While bassist Linda Oh has been a longtime regular at The Jazz Gallery, her recent musical pursuits have brought her farther afield. She’s recently been touring with drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, and next month will begin touring with guitarist Pat Metheny, the latest in a line of illustrious bassists (including Jaco Pastorius, Charlie Haden, Dave Holland, and Larry Grenadier) to go toe-to-toe with the great guitarist.
Last month, Oh went into the studio with a quartet of longtime collaborators including saxophonist Ben Wendel to record her next record. This Thursday, Oh will bring a similar quartet to The Jazz Gallery to perform some of this new music, as well as material from her previous record, Sun Pictures. We caught up with Linda this past week to talk about her preparations for the Metheny tour and the new musical areas she is exploring on her upcoming record.
The Jazz Gallery: You’ve started playing in a new group with Pat Metheny. What’s exciting and challenging about playing with this group?
Linda Oh: We haven’t played a gig yet, but we’ve done two rehearsals. I’ve played a little bit with Pat and a little bit with Antonio Sanchez. The pianist is based in the UK, so a few weeks ago was the first time we played as a group, and yeah, it’s an invigorating experience to be playing with musicians of a higher level, also musicians who I have been listening to like Pat and Antonio. We haven’t played actually in any setting besides this, so that’s always an invigorating challenge to be put in a setting with any new musician. But honestly I do that quite often anyway. It’s great to be playing this music, some of the repertoire I’ve been listening to for a long, long time on some older records of Pat’s, but it’s definitely exciting for me to be playing with those musicians.
TJG: You mentioned that you play with a lot of different musicians and group configurations. What do you think drives you to create all the different musical groups that you’ve been a part of as a leader?
LO: There are lots of things that inspire me—there are the individual musicians themselves who I want to play with, so if I want to play with them and I want to hear them in a specific setting, then leading a band is a great way to be able to have that opportunity. And the other thing is just working on my own music and writing style, as it sits with these individual voices and musicians. And also in improving my own compositional style, it’s also a good challenge to experiment with different instrumentations, different individuals and their different strengths and weaknesses and capabilities.
TJG: One musician that you’ve been developing a musical relationship with for a few years now is Ben Wendel, who you’ll be playing with at the Jazz Gallery. I was wondering if you could share how you guys started playing together, and what your musical relationship has been like and how it’s grown over the past years since you’ve been playing.
LO: I guess one of the first times that I played with Ben was at a session and I can’t remember which session it was, but we’ve done many sessions over the years with various groups, just playing for fun in Brooklyn, up in Harlem. Plus Ben is on my third record Sun Pictures. We’ve also played in Justin Brown’s group once together, we’ve played with the La Boeuf brothers, other groups like that. There’s a group called Lage, which I believe debuted at The Jazz Gallery, which was kind of a collective thing with me, Ben, Julian, Aaron Parks, and Rodney Green. Ben’s an incredible musician and reader, and he’s a leader in many ways when he plays, and it’s really refreshing to play with him in different settings, and obviously I’ve heard him a lot with the band Kneebody. He’s not only a great saxophonist, but he’s also a great producer. He has a very organized mentality, he’s very good at getting things done, and he’s a very proactive person in general. It’s very inspiring to be around.
TJG: For this group that you’re going to be playing with at The Jazz Gallery, what is some of the music that we can expect to hear?
LO: A few tunes will be off of my last album, Sun Pictures, but most of them will actually be off of something that we recorded just about a month ago, with Ben Wendel, Matt Stevens and Justin Brown. So that hopefully will be coming out later on, maybe early next year, so that will be most of the tunes. They’re all relatively new. You’ll just have to come listen to it—I’ve got a lot of different influences, a lot of different things I’ve been checking out. One of the tunes for example has several titles, originally written and recorded under the name “Mantis” with a collaborative group at the Gwangju World Music Festival consisting of various musicians from Korea, Japan and Australia, namely Simon Barker, a fantastic drummer who inspired me to explore some of these rhythms.
