A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Posts by Stephanie Jones

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Brooklyn-based artist and interdisciplinary performer Melvis Santa brings her critically-acclaimed project Ashedí “Afro-Cuban Jazz Meets Rumba” to The Jazz Gallery this month. Leading her band in explorations across a range of repertoire, the singer, dancer, percussionist and GRAMMY nominee presents an evening of music steeped in folkloric traditions from the Afro-Cuban lineage that stretches into the culture and sounds of today.

In the Afro-Cuban language of the Lucumí or Yoruba ethnicity, and for the purposes of Santa’s vision, Ashedí reflects the English word “invitation.” She aims to collaborate with open-minded artists who can share in celebrating a mingling of traditions, cultures and artistic expressions. In the video below, Santa speaks about her vision for the project.

This Wednesday and next at the Gallery, Melvis Santa invites Osmany Paredes on piano, Rafael Monteagudo on drums, Carlos Mena on bass and Brandee Younger on harp to join Ashedí.  (more…)

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Julius Rodriguez engages his music from different points of view. Pianist, drummer, composer and budding producer, Rodriguez has worked with an eclectic mix of artists, from Wynton Marsalis to Brasstracks to his own expanding collective that includes such artists as Morgan Guerin, Daryl Johns and Maya Carney. 

At 21, the artist and habitual collaborator has gone through some very adult changes in his personal and professional development, and he continues to evolve his music and his conception of sound. He spoke with The Gallery about how one instrument can inform others, his vision for the future of the music and which of today’s artists and producers are keeping him inspired in and out of the studio 

The Jazz Gallery: Happy birthday, by the way. 

Julius Rodriguez: Thank you. 

TJG: For someone without all these years of experience, you seem have quite a sophisticated way of playing with and alongside singers. 

JR: I love playing with singers. 

TJG: Obviously the singers who collaborate with you are equally sophisticated in their expressions and their artistries—I might mention Jazzmeia Horn, Voilet Skies, Abir. What have you discovered about your own playing from spending so much time collaborating with these great singers?

JR: Generally, I like accompanying. I feel like some of my better ideas come when I’m accompanying because I’m thinking more about the big picture than my own solo or my own thing. That’s probably one of the biggest [reasons] why I love playing with singers. I also just love learning about the relationship between melody and harmony. As a pianist, you learn more about that learning your instrument. 

I love the way singers are able to express melodies because the voice is different from the piano. The piano is note by note; with the voice, you can do different things with tone and quality and articulations. Being that I love hearing that so much, I’m always trying to find ways to accentuate that and play around it — make it sound good. 

I’ve spent a lot of time listening to Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan. I’ve spent a great deal of time listening to Amy Winehouse—she’s one of my big favorites. Johny Hartman, as well. 

TJG: Do you see a thread of similarities in what attracts you to each of these singers, or do like them all for something that’s unique to each of them? 

JR: Well, I talk about Amy—she’s really one of my biggest musical influences. She obviously took a lot from listening to Billie Holiday, listening to Sarah, listening to Ella. But she grew up in the age that she did, so she has this sort of modern twist on it, which I think is a perfect example of what I think musicians today should be doing with our art: to have a deep sense of the history but also realize that we’re in 2019. Music has evolved; you should, with it. 


Kris Davis & Julian Lage. Photos courtesy of the artists.

Pianist Kris Davis and guitarist Julian Lage are two hard-to-pin-down musicians. Davis’ and Lage’s individual projects over the years, have engaged a huge range of personalities. For Davis, that includes Terri Lyne Carrington, Craig Taborn, Ingrid Laubrock, and Mary Halvorson; while for Lage, that includes Nels Cline, Eric Harland, Nicole Henry and Fred Hersch. Ahead of their duo hit at The Jazz Gallery this Wednesday and Thursday, they discuss the merits of judgment, cooperative exploration and those persistent playback scaries. 

The Jazz Gallery: Musicians are always engaging in conversation, bandstand dialogue, etc. Both of you obviously are very receptive conscious listeners. Kris, to me there’s something about your playing that feels like a very close to literal translation of the idea of conversation, almost a voice speaking. In what ways, if any, do you feel like there’s a connection between your actual speech patterns and your phrasing choices or broad musical choices? 

Kris Davis: I guess what I would say is that I’m innately a shy person and some times it’s hard for me to come up with things to say. So when I’m playing music, it’s kind of the opposite. I feel completely free to generate material and express myself. And I think that’s really how I express myself in general. 

TJG: When you’re playing, do you feel as though you’re not going to be judge for what you’re saying musically in the way that you might be judged for what you say verbally? 

KD: I’m from the school of “There are no mistakes.” It hasn’t always been that way but, at this point, anything I come across, if I think it’s not sounding that exciting or I’m not happy with my choice, sometimes I’ll just stick with it and see where I can take it. Things that might seem dissonant or, I don’t know, things that other people might consider a mistake or a bad sound, to me, I try to come from a place of loving all sound and just rolling with that and going with it. 

TJG: That concept relates directly to the practice of reserving self-judgment. Julian, over the course of your career as an artist, have you transitioned into that headspace of being far less critical of yourself than maybe when you began playing? 

Julian Lage: That’s a good question. I suppose in certain respects, the stakes seem a little clearer now than maybe they did when I was younger, as far as what’s really at risk, what’s really at stake if I don’t play exactly as I had hoped or it doesn’t go the way I’d wished it would. 

KD: Yeah, I understand that sentiment. 

