A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Posts by Jacob Sunshine

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Something very pastoral and naturalistic occurs when Rudy Royston drums. Rather than simply conversing with the soloist, Royston creates a flowing stream of rhythm to swim in and interact with. His sound is tactile, meditative, joyful, and always flowing.

Since moving to New York City from Denver in 2006, Royston has utilized this unique approach to the drum set to firmly establish himself as a first-call sideman. Royston has made a name for himself working in the bands of luminaries such as Dave Douglas, Javon Jackson, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Ben Allison, Bill Frisell, and JD Allen. After one performance with JD Allen, Tony Hall of Jazzwise magazine said “in a way, he is to JD what Elvin was to Coltrane.” An associate and sometimes-bandmate of Denver cornetist Ron Miles, Royston has been heavily influenced by the compositional style and wide-open approach to texture that Miles has pioneered.

2014 saw the release of Royston’s first album as a bandleader, 303, which was released on Greenleaf Records. Titled after his Denver area code, this album showcased Royston’s diverse compositional skills, and featured tunes that ranged from impressionistic tone poems to rock ballads to hard-burning and cerebral swingers. On this record, Royston turned to left-of-center jazz musicians with an experimentalist bent like Jon Irabagon, Sam Harris, and Nir Felder to help realize his conception.

On January 28th, Royston will debut a new band at the Jazz Gallery called “Cold Moon Road.” This band is made up of many of Rudy’s friends and collaborators from Ben Allison’s band “Man Size Safe,” including Michael Blake on Saxophone, Steve Cardenas on Guitar, and Ben Allison on bass. Added to the mix is Hank Roberts on cello, who Royston has played with on a variety of Bill Frisell’s projects. Allison’s own compositional milieu is certainly rock-influenced, but also has a certain melodic softness, impressionistic beauty, and a pastoral folksiness that Rudy’s drumming style compliments beautifully. Be sure to catch this band, playing Rudy’s compositions here at the Jazz Gallery on Thursday, January 28th. (more…)


Photo courtesy of the artist.

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Praised by Downbeat Magazine as an artist full of composure and imagination, saxophonist and composer Dayna Stephens has been a rising yet vital force on the New York City jazz scene. Known for his vocalistic and syrupy saxophone tone, heart-rending melodic lines, and thought-massaging compositions, Stephens has collaborated with the leading lights in jazz from John Scofield and Al Foster to Aaron Parks and Gretchen Parlato, to name a few. His latest record, Reminiscent, features the dueling tenors of Stephens and Walter Smith III, and showcases several of Stephens’s original tunes.

The last six years have been difficult for Stephens. He suffers from a rare kidney disease called Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis (FGS) but after a long wait Stephens finally received a kidney transplant in October. Mr. Stephens has jumped immediately back into the jazz scene, and in the past two weeks, Stephens has played as a sideman on gigs with Gerald Clayton and Johnathan Blake.

Dayna Stephens’ show at the Jazz Gallery on December 19th will mark his first as a leader since the kidney transplant. It also will be a first look at a set of original music that Mr. Stephens has been working on with the young trumpeter Philip Dizack. Joining Stephens and Dizack at the Gallery will be pianist Theo Hill, bassist Harish Raghavan, and drummer Jonathan Blake. Jazz Speaks was lucky enough to sit down and talk to Stephens about his musical process.

The Jazz Gallery: In an interview you did with the Jazz Speaks about a year ago, you said “I’ve been here in New York now for 10 years and have never had the same band twice at any of my gigs—sometimes on purpose, sometimes not.”  Tell me about this particular band that will be playing at the Gallery, and what your process is behind picking rhythm sections, and combinations of players.

Dayna Stephens: I did a session seven or eight years ago with Johnathan [Blake] and Harish [Raghavan] and I really enjoyed that hook-up. I played on a gig with Johnathan last week, and I knew he’d be in town, so I got him to play. And I knew Ben Street was going to be on his gig, and I didn’t want to have the same rhythm section. But I remembered that session we did eight years ago with Harish, and I thought “if Harish is down, that would be awesome!” And Phil [Dizack] was a given because Phil and I had been writing music together for the past year, so this show will give us a chance to introduce this music to the world. And I played in Theo [Hill]’s band before, and I really dig his energy. He obviously knows how to play the piano really well, but he’s also got a spark that I really appreciate.

