This month, The Jazz Gallery kicks off its 2015-16 season with the newest edition of the Gallery Mentorship series. After a successful run in 2014 that found four young musicians holding their own alongside well-established bandleaders, the Gallery is expanding the program this year with more concerts in more venues across the northeast.
The first edition of the 2015-16 Mentorship Series features guitarist Adam Rogers and drummer Jimmy MacBride. While longtime Gallery favorite Rogers needs little introduction, MacBride is a newer member of the Gallery family, having performed here as a sideman with saxophonist Adam Larson and trumpeter Philip Dizack. Hailing from West Hartford, Connecticut, MacBride grew up in an artistic family (Jimmy’s dad is a composer of classical music, his mom is a visual artist, and his sister is a jazz musician in her own right).
Like many young children, Jimmy would drum on any resonant surface he could find, but fell in love with jazz from listening to his dad’s Frank Sinatra cassettes. “I would just listen to them on repeat,” Jimmy remembers. “That was the first music I remember hearing and loving.”
Jimmy moved to New York in 2009 to begin studies at Juilliard. Since graduating in 2013, he has become increasingly active in the New York scene, playing with saxophonist Jimmy Greene, guitarist Nir Felder, and many others. We caught up with Jimmy by phone this week to talk about his approach to working as a sideman, learning on the bandstand, and how he’s preparing for these upcoming concerts.
The Jazz Gallery: Now that you’re a couple of years removed from school, you’ve been playing with a pretty wide variety of artists. You play with peers in Lucas Pino’s group or your quintet, but you’ve also been playing with older musicians like saxophonist Jimmy Greene. Do you feel differently when playing in these contrasting situations?
Jimmy MacBride: Yes and no. I would say that for me, any great musical collaboration or hook-up, any time I feel most comfortable playing comes from knowing them personally. I feel that people’s personal relationships and musical relationships are closely related. Obviously playing with friends and peers—people you’ve spent a lot of time with, even just hanging out—is always going to be something that’s easy. We’re always going to be around each other, we have similar backgrounds, we’ve checked out a lot of the same music. We’re never going to lose that.
I feel that I can still get that with older musicians, especially when I’ve spent time with them off the bandstand. But overall, I think playing with more experienced bandleaders is when I’ve learned the most and grown the most as a player. Sometimes it can just happen through osmosis—these guys have played with a lot of people that you haven’t, and those experiences come through when playing together on the bandstand. I feel that in both situations, the most important thing is to just have an open and honest personal relationship with everyone you’re playing with.
TJG: Do you find yourself playing differently with more experienced bandleaders compared to a more collaborative group? Do you take more risks in one situation versus the other?
JM: Ideally, I hope that I approach all of these situations in the same way, at least in terms of giving it my all, and playing as confidently and daringly as I can. But definitely when you’re playing among friends, you feel pretty fearless. You know that they know you really well, so you can go as far as you want and trust that they can be on the same page. And then playing with people you don’t know as well—like subbing in someone else’s band or getting a call to learn some new music—you can feel that they expect a certain thing or a certain sound. The hope is that eventually as you grow more comfortable with whatever the musical situation is, that all goes away. But I think in any new musical situation there’s always a sense of testing the waters at first, just to see what’s expected and what works and what doesn’t.
Luckily, I think that in terms of the people I play with on a regular basis, I’ve gotten to know them well enough that I can be myself completely.
TJG: Do you learn different things on the bandstand that what you learned in a classroom setting?
JM: When I was in school, I was getting a lot of information thrown at me from my teachers and my peers, information that would help shape the person and artist that I wanted to be. It was about laying a groundwork and filling in certain weaknesses and learning different approaches to playing. Now that I’m out of school, I feel I’m trying to apply all those things I learned, alongside just trying to express myself honestly through the music that I happen to be playing. I’m trying to make all of those things my own and craft a personal voice that will work in a bunch of different musical settings. I feel it’s less about knowledge at this point, and more about taking that assembled information and putting everything together in a way that feels good.
TJG: Do you find yourself pushing against this collected knowledge at different points? How do you decide what to keep and what to throw out?
JM: To be honest, the whole process of finding your voice can be very abstract, and it’s also something that I don’t think you can really try to do. I think it has to happen more organically by putting yourself through a lot of different experiences and being open to trying new things. I definitely feel like I have preferences in what I want to do and what I don’t want to do, so I’m sure that some of the information I gained in school won’t be as applicable for me as it is for someone else. But overall, I like boil things down to their most fundamental aspects, because those broad fundamentals can apply to many, many different musical situations.
TJG: This will be your first time playing with Adam, as well as David Virelles (piano) and Scott Colley (bass). Knowing that personal relationships are so important for you as a part of forming musical bonds, how are you preparing yourself for these concerts?
JM: I’m trying to approach it as openly and naturally as I can. I know that because of who they all are musically, I have a good feeling that we’re going to be on the same page in terms of going forward musically and making it as enjoyable as possible. I don’t think it’s going to be a challenge to feel inspired by the situation. I feel I need to go into it feeling as myself as I can and let it play itself out. I’m really glad we have four performances throughout the month, because by the end, I’m sure I’ll learn a lot and that the music will sound vastly different than when we started.
TJG: So you’re not pressuring yourself to play like Nate Smith, or any of the other drummers Rogers plays with?
JM: Yeah, I’m trying at least! I’m going into this thinking that Adam isn’t going to expect me to sound a certain way. I’m just trying to go in and play, and I know Adam is going to have pointers and advice, but I can still play the music well while being myself.
The Jazz Gallery Mentorship Series Volume 2 kicks off this month with guitarist Adam Rogers and drummer Jimmy MacBride. The pair will be joined by pianist David Virelles, bassist Scott Colley, and bassist Matt Brewer over the course of their tour. Check out www.jazzgallery.org for concert dates and times and follow the Mentorship Series at New Music USA. Purchase tickets here.