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Photo by Klaus Mauz

Steve Coleman likes to think of himself “like a [West African] griot”; he hopes to function “like a person that’s documenting something in music, telling a story and passing information down.” As we mentioned in our last post about Steve, there is little doubt that he has been one of the most influential musical figures of his generation, particularly in the area of helping talented young musicians find themselves.

We feel that Steve’s weekly workshops at The Gallery are an incredible resource, and we were thrilled when the folks at Symphony Space took an interest in presenting one in their space. If you find yourself uptown tomorrow evening, don’t miss this unique opportunity.

Of course, you don’t have to take our word for it. Here are testimonials from six artists in varying stages of their careers touching on the importance of Steve’s music, his wealth of knowledge, and his ability to change lives:

“…an exceptional personality of American music history.”

Don Byron

“To me, Steve’s as important as Coltrane. He has contributed an equal amount to the history of the music. He deserves to be placed in the pantheon of pioneering artists.”
“It’s hard to overstate Steve’s influence. He’s affected more than one generation, as much as anyone since John Coltrane. It’s not just that you can connect the dots by playing seven or 11 beats. What sits behind his influence is this global perspective on music and life. He has a point of view of what he does and why he does it.”

Vijay Iyer

“At this point Steve Coleman’s ideas about music, improvisation, and composition have entered the common vocabulary of four or five generations of musicians.   Some younger musicians probably don’t even know that he is the fountainhead of a huge range of current directions in creative music.   I think that playing with Steve permanently alters your musical DNA somehow — I’ve learned a great deal about my own musicianship in trying to navigate through his music, and trying to match the uncompromising spirit with which he approaches study and practice.   Musicians of all kinds should jump at the chance to see him in a workshop setting.   The fact that he is generous enough to spend his Monday nights sharing the results of years of research and practice is very rare.”

Miles Okazaki

“To say that Steve Coleman has had a huge impact on me as an artist and person is an understatement. He changed the direction of my artistic life and not only helped me clarify how I want to contribute to this universe, but also showed me processes and tools that empower me to create from the deepest place possible within my ancestry (the infinite past) as well as my future (the infinite unknown).  For anyone attending one of his workshops, be prepared to be changed by the experience.”

Jen Shyu

“The first song that we wrote together made me realize that I should be writing stuff that actually comes from who I am, and not worry about whether it fits inside a certain expected formula. There was a rhythmic science I didn’t know anything about, so that everybody is clued in to what’s happening with the drums more than the harmonic structure.”

Cassandra Wilson

“He’s a born teacher. He’ll expound on anything you can ask him about. And he’s absolutely full of information of all kinds.”
“Playing and studying with Steve, you learn what’s behind certain musical ideas,” says Mr. Finlayson, who first encountered Mr. Coleman while in high school. “There are the technical elements, and that’s one level to absorb. But then there are the things that are less apparent, things you have to be close to the music to grasp. This is priceless information to be privy to.”

Jonathan Finlayson

Photo courtesy of

During a blindfold test for JazzTimes, the saxophonist Don Braden was played a recording of George Colligan. Here is an excerpt from Don’s response: “As a creative artist, he’s really up there…In terms of technique, knowledge of music and improvisational creativity, there aren’t a whole lot of cats from his generation that are any better than him. As a matter of fact, I can’t think of any.”

George boasts one of the most extensive sideman resumes of any pianist in jazz today. He’s toured, performed, and/or recorded with an enormous breadth of artists, including Gary Bartz, Benny Golson, Gary Thomas, Dave Weckl, Steve Coleman, Eddie Henderson, among many, many others. Currently, he occupies the piano chair in the band of the drummer Jack DeJohnette. George is also active as an educator: after spending two years on the faculty of the Jazz Studies program at Juilliard, he is now an Assistant Professor at The University of Manitoba.

George’s lengthy list of other obligations has not stopped him from producing 19 recordings as a leader. His compositional talents have been recognized by grantmakers such as Chamber Music America and the Doris Duke Foundation. We’ve been presenting George’s groups for a decade now, watching him develop his voice in many different directions. On Saturday night, George will bring a quartet grounded by his longtime collaborators Boris Kozlov (bass) and Donald Edwards (drums), as well as vocalist Debbie Deane. Watch George, Boris, and Donald performing with Jazz Gallery veteran Jaleel Shaw.

George recently started his own blog; you can read more from him at JazzTruth.

