A true musical polymath, pianist Michael Cain has forged a unique path through the international jazz scene over the last three decades. Cain has worked closely with artists as diverse as Jack DeJohnette, Billy Higgins, Greg Osby, and Me’Shell Ndege’Ocello, and his own music draws from traditions from around the world. His current working band is called Sola, and finds Cain exploring various forms of hip hop and electronica. An old Gallery regular, Cain will bring Sola to our stage this Thursday, July 20th, for two sets. We caught up with Cain last week by phone; excerpts of the conversation are below.
The Jazz Gallery: What’s your history with The Jazz Gallery?
Michael Cain: I’ve played there many times, but it’s been a while. I used to play there all the time when it first opened. The Gallery was my spot—it was my favorite. I’ve been friends with Rio Sakairi since before the Gallery opened, so I’ve seen it go through its various evolutions.
TJG: Can you talk about your band Sola, which is coming to the Gallery?
MC: Sola is the name of my working band right now, and the name of my last album. It was a combination of different horns and keyboard sounds and electronics. It’s an ensemble that helps me get to the world that I like living in.
TJG: What is that world?
MC: I would say that it’s some sort of combination of jazz, and some hip hop in there, and EDM and electronica, and somewhere there’s rock & roll—a kind of hybrid music. I hear all of those elements most clearly in the music.
TJG: Who are some of the people in the hip hop world that you’ve been listening to recently?
MC: I’m really into Kendrick Lamar and I’ve been spending a lot of time with Jay-Z’s new album. Definitely a lot of Migos.
For me, I need to hear what’s happening in the community right now, what people are dancing to. These days, I feel like I live in different places. I teach at Brandon University in Canada, and I spend a lot of time nowadays in Las Vegas, which is my hometown. When I’m in Vegas—which is a great place for music—I’m going out clubbing every night I can. So I’m listening to whatever’s playing in the club, whatever remixes are coming through. I feel I have to get that side of the music.
In my music—I’m 51 years old, so I’m not trying to imitate that music. But I have to hear that music to get to the sounds that I want to play, for some reason. I’ll start there, and really get a sense of what people are dancing to in a big way.
TJG: Are you trying to directly connect to this popular culture with your music, or is it just something that you’re opening yourself up to as a potential influence?
MC: That’s a great question. I would answer that two ways. One, because I’ve been a teacher for so long, I’m always connected to young culture. I keep getting older every year, but the students don’t, so I always have to stay plugged into what they’re talking about. Teaching is an exchange for sure, so they’re learning from me and I’m learning from them. So that’s part of it, but my ear has always naturally flowed that way too. I’ve always been fascinated with the music that young people are making. I’ve always been interested in their perspective—the sounds, the ideas, the concepts, how they’re constructing their world.
More specifically, it’s the nature of dance. It’s what’s happening in the club. For me, the club is the ritual. That’s where a lot of the music is really alive. What’s interesting about clubbing in Vegas, though, is that it’s not a velvet rope thing, or an age thing. Everybody from all generations can be there. I feel that the club is where everything comes together—the people, the dance, the sound, the energy. Because I study this music so much, when I go to write my own music, I can really feel how those sounds and sensibilities can play out in what I’m doing.