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John Daversa Big Band at Baked Potato (photo via

John Daversa Big Band at The Baked Potato (photo via

John Daversa’s resume is a mile long for his trumpet playing alone. But even if he were never to pick up the instrument again, his eclectic and witty compositions would still make him an aggressively original voice. For over 15 years, Daversa was a mainstay of the L.A. jazz scene, leading his Progressive Big Band and small group, teaching at area colleges, and playing on film soundtracks and with pop artists ranging from Fiona Apple to Michael Bublé (you might also recognize his playing from the Key and Peele sketch “Jazz Duel”). His Big Band had a regular gig at The Baked Potato in Studio City, where Chris Barton of the LA Times praised Daversa’s “adventurous, colorful approach.”

Daversa recently took a position at the University of Miami, where he now heads the Studio Music and Jazz program. But even though his academic duties have ramped up, the trumpeter/composer has embarked on one of his most ambitious projects to date: a PledgeMusic campaign for his newest album, Kaleidoscope Eyes, which will feature Beatles songs arranged for the Daversa Big Band.

This Saturday, December 6th, 2014, Daversa will be bringing several of these freshly arranged Beatles tunes to the Gallery, but he won’t be bringing the band, which is still based in L.A. Instead, he’ll be bringing a new iteration of the ensemble, which features a who’s who of East Coast veterans, including Donny McCaslin, David Binney, and Brian Lynch. When we caught up with him, the trumpeter had just returned to Miami from Tokyo, where he’d been performing with the Bob Mintzer Big Band.

The Jazz Gallery: How does it feel to be in Miami after so many years in L.A.?

John Daversa: I love Miami. I really feel healthy here, and the school is just an incredible place to work. The students are at such a high level and the faculty is very special, and there are all kinds of great events going on there every day. I feel like I’m still in L.A., to be honest; I’m there at least once a month performing.

That’s always the hardest part: being removed from your friends. You know, you grow up with those people. The musicians I miss terribly, but I’m able to see them and make music often enough. I probably see them about as much as I did when I lived there.

TJG: Where are you performing most often with your own bands?

JD: I’m traveling all over the place now—more than I had ever before. With my own groups, the big band is nearly impossible to travel with because of the expense, so I’ve been playing with that band about once a month in L.A. because we’re preparing for our new record.

But that’s also given me the opportunity to compose a big band in New York with a whole different family of friends, which I’m really enjoying. So we’ve been doing that for about a year in New York now. And then my small band travels; we’ve been touring around a little bit.


The National Endowment for the Arts (Wikimedia Commons)

The National Endowment for the Arts (Wikimedia Commons)

We have some exciting news: The Jazz Gallery has just been awarded an Art Works grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. We’re deeply appreciative of the continuing support the NEA has shown us over the years, and this new grant will support the continuation of the Gallery’s Thursday Night Début Series, as well as the continuation of our new Mentoring Series, which continues in December with Jason Lindner’s NOW vs. NOW featuring James Francies. See the complete list of grant recipients here, and check out the NEA’s official press release:

Washington, DC— From partnerships to develop a districtwide arts education plan in North Carolina to poetry from a combat engineer to a folk arts festival in rural Wyoming, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) continues to support the arts and creativity to improve lives and communities in the United States. In its first fiscal year 2015 announcement, the NEA will award $29.1 million in 1,116 grants in three categories: Art Works, Challenge America, and NEA Literature Fellowships in Creative Writing.

NEA Chairman Jane Chu said, “Since coming to the NEA, I have met with many NEA grantees and have seen first-hand the positive impact they have on their communities. These new projects will continue to demonstrate the power the arts have to deepen value, build connections, and foster an atmosphere of creativity and innovation both at the community level and with individuals throughout the nation.”

Photo via

Photo via

Gilad Hekselman has been praised as one of the best young guitarists in New York City. In 2013, he was named an international rising star in DownBeat, so in the spirit of cosmopolitanism, here are some reviews from far-flung publications: “This 30 year old Israeli has no competition amongst the guitarist of his generation” (Die Zeit [Germany]); “…one of the best guitarists of a new generation of talented musicians” (Jazzmag [France]); “…one of the most promising guitarists on the New York jazz scene” (The Times of Malta); “a terrific guitarist and, more importantly, an amazing musician” (Haaretz [Israel]).

Hekselman’s 2011 release Hearts Wide Open was named one of the top 10 albums of the year by New York Times critic Nate Chinen. Reviewing that album in the same newspaper, Ben Ratliff wrote that Hekselman is “on a good road, and he’s still moving.” In 2013 he released This Just In, a mostly trio record that was loosely structured on a news broadcast, to positive reviews.

Although Hekselman possesses astounding technique, what stands out in his playing is restraint. He has a sensitive touch with a penchant for dramatic sweeps of phrase, and his style is particularly suited to his lyrical compositions, which are suffused with clear and strong mood. Equally adept at playing lines, setting up riffs, shredding, and creating rubato melodies that float over the rhythm section, he’s a guitarist with something to offer to different types of listeners. Speaking to Doug Fischer of the Ottawa Citizen, Hekselman said, “I am always looking for a balance between complexity and emotion, something that can connect me to an audience and also keep them interested. It’s not about being flashy.” (more…)


Photo via

Photo via

“I mostly hear the band when I’m writing,” says Canadian-born bassist Lauren Falls, who released her début album, The Quiet Fight (2013), last winter. The band that she wrote for included some familiar names in modern jazz: saxophonist Seamus Blake, guitarist Nir Felder, pianist Can Olgun, drummer Trevor Falls (her brother), plus trumpeter Jon Challoner and cellist Caleigh Drane on several tracks. The core quintet will appear this Thursday, December 4th, 2014, at The Jazz Gallery, with drummer Justin Brown filling in for Trevor Falls.

Although The Quiet Fight was released last December, Falls didn’t hold her Cornelia Street Café CD release concert until July; she already had other plans. Soon after she released the album, Falls caught a flight to Mumbai to teach bass guitar, upright bass, and ear-training for four months at The True School of Music, a sister school of the Manhattan School of Music (where Falls earned her Master’s degree in jazz performance).

The Quiet Fight is an honest, mainstream modern jazz effort with songs that feature many familiar textures and devices—straight-eighth note grooves, odd time signatures, independent and melodic ostinati—employed with confident ease and self-expressive focus. Among Falls’s recent compositional reference points are saxophonist Ben Wendel, who participated in the Gallery’s 2013-14 Residency Commissions series, and trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, another Gallery alumnus whose compositional approach on albums like the imagined savior is far easier to paint (Blue Note) has been undeniably influential among numerous young jazz musicians. (more…)