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Left: Johnathan Blake, photo by Ingrid Hertfelder; Right: Joe Dyson, photo by Eric Waters.

Left: Johnathan Blake, photo by Ingrid Hertfelder; Right: Joe Dyson, photo by Eric Waters.

This Tuesday, December 1st, The Jazz Gallery is proud to launch the final edition of our 2015 Mentorship Series, featuring drummers Johnathan Blake and Joe Dyson. Both drummers come from musical families and have forged deep connections to the musical histories of their respective hometowns. Hailing from Philadelphia, Johnathan Blake is the son of master jazz violinist John Blake, Jr. One of the busiest sidemen working in jazz today (he’s been on over 50 albums), Blake has carried forward the sound of Philadelphia drummers like Philly Joe Jones and Mickey Roker, a sound described by critic Aidan Levy as “the vertiginous sensation of being both slightly behind the beat and hurtling into the next measure.” Blake is seemingly always on the road with a huge array of groups—at the Village Vanguard with Tom Harrell in October, the Maria Schneider Orchestra this month, the Chris Potter New Trio next—showing his unparalleled musicianship and flexibility. Definitely check out this scintillating solo with pianist Kenny Barron.

Joe Dyson grew up in New Orleans and first played drums in the church where his father was pastor. While Dyson went to school at Berklee and now lives in New York, New Orleans is still very much a part of him musically. Dyson is one third of the Bridge Trio, along with his high school friends Max Moran on bass and Conun Pappas on piano. Their comfort and rapport are immediately apparent in this performance at 92Y Tribeca, below.

Dyson also plays regularly with New Orleans natives Donald Harrison and Christian Scott Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah. Although he has a command of many modern drumming styles, Dyson always filters those influences through a distinctive New Orleans swing.

Mssrs. Blake and Dyson will be joined by saxophonist John Ellis and bassist Dezron Douglas on Tuesday evening—two exploratory musicians who are also deeply rooted in jazz traditions. Prepare for two sets of slippery rhythms and deep grooves with this group. (more…)

Tim Berne's Snakeoil (l-r): Berne, Matt Mitchell, Ryan Ferreira, Ches Smith, Oscar Noriega. Photo by Wes Orshosky.

Tim Berne’s Snakeoil (l-r): Berne, Matt Mitchell, Ryan Ferreira, Ches Smith, Oscar Noriega. Photo by Wes Orshosky.

Tim Berne’s Snakeoil released You’ve Been Watching Me, its third album on ECM, back in April. The band, which features a bass-less configuration with the recent addition of guitarist Ryan Ferreira on their latest album, will appear as a quartet minus Ferreira for their appearance at the Gallery this Thursday, and they’ll be appearing at IBeam Brooklyn the following evening as well.

Berne, a tirelessly prolific composer and saxophonist, has released 50 albums as leader or co-leader to date, and he shows no signs of stopping anytime soon, having been a creative force on the New York scene for over four decades. Snakeoil, which first came together six years ago, has been a vehicle for Berne’s intricate compositions, which have been likened to chamber music. As he says in a promotional video for the band’s second release, Shadow Man (2013), his conception for the band primarily involves creating compositional “scenarios” within which he and his bandmates navigate and make decisions together:

“I don’t really tell people how to play … I think my influence, if there’s any, is in the writing: creating these crazy scenarios that these guys kind of have to play their way out of, or into.”

The band has an unmistakable sonic profile, although one that’s perhaps hard to describe: shapeshifting, variously stark and dense, rich with detail but unafraid of space and silence. We’re pleased to welcome Berne back to our stage and hope you’ll join us to witness Snakeoil’s continuing evolution. (more…)

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Photo courtesy of the artist.

In a feature piece from this month’s issue of JazzTimes magazine, critic David Adler calls drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts “…one of the most consequential sidemen of the last 30 years, revamping and revitalizing the art of swing itself.”* A longtime member of both Wynton and Branford Marsalis’s groups, Watts’s influence on contemporary jazz drumming runs far and deep—drummers as different as Eric Harland and Jim Black name Watts as a major touchstone.

