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Vanisha Gould

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Vanisha Gould has a lot to share but never all at once: she lets the moment set the mood. The New York-based singer and songwriter has been a fixture at uptown venues and downtown clubs for the past several years, leading different bands. Through frank delivery and subtle-gestured phrasing, she shares stories teeming with empathy, humor and self-reflection. This week at The Jazz Gallery, Vanisha brings her own interpretation of existing works alongside trio mates Chris McCarthy, Tyrone Allen and Adam Arruda. 

The Jazz Gallery: You view yourself as a storyteller, and I think so much of your original music really reflects that identity. You have a way of lyric writing around these melodious compositions with this wonderful meaty arc. Can you share a little bit about your process for composing and how it’s maybe evolved over the years? 

Vanisha Gould: It’s easier to do than to explain because for me, it’s so fluid. When I compose, I usually do melody and lyrics first. But it’s really just walking down the street, walking home from a bar. If I can retain the idea when I get home, then I just build on it from there and see where the story takes me. But it’s never “sit down and write.” It just unfolds, based on rhyming, even melody. I’m not a piano player. My power is that when I’m away from a piano, I’m not restricted by all this knowledge of chords and how a song “should” be. But then I can see how I can change it in some way when I’m just dealing with the melody. From there, once the melody and lyrics are down and I got it in a voice memo, I can sit down at the piano and painstakingly try and find the chord changes for it. But it’s a very fluid process in terms of finding the actual story. 

Walking down the street, you could see a person getting out of the car, hugging another person goodbye, and that’s a story, if you find the melody to it. Are they hugging goodbye? Did they break up? Is that a family member? How long will they not see each other? 

TJG: That explains a lot about how natural your compositions feel. You really have an empathetic curiosity about other people. 

VG: It’s just observing and then making up your own stories about what you’re observing. I will say that as natural as the songs may sound to you, it’s few and far between. The gaps in between, the writers block in between is so large. I only write three to four tunes a year. I certainly don’t force it. I’m not someone who sits down and says, “I’m gonna write a song today.” When it does come naturally, it’s awesome. But then, in between, it’s like, “Oh, well, I guess I’m singing this song indefinitely.” 

TJG: Are you content with that process or is it something you wish were different? 

VG: I wish it were different. I wish I had that work ethic. There are some people who say, “I’m gonna write a tune a day. I’m gonna write a tune a week.” And not all of them will be good, but the whole point is completion—to make a promise to yourself and complete it. I don’t do that. I wish I had that urge [laughs]. But I am content when a song comes out: “Okay, well, dig. That’s a completed song. And it’s new. And I finished it.” I wish I had that spirit but that’s not me. So I guess I am content with it. 

TJG: I think anyone who goes out regularly to the clubs in New York likely has heard your distinctive swinging trio and quartet sound that often features your originals as well as standard repertoire, but so much of your music reflects this stunning, expansive orchestration. You do create your own arrangements, so I was wondering, are you also developing your voice as an orchestrator these days? 

VG: I wish. I don’t have the knowledge yet. I know how bass, drums and piano work [laughs]. I know I can write out a complete tune with the changes over the slash chords and that those three instruments will know exactly what to do. So that’s what I deal with. But I do have a band of bass, guitar and violin. And my bass player Dan Pappalardo, I consider him a great arranger. During our rehearsals, I’ll bring in a skeleton chart but, again, just the changes and slash chords, and he’ll be the one to stop the music and say, “Okay, what are the dynamics of this line?” or “Let’s think of the lyrics here,” or “Maybe the bass should be out, and I’ll come back on this part…” So my arranging is very much band-oriented. Collaboration.

I’m open for ideas because I only know melody, lyrics and the chord changes. That’s the complete tune until an added idea shows up from the band. There’s one tune I have called “Now That You’re Here” and during one rehearsal, there’s a line the bass player played in unison with me. That was like five years ago. Ever since… forever, on this line, no matter who’s playing, I say play that bass line in unison with me. If someone comes up with an idea that I love, I’m like “Fuck yeah. I’ll keep it. That’s mine.” 

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Sachal Vasandani

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This Friday, July 30, vocalist Sachal Vasandani returns to The Jazz Gallery with two different sets. To kick things off, Vasandani will be joined by pianist Romain Collin, as the duo present music from their new album, Midnight Shelter (Edition Records). Recorded last summer during the middle of the pandemic, the album brims with tactile intimacy, a balm for a time of social distancing. Take a listen to Vasandani and Collin’s take on Nick Drake’s “River Man,” which makes you feel as if you and the vocalist are sitting inside Collin’s piano.

