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Renee Neufville

Photo courtesy of the artist.

This Saturday, August 21, The Jazz Gallery is pleased to welcome vocalist Renée Neufville back to our stage. A true lodestar of neo-soul, Neufville’s music effortlessly floats along the jazz-R&B axis. And as founding member of Roy Hargrove’s RHFactor, Neufville has stewarded his legacy, including in this performance of her “Song for Roy,” performed with The Jazz Gallery All-Starts at this summer’s Newport Jazz Festival.

For this special performance at the Gallery, Neufville will be joined by a top-flight band, including saxophonist Jaleel Shaw, pianist Keith Brown, bassist Lonnie Plaxico, and drummer Willie Jones III. (more…)

Kevin Sun

Photo by Diane Zhou, courtesy of the artist.

Saxophonist Kevin Sun deftly navigates jazz’s knife edge of tradition and novelty. While Sun’s compositions embrace rhythmic and harmonic abstractions, his playing is rooted in the deep study of saxophone elders from Lester Young to Stan Getz to Mark Turner. Sun’s newest project straddles that divide between new and old, a Charlie Parker exploration called <3 Bird (Endectomorph), released just in time for Parker’s 101st birthday. In “Greenlit,” below, Parker’s tune “Confirmation” is shot through a rhythmic prism, exaggerating the tune’s already-slippery twists and turns.

Braithwaite & Katz · Greenlit – Kevin Sun

This Thursday, August 19, Sun returns to The Jazz Gallery stage to celebrate the release of <3 Bird, alongside the album’s full-band lineup: trumpeter Adam O’Farrill, guitarist Max Light, pianist Christian Li, bassist Walter Stinson, and drummer Matt Honor. We caught up with Sun to discuss the project’s origins and his experience listening to Parker’s complete recorded output.

The Jazz Gallery: I was going back and reading your Parker blog posts from the past year-plus. When you started writing these in late spring 2020, was this something you had always planned on doing for Parker’s centennial, or was this something you went toward in that early pandemic headspace?

Kevin Sun: It wasn’t really planned. I would say more that I gravitated toward it and found myself sucked in when I was really isolated for a while, like everyone else. In the back of my mind I knew that Charlie Parker was very important to me and I wanted to do something for the centennial, but, I didn’t have anything really in mind.

It just slowly grew, and it kept growing; the more I listened, I had more and more questions come up. Some of them I haven’t really found a satisfactory answer, and I’m not sure there is one. I have like three or four legal pads just filled with tons of notes: questions, listening notes, reading notes. It was something that gave me life and pretty much kept me going.

TJG: Since you already knew Parker’s playing well, what were some of the things that appeared differently in your listening this time? What were those questions?

KS: The biggest thing that occurred to me was to get my hands on everything that is known to exist, and there’s this amazing resource—a website made by Peter Losin that has a database and a search function, so that was super helpful for me in terms of organizing the discography as I was acquiring recordings. I tried to listen to everything, and it comes out to about 72 hours. Based on what I have, I’m missing a handful of dates—like three or four—but I pretty much have everything. From there, I extracted all of the solos; that’s close to about 24 hours, which is more manageable. If you want to listen to 3 hours a day, you can do it in a little over a week.

The first thing that struck me is consistency. Pretty much in every recording, except for one or two, he’s just him. It’s all there—the time, the feel, the phrasing. It’s so clear and distinct, and it never feels like he’s overly accommodating. He always presents himself and makes his own voice fit in the context of how the music’s happening. That just blew me away, because it’s pretty much his whole recorded career. It’s kind of shocking because there are so few musicians who are on that level of consistency. Other people I’ve studied a lot—like Joe Henderson or Coltrane—have good nights and less good nights. Parker just never had an off night from what I can tell recording-wise, and that’s pretty freakish.

TJG: That consistency brings up interesting questions about how Parker’s improviser-brain worked, especially compared to people like Henderson and Coltrane.

KS: I thought about that a lot. One of the questions that brought up for me is, what did he practice? How did he practice to reach such a level of consistency that was apparent from a young age? Pretty much from his early 20s, we have recordings where he’s playing with bands and playing bebop.

