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The MOBRO 4000

The MOBRO 4000

This Friday and Saturday evening, The Jazz Gallery will present two special performances of MOBRO, a jazz oratorio from the saxophonist/composer John Ellis and the playwright Andy Bragen. The piece, just released on record, was commissioned by The Jazz Gallery in 2011, and takes its inspiration from the journey of the Mobro 4000, a garbage barge from New York that unsuccessfully tried to unload its unwanted cargo at various ports across the eastern seaboard in 1987. In the hands of Ellis and Bragen, the story is transformed into a moving drama that challenges our concept of the unwanted, whether human or material.

NB: There will only be one set each night, starting at 9 p.m.

We at The Jazz Gallery met John and Andy at Andy’s apartment in the East Village to talk about their working process and the challenges of combining jazz and theater:

The Jazz Gallery: The New York jazz and theater communities are ones that don’t overlap all that often. How did you two meet and start working together?

Andy Bragen: I was taking a playwriting course up at Hunter College with an old mentor, Tina Howe, and John’s mother apparently was up for the year on a fellowship, getting a second Master’s degree at Hunter, and was in the playwriting class. We became friends, and I mentioned that there was an opening in my house coming up—this was 1995 or ’96.

John Ellis: I came up in ’97, so it probably was late ’96.

AB: She said, “My son is looking for a place.” So I met John then in 1997. He ended up living in the same house as me for a year or two, and we became good friends. We knew each other for about 10 years before we started working with each other and had seen each other’s work and had an artistic conversation through a friendship.

JE: It really was the first Gallery commission I got called Dreamscapes where I was thinking about the potential for interaction between music and language. I wanted to start with these dream-oriented poems. I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do, but I needed the words to react to. Andy was just the obvious choice, so we just started there. It was a cool first effort and we learned a lot.


Photo via

Photo via

Raised in New Orleans, pianist Nick Sanders has been working hard to cultivate a musical identity in New York since moving to the city in 2012, following his graduation from The New England Conservatory. Nick’s primary focus has been producing original music with his trio, which is made up of Henry Fraser on bass and Connor Baker on drums. Under the auspices of mentor Fred Hersch, Sanders released his debut album, Nameless Neighbors (Sunnyside), in 2012 and will look to Hersch again for his sophomore outing.  This Thursday, May 29th, 2014, Nick, Henry, and Connor will return to our stage with an arsenal of new music. We spoke with Nick this month by phone to learn more about what he’s been up to and what he has prepared for the show:

TJG: You just played The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival with the trio on May 3rd, 2014. Could you tell us a bit about that experience?

Nick Sanders: It was awesome! I had actually played there before in high school with the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts. Although I have a very strong classical background and didn’t get into jazz until my later teens, I had attended the festival a couple of times and always enjoyed going because of the musical variety and awesome food they serve. I was just so thrilled to be able to play there at the WWOZ jazz tent. We played a bunch of new music and people were really receptive to it; we received a lot of compliments after the show. I was also really happy because, aside from Al Jarreauour trio was the only other artist reviewed in the paper that day, and the review was great. The other interesting point about the festival is that they book a lot of different types of acts—non-jazz artists like Bruce Springsteen or Christina Aguilera.  As there are fewer jazz acts selected, I feel grateful to have been chosen to play. It was a great opportunity to test out some of the new material that we’re planning for a new record. This record will be our focus over the next few months. Sunnyside Records is going to put it out and Fred Hersch will produce it; we’re super excited!


Photo by John Guillemen

Photo by John Guillemin

Innovative bassist and composer Linda Oh has led bands on the Gallery stage in many contexts. This past February, Linda led her quartet to promote her third album, Sun Pictures (Greenleaf). In the spring of 2012, Linda composed and performed work commissioned by the Gallery as part of our 2012 Residency Commissions series, Leading From the Bass. This effort comprised music written for jazz quartet and string quartet with Linda calling on the help of the Sirius Quartet

This Friday and Saturday, May 23rd and 24th, 2014, Linda returns with the Sirius Quartet in a similar eight-piece configuration, prepared to play some new music in addition to the material that she wrote for her 2012 residency. New to the configuration will be Matt Mitchell, Sara Caswell, and drummer Ches Smith. Ches is featured on Matt’s duo record Fiction, and the group will be playing one of Matt’s etudes from that album orchestrated for this configuration.

