A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Posts by Kevin Sun

Graphic by Mia Nazzaro

On Thursday, November 7, 2019, alto saxophonist and EWIer Alfredo Colon returns to The Jazz Gallery for a debut presentation and live recording of Lookalike, a trio featuring Colon alongside bassist Steve Williams and drummer Henry Mermer. In recent years, Colon has been turning heads playing in the post-vaporwave collective Secret Mall and leading his own projects, most recently Big Head, a quartet with pianist Jacob Sacks, bassist Nick Dunston, and drummer Connor Parks. We caught up with Colon by phone to discuss his new trio and its inspirations.

The Jazz Gallery: What have you been up to since your last performance at the Gallery back in June? 

Alfredo Colon: I’ve just been trying to write as much music as possible lately. I’m a person who has a ton of ideas and in the past didn’t commit to them, so my thing this year has been—I’ve been having a lot of moments when I’m like, “This will be cool”—so I’ve been trying to get the ball rolling with whatever that may be and committing to it. 

TJG: When did you, Steve, and Henry first play together?

AC: Probably early this year, around May. We just got together and played free at New School. 

I always like when I get together and improvise with people, then listen back to the recording and it sounds like something written. There’s intention to everything, everyone’s present; it’s not sqounking about, just making noise. I ended up writing some material that fit the vibe. Steve and Henry brought some compositions, and it’s become its own thing now. 

TJG: That reminds me of a thing I heard Steve Lehman say about composing, which was that he sometimes found inspiration from listening back to recordings and expanding from particular improvised moments. Are there songs that you wrote with a similar approach? 

AC: Yeah, there’s quite a few of them. The thing is, these guys always get me to play something that I otherwise wouldn’t: Steve is a master of rhythm, so he’s always got something that can either throw me off or push me in a direction I’ve never gone in before. Henry’s kind of a mysterious player, so the way the two play forces me to play stuff I usually don’t. 

There’s a song that’s the opener of the set, which is from a moment I played with them. Some of the lines I played were very me, but not me, I guess. I transcribed them and they became the melody for one of the tunes in the tunes you’ll hear on the 7th. 


Photo by Jonathan Chimene (courtesy of the artist)

This weekend, pianist Ethan Iverson brings a new quartet to The Jazz Gallery along with a newly composed book of music to explore. Since his departure from The Bad Plus at the end of 2017, Iverson has had a busy year, which has included premiering a new piano concertowriting for the Culture Deskat the New Yorker, and performing with peers and elders.

We spoke by phone with Ethan Iverson, who was spending some time with family in Duluth, Minnesota.

The Jazz Gallery: How’s your summer been?

Ethan Iverson: No complaints! The first year after The Bad Plus, I was worried about having any work at all, and I can’t say that that’s the case; I’ve actually been very busy.

TJG: It definitely seems like it. How did this new band at the Gallery come to form?

EI: I had a gig at Korzo and ended up calling this particular group of musicians. From the first note, I thought it was really a magical gig. We all are very strong personalities, but I think everyone gets along in some kind of way; everyone just enjoyed playing.

At the last second before we began the gig, I somehow heard the Erroll Garner tune “Misty” in my head, and I asked Dayna if he liked playing “Misty.” He looked at me and said, “I love ‘Misty.’”

This is the correct answer, but I don’t know if everybody would give that answer. There are plenty of tenor players that think it’s unhip to play “Misty,” but, for me, that’s the right answer.

We played “Misty” sort of like a space ballad, and then we played a straight ahead blues. I heard each one of these guys so clearly and beautifully. I don’t need to tell you that these are all real stylists. Everybody sounded so damn good, so I thought I should really try to play a bit more with this combination and see if it kept feeling like that.

TJG: Are you playing original music as well?

EI: I’ve written a new book for this band. In fact, everybody has a song written for them. “Dayna’s Dilemma,” “Thomas the Blessèd,” and “E to the MAC.” There are also three or four other new tunes. I’ve written too much music, actually, because I want to play “Misty” and “Tea for Two” and some of those other Iversonian standards as well.

TJG: That all came out of being inspired from the gig at Korzo?

EI: Yeah, it was just one gig. It just felt fresh.

I’ve played a lot with Reid Anderson and I’ve played a lot with Ben Street, and they’ll always be two that I hope to be associated with in people’s minds, but Thomas is also incredible and playing with him was such a blast. He hears everything. The guy I listened to him play with a lot was Masabumi Kikuchi. After Masabumi, there’s nothing that’s going to challenge Thomas Morgan. I can literally play anything and Thomas is going to make it sound good.

Eric McPherson is a real jazz drummer. It’s sort of corny to talk about this, but he’s one of those guys that lives his life and plays the drums with the same texture. That’s what they used to do, actually. Now most of us are quite divided—we’re very Western in our roles. But when I hang out with the old school jazz greats, there’s less division between who you are as a person and the way you play. Of someone remotely in my age group, E-Mac is just about as close as anybody to having that feeling.

