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.
TJG: You’ve conceived the new album as a sequel. In what ways does the new album follow up on the previous album?
JD: I deliberately chose to make both albums standards albums, because the purpose is to showcase the beauty of these songs. I thought carefully in choosing each song, and there’s a narrative through-line, where each song has a relevant context to a larger plot to the album. With the new album, I wanted to showcase songs that mean a lot to me, without a lot of improvising. There’s a lot of melodic content, more melody than solos. There are four vocal tracks as well. I wanted to showcase the songs as they were intended, and the two singers have such genuine voices and are focused on the craft of storytelling.
TJG: What does the album’s title, “Remind Me What The Bridge Does Again…” mean, exactly?
JD: Basically, the social context is that at jazz sessions, when musicians step up and try to pick a song together, nobody is comfortable admitting they don’t know a tune. So instead, they’ll say, “I think I know it, just remind me what the bridge does again?” By naming my album that, it’s a humorous, subtle jab at insecurity on the bandstand. That’s a big part of my musical concept in general: I don’t like to take myself too seriously. I’m only twenty-three, with nothing earth-shattering to say. Admitting that is sort of taboo, as someone trying to emerge or come up as an artist. But I really do believe it. For now, I’m grateful and lucky to have what I have. My dad is a musician, I’ve been lucky enough to go to music school, so many amazing things have happened in my life, and I want to express that gratitude through music rather than approach making music with the hope of breaking new ground. It wouldn’t be genuine. The coolest things I have to say are, “Hey, look at how cool and beautiful this is,” which is why I like standards so much.
TJG: Do a lot of the musicians you admire, peers or idols, exhibit those same qualities?
TJG: The musicians I admire have a shamelessness of concept, a sort of “This is what I’m doing and I don’t care what others think about it” kind of attitude. For example, Anthony Pearlman, as well as Nick Dunston and Connor Parks, they all have their thing. They each sound a certain way, and I admire that, just like I admire anyone who has a sound. It’s cliche to say they have “a voice,” but that’s the best way I can say it right now. Trane or Monk, modern equivalents, they all sound like they’re reaching for something. Hearing the artist reach in that way really distinguishes jazz from other genres.
TJG: So alongside standards, you’ll be showcasing compositions by other musicians too?
JD: Yeah, the concert is an opportunity to showcase peers who have had a big impact on me. The title of the show is “Jasper Dütz: Kettle of Melodies.” I’m going to debut seven songs by seven young composers from the jazz community. The only instruction was “Write songs that are songs.” Lullabies, singable things, the qualities I appreciate most about those timeless, beautiful jazz standards. I played at the Gallery with Adam O’Farrill for his commission show, and have been working and playing with him since high school. He has something special to say, and I really look up to him in that regard. So, he composed a piece. Jacob Shulman has been a musical partner of mine for almost ten years, and he’ll be coming from Boston to premiere a composition at the show. Kalia Vandever, Nathan Kamal, the list goes on. I’ve never played at the Gallery as a leader before, and I’m excited to use the stage to express gratitude for the musicians and friends I have in my life. The Jazz Gallery community is like nothing else in the city, and I wanted to share this opportunity with the young composers I admire.
Jasper Dütz “Kettle of Melodies” plays The Jazz Gallery on Thursday, March 15, 2018. The group features Mr. Dütz on woodwinds, Anthony Pearlman on piano, Nick Dunston on bass, Connor Parks on drums, and special guests. Sets are at 7:30 and 9:30 P.M. $15 general admission (FREE for members), $20 reserved cabaret seating ($10 for members) for each set. Purchase tickets here.