“I’m literally working on it right now,” Chris Tordini says of the music for his upcoming show at the Gallery. “I haven’t been super busy with other things the past couple of weeks, so I have a lot of time I can dedicate.”
This much free time doesn’t come often for Tordini, who has spent the last decade building a reputation as one of the busiest—and most flexible—bassists in New York (look to our previous feature, Six Degrees of Chris Tordini, for more on his sterling resume). He steps out infrequently as a leader, so Tuesday’s concert is a rare showcase for a talent who spends most of his nights in the back of the bandstand. We caught up with Tordini by phone to talk about the show and the new music he’ll be premiering.
The Jazz Gallery: What can we expect from the show? Are there any projects you’re involved in that your original music is particularly connected to?
Chris Tordini: I’m not sure if I would compare it to any of the projects that I’m involved in, but I play a lot with each of the members of the band in different contexts, and what I know of their musical personalities has definitely influenced my writing for the show. So yeah, I don’t know what viewers should expect other than hopefully my music putting the rest of the band in positions to sound their best.
TJG: So you wrote the music for these particular players?
CT: I did. I’ve been trying really hard to write as much new music as I can. I’m kind of slow when I compose, so all the new music that I’ve written for this show is written with the members of the band in mind, but there are going to be probably some older things that I didn’t necessarily write for them just because I didn’t have enough time to write more music.
TJG: How did you put together this band?
CT: Jeremy Viner, the tenor sax and clarinet player, we went to college together at the New School, and we’ve been playing together for over ten years now. I always think of him when I’m putting a band together because I love his sound on tenor and clarinet, and he can play anything anyone puts in front of him with ease. He’s a very quick study and a great improviser too.
Kris Davis and I have been playing for almost as long as me and Jeremy. We met playing sessions and being hired to play in other people’s bands together. We’ve always had a very strong connection musically. We’ve done entire gigs together just straight up improvising.
Bobby Avey is going to play keyboards; I’ve played his music a bunch. He’s never played my music before, but I really wanted to get him in there. Usually, in the past I’ve written for piano and guitar, but the guitar player that I usually hire doesn’t live in New York anymore, and even though there’s a million amazing guitar players that I know, I decided to try it out and see how it would sound with keyboard taking the place of the guitar sounds, and I thought of Bobby.
And then Dan Weiss and I have played in a bunch of different bands together for the past six years or so. He’s one of my favorite drummers on the planet. He’s incredibly creative and it’s super fun just to play time with him.
TJG: As a bassist-composer-leader, how do you treat the bass within the context of your compositions?
CT: I think I used to approach it—I would not really think about the role of the bass too much as I was composing. But for the stuff I’ve been writing for this show, some of the ideas started with ideas that I came across when I was just practicing. They came from the bass in a way I’ve never really written before. I’ve been trying to give myself more ambitious parts, technically, to put the responsibility of the pieces on myself while playing them.
TJG: Do you find yourself playing differently on your own music as opposed to your sideman work?
CT: I find myself playing differently when I’m playing my own music. More often than not, I’m distracted when I’m playing my own music because I’m trying to listen to everyone else and see if the parts are going together as they should. I feel like there’s more responsibility on me as a leader to make sure everyone’s comfortable and in the same headspace. I can be kind of distracted as a bandleader and I might not be able to let myself go as much as I can in other settings. It’s a difficult thing I’m trying to work on since I lead bands so rarely. I feel like experienced bandleaders can avoid that trap.
TJG: Are there leaders that have been particularly influential on your bandleading?
CT: John Hollenbeck. I’ve played in his band for the past several years, on and off. His approach to composition and his dedication to his music is very inspiring. Also, Tigran Hamasyan, who I got to play with a little bit a couple years ago. I did some touring with him and was similarly inspired by his dedication and sort of his attention toward his music, how clear he was and how uncompromising he was. I play with singer-songwriter Becca Stevens; she’s always very inspiring, how strong her music is.
TJG: How much free reign do you give your band when interpreting your compositions?
CT: I try to compose for the people in my band. I try to make it so they can be very free and interpret in their own way. I try to have a balance of things that I’ve written that I really want to come out a certain way. I try to balance that with sections that are very open and they can interpret it however they want. That’s kind of the struggle. I want people to feel like they can do anything, but there are certain sections that I write that I want to sound a certain way.
Chris Tordini leads a quintet at The Jazz Gallery on Tuesday, August 11th, 2015. The group features Mr. Tordini on bass, Jeremy Viner on saxophone & clarinet, Kris Davis on piano, Bobby Avey on keyboards, and Dan Weiss on drums. Sets are at 8 and 10 p.m. $15 general admission ($10 for members) for the first set, $10 general admission ($8 for members) for the second. Free with SummerPass. Purchase tickets here.