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.