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Posts from the Interviews Category

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Singer-composer Emma Frank uses live performance to document her development the way other artists use the studio. Moments on the bandstand reveal as much or as little of her true self as she’s compelled to share. These days, she’s sharing much more. “I’m just tired of hiding my insecurities from the audience,” she says. 

From her home in Brooklyn, the Boston area native challenged herself to track music remotely during lockdown, a process she’d never attempted. “It was a little tricky,” she says. But prolonged self-engagement and reflection gave way to new sound, and a truer understanding of herself and her instrument. 

This week at The Jazz Gallery, Frank performs unreleased music and new arrangements of older compositions alongside Marta Sanchez, Grey Mcmurray, Chris Morrissey and Bill Campbell. 

The Jazz Gallery: You’re pretty candid with your viewers during livestreams: “I’m still working some of this stuff out, and I might forget the lyrics,” etcetera. 

Emma Frank: [Laughs] There are some really great smart and funny examples right now of people who are clearly concerned with the tension of performing, and what’s happening in the performer’s mind, what performance means, what it maybe hides or obscures—all of these questions I think are really interesting. 

I found that doing livestreams was painful for me. Physical humiliation was what I felt. So, every time I went live over the pandemic, I was like, “Maybe this tiiiiiime…” [laughs] “maybe I’ll be okay…” And I wasn’t. I guess I just really like transparency and communication. So, I would sign on, do two songs and say, “That felt pretty bad! Hope you’re all well. K bye!” 

TJG: Especially now, it seems people are ready for that. Particularly for younger generations, expressions of live personal reflection feel ubiquitous. 

EF: Totally. I’m 33. What I’m experiencing culturally is that I’m finding there are people newly in leadership positions, that are my peers. A lot of my women friends, we’re realizing it’s kind of up to us to lead the way in certain ways. I feel like I came out of the pandemic being like, “Nobody’s gonna give me permission to behave the way that I want to, except myself.” We’re all too evolved and too smart and too self-aware at this point to not acknowledge some of the constructs that are happening when they’re happening. Like me feeling nervous on stage—everybody feels it if they’re perceptive. Why not just say, “Hey, I’m nervous. I’m trying to settle my nerves. How are you guys?” 

TJG: There’s something 1950s about refusing to acknowledge a shared feeling that’s real and palpable, for the sake of propriety or social veneer, especially in the age of #relatable. 

EF: I’m about 10 years older than my [restaurant] coworkers. And I was talking to this very sweet, very ambitious 25 year old [who said,] “I didn’t wanna be in restaurants when I was 25.” And I’m like, Oh, I’m sure you have some feelings about me being 33 and in restaurants. And [I was] seeing people judging themselves and judging me, and seeing myself judging myself—seeing all of that, and wanting to opt out of that kind of hierarchical thinking because I don’t think it’s helpful to anyone, or helpful to me. We are all set up to compete, and to feel bad about ourselves when we don’t get the things that other people get, to feel shame and resentment. Especially in the arts, it’s something that takes some active dismantling. 

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This week, violinist Sana Nagano comes to The Jazz Gallery with her band Smashing Humans, belatedly celebrating the release of their eponymous debut album.
Before the show, we at Jazz Speaks caught up with Nagano to talk about the band’s formation, her work with Karl Berger, and her emotional growth during this time of pandemic.

The Jazz Gallery: How are you?

Sara Nagano: I’m good, I’m doing well. Have been just busy. It’s been a crazy year and a half. Just learning to manage, settling down. I moved many times during COVID, during the whole year and a half, and I finally got my own apartment and am relaxing into it.

TJG: Smashing Humans, where did the name come from?

SN: The name of the band, well I named it a while ago, two, three years ago, and it means kind of like, smashing or slashing the thinking mind. I think that’s a little more accurate, I used to say ego, but that’s a little bit ambiguous. I think it’s a bit of a joke, but smashing or dealing with the thinking mind, everyday life, problems or limitations that we feel like we have. Basically it means—smashing is a little bit of an aggressive word—dealing with our thinking mind as humans, people.

TJG: And how did you and the rest of the band get connected?

SN: The guitarist Keisuke Matsuno and I have been good friends for a long time in New York City, probably about ten years. We met each other in some jazz jam session in Manhattan. There’s a place called Cleopatra’s Needle—I don’t know if it’s still there—but they used to have sessions every week, and I used to go there a lot to just kind of meet people and practice, to improvise over stuff like jazz standards. Keisuke was hosting one of the sessions, I think he was covering for someone, that’s when we met each other the first time. We had opportunities to meet up and hang out in those session situations and we became very good friends. And so I asked him to join the band.

