A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Posts by Tree Palmedo

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Photo courtesy of the artist.

It’s been ten years since Philip Dizack released his debut album, Beyond a Dream (Fresh Sound), an explosive, Nicholas Payton-esque post-bop affair that marked the trumpeter as a daring yet precise player. The honors poured in, and Dizack was listed as one of Downbeat’s “25 Trumpeters to Watch” alongside Ambrose Akinmusire and Avishai Cohen.

With his second album, End of an Era (Criss Cross), Dizack expanded his sonic palette by adding strings to his simmering, soulful compositions. For Dizack, the album marked a turning point, both as a maturing musician and on a more personal note. “End of an Era represents a moment when what you had is gone,” he told WBGO’s The Checkout. “For me, it’s specific things like family relationships that ended. Both of my grandparents passed away. All those things were very personal, but I saw that everyone goes through something. And it’s all the same.”

Dizack’s latest release is Single Soul (Criss Cross), which manages to feel even more expansive with nothing more than a standard jazz quintet. The trumpeter’s compositions, like the title track, are intricate yet romantic, while his solo take on the Duke Ellington standard “I’ve Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good)” showcases Dizack’s control of both angular lines and gentle lyricism.

Dizack has been a consistent presence at the Gallery over the last decade, and we’re proud to welcome him once again.  (more…)

Photo by Ingrid Hertfelder

Photo by Ingrid Hertfelder

“I’m literally working on it right now,” Chris Tordini says of the music for his upcoming show at the Gallery. “I haven’t been super busy with other things the past couple of weeks, so I have a lot of time I can dedicate.”

This much free time doesn’t come often for Tordini, who has spent the last decade building a reputation as one of the busiest—and most flexible—bassists in New York (look to our previous feature, Six Degrees of Chris Tordini, for more on his sterling resume). He steps out infrequently as a leader, so Tuesday’s concert is a rare showcase for a talent who spends most of his nights in the back of the bandstand. We caught up with Tordini by phone to talk about the show and the new music he’ll be premiering.

The Jazz Gallery: What can we expect from the show? Are there any projects you’re involved in that your original music is particularly connected to?

Chris Tordini: I’m not sure if I would compare it to any of the projects that I’m involved in, but I play a lot with each of the members of the band in different contexts, and what I know of their musical personalities has definitely influenced my writing for the show. So yeah, I don’t know what viewers should expect other than hopefully my music putting the rest of the band in positions to sound their best.

TJG: So you wrote the music for these particular players?

CT: I did. I’ve been trying really hard to write as much new music as I can. I’m kind of slow when I compose, so all the new music that I’ve written for this show is written with the members of the band in mind, but there are going to be probably some older things that I didn’t necessarily write for them just because I didn’t have enough time to write more music.

TJG: How did you put together this band?

CT: Jeremy Viner, the tenor sax and clarinet player, we went to college together at the New School, and we’ve been playing together for over ten years now. I always think of him when I’m putting a band together because I love his sound on tenor and clarinet, and he can play anything anyone puts in front of him with ease. He’s a very quick study and a great improviser too.

Kris Davis and I have been playing for almost as long as me and Jeremy. We met playing sessions and being hired to play in other people’s bands together. We’ve always had a very strong connection musically. We’ve done entire gigs together just straight up improvising.

Bobby Avey is going to play keyboards; I’ve played his music a bunch. He’s never played my music before, but I really wanted to get him in there. Usually, in the past I’ve written for piano and guitar, but the guitar player that I usually hire doesn’t live in New York anymore, and even though there’s a million amazing guitar players that I know, I decided to try it out and see how it would sound with keyboard taking the place of the guitar sounds, and I thought of Bobby.

And then Dan Weiss and I have played in a bunch of different bands together for the past six years or so. He’s one of my favorite drummers on the planet. He’s incredibly creative and it’s super fun just to play time with him.

TJG: As a bassist-composer-leader, how do you treat the bass within the context of your compositions?

CT: I think I used to approach it—I would not really think about the role of the bass too much as I was composing. But for the stuff I’ve been writing for this show, some of the ideas started with ideas that I came across when I was just practicing. They came from the bass in a way I’ve never really written before. I’ve been trying to give myself more ambitious parts, technically, to put the responsibility of the pieces on myself while playing them.


