A look inside The Jazz Gallery

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Desmond White has been an active bass player in the New York jazz scene since his move here from his native Australia in 2009. As a bandleader, however, he stretches into the many roles of multi-instrumentalist, singer, composer, lyricist, and producer. In 2013 he released Short Stories, the first album of his own songs. His second album Glace will be released on the Biophilia Records early next year.

At the Jazz Gallery, White will play the songs from the forthcoming album live for the first time. Playing with him will be Nir Felder (guitar), Glenn Zaleski (piano), Guilhem Flouzat (drums) and special guest Kate Kelsey-Sugg (vocals). We caught up with him in Crown Heights’ Colina Cuervo on a chilly October afternoon, and talked about the new record, the shifting infrastructure of the music industry, writing lyrics, and Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan. Here are some excerpts from our conversation:

The Jazz Gallery: Would you give us a brief overview of what this new album is about?

Desmond White: It’s a bunch of songs I’ve written over the last three years, since the last album. I guess, broadly speaking, they’re all about mistakes or behavior patterns that have led to regrettable circumstances. The album is there to catharsize those maybe and get rid of them. Some of the songs seem to come out OK despite their “evil source.”

TJG: In the lyrics on the album I noticed you use some contrasts. I wrote one of them down: the line, “I’ll be mean to you/ to make you smile.”

DW: Honestly, I think that’s just an Australian gimmick to maybe insult or make fun of people when first meeting them, as kind of a casual way to express affection. I think the Australian way of interacting is a little more sarcastic, and it can be abrasive. I’ve had to tone that down a bit since coming here.

TJG: But it’s also something that you use when you write.

DW: Yeah, definitely. I guess I’m not so interested in examining only the good parts of courtship and all the niceties and beauty, because I think we spend a good deal of time on the other side as well, so I like to get into those themes as well—the bad decisions and men being assholes, basically.

TJG: Do you feel that through putting that to music there is some sort of transformation that happens?

DS: Mhm. For some reason there are things that I could write in a song that I couldn’t really say at will. I couldn’t even tell you certain things that I find easy to put in a song. You can hide behind the music a little bit. Some people find singing more exposing—they feel more vulnerable—but I feel more vulnerable speaking than writing lyrics.

TJG: What is the main difference that you see between playing bass on jazz gigs and this project?

DW: I guess it’s a slightly different skillset. You and the other musicians need to know a little bit of language from that pop world. For me, it feels the same. Apart from the singing part. I don’t usually sing when I’m playing jazz.

TJG: What kind of work on your singing you’ve done since you’ve started doing it?

DW: I’ve been taking some pretty steady lessons with singer Sara Serpa. She’s amazing. But a lot of the work I’ve been doing with her is shedding any judgment. She says she sees a lot of musicians that want to sing, that are so hard on themselves and immediately want to sing at the level that they can play their instrument, which never normally happens. And letting go of that has been very helpful. She’s been pushing me to not worry so much and that’s been very helpful. I by no means have mastered it, but I’m getting there.

TJG: Do you feel that singing has influenced your bass playing in any way?

DW: Only in the sense that when I’m singing and playing, I don’t have the freedom to play all the stuff that I normally do, because I’m concentrating on doing both at once. But I think that’s good. I think, generally, when someone is singing, you want the bass and the rest of the band to be doing less shit, not more. So that restraint that is forced on me hasn’t been a bad thing. On the album, you’ll hear that there aren’t a lot of bass solos or even complicated bass parts, really, and that just seemed to fit the music. Which I guess session dudes have known for years and years, but I’ve only fairly recently discovered.


From L to R: Jason Rigby, Russ Lossing, Jeff Davis. Photos courtesy of the artists.

From L to R: Jason Rigby, Russ Lossing, Jeff Davis. Photos courtesy of the artists.

Individually, saxophonist Jason Rigby, pianist Ross Lossing, and drummer Jeff Davis are three of the most adventuresome improvisers working in New York. Rigby has released two acclaimed albums on the Fresh Sound label, and has worked with a wide range of bandleaders from drummer Mark Guiliana to pianist Kris Davis to trombonist Alan Ferber. Lossing has been releasing varied and distinctive albums for over two decades, including two recent solo albums—2015’s Eclipse and 2012’s Drum Music, a tribute to former mentor and collaborator Paul Motian. Davis is also a leader in his own right with several albums under his name, in addition to being a first-call collaborator throughout the experimental quadrant of New York’s jazz scene.

Together, however, these three players form Heavy Merge, a collaborative, free-improvisation trio that is more than the impressive sum of its parts. Their music traffics in high contrast—delicate sections giving way to cathartic explosions of sound. Rigby, Lossing, and Davis all assert their strong musical personalities, pulling the music in unusual and unexpected directions.

This Saturday, October 29th, Heavy Merge will perform two sets at The Jazz Gallery. While each set of theirs is a unique entity, check out the high-wire interplay (and Lossing’s blazing work on distorted Rhodes Piano) of “Pavilion of Temporary Happiness” below.


Photo courtesy of the artist.