For the evening’s second set, Vasandani has assembled a true supergroup featuring a front line of trumpeter Mike Rodriguez and saxophonist Dayna Stephens, plus a crack rhythm team of Gerald Clayton, Dezron Douglas, and newly-minted NEA Jazz Master Billy Hart. This is definitely a night where it’s more than worth staying for both sets. (more…)

Joe Dyson

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Drummer Joe Dyson first graced The Jazz Gallery stage as part of the Mentorship Series back in 2015, resulting in an electric series of two drum-kit performances with mentor Johnathan Blake. In discussing the unique aspects of playing with another drummer, Dyson spoke with Jazz Speaks about his musical upbringing in New Orleans:

I grew up in New Orleans and I grew up playing traditional music, playing in brass bands, and marching bands. They require at least two drummers, so there’s always a counterpoint of rhythm and a counterpoint of ideas, everything happening simultaneously. So playing with Johnathan actually works really well. He’s such a musical player—we’re always listening to each other’s ideas and complementing what’s going on.

Most times when you’re sitting in the drum chair, you’re the main orchestrator, and so a lot people see that when you have two drummers, you’re competing for the space of orchestrator. But when you’re really listening, it’s easier to have a real conversation and communicate the same idea together.

Dyson’s New Orleans roots also play a big role in his debut album, Look Within, released earlier this year. Featuring a cast of talented New Orleans-based peers, the album foregrounds Dyson’s spiritual pursuits and histories, building compositions on recorded samples of sermons (including one by his father, the Rev. Dr. J.C. Dyson, Sr. You can stream the album below:
This Thursday, July 29, Dyson returns to the Gallery as a leader in his own right, playing music from the album with a stable of New York collaborators. (more…)

Tivon Pennicott

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As a saxophonist and composer, Tivon Pennicott has one foot on the dance floor and the other stepping into the beyond. Across his two albums Lover of Nature and Spirit Garden, Pennicott has drawn from his Jamaican heritage, Pentecostal upbringing, and love of film music. Pennicott furthers his expansive musical vision in From Roots to Branches, his new Jazz Gallery Residency Commission. Joined by bassist Louis Cato and drummer Joe Saylor, Pennicott will premiere the work at the Gallery this Friday and Saturday, July 23 and 24. We caught up with Pennicott to talk about the sources of his musical searching, and the commission’s new experiments.

The Jazz Gallery: Out of curiosity, what were you just doing in France?

Tivon Pennicott: That was just a gig with Gregory Porter. It was our first time back at a festival. It was just a three-day trip and now I’m back in New York.

TJG: What was that like returning to Europe after the pandemic and all that time?

TP: It was surreal.The band has been together so much for the past four or five years. We had to just abruptly take a break and now, a year and a half later, we met up again. It felt like we picked up where we left off, just as far as the camaraderie, the music, the jokes, and the fellowship goes. The big difference of course is that everyone’s wearing masks inside and the audience cannot enter after the show. I’m so used to greeting fans and just talking to them and getting to know them a little bit, so that kind of sucked.

TJG: Both of your albums, Lover of Nature and Spirit Garden are clearly focused on these broad themes of nature. Could you talk more about your connection to nature and the thematic inspirations for those two albums?

TP: My name, Tivon, is actually a Hebrew name that means “lover of nature. “ I felt like my parents did a pretty good job naming me because I was always outside. I was always in the moment as a child. I was always following my nature and the nature of who I am. I am blessed to have parents who put up with me and let me be free, as a child. So, I think my name suits me and that carries over to my creativity and my music. I especially felt that the first album, Lover of Nature, was a good opportunity to showcase some of the moments in my life that I wanted to amplify. 

Naturally, the second album digs a little deeper into what “Lover of Nature” means and is more specific on how I live my life, as far as wellness is concerned, and how taking care of your physical body relates to you know your friends and family. It is all one, as far as nature is concerned.

TJG:  You’ve said elsewhere that your first album was inspired by the time you had spent in New York. How do you feel your art has been inspired by earlier phases of your life, such as your time growing up in your hometown of Marietta, Georgia?

TP: I am very inspired by my Jamaican heritage. I grew up in Georgia, but my household was very Jamaican. On top of that, my parents are strong Christians. My parents related to the hymns at church, that is what drew them there. I’m Black, but no Black churches were really singing those hymns that they heard in Jamaica, so they were drawn towards a white southern Pentecostal church. So I have this interesting mixture of Jamaican heritage, with southern white gospel in my head and in my ears. I think that was a big influence on how I move musically and creatively. Of course,  I was also in Atlanta Georgia, so I got the American Black culture as well.

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David Virelles

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This Thursday, July 22, The Jazz Gallery is thrilled to welcome pianist David Virelles back to our stage for his first live, in-person performance since February 2020. In the meantime, Virelles has appeared on Sara Serpa’s epic, probing, and NPR Jazz Poll-topping album Recognition (Biophilia), hosted a Jazz Gallery happy hour-hang, and performed on the SFJAZZ-NEA 2021 Jazz Masters tribute concert. Check out Virelles playing honoree Henry Threadgill’s “Where Coconuts Fall,” below:

For this Gallery performance, Virelles convenes a trio featuring bassist Matt Brewer and drummer Eric McPherson. And if you can’t make it to the Gallery, the performance will also be streamed online. (more…)