Since leaving the drum chair in the Branford Marsalis quartet in 2009, Watts has taken on a new roll in his acclaimed career—that of a composer and bandleader. Already, many of his tunes have become staples of the Branford quartet book (even after his departure), tunes that are ecstatic and complex, yet never for complexity’s sake. This past June, Watts released two companion albums Blue, vols. 1 & 2 (Dark Key Music), recorded in his home studio and released on his own label. The albums consisted mostly of Watts’s original compositions, played by a rotating cast of collaborators old (guitarist Paul Bollenbeck, trombonist Frank Lacy) and new (saxophonist Troy Roberts, pianist James Francies). Watts even takes a vocal turn on the album, as an alter ego named “Juan Tainish.”

This weekend, Mr. Watts returns to The Jazz Gallery as apart of our 20th Anniversary celebrations, with a band of young collaborators—Aaron Djuan Burnett on saxophone, Theo Hill on piano, and Romeir Mendez on bass. The intensity of Watts & company will sure to lift you from tryptophan-induced drowsiness, especially if the clip below is any indication.  (more…)

Photo courtesy of the artist

Photo courtesy of the artist

The Jazz Gallery’s 2015-16 Mentorship Series continues this month with the pairing of vocalist Claudia Acuña and pianist Samora Pinderhughes. A native of Santiago, Chile, Acuña is one of today’s most prominent jazz vocalists, having recorded five albums under her own name and many others as a special guest. She is a longtime Jazz Gallery regular, having performed here countless times with her own groups and with her peers, recently with bassist Alexis Cuadrado for his “Lorca Soundscape” project.

A recent graduate of Juilliard’s jazz program, pianist Samora Pinderhughes has already been making major inroads in the New York scene as both a leader and sideman. Pinderhughes has performed his large-scale Transformations Suite several times across the city, from the Gallery to Joe’s Pub to the Museum of Natural History. As a sideman, Pinderhughes has played extensively with vocalists Emily King and Jose James, and is currently playing with Branford Marsalis’s quartet in between his shows with Acuña.

Throughout their short tour, Acuña and Pinderhughes will be playing music by Mercedes Sosa, an Argentinian singer-songwriter who was a major part of the socially-conscious musical movement called “Nueva Cancion” in the 1960s-80s. We caught up with Pinderhughes by phone last week to discuss what makes a good vocal accompanist and how he expresses emotions in music without words.

The Jazz Gallery: What has been your experience playing with older musicians before this series with Claudia?

Samora Pinderhughes: I come from a generation that doesn’t get a chance to play with older musicians much. I’ve had a lot of teachers certainly, but I haven’t performed with that many people from older generations. It’s just not the same world that it was before. There are fewer of those musicians around, there isn’t as much of that type of work.

TJG: How then does this experience compare with learning jazz in a conservatory setting?

SP: One of the things that I like about working with Claudia is that I have a lot of say in the process—it’s really equal actually. I feel really lucky about that, because this doesn’t always seem to be the case in these types of situations. In the jazz community, I always hear this narrative of a sideman being on a gig and having to do exactly what the leader wants. It’s great that this series places a lot of emphasis on creating a partnership, rather than a teacher-student relationship. Claudia and I worked together to think of the concept for the group, and I was involved in a lot of the arranging of the material.

TJG: This feels more like the Art Blakey model of bandleading, where he would let the players in the Jazz Messengers play with their own personalities and their own compositions.

SP: Yeah. And this has stretched me as well. When playing with someone like Claudia, I feel like I have to rise to the occasion and really play at a high level all of the time.

TJG: From a rhythm section standpoint, what makes a really good vocal accompanist?

SP: Listening, above everything. Then, an understanding of the material not simply from a musical perspective—you have to understand the meaning and purpose of the lyrics and how they relate to the music. I like to write things with lyrics a lot, and even when I’m playing on piano, I try to think about the character of a certain story. It’s easy to get away from that if you’re performing without words. But when you’re working with the vocalist, there has to be an understanding of what the vocalist wants to do with the songs.

TJG: Are there any pianists that you like as vocal accompanists in particular? Or certain pairings of vocalists and pianists?

