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A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Vocalist Roopa Mahadevan returns to The Jazz Gallery on Thursday, September 19 for two sets of traditional Carnatic music. Building on her extensive training in traditional Carnatic music, Mahadevan frequently puts the music in dialogue with other traditions—in 2018, Mahadevan participated in the Banff Resonant Bodies program, while this year, she was a recipient of a Hedgebrook Songwriter’s residency.

For this performance, Mahadevan will be joined by violinist Arun Ramamurthy and mridangam player Sriram Raman. In an earlier interview with Jazz Speaks, Mahadevan discussed her approach to playing traditional Carnatic forms with this instrumentation:

I don’t think it’s perfect. Because I think it gives a little too much agency to the vocalist, honestly. For example, if I were to do improv on a scale, do a raga alap, I do it first, and then the violinist has to do her own version, but not as long as me, a little less long, and during my alap, she’s shadowing me also, she’s echoing the last part of each phrase. You know, these kinds of things that become part of the protocol. But it’s kind of silly.

I’ve actually thought that if you can have a beautiful exchange, between the vocalist and violinist, that can stand alone as the alap, you don’t need to then do a separate violin alap, or think of it as just the vocal alap. It could be this beautiful coming together of two ideas.

The mridangam player has an interesting role because they’re kind of ever-present. They don’t do the alap, for example, that’s arrhythmic. But when you start the composition, they’re always playing, depending on the school or the specific aesthetic of the mridangam player, sometimes they’re right under you all the time, and sometimes it’s more sparse. Sometimes they actually have another rhythm that’s going, that’s kind of counter to what you’re doing, but complementary.

Before coming out to the Gallery, check out Mahadevan performing live in the studio, with Rajna Swaminathan on mridangam.

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Saxophonist and composer Jarien Jamanila will be making his Jazz Gallery debut with a new quartet–pianist Sean Mason, bassist Felix Moseholm, and drummer Taurien Reddick–presenting Jamanila’s originals and a collection of standards. Jamanila is currently a student at The Juilliard School and formerly attended the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts. In a recent phone conversation, Jamanila spoke slowly and carefully to reveal a deep confidence in his music and his bandmates.

The Jazz Gallery: Tell me a bit about your life at Juilliard right now.

Jarien Jamanila: The first two years were packed full, with many hours of class every day, but this year I have far fewer classes than last year. I have private lessons, rotations with the big band, small groups, composition and arranging, and music history from 1700-1850. There’s the “Creative Ideas” class, where our whole department meets and discusses music and different assigned readings together. I also have a Jazz Business class with a representative from Jazz at Lincoln Center, who gives us the ins and outs of what he’s learned at JALC and how it can help us.

TJG: That actually seems like a pretty heavy course load.

JJ: It’s less than before. I’m happy with what it is right now [laughs].

TJG: Are you glad about the teacher you have right now?

JJ: Yeah, my teacher is Dan Block. I’ve had him for two years: He’s just as curious as me, he still wants to learn and grow. He’s always bringing in something new, and will share it with me, give me some ideas, teach me new songs, get me to listen to recordings I haven’t heard yet.

TJG: So how long has your band been together?

JJ: My band hasn’t been together long, but we play together often, in different settings both in and outside of school. I don’t usually play with Sean on piano, but I wanted him to play with us on this gig.

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Julius Rodriguez engages his music from different points of view. Pianist, drummer, composer and budding producer, Rodriguez has worked with an eclectic mix of artists, from Wynton Marsalis to Brasstracks to his own expanding collective that includes such artists as Morgan Guerin, Daryl Johns and Maya Carney. 

At 21, the artist and habitual collaborator has gone through some very adult changes in his personal and professional development, and he continues to evolve his music and his conception of sound. He spoke with The Gallery about how one instrument can inform others, his vision for the future of the music and which of today’s artists and producers are keeping him inspired in and out of the studio 

The Jazz Gallery: Happy birthday, by the way. 

Julius Rodriguez: Thank you. 

TJG: For someone without all these years of experience, you seem have quite a sophisticated way of playing with and alongside singers. 

JR: I love playing with singers. 

TJG: Obviously the singers who collaborate with you are equally sophisticated in their expressions and their artistries—I might mention Jazzmeia Horn, Voilet Skies, Abir. What have you discovered about your own playing from spending so much time collaborating with these great singers?

JR: Generally, I like accompanying. I feel like some of my better ideas come when I’m accompanying because I’m thinking more about the big picture than my own solo or my own thing. That’s probably one of the biggest [reasons] why I love playing with singers. I also just love learning about the relationship between melody and harmony. As a pianist, you learn more about that learning your instrument. 

I love the way singers are able to express melodies because the voice is different from the piano. The piano is note by note; with the voice, you can do different things with tone and quality and articulations. Being that I love hearing that so much, I’m always trying to find ways to accentuate that and play around it — make it sound good. 

I’ve spent a lot of time listening to Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan. I’ve spent a great deal of time listening to Amy Winehouse—she’s one of my big favorites. Johny Hartman, as well. 