Joe Hertenstein—the drummer on the album—I met him at the Creative Music Studio. Karl Berger is a mentor of mine, and in New York City he’s like a free jazz and jazz master.  He’s also a good friend and I play in his Improviser Orchestra. I have been playing in his group for seven years or so, and that’s where I met Joe, and also we played together in Adam Rudolph’s Organic Orchestra. We also played in Harvey Valdes’ trio, another amazing guitarist and composer.

Ken Filiano and Peter Apfelbaum are also part of my New York City music family. They’re not like teachers, or mentors—they’re very friendly and down to earth—but I really look up to them as musicians and artists. I met them again in Karl Berger’s Creative Music Orchestra.

Danny Shir is our new drummer, since Joe is in Berlin. During the pandemic, it’s good to have a few different people in different places who can share this music together when we perform. Dan played in my other project, Atomic Pigeons, before the pandemic, and he’s just an amazing player. He also has his band, Horse Torso. It’s more rock music, really cool rhythmic elements, math rock. I’m a fan of his band, and I got to know him seeing his music and performances in Brooklyn. I just emailed him to see if he could play in Atomic Pigeons and he was like, “Yeah, of course!” And it was just amazing to work with him before the pandemic. This time, I feel really lucky to have Danny, because Joe is away and I was like, “Oh my god, who can play in this group?” Because I still wanted to play. And Danny just happens to be moving back to New York City, right on time, so I was like okay, let’s play!

We did a zoom rehearsal, a few months ago, before we knew about this Jazz Gallery gig, but I was like okay, we’re playing somewhere, let’s get ready! And he said, okay, I’ll be ready and he was really ready for our rehearsal a few weeks ago, he just killed it, so I’m really excited to have him and to play in this band together.

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Kendrick Scott

Photo by Todd Cooper, courtesy of the artist.

Lockdowns. Quarantines. Social Distancing. In no small part, the stress, exhaustion, and sadness of the COVID-19 pandemic many have felt has come from an at least partial breakdown of community. In an effort to protect themselves from illness, often people have focused inward instead of upon things they still share in common with others.  

With Corridors, Kendrick Scott’s Fellowship Commission for The Jazz Gallery, the drummer emphasizes the commonalities between people. The idea is that while we each live our own separate lives, they are each connected along a shared path. One uniting element, arguably, is the importance of mentorship. With this in mind, we asked Scott about not only the general concept of Corridors but also some of his mentors—his mother, Joe Sample, Terence Blanchard, Charles Lloyd—he has thus far encountered in the hallway of his career.

The Jazz Gallery: What is the concept behind Corridors? 

Kendrick Scott: With Corridors, I am trying to focus on the joining elements in our lives. I named it Corridors because if you visit my apartment building in New York, all of the apartments are connected by a long corridor. People have their own lives but we also each share some elements which unite us.  

TJG: What sorts of elements? 

KS: Well, I think about culture. I think about faith. Many different things join us from our little rooms that we stay in. The pandemic kept many of us in those rooms for a year and a half and, in many ways, cut off from those common joining elements.  

In essence, I am trying to pull on common feelings. Some of the pieces for the commission use titles like “One Door Closes and Another Opens” or “Welcoming the Unwelcome.” I am trying to focus on the good points of what this pandemic means in terms of what we have learned about ourselves.  

TJG: In some ways that is aligned with the concept behind A Wall Becomes a Bridge (Blue Note, 2019) in the sense of turning something negative and divisive into something positive and unifying. 

KS: Yeah, yeah. I am definitely an optimist. As Wayne Shorter once said, “there’s always something good unfolding underneath everything bad.” There’s always something unfolding on the other side. I think as long as we can keep the optimism, we can achieve a certain level of peace.  

Honestly, though, I fight with myself on that all the time. Often, I make music as a somewhat selfish thing, basically using it to talk about things I am dealing with in my personal life. So, in many ways “A Wall Becomes a Bridge” is a mantra I have to keep saying in my life to keep my own sanity [laughing]. When something is going wrong in my life and my anxiety is getting to me, I have to say, “You know what? A wall becomes a bridge.” It’s going to be cool. Things will improve. It is about seeing the other side while you are inside of it. It’s hard to do. With Corridors, I am hoping to create a dialogue about the things that all of us have had to deal with from the pandemic.  