Photo by Christian Ducasse via

 Tony Malaby always has something new up his sleeve. Since he moved to New York from Arizona in 1995, the saxophonist has established himself as one of New York’s most adventurous improvisers, both with his own groups and through appearances with Charlie Haden’s Liberation Orchestra, Paul Motian’s Electric Bebop Band, Mark Helias’ Open Loose, Fred Hersch Quintet, among others.

Tony has performed here innumerable times in the past. His last appearance here, with his octet, Novela (the album of the same title is available via Clean Feed), was reviewed by Nate Chinen in The New York Times, who writes, “The tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby has a burly but beseeching tone, and in his own bands he often pushes toward an amiable ruckus.” We hope you will join us in welcome him back in a new configuration – with the pianist Joachim Herman, the bassist Clemens non Papa, and the drummer Flin Van Hemmen – on Friday night.

Watch a video from one of Tony’s prior concerts here, featuring PALOMA RECIO, a band including the guitarist Ben Monder, the bassist Eivind Opsvik, and the drummer Nasheet Waits.

Photo via Red Cat Publicity

Into his third year in New York, the saxophonist Greg Ward shows no sign of slowing down. A Chicago native, Greg cut his teeth participating in (and eventually running) sessions at the late great tenorman Fred Anderson‘s fabled club, The Velvet Lounge, while performing with like-minded peers in groups such as Mike Reed’s People, Places, and Things, Occidental Brothers Dance Band International, Blink., and others. During his time in Chicago, Greg performed with artists such as Von Freeman, Al Jarreau, Carl Allen, Rufus Reid, Jeff Parker, Hamid Drake, and many more. He has also penned works for the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), the Peoria Ballet Company, and the Brazos Valley Symphony Orchestra. More recently, Greg has recorded with the electronic music artist Prefuse 73, arranged and conducted an orchestra for the rapper Lupe Fiasco, and is slated to tour with the acclaimed post-rock band Tortoise.

In his trio, dubbed “Phonic Juggernaut”, Greg entrenches himself in the heavy-hitting New York rhythm section of Joe Sanders (bass) and Damion Reid (drums), both of whom are Jazz Gallery veterans. Speaking on WBGO’s The Checkout, Greg marveled at the flexibility and spontaneity of his collaborators: “They blow me away every time we play together…playing with musicians like this, I can always be surprised.” Listening to the group’s eponymous debut album, it is clear that the rhythm section feels the same way: Joe, who just presented new work as a part of the 2012 Jazz Gallery Residency Commissions this past weekend, says of the band, “To call this trio a power trio is an understatement. [Through Greg’s] very intriguing compositions and arrangements, this trio pushes my thinking and approach to new heights.”

This Thursday, we will present the second Jazz Gallery performance of Phonic Juggernaut, which will mark Greg’s fourth evening here as a leader. To get a taste of what you might hear, stream the two tracks in the SoundCloud player below (courtesy of Thirsty Ear). Popmatters declares that the first number, “Leanin’ In”, takes listeners to “a place where even something like a simple vamp is cursed with all of the catchiness of a pop melody”:

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Photos by Rafiq for Jazz Speaks

On Friday and Saturday, Joe Sanders will present the premiere of new work created through the 2012 Jazz Gallery Residency Commissions series “Leading From the Bass.” I caught up with Joe today to snap some photos during the band’s rehearsal (see above), and to chat with him about the highs and lows of composing, developing ideas at The Gallery, and leading from the bass:

You’ve been here for two weeks; how clear was your idea of what you wanted to do when you started and what’s happened since then?

Well, when I started, I really had no idea what I was gonna do! I just knew I wanted four basses. But I kept thinking that the idea of four basses is just absurd; just to write for it and make it interesting enough for an audience to listen to for an hour. So I thought, “well, that’s not really going to work too well.” But then I realized that I could add a band, and I thought, “oh! duh!”, and it all came together.

I was transcribing string quartets and symphonies and trying to get ideas of how to orchestrate before I had written anything…

Who were some of the composers you were listening to?

You know, my main people: I love Tchaikovsky, I love Mahler. [Their music is] just ravishing…so powerful, but the orchestration is very minimal. They take an idea and they run it through the whole piece. That’s the beauty [of it]; I was trying to find something like that.

I did that, and I was just writing things. Whatever came to my head. I was just trying to write for four basses and trying to see what works, and in which register. The bass is such a limited instrument to write for in terms of register, especially for four people to play it and not get in each other’s way, and for it to not sound muddy. That was the first test I had to pass in order to make this work.

Before I got together with the guys for the first time, I wrote them an email, and was like, “this is either going to be really easy, or really, really hard.” But then, [when we played through the material], I thought, “Oh, okay! This might work.” It felt like a sigh of relief, like wiping my brow, because I would have really had to start fresh after doing all of this analyzing and all of this homework. So I’m glad it worked out.

