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A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Photo by Daniel Reichert, courtesy of the artist.

Jen Shyu—the ever-ambitious, ever-evolving vocalist—has produced and performed several multi-disciplinary solo shows. Her latest one—Zero Grasses—was commissioned by John Zorn and premiered at National Sawdust. It is perhaps her most personal project to date.

Over the course of the show, Shyu will sing in multiple languages, play a variety of instruments, and dance, as well as having composed the music, worked on sound design, and written the libretto. For every ticket sold–aligned with the themes of birth, death, and rebirth–a tree will be planted in the forest of Shyu’s father, in collaboration with WEARTH. We recently spoke at length with Shyu about how the work transformed around the recent passing of her father.

TJG: It’s amazing to think that our last interview was almost exactly two years ago today. At that time, we were discussing Zero Grasses, which seems like it has really transformed. It was a Jade Tongue ensemble project, correct?

Jen Shyu: Yes, exactly. When it was In Healing | Zero Grasses, it was the day before I was going to record with Jade Tongue, the band with Ambrose Akinmusire on trumpet, Mat Maneri on viola, Thomas Morgan on bass, and Dan Weiss on drums. Some of those songs remained in this solo version, but indeed, the show took a big turn, in terms of its themes, in terms of everything.

TJG: When we last talked, the emphasis was on relationships and grief, personal and environmental, and not necessarily focusing on particulars. I was just reading about the recent passing of your father—was that a catalyzing moment for you and for this work?

JS: Yes. I was in Japan in January for what was to be a five-month fellowship, doing research, focusing on the premiere of Zero Grasses, the solo show at National Sawdust commissioned by John Zorn. The fellowship was the U.S.-Japan Creative Artists Fellowship by way of The Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission. Those five months were going to feed directly into the piece. After that, I was immediately going to stop by New York before going to Sienna in Italy where I teach at the jazz workshop. After that, I was going to do a composition residency through the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, which would be where I was going to finally organize this whole solo piece.

I got an email during a Japanese lesson about a month and a half into my time in Japan. It was from the sheriff where my parents lived in Texas: “We are sorry to inform you that your father, Tsu Shyu, has passed away.” I was like… What the hell?! I thought it was a joke, a scam. I couldn’t believe it. I called my mom, in a panic, and it was true. The ambulance had already come, dad had already been pronounced dead. He had passed away during his nap, before dinner. He wasn’t sick: He’d just come back from a trip in Egypt with my mom and was about to go to Greece. It was such a shock. That changed everything.

That night in Japan, before flying back home, I had a biwa lesson. I needed some comfort. My teacher was like a mother figure to me, and when I told her what had happened, that my father he had passed away during his nap, she said “Oh, yes, that’s how I want to go too” [laughs]. It instantly made me feel better.

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Photo by Lindsay Beyerstein, courtesy of the artist.

Darcy James Argue’s 18-piece big band Secret Society graces The Jazz Gallery’s stage once again this Thursday and Friday evening. Amid rich textures and dramatic arcs, the band’s music opens a wider dialogue with political issues both past and present.

Amidst a busy rehearsal schedule after returning from his native Vancouver, we spoke with Argue over the phone about how the current socio-political climate impacts his new and previous works, how the history of the internet impacts the music world, and what we can expect from these special Secret Society performances.

The Jazz Gallery: It’s been a few years since the premiere of your project Real Enemies. How has your view of the piece changed as the band has played it more, and in light of the current political climate?

Darcy James Argue: Real Enemies premiered in November 2015 at BAM, and we recorded it in early 2016 before any of the primaries had taken place. And of course, all the writing and contextualization for it began about three years before the premiere, back in 2012 when Isaac Butler and I first had the idea for the piece. We sort of wondered, at the time, whether anyone would really be interested in a piece about conspiracy theories and weaponized paranoia! We knew we were interested, and it looked to us that these trends were in ascendance, but we had no idea how drastically our culture would shift, to the point that we (A) elected a conspiracy theorist as president, and (B) put conspiracy theories at the front and center of American politics for the past 4 to 5 years.

TJG: Interesting—yes the piece is relevant right now and extremely prescient at its inception. How does your recent commission “Ebonite” compare to Real Enemies?

DJA: “Ebonite” is probably the opposite of Real Enemies! It’s sunny and bright and a piece full of joy and life. It’s named after this sort of miracle substance that comes from the South American rubber tree. Hard rubber ebonite is used in things as diverse as saxophone and clarinet mouthpieces and hockey pucks. With the grimness of today’s world—that’s something I grapple with in my music and my day to day life—you also need to periodically remind yourself of the stuff that roots you and brings you joy in life.