SP:  Hank Jones is my favorite. I really love Herbie Hancock as well, like on that Joni Mitchell record. I really like piano-vocalists who play for themselves—that gives me a lot of direction. They obviously know what feels good from an accompaniment standpoint, and how the accompaniment supports the voice, so I want my playing to feel as natural as that. I listen to a lot of Nat Cole and a lot of Ray Charles and a lot of Nina Simone. Teddy Wilson is another guy who I like a lot.

TJG: You’ve already worked with a wide range of vocalists, from Jose James to Emily King. How does working with these vocalists differ from gig to gig?

SP: Every experience I’ve had is different. With Claudia, she’s really coming from the jazz tradition and jazz performance practice, but we’re also playing the music of Mercedes Sosa, who’s not a jazz musician—she was part of the Nueva Canción movement and has no piano in her music normally. So I get to approach this material in a certain way.

I feel lucky that I’ve worked with Emily King for a long time—I think she’s one of the greatest vocalists, period. With her, the music is very, very specific. It’s like the most gorgeous jigsaw puzzle. I know what we have to create, and it’s going to be gorgeous, but you have to fit into that. If you play something different, it’s not going to work the right way.

This was a good challenge for me, coming from the jazz world. It’s easy to get away from this kind of thing as a jazz musician, because there’s so much freedom in how the music works now. That’s overall a good thing, but so much great stuff in earlier jazz, like in Duke Ellington’s music, there is a lot that’s specific to each song, and that doesn’t take away from the freedom inherent in the work. So working with Emily was really instructive for me in that it told me that there’s nothing wrong with playing a part if it is what works better than anything else. It never felt restrictive to me because I could add some things, but what I added had to work better than that musical gesture not existing. It really helped with my self editing, because when you’re able to play a lot, it’s easy to play things that don’t need to happen.

It’s funny, but I now see this idea of editing and clarity everywhere—like in the Apple logo, or the design of the iPhone. Early smartphones were so cluttered, and part of why the iPhone is so attractive is that it’s strictly bare— there’s an apple and it’s black and white and that’s it. This is what I understood from playing with Emily.

I was on tour with Jose James as well. That was more of a combination of Emily’s approach and the freedom of jazz. Jose works a lot with connecting different genres together in interesting ways. I learned a lot from him about the connection and the energy between the artist and the audience. That’s something vital for a singer, but that instrumentalists don’t always understand. In a lot of improvisatory music, the energy is between the musicians almost before it’s between the musician and audience. The experiential aspect of improvisation for an audience is very different. Sometimes, the audience becomes a witness rather than a participant. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s just a very different energy. I’ve found that with Jose, there’s an art to working a crowd. He’s able to connect with the audience in a way that feels organic and genuine, not put on.


Photo courtesy of the artist

Photo courtesy of the artist

O’Farrill has been a potent last name in jazz for decades. First there was Chico, who started as Benny Goodman’s arranger before taking the helm of his own big band; then his son Arturo, who carried the tradition of Latin jazz with dizzying piano work and leadership; and now his sons Adam and Zack, the cubs carving out their own names in the jazz world. Adam, the 21-year-old trumpeter, has shown in his burgeoning career that he is standing on the shoulders of giants without simply hitching a free ride to the top. He plays with poise and authority, and brings his group “Stranger Days,” featuring Chad Lefkowitz-Brown on saxophone, Walter Stinson on bass and his brother Zack on drums, to the Jazz Gallery on November 20.

O’Farrill has had a busy year. He’s just coming back from a global tour with the fearsome saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, who featured O’Farrill on his latest album, “Bird Calls.” He tore up Birdland with the Boss Sextet, featuring other members of the O’Farrill clan, and also has a debut album with Stranger Days slated for May.

O’Farrill actually came to The Gallery with the same group around this time last year, and Jazz Speaks caught up with him then. He talked about his admiration for Ornette Coleman and Daniel Day Lewis, and said of playing with his family members: “It’s similar with my dad’s group; we’ve always been playing with each other: my dad, my brother, and I. It’s just like goofing around and beating each other up.” You can read the full interview here, and be sure to check out Adam blowing over this slinky arrangement of “My Favorite Things” with the Steven Feifke Big Band, below.