Design courtesy of the artist.

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.


Photo courtesy of the artist.

This Saturday, March 10th, The Jazz Gallery is excited to welcome Godwin Louis back to our stage. Louis will be presenting music from his forthcoming album Global, a set of compositions that emerged out of research that he performed in Africa and Latin America on the music exported out of Africa, to the rest of the world via the transatlantic slave trade. This research interest emerged, in part, out of the process of composing music based on the connection between Haiti and New Orleans as part of his 2013-2014 Residency Commission at The Jazz Gallery.

A graduate of the prestigious Thelonious Monk Institute for Jazz Performance under the leadership of Terrence Blanchard, Louis has gone on to become a powerful voice on the alto saxophone, working as a sideman and studying with luminaries such as Herbie Hancock, Clark Terry, Mulatu Astatke, Al Foster, Jack DeJohnette, and David Baker, to name a few.

For his upcoming show at The Jazz Gallery, Godwin will be joined by Adam O’Farrill on trumpet, Joel Ross on vibraphone, Luques Curtis on bass, Markus Schwartz on percussion, Jonathan Barber on Drums, Victor Gould on piano, and Pauline Jean on vocals. In the lead-up to the show, Godwin chatted with us about his research and the music that has grown out of it for his Global project.

On the process of doing research for his upcoming album Global:

I’ve spent the last seven years exploring that and studying and understanding the connection that was brought to Haiti from West Africa. I’ve gone to Africa five times in the last four years. The music on my upcoming album, Global, is based on the music transported out of Africa, to the rest of the world via the transatlantic slave trade.

This process of exploration began thanks to a grant that The Jazz Gallery gave me to pursue my compositional voice. During that period of 2013-2014, I was noticing a lot of connections between Haiti and New Orleans. I was fortunate enough to live in both places, and I couldn’t help but notice the similarities in terms of culture, architecture, even in terms of cuisine, musically, of course. And then historically, I found major connections rooted in the Haitian revolution. In 1790 and 1804, you had a lot of affranchis, free people of color, that fled Haiti to what was then known as French Louisiana. And, of course, they brought their culture and their rhythm. So I was intrigued in that and I began exploring that music, and I presented some of that at the Jazz Gallery in June 2014.

And because of that, I was able to continue to dig even deeper. I went back “across the pond” to Africa to see some of the things that were brought in and how much they’ve changed, and I’ve extended those studies to South America as well.

I began to understand that whenever I see triple meter, that’s something that’s coming from West Africa. So that’s an area that spans from Senegal to Western Nigeria, and back then we would consider that as either Upper or Lower Guinea. In places like Haiti, you hear terms like that, where they’ll say “nég Guinea” meaning, a fella from Guinea. And then also, the other term that you would hear is “nég Kongo” meaning a person from Kongo, meaning a fella from Kongo, which is modern day Cameroon all the way down to Angola. And that’s sort of like “duple meter.” So in West Africa, you have a big triple meter connection, and whenever you see technical things that are in 6/8 or 3/4 , that kind of “Afro” sound that they call it in jazz: “Afro-Cuban”, “Afro-Jazz”….that triple sound is coming from West Africa: Yoruban rhythms, Dahomey, Benin, Togo, Ghana. But whenever we’re dealing with duple meter, which is some of the sounds found in Haiti and New Orleans—you know, Congo Square.

One of the hubs for a lot of the cultures that were transported is Haiti because, in Haiti, there were tribal religions that were preserved. You have rhythms for instance, called Nago, and I found that the Nago rhythm that I always heard in Haiti is actually coming from a tribe in Benin. Nago is pretty a much the Yoruba people in Benin. So if you’re in Nigeria, you’re Yoruban, but if you’re from Benin, you’re Nago. In Haiti, there is a rhythm called Nago, and that’s very similar to what we know today as the swing rhythm. Sort of like when you’re listening to Elvin Jones, that feels to me like a Nago rhythm.

So, the Haitians were able to conserve and preserve some of those rhythms. And also we have Kongo, which is also a rhythm that happens to be a duple meter rhythm, and those roots are coming from Kikongo culture from Central Africa. And then we have rhythms like Yanvalou. All of these rhythms are associated with places in Africa, the names of kings, and so on. So I think because of what the Haitians achieved in gaining independence from slavery, they were able to keep a lot of those rhythms and a lot of those tribal names. Lots of people doing research on the African influence in the United States tend to bypass Haiti, but I really found it to be the hub. The three hubs are Cuba, Haiti, and Brazil in terms of finding that pure connection to Africa. But again, researchers and ethnomusicologists usually go to Cuba and Brazil but don’t know anything about Haiti. So it was interesting for me to connect it all.