Photo courtesy of the artist.

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Alan Ferber has always worn a closet’s worth of hats. Indeed, when he’s not a solid sideman for jazz-world superstars like Esperanza Spalding and John Hollenbeck, the trombonist-composer can often be heard in the low brass chair with orchestrally minded indie bands like Beirut, The National, and Sufjan Stevens. And then, of course, there’s Ferber’s own music, which gently breaks genre divides and makes the most out of horn-heavy ensembles like his nonet and big band.

Ferber’s most recent hat, though, is fatherhood, and upon winning a recent commission from Chamber Music America, he resolved to reflect on his young son’s life through music. The resulting composition, “Roots and Transitions,” is a typically sprawling work that returns Ferber to his original nonet after two years of supporting a big band record, 2013’s March Sublime (Sunnyside). On Tuesday night, the band takes the Gallery stage to perform “Roots and Transitions” in its entirety. We caught up with Ferber by phone to discuss the piece.

The Jazz Gallery: How has your nonet writing been informed by your experience writing and touring the big band album?

Alan Ferber: I didn’t think it would. I started writing for the nonet because I got a grant from Chamber Music America—New Jazz Works grant, and I essentially proposed a project and then had to follow through with it by writing a brand-new piece of music. It was a Chamber Music America piece so I tried to really think about writing it by limiting myself as a composer. I’d been doing big band for the last couple of years and it can be a very dense sound; you have thirteen horns to work with, and chord voicings and whatnot. But for this nonet project, I didn’t want to treat it as a little big band. I really wanted to treat this piece as true chamber music.

Doing the big band for a couple of years, it’s hard to really say if that changed the way I wrote for nonet. But I think what did change was the compositional process that I undertook this piece with, which involved me writing most of the main compositional material with just the trombone. On the piano, you can come up with mediocre melodic ideas but then you play a nice, juicy chord voicing and it’s like, “Aw yeah, that sounds great.” But on the trombone, you can’t do that. You have to have something melodically compelling in order to move forward compositionally with the piece. Honestly, the other part of it too was the fact that I’d just had a kid, and I needed to be playing the trombone. It’s such a high-maintenance instrument and I didn’t really have time to divide my time between composing and practicing.

That seemed appropriate for this piece because the premise of this piece is essentially based on my son. I tried to write something that moved through periods of rootedness and comfort and transition or discomfort, but ultimately, growth. It’s an eight movement piece and I tried to really mirror the natural human growth cycle. As a composer, I tried to write things that would be comfortable for the players but also write things that would be really uncomfortable for the players and see how the improvisers would respond.

TJG: The concept of the piece rests heavily on your recent personal history. Are you often trying to capture your current state or place in life through your music?

AF: I don’t think it’s something I try to do. I just think it’s something that happens no matter what. I really try to be genuine. One of my favorite quotes is Thelonious Monk; I’m not going to call myself a genius here but, he says that a genius is someone most like himself. When I’m playing my instrument in a band and improvising, or when I’m composing music, I just try to connect with what I’m honestly feeling rather than try to reflect something that I’m not. When I sit down and compose, it’s kind of sacred time for me. I try to really clear myself and let the most compelling ideas that I’m hearing come to the forefront and then work with those. So in that sense, it totally reflects my current state of being.

TJG: Your writing is often very specific, and this being a particularly “chamber music” piece, how much direction did you give the improvisers in your band?

AF: Actually, a couple of the movements have no improvising at all. They’re some of the shorter, interlude-type pieces. But I think that what I try to think about is how the players play melody. I toss the melodies around depending on how I think that they’re going to play the melody or how they express a written line. Ten different tenor players are going to play one written line differently. I have one tenor player that I’m writing for, and I can hear in my head how he’s going to play certain melodies, so it really affects the way I write my written material, even inner melody parts, secondary counter-melodies. Ultimately, I want the writing to sound improvised. I don’t want any of it to sound calculated. I want it all to have this human flow to it: whether it’s all written out or not, it’s going to sound natural and improvised in a way.


