A look inside The Jazz Gallery

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Photo by Fran Kaufman

Photo by Fran Kaufman

Saxophonist Adam Larson has been a regular at The Jazz Gallery since his undergraduate days at the Manhattan School of Music. Since making his debut on the Gallery stage with Ambrose Akinmusire in 2009, Larson has presented a wide variety of projects and group configurations, constantly exploring new musical territory.

This Saturday, February 28th, Larson—ever the prolific composer—will perform a whole slate of new pieces with a top-notch band featuring the likes of Matthew Stevens on guitar and Harish Raghavan on bass. The show is part of the Composers Now February Festival, a series of concerts featuring new music of all kinds throughout the city. Larson recently sat down with Composers Now to discuss his compositional process, as well as the importance of musical collaborators and mentors. Check out the video below to get a sense of the exciting new music that you’ll hear at The Jazz Gallery this Saturday. (more…)


Miles Okazaki in Paris (Photo by Dimitri Louis, courtesy of the artist)

Guitarist and composer Miles Okazaki has been a regular presence at The Jazz Gallery for years; he even recorded his most recent album, Figurations (Sunnyside), live on our stage. We spoke with Miles last summer when he last presented his quartet here, which features Donny McCaslin on saxophone, Francois Moutin on bass, and Dan Weiss on drums. The band will be returning to the Gallery this Friday, February 27th, 2015, so we caught up with him and listened to some tracks that have influenced his approach to the guitar and music in general. His new book, Fundamentals of Guitar: A Workbook for Beginning, Intermediate, or Advanced Students, will be published in March 2015 by Mel Bay Publications. Here’s what Miles had to share with us:

I ended up having a theme that I didn’t realize at the time: a lot of these are live records with guitar players in situations where they’re with another really strong player. In terms of the guitar, I’m interested in how they’re listening to and blending with other instruments, and how certain players hang in situations.

1. “Good Morning Blues,” Charlie Christian with Lester Young (recorded 1939)

[approximately 2:44] This one spot, there’s this weird double-time thing that feels like he’s playing backwards or something.

Usually with Charlie Christian, the things that people have probably heard most are with Benny Goodman or the live stuff at Minton’s, which are amazing, but this is an interesting situation because it’s at Carnegie Hall on Christmas Eve with these incredible other musicians: Lester Young, Buck Clayton, and Freddie Green. And he’s following Lester Young, which is a crazy thing to think about.

It’s a very measured kind of solo. You can hear him moving from one idea to another in a very deliberate way. It’s very clear, but there are several spots where he almost goes into some futuristic kind of stuff—like the lick at the end. There are different kinds of feels: the triplet feel, the double time thing that sounds like he’s backpedaling.



Photo by Dave Kaufman

Photo by Dave Kaufman

At the beginning of January, I got a pass to the Winter Jazzfest and spent Saturday night hopping around Greenwich Village in the freezing cold, waiting to get into overstuffed bars. Quite a lot of it was hectic and noisy, but I found a much more welcoming vibe in Judson Memorial Church, with its open floor and stained glass windows. Trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire was playing a set with his quartet, his warm and contemplative sound filling the resonant space.

But I was equally drawn to the piano player, who peppered Akinmusire’s compositions with shrewd voicings and steady, classically-informed lines—angled arpeggios often floating over the groove, dozens of ideas stuffed into short phrases. That pianist is Sam Harris, a young player from Dallas who is coming to The Jazz Gallery with his trio on February 26th.

You might not know Harris’s name, but you’ve probably heard him on other people’s records. He’s on Akinmusire’s 2014 release The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier to Paint, as well as projects from Gretchen Parlato, Ben Van Gelder, and Rudy Royston. He’s a top-notch sideman with a demeanor to match, but his compositions are formidable in their own right.

Like Akinmusire, Harris is a product of the Manhattan School of Music. He met Akinmusire after school had ended, and immediately ended up on the same jam session circuit, which sometimes went through Harris’s apartment. Now, he’s a member of Akinmusire’s working group. “[Ambrose] gives everyone in that group the freedom to be themselves. I never felt like I had to prove anything,” Harris says. “That’s a very liberating feeling when you’re a sideman.” (more…)

Photos courtesy of the artists.

Photos courtesy of the artists.