TJG: I wanted to ask a little bit about your sound. Compared to other saxophonists, I hear a sweetness in the upper midrange going on that reminds me of the way that some vocalists sound. When you’re improvising, there’s a patience, sense of phrasing and melodic arc to your solos that reminds me of vocalists too. Are there certain vocalists that you’ve drawn inspiration from consciously?

DS: Weirdly enough, I think we JUST passed his hundredth birthday, but I love Sinatra, specifically for his phrasing, but also his sound. Sarah Vaughn has also been a huge influence on me. Even pop singers like Luther Vandross…Radiohead. I listened to those guys pretty heavily. It’s just that human quality of expressing music that I really appreciate.

And a part of that human quality is that you can’t sing if you don’t have any breath. So you have to be patient and be conscious of your breath. To be honest, during dialysis, I didn’t have as much breath as I do now, and it definitely affected my playing, my lung capacity, and my energy. And if you think about having to get through a whole gig…I don’t want to burn it all out on one tune. And I see that as a plus actually. Breath capacity is not something that a lot of guys my age are thinking about. But I was forced to think about phrasing in that very physical way. I feel like I have so much more energy now that my sound is starting to come back to the way it was, but how can you forget what you’ve learned during the last six years?

The thing is, I think space, in general is really important for whatever you’re doing….talking, building a building….you need that space to digest what you just did and think about what you’re going to do next, so that’s what I’m doing while I play. I digest what I just did and think about it for a second, and let that guide what I’m going to do next. The more time you give yourself between the phrases, the clearer the ideas are and the easier it is for people to digest. That’s kind of what I’m going for.

TJG: Do you do anything to center yourself while you play and get into a creative headspace?

DS: No, not really. Usually I try to get to the gig not long before I have to play, because I hate waiting around. I don’t have any rituals or anything like that. I’ve done a little bit of meditation, and checked out some thinkers like JK Krishnamurti and Eckhart Tolle that focus on ego suppression. They have some simple awareness techniques that I don’t necessarily do before the gig but just stay mindful of all the time. I basically try to be a beam of awareness, that’s observing everything. If you can be in that mindset, then it tempers all the crazy emotions that might bubble up!

TJG: I want to ask about the interplay between you and Walter Smith III record Reminiscent. It seems like you have a focus on counterpoint and contrapuntal lines when the two of you are melodically interacting on the record. There are a bunch of tracks on the record where Walter will be playing a melody, and you’ll be weaving around that. Do you write those lines or are you improvising?

DS: On that record, it’s a combination of things. There’s a tune of Walter’s called “Walt’s Waltz” He wrote the harmony lines that are on the head. But on “New Day”, I think on the head out, I play some harmony stuff. And then on Walter’s track “contrafact”, which is basically a contrafact of “Like Someone in Love,” I improvised everything on the head, honestly because the tune was so hard that I didn’t have time to learn it! So I just improvised that part on baritone saxophone. I went to college with Walter and I’ve admired his playing since then. We’ve been wanting to do a record together for a long time.


Yosvany Terry

This Friday and Saturday, September 18th and 19th, The Jazz Gallery will continue our 20th Anniversary celebration with a return of “Jazz Cubano.” The band will be led by the Cuban saxophonist, composer, and chekere player, Yosvany Terry, who led the original Jazz Cubano shows at The Jazz Gallery and remains a vital force in the Latin Jazz and Contemporary music scenes in New York City.

The Jazz Gallery has a long history and deep ties with Cuban music and Cuban musicians in New York. Dale Fitzgerald, the late founder and executive director of the Jazz Gallery, had a deep love and passion for the music, lifestyle, and culture of Cuba, making a point of curating great Cuban acts at The Jazz Gallery from the very beginning. Under Fitzgerald’s leadership and onward, The Jazz Gallery became the premier venue for Cuban jazz musicians to make their United States debuts and was a physical nexus for expatriate musicians from across Latin America and the Caribbean to hang out, link up, and jam.

