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Photos courtesy of the artists.

This Wednesday, September 11, The Jazz Gallery kicks off the sixth season of its Mentoring Series where emerging performers are paired with established mentors for a run of concerts. The first pair of the season features bassist Harish Raghavan mentoring drummer Savannah Harris.

Raghavan is a longtime Gallery regular, having played here dozens of times over the past several years as both a leader and sideman. Most recently, Raghavan has used the Gallery as a proving ground for his working quintet, featuring a slew young musicians with strong personalities—vibraphonist Joel Ross, saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins, pianist Micah Thomas, and drummer Jeremy Dutton. Hear them perform Raghavan’s composition “Anjou” at ShapeShifter Lab, below.

Harris is a native of Oakland, California, where she grew up studying drums with her father Fred Harris and stepfather Khalil Shaheed. She later attended Howard University, becoming an active member of the Washington, D.C. scene, performing at the Kennedy Center and writing for CapitalBop. She then moved to New York to study at the Manhattan School of Music and has recently performed with the likes of pianist Aaron Parks and saxophonist Maria Grand (check out Harris performing with Grand and bassist Kanoa Mendenhall, below).

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Photo by Amy Mills

As an avid student and experienced educator, Maria Grand is no stranger to the mentorship process. Upon arriving in New York six years ago, she became the protégée of legendary musicians Billy Harper, Antoine Roney, and Von Freeman, and quickly found work with Steve Coleman in his various small groups. Additionally, Grand is at home on the stage at The Jazz Gallery, having appeared multiple times as a bandleader and award recipient. She is one of three most recent Jazz Gallery Commissionees, and this summer staged an extended version of her work “TetraWind” as Embracements, expanding the sound and the concept of the project. 

In the latest installment of the Gallery’s mentorship series, Grand will be working with saxophonist Steve Lehman and his band. The quartet will present three shows across the city, at The Jazz Gallery, the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, and SEEDS in Brooklyn. For all three shows, Grand and Lehman will be joined by Matt Brewer on bass and Damion Reid on drums. We spoke about her album TetraWind, her hopes and expectations for the concerts, and her thoughts on the mentorship process.

TJG: I’ve plenty of questions about your concerts with Steve Lehman, but first I have a few questions about your last album, TetraWind. Could you talk about the spoken section midway through “South (Quantum)”?

MG: Sure. Originally, there were lyrics to everything. I wrote all the songs on TetraWind thinking about words in some way. I wasn’t necessarily thinking about words while writing melodies, but there was an overall meaning to each song. For “South,” we did that interlude section, and I really wanted to have a poem over it. It felt like the best spot on the album for it. I wrote all the music while in Colombia when a huge amount of police brutality was happening. Somebody over there told me this surreal story where someone put laxatives in old meat and left it out for the birds to eat, so for a week after that, everybody got sh*t on [laughs]. It’s surreal to become aware that one reality is so different than another. It was, for me, a connection with what was happening back in the states. The whole thing seemed surreal. Police brutality has been many people’s reality for a long time, but if you step back for a moment, and think about a policeman killing someone who’s twelve because they have a toy gun, it seems impossibly surreal. That’s how the poem came about. I wanted to make that statement, but at the same time, I wanted the statement to be available to someone who listens to the whole thing and experiences it through the end. It leaves you thinking, ends on a dark note.

TJG: Do you do a lot of writing?

MG: That’s something I want to expand on. I use a lot of different things to write. Some things are more a part of art and not really a part of music. Sometimes I need movement. I write words, even when they don’t make it to the final product. They’re on my mind when I’m writing the music. I sing a lot too, which is something I got from Steve Coleman. I sing all the things I want to play, then transcribe it. That’s how a lot of the music came about.

TJG: Another question about TetraWind: Of the seventy or so interviews I’ve done for The Jazz Gallery, only a couple of people have had projects which included electric bass. Rashaan Carter sounds amazing on electric bass on the record. What was your thinking behind the choice?

MG: I asked him to play electric from the start. I love the electric bass. I think it’s from playing with Steve Coleman and Anthony Tidd a lot. I like the bass to be loud. When Rashaan plays, there’s a weight to his notes. That’s what I wanted in the music, you know? Electric has such presence. And he never wants to walk, he’ll say “If I’m playing electric, I want to try some different stuff.” It works out for me [laughs].

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Photos courtesy of the artists.

Photos courtesy of the artists.

This Thursday, December 15th, The Jazz Gallery caps off its final edition of the 2016 Mentoring Series with a performance by saxophonists Dayna Stephens and Patrick Bartley. Over the course of three performances, the pair have explored their own original compositions, as well as different instrumental possibilities including the clarinet and EWI. We caught up with Bartley by phone to hear about his experience working with Stephens thus far; our conversation is below.

The Jazz Gallery: Had you worked with Dayna before this experience?

Patrick Bartley: Yes, actually. I’m a big fan of Dayna. He’s been one of my favorite saxophonists that I’ve heard since coming to New York in 2011. But the reason this all came about was because I met him on this big band gig with trumpeter Etienne Charles that I had at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola a year and a half ago. Etienne called me to play second tenor in the band and Dayna was playing first tenor, so I met him on that gig. It was really great because I was able to connect with him on this mutual level. We both really like playing EWI—the electronic wind instrument—and so that was a bridge that brought out this inner geek in both of us. We talked about that for a good hour or so. I feel that getting to know him has helped me learn how to play his music. I’m not just learning the notes, but seeing his personality through the writing.

TJG: What kind of stuff have you been working with Dayna for this project?