About twenty years ago, right when The Jazz Gallery was getting off the ground, Lionel Loueke was a young guitarist studying at the American School for Modern Music, in Paris, France. He had moved to Europe from his native Benin (by way of Ivory Coast), but his musical pursuits would soon take him even farther afield. Loueke won a scholarship to the Berklee College of Music in Boston, and then in 2001, won acceptance to the Thelonious Monk Institute, at the time based at the University of Southern California.

Loueke formed strong musical connections with his classmates. He linked up with bassist Masimo Biolcati and drummer Ferenc Nemeth to form Gilfema, a fleet-footed trio that is still going strong today. Loueke also met a talented young singer at the Monk Institute—Gretchen Parlato.

“Gretchen is always present, she’s my musical soulmate, there’s no doubt about it,” says Loueke. “We have a very deep connection musically speaking. She is always inspiring me, she is always looking for new things. I’ve never seen a singer like her, because she has a great sense of rhythm and melody.”

Loueke and Parlato both moved to New York after completing their studies at the Monk Institute and became frequent collaborators, performing on each other’s albums. Their musical chemistry grew to border on uncanny, with Loueke’s percussive guitar lines and vocal pops blending effortlessly with Parlato’s ethereal voice and syncopated hand claps. The pair’s version of Stevie Wonder-Michael Jackson song “I Can’t Help It” bares strong testament to this. (more…)

Courtesy of New Phase Records

I’m going to let you in on a secret, one that’s known to big name jazz performers like Kenny Burrell, Esperanza Spalding, and Gregory Porter, but maybe not the music world at large: Tivon Pennicott is one force of nature on the tenor sax. This young saxophonist isn’t without accolades—he was a finalist at the 2013 Thelonious Monk Competition—but throughout his career thus far, Tivon has focused much more on sideman work than stepping out as a leader. Having honed his sound in groups led by the artists mentioned above, Tivon is primed for a musical breakout with the release of his debut record, Lover of Nature (New Phase Records).

This Thursday, February 19th, Tivon will return to The Jazz Gallery stage with a new quartet featuring some immensely talented peers—Keyon Harrold on trumpet, Luques Curtis on bass, and Jamison Ross on drums. We caught up with Tivon this week by phone to talk about his new record and what’s next for him.

The Jazz Gallery: Let’s start right off with the last track on the album, Lover of Nature. It’s a duet between you and Mike Battaglia on piano. There’s a special connection there, as well as throughout the album. How did you first start playing together?

Tivon Pennicott: Well, Mike and I went to college together, at University of Miami. I’m a year ahead of him, I met him my sophomore year, in 2005. As you know, he’s an amazing pianist, but he has so many other skills, too many to mention right now. He went to school for audio engineering. He wasn’t even in performance, and I had just met him from him wanting to jam. Mike is special. He can pretty much hear anything. He has some of the most incredible ears that I know of anyone. He’s also very theoretical and dissecting of music and theory in ways that I don’t know if I’ve ever heard anybody do. So he’s just a special guy. I’m happy to have known him then, and our friendship has grown through going to school together. When I moved to New York in 2009, he eventually came up as well. I always told him that we were going to start a band together.

So we grew up musically together. That’s where the connection comes from.

TJG: How did Mike’s ear and attention to detail influence your compositional process?

TP: You know, when I was writing all the songs, of course I had a band in mind that I was writing for. But I didn’t do it specifically for Mike. I knew that he would take whatever I wrote and put Mike Battaglia on it. One thing I did make sure of was that anything that I wrote would be able to be played trio, complete as a trio sound, and I knew that in adding Mike… I trusted his musicality to put the right parts in.

TJG: So, back to the beginning of the album—the first track, “Translated,” builds around a vamp, with dense clusters of 2nds and 9ths on the piano, but then becomes consistent and metronomic towards the middle, with a slow, strong dynamic buildup. Could you describe your process for shaping your compositions?

TP: Well, when I wrote “Translated,” it started out as a series of rhythmically related sections. But I wanted to make sure that the second part wasn’t so obviously related. Like a game, almost. Kind of like a clever way of connecting common rhythms and meter throughout. While I was writing the song I made sure that I had this first section, and then it felt like it needed a contrast. The contrast went straight to something low-key and smooth, and Mike and I traded. It was an opportunity to re-introduce the original riff in a new context.