JL: As far as critique and judgment, I’m very much aligned with Kris in that respect. I embrace critique as kind of a dramatic subtext. Maybe a player is going about their business and then you hear something happen that you maybe think, “Ooh, that’s awkward,” and then you hear how they reconcile it. I would say it’s like that. It’s very dramatically interesting. And it’s not divorced from judgment per se; it’s just the relationship to judgment is not stifled. I’m pretty blunt. If I play something that I feel is not going well, I’ll say, “That sucked. Cool.” And then if it’s killing, there’s something happening and I might say, “Well that was amazing.” I’ll feel empowered to say, “Did you hear that? I’ve never heard a guitar do that. It’s amazing.” I don’t take any credit for it, but I do think amazing things happen and it’s fun to rejoice. 


Peter Bernstein & Gilad Hekselman. Photos courtesy of the artists.

Guitarist-composers, bandleaders and compulsive hangers, Pete Bernstein and Gilad Hekselman each have left a strong mark on contemporary sound. As proud descendants of a fabled guitar lineage, Hekselman and Bernstein over the years have collaborated with diverse artists, including Mark Turner, Chris Potter, Esperanza Spalding, and Ben Wendel, as well as Joshua Redman, Diana Krall, Nicholas Payton and Dr. Lonnie Smith, respectively. Back on New York City soil after a couple tightly-booked European tours, both artists took a few minutes to discuss playing with and off each other, democratic leadership (in music) and the DNA of their sound.

The Jazz Gallery: Pete, you were just out for a while—exclusively in Europe?

Pete Bernstein: I was all around Europe, starting Moscow, then up through Paris. Did a few stops with Larry Goldings and Bill Stewart. It was fun all around. We had like 15 gigs in 18 days.

TJG: Pro.

PB: Yeah, I guess so. It’s a miracle when a tour is actually put together. It’s really hard to do, a lot of work. Buying tickets, hotel coordinating… The whole idea of how a booking agent does that, it’s kind of amazing. It’s like architecture. And fishing. At the same time. The first part is fishing because you just throw a gig into the water and see who takes the bait, and then you get one big one you try to book around it. There’s an art to it, I think.

TJG: Apt. Do you guys always use the same booking agent for your Europe tours?

PB: Yeah, we’ve been using the same booking agent Helen Kondos. [We’ve been working with her] for about four years. She’s great. She’s very unusual, too, because she’ll send dozens of emails saying, “Okay, do you guy wanna do this to make this flight? The next day you’d have to get up and do this…” She’s very much involved in what our experience will be, which is nice. Most people just try to put [the tour] together and cut corners or save money—they just do whatever. She’s about asking us what we would rather do.

TJG: Well then we should totally give her a shout out in this interview.

PB: Yeah, she’s unusual. A lot of times you look at it on paper and it’s like wow: four days in a row you’re waking up at five in the morning. After a while, you really start to crumble when things are put together in a very sadistic way.

The whole thing is a miracle, but especially the first step, when someone actually wants us to come play for them. And then people come out and see the gig. That’s all miraculous.

TJG: You still find that first part miraculous, after all the years you’ve been out there?

PB: I find it more miraculous than ever now. Gilad, maybe you know the feeling: You get on a couple of airplanes, take a van ride and you’re at this place and you’re like, “Where the fuck are we?” And then people actually come out. It’s amazing.

Gilad Hekselman: I agree. I think too often, especially in some situations that I’ve been in, people take that stuff for granted, but I agree with you.


Photo by Rachel Thalia Fisher, courtesy of the artist.

Camila Meza engages listeners by sharing her unique experiences and personal longings. Hers are stories of movement, both journeys and emergences.

On the heels of her studio release Ámbar (Sony Masterworks), the Chilean-born singer, guitarist and composer returns to the bandstand to perform Portal, her 2019 Jazz Gallery Residency Commission. While composing the project, Meza chose to explore new music in an instrumental context unfamiliar to her, in part, so she could inhabit one of Portal’s essential themes: the struggle to seek and find solutions to hard questions.

Ahead of her performance, Meza spoke with the Jazz Speaks about joys and challenges of creating possibilities, her connection to vocal harmony, and the enduring aesthetic of “layering” in her work.

The Jazz Gallery: In terms of instrumentation, this project is a departure from your work with the Nectar Orchestra.

Camila Meza: I’d say so. Although in its quantity, it’s similar. It’s a lot of people.

TJG: And you’ve been playing with and composing for Nectar over the past three years—or longer than that?

CM: Well [the Nectar] project started maybe around six years ago but, in the middle, I was taking care of Traces. There was some sort of hiatus for that album, so the last three years have been totally dedicated to Ámbar.

TJG: In what ways do you feel your compositions have expanded—or maybe your compositional style has expanded—as a result of spending so much time with the orchestra?

CM: Having the possibility to experiment with a larger group of people, a wider instrumentation, it really, intuitively gives you so many more options in terms of arranging and landscaping the songs and compositions. It puts you in a position of having to pay a lot of attention to detail and ask yourself “How am I going to use all of these sounds in a cohesive way so that I take advantage of them and also use them in a way that serves the music?”

TJG: Did you ever find those possibilities overwhelming, or did you always sort of find them to be intriguing?

CM: Both. It definitely enhances your creativity. You suddenly have more colors to play with, which sounds enticing, but you’re also in front of another problem to solve. You have to pay attention so you’re able to use these colors without overusing them only because you have them in front of you. That’s the challenge.