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A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Photo by Zachary Maxwell Stertz via http://chrisdingman.com

Members of The Jazz Gallery community have recently been grieving the loss of Roy Hargrove, and grief, like so many facets of our musical lives, looks and sounds different for every person. Vibraphonist and composer Chris Dingman has also been contending with his own grief, in his own way. In the months before and since his father’s recent passing, vibraphonist and composer Chris Dingman developed a collection of improvised solo vibraphone pieces. The improvised music was meant to bring a meaningful experience to his father, who was in hospice at the time, and was also a means for Dingman to contend with his own grief. Today, using music in this way, in Dingman’s own words, makes “the purpose of it all seems stronger.”

This performance at the Gallery will represent Dingman’s first full-length solo vibraphone concert. Dingman is a regular on The Jazz Gallery stage, regularly performing with his own ensembles or in collaboration with Ambrose Akinmusire, Steve Lehman, Jen Shyu, Tyshawn Sorey, Ingrid Jensen, Fabian Almazan, and others. His most recent album, The Subliminal and the Sublime (2015) is a 62-minute continuous work blending layers of jazz, ambient electronica, and minimalism.

This week, Dingman is returning to New York from a tour with bassist Ike Sturm. When we spoke briefly on the phone, Dingman was somewhere in Ohio, en route back to the city. In our short conversation, Dingman discussed the backstory of this upcoming solo concert, and the circumstances that lead him to do take this leap into the unknown at The Jazz Gallery.

The Jazz Gallery: Could tell me a bit about the context of your upcoming solo vibraphone show?

Chris Dingman: The primary influence in my decision to do the show was that, beginning late last spring and continuing through today, I recorded a bunch of solo improvisations. I actually recorded them for my dad, who at the time was in hospice care, and who passed away over the summer. I recorded all of the music for him, and we worked together on making it into a project that could be shared with the rest of the world. It was an intense time. I’m currently working on the production and mixing, which has been a long process, as I recorded around six hours of music. As I’ve been working, I’ve had a lot of time to consider what brings me to play solo vibes, and what playing vibes in general is about for me. When Rio approached me about doing something at the Gallery that would reflect where I am right now, I felt that doing a solo vibes show would be the best outlet to express where I’m coming from.

Simultaneously, I’ve still been playing with other people. I recently did this tour with Ike Sturm, which was great in terms of being an outlet for focusing on the kind of solo playing that I do. The instrumentation was bass, vibraphone, saxophone, and voice, so there’s a lot of space to play. Prior to that, I did an improv set at The Stone in October with Okkyung Lee and Sara Serpa. We improvised and had such a good time doing that. I love Okkyung and everything she does, she’s so inspiring to me, and is definitely another reason I’m drawn to playing solo.

TJG: You said you were working with your dad to get the music to where it could be “shared with the rest of the world.” What did the process look like?

CD: I performed and recorded all of the music for him at my parents’ house. I played and recorded it there so that he could listen to it. I did have a feeling that it was music that I would want to share with others, but at the time, it was really just for him. It was recorded in a basement, with no engineer, no studio. Because it’s such a large amount of music, I decided to mix it myself. Together with my dad, we named all the tracks together, because they were all improvisations. He named many of the tracks, and for others, we figured out together what they should be called.

It didn’t start out as an album or a bigger project, but everything you do to produce an album, we began to discuss together. We started talking about what it should be called, and who the music is for. In the past, my projects have been for everybody: I just make the music, and don’t really think about who or what the music is for. But in this case, the music was for him, and he wanted to share it with others who were experiencing what he was going through: The process of dying. So, this music is for people in hospice, people going through that transition. As I’ve played the music for others, people have thought of other contexts where it would be great, which I’m not opposed to either.

TJG: My instinct is to ask if you would consider playing this music for others who are in hospice, but that seems like it would be so difficult.

CD: That’s something I’d definitely consider. Going forward, once this project gets released, I will be doing exactly that, playing in person for people who are in hospice. It’s hard, but it’s really meaningful work. It’s so helpful to those who are going through that.

TJG: What a gift to give.

CD: Yeah. Really. I’ve been thinking lately about our roles as musicians in the world. To find this part of the job, so to speak, this element of what music can do, and to be able to do it, is a special thing. There are so many things that music can do beyond simply being entertainment, you know? Consider cultures from around the world, all of the different ways they use music.

TJG: Would you say this is your first time “using” music for something in a way that goes beyond entertainment? Have you done this kind of exploration before?

CD: That’s a tricky one. I’ve done a little bit of exploring, though I don’t know if you would consider film scoring to be a different “use.” It depends on the project and what it’s about. For example, I have played on Jen Shyu’s project Song of Silver Geese over the last few years. The music is a set of rituals, which is kind of different. She presents the rituals in a concert format, and it provides an interesting overlap. But that’s her project, I’m just a part of it. In my own music, this solo vibes concert will be my first time intentionally considering how the music is for a certain purpose.

TJG: This sounds like it could potentially be a big moment of change for you. Once you’ve experienced the function and power of music in this way, do you think you might feel it every time you play, regardless of what you’re doing it for?

CD: That’s an interesting point. It has definitely impacted me, though it’s hard, even now, to have a full understanding of how it’s impacted me: It’s early in the process, and I’ve only done a handful of gigs since recording all of this music. This recent tour has been the most significant thing. Performing and playing music does feel different, but it’s hard to explain how. It’s different in a good way. It has strengthened my resolve when it comes to sharing music with others, and what that’s doing for them and for me. The purpose of it all seems stronger.

TJG: Does it have special meaning for you to have your first solo vibes show at The Jazz Gallery?

CD: Definitely. I’ve done so many things there, my own projects and with others, and I’ve seen so much music there. There’s so much to The Jazz Gallery’s breadth, though I actually don’t think I’ve ever seen a solo concert there. I’ve seen duo concerts, as well as unaccompanied moments within a longer set, but this will be new for me. It’s a real blessing to be given this opportunity to express myself in the Jazz Gallery space. Along with that, the date of this concert has significance. I’m in the process of grieving, and it’s been a difficult time. This concert happens to be falling on the four-month anniversary of my dad’s passing. It just happened that way, I didn’t set it up on purpose, and that feels special too. To be able to have the opportunity to address this process artistically, and to be given a space to share it with others, is really meaningful.

TJG: You’re doing something brave; I think everyone at the show is going to be treated to what sounds like a very special experience.

CD: Thanks, I appreciate that good energy. I hope we can all be in it together, you know? So many people have gone through loss, I’m sure there will be people at The Gallery who can relate. Of course, I’ve been thinking about Rio and the Gallery a lot because of Roy Hargrove’s recent passing too. Roy was so formative in the Gallery’s existence. I’m hoping this concert can be a healing moment.

Vibraphonist Chris Dingman plays The Jazz Gallery on Friday, November 16, 2018. Sets are at 7:30 and 9:30 P.M. $20 general admission ($10 for members), $30 reserved cabaret seating ($20 for members) for each set. Purchase tickets here.