TJG: Taking an optimistic view, do you feel like there is some good that may have come out of the shutdowns in terms of music-making? 

KS: Yes, I think in some ways the pandemic has given people, including musicians, an opportunity to essentially meet their own shadow. A chance to sit down and think.  

I’ve been on the road my whole career. My shadow’s been following me like “come on man, let’s deal with this or deal with that.” But when I’m on the road, I’m so busy working that it sometimes causes me to neglect myself a little bit. I think the good thing that will come out of the pandemic is that we are given time to meet our shadow and actually converse with it. I think those conversations and thoughts will get us to a deeper level of knowing ourselves.  

Hopefully, that deeper understanding of yourself will lead artists to create more art that embodies their true selves and not the self that is running around like a chicken with their head cut off; just doing things to stay active instead of tapping into the true essence of who they are as a human being.  

I’ve found that during the pandemic I’ve been very hesitant about being around people. That’s been crazy to me. Living in a city like New York, you are surrounded by people and it is the people that make New York so beautiful. I am here because it lets me around all of these people. I find that as much as I travel the world and see people from different cultures, I see those same cultures right here in the city. I learn so much about myself and others myself that way. So, to be in New York and made to have a standoffish kind of vibe because of the pandemic has really shown me how much I love being around people and learning about people.

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Kevin Sun

Photo by Diane Zhou, courtesy of the artist.

Saxophonist Kevin Sun deftly navigates jazz’s knife edge of tradition and novelty. While Sun’s compositions embrace rhythmic and harmonic abstractions, his playing is rooted in the deep study of saxophone elders from Lester Young to Stan Getz to Mark Turner. Sun’s newest project straddles that divide between new and old, a Charlie Parker exploration called <3 Bird (Endectomorph), released just in time for Parker’s 101st birthday. In “Greenlit,” below, Parker’s tune “Confirmation” is shot through a rhythmic prism, exaggerating the tune’s already-slippery twists and turns.

Braithwaite & Katz · Greenlit – Kevin Sun

This Thursday, August 19, Sun returns to The Jazz Gallery stage to celebrate the release of <3 Bird, alongside the album’s full-band lineup: trumpeter Adam O’Farrill, guitarist Max Light, pianist Christian Li, bassist Walter Stinson, and drummer Matt Honor. We caught up with Sun to discuss the project’s origins and his experience listening to Parker’s complete recorded output.

The Jazz Gallery: I was going back and reading your Parker blog posts from the past year-plus. When you started writing these in late spring 2020, was this something you had always planned on doing for Parker’s centennial, or was this something you went toward in that early pandemic headspace?

Kevin Sun: It wasn’t really planned. I would say more that I gravitated toward it and found myself sucked in when I was really isolated for a while, like everyone else. In the back of my mind I knew that Charlie Parker was very important to me and I wanted to do something for the centennial, but, I didn’t have anything really in mind.

It just slowly grew, and it kept growing; the more I listened, I had more and more questions come up. Some of them I haven’t really found a satisfactory answer, and I’m not sure there is one. I have like three or four legal pads just filled with tons of notes: questions, listening notes, reading notes. It was something that gave me life and pretty much kept me going.

TJG: Since you already knew Parker’s playing well, what were some of the things that appeared differently in your listening this time? What were those questions?

KS: The biggest thing that occurred to me was to get my hands on everything that is known to exist, and there’s this amazing resource—a website made by Peter Losin that has a database and a search function, so that was super helpful for me in terms of organizing the discography as I was acquiring recordings. I tried to listen to everything, and it comes out to about 72 hours. Based on what I have, I’m missing a handful of dates—like three or four—but I pretty much have everything. From there, I extracted all of the solos; that’s close to about 24 hours, which is more manageable. If you want to listen to 3 hours a day, you can do it in a little over a week.

The first thing that struck me is consistency. Pretty much in every recording, except for one or two, he’s just him. It’s all there—the time, the feel, the phrasing. It’s so clear and distinct, and it never feels like he’s overly accommodating. He always presents himself and makes his own voice fit in the context of how the music’s happening. That just blew me away, because it’s pretty much his whole recorded career. It’s kind of shocking because there are so few musicians who are on that level of consistency. Other people I’ve studied a lot—like Joe Henderson or Coltrane—have good nights and less good nights. Parker just never had an off night from what I can tell recording-wise, and that’s pretty freakish.