Two of the pieces that Linda will be presenting draw on melodic material from a traditional Chinese genre of storytelling called shuo chang (说唱—literally, “speak sing”). Along with Mandarin study and continued travel in China, Linda has been exploring shuo chang as a means of melodic inspiration. Also in this weekend’s repertoire will be Charlie Parker’s “Au Privave.” As Linda comments on her site, this rendition seeks to explore the boundaries of limited notation. Curious musicians can read the explanation from her website and see her screenshot below:

The restriction with this arrangement, was to have the strings (including bass) to play the melody of Au Privave in any rhythm, octave jumping is allowed, but you have to stay in the same key (didn’t have to be F, in fact Violin I and Cello are in C, Violin II is in Ab and Viola is in Eb). The piano plays the composite melody while alto plays the bass rhythm but outlining the harmony. Here’s a screenshot of the first few measures.


Photo courtesy of the artist

If you missed it, here is Linda premiering “Ebony” at The Jazz Gallery from the Residency Commissions series in 2012:

Linda Oh Group featuring Sirius Quartet performs at The Jazz Gallery this Friday, May 23rd and Saturday, May 24th, 2014. This performance features Linda Oh on bass, Matt Mitchell on piano, Greg Ward on saxophones, Ches Smith on drums, Fung Chern Hwei on violin, Sara Caswell on violin, Ron Lawrence on viola, and Jeremy Harman on cello. Sets are at 9 and 11 p.m., $22 general admission and $10 for Members. Purchase tickets here

Photo courtesy of the artist

Photo courtesy of the artist

Having recently graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2013, spirited trumpeter and composer Victor Haskins is already making an impression in the music community. Haskins released his debut album The Truth (32 Bar Records) in March 2013, receiving praise for his “…flowing ease of execution that allows him to explore exciting, rhythmically unique improvised lines that hint at Woody Shaw.” Haskins has not only shared the stage with great names like Christina Perri, Dena DeRoseJason Moran, Jason Mraz, Nat Reeves, Temptations, and Warren Wolf, but was also selected as a member of the 2013 class of Betty Carter’s Jazz Ahead and awarded second place in the 2012 National Trumpet Competition (Jazz Division).

Aside from his pursuits as a composer and performer, Haskins has also been crafting his faculties as an educator. He recently spoke at TEDx on the role of improvisation and has been leading a Jazz Outreach program for The Kennedy Center of the Performing Arts. This Thursday, May 22nd, Victor will perform in a chordless trio with bassist Drew Gress and drummer Clarence Penn as part of our Thursday Night Debut Series. This will be Victor’s first performance as a leader at The Gallery and we hope you will join us! We spoke to Victor this month by phone to learn more about his work and what’s in store for the upcoming show:

The Jazz Gallery: Last spring you graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and have since been hard at work, playing many opportunities primarily throughout the Richmond and DC area. How has this transitional year gone so far?

Victor Haskins: It’s been great! The primary reason I worked hard to finish my course requirements and graduate a year early from VCU was to spend more time working on my own music and less time working on school. Considering the year ahead, I will be continuing to establish myself throughout the Richmond, VA area, making an effort to travel and play in different cities and working more with educational outreach programs.


Photo by Don Getsug

Photo by Don Getsug

This Friday and Saturday, May 16th and 17th, 2014, alto saxophonist Greg Ward will present a musical tribute to artist and mentor Preston Jackson as part of The Jazz Gallery 2013-14 Residency Commissions. Greg is the second artist to be featured in this year’s season of saxophonic commissions following Ben Wendel, who performed his commissioned work in February. Next month, we’ll be presenting both Godwin Louis and Ben van Gelder as the next two artists in the series.

We spoke to Greg last month as he was beginning his residency, and we followed up with him earlier this week to get a sense of how things went. We’re excited to hear what he’s come up with and hope that you’ll join us to welcome him back to our stage.

The Jazz Gallery: Last month, you mentioned looking forward to writing for septet; in writing for this medium-sized group, how did you negotiate a balance between spontaneous improvisation and preconceived, written material?

Greg Ward: Well, I try to just write the music: what I want to have set and written. Then when I want to begin to orchestrate the ideas for the ensemble, I try to find space where it would fit musically for people to explore. I try to find space where we can expand on what I’d already written, so once I had a clear idea of what I wanted written down and I began to put it together, I knew where it’d be appropriate to have some sort of solo section or other moments of improvisation.

Also, when we got a chance to get together and rehearse the material—that let me get a clearer picture of how the musicians would all sound together. Once you get an idea of how they respond to what you write, you can say, “Oh, this space would work well for this player and for his personality to interpret the music.” So that was the biggest factor after getting a chance to hear what I wrote down and seeing what they did with it. I want everybody to express themselves.