Photo courtesy of the artist.
At Hamilton’s Bakery in Harlem, Adam Larson shows up early for coffee. Purple Rain shakes the place at full volume, followed by Superstition. We sit and I ask him about the neighborhood. Larson quickly gives me a rundown: “Tazo Coffee on 157th, Tsion Cafe on 148th, where Wayne Escoffery plays some Thursdays, Sylvana on 116th, the old St. Nick’s Pub, now closed.” Larson is a living vault of venues, musicians, and opportunities in New York City. His knowledge of the industry extends beyond the names of clubs and owners. At only twenty six years old, self-managed and self-motivated, saxophonist and composer Adam Larson has turned the elusive art of booking gigs into a tangible science.
It’s all in service of the music. Larson, now a father, still premieres new work with new ensembles on nearly a monthly basis at venues across the city. His upcoming show at The Jazz Gallery with Can Olgun (piano/nord), Desmond White (electric/acoustic bass) and Jonathan Blake (drums) is presented in partnership with Composers Now. Over coffee, between texts to his wife and calls to the plumber, a very busy and hyper-focused Adam Larson discussed his upcoming gig schedule, his thoughts on composition, and the ways in which he pursues personal and musical growth.
The Jazz Gallery: You’ve been living in Harlem for a while?
Adam Larson: About five years, yeah. I’ve steadily been moving north since I graduated. Next we may move to Queens. In the 2008 brochures from Manhattan School of Music, it was like, ‘Don’t go above 125th street’ [laughs]. Now it’s all different. I love this spot, Hamilton’s Bakery. It’s pretty hipster, but this is my spot.
TJG: Last time we talked was before your previous Jazz Gallery show in September, right before your son was born.
AL: We were expecting him on Halloween. The 30th came, and we thought he was going to be late. Then, late in the morning, my wife feels these kicks. Eighteen hours later, he was born. Healthy, happy, great.
TJG: You were saying that show at The Gallery would probably be your last for a while, so you could spend some time with your son.
AL: I didn’t travel until two weeks ago. I stayed in the city from September to early February, which is new for me. Usually I’m out every single month doing something. And I took a month off from performing outside of New York, aside from playing at Birdland in November. I knew I had that on the calendar months in advance, and I considered cancelling since I wouldn’t be able to get a big turnout. But I had actually drafted up all my press emails a week before he was born, so in the recovery room, I had my phone and hit ‘send’ on these emails. The music is important, but getting people to the show is one of my major priorities.
TJG: So what was it like to be away from your son for the first time?
AL: It was difficult, but it was only about 36 hours. I didn’t really have time to think about it. I was so busy doing stuff while I was away. I have to provide, it puts things in perspective. My wife’s a stay-at-home mom, and the financial obligations fall on me. It’s not impossible, but it’s not easy. It’s a pleasure to have opportunities to create. It helps a lot.
TJG: You seem like someone who’s always done the most to capitalize on your time. What’s it like having your time squished even more?
AL: It’s all about managing expectations. I can’t play four hours a day, like I did in college. And it’s okay with me: I want to be a part of my son’s life. I’ve always been conscious of my time, but can compartmentalize things. I can look at the clock and say, ‘Okay, I have 30 minutes right now, and 30 minutes this afternoon. How can I use these minutes effectively? Am I going to write? Play saxophone?’ It’s a tightrope act, making sure I’m being a good husband, a good father, and am taking care of my music.