us, Alex is one of my great friends.

AH: Absolutely, I feel the same.

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From L to R: Gerald Cleaver, Dan Rieser, Jonathan Goldberger, Curtis Hasselbring, Chris Cheek, Chris Lightcap, Tony Malaby, and Craig Taborn. Photo courtesy of the artist.

For a working musician in New York, it’s common to play in multiple ensembles. It’s not too uncommon to be a bandleader for two or more groups. It’s rare, however, when a bandleader decides to take two freestanding bands and create a new project combining every member of both groups. That’s exactly what Chris Lightcap has done with SuperBigmouth, a combination of his longstanding groups Bigmouth and Superette. The mega-band features all eight members of the two bands, including keyboardist Craig Taborn, tenor saxophonists Tony Malaby and Chris Cheek, guitarists Jonathan Goldberger and Curtis Hasselbring, and drummers Gerald Cleaver and Dan Rieser. The full lineup will hit the stage at The Jazz Gallery on October 3rd to celebrate the release of their upcoming album. We spoke with Lightcap on the phone about the logistics of leading a larger project, the musical opportunities afforded by overlapping instrumentation, and perhaps most importantly, all the details on his adorable new puppy.

The Jazz Gallery: How have you been? Is now a good time to chat?

Chris Lightcap: Yep, now is cool, let me just check something… We just got a puppy, so I just want to see if she’s doing okay [laughs]. Everything looks good.

TJG: Aw! What kind of puppy?

CL: They’re calling them Bernedoodles: She’s a Bernese Mountain Dog mixed with a Miniature Poodle. So, a mini Bernedoodle.

TJG: Wow. How’d you decide on that breed?

CL: There’s one in our building already. We met this dog, and he’s completely amazing. We got in touch with the same breeder that they used. We wanted to get a rescue dog, but any time you find a poodle mix at a shelter, it’s usually been spoken for–my wife’s allergic to dogs, so we needed some kind of poodle mix. We decided to bite the bullet and go for this breeder. Amazingly, two weeks later, our neighbors from across the street showed up with a puppy from the exact same litter: Our puppy’s sister. Our neighbors got the same idea when they met the other Bernedoodle in our building. So, our puppy has her sister living across the street from us, and her half-brother living downstairs.

TJG: You’ve got a whole block full of Bernedoodles.

CL: Yeah, it’s all Bernedoodles all the time now [laughs].

TJG: It’s not so common for a touring musician to get a pet.

CL: It was a stretch, for sure. But she seems to be pretty easy, as far as puppies go. We have a million great dog walkers in the neighborhood, and it’s a very dog-friendly neighborhood. I know several musicians around who have dogs, and they’ve given me a lot of great advice about how to tour when you have a dog, what to do when you get out of town, different boarding options. My wife and I have two older kids now, 10 and 14, who get themselves home from school and help out. It’s not as overwhelming as it might seem.

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