A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Posts by Andrew Chow

Photo by Devin DeHaven, courtesy of the artist.

33-year-old pianist Gerald Clayton had made the transition from up-and-comer to bonafide stalwart on the international jazz scene. His fourth album, Tributary Tales,”was released this April to acclaim: it’s at turns glassy, soulful and funky, with introspective spoken word interludes woven in. (“His pellucid touch and quicksilver phrasing can evoke swinging touchstones like Ahmad Jamal and Oscar Peterson,” Nate Chinen wrote for WBGO.)

For this gig at The Jazz Gallery, Mr. Clayton will bring a different group than the one that appears on the album, but it’s nonetheless filled with familiar faces: Ben Wendel on saxophone, Matt Brewer on bass, Marcus Gilmore on drums, and Lage Lund on guitar. He’ll play some songs from Tributary Tales and some new ones. He called in to talk about the album and the gig; here are excerpts from that conversation.

The Jazz Gallery: What is the concept of Tributary Tales?

Gerald Clayton: I’ve been really inspired by nature and water. With a tributary being a small river that flows out of a larger body of water—I’ve been reflecting on that and how what we do is really connected to what came before us. We’re not setting out to recreate a language from the past, but the essence of the music that we love—that we’ve soaked up for years and years—still exists, and we carry along those messages that we learn from the elders.

It felt fitting to just to keep looking at everything as different tributaries. Another literal meaning of tributary is paying tribute, which definitely feels like it applies to the music I play: giving a nod to the masters. All the musicians on the record coming from different places and influences and there’s a sense of connectedness between everybody. And each song on the record might have a different character, yet there’s a flow that makes them feel like they all belong on the same disc.

TJG: Seems like you have a deep connection to water: where did that stem from? A single moment?

GC: I don’t know if it’s as poetic as a single moment. But I love nature, I love surfing, the feeling of being pushed by nature. Surfing’s one of the few sports where you’re tapping into an energy source.

When I was at the Monterey Festival, I got a tour of the Monterey Bay Aquarium and got to hear about their plastics initiative to clean up the ocean and be more aware of single use plastics. To get some firsthand information from people who devote their lives to that cause was a real honor and something I want to continue with moving forward.

TJG: What are you the most proud of about the album?

GC: The record is in a way a documentation of a single day. You go on, you play it more, you keep discovering new things. That’s definitely a part of the process I cherish. I really enjoyed getting to work with Aja Monet and Carl Hancock Rux and explore the relationship between music and spoken word a little bit more. Some of the post production work I did with Gabriel Lugo, the percussionist—I went further in than I have in the past in some of the sounds and effects. I’m proud of that work.  


Design by The Jazz Gallery.

The saxophonist Ravi Coltrane has carved out a long, probing career that proudly stands apart from those of his parents, Alice and John. But there’s no denying their outsize influence on his life and musicianship. John died in 1967, when Ravi was not yet two years old, leaving Alice to raise him.

“I would say first and foremost she played music in the house every day,” he told NPR. “And I’d come home from school and she’d be at the piano or the organ you know playing these quiet sort of hymns.”
Ravi honored his mother in concert earlier this year, and on Tuesday, July 18th and Wednesday, July 19th at The Jazz Gallery, Ravi will pay tribute once again in “Universal Consciousness: Melodic Meditations Of Alice Coltrane.” The shows are named after Alice’s revered 1971 album “Universal Consciousness,” which features her swirling harp and organ solos over modal grooves from Jack DeJohnette, Jimmy Garrison and others. For these shows, he’s enlisted a top notch team of players to conjure new possibilities from Alice’s music, including Brandee Younger on harp and David Virelles on organ, as well as swirling percussive sounds from the likes of Johnathan Blake, Marcus Gilmore, Eric McPherson, and Roman Diaz. It’s sure to be a mystical and highly personal affair. Before coming to the Gallery to hear these melodic meditations, check out Coltrane and his home-base quartet playing the famed NPR Tiny Desk.


From L to R: Ches Smith, Mat Maneri, Craig Taborn. Photo by Paolo Soriani.

This Thursday, the 16th, drummer Ches Smith will bring his adventurous, battle-tested trio, with Craig Taborn on piano and Mat Maneri on viola, to The Jazz Gallery. You might have caught Smith, a drummer and vibraphonist, at the Gallery before, as a sideman for Linda Oh, Mary HalvorsonTim Berne and other new music luminaries. But this peculiar trio showcases his songwriting and arranging instincts, as well as an unbound freedom for chasing musical ideas to their extremes.

As a unit, the creative and risk-taking Smith, Taborn and Maneri crawl and race through sonic experiments: their album, “The Bell,” was released last year, contained chamber music-like counterpoint, placid pools of sound and furious grooves. “It’s difficult to remember ‘The Bell’ as a single entity after you’re finished with it, because it always seems to be moving somewhere different,” Ben Ratliff wrote in the New York Times. Before seeing the group’s uncanny interplay on Thursday, check check out a video here of their explosive communal music-making, below.


Photo courtesy of the artist.

