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It is with a heavy heart that we at The Jazz Gallery announce the passing of Dale Fitzgerald. Along with Roy Hargrove and Lezlie Harrison, Dale co-founded the Gallery in 1995, and then guided its growth as executive director until 2009.

To honor Dale’s memory and legacy, members of the Gallery extended family offer their remembrances below. (more…)

SENRI OE – Aki Uta from Jun Shimizu on Vimeo.

In 2008, Senri Oe shelved his highly successful 25-year career as a Japanese pop star and actor to move to New York City in pursuit of a childhood dream—becoming a jazz musician. As a lyricist, composer, and arranger since 1983, Oe built a robust Japanese popular music (J-Pop) career, releasing 45 singles and nearly 20 albums, winning the Japanese Gold Disc and FNS Pop Music Awards, and hosting a talk show on Japan’s national broadcasting network, NHKHe. Enrolling at The New School at age 47, Oe studied under Junior Mance, Aaron Goldberg and Toru Dodo. Since graduating in 2012, Oe has worked tirelessly to embed himself in New York’s jazz ecosystem. Having established his own record label, PND Records and Music Publishing, Oe plays monthly at Tomi Jazz New York, is a regular pianist for Morning Musuko, a 17-piece big band specializing in Japanese popular music (J-pop), and has now released three albums. Following his state-side debut, Boys Mature Slow (PND Records, 2012) and sophomore release, Spooky Hotel (PND Records, 2013), Oe released his third album Collective Scribble (PND Records, 2015) this past February.

This Thursday, March 19th, 2015, Oe comes to The Jazz Gallery to celebrate the release of his new record with saxophonist Arun Luthra and bassist Jim Robertson supporting. We sat down with Senri recently to learn more about his shift to New York and his time since.

The Jazz Gallery: Can you tell us about your desire to become a jazz musician? What prompted you to leave your previous career?

Senri Oe: The first time that I came across jazz was finding Bill Evans and Antônio Carlos Jobim at a used record shop when I was 15 years old. I was amazed. There was something complicated about the music—the fact that you could feel sadness and joy at the same time. I purchased some jazz theory books at that time and started trying to learn how to play but it seemed too difficult. Around that time, I had also started to compose songs with lyrics, beginning to develop myself as a singer-songwriter. I began getting gigs as a pop artist and once I was offered a record deal, I quit learning jazz altogether. But even throughout my career, jazz always remained somewhere inside my heart.

One day, when I was in my forties, I saw my face in the reflection of a store window and I wasn’t smiling. I looked at myself and was struck, “Who are you? You have to do what you want to do.” I knew at that point that I had to follow jazz because it had been eating away at me all of that time. However, I barely knew anything about jazz at my age—I didn’t even know the difference between open and closed positions on the piano. When I got accepted to The New School, I was surprised. I told my manager about the news and he told me I had to quit pop immediately. That was eight years ago.

TJG: Tell us about your time at The New School. Were there any key learning experiences that you can recall?

SO: At first it was about adjusting expectations. I had to let go of my anxiety around trying to accomplish something big in a short time frame. I also had to adjust to a learning gap. I remember on the first day of orientation, students assumed that I was an accomplished player because of my age and approached me for conversation. Once they figured out that I couldn’t play they formed groups with their other cohorts and for a while I felt left out. I was trying to learn from my 18-year-old classmates at the time—it was definitely humbling. But, little but little, once I was able to make good music, my classmates approached me and we began to learn together. I came to terms with the fact that I didn’t have to rush it. It took me four and half years to finish the program. I also learned that I could focus on crafting the expression and feeling of my playing, even if I felt rhythmically challenged or if I couldn’t play really fast lines.

Aaron Goldberg was really helpful in encouraging me to rely less on charts—learning how to sing the tunes I was playing by memory. Aaron also opened my mind up rhythmically to the power of syncopation. Junior Mance taught me how to be a listener. He is a very open man. Toru Dodo opened my mind to reharmonization. He gave me some hard exercises that have now become like a stretch routine in the mornings.