Since then, I’ve continued adding [to the pieces] and being more meticulous about what I wanted from the sound of the music. [I had to figure out] who would play each part and which other instrumentalists I would get to play in the band. All of those things came later, in the last week, because I was so engulfed in the process of writing music. It was a bit daunting at first, but I pressed on.

As far as your day-to-day experience at The Gallery goes, what has been most useful or rewarding for you?

Well, the thing is that you can come here at any time. Being in New York, it’s so difficult to practice at night. The beauty of this is that you have the key [to the space], and you can come in at any time to work on an idea. Or, you can just come here without any prior inspiration whatsoever and just sit here for a couple of minutes!

There’s nothing else; there are no distractions. At home, there’s the TV, there’s the computer; there are all of these things to distract you. Here, you could just sit here for an hour and not do anything, but there’s a piano right there and there are basses and drums, so you can be inspired in some sort of way. [You can] sit down, think for a while, and then come up [on stage] and play or write.

There were only one or two times where I came in and had no idea what I was going to do; maybe the first couple of days when I was still pulling my hair out!

You’re usually so busy; I wonder if this has also provided you with some more focused time to write?

It has. In fact, this is one of the first times in a long time that I’ve had two weeks to just do one thing.

I feel like a real composer now! It’s really amazing; when I went through days of depression, I felt like a real writer. Like, “Whoa! Okay…This is how writers feel.” They’re going through it, and they have all of these ideas, but then sometimes they don’t have any ideas!

I’m a bass player. I play bass all the time, so I’ve always felt like a bass player. Sometimes, I feel like a bassist-composer. But, at this point, I feel like a composer-bassist. It’s been really weird being in the house all day not touching my instrument and just writing for ten hours!

So it’s been a great experience, just to have the focus of this.

So, while this has been something you’ve done while you’ve been in this space, it’s also been your focus in your time away from The Gallery?

Yeah. Usually, I have gigs and do other things, but I had to make this my priority, because I was being compensated, first of all, but also because I told myself that I had to be a composer, and to do what I set out to do.

I wouldn’t have accepted this opportunity if the task had just been to write a jazz quartet piece; that’s fine, I can do that, and have done it before with my band. But this was a challenge. We’ll see what happens – whether or not people like it – but I feel that I stepped up to the challenge, and made something out of nothing, really. It’s very rare that you hear four basses, period.

I’m not imagining [the end product] in any way – that’s the beauty of it. And I never was. I was never set on what I wanted it to be. You just roll with it, every minute; that’s how I like to live life. Roll with life. You can have your plan, and your priorities, but you can’t plan everything.

I’m happy that I have this opportunity because it’s opened my mind to possibilities and to challenges. This is the first time I’ve actually had to write something on a deadline; I’ve made records of my own and have written music, but it’s never been so intense. I’ve also never played so many roles: I’m the manager, I’m the assistant, I’m the copyist! I’m putting music in folders right now. I’m doing everything. From the beginning to the end, this has been like my baby.

But also it’s still a work in progress. I’m not going to stop working on it. This is something I can always come back to. And I’ll probably take some of the pieces from this project [and perform them again], even if it’s not with four basses.

I like it. And it’s good when you like what you write! There are so many pieces that I write that I don’t like.

And I’m happy with the progress, because, with the bass…it’s hard. It’s hard to get in tune, it’s hard to play, and this music really is not easy. So I have to give it up to these bass players, because they really stepped up to the challenge.

I know bass players. I know them really well. And I knew that these guys would be gung-ho about this, because it’s something really different, and something new, and [they would do] anything to advance the bass. These guys have been wonderful. And I’m in the same boat that they are, which is usually not the case. Because [no bandleader] really knows what you’re doing with the bass – [e.g.] the fingerings or bowings that you have to use – so we’re all in the same space. And I’m playing this music too, and it’s hard for me, and I wrote it!

It’s not going to be perfect at first, which is great. That’s why we rehearse. But performance elements give you a different perspective on things. So I’m really excited to hear what the performance is going to sound like.

Joe Recommends:

EATALY: “I love Italian food, and this place is authentic. I went yesterday and had the best mozzarella you can find in the city. They have an espresso machine especially for espresso. Sometimes I go there just for an espresso. It’s a taste of Italy!”

Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony and Mahler’s 5th Symphony: “I played these pieces in the youth symphony in high school. They are two of my favorites.”

We hope you will join us for Joe’s performances on Friday, March 2nd, and Saturday, March 3rd.