Photo courtesy of the artist.

The impact of cellist Okkyung Lee’s playing is intensely physical. Through her use of amplification and non-standard techniques—yielding scratches, snarls, and otherworldly hums alike—Lee brings listeners seemingly into the body of her instrument. Lee is equally at home in jazz clubs, concert halls, and art galleries, as well as playing solo or as a member of a large improvising ensemble.

This Friday, October 28th, Lee brings her singular music to The Jazz Gallery for two sets. For this performance, Lee has written new music for a chamber-like group of diverse improvisers—Celtic harpist Maeve Gilchrist, pianist Jacob Sacks, and bassist Eivind Opsvik. This is a brand new group, so don’t miss the opportunity to see their sound bloom in real time.  In the meantime, check out Lee’s breathtaking recent solo album, Ghil, below:


Photo courtesy of the artist.

Photo courtesy of the artist.

As is the case with many of the artists we interview on Jazz Speaks, Kenneth Salters has his plate full. While simultaneously teaching through Arts Connection, touring through Europe and Asia, and supporting a wide roster of other artists, Salters recently found the time to release Enter to Exit on Destiny Records. The project enlists a strong and multi-faceted supporting cast in Tivon Pennicott (tenor), Matt Holman (trumpet), Myron Walden (alto, bass clarinet), Aki Ishiguro (guitar), Brad Whiteley and Shai Maestro (piano), Spencer Murphy (bass), and Bridget Kibbey (harp).

A lifelong learner and musical sponge, Salters has been absorbing sound from across the spectrum since he was a kid. He met steel drummer and composer Andy Akiho while studying at the University of South Carolina, and has since worked with Akiho on a number of projects. Salters will be bringing his ensemble to The Jazz Gallery this coming week, with a few subs to the album’s personnel including Chad Lefkowitz-Brown (sax), Katie Andrews (harp), Or Bareket (bass), Ben Eunson (guitar), and Matthew Sheens (piano). We spoke with Salters via phone about his musical influences and compositional approach.

The Jazz Gallery: Enter to Exit (Destiny Records, 2015) featured a large ensemble and plenty of guest artists, including Myron Walden, Shai Maestro, Bridget Kibbey. What kind of statement were you hoping to make with this release?

Kenneth Salters: My background has always been pretty open. I grew up listening to a lot of soul and R&B. I got into jazz in middle school, but I’ve been playing classical percussion from the time I decided to start drums. My college degree is in orchestral percussion. Even then, I always wanted to play everything. I did every ensemble in college, you name it. Percussion ensemble, opera orchestra, philharmonic orchestra, marching band, drum corps, I did it all. I even played with the chorus whenever they needed a percussionist. I love experiencing different genres and cultures, trying to get a taste of everything. When I write music, that’s where I’m coming from. I like to write what I’m hearing, nothing is safe from my ears [laughs].

TJG: On “#1,” I love how you layered different textures with each other, especially when the fully orchestrated drums and distorted guitar arrive. How do you approach phrasing and layering as a drummer and bandleader?

KS: I’ve been writing for a while now, but I feel as though I’m just getting my feet wet, you know? A lot of the time, I’m revisiting past experiences with fresh ears, trying to figure out what feels good and sounds good, and working on what doesn’t sound quite right. I’ve never taken a composition class, but one of my best friends and roommates in college was a fantastic composer, and in New York I lived with Andy Akiho for a long time as well. I learned a lot about counterpoint, layering, and phrasing from those guys. Other than that, I like to listen to music and learn, figuring things out at the piano and making them my own.

TJG: I love your rendition of Dolly Parton’s “Halos and Horns,” complete with a horn arrangement of the harmonized fiddle and vocal melodies.

KS: Yeah, I tried to recreate those vocal parts basically word for word. People were playing country in South Carolina growing up, but it wasn’t as popular as one would think. I think I got into Dolly Parton in college. I admire her; she’s the kind of person who takes what she does very seriously, and is an incredible musician and singer, yet at the same time, never takes herself too seriously.

TJG: It’s rare to meet someone like that, who takes their craft seriously without taking themselves too seriously, even if they’re the practitioner of that craft.

KS: Yeah, absolutely. She’s cultivated that, and has a great work ethic. Her music sounds amazing.


Clockwise from top: Shai Maestro, Joe Martin, Ziv Ravitz, and Mark Turner. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Clockwise from top: Shai Maestro, Joe Martin, Ziv Ravitz, and Mark Turner. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Pianist Shai Maestro is never someone to rest on his laurels. Though Maestro has a new trio record—The Stone Skipper—coming out on November 10th, he’s already looking to the future with a brand new project. This Wednesday, Maestro returns to The Jazz Gallery with a new quartet featuring a top-notch group of collaborators—saxophonist Mark Turner, bassist Joe Martin, and drummer Ziv Ravitz.

Maestro is spending most of the autumn on the road throughout Europe in support of his new album, so don’t miss this rare New York date. And before stopping by the Gallery on Wednesday, check out the great duo set with pianist Aaron Goldberg below.