TJG: Do you see a thread of similarities in what attracts you to each of these singers, or do like them all for something that’s unique to each of them? 

JR: Well, I talk about Amy—she’s really one of my biggest musical influences. She obviously took a lot from listening to Billie Holiday, listening to Sarah, listening to Ella. But she grew up in the age that she did, so she has this sort of modern twist on it, which I think is a perfect example of what I think musicians today should be doing with our art: to have a deep sense of the history but also realize that we’re in 2019. Music has evolved; you should, with it. 

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Bassist Nick Dunston and his band Atlantic Extraction return to The Jazz Gallery this Saturday, September 14. Dunston has had a busy summer, touring with drummer Allison Miller’s Boom Tic Boom, and playing with Marc Ribot at the annual Vision Festival.

Last week, Dunston announced that the group will be releasing their eponymous debut album on November 1. In an interview with Jazz Speaks, Dunston spoke about how the particular combination of musicians—including performer-improvisers from outside the explicit jazz tradition—impacted his writing for the group.

I didn’t pick players to move toward a sound I had in my head. That freed me from a lot of my own expectations as a composer, and allowed me to open up and grow in accordance to what the band is shaping up to be. Choosing musicians to fulfill a sonic vision is a totally valid approach, and I’ve done stuff like that, but it’s not what I’m interested in right now. These musicians and people are so special. It would be selling the band short if I were to simply write music, then decide whether they “played it well” or not. I’m a decisive and particular person, and I write music that challenges the band and myself in many ways, but at the same time, I’m not looking to take any shortcuts in terms of development. I’m not looking for them to check off some kind of box along the way. I’m looking for a balance, a mix of patience, open-mindedness, and more importantly, indulgence. I’m just obsessed with all of their playing, and I have no doubt that this group will become something I couldn’t have possibly imagined. Every time we get together, whether it’s a gig or rehearsal, my expectations are completely shattered and surpassed.

Don’t miss this chance to hear the group’s deepening interplay, and keep your ears peeled for their album, out November 1 on Out Of Your Head Records. (more…)

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At the beginning of this summer, Desmond White took a personal leap that took the form of a guest post on Ethan Iverson’s blog. The post, in which White discusses his personal relationship with depression and anxiety, found huge resonance in the jazz community, particularly in New York. White will be returning to The Jazz Gallery this week to celebrate the release of a new series of songs, which follow up on his records “Short Stories” and “Glace” (Biophilia Records) with an experimental foray into electronics and mixed media, all while continuing at some level to explore the subject matter of music, mental health, and personal growth

Originally from Perth in Western Australia, White performs regularly with New York-based artists including Gilad Hekselman, Nir Felder, Camila Meza, Shai Maestro, Ari Hoenig, and numerous others. White is well regarded as a writer, producer, multi-instrumentalist, and singer across multiple genres. Our discussion with White via phone covered his new music, his continued thoughts on mental health in the New York jazz scene, and his composition process.

The Jazz Gallery: In your description of the upcoming show on The Jazz Gallery website, you mention “electronics and mixed media.” What’s going on there?

Desmond White: The music for the upcoming record has more electronic elements and programming than the previous one, which was more traditional “jazz-singer-songwriter.” On this one, some of the music will be played along to tracks, and there will be components of effects on the vocals, more synthesizers and keyboards. I’m also trying to incorporate footage I’ve been shooting. It’s definitely an experiment, but we’re trying it out.

TJG: Could you tell me a little about the footage?

DW: The footage is on the abstract side, but I try to capture stuff that’s in the neighborhood, things that resonate with me. I’m a massive David Lynch fan, and am awed by his marriage of sound and visuals. I know that he is very hands-on with his music. He sits down to work with the composer, and will write about how the music relates to the image. I’m a little bit the other way around, in the sense that the music is the focus and I’m trying to find an abstract image that connects to the theme of the song or the set.

TJG: It seems like what you’re doing could be described as “live film scoring” or a “live music video” or something. Do you think in those terms, or do you try to resist those labels?

DW: I don’t mind the labels so much. Mostly, I’m trying to move away from the look of “four or five men and women under spotlights on stage wearing nice shirts.” I’m trying to find a way to augment the visual component, giving a bit broader of an experience to the audience. It’s a total experiment.

TJG: Speaking about the audience experience, you write that your music examines “the human condition and our apparent need for a balance of order and entropy.” I wonder if that might have something to do with it, contrasting the ‘ordered’ appearance of the musicians on stage with more ‘abstract’ visuals?

DW: That idea relates more to the themes of the songs, some of which have to do with my direct personal experience with depression and anxiety, all very common things that many musicians have to deal with. In dealing with that, I’ve read many books and listened to many interviews with people, and a theme stuck with me: The research is currently saying that the entropic brain is more healthy than the ordered brain, and that depression and anxiety come from too much order, too much rigid thinking. It may seem counter-intuitive, but with this music, without being too explicit about it, I’m trying to find that balance between the ‘right’ chords and the ‘right’ groove, and then whatever happens on stage… I’m excited to have these musicians, because I know they have no fear of abandoning the material or the moment in order to explore whatever they want to do.

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