PB: We’ve been exploring some of his new music, but he’s also given me the opportunity to bring in some of my own music. Most of Dayna’s pieces haven’t been recorded or performed before. This is exciting for me because I’m piloting an inaugural element in these pieces. Some of the pieces he’s been playing in groups with trumpeters, like Philip Dizack. Some of his tunes are family-inspired, which is really cool—he has one tune dedicated to his uncle Junior.That kind of personal approach is really resonant for me. There is this one tune that I’ve brought in called “Blues for the Living.” I recorded it on an album in 2013 called The Red Planet and it’s a tribute to those who are alive and those who are suffering, who are just living on this planet, as opposed to just mourning for those who have gone. It’s a celebration of life, but also an acknowledgment of what people have to go through on a daily basis and the experience of being able to pass that down through family. This kind of writing makes me think of Dayna because of all that he has been through and getting the new kidney last year, which is incredible, and getting to push on. I feel we have a meaningful set of music that’s also quite fun.

I was a little hesitant at first to bring in my own material because I had never played with the guys in the rhythm section before. I didn’t know what they would like or what they would be interested in playing or how the vibe would work out. But I ended up bringing in two of my songs, and one has been working out really well so far.

We’ve really just been playing, hanging out, talking to each other. I’ve tried to absorb the band’s vibe, and hopefully they’d be saying the same thing about me. It’s a great learning process seeing how these guys naturally operate in their environment because it’s just another gig for them. Since the rhythm section and Dayna have known each other for a long time, it’s really interesting to see how they play and how comfortable they are with each other. I’m trying to tap into that and grow within their energy.

TJG: How has the rehearsal process been?

PB: We actually haven’t gotten to rehearse that much. The groups have been a little different every show because everyone’s an in-demand musician in New York, especially the rhythm section. Each time it seems that the new person in the band has to listen to the chart, look at the sheet music and then go. The guys have been able to fool the audience at every single show. It’s incredible. We got to do a good rehearsal the day of our first show, and the recordings we made that day have been helpful in teaching the music to the new players. I think it’s a testament to Dayna’s music that it really works in this context. It’s music with a cyclical form that gets more comfortable the more you play it on stage. Even though there may only be 12 to 36 bars of material, it’s rich enough that you can keep cycling through it for ten minutes and it doesn’t get old. Every 40-second cycle through the form, you’re learning something new about the musicians on stage. This is what’s really cool to me and what keeps the music pushing forward.

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Photos courtesy of the artists.

Photos courtesy of the artists.

Over the next several weeks, The Jazz Gallery is proud to present the final edition of our 2016 Mentoring Series. Following on the heels of successful runs by pianist Aaron Parks & vibraphonist Joel Ross, as well as guitarist Miles Okazaki & pianist Paul Cornish, this edition will feature two multi-reedists—Dayna Stephens mentoring Patrick Bartley.

It isn’t a stretch to call Stephens the hardest-working musician in the New York jazz scene. He always seems to be running several projects simultaneously, to the point that he rarely plays with the same band twice. His last album, Peace (Sunnyside), featured Stephens reinvigorating classic jazz ballads with a truly top-flight band—pianist Brad Mehldau, guitarist Julian Lage, bassist Larry Grenadier, and drummer Eric Harland. The group has another record’s worth of material in the can—high octane compositions by Stephens and his peers (new standards if you will)—which is highly-anticipated. Recently, Stephens has seriously exploring the capabilities of the EWI in a working group with guitarist Gilad Hekselman and drummer Adam Arruda. Check out the group playing live at Smalls, below:

While most young jazz musicians today would profess to be into a wide variety of music, Patrick Bartley takes that commitment to musical omnivorism to a new level. Just this past month, Bartley released the debut album of his collaborative ensemble J-Music, a group of his peers from the Manhattan School of Music that explores Japanese pop music through improvisation. In addition, Bartley led a group that performed the music of Bix Beiderbecke and Frankie Trumbauer at the NYC Hot Jazz Festival. This past summer, he toured with Wynton Marsalis and the Young Stars of Jazz, showing how effortlessly Bartley can navigate varied styles and musical sub-communities in New York. And like Stephens, Bartley has taken to the EWI, even performing on it with Jon Batiste & Stay Human on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
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Jason Lindner, left, and James Francies, right. Photos courtesy of the artists.

This Thursday, January 15th, 2015, The Jazz Gallery will present the final concert in our 2014-15 Mentoring Series, featuring keyboardist Jason Lindner’s NOW vs. NOW and special guest keyboardist James Francies.

Over the past year, four young artists—flautist and vocalist Elena Pinderhughes, saxophonist Mario Castro, drummer Jeremy Dutton, and pianist James Francies—have come of age on The Jazz Gallery stage (and at other venues throughout the city), establishing themselves as the next generation of jazz innovators. But this hasn’t just been an opportunity for these young artists to prove themselves. As shown in the video below with Ms. Pinderhughes and her mentor Jaleel Shaw, the elder musicians have learned a lot from their young partners as well.

The Jazz Gallery Mentoring Series Vol. 1, Edition 1 – Jaleel Shaw & Elena Pinderhughes from The Jazz Gallery on Vimeo.

You can also check out the interviews with all of the Mentoring Series artists here, and learn more about the transformative experiences of teachers and students alike.

Jason Lindner’s Now vs. Now featuring James Francies performs their final show as part of The Jazz Gallery Mentoring Series this Thursday, January 15th, 2015, at The Jazz Gallery. The performance will feature Jason Lindner on piano and keyboard, Panagiotis Andreou on bass, Justin Tyson on drums, and James Francies on keyboards. Sets are at 8 and 10 p.m., $15 general admission ($10 for members) for the first set, $10 general admission ($8 for members) for the second. Purchase tickets here.