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Eric Harland has been a sideman to many revered bandleaders: McCoy Tyner, Charles Lloyd, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Dave Holland, Chris Potter, and Joshua Redman, to name a few. But he will be front and center for “Harlandia,” coming to The Gallery on Dec. 22 and 23. He’s recruited some of his closest colleagues over the years to assist him in realizing his musical vision: Taylor Eigsti and James Francies on piano, Ben Wendel on saxophone, Harish Raghavan on bass, and Love Science Music DJing. In an interview with Jazz Speaks, Harland talked about Tyner, hip hop, and meeting Barack Obama. Excerpts from the conversation are below.

The Jazz Gallery: What does the concept of “Harlandia” represent?

Eric Harland: Harlandia is my world, the way I hear music. It is, in a way, a combination of my worlds from past to present: a little bit of retrospective, current, and future ideas. LoveScience is gonna be interplaying a lot of different music that we’ve worked on, including some that’s very current and hasn’t been released yet. I’m always willing to step on the edge, just to see how people feel about certain things.

Sometimes you just want to hear your world in its entirety. Taylor and Harish are kind of the core of a lot of what I’ve done over the years.The thing I like about both Taylor and James is they’re both very versatile—they can play piano, keyboard, and have an understanding of both instruments in the way they flow in a group setting. And Ben is one of the most versatile sax players on the scene, in how he can play really well in acoustic settings and real nail some big funk band settings.

TJG: You’ve played for so many amazing bandleaders over the years. How does your style as a bandleader compare to those you’ve learned from?

EH: You always learn so much playing as a sideman. You have to be able to react and respond to the needs or desires of the leader you’re playing with. One of the greatest experiences about playing with McCoy is that we never rehearsed. You had to either know the tunes or learn them by the first chorus.

That was a great experience for me because I feel like a lot of musicians tend to over rehearse. They want it to be so perfect so that the presentation is exactly the way they envisioned it. Whereas, I would say the older school of guys like McCoy, Charles Lloyd, Joe Henderson, Benny Carter: these iconic musicians taught me that the spontaneity of the music that brings out something you wouldn’t do repetitively. They were looking to get you to do something different, not for you to overemphasize the same thing you would normally do in any situation. Because then, the music is new for no one.

But then, I do love the current flow of where music is going, how guys are attempting to be perfectionists. If they get their idea to come across as perfect as possible, then there’s no regret as to whether people like or dislike their music.

TJG: So where do you fall on that spectrum?

EH: The middle. I do attempt for the state of perfection. But I’m also open to the fact that whatever happens is perfection. I believe a lot of that does come from having experience as a sideman. Your ultimate job is orchestration: how can I allow this moment to be the best possible moment it can be? The more you practice that, the more it comes across in everything that you do.


Photo by Peter Gannushkin, courtesy of the artist.

Photo by Peter Gannushkin, courtesy of the artist.

It’s hard to find a combination of forward-thinking jazz musicians that Tomas Fujiwara hasn’t played with—he’s relentless in his experimentation with sounds, compositions and ensembles. Fujiwara brings a brand new group to The Jazz Gallery this Wednesday and Thursday: a double trio with Ralph Alessi & Taylor Ho Bynum on horns, Mary Halvorson & Brandon Seabrook on guitars, and himself and Gerald Cleaver on drums.

Following this gig, the band will then immediately head into the studio to record their debut album on Firehouse 12 (here’s the Indiegogo campaign). The group includes some of his closest compatriots: he appears with Halvorson in groups like the Hook Up, Thumscrew, and Code Girl; he has a working trio with Alessi and Seabrook; and he shares a duo project with Bynum. But bringing these players together presents a whole other challenge. We talked to him about the upcoming show—here are excerpts from that interview.

The Jazz Gallery: The phrase ‘double trio’ might be misleading, because it hints at two separate entities. Are you writing songs for two trios, or one six person group?

Tomas Fujiwara: More as six voices and six distinct musical personalities. I like the fact that while each instrument is doubled, the approach to those instruments couldn’t be more different. I really have each player’s sound in my head very clearly. So when I write I can really hear how each one will play a particular piece of a composition. I’ve been trying to think about and utilize all the solo, duo, trio, quartet, options in an orchestrational and improvisational way.

TJG: So for instance, did you write two guitar parts, or one part specifically for Brandon and one for Mary?

TF: I wrote specific parts for everyone. There will be a lot of multiple ensembles happening. Maybe a duo is playing one section while a trio is playing another—and the sixth person is improvising.

TJG: Can you give me an example of how you play to a certain musician’s strength?  

TF: It’s not only their strengths; it’s also trying to challenge them. There might be things that sound very Brandon, and there might be other things I give him that may not. I want to see how he deals with that. I definitely don’t want to give anyone the role of just “this person.”

TJG: How much have you played alongside other drummers, and what have you learned from those experiences?

TF: I’ve done it a few times: in Living By Lanterns with Mike Reed; with Jim Black; and in a large ensemble piece with Joshua Abrams. I learned that if the other drummer is good and open and creative and into the idea of playing together, it’s always going to be a lot of fun. I haven’t experienced any challenges in terms of conflicting approaches or aesthetic dogma or time.