Though he only just graduated from Manhattan School of Music last spring, Adam O’Farrill is a longtime member of The Jazz Gallery family, and more generally, the jazz community in New York. He was one of the recipients of the 2016-2017 Jazz Gallery Residency Commission, and performs here regularly with dozens of bands as a leader and sideman. His most recent album is titled El Maquech (Biophilia), and has received glowing reviews.
For this project, titled “Bird Blown Out of Latitude,” O’Farrill assembled a large band, and began composing and rehearsing well in advance, something that O’Farrill says is new for him. The new music stems from the search for identity that comes with the feeling of displacement. In O’Farrill’s words, “This music represents the distillation of feeling dislocated—physically, mentally, maybe spiritually. To travel and lose sense of place, that’s what this music reflects.”
The Jazz Gallery: How are things going, Adam? I’m sure you’ve been busy.
Adam O’Farrill: Things are good. I’m leading a horn sectional for the Gallery gig later today, and I have a gig tonight with a singer named Eliana Glass at Cornelia Street Cafe. It’s been a hectic few days: On Wednesday afternoon, I got called for a last-minute gig in Miami for Thursday. They bought us tickets to Miami the next morning, and we played this corporate cocktail event for Adidas and David Beckham. I got back yesterday morning, and things have been busy since then, but it’s all good stuff.
TJG: I was recently reading an old interview with you in this blog, where Rafiq Bhatia asked you about the physical demands of the trumpet. Your response at the time was that you felt some mental fatigue, but mostly, “When I’m done playing a gig, I usually just wanna play another!” Is that still true, now that you’re out of school and are doing all this traveling?
AO: I would be lying if I told you things hadn’t changed in that regard. It’s a combination of few things. I don’t have the highest physical tolerance or immune system, and I easily get sick if I don’t get enough sleep, or if I’m not giving myself time to breathe and relax. It’s been like that my whole life. Since mid-August, I’ve been traveling every week or two. So when I’m home, I’m home. I feel bad because I want to get out more, integrate myself more into the scene, and sometimes I feel like I know I’m neglecting things or people. But, especially since I’m trying to compose as well, it’s easy to the hermit thing. Also, I’ve begun to form musical relationships, with different people and bands, where I don’t really want to give anything less than my full effort. That’s something we should all have built into our mindsets to begin with, but it took certain relationships and learning from certain bandleaders to come to that conclusion. When I play gigs that I really care about, I’ll realize just how much I put into it when I finish playing, physically and mentally. Sometimes it’s hard to even hang after that.
TJG: Do you see a way to work around this feeling, or are these the sacrifices you learn you have to make as you pursue a career in music?
AO: That’s exactly it. It’s a matter of knowing the sacrifices that you’re making. It’s funny, sometimes you even feel like you’re doing the right thing when you’re sacrificing something, but that’s a weird feeling, because that act of sacrifice seems like it’s often viewed in a negative light. I think when you learn how to be able to do that, it’s good. You need to be able to make tough choices, and to accept that there are difficult consequences to whatever choices you make. That’s hard.
TJG: So with this show at The Jazz Gallery, I have to ask about the title, “Bird blown out of latitude.” Of course, “Bird” is a loaded term in jazz.
AO: [Laughs] Yeah, it is. What do you want to know?
TJG: Well, I have your blurb here, about these feelings of dislocation, the physical, mental, even spiritual loss of place. I’m curious about how you came across the title, and what it means to you musically.
AO: I found it in a book by D. H. Lawrence called “The Rainbow.” It’s these two characters, both young, in a romantic relationship. They’re in a gray area between feeling very secure, but also needing to live their lives because they’re young. You know what, let me get the book… Ok, here’s the passage:
“Do you feel like a bird blow out of its own latitude,” she asked, using a phrase she had met.
“No, no” [he said], “I find everything very much as I like it.”
When I read that, it honestly felt like she was talking to me. I was visualizing this bird being blown out of its path, and thinking about how even something that flies and has wings can get pushed out of its way, just by natural forces. I was thinking about that, in contrast with his very satisfactory answer.
This new music comes from a place of being dissatisfied. I first had a glimmer of an idea for this music and this band after a gig. It was a serious gig, for lack of a better word. Without going into specifics, it was a notable in terms of the prestige of the venue and the people involved. But I left the stage feeling unfulfilled. After the gig, I hung out with a few friends, and we watched the Miles Davis ‘Isle of Wight’ video. It was exactly what I needed to look at and listen to: It was totally egoless, even Miles abandoned his ego, and on stage, everybody in the ensemble shines so equally. I knew I wanted to go in that direction, a larger ensemble. I don’t want to complain about anything I’ve been given or have had to do, I’m grateful for it all. My whole life, I’ve been put in this place of having to play really killing solos, which again, is great. I’m not at all complaining. But it has, at times, made me question who I really want to be, in terms of a musician and artist.
