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A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Morgan Guerin isn’t your typical multi-instrumentalist. Rather than specializing in an instrument family, Guerin performs regularly as a saxophonist, bassist, and drummer. He’s recorded and produced two albums under his own name and scored regular gigs with the likes of Terri Lyne Carrington and Esperanza Spalding, all while still an undergraduate at The New School. As he continues to balance his professional and academic life, Guerin will return to The Jazz Gallery for two nights of music. Both nights will feature a core band of Guerin on drums, bass, synths, and saxophone, alongside Chris Fishman on keyboards and synths, Val Jeanty on electonics, and Dana Hawkins on bass and drums. The first night will also feature vocalist Débo Ray, and the second night will feature drummer Marcus Gilmore. We caught up with Guerin about his current gigs, his approach to learning music, and his expectations for the upcoming shows at the Gallery.

The Jazz Gallery: I’ve been scrolling through your social media, finding things to ask you about. It’s pretty overwhelming: This fall alone, you’ve played with Esperanza Spalding, Terri Lyne Carrington, releasing more of your own stuff, done so many collaborations… How do you keep it all straight?

Morgan Guerin: Honestly, Terri Lyne Carrington’s work ethic completely makes everything I have to do so small. She and Esperanza are the two hardest-working people I know. It’s really inspiring to watch them go from project to project, show to show, and have the energy and passion to be able to share and create all the time. It’s a blessing to see their work ethic, and it has definitely rubbed off on me. It pushes me to create more, to stay up that extra hour, to get up an hour earlier. The way they think and listen to music is so eye-opening and super new to me. Having all that knowledge under my wings at such a young age is a blessing.

TJG: Totally, and it’s amazing that you can see it with that perspective. Behind the social media posts and the live performances, what does it look like with these artists in rehearsal, and how did you get involved in their projects?

MG: I got asked to go on a tour with Esperanza maybe two months beforehand. I believe Matt Stevens had recommended me. They were in the studio trying to figure out how they were going to play all this music live, and they probably needed one person who could handle a couple of roles. For the tour, I was playing my synth, organ, singing, bass, sax, and even kick drum on one song [laughs]. In terms of how we talk, we’re all humans. They’re just humans with an extraordinary knowledge, so we communicate like that, everyone is super respectful, I’m always learning, everybody’s willing to give information and pass it on. Esperanza is super open to ideas from others in general. On the first day of rehearsal, none of us really knew what we’d be playing, at least I didn’t. I found out that she wasn’t really playing bass right now, so I brought everything, just in case. Just the fact that she trusts my bass playing, and to have my bass playing on her live shows and her record is beyond an honor for me.

TJG: Does she talk to about your bass sound, or did she really hand it over to you?

MG: She didn’t say much. Every now and again I’d ask her questions, just because I’d be curious about some of the approaches she’s coming from. She always knows what she wants to hear. If it’s something specific, she’ll point it out. But usually she just lets me play, which is really, really cool.

TJG: So, getting to your own music: At the upcoming Gallery gig, you have two nights back-to-back, with basically the same band, albeit a few changes. Can you tell me a little about the personnel?

MG: The first night, we’ll have Débo Ray, an amazing vocalist. She’s in Terri Lyne Carrington’s band Social Sciences with me, which is how we met. She’s incredible, her voice is ridiculous. Val Jeanty, she does electronics and percussion, she’s from Haiti, and is also incredible. She’ll be on both nights. Chris Fishman is playing keyboards and synths both nights, he’s around my age and we’re really close friends. He’s a great composer and has an amazing voice on the instrument. Dana Hawkins will be on both nights, he’s a bassist and drummer from DC. I’m a huge fan of his music. We’re switching off bass and drums the first night, and that’s going to be so much fun. The second night, Marcus Gilmore is showing up and he’ll be playing drums the whole night, I’ll be playing sax, EWI, and synth.

TJG: With this partially be music from the Saga albums, or all new material?

MG: It’s all stuff that hasn’t been recorded or released yet, and for the most part, it’s all music that I plan to put out at some point.

TJG: Did you write it with you on specific instruments in mind? Or do you write the music as-is, and figure that out later?

MG: Oh, I just write the music as it is. Ultimately, I hope to express my voice through any instrument, not just be limited to one specific thing at a time. I don’t necessarily know what songs I’m going to play on which instruments, I just know all of my music. Dana too, he’s been learning everything by ear, so we’ll be super free on stage, and I’ll move between all the instruments I love to play.

TJG: Do you make charts?

MG: Yeah, I send everybody charts and demo recordings. Charts are cool, but learning music without charts is better, I think it helps you understand the music more. I learned all of Esperanza’s stuff by ear. She gave me a chart for one or two songs that have specific piano chords that she wanted to get, but other than that, I did it all by ear. It’s cool to be free with the music in a different way, so the paper isn’t telling you what to do. If you have the knowledge of the actual song embedded in you, you’re free to do whatever you want to do.

TJG: What does your practice look like these days, when you’re hitting all these different instruments?

MG: I wake up and immediately pick up my bass every day, out of habit. I have a lot of instruments and recording equipment in my room, and my bass is on the wall above my bead, so every time I wake up, I pick it up without thinking. I’ve been trying to hone in on the bass, because it’s new to me, and I’m in love with the instrument. With the others, I try to practice everything at least once a day, every day. There are times where I don’t get to touch my horn for maybe a day or two, and there are other times where I don’t touch the bass for a day or two and I’m playing a lot of saxophone, drums, or something else instead. It’s a constant cycle, but I can feel when I’m losing familiarity with an instrument [laughs]. I have to stay on top of it.

Morgan Guerin plays The Jazz Gallery on Friday, February 15, and Saturday, February 16, 2019. The group features Mr. Guerin on drums, bass, saxophone, EWI, and synth; Chris Fishman on keyboards & synthesizers; Dana Hawkins on bass & drums; Val Jeanty on electronics; and special guests Débo Ray on vocals (Friday) and Marcus Gilmore on drums (Saturday). Sets are at 7:30 and 9:30 P.M. each night. $20 general admission ($10 for members), $30 reserved cabaret seating ($20 for members) for each set. Purchase tickets here.