It seems to me that he must have been very clear to himself, very decisive in terms of choosing what melodic material he thought was the strongest, and wanting to use that again and again and again. That also means that he had to decide not to do all of this other stuff that he was aware of. Other people might play that way, but he decided not to play it because it doesn’t speak to him in a profound way like the material he devised.

That second element seems really hard to do for me. It’s not just discipline, but sacrifice, because you’re choosing to cut out other things that might be fun to flirt with. I feel like for young musicians today—myself included—a big part of the learning process is trying a lot of things, and some things stick and other things don’t. Bird somehow just accelerated the process, or he just knew within himself from an early age what he wanted to say.

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Kalia Vandever

Photo courtesy of the artist.

This Saturday, August 14, trombonist Kalia Vandever returns to The Jazz Gallery stage to present a new project entitled Memories. For this reflective project, Vandever has assembled a rich palette, featuring peers like saxophonist Morgan Guerin, pianist Paul Cornish, bassist Hannah Marks, drummer Connor Parks, and vocalist Melissa McMillan. Looking back at her last interview with Jazz Speaks, one can see the seeds of this project forming, particularly in her use of voice.

I feel more empowered musically and personally than a few years ago when I finished school. I’m happier and more confident in the music I’m making. I’m also really excited about the music my friends are making right now. I’m currently learning the guitar and using that as a compositional tool. I’m also trying to write songs with words, which is really difficult, but something I’ve always been interested in.

Before checking out Memories at the Gallery, take a listen to the patient and nostalgic “Calling Me Back Home,” commissioned and performed by The Westerlies:

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Ralph Alessi

Photo courtesy of the artist.

This Friday, August 13, The Jazz Gallery is pleased to welcome trumpeter Ralph Alessi back to our stage. As a composer, Alessi is fond of discursive forms that give the band space to explore ranges of color. In a previous interview with Jazz Speaks, Alessi described the growing emphasis on timbral variety in his own playing:

I’m more mindful of how I create sound than I used to be. It’s something that I’m very drawn to with different players. As I’ve played more and more, and as I’ve taught more and more, it’s become one of those things that I’m constantly thinking about. I find it’s really common for people to stuck in this Western classical idea of what are appropriate sounds. In the jazz tradition, a lot of the sounds that come out of it are not the sounds you learn in school. I find those other sounds to be really expressive and an essential part of the music.

I really try to push myself, as I hear players on the trumpet who are very, very good at producing a variety of expressive sounds. I aspire to that.

While Alessi’s most recent album as a leader featured his quintet This Against That, he will be convening a quartet configuration at the Gallery, in the vein of his first two ECM releases, Baida and Quiver. The show (and both records) feature the long-running rhythm team of bassist Drew Gress and drummer Nasheet Waits, while the piano chair for this evening will be held by Craig Taborn, completing a group of hard-to-pin-down improvisers. (more…)

John Escreet Quartet

Clockwise from top left: John Escreet, Chris Potter, Eric Harland, Harish Raghavan. Photos courtesy of the artists.

When pianist John Escreet began his studies at the Manhattan School of Music in 2006, the New York club he visited most frequently was The Jazz Gallery. “It was the venue with the most interesting music that I wanted to hear,” Escreet remembered in a 2012 interview with Jazz Speaks. It didn’t take him long to become a regular on the bandstand, joining David Binney’s band on stage in 2007, and celebrating the release of his debut album Consequences (Positone) at the Gallery the next year.

In the years since, Escreet has brought a host of projects to the Gallery stage, from his working trio with bassist John Hébert and drummer Tyshawn Sorey (check out a classic set from Amsterdam’s Bimhuis, below), to one-off groups featuring guests like guitarist Ben Monder, trumpeter Amir ElSaffar, and saxophonist Seamus Blake.

Now a resident of Los Angeles, Escreet makes a special return to The Jazz Gallery on Thursday, August 12, convening an all-star quartet with saxophonist Chris Potter, bassist Harish Raghavan, and drummer Eric Harland. (more…)