TJG: That consistency brings up interesting questions about how Parker’s improviser-brain worked, especially compared to people like Henderson and Coltrane.

KS: I thought about that a lot. One of the questions that brought up for me is, what did he practice? How did he practice to reach such a level of consistency that was apparent from a young age? Pretty much from his early 20s, we have recordings where he’s playing with bands and playing bebop.

It seems to me that he must have been very clear to himself, very decisive in terms of choosing what melodic material he thought was the strongest, and wanting to use that again and again and again. That also means that he had to decide not to do all of this other stuff that he was aware of. Other people might play that way, but he decided not to play it because it doesn’t speak to him in a profound way like the material he devised.

That second element seems really hard to do for me. It’s not just discipline, but sacrifice, because you’re choosing to cut out other things that might be fun to flirt with. I feel like for young musicians today—myself included—a big part of the learning process is trying a lot of things, and some things stick and other things don’t. Bird somehow just accelerated the process, or he just knew within himself from an early age what he wanted to say.

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Alfredo Colon

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Whether you’re talking about the person or the band, the music you’ll hear inside Alfredo Colón’s Big Head is filled with a wry and subversive humor. This Saturday, August 7, Colón returns to The Jazz Gallery with his home-base group, presenting a mix of new material and old favorites. We caught up with Colón to talk about the ambiguities of musical emotion and his pandemic deep dive into the music of Ornette Coleman.

The Jazz Gallery: I know you wanted to discuss how your band has evolved. Is your head bigger now?

Alfredo Colón: It’s literally the same size, but I do think it’s gotten a little smaller in terms of big-headedness.

TJG: I see, so you’re losing your big-headedness figuratively. But not literally—you still have a nice large head.

AC: I’m saving up for the cosmetic surgery.

TJG: That’s great. So how has the band changed?

AC: Well, it originally started off with Nick Dunston on bass before he moved to Berlin. We would always greet each other with “hey big head,” which, you know, is a joke. That evolved to “big head, big sound,” and over time the name kind of became a character in my head that I would write about.

So Big Head, he’s a little full of himself. He means what he says and he says what he means. Overall, at the end of the day I think he’s a pretty good dude. His character is maybe an over-exaggeration of a lot of my qualities.

TJG: So what started Big Head’s musical journey?

AC: Well, for a while, any gig I played that offered me some creative freedom was on EWI. And I was like, “Man, I’m a saxophone player. I work on this instrument more than anything else. I should let people know that I play saxophone.” So I really booked the gig just to be like, “Hey, everyone, I play the saxophone.” There’s no electronics. It’s just saxophone-dot-com all day.

I didn’t really have much more of a vision for the band than that. The music kind-of just came together. I wrote in such a way where the music was so open ended that the sound would be dictated by however the cats sounded in the moment.

That was the first gig that I had ever played with Jacob [Sacks], with the exception of my graduation recital. And it was my first time ever playing with Connor [Parks]; we didn’t even rehearse for that first gig—we just sat down and played. There was a vibe present immediately.

So initially it was pretty open music—a lot of the melodies would be six, eight bars, and then we’d make it up from there. Jacob, Connor, Nick, and Steve all play in a really compositional way, so I felt like I didn’t really need to write an ending to a lot of the songs. We’d perform them and they would sound completely different every time, but they always felt like complete pieces. But over time a sonic identity became present so I could finally write in a way that wasn’t so open ended and catered more to the abilities of the musicians in the band.

TJG: What are some of the major influences on the Big Head sound?

AC: A lot of the melodic stuff and the sound I’m going for comes from my heroes, predominantly Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, John Coltrane, Bunky Green. Attitude-wise, it comes from influences that aren’t along the jazz idiom. Someone like Lil Uzi would be an influence in terms of like attitude—his music is overwhelming in a way. I was listening to him the other day, and I was like, “man, you can hear the blues in Lil Uzi.” I was so fixated on it.

TJG: I’m not sure too many people would pick up on that aesthetic.

AC: I mean, when you go to school, they tell you the blues is 12 bars, there’s the I, IV, and V chords and then you’d have your Bird blues or jazz blues. And they get so into the harmony of what a lot of the cats play that they overlook a lot of the sentiment, meaning, delivery and attitude.

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