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A native of Madrid, Spain, pianist Marta Sánchez has quickly established herself as a major voice on her instrument since moving to New York in 2011. Grammy-nominated trombonist and Gallery favorite Alan Ferber describes her music thusly:

The ease with which Spanish pianist Marta Sanchez integrates folk elements from her native country’s rich music tradition with the harmonic sophistication and spontaneity of jazz is remarkable. Her artistry will undoubtedly produce many hours of compelling and important music in the coming years.

You can hear one of these compelling hours of Sánchez’s music on her new record Partenika (Fresh Sound). With her quintet in tow, Sánchez will be celebrating the release of this record at The Jazz Gallery on Thursday, March 12th. We caught up with her by phone to discuss writing for the particular members of her band and taking inspiration from surprising sources.

The Jazz Gallery: Two saxophones seems like an unconventional quintet sound, which is immediately evident on “Opening.” How did you come across this sound, and did you have Jerome Sabbagh and Roman Filiu in mind when composing Partenika?

Marta Sánchez: I don’t think it’s really that unconventional, there are other examples of this. But, I wanted to do something with two lines, or three lines with piano, and I wanted this kind of warm sound from saxophone instead of trumpet. I did have Jerome and Roman in mind from the start. I knew Roman from Madrid, where I’m from, and we came here at the same time. I wanted to do something with him. So I wrote all the music thinking of him, of them. This music is totally personalized to the two of them.

TJG: You have a quintet in New York, as well as a sextet with Camila Meza. How does your method of composition change for each of your different ensembles?

MS: I only write for specific instrumentation, so it’s different in the sense that I work towards sounds on different instruments; vibes, guitar, alto saxophone, and so on. I also have to write lyrics for one group and not the other, so it’s totally a different concept when I have words, you know? The two projects are different, even if the music probably has similarities. But actually, I think on what tonality I want, how many instruments I have, how voices might be exchanged. There aren’t that many chords, I think more in terms of lines that go together. It’s not about people playing chords and a melody, a melody and harmony. It’s many melodies in many layers, all happening at the same time. Each instrument has its own part, each has a personalized line.

 TJG: The groove and the melody on “Partenika” are both so sparse, but they fit together beautifully. Did you write one line first, or did the composition come together more spontaneously?

MS: As far as I remember, the bass line came first, but then very quickly the saxophone came together. I compose lines together, one with the other. I always compose at the piano. I think in terms of sound, or groove, or some kind of atmosphere I want to create. When I have a groove, maybe I’ll imagine a melody I want to create over that, or I’ll even think of some kind of tonality between the saxophones. Mostly I sit down at the piano, and whatever ideas I have in my mind, I try them and go through them. I love composing. I try a lot of things on the piano, even if I may have a clear idea of what I want before I even write a note. If the idea isn’t working, normally I’ll stop and just come back another day.


Courtesy of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Licensed under CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Courtesy of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Licensed under CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Considering how many times we have had the pleasure of hosting Steve Coleman in both performances and workshops, it may come as a surprise that Jazz Speaks has not yet interviewed the 2014 MacArthur Fellow and monolithically influential saxophonist and composer. 20 minutes on the phone with Coleman quickly stretched to nearly an hour as we discussed his experiences with The Jazz Gallery before it was even officially The Jazz Gallery, his reflections on teaching and leading workshops, and the origins of his conception of spontaneous composition. He will perform four sets over the course of two nights this weekend with Five Elements as part of our 20th Anniversary Concert Series, and as always we are honored to have him present his inimitable music on our stage.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

 TJG: When was the first time you came to The Jazz Gallery? 

Steve Coleman: I came to The Jazz Gallery before it was The Jazz Gallery, back when they were just a loft on Hudson. I remember getting together with Roy Hargrove there in either ’93 or ’94 because his manager had gotten the place so Roy could practice, but this was before they were doing performances. It was just me and Roy up there, practicing and going over stuff, just trumpet and saxophone. We were both with BMG/RCA, and we were talking about doing demos and stuff like that.

TJG: How did you start leading workshops at the Gallery?

SC: That started because we used to get together at this place on 50th Street near 6th Avenue. It was an art gallery, and it was myself and Graham Haynes and a couple of other people just going over music. They had a piano there and we’d bring in drums and get together, somewhere between 2000 and 2002.

It was around the same time that I met Marcus Gilmore, who was about 13 or 14 then. Graham kept telling me that he wanted to bring his nephew around for me to hear him. I asked him how old he was, and he said, “He’s just a kid. He’s 12,” and I’m, like “Man, I don’t want to hear no 12 year old kid!” and he was like “No, this guy is good! This guy is really good. He’s gonna be great, blah blah blah…”

He kept telling me this and I kept putting it off, and then one day he just brought him by anyway and he played. I was like, “Oh, man, this kid can play!” Jonathan [Finlayson] had just started hanging around me and playing with me. He was only 17 and Marcus was about four years younger than him.

I’m mentioning all this because we stopped getting access to that place, so I talked to The Jazz Gallery about doing the same thing, a private get together, and they said, “Well, we don’t know if we can do a private get together because we have to pay for the lights,” and rigmarole about bills to pay. We talked more about it and they said, “What about a public thing where we charge people?” and after some back and forth we came to an agreement. This must have been ten years ago.

TJG: How did you feel about making these musical get-togethers public? (more…)

Photo courtesy of the artist

Photo courtesy of the artist

As a pianist and composer, Theo Hill straddles the divide between jazz’s past and present. Hill can swing with ease and authority, which is why he’s become a regular sideman with the likes of trumpeter Charles Tolliver and trombonist Frank Lacy.

But Theo also has a foot distinctly in the now. His compositions can be flowing and atmospheric, punctuated by synth lead lines. Or, they can just get down and funky. (more…)