What’s hip about Dayna is that he’s got a real sense of fun play in his abstraction. I think Wayne Shorter is a real reference for him; I never played with Wayne, but when I’m comping for Dayna I’m like, “Oh, man, maybe this is like I’m comping for Wayne.” He’s sort of got this elliptical thing, but Dayna’s also really fun. That aspect reminds me of my old friend Bill McHenry, who can be a goofball sometimes. I love that.

The tenor player I’ve played the most with is Mark Turner, and Mark is never a goofball, you know. But with Dayna, there’s something that’s just fun, but also very abstract and cool.


40Twenty (2012, Yeah Yeah Records)

“…those ‘forty-twenty’ sets the club owners wanted everybody to play. They wanted you to begin your set twenty minutes after the hour and play until the end of the hour and then come back twenty minutes later and play another set”

Miles Davis

Writing about 40Twenty for The New York Times back in the summer of 2010, Ben Ratliff described the band, a Brooklyn-based collective featuring trombonist Jacob Garchik, pianist Jacob Sacks, bassist Dave Ambrosio, and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza, as reminiscent of the mood of ’60s Paul Bley albums with their “dry, controlled radicalism; a smeary version of chamber jazz.” In advance of their sets at The Jazz Gallery this Wednesday, July 12, 2017, we caught up with the band’s pianist to discuss in greater detail the origins of the ensemble; the past, present, and future of the long-form gig; and how repeat performances enable musicians and listeners alike to move beyond the surface of the music and understand the core values of a band.

The Jazz Gallery: Everybody in the band has known each other for years, but how did this particular ensemble form?

Jacob Sacks: The concept of that band was to try to do a long-form gig, basically. Vinnie Sperrazza and I had talked about this idea: how Monk would play six months at the Five Spot. At that time, we were talking about we felt like we’d missed something, not getting to do something like that, and I’d gotten to play with Paul [Motian] at the Vanguard for a week—five different weeks, actually—and each of those weeks was really instructive.

When you get to do more than one gig in a row, you get deeper into the music, and when Brian Drye gave us two weeks at IBeam, we got it together, more or less.

TJG: There’s that great Miles Davis quote you reference in the 2012 album’s liner notes.

JS: Yeah, but he hated that, though. He eventually got it so he wouldn’t do all those sets they want you to do, because those cats would often play from 9 to 4, six or seven sets, whatever it was, if you can imagine.

TJG: The name of the band’s sort of ironic, then?

JS: Yeah. When we play, we usually try to perform 40 minutes sets and take 20 off. We won’t do that at The Jazz Gallery where the format is two longer sets, but we often set up the gigs like that.

TJG: So even though Miles wasn’t into it, you still tried it out?

JS: Well, it wasn’t so much the convention of 40/20 that was the thing—it was more the convention of playing a bunch of nights in a row. It was to try to experience what our heroes in the music often did (obviously on a much smaller scale). They would do six months, maybe five to seven hours a night; we did two weeks, two sets a night.

When I was a kid though—I grew up in southeastern lower Michigan, northwestern Ohio area—Rusty’s Jazz Cafe was 9 to 2, so you’d play four sets at least at that place. That was my training as a kid, and you might play Friday to Saturday, two nights of five set gigs in a row. Even some places up in Ann Arbor, like I used to play at this place called the Bird of Paradise: That was 9 to 1, and that was 3 sets at least, if I remember correctly; and so that was my upbringing—having to play 25 to 35 solos a night.

You do a lot of tunes, but I realized when I moved to New York that, back in the Midwest on those gigs you could play 35 tunes over the course of a gig, but you might not need to know how to play them 100 different ways. You might know one way of playing on each tune, and the tune itself might change—the variables:  different tempo, different feel, whatever it was—but here in New York, I always felt like, “Oh, you need to know 500 tunes and 500 ways of playing each of those 500 tunes,” which is good, actually. So that’s the one great thing about New York, is that so many different people are here. You just get a sense there are a lot of different ways to play the same old thing, whereas there, there were a number of great musicians, but not the numbers here, where there’s probably 1000 great jazz piano players in New York alone. That’s 1000 great ways to play right there.



Photo by Amy Mills

For the occasion of her 2017 Residency Commission, the saxophonist, vocalist, and composer María Grand has expanded the quintet featured on her EP TetraWind, released earlier this year, and brought both dance and rap into the fold for Embracements. We caught up with her by phone to discuss the upcoming premiere and the creative inspirations in this latest work:

The Jazz Gallery: When The Jazz Gallery reached out to you about writing a commission, where did you start with the process?

