A look inside The Jazz Gallery

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For the reedist, composer, poet, performance artist, and entrepreneur Oliver Lake, “it’s all about choices.” The New York Times praises both his “robust and piercing sound” and his “acres of experience in the self-sustaining avant-garde,” as a co-founder of both the revolutionary Black Artists Guild, a cross-disciplinary African-American alliance, and the World Saxophone Quartet, a pioneering co-led experimental ensemble. Oliver has also founded his own record label and non-profit arts organization, Passin’ Thru.

Oliver grew up in St. Louis, and began his involvement in the arts in his early teens – both as a visual artist and a musician. After developing a serious interest in jazz and receiving early encouragement at the hands of the singular trumpeter and AACM member Lester Bowie, Oliver moved to New York in the mid 1970s. In addition to his work with the World Saxophone Quartet and Trio 3 (an ensemble which he co-leads with the bassist Reggie Workman and the drummer Andrew Cyrille), the renaissance man has been commissioned by everyone from the Brooklyn Philharmonic to Björk, from the Arditti String Quartet to A Tribe Called Quest. He’s collaborated with poets (Amiri Baraka, Ntozake Shange), choreographers (Ron Brown, Marlies Yearby), actors and authors (Anna Deavere Smith, Patricia J. Williams), and pop stars (Mos DefMe’shell Ndegeocello). Oliver has recorded over thirty albums as a leader and countless others as a co-leader or sideperson.

Oliver has been involved at The Jazz Gallery for years, and served for a time as a mentor to the young composers in our commissioning program. We really look forward to welcoming him back with two separate trios this Friday, October 26th and Saturday, October 27th. Friday’s performance will feature the dual drummer configuration of Reggie Nicholson and Bill McCleland, while you can expect to hear his organ trio with Jared Gold and the drummer Chris Beck on Saturday. You don’t have to take our word for it – both events have been selected as Critics’ Picks by The New York Times and Time Out New York.

Watch a video of the Oliver Lake Big Band performing at The Jazz Gallery in 2007.

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The renowned violinist Mark O’Connor says of Sara Caswell, “Jazz violin needs a universal ambassador…a player who can pick up where the last generation left off. Sara Caswell is well on her way to extending that tradition to touch new audiences.”

A native of Bloomington, Indiana, Sara and her sister Rachel (now a jazz vocalist) were reared by musicologist parents in a town where they were exposed to everything from Celtic music to opera. Also an accomplished classical violinist, Sara began her studies of the repertoire at the tender age of five, and her parents made sure that she received the best training: instruction from Mimi Zweig. Sara took up jazz shortly thereafter; by eight, she was studying with Dr. David Baker, who describes her as “a brilliant, world-class violinist…one of the very best of the present generation of emerging young jazz stars.”

After receiving Undergraduate degrees with high distinction in both classical and jazz performance from Indiana University, Sara moved to New York to earn her Master’s degree in Jazz Violin Performance from the Manhattan School of Music. An in-demand sideperson, Sara has performed and recorded with a breadth of artists including Roseanna Vitro, Esperanza Spalding, Bucky Pizzarelli, John Clayton, and Alan Ferber, among many others.

Sara has released two albums as a leader, First Song (Double-Time) and But Beautiful (Arbors), both of which have garnered numerous accolades including features on NPR’s Morning Edition. She and her sister are also working on a new album with the pianist Fred Hersch.

Sara has performed here recently with the likes of Alexis Cuadrado and Nadje Noordhuis, and we look forward to hearing her own music on our stage on Thursday night as a part of our debut series. The band features the guitarist Jesse Lewis, the bassist Ike Sturm, and the drummer Jared Schonig.

Watch videos from Sara’s recent Jazz Gallery performances with Alexis and Nadje.

Photo via Heed Mag

Herbie Hancock describes Gretchen Parlato as “a singer with a deep, almost magical connection to the music.” Wayne Shorter adds, “In an inconspicuous way, Gretchen Parlato knows how to play the same instrument that Frank Sinatra played. There’s no one out there like Gretchen.”

Gretchen was born in Los Angeles, California, and raised by a musical family. Her father, Dave Parlato, played bass with Frank Zappa, Al JarreauBarbra Streisand, and Henry Mancini, and her grandfather was a trumpet player. You can hear evidence of Gretchen’s strong phrasing at an early age on her 2009 album, In A Dream (ObliqSound). The vocalist graduated from the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts and later attended UCLA, where she studied ethnomusicology and jazz. In 2001, Gretchen was the first vocalist ever to be accepted into the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance. The experience proved to be formative, as much for Gretchen’s development as it was for her peers and faculty members’ impressions of her.

