This week, violinist Sana Nagano comes to The Jazz Gallery with her band Smashing Humans, belatedly celebrating the release of their eponymous debut album.
Before the show, we at Jazz Speaks caught up with Nagano to talk about the band’s formation, her work with Karl Berger, and her emotional growth during this time of pandemic.
The Jazz Gallery: How are you?
Sara Nagano: I’m good, I’m doing well. Have been just busy. It’s been a crazy year and a half. Just learning to manage, settling down. I moved many times during COVID, during the whole year and a half, and I finally got my own apartment and am relaxing into it.
TJG: Smashing Humans, where did the name come from?
SN: The name of the band, well I named it a while ago, two, three years ago, and it means kind of like, smashing or slashing the thinking mind. I think that’s a little more accurate, I used to say ego, but that’s a little bit ambiguous. I think it’s a bit of a joke, but smashing or dealing with the thinking mind, everyday life, problems or limitations that we feel like we have. Basically it means—smashing is a little bit of an aggressive word—dealing with our thinking mind as humans, people.
TJG: And how did you and the rest of the band get connected?
SN: The guitarist Keisuke Matsuno and I have been good friends for a long time in New York City, probably about ten years. We met each other in some jazz jam session in Manhattan. There’s a place called Cleopatra’s Needle—I don’t know if it’s still there—but they used to have sessions every week, and I used to go there a lot to just kind of meet people and practice, to improvise over stuff like jazz standards. Keisuke was hosting one of the sessions, I think he was covering for someone, that’s when we met each other the first time. We had opportunities to meet up and hang out in those session situations and we became very good friends. And so I asked him to join the band.
Joe Hertenstein—the drummer on the album—I met him at the Creative Music Studio. Karl Berger is a mentor of mine, and in New York City he’s like a free jazz and jazz master. He’s also a good friend and I play in his Improviser Orchestra. I have been playing in his group for seven years or so, and that’s where I met Joe, and also we played together in Adam Rudolph’s Organic Orchestra. We also played in Harvey Valdes’ trio, another amazing guitarist and composer.
Ken Filiano and Peter Apfelbaum are also part of my New York City music family. They’re not like teachers, or mentors—they’re very friendly and down to earth—but I really look up to them as musicians and artists. I met them again in Karl Berger’s Creative Music Orchestra.
Danny Shir is our new drummer, since Joe is in Berlin. During the pandemic, it’s good to have a few different people in different places who can share this music together when we perform. Dan played in my other project, Atomic Pigeons, before the pandemic, and he’s just an amazing player. He also has his band, Horse Torso. It’s more rock music, really cool rhythmic elements, math rock. I’m a fan of his band, and I got to know him seeing his music and performances in Brooklyn. I just emailed him to see if he could play in Atomic Pigeons and he was like, “Yeah, of course!” And it was just amazing to work with him before the pandemic. This time, I feel really lucky to have Danny, because Joe is away and I was like, “Oh my god, who can play in this group?” Because I still wanted to play. And Danny just happens to be moving back to New York City, right on time, so I was like okay, let’s play!
We did a zoom rehearsal, a few months ago, before we knew about this Jazz Gallery gig, but I was like okay, we’re playing somewhere, let’s get ready! And he said, okay, I’ll be ready and he was really ready for our rehearsal a few weeks ago, he just killed it, so I’m really excited to have him and to play in this band together.