This scene centered on The Jazz Gallery’s weekly Jazz Cubano series on Thursday evenings, which ran from 2000 through 2001. The house band was led by Yosvany Terry and featured great musicians from across Latin America, including Venezuelan pianist Luis Perdomo, Puerto Rican bassist John Benitez, and Cuban percussionist Dafnis Prieto. The group also frequently hosted special guests, including Pedro Martinez, Miguel Zenon, Bobby Carcasses (senior and junior). Even after the Jazz Cubano series ended, its influence remained palpable, as many of its featured artists went on to lead and write music for their own groups, becoming prominent members of the greater New York jazz scene.

This past spring, saxophonist Miguel Zenon, pianist Luis Perdomo, and drummer Dafnis Prieto—all members of the Latin Jazz scene at The Jazz Gallery—wrote remembrances for Dale Fitzgerald, each musician speaking fondly of the scene Fitzgerald helped cultivate.

Miguel Zenon

I first met Dale about 15 years ago through Yosvany Terry, when the Gallery was starting to run the “Jazz Cubano Series.” Shortly after that (and through Yosvany’s recommendation), Dale gave me my first chance ever to present an ensemble as a leader. As in my first gig as a leader ANYWHERE. Little did I know that this gig would be the first step towards one of the longest relationships I’ve ever had. The Gallery not only became a place to play, but it became our second home in NYC. At one point we were spending so much time there that my wife jokingly mentioned that we should set up sleeping bags in the back and just sleep there…

Luis Perdomo

At some point, The Jazz Gallery became for me a sort of laboratory and second home, where for years I had the pleasure of developing and trying new music with some of my peers. It was a period of constant growth for myself, playing week after week with some of the best musicians in NYC; and a big part of this was due to the forward thinking vision of Dale Fitzgerald, who not only gave us an opportunity to have our music heard, but created an atmosphere where musicians could come and create in a worry-free environment.

Dafnis Prieto

Dale was one of the first people in New York that opened the doors at The Jazz Gallery to my music. These memories are very meaningful to me because they were the beginnings of a complete new musical chapter in my life.

Beyond the Jazz Cubano series, The Jazz Gallery has supported Cuban music in other ways. In 1996, the great Cuban pianist Jesus “Chucho” Valdès and conguero Miguel “Anga” Diaz performed at the Gallery for a rare duo concert, which marked Diaz’s US debut. In 1998, the Gallery hosted a special interdisciplinary event honoring the great Cuban percussionist Chano Pozo, featuring rare archival recordings, a reading by the poet Jayne Cortez, and a presentation of Pozo’s music led by Eddie Bobe.

The concerts at The Jazz Gallery on the 18th and 19th will both be redux of the Jazz Cubano Series and a celebration of the Gallery’s continued commitment to showcasing Cuban music. For these concerts, our bandleader Yosvany Terry will be bringing along a special group of Cuban and non-Cuban musicians, all of whom have strong connections to the Gallery. Both nights feature pianist Osmany Paredes, bassist Yunior Terry, and percussionist Mauricio Herrera, all Cuban natives. On the first night the great master of polyrhythm Jeff Tain Watts is on drums, while the second night, Obed Calvaire (a Haitian native and member of the Yosvany Terry Quintet) takes over. Special guests are expected to sit in, so be on the lookout for some exciting musical surprises! (more…)

Photo by Joze Pozri, via All About Jazz

Photo by Joze Pozri, via All About Jazz

Heralded by Modern Drummer magazine as a “player to watch” and Time Out New York as a “rising jazz drummer with a deft touch”, Eric Doob has brought a refined sense of swing and focused brand of interactivity to New York’s modern jazz community. Just a few years out of conservatory, Doob has collaborated with luminaries such as Miguel Zenon, Manuel Valera, Chet Doxas, Paquito D’Rivera, Matthew Stevens, Ryan Keberle, and Christian Scott, to name just a few.

