Whether you’re talking about the person or the band, the music you’ll hear inside Alfredo Colón’s Big Head is filled with a wry and subversive humor. This Saturday, August 7, Colón returns to The Jazz Gallery with his home-base group, presenting a mix of new material and old favorites. We caught up with Colón to talk about the ambiguities of musical emotion and his pandemic deep dive into the music of Ornette Coleman.
The Jazz Gallery: I know you wanted to discuss how your band has evolved. Is your head bigger now?
Alfredo Colón: It’s literally the same size, but I do think it’s gotten a little smaller in terms of big-headedness.
TJG: I see, so you’re losing your big-headedness figuratively. But not literally—you still have a nice large head.
AC: I’m saving up for the cosmetic surgery.
TJG: That’s great. So how has the band changed?
AC: Well, it originally started off with Nick Dunston on bass before he moved to Berlin. We would always greet each other with “hey big head,” which, you know, is a joke. That evolved to “big head, big sound,” and over time the name kind of became a character in my head that I would write about.
So Big Head, he’s a little full of himself. He means what he says and he says what he means. Overall, at the end of the day I think he’s a pretty good dude. His character is maybe an over-exaggeration of a lot of my qualities.
TJG: So what started Big Head’s musical journey?
AC: Well, for a while, any gig I played that offered me some creative freedom was on EWI. And I was like, “Man, I’m a saxophone player. I work on this instrument more than anything else. I should let people know that I play saxophone.” So I really booked the gig just to be like, “Hey, everyone, I play the saxophone.” There’s no electronics. It’s just saxophone-dot-com all day.
I didn’t really have much more of a vision for the band than that. The music kind-of just came together. I wrote in such a way where the music was so open ended that the sound would be dictated by however the cats sounded in the moment.
That was the first gig that I had ever played with Jacob [Sacks], with the exception of my graduation recital. And it was my first time ever playing with Connor [Parks]; we didn’t even rehearse for that first gig—we just sat down and played. There was a vibe present immediately.
So initially it was pretty open music—a lot of the melodies would be six, eight bars, and then we’d make it up from there. Jacob, Connor, Nick, and Steve all play in a really compositional way, so I felt like I didn’t really need to write an ending to a lot of the songs. We’d perform them and they would sound completely different every time, but they always felt like complete pieces. But over time a sonic identity became present so I could finally write in a way that wasn’t so open ended and catered more to the abilities of the musicians in the band.
TJG: What are some of the major influences on the Big Head sound?
AC: A lot of the melodic stuff and the sound I’m going for comes from my heroes, predominantly Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, John Coltrane, Bunky Green. Attitude-wise, it comes from influences that aren’t along the jazz idiom. Someone like Lil Uzi would be an influence in terms of like attitude—his music is overwhelming in a way. I was listening to him the other day, and I was like, “man, you can hear the blues in Lil Uzi.” I was so fixated on it.
TJG: I’m not sure too many people would pick up on that aesthetic.
AC: I mean, when you go to school, they tell you the blues is 12 bars, there’s the I, IV, and V chords and then you’d have your Bird blues or jazz blues. And they get so into the harmony of what a lot of the cats play that they overlook a lot of the sentiment, meaning, delivery and attitude.