After graduating from the institute, Gretchen made the move to New York. It wasn’t long before she began performing and recording with her classmates and teachers, and the word spread quickly. Within a year, she found herself in front of a panel of Thelonious Monk Institute judges again, this time competing for the vocal competition, in which she took first prize. The vocalist has appeared on over sixty albums, and toured the world over with her own ensembles, as well as those led by Wayne Shorter, Terence Blanchard, Kenny Barron, Terri Lyne Carrington and Esperanza Spalding, among others.

Gretchen and her collaborators have released three highly acclaimed recordings. She followed her self-released eponymous debut album with In A Dream, a breakout success which introduced her music to wider audiences. Most recently, Gretchen released The Lost and Found (ObliqSound), which held the #1 slot on iTunes Jazz for four weeks and received numerous year-end accolades. The album features her close collaborators, including the pianist Taylor Eigsti, the bassist Derrick Hodge, and the drummer Kendrick Scott, as well as special guests Dayna Stephens (saxophone) and Alan Hampton (guitar and vocals). Gretchen speaks:

One day we may think we’ve found all the answers, and then something suddenly happens that makes us feel completely lost as though nothing makes sense. This is life. Accepting that we are always in transition without attaching a judgment to the experience is freeing. We are always the lost and found.

Gretchen has been bringing her bands to The Gallery since she first moved to New York, and we look forward to welcoming her back this Saturday in a duo configuration with the pianist Taylor Eigsti.

Watch Gretchen and Taylor performing “Butterfly” at the 6th annual Oceanside Jazz Festival.

Photo by Alice Zulkarnain

“The pianist John Escreet seems to be thinking about where jazz can go next,” writes Ben Ratliff in The New York Times. John Fordham of The Guardian agrees: “Escreet has quickly matured into one of the most original exponents of that highly disciplined, melodically and rhythmically intricate contemporary jazz style.”

Since the British-born pianist moved to New York in 2006, he has released three acclaimed albums, and cut his teeth in the bands of Antonio SanchezAmbrose AkinmusireAdam RogersTyshawn Sorey, and several others.

As we’ve mentioned previously, we were taken with John’s playing when he first appeared here as a sideperson with the saxophonist David Binney. We invited him back shortly thereafter to celebrate the release of his first album, Consequences (Posi-Tone), on our stage. He has performed here on numerous other memorable occasions since then, including the debut of his trio (featuring the bassist John Hebert and the drummer Tyshawn Sorey) in November of 2010, as well as sideman appearances with David Binney, Tyshawn Sorey’s Oblique, Antonio Sanchez‘s “Migration”, and others. We look forward to his return on Friday, with John Hebert and Tyshawn Sorey.

You can find an interview we conducted with John earlier this year here.

Photo courtesy of Bryan Copeland

Bryan Copeland deals in a strain of jazz “infused with a wistful pop sensibility” (Time Out New York). describes it as “lush, cinematic, contemporary jazz that is difficult to categorize, but easy to swallow.

The bassist grew up in Texas, where he was surrounded by country music, a genre that he initially disliked but later embraced. His early musical influences were pop songsmiths such as Elliott Smith and Nick Drake. Bryan didn’t discover jazz until he turned twenty, by which time he was enrolled at San Antonio College and was studying with the New York Philharmonic bassist Satoshi Okamoto. In more recent years, he’s continued to straddle the lines between genres in his sideman work, touring with Toby Goodshank (formerly of Moldy Peaches) or Ashley Arrison one week, and sharing the stage with the likes of David Binney or Roy Hargrove the next.

Bryan explains that he formulated the idea for his band, the Aardvarks, while coping with the loss of a dear friend from home. As he was sitting at the piano, the melody of the song “Sunshine Through the Clouds” just “flowed through” him:

I was having a hard time dealing with the feelings I was having, and I wasn’t really thinking about what I was playing. Something deep in my subconscious just came out, and that’s still the approach I take with this band. I just close my eyes and let my subconscious write the music.

Before long, Bryan had found his collaborators, including the pianist Fabian Almazan, the vibraphonist Chris Dingman, and the drummer Joe Nero, all chosen for their sensitivity, egoless disposition, and commitment to “making music sound beautiful.” You can hear the results on their self-released debut album, Heroes of Make Believe. As for the quirky name, well, Bryan improvised it when asked for an answer ahead of an upcoming gig (though he admits that he later realized a debt to The Ant and the Aardvark):

It just came to me. I don’t even understand where it comes from. But it all ties into this concept of a band that I want to be a direct link to my subconscious or imagination.

On Thursday, Bryan brings the Aadvarks to The Jazz Gallery as a part of our debut series.They’ll be performing songs from Heroes of Make Believe, as well as premiering some brand new material they plan to record on their next album. Bryan speaks:

I’m very excited to be playing at the Jazz Gallery. It’s one of my favorite music venues in the city. In fact, it’s the first place that I saw a show when I moved to New York, and I can pretty much go there on any given night and see something that I’m going to enjoy.

Stream “Sunshine Through the Clouds” (the song that begot the band) below: