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A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Photos courtesy of Adam O'Farrill

At a very young age, the brothers Adam and Zack O’Farrill have made serious strides as young musicians. The two sons of GRAMMY-winning pianist Arturo O’Farrill co-lead their own ensemble, aptly named “The O’Farrill Brothers Band“, which The Wall Street Journal proclaims “bristles with confidence and creativity.”

On Friday, we will be hosting the third Gallery performance by this group, whose members have performed with Stefon Harris, Joe Lovano, Esperanza Spalding, Wynton Marsalis, Joshua Redman, DJ Logic, and more.

Adam and Zack answered our questions about their music, bandmates, and their history with The Gallery, as well as about what it’s like to work with each other:


 

Tell us a little about the music you’ll be performing:

ADAM: All of the music we’ll be playing will be on the forthcoming album, which we are recording in late April, and most of the compositions are mine. When I write, I usually don’t have a particular focus in mind, and I usually don’t come up with a title for a piece until after I write it. This helps bring spontaneity to the writing process, and it prevents me from forcing any ideas or concepts. I take a lot of inspiration from other types of music. For example, my composition “Broken Wings” is heavily influenced by Ravel and Debussy. Another piece, “Mind Troubles”, has kind of a gospel, Aretha Franklin harmonic vibe. We will also be playing two tunes by other members of the band – “Action and Reaction” by Livio Almeida, and “Iron Fist” by Adam Kromelow. “Action and Reaction” is a very groovy piece, so I wanted to add a sense of dirt and grit, kind of a street sound to it.

ZACK: We also like to play a tune by Carla Bley called “Wrong Key Donkey.” Our dad played with her when he was younger and we’ve grown up hearing her music. Carla’s writing is pretty unique in the world of jazz for not having lost its sense of humor, which is something all of us in our house admire and strive for. Also, our dad was able to teach us how the piece really should be played when we first started playing it.

Introduce us to the musicians that will be performing with you: when did you meet them and what drew you to select them for this group?

ADAM: Other than my brother, saxophonist Livio Almeida has been the longest standing member of the band since its inception in 2009. He’s from Brasilia, BR, and the first time I had ever played with him was in the West 4th St. train station. We just jammed, and I fell in love with his playing. As an improviser, he has a strong sense of youth and willingness to discover, and he really knows when to raise the energy level. Not only is he an amazing musician, but he truly is a sweet and generous person. Livio is also a bandleader in his own right: check out his debut album, dcLa Sessions.

ZACK: Livio also has a gigantic sound which is the essential element for my brother, who doesn’t have much of a tolerance for small, timid playing!

ADAM: When I first called pianist Adam Kromelow to sub for a gig our original pianist couldn’t make, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. The only recording I had heard of him was a video of him playing some loud, furious stride, but I dug his personality. Then I actually played with him, and came to realize that he is not only an incredibly creative pianist, but one of the funnest people I’ve ever played with. Adam has always been able to challenge me to the fullest extent. A Chicago native, he studied with Jason Moran and Vijay Iyer at the Manhattan School of Music, and one of the things I enjoy most about his playing is his ability to play with a sense of humor, as well as with serious depth.

ZACK: Adam is a really funny guy who, if we’re all lucky, might be persuaded to sing us some Elton John, or Peter Gabriel, or a Disney song at the Gallery. But he’s an amazing pianist who has incredible technical facility as well as creativity, and he’s as exciting and fun to listen to as he is to play with! Adam also just released his first record, Youngblood, on ZOHO Records, with his trio, which was produced by our dad. It’s an amazing record that people should definitely check out.

ADAM: Gabe Schnider, our guitarist, has been one of my best friends, both personally and musically. He and I first met when we were both participating in the GRAMMY Jazz Ensemble in 2010. We started playing together a lot at MSM Pre-College, and I felt a deep musical connection with him. This inspired us to add guitar to our original quintet lineup, making it a sextet. Adding Gabe has changed the dynamic of the band; he’s always coming up with new and exciting ways to play the music. He also gets really good coconut custard from a bakery in his hometown of Accord, NY, so ask him about that…

ZACK: Gabe is one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met, and he’s one of the most solid young guitarists I’ve ever heard. And he can read well, which is a real rarity! We haven’t looked back since adding him.

ADAM: The newest member of the band is bassist Raviv Markovitz, from Lexington, MA. He was a semifinalist in the 2009 Thelonious Monk Competition, and I first played with him when he was a freshman at Columbia University. We had been playing together around the city before he joined the band, and I have always been a huge fan of his playing. Every time I make music with him, it’s a huge treat. He is someone who really knows to hold the groove down, while also truly shining as a soloist. We look forward to working more with Raviv this year.

ZACK: Raviv is one of those people who almost perpetually has a smile on his face, and he makes you want to smile when you play with him! When you play with Raviv, the time is solid as a rock, but it’s as effortless as jumping onto a soft bed after a long day.

As brothers working together, you two clearly have a longstanding collaborative history. Tell us about the rewards and challenges of working with someone you are so close to personally.

ZACK: I think everyone knows the rewards of working together.  We can almost read each others minds when we play. When Adam is writing one of his complex odysseys, he’s always showing it to me while he’s working on it, so when we get to rehearsal I barely need music for it!  The rewards are obvious.

The challenges are much more fun and entertaining.  It’s really easy not to take each other seriously (which can be a plus too), and sometimes we get into fights during gigs or rehearsals which can be a real mood killer.  We got into a couple big fights during our recording, and sometimes we can really get on each others cases about what music we’re bringing in to the group: whether we have enough or too much, if something is too hard. Also, for every gig we start practically throwing stuff at each other, each trying to get the other to write a mass email promoting the gig because we’re each too lazy to do it ourselves (though I always wind up doing it).

However, we are able to do analysis and planning whenever an idea or criticism strikes, which one of the best parts of leading a band with your brother.  Also, we share a room and frequently stay up late showing each other new things that are interesting and influencing us.  We’re listening to the Bach Ciaccone from the D Minor Partita for solo violin right now.

ADAM: For me, playing with my brother is extremely fun and relaxing because he always knows what I’m going to do. He also understands my music more than anyone else I know. Sometimes we get into fights, but that’s just some brotherly love! Working with my brother on music is just like doing anything else with him: playing video games, riding our bikes through Prospect Park, eating dinner, etc. It’s all the same when it’s with family.

Describe your history with The Jazz Gallery. When did you first start coming to hear music here? How did your first performance here come about? 

ZACK: The first time we came to the Jazz Gallery was to see the SFJazz Collective perform in October 2010. We were as impressed by the venue and its programming as we were with the show.  We were so glad to find a “jazz” club that was all about the music – with no bar, or restaurant, or outrageous cover charge/minimum – that is dedicated to helping young musicians!  We continued coming to shows, and one day decided to inquire about performing.  We didn’t get a response for a long time.  But when we did Rio and Debbie and Russell and all the folks here were so inviting, and they have continued to be!  The Jazz Gallery almost feels like a home away from home sometimes, and with so many incredible and inspiring artists performing here, as well as the artists that have cut their teeth here over the years, it’s a pretty humbling home and family to be a part of.

ADAM: The O’Farrill Brothers Band made our debut at The Gallery with our CD Release Party in March 2011, and we followed that performance up with a birthday bash in September 2011. Both my brother and I have participated in some of the Steve Coleman workshops, Roy Hargrove jam sessions, etc.

The Jazz Gallery is probably my favorite place to play, because its openness to all kinds of new music, and its mission to move forward, as well as the wonderful atmosphere inside the building itself. When you walk in, you feel like you’re a breathing, living part of jazz history.