Check out a cool clip of Eric’s sideman work with Miguel Zenon here:


Photo by William Brown, courtesy of the artist

Photo by William Brown, courtesy of the artist

Bassist Ricky Rodriguez moved to New York City from his hometown of Ponce, Puerto Rico about a decade ago and since then has been a versatile and boundary-pushing force on the jazz and contemporary music scene. A true stylistic chameleon, Rodriguez melds his roots in Latin music with classical training into a unique, progressive jazz voice. Rodriguez has performed as a sideman with artists as diverse as David Sanchez, Claudia Acuña, Joe Locke, Alvin Batiste, Stephon Harris, Ignacio Berroa, and Henry Cole, as well as leading several bands of his own. One of the few bassists on the scene who truly doubles up on upright and electric bass, Rodriguez will be performing with a plugged-in group of his this Thursday, April 30th, at The Jazz Gallery. We caught up with Ricky this week to talk about the many strands of music that filter through this group.

The Jazz Gallery: This group you’re bringing to the Gallery has a definite plugged-in character to it. How did the group come together?

Ricky Rodriguez: [Saxophonist] Ben [Wendel] and I worked together with an incredible Cuban drummer named Ignacio Berroa, and we went on tour together in Europe, but you know, we both got busy. The last time we worked together was like 5 years ago, and it’s been too long.

[Keyboardist] Fabian [Almazan] and I just started playing together last year on a gig with David Sanchez, but we also met one time way back in Amsterdam when he was playing with Terrence Blanchard and I was playing with Kenny Werner.

And [Drummer] Henry Cole and I went to school together way back in Puerto Rico, so we’ve been playing together for like 18 years. We worked together on his last Afrobeat record and we worked together with David Sanchez and Miguel Zenon.

I’ve been writing really hard music for these guys and my brain is fried from it, but it feels so fresh. I’m also playing some music that’s going to be on my album that’s coming out June 20th. The album’s going to have a different band that features Adam Rogers on guitar, Obed Calvaire on drums, Luis Perdomo on piano, and Myron Walden on alto saxophone, and David Sanchez on tenor saxophone.

But for this hit, I’m mixing some of the music on the record with a more electric sound. With my writing, I’m thinking specifically about everybody’s sound, Ben’s sound, Henry’s, Fabian’s…so I’m writing music specifically for those guys. And then I picked 2 or 3 tracks from my album to see if it would work for this electric context.

TJG: A lot of guys “kind-of” play electric bass but they don’t really double up, but you focus your energies equally on upright and electric. How do you approach the two instruments differently?

RR: I work with Joe Locke the vibraphone player and I used to only play upright with him, but on his new record, that’s coming out in May, I play both electric and upright about equally. I actually started on electric bass when I was about 7 years old back in my hometown of Ponce. I went to this private school and I was lucky because I had this teacher that had just arrived from New England Conservatory so he was fresh and had all this information, harmony, advice… He told me “hey man, check out Weather Report!” You know, I didn’t know Weather Report when I was eight! And Bitches Brew and stuff… when I heard those records I thought “I don’t know what that is but it sounds killing!” And it turned out it was Dave Holland on bass. There are some people who do both really well: Miroslav Vitous is badass, [John] Patitucci, Christian McBride…

People know I’m going to put in 100% on electric bass, it’s not just going to be a sideman gig. I’ve seen some killing acoustic players who take a gig on electric and I’m ready to leave the room, because they haven’t studied the electric approach, which is a very specific type of thing. That’s why I have respect for so many electric bass players…the way that Jaco was…Gary Willis, this unsung cat who played with Tribal Tech in the 80s and 90s. He played fretless, but, MAN, his intonation was killer. Matt Brewer actually studied with Gary Willis back in the day! I guess it’s the same thing for piano players, some cats play acoustic and some cats play Fender Rhodes, but just be honest about what you do well. Don’t buy a keyboard for the gig tomorrow and not know how to get sounds out of it.

That’s why it’s hard for me when I’m calling up cats. The first person who was going to do this gig was Jason Lindner, but he’s so busy, and he’s coming in [to the Jazz Gallery] with his big band right after. But Fabian is incredible at both piano and keyboards. Fabian and I played a show together about two months ago. I did a gig at Iridium with my quintet, and he brought this keyboard and his computer. I think he puts some crazy processing program on his keys and it sounds awesome.

I want Fabian to have the freedom to create lots of moods and textures. With this music, it doesn’t have to just be about solos. We can get a groove going on and then he can make sounds over that.