María Grand: I actually had the idea of doing a project with a rapper before I heard about the Gallery commission. When Rio [Sakairi] told me I had the commission, it seemed like I could finally get a larger ensemble together, budget-wise, and I was interested in creating some kind of chamber work that also was working with a rapper.

That was my beginning idea, but I also had this idea about learning about what the feminine side of God means for different cultures and using that to create music, and also using that to create lyrics, which was all connected to the rapper. So I kind of had the whole project in my mind, and I was waiting for somebody to give the money for me to do it, so it all came at the right time.

TJG: Had you worked with the rapper Amani Fela previously?

MG: I met him at the Marc Cary Harlem session, and I had never worked with a rapper. What I liked about him was that he was interested in music as a whole: I remember showing him a drumbeat that was maybe in 5 or something, and he said, “Oh, cool—I know what this is.” It wasn’t like musical information was going to be an issue for him; it wasn’t like he was going to be intimidated by any kind of musical information I wrote for him, because he plays drums, too, and he plays some piano, so I felt that he would be flexible.

I should tell you the whole story of how I wrote the music: I went to Cuba and did a three-week sabbatical there, and I took five books with me that were all about different goddesses: Ancient Mirrors of Womanhood, by Merlin Stone; The Goddesses’ Mirror, by David R. Kinsley; Images of Women in Antiquity, by Averil Cameron and Amélie Kuhrt; Women’s Roles in Ancient Civilization, by Bella Vivante; and Promiscuities, by Naomi Wolf.

I was trying to find parallels between goddesses and also the stories and the legends, and my experience or in general the female experience in this culture that I’m living in. So this is what I thought of when I was writing the music, and each song is  dedicated to a certain goddess or dedicated to characters that represented something similar in my mind. They may not be from the same culture, but they represent a certain aspect of life that was similar.

So I read all these books and then I wrote the music, and then when it came time to write for Imani, I had already written the music. What I did was, I learned the music that I had written by heart and then wrote these poems that were related to whatever symbolical or allegorical energy I was working with when I wrote the music. I used that to create a poem, and then I rapped the text over the music, but made it fit in specific ways. It was super specific, and once I was happy with that, I recorded it and I sent that to Imani. So it was basically like I was sending him a chart.


Photo courtesy of the artist

Hailing from Cherry Hill, NJ, tenor saxophonist and composer Peyton Pleninger claims Steve Coleman, Milford Graves, and Henry Threadgill as some of his most important recent musical influences. Now currently studying at The New School, Pleninger transferred to the school after a year at Berklee College of Music in Boston. His quartet, Biotonic, “explores the relationship of cardiology and human experience through sound” and will be performing for the first time at The Jazz Gallery this Thursday, April 6, 2017, on the eve of Pleninger’s 21st birthday.

We caught up with him recently over oversized mugs of coffee in the Village on a rainy, early spring day:

The Jazz Gallery: When did your interest with integrating the body and sound start?

Peyton Pleninger: I guess it was just two years ago? Like two or three years ago. I got Steve [Coleman]’s record, Functional Arrhythmias, my last year of high school, and that was the first Steve record that I got. I loved it. He was talking about being inspired by Milford Graves for all this stuff, so I was like, “OK, this is the guy I need to go and find.” Then, when I was at Berklee two years ago, he [Graves] played a free show at Brandeis University. You could take a shuttle bus from Back Bay, Boston over to Brandeis to see this show for free. That was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen.

TJG: He was performing solo?

PP: Just Milford, solo. He plays and he sings, and he was talking about what he does. I went up and talked to him afterward and ended up coming down to his place. The first lesson, or thing you do, you can go in and you get your heartbeat recorded. He’s got a stethoscope with a quarter-inch output, and he goes into ProTools, and you get your heartbeat on an EKG.

He’s built these computer programs that will read your EKG and then convert it into musical pitch. He’s also got these things where it will overlay your heart beat with an imagined heartbeat that’s faster, but at the golden ratio between them. It’s stuff you’d hear in Cuban music or in West African musics, really fantastic.

TJG: What was the feeling you had hearing Milford’s concert?

PP: Wow, man. I got to the end and … well, Milford even said after the concert, “Man, you were smiling the whole time.” And I was!

For me, he’s one of the only guys I see where I feel totally energized after seeing him—like this feeling of just wanting to jump up and down and run around the block. I just feel good.

TJG: Why do you think that is?

PP: I think he’s figured it out. He’s figured out a way to play that’s more than just sound and the way that we perceive sound with our mind. I think he’s figured out a way to play that affects you on a physical level in some way. I think it comes for studying all the heartbeats and all of that, getting deep into the cardiology and figuring out why we function the way we function.

TJG: Could you tell me when Biotonic started?

PP: It didn’t have a name at first. You saw the first gig we played, at SEEDS!