John Daversa Big Band at Baked Potato (photo via

John Daversa Big Band at The Baked Potato (photo via

John Daversa’s resume is a mile long for his trumpet playing alone. But even if he were never to pick up the instrument again, his eclectic and witty compositions would still make him an aggressively original voice. For over 15 years, Daversa was a mainstay of the L.A. jazz scene, leading his Progressive Big Band and small group, teaching at area colleges, and playing on film soundtracks and with pop artists ranging from Fiona Apple to Michael Bublé (you might also recognize his playing from the Key and Peele sketch “Jazz Duel”). His Big Band had a regular gig at The Baked Potato in Studio City, where Chris Barton of the LA Times praised Daversa’s “adventurous, colorful approach.”

Daversa recently took a position at the University of Miami, where he now heads the Studio Music and Jazz program. But even though his academic duties have ramped up, the trumpeter/composer has embarked on one of his most ambitious projects to date: a PledgeMusic campaign for his newest album, Kaleidoscope Eyes, which will feature Beatles songs arranged for the Daversa Big Band.

This Saturday, December 6th, 2014, Daversa will be bringing several of these freshly arranged Beatles tunes to the Gallery, but he won’t be bringing the band, which is still based in L.A. Instead, he’ll be bringing a new iteration of the ensemble, which features a who’s who of East Coast veterans, including Donny McCaslin, David Binney, and Brian Lynch. When we caught up with him, the trumpeter had just returned to Miami from Tokyo, where he’d been performing with the Bob Mintzer Big Band.

The Jazz Gallery: How does it feel to be in Miami after so many years in L.A.?

John Daversa: I love Miami. I really feel healthy here, and the school is just an incredible place to work. The students are at such a high level and the faculty is very special, and there are all kinds of great events going on there every day. I feel like I’m still in L.A., to be honest; I’m there at least once a month performing.

That’s always the hardest part: being removed from your friends. You know, you grow up with those people. The musicians I miss terribly, but I’m able to see them and make music often enough. I probably see them about as much as I did when I lived there.

TJG: Where are you performing most often with your own bands?

JD: I’m traveling all over the place now—more than I had ever before. With my own groups, the big band is nearly impossible to travel with because of the expense, so I’ve been playing with that band about once a month in L.A. because we’re preparing for our new record.

But that’s also given me the opportunity to compose a big band in New York with a whole different family of friends, which I’m really enjoying. So we’ve been doing that for about a year in New York now. And then my small band travels; we’ve been touring around a little bit.


Photo via Marsalis Music

Photo via Marsalis Music

Abbey Lincoln once said of Claudia Acuña that she “sings in the tradition of the great ones. Her sound is her own.” The jazz world seems to agree: when she moved to New York from Chile, a bold move for a then unheard-of singer who made her living recording TV jingles, Acuña was quickly absorbed into the heyday of the Small’s scene, collaborating with Brad Mehldau, Avishai Cohen (the bassist), Jeff Ballard, and Jason Lindner. She signed with Verve in 1999, recorded subsequently for MAXJAZZ, and has since toured and recorded with a who’s who of American jazz musicians, including Christian McBride, Danilo Pérez, Tom Harrell, Roy Hargrove, and George Benson.

Acuña hasn’t released an album since 2009’s En Esta Momento (Marsalis Music), but that doesn’t mean she hasn’t stayed busy. In addition to playing inspired Latin-tinged jazz with her own band, she recently collaborated with lauded composer Henry Threadgill for the Very Very Threadgill Festival. Acuña is also a mainstay at the Gallery, having performed over twenty times since 2003. Her upcoming show, which she’s titled “Canciones de Amor y Desamor,” features an ensemble of cello, bass, and drums, with Brian Blade Fellowship pianist Jon Cowherd joining the band for the second set. We’re thrilled to welcome Claudia Acuña back to the Gallery for what looks to be a standout show.

Claudia Acuña performs this Saturday, October 25th, 2014, at The Jazz Gallery. The performance will feature Acuña on vocals, Rufus Capadiocia on cello, Benjamin Willis on bass, Yayo Serka on drums, plus Jon Cowherd on piano during the second set. Sets are at 8 and 10 p.m., and tickets are $22.00 ($12.00 for Members). Purchase tickets here.