The newer tunes were recently recorded with the same lineup (but with Justin Brown on drums). This includes the one mentioned above, as well as Fire Dancer—a short angular theme based upon the movements of a Brazilian fire dancer from recorded street footage from a film I was working on. Although some of the material has set structures for improvisation, a lot of this newer material has a lot more room for collective improvisation, probably more so than my other quartet writing.
TJG: Is there a general theme with that music, or does the album that’s going to be coming out have an underlying theme or idea that goes along with the music?
LO: No, not really, we’ve played a lot over the last few years since the release of Sun Pictures, and each gig I’ve been adding more and more tunes, and some of them are results of some of the tours that we’ve done, and just adding more repertoire. And then recording it and also writing some other tunes as well.
TJG: What are your thoughts on what it’s like to be a woman in the jazz community right now, and if you think there is any tension or discrepancies as to how women are treated?
LO: That’s a very broad question. I mean there will always be discrimination… I play with a lot of strong female musicians, and a couple of months ago I did a couple of gigs in France and Luxembourg with a great band—Renée Rosnes, Anat Cohen, Ingrid Jensen, Melissa Aldana, Cécile McLorin Salvant, Terri Lyne Carrington—and I feel like it’s becoming more and more the norm that there are very talented female musicians. And you know, I think there’s always the preconception that when people think of jazz musicians, they think of males for the most part, especially instrumentalists, but there’s just more and more talent being nurtured, I think at a younger age too, which is great. I also teach at a jazz camp through the New Jersey Performing Arts Center with Geri Allen, which helps to nurture female talent.
There are lots of issues and discrimination in jazz I think, a lot of it stems from issues towards females, or preconceptions, there’s a lot I can go into there. At the age that I’m at now, I think of myself as more of a role model than I ever have before. Previously it’s never really been an issue I’ve wanted to discuss, because I’d prefer to talk about my music and my playing and my band.
I used to get that question a lot: what’s it like to be female in jazz? But I don’t know what it’s like to be male in jazz, you know? But at this age I feel as I’ve become more of an educator, I’ve been teaching a lot more, and I just finished a residency in St Louis, I’m a bit more aware of these things, like when I watch the gender dynamics within combos in school settings. I think I’d like to consider myself more of a role model, and there’s a lot of talent, and there’s just preconceptions and weird attitudes towards younger female musicians, and there’s also an attitude towards when there’s more affirmative action being taken—for example when people want to include more females in jazz, sometimes there’s a negative reaction from males as well, this notion that we kind of have a leg up or something, so there are lots of little things that play into why there aren’t as many females in jazz. Some of it has to do with macho attitudes, some of it has to do with actual harassment you know, and that can be in school settings as well, people taking advantage, there have been lots of reasons. But at this point I think about these things a lot more as a teacher, and I’d like to see a lot of that stuff overcome.
TJG: Would you say that teaching that has informed the other parts of your musical experiences as well? Do you think all of that has given you a more well rounded view of what’s going on, or has it inspire you to write or play differently? How has it informed you as a musician?
LO: I feel like teaching informs all the other parts of being a musician and being a person, trying to articulate all of the different things that I do musically. I love teaching, I think it’s a very rewarding thing, especially when you’re teaching people who are really into it and passionate and willing to learn. It can be really challenging trying to articulate yourself clearly, and also catering to the individual, because there is no cookie cutter method to teaching. Everybody’s different, everybody wants different things, everyone’s got different strengths and weaknesses, and it’s really helped me in many ways in the bigger picture sense because I really get to affect a lot on what I do, who I am as a musician, who I am as a person. I also get to kind of step outside and kind of assess who this individual is at this point in time, where they want to be, and what I can do to the best of my ability to help them get where they want to be.
I think mentorship is such a vital thing within this music, and it’s not an easy skill to just decide that you want to go into for a career, so I think teachers are incredibly important, and the well being for these students and also for the interest of the music itself.
The Linda Oh Quartet plays The Jazz Gallery on Thursday, April 28th, 2016. The group features Ms. Oh on bass, Ben Wendel on saxophones, Matthew Stevens on guitar, and Dan Weiss on drums. Sets are at 7:30 and 9:30 P.M. $22 general admission ($12 for members) for each set. Purchase tickets here.