Ironically, this was driven home for me last Thursday when the assassination of Soleimani was announced. I was at a hockey game in Vancouver—watching my home team, the Canucks, pull out a 7-5 victory, a really exciting and thrilling game with so many beautiful goals. You leave the stadium in great spirits and then check your phone for alerts and you’re like, wait… what? Having these wild emotional swings is very much part of our current culture. For better or worse, this is part of the connected world we live in.

I’m not trying to make light of the dire situation we currently find ourselves in, on the brink of a conflict that could make the Iraq War look like a cakewalk. It’s really important that we resist this latest attempt to thrust the world into violence and chaos. But in order to deal with this, a certain amount of self-care is necessary and for me that self-care is often music.

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Photo by Kevin Matthews, courtesy of the artist.

This week, The Jazz Gallery and Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning’s Thursday Night Jazz series returns with a performance by drummer Jeremy Dutton. A Gallery regular and alumnus of our Mentoring Series, Dutton is now a highly sought collaborator, holding the drum chair in Joel Ross’s Good Vibes, James Francies’s Kinetic, and the Vijay Iyer Trio. Check out Dutton’s recent performance with Iyer on the Chris Thile public media program, Live from Here.

Last month, Dutton went into the studio to record a new album as a leader, so come out to JCAL in Queens to get a sneak peak at this unreleased music. (more…)

Photo by Kholood Eid, courtesy of the artist.

This week, The Jazz Gallery is thrilled to start 2020 with two nights of live recording with the Darius Jones Quartet. As a saxophonist and composer, Jones is hard to pin down, always swinging between diverse projects of varied sizes. On the eve of the 2018 midterm elections, Jones spearheaded a concert/community event entitled For The People at Roulette, featuring activist works including his compositions including “Being Caged in ICE” and “LawNOrder.” In 2019, Jones has been honing his flexible composition Cartilage in a variety of configurations, from solo performances to a quintet version at this summer’s Vision Festival, below.

Jones’s run at the Gallery this week will be recorded for release by Jimmy Katz’s nonprofit label Giant Steps Arts and features collaborators old and new—vibraphonist Joel Ross, bassists Dezron Douglas and Sean Conly, and drummer Kush Abadey. Don’t miss this latest installment of Jones’s searching, constantly evolving musical language. (more…)

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Gretchen Parlato has an unmistakeable voice and presence, and there would be no better way to close out 2019 at The Jazz Gallery than with two nights featuring Parlato’s new music. Joined by a dream team of Camila Meza (guitar), Chris Morrissey (bass), and Mark Guiliana (drums), Parlato will premiere The Stars Or Space Between, a cohesive set of originals over two nights on the Gallery stage. In 2019, Parlato was honored with a Jazz Gallery Fellowship Commission, affording her an opportunity to compose a new body of work, and the whole band is excited about it: According to Parlato in a recent phone conversation, “It’ll be as much a premiere for us as the listener. I’ve been imagining this music all year, and can’t wait to hear it realized.” Read on for the interview below:

TJG: I hear you’ve been living in LA since June. How do you feel about living in California now?

GP: It’s coming back home, I grew up in LA. Mark and I moved from New Jersey, where we’d lived for six years. Before that, I spent 10 years in New York City. I’ll always be nostalgic for my time on the East Coast, the feeling of living there, but I always dreamed of some point coming back home and settling in Los Angeles. Thankfully, Mark was into the idea too, and our son is so happy. We love it. 

TJG: Does the new music in the commission resonate with the idea of homecoming?

GP: Perhaps. The title of the show is “The Stars Or Space Between.” I wrote some thoughts for the program, stream-of-consciousness, that I’d like to share:

the stars or space between is a contemplative musical experience 

revolving around life and the existence of opposition. /em>

up and down. joy and pain. day and night. light and dark. 

like an inhale and an exhale, life is effort and release. 

holding on and letting go. movement and stillness. 

it’s finding the balance, and accepting the ever-constant changes. 

there are events in our lives we view as anchors, milestones, or turning points. 

like stars in the night sky, we can point to them. they define us. they guide us. 

they are clearly bright and visible.

in that same night sky, is the vastness of space. 

to be here may feel empty, transitional, dark, and uncertain.

but the space is only seemingly invisible.

in this journey of nothingness, everything is happening.

let tonight be about reflection of where we’ve been

the wonder of where we’re going

and most importantly, gratitude for where we are right here and now. 

are we the stars or space between?

GP: These thoughts can be interpreted in many ways, as broadly as possible, or in minute detail. My hope is that the audience can connect and relate to the music: I’d like the evening to be a chance for reflection, meditation, therapy, any word that is comfortable. The songs reflect my own life and past, but my hope is that the listener can hear these songs and define their meaning for themselves, and maybe even see or hear their own story as they listen.

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