Photo by Amy Mills

This Thursday, March 8, The Jazz Gallery will present saxophonist Maria Grand at the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning in Queens. An inveterate musical searcher of wide-ranging tastes, Grand was recently featured as a performer in Alicia Hall Moran’s ice skating alt-opera The Battle of the Carmens, which was staged on skating rinks at Bryant Park and Riverbank State Park this January. Grand was also a 2017 Jazz Gallery Residency Commission recipient, and created a similarly media-melding project featuring dance and spoken word. Before heading out to Queens for Ms. Grand’s performance, check out this bracing and exuberant excerpt from her commission project, below.


Photo courtesy of the artist.

This Friday, March 9, The Jazz Gallery is pleased to welcome vocalist/composer Nerissa Campbell back to our stage for two sets. Campbell grew up in Western Australia and Indonesia, and her music is distinct in its lived-in worldliness. Her most recent album, After The Magic, features a soundworld equally rooted in pop, jazz, and Indonesian folkloric music. Check out Campbell performing pieces from the album at Le Poisson Rouge, alongside her working band and the New York gamelan, Dharma Swara.


Photo courtesy of the artist.

With “Rich In Symbols,” a captivating cross-disciplinary exploration of art through music, musician and composer Chet Doxas has interpreted paintings from MoMA and The Whitney. This week, Doxas returns to The Jazz Gallery again as a leader, presenting the quintet project with both immersive sounds and images. With Doxas on winds and synths, Brad Shepik and Rob Ritchie on guitars, Zach Lober on bass, and Jerad Lippi on drums, the ensemble has a lush, orchestral presence.

When the album was released this fall on Ropeadope Records, our writer Kevin Sun interviewed Doxas about the inspiration and process behind the project. We spoke with Doxas again, diving into his visceral experience of standing before works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, and Robert Mapplethorpe with pencil in hand, sketching musical ideas that would become works for his distinctive quintet.

The Jazz Gallery: In a previous interview with Kevin Sun, you discussed the process behind “Rich In Symbols.” By composing in front of works of art, it seems like you were able to “be yourself” in a new way. Did bypassing your instrument allow something new to emerge?

Chet Doxas: I don’t think I’m in the minority in that I can be quite hard on myself. My inner critic can be extra critical. But I’ve found that when writing music inspired by something I’m looking at, that inner critic gets very quiet, and I just get to work. If you frequently tell yourself “It’s not good enough,” or however you talk yourself out of something, I recommend working this way.

TJG: Were you intimidated at the start? Especially since you were working in front of some of your favorite artworks.

CD: I started working in museums because I found that I work better if I’m in front of the artwork, sharing the space with the painting. But I’d be looking at a Keith Haring, then walk to the next room and there’d be a Georgia O’Keefe, then a Robert Harris portrait, and I said “Well, this is getting to be a little much” [laughs]. So I tried to reign it in and focus on one genre. One of the books I was reading at the time was a book called “Please Kill Me” by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain about the New York punk scene from roughly 1975-85. What’s cool about that period is that it was one of the last times, at least in New York, where there was a community of artists and musicians coexisting and inspiring each other with their work. They had social meeting places like The Mudd Club, CBGB, Max’s Kansas City, Andy Warhol’s Factory, and people would talk about their music or their art or not talk about anything and just party. That was an exciting idea, so I decided to try to make music based on the images that were being produced around that time.

TJG: What excites you about that idea?

CD: I like being around people. And while you can find a community in New York, you can still have a lot of time to yourself. Which is cool, because there’s work to do. But at the same time, the city has changed a lot, and I dug reading about the way it used to be. There are so many things that I love from that period, and I wanted to see how it would unfold in my own music.

TJG: I know it encompasses a wide scope of artists and artworks, but how does that period of art look, to you?

CD: One of the things that excites me most about that movement is what is sometimes referred to as ‘primitivism.’ Haring’s and Basquiat’s works often look like cave paintings. In a certain sense, it’s minimal, even if the work isn’t “minimalistic.” The idea of exposing the base nature of who we are, that rawness, is a common thread between that and, say, the band Suicide, or Velvet Underground. It’s art and music that looks and sounds like it’s in the primordial phases of what it could be. It’s stripped down. I feel that way about the Keith Jarrett American Quartet too, sometimes. It could be something else, but that’s not the point. I’ve always liked that idea of music having a foot in that ancient realm.