Photo courtesy of the artist

Photo courtesy of the artist

John Escreet is restless. The 30-year-old pianist left his homeland England for America out of college; he spent all of last year hopping from Mexico to China to Austria to Brazil; he sheds musical styles and ensembles like snakeskin. It is precisely this constant movement and drive for something new that makes him one of the most fascinating and important figures in jazz today.

When you catch Escreet at The Jazz Gallery this week on March 23, he’ll be fronting a trio with special guest. But this is not the group that recorded Escreet’s most recent album, 2014’s flowing Sound, Space, and Structures (Sunnyside). “On purpose, I called guys who I don’t play with that much,” Escreet said in a phone interview. He’ll be joined by a cohort of musical peers who have never played as a single unit before, including bassist Harish Raghavan. Escreet explains the gameplan for this brand new group without any apprehension: “I just picked a few different pieces out of my catalogue, new and old, that I think would work well. And even if they are old tunes, I can tell that they’re going to be so different; they’re going to be deconstructed probably in quite an epic way.”

Escreet’s scope and ambitions are indeed epic. Sound, Space and Structures is his sixth album, and each one before tramped into messy, fertile new territory: post-bop, funk grooves, free jazz. He even dipped into writing for string quartet after a commission from the Gallery; his resulting partnership with the Sirius Quartet was highly successful, and yet just another exploratory mission conquered. “Anything is difficult if you’re unfamiliar,” Escreet says of the process of writing for strings. “The more I did it, the easier it became.”

As Escreet expands his musical experimentations, he also expands his musical network. His most frequent collaborators are entrenched in what Escreet sheepishly alludes to as the “young New York jazz community”: Sanchez, Ambrose Akinmusire, David Binney, John Hébert, Tyshawn Sorey, Adam Larson. But as Escreet tells me, “I don’t like to be tied down to one community too much.” He’s tangled with Chris Potter, fellow Brit Evan Parker, and Wayne Krantz, to name a few.

How to describe Escreet’s playing? A comparison to Andrew Hill feels appropriate, but not remotely close to capturing the whole of Escreet’s playing. “I’m drawn to pioneers,” he says. “People who created their own thing that nobody can emulate.”

So perhaps it’s best to come to The Jazz Gallery without any concrete expectations. “I’m just interested in too many different things,” Escreet says. I don’t think his listeners mind too much. (more…)

Photo courtesy of the artist

Photo courtesy of the artist

Like his contemporaries David Virelles and Fabian Almazan, Aruán Ortiz is yet another young pianist from Cuba to make a splash in the New York jazz scene. He not only has prodigious technique, but also a searching imagination and a propensity for risk-taking.

Ortiz’s music can be high-energy and rhythmic, or more reflective and abstract. But no matter the music’s character, Ortiz always plays with a sense of invention and surprise. Last year, Ortiz was rewarded for his inventive music with a Doris Duke Artist Impact Award, an honor he shared with jazz luminaries like Muhal Richard Abrams and Steve Coleman.

This Friday, March 21st, Ortiz will perform at The Jazz Gallery with his trio featuring Eric Revis on bass Gerald Cleaver on drums. Check out the video below to hear the trio’s exciting and highly-interactive improvisations. (more…)

Photo by Frank Stewart, courtesy of the artist.

Photo by Frank Stewart, courtesy of the artist.

Charenee Wade has the resume of a top-flight classic jazz singer. She came in 2nd place in the 2010 Thelonious Monk Competition. She’s a regular presence at Jazz at Lincoln Center, navigating the classic songbook with ease. She’s recorded with hard-swinging jazz stalwarts like bassist Rufus Reid and pianist Eric Reed. And, she teaches at the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College, passing on the tradition to a new generation of musicians.

But even with this traditional grounding, Wade is by no means a straight-laced jazz traditionalist. Instead, she uses her jazz background to explore a whole range of modern music. This Friday, Ms. Wade will perform at The Jazz Gallery with her new group, the Gil Scott Forum—a group that teases out the swinging undercurrents in the conscious music of Gil Scott-Heron.

Wade and the Forum will be previewing material from their new album Offering: The Music of Gil Scot Heron and Brian Jackson, coming out on Motema Music later this spring. In the meantime, check out these videos of the band performing at Zinc Bar this past January. (more…)