TJG: So you came off that gig, you had this feeling, and you D. H. Lawrence in mind. When did it start to become music in your head?
AO: At first, I began trying to adapt some of D. H. Lawrence’s poetry to music. It was an experiment and I’m glad I did it, but it didn’t amount to anything, at least not yet. But the next thing that happened was that I was on tour in September in Europe with Raf Vertessen, a great drummer from Belgium. We were in Antwerp, where we played a club and stayed in a hotel that night. I was getting ready for my West Coast tour with Stranger Days, getting everything in place, so I didn’t really sleep that night. The next day was crazy because we drove about two hours to Antwerp Airport, flew to Italy, hung out in Italy for a few hours, and then drove to a small mountain town in Austria to play a gig that night. This is all on basically no sleep. When I was in the car going to the airport to Belgium, I was listening to Thom Yorke’s album Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes, and there was something about it… Sometimes, you’re listening to music and it perfectly captures something. It was that feeling of something clicking into place. I was anxious, having stayed up all night, and worried that I’d get sick and mess up the upcoming tour. Listening to that music, the trippyness of the beat, while being rooted in this groovy feeling, it just came at the right place at the right time. I fell asleep in the car ride to Austria, and when I woke up, I saw the Alps out the window. It was beautiful. It was almost a hallucinogenic state, being in three countries in two days, with very little sleep, not knowing exactly where I was. Somehow, listening to Thom Yorke’s album was what I needed. While listening to it, I hit up the first few people about playing this Jazz Gallery gig.
TJG: Who did you call?
AO: I don’t remember who I called or in what order, but I think the first person I called was Eva, because I’ve known her since middle school. We haven’t really played my own music together a lot. Recently, I’ve been playing some of her music, some rock kind of stuff, but we’ve been hanging and playing more together, so I had to call her. It just felt like one of those things that had to be that way.
TJG: What’s the music like?
AO: It touches on a lot of different things. It’s inspired partly by that Miles ‘Isle of Wight’ band. The other objective I had was that I wanted it to act as a kind of film music, not in the “film music” genre sense, but more that it can be accompanying something. I want to create the feeling that the music could be in the foreground and the background. That’s partially inspired by the Ryuichi Sakamoto documentary I saw recently, where he talks about how his latest album was like writing a score for a movie that doesn’t exist, or exists in his head. It’s a little of that kind of influence. Other things that influenced me were Jonny Greenwood, Toru Takemitsu, and the Thom Yorke album, that collective sound. I love that energy, but want to balance it with compositional intricacy.
TJG: So what will you be running through today at your sectional?
AO: We’re just running through parts. I’ve been getting together with everybody individually before we do full-band rehearsals this week. I met up with Tal, the guitarist, as early as October, just so we could get together in our busy travel schedules. I’ve never done that before, rehearsing so early for a project, and it’s been really liberating to share the music with people while I’m writing it, so I’m not holding it too close to my chest and having it stiffen up.
TJG: What do you think this rhythm section is going to sound like? Have you heard these people together, Chris, Russell, and Eva?
AO: Russel and I have played in Eva’s band before, and Chris and Russell were on one of my recital projects a few years ago. We’ve also played in other configurations lately. I think only Eva and Chris haven’t played together before. Part of my relationship with Russell stems from high school: I’d write a lot of stuff that I’d play on piano and he’d play on drums, and it’d be the two of us. We were listening to Vijay Iyer’s Accelerando, which came out when we were seniors. Russell is one of the best drummers I know, and he comes from a big rock background. Everyone’s a heavily multifaceted player; Chris grew up playing reggae, Eva plays with Princess Nokia, Russell plays with Beach Fossil and has his own band Caverns. When I put this band together, I knew that they all weren’t strictly jazz rhythm section players, which is exciting, because it’s not going go feel like that too much, though they all have, and still do, play a lot of jazz.
TJG: It sounds like it’s going to be cool.
AO: I’m excited. These are some of my favorite musicians.
Adam O’Farrill presents Bird Blown Out of Latitude at The Jazz Gallery on Friday, December 14, and Saturday, December 15, 2018. The group features Mr. O’Farrill on trumpet, Xavier Del Castillo on tenor sax, David Leon on alto sax, Gaya Feldheim Schorr on voice, Nolan Tsang on trumpet, Tal Yahalom on guitar, Chris Fishman on keyboards, Eva Lawitts on electric bass, and Russell Holzman on drums. Sets are at 7:30 and 9:30 P.M. each night. $25 general admission ($10 for members), $35 reserved cabaret seating ($20 for members) for each set. Purchase tickets here.