Photo by Jati Lindsay, via www.ericrevis.com
With fascinating observations about the creative process, bassist Eric Revis has much to say about his role as a bandleader and composer. He’s a veteran of the New York scene, and now that he’s based in Los Angeles, he’s still one of the busiest sidemen in jazz. Throughout the decades, he’s supported Betty Carter, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Steve Coleman, Lionel Hampton, McCoy Tyner, Orrin Evans, and Branford Marsalis, who says “Eric’s sound is the sound of doom; big, thick, percussive.” Aside from being an in-demand sideman, Revis has become an increasingly-active bandleader, releasing acclaimed records including City of Asylum (2013), Crowded Solitudes (2016), and his most recent release, Sing Me Some Cry (2017).
As part of The Jazz Gallery Fellowship, a residency made possible by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Revis spent several weeks living at the Marcel Breuer House at Pocantico. For the upcoming premiere of this new music at the Gallery, Revis has assembled a band composed of former collaborators on his past albums, including Darius Jones on alto saxophone, Bill McHenry on tenor saxophone, Kris Davis on piano, and Chad Taylor on drums. His time living and working in the sequestered, angular modernist Breuer/Rockefeller house shaped his music and creative flow, he told us in a recent interview. Read more below:
The Jazz Gallery: You’ve got a string of shows coming up in New York, with Kris Davis and Johnathan Blake at The Stone, the premiere of your fellowship commission at The Jazz Gallery, and finally a hit with Roy Hargrove. How’s your preparation going, given how different each gig will be?
Eric Revis: [Laughs] It’s one thing at a time. I’m still in the process of amassing material for my commission premiere. It’s kind of strange having to compartmentalize everything, working on things in different capacities as a composer, bassist, bandleader. It’s pretty chaotic right now. Kris has some really developed, difficult, intense music for her gig. She has certain ideas about things she wants to do, and we discuss a lot back and forth. I need to find out what she wants me to do from section to section. At the gig, I want to be in the performance, not navigating the paper. I want to do a good job, to get into the music, to dance.
TJG: Next week you’ll be playing her music one night, then she’ll be playing yours the next. Do you think your relationship changes depending on who’s in charge?
ER: I don’t think my musical relationship changes with anybody that I play with, really. Music is not proprietary. If you’re of the idea that “This is mine, and I want you to do this” in an egotistical way, then you’re fucked. I’m fortunate in that with the people I play with, there seems to be an overarching ideal of “We’re doing this together: What do you need from me?” It’s about sitting together collectively at the table, rather than a more dictatorial arrangement.
TJG: What can go wrong in the former scenario? I’m sure a lot of cats hire a band and say exactly how they want it to be, and that arrangement is the communal starting point.
ER: Yeah, but usually, if people are that hard-nosed about it, you can hear it on the bandstand. Today, everybody’s a composer, everybody’s got a concept. That’s anathema to art. You’re not supposed to have a concept. You’re supposed to be navigating a trajectory to get to another place of artistic development. Once you hunker down and say “This is my concept,” you’re screwed. You’ve put a period on what should be some Henry Miller-type shit. Keep going, keep developing. Now, the hard-line specificity of conveying a certain idea, that’s a bit different. Cecil Taylor, or Ornette’s band, they rehearsed hours a day, for years. But that was more about inculcating guys into a certain sense of direction, not “I need you to hit this 32nd note right here, then do this, then that.”